“Yeah, babe?” He hears his boyfriend call from the other room.
“What is this?”
“What’s…” TK asks with a frown as he turns to the kitchen, confusion fleeing his face as he sees what Carlos is holding, “oh.”
Carlos simply raises an eyebrow and places the blue-green ladle on the counter as TK approaches, looking at his boyfriend expectantly.
“It’s a ladle,” TK provides helpfully as he approaches.
“I can see that,” Carlos deadpans. “Why does it have a face and why is it in my kitchen?”
“It’s Nessie!” TK declares as if it should be obvious, “See?”
He picks up the ladle and sets it upright so it stands on its own. “When it’s in a pot, the face and neck stick out,” he explains, “like the Loch Ness Monster.”
Carlos nods slowly, looking from the ladle in question to his boyfriend. TK’s face falls.
“You don’t like it,” he says, reaching for the ladle, “I’ll get rid of it. I’m sorry, I should have asked first.”
Carlos reaches out a hand to stop him, covering the hand now clutching the ladle with his own, “I didn’t say that.”
TK looks at him hopefully and Carlos smiles, “I think it’s cute, and I love the fact that you got it for me. Plus, it is pretty practical. You can never have too many ladles.”
“Are you sure? You don’t have to keep it if you don’t want to. I can get rid of it.”
“Don’t you talk about Nessie that way,” Carlos interrupts, leaning forward to pull TK into a kiss. “She’s not going anywhere, and neither are you.”
It’s small things here and there, after that. One of those little figurines from the tea boxes on the window sill, small figurines and vases. He doesn’t question it much until one day he walks in the door and goes to dump his keys into the dish beside the door only to find what looks like a pinecone with eyes glued on staring back at him.
“Hey babe,” TK calls out from the kitchen, where he is already in the process of plating up the takeout he had picked up on his way, “food’s almost ready to go.”
Carlos nods and is about to thank him for picking it up, or maybe ask him how his day was, but all that comes out when he opens his mouth is a question, “Why is there a pinecone looking at me from the table?”
TK freezes, brow furrowing in confusion before realization dawns. “Well first off, it’s not a pinecone Carlos, it’s a hedgehog.”
“Uh-huh,” Carlos agrees skeptically, peering back down at the item in question. “And why is there a hedgehog on the table?”
“Because I saw it when I was out with Marjan today and thought it was cute. Why?” he asks, voice shifting, “Do you not like it? I can get rid of it if you don’t, I should’ve asked first, I’m…”
But Carlos shook his head, dropping his bag by the door and crossing to the kitchen, coming up beside TK. He reached out and put a hand on his face, gently turning it so he was meeting Carlos’s gaze.
“I didn’t say I didn’t like it TK,” he assures him softly, “and you don’t need to get rid of it. Take a breath, it’s okay.”
He waits for TK to do so, watching as the panic leaves his expression. “Do you want to tell me what’s really going on?” he asks gently, moving his hand from TK’s face to his waist.
“Nothing,” he says at first but at Carlos’s raised eyebrows he rolls his eyes. “Fine, something, but it’s stupid.”
“Why don’t you let me be the judge of that,” Carlos offers and TK sighs.
“I don’t want you to think I’m overstepping,” TK admits. “I know I bring little things in from time to time and you don’t seem to mind but every once in a while I start to wonder again. It’s just something my mom and I always had in common. She used to love picking up little funny or cute things, and it became something we did together. My dad never liked clutter - well, he still doesn’t, actually - but he used to always complain about my mom and her tchotchkes and so I would always just keep them in my room instead and I just don’t want you to ever feel like I’m taking advantage, or cluttering your house or…”
“Hey,” Carlos interjects, interrupting the spiral he could see starting. “I don’t think that, any of it. I love that you bring little things here, that you are adding little bits of yourself. It makes it feel a little bit more like our home, doesn’t it?”
He pauses, giving TK a chance to process his choice of words, and is rewarded by his eyes widening. He smiles and leans forward, pressing a kiss to TK’s cheek. “This is your home too TK,” he tells him, “in whatever capacity you want it to be. And yeah, if it starts to look like a roadside gift shop in here, we may have to have a talk about the...what was that word you used?”
“Tchotchkes,” TK provides, “it means trinket, or knick-knack.”
“Right,” Carlos agrees, “but a few of them? I kind of love them because it brings a little more life, and shows me that you feel at home here. Not to mention the fact that they make you happy, and I can put up with a few pinecones looking at me if it makes you happy.”
“It’s a hedgehog , Carlos,” TK tries to gripe, but the light in his eyes betrays him, “it’s cute and it’s seasonal.”
“And it makes you happy, which is all I ever want,” Carlos agrees, pressing a kiss to his forehead. “Besides, I never said I didn’t like it. It’s cute, actually.”
Carlos has a theory.
He’s read about love languages and he knows that TK’s is physical touch, without a doubt. Not even in a sexual way; he just likes being close to Carlos, having a physical reminder that he is there, that he is real. It reveals itself in hand holding and hugs and small touches as they pass each other whether it's in the field or at home. He’s just very tactile, and Carlos loves that about him (it’s one of about roughly 230 things, but still).
But the more and more he has watched him and spent time with him, he decides that TK has more than one. He’s not sure if it qualifies as gift giving or if it is a category all of its own but there is no denying that TK loves to give small gifts to his friends. At first he notices when they are out, strolling through a flea market on Saturday morning. They’re walking hand in hand when their progress is suddenly halted by TK, who stops and turns to a table to their right. He picks up a small figurine (Carlos would be lying if he said he had the faintest idea what it was actually supposed to be) with a grin and politely asks the vendor for a price. He hands over the few dollars requested with a smile and a thanks before pocketing the figurine and moving on.
Carlos can only watch, catching up to him a few moments later, giving him a questioning look when TK meets his eyes. “For Marjan,” he explains, smiling as he reaches out to take Carlos’s hand in his again, “she’ll think it’s funny.”
And so she does, as Carlos finds out when she shows up at the condo later that evening. Her bright laugh draws the attention of the others and she beams at them as she shows them the small figurine - a crocodile for the native Floridian, Carlos and the others are informed - squeezing TK’s arm in thanks as she flashes a smile at him.
It doesn’t stop there. From time to time small and strange objects filter through the condo on their way to their intended owners. A book on cryptids for Paul, a set of exaggerated cartoonish Texas-themed salt and pepper shakers for Judd, a disgruntled cat figurine for Nancy; an inexplicable purple pig for Mateo that TK refuses to explain. They become a part of their everyday and Carlos stops noticing them, after a while. They are a part of who TK is and a testament to the love and care he has for others and the joy he takes from making them happy.
And if that means he finds the odd figurine on the counter from time to time, Carlos will happily take that in stride.
When TK officially moves in there is surprisingly not an influx in tchotchkes in the condo. Though Carlos supposes it had been a gradual invasion anyways; and if he had maybe purchased the matching Nessie pasta spoon and tea steeper on his own, nobody was the wiser. It’s normal now for there to be a new and unexplained small object on the edge of the counter or on the table beside the door so when Carlos sees a small object on the counter when he comes home from work on TK’s day off, he thinks nothing of it.
It’s not until TK emerges from upstairs and they exchange greetings that he gives it a second thought because TK keeps giving it furtive looks. After a few minutes of TK’s gaze drifting towards it as they spoke Carlos raises an eyebrow.
“Care to share with the class?” he asks drily and TK starts, looking at Carlos in surprise before his gaze turns sheepish. He reaches around him to the counter and picks up the newest tchotchke, placing it in Carlos’s hand.
“It’s cheesy,” he starts, covering Carlos’s palm with his hand to prevent Carlos from looking at it as he spoke, “but I saw it while I was running errands today and it made me think of you. And well...I just wanted you to have a physical reminder, in case I don’t say it enough.”
Carlos studies him, gaze curious as he looks down at their hands, TK’s still covering his own and whatever the small, metal object was. TK takes a deep breath and moves his hand, giving Carlos a look at the mysterious object.
“I know it’s stupid,” he began, “but I just wanted you to remember, you know? My heart is yours, and it always will be.”
Carlos hears the words his boyfriend is saying, but he finds that he can’t respond. The sight of the object laying on his palm - a small, gold skeleton key with a heart on the end - has stolen all the breath from his lungs and all the words from his mind. The only thing within him now is the sense of overwhelming love for the man before him, who is watching him nervously.
“You don’t have to do anything with it,” TK was saying as he fiddled with the strings of his hoodie. “You don’t even have to keep it if you don’t want to. I just saw it and...it seemed right.”
TK was looking at him again and Carlos hated that he was leaving him hanging. He didn’t want the other man to get the wrong idea, but he was too overwhelmed to speak. So he did the next best thing. He reached for TK, key still clutched in his hand, and gently tipped his face up from where he was anxiously studying his feet so that their eyes met. He hoped TK could see the depth of the emotions he was feeling in them, but just in case he pulled him into a kiss, doing his best to say what words had failed to express.
That kiss turned into another and it was several minutes before they separated long enough to breathe, and speak. And it’s in that moment, foreheads pressed together in their kitchen and a small gold key pressed into Carlos’s palm that words finally returned to him.
“You have mine too,” he told TK softly. “You have since the day I met you, and it’s yours for as long as you want.”