Mateo is dreaming that he’s trapped.
His friends are staring at him from outside, ignoring his pleas as he bangs on the window and begs them to help. The smell of gas invades his nostrils and a candle is burning just feet away, but he can’t move to blow it out. All he can do is call out to his friends and wait for the inevitable.
Fear builds in him as time ticks on, Mateo aware of his every breath.
A rushing sound. Heat, searing his skin. And a flash of bright, painful light, before—
He wakes up with a gasp. His heart feels like it’s about to beat out of his chest and his mouth is dry, sweat beading on his skin. Mateo can almost feel the heat of the explosion and the sight of it lingers whenever he closes his eyes, so he knows he’s not going back to sleep again.
It’s the third night in a row that his sleep has been interrupted by nightmares of the explosion, of all the ways things could have gone wrong that night. Mateo’s been able to hide it pretty well so far, and he’s got no intention of letting anyone else in on it if he can help it. With everything Cap’s been dealing with trying to get the station back up and running, plus Mateo knows that TK and Carlos have been struggling ever since the fire at their place, so none of them need him falling apart on them, too.
And he knows he could talk to someone else—Paul, Marjan, maybe even Judd—but he barely sees them anymore. He’s still stuck at the 129, and with the way all their shifts have been lately, it’s becoming harder and harder to find free time to hang out in.
Besides, they all have their own problems. Judd and Grace are preparing for the baby, and Marjan and Paul are… Well, Mateo is sure they’re busy.
And his thing isn’t that important. It’s barely even a thing. He’s fine .
Mateo reaches out for the glass of water on his nightstand, ignoring the way his hand trembles, only to groan when he finds it empty. For a brief moment, he debates staying in bed, but the mere thought seems to make his thirst worse, so he sighs heavily and throws back the covers, shoving himself to his feet.
His steps are uncoordinated as he stumbles through the darkened house. He rubs his eyes, a huge yawn creeping up on him, which must be why he misses it.
Mateo freezes in the entry to the kitchen, stopping short as he finally spots TK sitting on the counter with Carlos standing between his legs. Their foreheads are pressed together and Mateo can hear them talking quietly, and he suddenly feels like an intruder on something he’s definitely not supposed to be witnessing.
Neither of them have seen him yet, so Mateo tries to creep backwards out of the kitchen. He can handle bathroom water for one night if it saves him from this kind of embarrassment.
He’s been living in Cap’s house for a while so Mateo thinks he pretty much has the floor plan down pat. But it’s dark. And he’s tired. And he’s walking backwards.
So he misjudges the number of steps needed to clear the corner, and his heel hits the skirting board. Mateo can’t suppress his cry of pain and shock as he stumbles and falls, sprawling in an undignified heap on the floor.
The whispers still, and Mateo only has a second to commiserate over his situation before the kitchen light clicks on and he suddenly has both TK and Carlos staring down at him.
“Uh. Hey guys,” he mumbles, trying and failing to contain his shame. “Fancy seeing you here.”
“Are you okay?” Carlos asks, a worried frown creasing his brow. TK doesn’t say anything; instead, he just drops to his knees and runs a critical eye down Mateo’s body, clearly searching for any injuries.
Mateo flushes, TK’s gaze sending his embarrassment hurtling to a peak, and he pushes himself upright, almost falling straight back down as he trips over his feet in his hurry. “I’m fine,” he says hurriedly. “I’m great. Don’t worry. I’ll just, uh. I’ll just go, and you guys can get back to, um. Whatever you were doing. Sorry to interrupt.”
He turns to leave but Carlos stops him with a hand on his arm.
“Mateo,” he says softly, and suddenly Mateo understands exactly what TK means by the ‘Carlos cow eyes’.
Because, holy shit . It’s honestly a good job Mateo isn’t a criminal; there’s no way he’d be able to keep his mouth shut with those eyes. As it is, he stutters and stumbles through another deflection before his entire body sags, Carlos’s ridiculously empathetic gaze rendering his tongue useless.
Carlos smiles encouragingly and puts an arm around his shoulders, steering him to the kitchen counter. A steaming mug is almost immediately placed in front of him, and it takes Mateo a second to work out that it’s not, in fact, coffee as he was expecting, but hot chocolate.
He lifts his brows at TK, who just shrugs.
“Hot chocolate, dude? I’ve never seen you drink this before.”
“It’s comforting,” TK defends, though his expression doesn’t show any signs of offence. “Don’t tell Marj.”
Mateo grins, the moment of levity taking some of the weight off his shoulders. He takes a sip of the hot chocolate, barely suppressing a groan at how good it tastes—this is very clearly not the powdered stuff he’s always used himself.
“Maybe don’t tell my dad either,” TK says wryly. “Carlos makes a mean hot chocolate, but my dad would freak if he knew how much sugar was in it.”
He snorts. “Got it.”
A comfortable silence falls over the three of them, but Mateo can feel the way TK and Carlos’s eyes keep falling on him, both of them utterly failing at disguising their worry and concern.
“What are you guys doing down here?” he asks, hoping to delay the inevitable. “When I first saw you, I thought… But…” Mateo trails off, wincing, but TK’s easy laugh settles his embarrassment slightly.
“We have a perfectly good bed for that, ‘Teo,” he points out. “We just…” He exchanges a glance with Carlos, then turns back to Mateo, a knowing look in his eyes. “Good sleep is kind of a luxury these days, you know?”
Mateo nods; he does know. “Yeah,” he says quietly. “Same here.”
And it’s incredible, he thinks. Because, as the three of them stand in a kitchen that’s not their own, drinking from someone else’s mugs and delaying going back to the guest bedrooms containing all that’s left of theirs , Mateo feels closer to both TK and Carlos than he ever has.
Their situations aren’t the same, he knows this. Mateo can’t compare to the trauma that comes with almost dying; he can’t imagine the nightmares that must come with that. But he’s learning that, maybe, that doesn’t matter as much as he thought—that, maybe, it’s enough just to understand.
They’re all here, and Mateo knows.
For now, that’s more than enough for him.