The weeks went by. Each felt crazier than the last. The station remained shut down. Billy continued to push them around, threatening to shut them down permanently. Owen had taken to working his ass off. Fixing things and taking on meetings, showing why they were necessary. Tommy joined in when she could, despite her grief and adjustments. Judd too. Even when he was busy working on the new nursery and watching over Grace. It had been a crazy couple weeks.
It was exhausting.
He woke with a start. Again. For what felt like the millionth time. His breath caught in his throat and his body shook as he propelled himself up in the bed. He felt hands gripping his shoulders and rub at his arms as he caught his breath.
“Babe? You with me? TK?”
TK gulped in deep breaths as Carlos continued to rub at his arms. He nodded between the gulps.
“Fine,” he gasped, clearing his throat. “I’m fine.”
Carlos moved his hand from TK’s arm to the back of his neck. He toyed with the edges of TK’s hair and squeezed gently. “Nightmare?”
TK shifted and scrubbed a hand over his face. “I guess,” he sighed. He rubbed his eyes and turned towards his boyfriend. “I’m sorry I woke you.” He swallowed thickly.
Carlos gave him a sad smile and pulled him back down onto their bed. Well, the guest room of his dad’s place’s bed.
“It’s okay.” Carlos continued rubbing and soothing away the dream. “Want to talk about it?
TK swallowed thickly and shook his head. “It’s pretty fuzzy,” he lied. He gave Carlos a sad smile. “But thank you.” He leaned forward and gave his boyfriend a kiss. “I appreciate it.” He let his hand linger on Carlos’s cheek. “I’m okay. Really.”
Carlos gave him a questioning look. “TK—“
“What time is your shift today?”
Carlos sighed but let him change the subject. He shifted and pressed a kiss to the side of TK’s head. “I’m on pretty much all day. Think I start at ten and am working a twelve hour shift.”
TK pouted. “I thought so.”
“I’m sorry.” Carlos squeezed his hand. “I know you are bored and tired of being off.” TK scoffed at that. “I know. But hopefully not much longer. Right?”
TK shrugged. “Dad is working on things. He had a bunch of meetings yesterday. I thought about trying to talk to him today if he was free. See what’s going on. But I don’t know. Didn’t really get to see what his plans are for the day.”
Carlos gave him another sad smile. “You two have been missing each other a lot lately.”
“Yeah,” TK agreed. He rubbed a hand over his face, pushing a little harder into his eyes. “He’s just been so busy trying to get things moving for the 126 to reopen.”
“And you’ve been busy, too.”
“Not really,” TK huffed. “I’ve been home sitting on my ass and—“
“Dealing with the insurance claims, compiling a list of new places for us to check out next week, babysitting the twins for Tommy…”
“That’s not much,” TK argued. “Not really.” He flopped back on the bed. “Insurance stuff was routine and wanted to know about the arson. Which I can discuss pretty easily given my background.” He threw his hands, practically waving off Carlos’s rebuttals. “I did a quick search on Zillow while eating lunch yesterday based off what you had said you liked. And Tommy dropped the girls off a few times. They mainly just played with Buttercup in the backyard.”
Carlos shook his head. “The insurance company has been a bitch, and you know it. You hate looking at house stuff like that, you told me you fully let your dad handle everything when you two were house hunting here. And…those girls are fierce.” Carlos chuckled at that. “No way they didn’t drag you out with them to run around and chase Buttercup.”
TK smiled fondly at the mention of the girls. Briefly. He quickly shook his head and sighed again. “But…you’re working your ass off. I know it’s been hectic since the dust storms. Dad’s awesome at finding places and dealing with realtors. Granted, he usually flirts his ass off with them.” Carlos laughed at that. “And Tommy, she…” He sucked in a breath. “She’s got a lot on her plate.” He chewed on his lip. “Everyone does. The whole team is working on something.” Except me. “Sorta.”
“Babe, you’re working on things and busy. It’s not your fault that no other house needed extra paramedics. They—“
“Didn’t want me,” he interrupted. “They took Nancy on as swing shift at others but just her.”
“She has seniority and more flexibility than you and Tommy. Given what happened to both of you. To us.” Carlos fell back onto the bed beside TK. “That’s not your fault, babe.”
TK shifted uncomfortably under the blankets, trying to find any way to change the subject. Thankfully, it came in the form of Buttercup somehow managing to push open their bedroom door. He seemed to have a knack for it, even if the door was shut. As long as it wasn’t locked, the dog found a way to get inside.
He bounded up on the bed and shoved his way between the couple. He licked at TK’s face and his tail whacked across Carlos’s. The boys laughed at his antics and patted his back and head.
“Easy, buddy,’ TK cautioned as the dog got somehow more excited.
TK and Carlos looked up to find Owen in the doorway, yelling at the dog. “Morning dad…”
“Sir,” Carlos echoed with a slight wave.
Owen sighed. “Morning guys.” He shook his head fondly. “Buttercup, what have I told you about giving the boys their privacy in the morning.” He stepped forward and grabbed the dog by his collar, tugging gently until the dog hopped down from the bed. “I’m sorry. I thought I had him occupied with breakfast.”
“It’s okay, sir,” Carlos promised, pushing himself up in the bed.
“Yeah, we know how he is,” TK replied, following Carlos’s move and pushing up in bed more. He scrubbed a hand over his eyes again. Once he opened them, he noticed his dad was already dressed and looked ready for the day. “You’re dressed early for a day off.”
Owen glanced down at his golf shirt and slacks. “Oh, yeah. I promised Mateo I would take him out for a round.”
TK scrunched up his face. “You’re taking Mateo golfing?”
“He apparently likes it?” Owen added, more questioning than stating. “He saw me cleaning my clubs yesterday while you were at the realtor’s office. He said he used to work at a country club when he was younger and learned a thing or two. Hadn’t been able to go in years. And considering my last golfing partner was struck by lightning on the course….”
“And betrayed you in every way possible after?” TK deadpanned.
Owen sighed. “That too…”
TK made a face and rolled his eyes.
“So, you guys are going out to the course today?” Carlos asked, trying to change the subject himself.
'Yeah,” Owen continued. “It’s been awhile since I’ve gone. So going to rent a set of clubs for Mateo once we get there and play eighteen.”
TK’s face fell a little. He tried to school it quickly. He missed his dad. Hell, he missed everyone right now. He had hoped he could see the man some today. But….
Carlos’s face mimicked his, picking up on his mood.
Owen on the other hand, misread it all together. “Welcome to join us Carlos.”
TK sagged into Carlos’s shoulder a little, trying to hide the frustration and disappointment.
“Oh, no sir,” Carlos quickly stated. He found TK’s hand under the blanket. “I’m not really a golfer. And I’m working a twelve today.”
“Ah,” Owen scoffed. “Too bad. Maybe I can convince you some other time.” The man started to turn to go back out of their room.
“But, maybe TK would like to go?” Carlos asked gently, causing both Owen and TK to startle at the idea.
“Well, he has seemed pretty bored by himself,” Carlos continued. “And stressed.” He gave his boyfriend a sad smile. “He’s been working on everything with the condo clean up and helping Tommy with the girls. But, he really hasn’t been able to just relax with anyone from the station. Not really.”
Owen softened at that and gave TK a sad look of his own.
The other men made TK squirm a little with all the attention. “I’m fine, really.”
“No,” Owen interjected kindly. “Carlos is right.” He stepped back over to the bed and ran a hand over TK’s head. “What do you say? Feel up to hitting the greens with us?”
He didn’t. Not really. He hated golf. With a passion.
He missed his dad. He missed his team. He missed the way things were.
“Yeah, that would be, um, fun.”
Owen practically lit up. “Really?”
“Yeah.” TK rubbed at the back of his neck, almost anxiously. “Sure. It gets pretty boring here.” Buttercup whined at hm. “No offense buddy…”
Owen laughed a little. “You’re welcome to come! We can rent you a set of clubs and add you to the group. That’s easy.”
TK shifted a little. “Okay. Yeah. Thanks, dad.” He sent a smile towards Owen.
“Wonderful!” Owen smiled as well. “Okay…I’m fixing breakfast.” He clapped his hands. “Come out whenever you two want.”
“Be right there, sir,” Carlos replied.
“Thanks,” TK said as Owen started out of the room. Once the door was pulled shut, he turned to Carlos and raised an eyebrow at him.
“I know,” Carlos placated. “I know you hate golf. But,” he shrugged, “I know you wanted to spend time with your dad and not just be cooped up in the house all day. Besides,” he peppered kisses against the side of TK’s face, “maybe it will be nice to get out and be in the sun for awhile. Even if you hate golfing.”
“I suck at golfing and hate it,” TK replied. “But,” he let out a long breath, “I do miss my dad. And Mateo honestly. I know we live with them….”
“But we really don’t see them right now.” Carlos squeezed TK’s hand. “I know. It’s been hard. And you deserve a break.”
“Not sure golf will really be a break.”
“Maybe not exactly what you wanted. But you love spending time with your dad. You love the sun. And, I bet he’ll even take you into the club house for lunch? Didn’t you say you really loved their veggie burgers when your dad took you a few months ago?”
“Maybe.” Carlos smirked at that. “But I didn’t golf first that day.”
“You’ll enjoy being with your dad. And Mateo.” He pressed a longer kiss to TK’s cheek.
“Yeah, I will,” TK finally admitted. He turned so that he could kiss Carlos on the lips. “Wanna help me find something that’s club appropriate to wear? No clue what I have right now.”
“You can borrow one of my polos,” Carlos offered, already getting up from the bed to go sort through their meager belongings. “I know my mom got a few that looked more like golf brands.” He dug around and sorted through the clothes. They kept everything in the small closet. It wasn’t much, but they were slowly building things up from the ashes. Literally. Thanks to their families and friends. “Aha!” He held up a new polo. “It’s even floral!”
TK snorted at Carlos’s triumphant look. “I love it baby.” He threw back the covers and slid out of the bed. He shuffled forward and wrapped his arms around Carlos’s shoulders. “What pants work?”
Carlos laughed but helped TK sort out his outfit. Soon, both men were showered, dressed, and moving toward the kitchen. Carlos was dressed in his uniform already while TK was dressed in the best he could do for a golf outing. He wore Carlos’s borrowed floral polo and a pair of dressier sport joggers. It wasn’t as nice as a real golfer would do, but it would work.
Owen whistled as he saw TK step into the kitchen. “Look at you!”
“Damn,” Mateo exhaled. “You look like a pro!”
TK rolled his eyes. “I won’t once I’m out on the course. Trust me…”
“You need to borrow a pair of shoes from me?” Owen asked, ignoring TK’s self deprecation.
“No. Not unless you think I need cleats?” TK ran a hand anxiously through his hair.
“Nah. You’ll be fine. Just wasn’t sure what you had yet.”
TK nodded. “You got me a new pair of sneakers. I think I can use them. But thanks.”
Owen smiled at him and handed over a plate of food. “Eat up. Both of you.” He winked at Carlos and moved to grab him a plate too.
“I didn’t know you were a golfer, Mateo,” Carlos said as they all started eating.
“Sorta,” he replied. “I used to caddy and work at one of the clubs when I was in high school. A couple of the guys I worked for got bored and taught me how to do things. Radford let me play a couple times while I was working for him. Before Cap brought me on to the 126.”
TK couldn’t help but bristle at Radford’s name. Yes, the man had been a part of bringing them to Austin, but he also had a huge hand in giving Billy Tyson his position in retirement.
“So yeah, I liked it a lot,” Mateo continued, not realizing TK had zoned out as he spoke. “Pretty stoked that Cap is taking me out! And that you’re going too, TK!”
TK zoned back in on the mention of his name and shot Mateo a smile. “Yeah. Will be nice to get out of the house.” He rubbed at his eyes, trying to suppress yet another yawn. God he was so tired. No matter what he did, he couldn’t shake the exhaustion that plagued him since the arson and dust storm. He was just so tired…
“I have to admit,” Owen said as he joined everyone else at the table with his own plate. “I’m a little surprised you agreed to come.” He nudged TK’s shoulder as he sat down beside him. “Not that I’m not thrilled. Just, normally not your thing.”
TK swallowed down the reply of ‘I miss you’ and instead rolled his eyes. “Well, you need some new golfing partners. Obviously.”
“For sure!” Mateo agreed, launching into his own ramblings of how awful Billy had been of late.
TK zoned out once again, allowing Mateo to dominate the conversation and pull his dad into it more. Carlos though, he seemed to pick up on TK’s mood. He leaned in close and pressed a kiss to TK’s cheek. “You okay, babe?” He whispered in TK’s ear.
TK swallowed thickly and shrugged.
Carlos gave him a worried look. “Hey Cap, do you need someone to take Buttercup on a walk?”
The dog barked at the mention of the walk, causing Owen to laugh. “If you’re offering, he’ll take you up on it.”
“Yes sir,” Carlos forced his own chuckle out. “Hey TK, want to come with me? Before I have to leave?”
TK nodded and shoved the last of his food away.
“TK, no hungry?” Owen asked gently.
“I’m fine. I hate a lot at the Vegas last night. The twins ordered pizzas and wanted to teach me to make brownies.” It wasn’t a lie. But…he hadn’t really eaten that much with them.
“I think he’s more interested in food at the clubhouse,” Carlos tried to save face for his boyfriend.
“Ooh, we could do lunch there!” Owen gasped.
“Lunch?” Mateo exclaimed excitedly.
The two of them got into a conversation around food and the clubhouse while TK and Carlos snuck out with Buttercup. Carlos snagged the leash from the entryway table and attached it to Buttercup’s collar. He then took TK’s hand in his and stepped out of the house, the dog pulling excitedly on his lead.
“Easy, buddy,” TK laughed more genuinely. “You’re going to spoil him with all these morning walks.” He let his shoulders bump into Carlos’s.
“Probably, but I also thought you may need a minute.” Carlos squeezed TK’s hand. “How are you? Really, babe?”
TK sighed. “I’m okay. And I’m glad you pushed for me to get out of the house today. But…just tired. Really.” They made their way around the neighborhood, letting Buttercup sniff and lead as he wanted. “Just feeling kind of useless anyway. And I’m a disaster on the golf course. So not expected it to help with that feeling.”
“Hey.” Carlos stopped, earning a whine from Buttercup. He pulled TK into his space and gave him a long look. “You are not useless. Far from it.” He leaned in and pressed a long kiss to his lips. “You’ve been working your ass off, baby. Seriously.”
TK wasn’t convinced but didn’t argue. He deflected. “Come on. We should let Buttercup finish his route.” He plastered on a fake smile. “You know how he gets.”
“I’m okay, Carlos. Seriously.” He stepped out of Carlos’s space and tugged on his hand. “Come on. I’m okay. Golfing will be fine. I suck at it. I may hit dad or Mateo with the damn ball when I tee off. But it’ll be fine.”
Carlos stood still another minute until Buttercup barked and whined at him. He let out a long breath. “Okay. Okay. I’m going.”
They moved through the neighborhood in silence. It was obvious Carlos wanted to say more, to push TK more. And it was just as obvious that TK wasn’t as okay as he said. But, they let it go. For now.
Neither realized how much worse things were going to get…or how wrong TK was about things being fine at the golf course…