TK stepped off the elevator doors hesitantly, and grabbed the attention of one of the uniformed officers walking past. “Excuse me? I’m Paramedic Strand, I’m here for my ride along?”
“Oh, yeah. You’re with Reyes.” The officer, a young woman with dark hair and eyes, pointed over her shoulder to the man in question, who was seated at his desk looking over some paperwork.
TK felt his stomach tighten as his eyes raked over the officer he was going to be shadowing. He was attractive, all thick muscles and broad shoulders, with a head of dark curls and a jawline that could cut glass. TK sighed. Of all the cops in all of Austin, it had to be Carlos Reyes. Carlos, who was disarmingly handsome, and who also happened to absolutely loathe him. Great. Just great.
He pulled out his phone and shot off a quick text to Tommy. Is it too late to back out?
Tommy responded in seconds. You found out who you’re shadowing.
TK ground his teeth, pissed beyond belief. You knew?!
Of course I knew. He could just imagine the amused look on Tommy’s face. Who do you think approved it?
I should never have agreed to this. The only reason he had was because Nancy was doing a ride along as well the following week. It was all part of a push by the city to create better cooperation between different first responders. And now he had to spend an entire twelve hours with Carlos.
To bad, you did. Came Tommy’s eventual response. TK rolled his eyes. It wasn’t that he really had anything against Carlos—in fact, if he was truly honest with himself, he liked Carlos a lot. But that didn’t really seem to matter, because he may not have hated Carlos, but Carlos hated him , and TK was never one to back down from a fight. So, whenever they were forced to interact, they ended up at each other’s throats the whole time.
You could say that TK started it, since it was technically his own fault that Carlos hated him, but he would never admit that to anyone else. Mostly because nobody else knew why Carlos hated him--most people thought it was simply hate at first sight--and the truth of the situation was...embarrassing.
“Are you just going to stand there and text all day?” A smooth voice, dripping with disdain, cut through TK’s thoughts.
TK didn’t bother looking up. “I was just letting my Captain know I made it,” he explained, sliding his phone back into the pocket of his jeans.
Carlos huffed. “Whatever. I’m due to start my patrol.” He brushed past TK and headed towards the elevator.
TK wasted no time in following him, jogging to keep up. “Y’know, we have to spend the whole day together. Maybe we could try to be civil?”
Carlos scoffed, hitting the button for the ground floor. “Civil?”
“I just meant that we shouldn’t let our personal differences get in the way of being professionals,” TK tried again.
“Personal differences?” Carlos seethed. “Is that what you want to call having sex with me and then ghosting me without explanation?”
“Save it,” Carlos threw a hand up to silence TK. “I don’t care.” The elevator doors opened and Carlos walked out as quickly as he’d walked in, once again leaving TK behind. TK dropped his head into his hands and groaned, allowing himself a short moment of frustration before following.
This was going to be a long day.
Long day ended up being an understatement. They spent most of the morning driving around in relative silence, except for when they argued. Carlos turned on the heat in the patrol car, and TK got too hot. TK rolled down his window, and Carlos complained about the wind and the noise. TK fidgeted, tapping his fingers along the door handle, and Carlos snapped at him. TK asked questions about the patrol car, or what to do at the scenes Carlos was called to, and Carlos gave the shortest, least helpful answers he could. Seriously, TK didn’t see how Carlos could be less helpful if he tried. So much for interdepartmental cooperation.
By lunchtime, when Carlos took them to a taco truck, TK was starting to wonder if he could just leave early. “Seriously?” TK complained when he saw the truck. It looked greasy. “There’s a really great juice bar nearby, y’know.”
Carlos shook his head, cutting the engine. “A smoothie is a beverage, not a meal.”
TK didn’t really know how to argue that, so he just followed Carlos out of the car and over towards the food truck. Admittedly, the aroma wafting off the truck was mouthwatering. “What do you recommend?” He asked as they made their way up to the window to order.
Carlos raised an eyebrow. “Do you eat meat?”
TK nodded. “I don’t really like the taste of beef, though.”
“Chicken tacos, then.”
TK looked up at the middle aged woman in the truck, whose name tag read Rita . “Two chicken tacos, and I’ll pay for whatever he’s getting.”
Carlos’s head snapped toward TK. “That’s not necessary.”
“Consider it a peace offering?” TK tried.
The woman in the truck, Rita, laughed. “I think what Carlos means is that he eats here for free.”
TK blinked twice. “You do? Why?”
Carlos shrugged, the tips of his ears turning red, and ducked his head shyly.
“Officer Reyes here apprehended a couple of hooligans who vandalized my truck,” Rita explained with a smile.
“I was just doing my job, Rita,” Carlos responded, still looking a little bashful.
TK hated how endearing it was. Truly the worst part of his feud with Carlos was the fact that Carlos was genuinely a good person, and a good cop. He was kind and he was hardworking and TK knew it. He saw how Carlos was on the scenes they were both called to, he heard the stories from his coworkers who were on better terms with him. Carlos having apparently saved a taco truck from vandals was hardly surprising.
Rita turned her gaze to TK. “Any friend of Carlos eats free, too.”
TK opened his mouth, maybe to say they weren’t friends, but Carlos beat him to it.
TK stepped back from the truck to wait for their food, and Carlos followed. “So, we’re friends now?”
Carlos rolled his eyes. “Are you complaining about free tacos?”
“No, definitely not,” TK bit his lip to hide the hint of a smile that was pulling on the corners of his mouth. They sat in silence until their food was ready, but it wasn’t as tense as the silence from earlier in the day.
The tacos were fantastic. TK stifled a moan as he ate.
“Better than a peanut butter and banana smoothie?” Carlos asked, smug as all hell.
“Shut up,” TK gave him a light shove, and then paused. “How do you even know what smoothies I like?”
“You’ve shown up to more than one scene after finishing one,” Carlos shrugged and looked away. “It’s pretty easy to smell the peanut butter.”
“Paying attention to me?” TK raised an eyebrow.
“Don’t get cocky,” Carlos said, voice sharp. “Noticing things is part of the job.”
TK supposed that was fair, but a part of him hoped that maybe Carlos had noticed his penchant for peanut butter and bananas for other reasons. He couldn’t say that out loud though, couldn’t risk the tentative peace they’d somehow found in the last five minutes. So, instead he focused on finishing his tacos.
He’d just swallowed down his last bite when the radio crackled. 10-67 at 2014 Tower Drive, possible domestic disturbance.
Carlos picked up his receiver. “363-H-20 responding, we’re just three streets over.”
TK dumped the foil that was wrapped around their tacos into the trash, while Carlos hopped back in his patrol car and started the engine, light bar, and sirens. TK slid into the passenger seat and Carlos took off.
“What’s a 10-67?”
“A call for help.” Carlos’s tone was heavy in a way that made TK’s stomach drop.
When they arrived at the scene, they found the front door of the house wide open, and inside, a husband and wife (presumably) in a screaming match. The husband had a bruise forming over one eye, and he was waving a hand gun.
“I can’t believe you called the cops!” The woman spat.
“You assaulted me!” Her husband shouted back.
Carlos stepped forward into the living room, and approached the man. “I’m going to need you to put the gun down.”
“It’s for self defense!” He insisted. “Crazy bitch!”
“You cheated on me!” The woman snapped. “Bastard!” She gave him a shove, and when he waved his arms to keep his balance, the gun went off, the bullet punching a small hole in the ceiling.
Carlos glanced at TK, who was hanging back by the door. TK nodded and stepped towards the woman, while Carlos radioed for backup.
“Hey, there. My name’s TK.”
The woman eyed him up and down. “You’re not a cop.”
“No, I’m not. I’m a paramedic.” She still looked confused, so he added. “I’m riding along with Officer Reyes today, so I’m off duty.”
“I don’t care,” she snapped, and looked back at her husband, who was still yelling at Carlos. She picked up a vase off an end table and threw it at him. He fired another shot, this one shattering their back window. “Asshole!”
“Look,” TK tried. “I’ve been cheated on, too. I proposed to my boyfriend and he responded by telling me he was sleeping with his fitness instructor.”
“So, you get it then,” the woman said.
“Absolutely,” TK agreed. “But I also don’t want anyone to get hurt.”
She rolled her eyes at him. “He deserves to get hurt!”
“That’s it!” Her husband snapped and pointed the gun in her direction.
“Sir, please, think about what you’re doing.” Carlos’s voice was firm and steady. “Do you really want to hurt your wife? Do you want to go to jail?”
The man seemed to consider this for a moment, before shrugging. “You’re right. I don’t want to go to jail.”
For a moment Carlos’s shoulders sagged in relief, until the man simply changed his aim from his wife, to Carlos. Time slowed to a stop, as TK realized what was happening. Carlos was defenseless, his own gun still holstered so as not to escalate the situation. There was nothing he could do to stop the man from taking the shot. At that thought, time started moving again, extremely fast. The man cocked the gun and pulled the trigger, and before TK even knew what he was doing, he was diving forward and shoving Carlos to the ground. For a split second, he thought he’d moved fast enough, that he’d saved Carlos, but then he felt a familiar hot wetness seeping through his shirt.
Everything was a haze after that. He heard Carlos’s voice calling again for backup, for an ambo and paramedics, just barely made out the blurry form of the man above him, applying pressure to the wound, felt a horrible, familiar ache, in his shoulder this time.
“I got you, TK. Just stay with me.”
“I know, but you gotta keep your eyes open for me,” Carlos managed. His voice was gentle, but rough with worry.
“Can’t believe--” TK choked a little. “Can’t believe I got shot again.”
And the world went black.
Carlos paced the waiting room, his stomach in knots.
TK Strand had saved his life. TK Strand had risked his own life to save Carlos. TK Strand had gotten shot for the second time in as many years. For him.
It made no sense. TK Strand was a selfish, self-aggrandizing, arrogant brat.
Carlos glanced around the waiting room at the people who considered themselves TK’s family. The entire 126, paramedics and firefighters alike, was scattered around the waiting room, sipping coffee and shifting uncomfortably in the plastic chairs, their faces lined with worry. They took turns telling stories about TK, stupid things he’d done during team bonding, or moments of bravery in the field, and the more they talked, the more Carlos felt guilt crawling in his chest. Maybe...Maybe he’d been wrong about TK.
Hell, one of the most worried members of the 126 was Firefighter Ryder, who Carlos had known for years. He and his wife Grace (who was also there, despite being six months pregnant) were Austin natives, the kind of people his mother befriended in church. Surely, they wouldn’t speak so fondly of TK if he didn’t deserve it.
“Officer Reyes,” Captain Strand spoke to him, cutting off the story Firefighter Chavez was telling about TK and the station dog, Buttercup. “Please sit down.”
Carlos stopped pacing “I--”
“It’s going to be okay.” Captain Strand’s voice was firm when he spoke again. “My son is strong, he’ll get through this.”
Carlos let his body crumple, falling into the cold plastic chair next to Captain Strand, and forced himself not to cry. “He saved my life.”
“He does that sometimes,” the paramedic, Nancy, said. Captain Vega snorted. Carlos was sure there was a story there.
“TK can be…protective,” Captain Vega added.
Once again, Carlos felt like he’d stepped into a parallel universe. “I thought he hated me.”
Firefighter Strickland looked him up and down. “You thought wrong.”
“I hated him.” Past tense because Carlos could never hate someone who saved his life, even if that someone had hurt him first.
Firefighter Strickland rolled his eyes. “Nah.”
“I said, nah ,” Firefighter Strickland shrugged. “You don’t know him well enough to hate him. I don’t know what went down between you--don’t deny it, we all know something happened--but I do know that neither of you ever truly hated each other. You were angry, maybe. Hurt.”
Carlos didn’t know what to say to that, uncomfortable that Strickland had such a read on him after only a handful of interactions, so he didn’t say anything. He stayed silent the rest of the night-- when the doctors came to update Captain Strand, when Captain Strand told the rest of them that TK was out of surgery and was going to be okay, when the others slowly trickled out, until it was just him and Captain Strand--he was silent until Captain Strand looked at him and sighed.
“You don’t have to stay.”
“Yes, I do.”
Captain Strand acquiesced and Carlos stayed until the next morning, when he had to admit that he needed a shower and a change of clothes because he was still in his blood stained uniform from the previous afternoon. He scribbled down his number on a gum wrapper he had in his pocket and pressed it into Captain Strand’s open palm. “Call me if anything changes.”
Captain Strand nodded. “Of course.”
In the light of day, Carlos could fully focus on his guilt. He knew that he had been right to be hurt by TK’s actions. He was justified in his anger, at least initially. But maybe he’d punished TK too much—escalated the situation into this weird, pointless feud.
He dressed quickly after his shower, and threw a bagel down his throat on his way out, which immediately threatened to come back up. He was already halfway back to the hospital when his phone rang.
If Carlos broke a few traffic laws on his way back to the hospital once he knew that TK was awake, that was his business and nobody else’s. He practically sprinted through the hallways of the hospital, looking for TK’s room, but he froze when he found it, suddenly realizing he had no idea what to say, or if TK even wanted him there.
Captain Strand was sitting on the edge of the bed, smiling widely at his son. TK looked tired, but surprisingly lucid, and he wore a matching, though smaller, smile, which faltered slightly at the sight of Carlos.
Carlos waved awkwardly. “Hey…”
Captain Strand cleared his throat and stood up. “I’m starving. Anyone want a snack from the cafeteria? Just me? Okay.” And then he was gone, leaving Carlos and TK alone.
“TK, I don’t know what to say.”
TK shrugged. “My dad told me you were here all night.”
“Of course I was,” Carlos stepped closer to TK’s bed. “You saved my life.”
TK crossed his arms over himself. “You don’t have to pretend to care about me because you feel guilty.”
Carlos sighed. “Can I sit?”
TK nodded, so Carlos took the spot that Captain Strand had vacated.
Carlos took a deep breath. “After what happened between us, I refused to think of you as anything other than a jackass.”
TK made a sour face.
“You’re not, though,” Carlos shook his head. “You’re a good person. I still don’t know why you ghosted me, but I’m done dwelling in the past.”
TK looked surprised. “I’m really sorry about everything. You didn’t deserve the way I treated you. I could tell you that I was in a bad place then, but that’s an excuse. I just..I wish I could do it all over.”
“Why don’t we? Start over, I mean. Try to be friends?” Carlos asked.
TK broke out into a grin. “I’d like that a lot.”
Carlos returned TK’s smile. “Hi, I’m Carlos. Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you, too. I’m TK.”
Three weeks later, Carlos found himself on the Strands’ couch, watching trashy reality TV, with TK’s head in his lap. He’d found that reality television was one of the few things that could hold TK’s attention long enough to keep him from doing too much. Apparently, the last time TK had been shot had been much more severe—and, boy, that thought left a bad taste in Carlos’s mouth--so TK was not being the greatest patient, claiming that this was nothing, that the bullet “barely grazed” his shoulder. (The bullet went through his shoulder, Carlos reminded him numerous times. "But did it puncture my lung?" TK would always retort.)
He sure was clingy, though. Carlos had no idea that becoming friends with TK meant agreeing to be the man’s living body pillow. He wasn’t really complaining, though. It was nice. Nice enough that some of the feelings he’d been burying since the night they’d line danced together were starting to creep back into his chest and take hold of his heart. Not that he planned on doing anything about it. TK had made it pretty clear that he wasn’t interested in a relationship the first time around, and he didn’t want to ruin the tentative friendship they’d found by making things weird.
“We can watch something else if you’re bored, y’know.” TK said teasingly when the episode of Real Housewives of Atlanta they were watching ended.
“Sorry,” Carlos blushed in spite of himself, embarrassed to be caught thinking about his feelings, even if TK was unaware. “I didn’t mean to zone out like that.”
TK sighed and turned off the TV. “What’re you thinking about?”
“You.” Carlos said before he could stop himself.
“Me?” TK squeaked, pulling himself out of Carlos’s lap and into a sitting position.
“No, it’s--it’s okay,” TK shook his head. “We should be open with each other. I think if I had communicated better before, things would’ve been a lot different.”
Carlos pursed his lips. “Alright. I guess I have feelings for you again, or-or maybe I never stopped feeling things for you? I’m not sure, but it doesn’t matter because either way I’m pretty sure I’m falling in love with you.”
Carlos wasn’t sure what he expected, but it sure wasn’t the way TK’s face lit up, green eyes bright and sparkling. “Can I be totally honest?”
“After what I just said, you better.”
“Fair,” TK agreed. “You said in the hospital it didn’t matter why I ghosted you, that you didn’t want to dwell in the past, but I think you deserve to know.”
“Okay…” Carlos didn’t know where this was going. He was pretty sure TK had ghosted him because of his bad mental health, it wasn’t that hard to figure out.
“That night, when I got arrested, and I told you about my breakup and my relapse,” TK swallowed nervously. “You were the first person in Austin that I told about any of that stuff. There was--is--something about you that makes me feel safe, something about you that made me want to trust you that night. And I knew that if I let myself, I would fall in love with you.”
“And that scared the shit out of me, because it was still so soon after my breakup, a-and I could tell you were a good person, and I didn’t...I didn’t want to ruin you,” TK finally admitted.
“TK…” Carlos shook his head. “You wouldn’t have ruined me.”
“I don’t know, I was pretty messed up back then,” TK let out a deep breath. “Who knows if I would’ve been ready for something new? I mean, I was so scared of messing it up that I went completely nuclear before it even started.”
“Okay, maybe.” Carlos couldn’t deny that TK had a point. “But maybe it’s for the best? I—we’re here now, right? And you’re in a better place, and I still, I mean we could—If you want it, that is, if you— I know you’re still recovering and I don’t want to pressure you into anything, especially now that we’re friends, and—”
“Carlos,” TK cut him off, voice tinged with a fond exasperation. “Shut up and kiss me.”
Carlos didn’t need to be told twice.