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late night loneliness

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Carlos has always loved the feeling of coming home.

There is something incredibly comforting about it, the feeling of safety and warmth that takes over his whole body when he sees the front door of his home.

Even though home for him means a lot more than just the physical place. A house is just walls and a roof over his head, but home is more than that. It’s about having a safe place where he can lower his guard and be himself without any obligations or pretences, possibly be the truest version of himself.

More than that, home is about love, and it is about people, too.

If the fire that engulfed the condo and the aftermath of it taught him anything, it is that TK is his home, too, and that as long as he is with him, he has a home and he isn’t lacking that feeling of safety.

Maybe that’s why, when they almost two years ago carried a bunch of cardboard boxes into a small house, it felt instantly like home, although Carlos feared that he would still yearn the feeling of home they had in the condo.

Yet, the house became a home, and it is almost challenging to think that it hasn’t always been their home. It feels almost made for them, and Carlos is nothing but overjoyed that he gets to share the home and the feeling of it with TK.

Still, despite all of that, a lump rises in his throat when he parks the Camaro in front of the house. As he kills the engine only silence follows, but he spots the bright light of the kitchen lamps, their glow is almost impossible to miss in the darkness of the night.

Carlos cranes his neck, trying to see if the lights are on in the living room, too, but the curtains are closed. Still, he swears he can see the slight gleam of the lights between the thick curtains. He knows for a fact that the lights weren’t on in the bedroom windows as he would have spotted them ages ago while driving down the street.

He adores coming home to TK, and it’s always nice to come home to a house that’s filled with love, but in certain times, knowing that he is home fills his heart with dread.

The battery of his phone died hours ago and obviously someone had nicked the only working charger from the break room of the precinct, so his phone stays dead, no matter how many times he has pushed the small button on the side of it. He cannot check the time from his phone, but he knows it cannot be midnight yet and he is certain TK’s shift isn’t ending until midnight.

But the lights still mean someone is home, and they are the only two people who have keys.

Coming home early, hours before supposed to, never means a good thing in their line of work. Coming home early means being send home early, and that usually happens only when something devastating happens.

Carlos exhales, trying to calm his growing worry, which is crawling its way through his chest, settling between his ribs and weighing heavy on his heart. It’s almost impossible to stop it.

He reaches the unbuckle his seatbelt and tries to convince himself that if something truly horrible would have happened TK wouldn’t be home, he would be in hospital, and someone would have called him, even if his phone was dead, someone would have called the station.

But just because he isn’t in need of medical attention, doesn’t mean he is fine or okay, and the worry has a chokehold on him by the time he manages to open the car door and step into the cold night.

It is only a few steps from in front of the garage to the front door, and he tries to humor the thought of just remembering his shift schedule wrong. He has a picture of TK’s current rooster saved in his phone and he checked the piece of paper stuck on their fridge door this morning and he remembers with clarity that it said Monday and six am was followed by four zeros.

Carlos’ stomach falls unpleasantly when he thinks that he could have been at home hours ago when his shift actually ended, but he offered to help the newbie with her growing pile of paperwork, just because the thought of spending their three-year anniversary alone at home was little too sad.

The fact that they have actual plans for tomorrow, when their shifts actually align and allow them to spend the evening together, some sort of dinner about which details TK was uncharacteristically tight-lipped about, is comforting enough and he is looking forward to it because he has plans of his own, too.

Carlos knows that it doesn’t matter if they celebrate the anniversary on the actual date or the next day, but somehow the idea of spending most of the night alone felt hallow, but now he just regrets avoiding the empty home, when it obviously hasn’t been empty, and TK probably would have wanted him home earlier.

He curses, not for the first time during the day, himself for forgetting his own charger at home, as he finally manages to find the keys from the pocket of his jacket and open the door.

The moment he steps in, he knows something is wrong.

It’s way too quiet.

TK isn’t a noisy person, per se, but whenever he is at home, he is making some sort of sound or noise. Whether it is the tap of his foot against the floor or tap of his fingers against surface of a table or couch. Humming a song underneath his breath or very least, having the tv on in the background or listening to music. The sound of footsteps against the creaky wooden floors that they have both cursed multiple times when trying to come home quietly as possible from the night shift.

Now, he is only faced with silence.

Thick silence, the type of silence that feels difficult to break and it has invaded every corner of the house, and for Carlos, it is almost a sure sign that he is alone in their house, despite the lights.

He kicks off his shoes, placing them near the door as he heads towards the kitchen. He could swear that he didn’t leave the lights on when he left to work this morning, and TK had already left for his shift before he woke up.

His worry is slowly growing into confusion, but as soon as he walks into their joint kitchen and dining room and his gaze lands on the dining table, he knows instantly that he messed up.

The table’s wooden surface is shiningly clean, and it has been obviously set for two. TK has apparently rummaged through the cupboards to find the fancier plates that they almost never use, there are two sets of cutlery and empty glasses neatly placed next to the plates. Dark blue serviettes are neatly folded and ridiculously huge bouget of white-and-pink carnations has been fitted into a glass vase.

Carlos stares at the table, almost dumbfoundedly, although there is no doubt in his mind that he is staring at the remnants of what should have been their anniversary dinner. There is a faint scent of food, although he cannot quite make out what it is, but still the scent of spices and possibly fish lingers in the air.

He glances towards the kitchen sink, and surely enough the sink is filled with dishes, bowls, pots and a frying pan. He carefully runs his finger along the surface of the frying pan, but it is cold as a stone.

There is no sign of the food, but as he opens the door of the fridge, he finds a bunch of plastic containers that look like they have been filled in a rush and piled up in anywhere where they could fit in their rather full fridge.

He closes the door slowly, turning around again, but the table just remains there and so does the silence.

Carlos slowly comes to the realisation that he has known deep down since the moment he saw the table. TK cooked for him, something elaborate considering the amount of unwashed dishes that have taken over the sink, and he, accidently, stood him up. On their anniversary.

He closes his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose and sighs. His confusion and worry have quickly turned into heavy regret. He rubs his forehead, trying to figure out how he messed up the days this bad, but he is still convinced that TK said Tuesday when he mentioned the dinner.

“Shit,” he mutters, mostly to the empty kitchen around him.

He doesn’t know what to do. He feels terrible, knowing that TK probably waited for him for hours, and he simply didn’t show up.

He is unable to stop staring at the table, it’s beautifully set, and TK has obviously put effort to it too, and it breaks his heart. Yet, he spots something yellow near the vase.

He walks up to the table, and it is undeniably a post-it note that has been stick to the table. It’s tiny and the brightness of it almost hurts his eyes. The slight messy curves of ys and gs are definitely TK’s and his heart clenches in his chest before he even reads it.

went for a run

the food went cold, it’s in fridge if you want to heat it up.

In the bottom of the note, there’s more text and it looks like it has been written in a hurry, almost as if it was an afterthought.

Happy anniversary of you know what

TK isn’t a cruel person, but he can sense his frustration and annoyance through the piece of paper, and the last sentence is like a sucker punch to the stomach, and it lands without a fail.

Somehow, the knowledge of TK thinking that he didn’t just stand him up, but forgot their anniversary too is making everything worse.

Especially, when just weeks ago, they joked it would be near impossible to forget it, since the local newspapers and tv news still bring up the solar storm every year on the anniversary of it. This year, the city has commissioned even a sculpture for a memorial for those who died and got injured during the storm and planned a whole ceremony around it. It has been all over the news today.

He swallows, hard, placing the note back to the table. Uneasiness is spreading slowly to every corner of his body, making him feel restless. He knows he needs to do something, but he feels almost frozen in place.

He wants to apologize, almost desperately so, and knowing that he cannot immediately do so isn’t easing his regret and guilt.

Carlos does the only thing that might even remotely help and searches for his phone charger. It doesn’t take him long to find it from the bedroom drawer and come back to downstairs. He plugs it in as he sits down on the living room couch.

It seems to take a small forever for his phone to switch on again, and he realises only moments later that he has started to bounce his leg as the phone is still showing dark screen.

It finally comes to life, and it floods with notifications of missed calls and texts almost immediately, after but all Carlos is able to do is to stare at the lock screen. The clock is almost ten already, but all he is able to focus on is the date below the clock.

It says 15th, just as he expected and knew to be, but what throws him of the loop is that before the date, it says Tuesday with small letters.

Maybe his heart skips a beat, in the worst way possible, as he first reads it, and it makes the guilt tenfold deep in his chest.

As he just stares at the screen, he feels a spark of annoyance ignite, too, and that annoyance is only directed at himself. He cannot believe that he has caused all of this just by mixing the days of the week. He has lived his whole day as if it was a Monday instead of a Tuesday, and somehow nothing until this has brought his attention to it.

It’s such a small and dumb mistake to make, and usually it would be nothing, just something to laugh at, but now, it has only caused hurt. Missing a dinner seems like a small thing, but he knows TK has every right to be upset and frustrated because at the same time, it is about more than just a dinner.

He is upset and frustrated, too, and usually he is on top of things like these. He doesn’t forget people’s birthdays or any other significant dates. He has an entire section on his calendar reserved for these sorts of things, just so that he doesn’t miss any of his nieces’ or nephews’ birthdays, and he always looks them up in advance.

Not that he would need a calendar entry to remember their anniversary.

It is far too important and significant, and this time he has planned his gift for TK at least for six months. He has been preparing it, almost meticulously, for a while know, longer than a half a year, but he got the idea for it on one gloomy afternoon, and he hasn’t been able to shake it off since.

And he had a plan, and he wanted it to go smoothly and perfectly, and TK’s idea of having the dinner at home fit that plan perfectly. He wanted to give the gift to him after the dinner, and he was looking forward to it, and seeing his reaction, but now it seems that it is ending up being just one of the plans he has wrecked today.

His heart cracks when he checks his texts. TK has sent first of the four texts at five, almost five hours ago, asking if he is running little late. There is another one asking where he is and a few asking if he is okay, and he has obviously stopped trying after seven.

There are couple of missed calls from him, too.

Forgetting the dinner is bad enough on its own, but the guilt starts to gnaw the nook of his heart when he realises that he made him worry too by not answering his calls or texts. Battery running out is usually the most obvious explanation, but every time something like this happens, it is difficult not to think the time TK pulled the radio silence when the emt crew got kidnapped by the bank robbers.

The jobs they have aren’t risk free and they both know that, but the feeling of uncertainty and fear never gets easier, even if there is even a small chance that something bad has happened. And he hates that he has accidently brought up more bad memories for him today.

Carlos’ thumb hovers over the call button, but he eventually decides not to even try and call him. He knows TK has his phone with him, he always does when he leaves for a run, but he isn’t sure if he would even pick up for him right now.

Besides, there is a reason why he went for a run. It took a while for Carlos to understand that it is just the way TK deals with conflict, he wants to take space and time to deal with his own emotions and putting physical distance between them is usually the best way to do it.

That doesn’t mean he is literally running away from him and them as in general, and he thinks granting him that space is the least he can do at the moment.

Carlos knows he hasn’t irrevocably messed up anything between them, but that doesn’t make the regret magically disappear and he knows that he hurt him even if it was the last thing he wanted to do, and that always leave a bitter taste in his mouth.

Forgetting is human, but it still hurts when one is in the receiving end of it.

The house still feels unnaturally quiet and sitting and staring at the phone in his hands doesn’t feel like an option at all. Waiting would just drive him up the wall. He leaves the phone to the couch and heads to the backdoor.

There is a tiny room between the last corner of the living room, and the actual back door, and it has turned into a storage of all sorts. They have placed all the things that don’t have a proper place or space, there, including a lot of cardboard boxes filled with everything from winter clothes’ to camping equipment they have used once and collapsible kids’ bed that TK’s little brother uses when he comes over.

All in all, the room is a bit of a mess, and they rarely ever look at the boxes, they just use it as a passage to the backyard, and therefore it is a perfect place to hide things. Carlos isn’t even completely sure why he wanted to hide the gift. 

It is just a box, completely ordinary-looking, a tiny bit bigger than a shoebox and at first glance it wouldn’t intrigue anyone’s curiosity. TK has never showed any interest to the box before he decided to give it to him as a gift and he probably wouldn’t pay attention to it now either, but it felt safer to hide it.

The box is light as he picks it up, still it is filled with things that are precious and valuable to him. Especially now that he has done his latest additions to it, but every item in the box is significant and heavy with meaning.

Carlos sighs heavily, running his thumb against the side of the box.

He hates the way the night has gone down, and while he only has himself to blame for it, he wants to give the box to him. Not as a way to apologize, but just because he wants to share it, and everything it means to him.

He carefully places the box on the coffee table in the living room and heads to the kitchen to start doing the dishes. There are a lot of them, and there is tiny batches of food, possibly the fish, stuck in the frying pan, and he rinses it for the longest time before it comes off.

Doing the dishes is usually relaxing, he likes the feeling of doing something concrete and seeing the result of it immediately, but now, his mind keeps wandering and it always comes back to TK, and it’s difficult to come up what he wants to say to him when he finally sees him.

In the end, he ends up sitting on the couch, waiting and staring at his phone. It has been quiet for so long that he almost startles when he finally hears the key being turned in a lock. He immediately sits up straighter, and something in his chest just crumbles when he finally lays his eyes on him.

TK swiftly kicks off his shoes, placing them next to his own, and looks up to him. His forehead is covered in sweat and his face is reddish, and the dark red hoodie he is wearing just highlights it. He even flashes him a tiny and quick smile and it makes his heart feel weird.

“You made it home,” TK retorts, still holding the key in his other hand and he seems hesitant to come closer, but he studies him with his gaze and Carlos definitely feels the weight of it on himself.

“I never forgot that it is our anniversary today,” he blurts out.

It is definitely one of the things Carlos wanted to clarify to him, but he didn’t plan to start with it. Still, it rolls off his tongue without thinking and it feels somehow urgent that TK knows that even though he forgot something, he didn’t forget everything.

“Yeah, you just chose paperwork over me,” he says, sounding like he is aiming for deadpan, but there is an edge of heaviness in his voice.

Carlos frowns, trying search for the right words to clarify that it is not what happened, but he mostly ends up staring at his own hands and when he opens his mouth, TK is already continuing.

 “I’m joking, mostly,” he says, lot softer than he would have excepted. He slowly walks around the coffee table and sits down next to him on the couch. “I eventually called Mitchell when you didn’t answer or show up and asked when I should expect you home and she said you volunteered to help with paperwork, and I shouldn’t wait up. I gotta admit that stung.”

Mitchell had left the precinct hours earlier than he did, and while they have grown closer during the years they have worked together, he still isn’t sure if he ever mentioned the specific date of the anniversary to her. If she had known, she would have kicked him out of the precinct the moment TK called her.

Still, hearing him put it that way pains him.

“I’m so sorry,” he murmurs, voice heavy with regret, as he looks up from his hands, attempting to catch his gaze, but he is surprised to realise that TK’s already looking at him.

TK has never been too good at hiding his true emotions, his expression almost always gives him away. Whether it is the movement of the corner of his mouth or the way his eyes shine with range of emotions he is feeling. Now, his whole face softens as he looks at him, but his gaze keeps darting away until it always comes back.

“I figured out after three hours of waiting that you forgot.”

Carlos is willing to bet that he figured it out earlier, but maybe it really did take that long for him to truly believe that he wasn’t coming. He feels a sharp pang in his stomach just thinking about how much of a benefit of a doubt he was willing to give him, and it certainly doesn’t make him feel any better.

“I did,” he says, almost wearily, and vaguely gesturing towards the kitchen, “and I know it sounds dumb, but I genuinely thought we weren’t doing this until tomorrow.”

“Okay,” TK replies, after a beat and shrugs. “You wouldn’t be the first person to mix up days.”

Carlos knows that it is really that simple, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t regret the consequences of it.

“No, but I hate that it led to this.”

“It happens,” TK says simply, biting the inside of his lower lip and he quickly looks at one of the biggest plants residing on the living room’s windowsill, before looking back at him, and it almost look as if he rolls his eyes.

Carlos knows him well enough to know that he is deflecting. Trying to avoid going into any more detail about his feelings, trying to brush it under the rug and move on, and he has a growing suspicion that he is only doing that to spare his feelings and that just intensifies his wallowing guilt. As well as TK tries to hide it, there is some sort of lingering and bubbling frustration and upset underneath the surface.

“I feel terrible.”

“Don’t,” TK murmurs, softly, reaching to take his hand into his. He holds it slightly clumsily, but he slowly runs his thumb against his knuckles and exhales slowly. “I’m not gonna lie, I was annoyed and frustrated, but I got most of that out of my system by running. And I’m definitely not angry at you.”

He sounds almost proud as he says it, and Carlos cannot help but flash him quick and tiny smile. He knows they are in a good place in their relationship because both of them have grown and learned to deal with their emotions in healthier ways, taking up time and space to bring up and deal with things that bother them.

And that he owes to TK that they talk it through, even though agreeing to let it slide would be the easier for him.

“Just because you’re not angry doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t be upset,” Carlos points out, gently but still with certain sorrow.

His words seem to make him stop and as he exhales heavily, some of the tension seems to leave his body immediately.

“Maybe it made me feel—forgotten,” TK admits, slowly and quietly, pressing his lips together into a thin line, “and upset, but it will pass. It’s already passing.”

Carlos considers it a win that he even admits that aloud, but at the same time, hearing it shatters his heart, nevertheless.

“I hate that I made you feel like that even for a moment,” he says, squeezing his hand slightly and TK squeezes his hand in return.

“I know you didn’t mean to not show up, and it hurt, but I get it. Life is hectic and it’s easy to mix up days when work is exhausting, it is like juggling ten different balls up in the air and sometimes less important balls slip—”

“You’re important to me,” Carlos says, effectively cutting him off because he doesn’t want him to think or believe the contrary even for a fraction of a second.

TK smiles at him. It’s a gradual smile, starting from the corner of his mouth, twitching into a lopsided but soft smile. It lingers on his face for a moment, and most of it disappears, but traces of it still remain on lips, as he looks down on their intertwined hands.

“I know,” he says, simply and without any hesitation, “and that’s not something you’d have to prove, not even after this, but we’ve had dinner countless times before. There was nothing out of the ordinary when I said that I’d take care of the dinner and it is completely okay if this dinner wasn’t the most important thing in your mind, I mean it is kind of just of the many.”

There is certain grain of truth in his words, and it is easy to see how he has come to that conclusion. Three years is sort of a long time to be together, and that is definitely filled with countless little moments that they have shared. Some of those moments are similar, it is impossible to distinguish which memory is from specific day, just because they repeat often enough to blend into together, a mixture of happiness and the sense of what their everyday lives are.

Most of their mornings when they have shifts are always similar. Cups of coffee, lingering kisses and shared breakfasts and whispered be safes before hurrying to work. Similarly, most of their evenings go the same way, too, and TK is right about them having dinner countless times, and even though his memories of those are filled with happiness and love, it is hard to say which happened when.

So, he understands TK, but still his explanation bothers him.

Carlos hums softly, looking at him. “I’ve taken you as a granted if you feel that way.”

TK’s expression turns perplexed, and he squints his eyes at him. “What?”

“Some moments obviously are more unique and memorable,” he starts, huffing softly, “but that doesn’t mean that each moment wouldn’t be important. I love and appreciate every single moment we get to spend together because those moments make us, and I’d not change any of the moments we’ve had for anything. No matter, how brief or insignificant they might feel.”

The confusion melts away from TK’s face as he quietly studies him with his gaze.

“And it doesn’t matter if we’ll have another sixty years of dinners and other moments ahead of us,” Carlos continues, gently, “because each of them still means the world to me, and I don’t want you to think that just because there are plenty of them that I’d somehow become so used to them and you, that those wouldn’t mean as much to me just because the novelty has worn off.”

Firsts, moments that are charged with overwhelmingly strong emotions and the ones that change something are always easier to remember. There are plenty of those between them, some good and some bad, but there is an abundance of softer and more ordinary moments, too, and he adores the domesticity of those smaller moments.

Most of all, he just wants that TK doesn’t think that he takes his time or presence as a granted, something as so ordinary and given, that he wouldn’t have to think about it, or appreciate it in any way. Because in reality, each moment counts, and he is always in his thoughts.

“I get what you mean,” TK murmurs, after a moment, as he cradles Carlos’ hand with his both hands now, tenderly brushing his fingers against his palm and the back of his hand, “but you’ve never made me feel neglected or like you wouldn’t appreciate me.”

Some of the knot inside his stomach that tightened as soon as he realised that he forgot seems to loosen up and he exhales deeply, flashing him a quick smile.

“Good. And I understand if one apology doesn’t fix all of this—”

“Babe,” TK says, cutting him off, “I forgave you the moment I walked in.”

Carlos’ brow furrows because he is certain that at the moment he walked in, he hadn’t even had the chance to explain or apologize for any of it.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” he retorts.

“You looked so—crestfallen about it, like that the guilt may actually eat you alive and I just knew that there was no way you did it on purpose. That it was just a mistake, and everybody does those,” TK clarifies, with a slight shrug. He presses a kiss on his shoulder, rests his lips there for a moment. “And guess what? Even you don’t have to be perfect.”

People always talk about the mortifying ordeal of being known, but in that moment, Carlos is nothing but glad and grateful that TK knows him, through and through. It soothes the part of him that always sets higher standards for himself than for anyone else, and the part that always beats himself for messing up anything that affects others, and it is so easy to get caught up in that and just dwell in his misery.

But TK always seems to know when he is on the edge of falling into that hole, and always manages to pull him back, faster than he could on his own. It’s comforting to know that he understands him and gets him, and still loves him.

Carlos simply nods, little defeatedly, but reaches to kiss his forehead slowly and gently. He even closes his eyes for a moment as he lets the touch linger. Eventually, he pulls away and nods towards the kitchen, with curiosity in his eyes.

“You cooked?”

“Yeah,” TK laughs, almost silently, “and I’m not saying this to make you feel worse, but I practised it. Your parents, everyone at the firehouse and Grace and Lily were my guinea pigs on this. Obviously, our godchild was the toughest critic of them all, she absolutely refused to even taste it.”

He chuckles, easily imagining the way TK has jokingly tried to make her eat the food, even when she has definitely entered her picky-eater phase months ago, but somehow, just the mental imagine of it, is enough to fill his heart with pure fondness.

Judd and Grace’s kid has had all of them wrapped around her little finger since she was born, and especially her parents, but she is definitely drowning in love from all of them, and Carlos is still touched that they wanted him and TK to be her godparents with Tommy. 

“You cooked to my parents, too?” he asks, focusing on that little detail instead, with arched eyebrows.

“Your mom gave me the recipe, so obviously I had to prove I did something useful with it,” TK explains, with a vague wave of his hand and bright smile dancing on his lips.

It may have been years already, but Carlos still cannot help but marvel sometimes how well TK manages to get along with his parents and that they have so much love between them. He never doubted that TK wouldn’t charm them, but after years of believing that he couldn’t have that, it still feels like some sort of miracle.

“What recipe?”

“Red snapper,” TK says, casually with a half-smile, but when he notices the surprise on Carlos’ face, he grins. “What? I was feeling a little sentimental.”

It isn’t the easiest thing to cook, and it can quickly turn tough and rubbery, and his mother’s recipe is elaborate with the seasoning, but it still warms his heart that it is the recipe he has wanted to learn.

After the disastrous first attempt of having dinner together, they have managed to eat it once. And that was entirely because very early in their relationship, TK felt guilty about just storming away and leaving him alone without an explanation and he just offered to redo the dinner.

It was one of the first proper dinners they had together after the solar storm.

“We could eat it now if you feel up to it,” he suggests.

Carlos knows that TK had put time and effort into the dinner, and he would hate it all to go to the waste just because he messed up. Especially now that everything between them feels—right and normal. There are still traces of guilt that refuse to leave him alone just yet, but at least it feels like there is nothing heavy or unresolved hanging between them.

“Sure,” TK agrees, easily, “fair warning, I’ve no idea what it tastes like after reheating.”

“I’m sure it’s amazing.”

“I think you might be a little biased,” TK retorts back immediately, smiling so widely that it scrunches his nose and Carlos’ heart skips a beat.

He isn’t sure which one is a bigger joke among the 126, TK’s cooking abilities or his tendency to eat whatever TK has cooked, even the less successful ones. Paul has declared more than once that Carlos would eat small rocks if they were prepared by TK. It’s an exaggeration, but he might have a point with being biased.

He is already standing up, taking a few steps towards the kitchen, when TK points at the box on the coffee table.

“Is that yours?”

If Carlos is being completely honest, he almost forgot that the box was there, but he still does have every intention of giving it to him, so he sits down again, on the edge of the armrest of the couch.

“Technically, it’s yours,” he tells him, softly, as he folds his arms against his chest.

TK shoots him a puzzled look before his gaze darts back to the box. He drags it closer and eventually picks it up and places it on his lap.

“It’s a box.”

It’s an accurate description of it. It’s a completely regular looking brown cardboard box with a lid that can be lifted off, but still, Carlos bites his lip as he tries to stifle down his laughter.

“It’s your anniversary gift, but we don’t have to get stuck on the specifics,” he deadpans.

Yet, TK’s face falls and he flashes his eyes up to him again. “I didn’t get you anything,” he says, quietly.

Carlos just shakes his head.

“You did all of that,” he argues, softly, nodding towards the dining table, “that’s more than enough.”

TK still looks little unsure of it, but he slowly and carefully lifts the lid off, and Carlos is entirely sure his own breath hitches in his throat for a moment.

He has wanted to give him the box for months now, and he has waited for this moment specifically, but it is still difficult not to give too much space of for his anxieties and nerves whether TK actually likes it or if he thinks it is dumb.

The confusion is still clearly written in TK’s expression when he picks up the first item out of the very full box. To most people, the items inside would be trash, but there is meaning and a story behind everything he has ever put to the box.

TK is holding a slightly rumbled orange napkin in his hand, just examining it slowly with his brow furrowed, until he spots the very familiar phone number scribbled over the napkin.

TK sputters out a delighted and surprised laughter when he recognises it. It is the same napkin he gave to him, years ago, back at the honky tonk after their make-out session in the bathroom stalls, and hurriedly wrote his phone number on it and told Carlos to text him sometime.

He still holds it in his hand as he picks up another item, a small piece of white paper.

Carlos cranes his neck to look at it, even though he knows for a fact that it is a receipt from the time they played darts at the bar when they hadn’t still put a label on anything that was between them.

TK stares at it longer than he did at the napkin, but he apparently spots the date on the wrinkled receipt, and grins widely. He quickly glances at the box again and places the napkin and receipt carefully on the table.

“You kept all of this?”

“Mhmm, I tend to have hard time throwing things away that mean something to me,” Carlos explains, his whole face softens as he speaks, “and you mean the world to me.”

TK looks up to him, giving him one of the softest and most enamoured smiles Carlos has ever had the privilege of being in the receiving end, and he knows that he made the right decision to give it, and share the contents of the box with him.

His sisters has always teased him about his hoarding tendencies because ever since he was a kid, he has liked to keep certain small items safe, mementoes of important and significant moments, or just particularly happy ones, because he has liked the idea of having something concrete to symbolise all of the memories he wants to cherish.

TK picks up a small, dark blue ticket, that the club that they took Paul to dance gave to them at the entrance. The edges of it are little frayed, but the print on it is still clear and TK smiles down on it, until he seems to realise something.

“Wait, how did all of this survive the fire?”

His voice is laced with confusion, and it is a valid question to ask, because after the condo burnt down, they were mostly left with nothing and had to build their lives from a scratch.

“Some of it was originally stored in my bottom drawer at the precinct,” Carlos explains.

All of it had been up to a chance, really. In the beginning, he had no intention of collection any sort of mementos of their time together, especially when TK didn’t seem ready for anything that would last, but the napkin and the receipt had ended up to the station in the pocket of his jeans and he didn’t have the heart to just throw them away.

Placing them in the bottom drawer of his desk had seemed like a better solution, and somehow, he got in the habit of placing any small items he acquired from their time together to the drawer. He could have at any point take them to home, but it felt less personal if they were at the precinct and he didn’t want TK to accidently find them when everything between them was still fragile and new.

The box is full, but TK still picks up one item at the time, looking at each of them carefully and paying attention to everything he finds, and Carlos appreciates it more than he can say. Still, the slowness that he goes through the box with is making the pace of his heart pick up.

TK pulls out his one-year sobriety chip. Carlos knows the significance that the chip had for TK when he first got it, and that it still probably has, but still on the first day he was cleared to go back to work after the fire, TK gave it to him so that he would have something concrete to remind of him if things got too much at work.

Carlos took it to every shift for two weeks, and in that time, he lost the count of how many times he pulled it out, fidgeted with it to calm his mind and run his fingers along the smooth surface of it. He eventually gave it back to TK when things started to get better, more normal, but TK gave it back to him when he received his two-year sobriety chip.

“I didn’t know you still had this,” he says, an edge of awe in his voice, as he looks at the chip that lies in the middle of his palm.

“Like I’d throw it away,” he whispers back, smiling and sliding to the couch from the armrest.

TK returns the smile, letting their gazes linger, and Carlos sort of wants to live in that moment forever, just because it feels like happiness is surrounding them, and he could drown in it.

TK continues to pull things out. There are bunch of notes they have written for each other on post-it notes when their shifts haven’t been aligning, and they have just passed each other like ships in a night. There is no logic to what post-it notes he has kept. Some of them are written by him, but majority is written by TK.

There are tiny love confessions on some of them, reminders of ordinary things on others and just wishing other to be safe, and TK’s smile doesn’t falter as he meticulously reads all of them through.

TK raises his eyebrows as he pulls out a brightly yellow parking ticket. There is definitely amusement in the way he looks at him. “I don’t remember this.”

“That’s because I got it when I first came to see you after you had been shot,” Carlos huffs, “it was all sort of a haze after Paul called me and I didn’t even remember, let alone think, where I left the car and I had committed parking violation.”

It is still the first and only parking ticket he has ever received, and he would like to keep it that way, but maybe that one ticket was worth it.

TK’s expression is almost unreadable for a moment, but eventually his smile returns, as soft and warm as before.

There are a bunch of pictures, too. There is one of the entire 126 after one of Marjan’s roller derby matches. There is one of just the two of them, taken at Judd and Grace’s backyard, and they are both smiling at each other, widely and softly, and not paying any attention to the camera. There is one of them and Tommy at Lily’s christening. There are a few of them with Buttercup and TK’s little brother, and various random snapshots they have taken of each other through the years.

There is a paper plane that TK once folded when he was waiting for him at the precinct and took as his personal mission to entertain one of his co-worker’s kids who had been waiting for his mom. There are a bunch of other receipts from the dates they have been on, some from restaurants, one from paintball, and movie tickets.

There is one of those braided friendship bracelets that TK had made once when babysitting Izzy and Eve, and they had made him solemnly promise that he would give it to someone he cares about. They hadn’t apparently been surprised when he ended up giving it to Carlos.

There is the pen they signed the papers with when they bought the house together. There is a shopping list, it isn’t any special one, just a grocery shopping list written with both of their handwritings. There is a postcard that TK sent to him when he was off to fight off the wildfires across Texas. There is a drawing that one of Carlos’ nieces made of them, it is mostly just colorful and wavy lines, but it was on their fridge door for the longest time until he put in the box for safe keeping.

“I wondered where this disappeared,” TK murmurs, fondly, looking at the drawing.

Carlos just hums, sounding almost nonchalant even though he doesn’t mean to, but the box has only one item in it and the thought of him discovering it is making his heart jump into his throat in the best way possible, but it doesn’t make it feel any less terrifying.

TK seems oblivious to his growing jitteriness because he slowly places the drawing among the other things before glancing at the bottom of the box. The last item is so small and delicate it could have easily slid in between the papers or photos, but it is there, in the middle of the box, just as he planned it.

“What’s this?” TK asks, voice laced with curiosity, as he easily picks up the white gold ring from it.

“An engagement ring,” he points out, softly but quietly, and his ribcage is suddenly way too small for his hammering heart, “and yours, hopefully.”

A moment passes, in complete silence, and all Carlos can hear is the sound of them both breathing. Quietly and steadily, slightly in different rhythms, but still together.

“What?”

Carlos inhales, little unsteadily, but smiles at him. His heart is still racing, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be certain of what he wants to say. He has gone it through in his mind countless times since he bought and hid the ring into that box.  

“I love you, and I know that I’ll keep loving you. And you’ve made my life so much better and filled it with so much-- love and happiness, and all I want to do is to make you feel that same love and keep making you happy. I want to share all the days I have with you and fill up another box or ten with new memories because you’re my favorite person, and nothing would make me happier than spend rest of my life with you and by loving you.”

His own voice sounds soft and quiet to his own ears, too, but even though TK isn’t looking at him, he seems to listen each and every word that he utters.

TK bites his lower lip, and there might be tears glistering in his eyes if he sees correctly, but he stays silent, and mostly stares at the ring on his palm. He is almost unmoving, and it is impossible to say what goes in his mind.

“The ring is in the box because it can stay there,” he continues, brushing his knee with his fingertips briefly. “For months or years. I know we have always said that there’s no rush for us to get engaged or married, and that’s still true. You don’t have to say yes, and I understand if it still feels too—hard or uncomfortable. But it is yours the moment you want it.”

Carlos knows they are on the same page generally about marriage and everything that comes along with it, but he is also more than aware that old scars heal slowly, and sometimes, they flare up and even though they might be in the past, they still can build up walls that prevent crossing certain lines.

He would never hold it against him if TK wasn’t ready, but still, he is almost certain he can hear his own heartbeat in his ears as he waits for him to answer.

The silence seems to stretch until he sniffles slightly. “You know, I’m not giving you an answer because you haven’t asked me anything.”

TK glances at him, amusement flashing in his green eyes, and offering him a twitch of the corner of his mouth that could easily grown into a smile.

Carlos sputters almost a surprised laughter because his remark is enough to evaporate all of the nervousness that has sit on his stomach for most of the night. He slides to the edge of the couch and drops on one knee. TK just grins at him, widely, and just the sight of it takes his breath away.

“Marry me?”

“Yeah,” he replies, without hesitation, and just as breathlessly. TK picks up the ring from his palm and slides it on his left finger by himself, and it is little hard to look away from his finger and the way the ring seems to glimmer there underneath the warm living room lights.

“But this isn’t going to any of those ten boxes,” TK jokes, lightly, as he looks at the ring on his finger, too.

It seems to fit well, almost as if it was meant to be there.

“Good,” Carlos breathes out, softly, and unable to stop smiling.

His heart is simply swelling with happiness and warmth, and he is attempting to get up from the floor, but TK hugs him with enough strength to slide off from the couch too, and he almost falls backwards until he gains his balance and wraps his arms as tightly around him.

TK burrows his face in his shoulder, breathing almost heavily and Carlos just brushes the hairline of his neck as they hold each other, until he feels a soft kiss below his jawline.

“I—appreciate that you tried to give me a way out,” he whispers, right below his ear, “but I don’t need it. Not with you. I trust you with—everything, even the parts of my heart that are still bit messed up.”

“And I want every part of it,” Carlos promises, feeling the sudden and overwhelming gratitude that this is his life, and he turns his head slightly to kiss his temple.