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Maternal Mission

A fourteen-hour flight was a pain in the ass, Gwyn knows it, and yet, she still thought it wasn’t the worst thing in the world. Her only son being hurt — getting shot and entering a four-day coma — while she was fourteen hours away was definitely the worse thing to ever happen. She knows it’s been a month since he was discharged, and that he’s been home and resting and healing ever since. But her heart won’t slow down, and her brain won’t shut up, until she sees him with her own two eyes.

As she walks through the airport, standing in lines and moving from one queue to another queue at the pace of a snail, she can’t help but mutter a few choice words in anger. TK getting hurt while she was away wasn’t enough. No. It had to happen while a global pandemic was starting and travel restrictions were being put up. It’s by a mere miracle that she was able to leave and find herself a seat on a flight returning back to the States. And after that, she’s had to quarantine in a hotel before being allowed out into the public. And so, she finds herself coming to Austin much later than she would have liked.

It’s sad, and it hurts her entire soul, and she’d like to blame it on everyone and everything around her. Her brain somehow goes to Owen, and she hopes she could make this his fault, but she can still recognise that that’s a stretch, even by the standards of their rocky relationship.

The man in front of her moves, and Gwyn focuses her attention on the woman behind the counter, supplying all the required paperwork, hoping that this goes as smoothly as possible; she just wants to get to TK’s side, to hold him in her arms, make sure that he is indeed safe and sound, and alive.

When she’s finally done with that, she heads to baggage claim, thanking the universe that her bag appears moments after she stops in front of the belt, and then she’s out of the door, getting into the first empty taxi she sees, rattling off the address from her phone.

The drive is no longer than thirty minutes, yet it feels like centuries. She usually stays alert, eyes on the roads they’re travelling down, but she’s got better things on her mind right now.

She must have dozed off, for one moment she's staring out at the vast expanse of land surrounding the airport and in the blink of an eye she's suddenly rolling through big, beautiful houses all lined up in perfect rows.

“Excuse me, ma’am, we’re here,” a voice calls, and Gwyn feels her brain reconnect with reality, thrusting her consciousness back to the back of the cab she’s currently seated on.

“Oh, oh, okay,” she stutters her way out of the taxi, rounding the vehicle to take her luggage bag out of the trunk and then paying the man. It’s only when he moves that she turns around and comes into view of the house.

The suburban two storey home is as classy as Owen himself can be — it’s very much classy and pristine. It reminds her of the late years of their marriage when their lives looked nice from the outside. She can only hope that the inside isn’t nearly as much of a mess.

Dragging up her bag, she crosses the expanse of the white-picket front lawn before she bends at the door to retrieve the extra key Owen said he’d leave out for her under the mat.

There’s a string of thoughts that remind her TK might be asleep, so she makes sure to make as little noise as possible, fighting the urge to call out to him the way she really wants to. Instead, she pushes the door just open enough to get her and the bags through, then she closes it just as slowly.

Owen had given her a basic tour of the house, so she knows that Tk will either be in the living room to her left, in the kitchen to her right or the bedroom a little further after the kitchen.

A quick scan of the living room reveals vacant couches, so she immediately crosses to the other side of the house. When she finds the kitchen and dining room bare as well, she makes her way towards TK’s bedroom. It takes everything in her to stop in front of the closed door and softly knock, but when there isn’t an answer, she opens the door anyway.

Gwyn fully expected to see a completely sick and bed-ridden TK, wraps and bandages covering more skin than showing, or a full moving and healed TK singing and dancing around in the room. What she finds instead was a seemingly normal-looking and sleeping TK, hair spiked in every direction from rolling around on the bed no doubt, a blanket low on his hips, and the edge of a bandage visible in the high of his collarbone. That’s all expected though.

The man whose chest is currently being used as TK’s pillow isn’t.

There’s a full man, dark hair curled into the picture of a perfect mess on top of his head, one hand intertwined with TK’s hand on his chest while the other arm wraps around TK’s shoulders. TK’s head seems to find a comfortable pillow on the man’s chest — if the small and satisfied smile on her son’s face is anything to go by. He doesn’t look like a casual visitor either; with no shoes in sight and soft sweatpants, a jacket thrown over the back of a chair in the corner of the room, he looks like he’s been here for a while.

The scene would be cute, if she wasn’t endlessly confused. She doesn’t remember seeing him, even though she’s met the entirety of the team numerous times whenever she's Facetimed TK and someone from the crew is over to help out. This man is definitely not Marjan or Michelle, and he’s not Judd, Paul or Mateo. There’s one more person that she’s only ever heard of, never actually saw, a friend of TK’s — Carlos.

“Oh,” she finds herself whispering. Owen mentioned a Carlos once, and it elicited a deep blush and a mumbled “no, dad, it’s not like that” from TK.

Is it Carlos?

There’s no way this is the just friends that cuddle and hold aren’t platonic, she doesn’t think.

This is more like the, at least, friends with benefits stage she's seen TK have with other boys before. She's never seen him so at ease with any of them, and she's walked in on TK with his boyfriend several times throughout the years.

With a final glance, she decides that the sight of an asleep TK is enough to calm her heart for a bit. And the sight of a happy and comfortable TK with this mystery man is more than enough to soothe the pain she feels for him.

 

 

Troublesome Trio

Paul had the entirety of his focus on the game, he really did. It’s not his fault that TK is being suspiciously tense around a person that he claims to be very close friends with.

He’s aware that TK has been in a bad mood from the moment that door was opened, probably carried over from his house. But he still keeps his eyes on him, watches as Mateo asks if he got the cheeseballs, and TK goes on a rant about how ”my friend goes through a lot of trouble to make us healthy snacks and provides us with a safe place for us to gather, so we can at least have some human interaction in this uncertain age, and I’m going to spoil that with cheeseballs,” only to gingerly admit that he forgot mere seconds later. He watches as TK makes his way straight to the kitchen, opening the fridge and moving things around like he knows where things go and where they are. He watches as TK leans in close to Carlos only to appear as if he suddenly remembered where he is and tense away.

Interesting.

Mateo, who was half bent over the dining table thus far, turns around and makes deliberate eye contact with Paul, almost as if to say did you see this?

Paul sees it. He thought he was the only one that saw it, but he’s starting to think otherwise, especially when Marjan proclaims her win and then, as she’s dancing, throws a smirk at an oblivious TK and Carlos, still in the kitchen, still talking amongst themselves, in their own world.

The three of them take a moment to stare at the pair, and then at each other. Paul is almost entirely positive now that they’ve all noticed the two before, just never said anything. Yet, as Mateo makes his way towards the living room and sits with wide eyes full of gossip, Paul knows that they’re now discussing it.

“You guys see that, right?” Mateo whispers the moment his butt touches the surface of the armchair, elbows on his thighs as he leans closer to where Paul and Marjan sit.

“Oh, I see it alright,” Marjan whispers back, looking over at the pair and then back at Paul. “What about you, Mr. Know-It-All?”

“I ain’t blind, you know,” he snarks, rolling his eyes at them. He’s glad the conversation was started by someone else, because he wouldn’t have allowed himself to speak on it. If TK and Carlos didn’t say anything to him, it has to be for a reason, and he’d rather cut his own tongue before he breaches their privacy.

Marjan and Mateo stare at him, agape at his outburst. He sighs. "It's one thing that we've noticed, and it's another that there's something there, or, you know, that they want to make it known."

"So you admit you think they're more than friends," Marjan says with a sense of finality.

"I'm not admitting to anything," Paul insists, reaching out for the remote to keep his hands busy. He's never liked talking about people who aren't there to defend themselves, and he's not one to gossip. If TK and Carlos have something going on, it's their decision to tell everyone or to keep it to themselves.

"Well, for what it's worth, I think they're a cute couple," Mateo intersects, grabbing a snack from the bowl in front of him and grimacing when he sees it's definitely not a cheeseball. "Let's hope that next time TK isn't so blinded by love that he doesn't forget about the good stuff."

"I think he was a bit mad," Paul points out, but Mateo isn't listening to him anymore.

"Hey, guys," TK makes his presence known by flipping down on the couch between them. "What are we talking about? We ready to watch a movie?"

As he's speaking, Carlos brings another bowl to the table and sits on the floor, in between TK's leg, eliciting a knowing glance between the three of them.

"Sure thing," Marjan says. "It's Mateo's turn to pick."

And while Mateo takes his sweet time choosing between Thor and Superman, Marjan and Paul share another glance, more intimate, silently agreeing to not say anything if TK and Carlos aren't open about their relationship.

Even if it means turning a blind eye to the way they think they're subtly holding hands, right in front of them all.

 

 

Curious Couple

There’s a jump in Judd’s step that’s been following him around the entire day. From the moment he got a call from Grace’s favourite restaurant informing him that a reservation was cancelled and he was pushed up from the waiting list, he’d been on cloud nine. There was no denying that they were in need of a break — between Grace’s physical therapy and the pregnancy and his own unforgiving job lately, they’ve been stretched thin and have been craving a moment to breathe.

What better breath than a fancy, upscale restaurant that will be followed by beer on their deck?

So he keeps his head steady, does the job well and safe, and then races home. By the time he’s walking into the house, Grace is out of the shower. By the time he’s done with his own shower, Grace is almost ready. And fifteen minutes later, they’re both walking hand-in-hand out of the door and towards the car.

The car ride is like every other car ride with Grace, Judd thinks. They’ve got their hands intertwined, they’re talking and joking and having a good time, so much so that he doesn’t even realise they’re at the destination until the GPS alerts him to the last turn into the restaurant parking lot.

It’s a quick thing to get from the car to their table, and then they’re sitting across from each other between dozens of other couples.

Judd is so engrossed in Grace and the happiness that he’s experiencing, the food and conversation keeping a wide grin stapled on his face, that the time passes and before he knows it, it’s an hour later and they’re waiting on dessert. He takes the lull in conversation to look around the restaurant, the dim lights and chandeliers giving the place a perfect date sensation. As he lets his eyes roam though, he notices a familiar mop of brown hair a few tables to his left. But once he sees him — once he sees the salmon shirt that fits him like a glove and the watch on his wrist that seems to be heavy and expensive, even if he can’t pick up the actual brand — Judd seems to be entranced by the mere sight of him here, let alone why he might be here. So much so that he finds himself pulled out of his brain by a snap of fingers in front of his face.

“You take me to dinner then stare at another man, Judd?” Grace says. The sentence may sound bitter, but Judd knows Grace so well that he doesn’t even need to look at her to know that she’s joking — that she’s got a teasing glint in her eyes and an amusing smile on her lips.

Still, he shakes his head and chuckles in response. “Nah, of course not. I got eyes only for you,” he says, the smile on his face a copy of Grace’s. “But that man two tables to my left, sittin’ like you are? That’s TK.”

He watches as a number of emotions cross Grace’s face. The same emotions that he’s sure crossed his own a few moments earlier. Eventually, she settles on a nonchalant expression as she takes a sip of her water, puts it down then runs a hand up the left side of her neck to rest it on her cheek and then slowly turn her head to the right. From there, realisation floods her face before it changes to confusion as she brings her eyes back to him.

“Did you know he was gonna be here?” she asks. Judd replies with a shake of his head.

“Who he with?” she asks, and Judd replies with a shrug this time.

“It’s just him. Ain’t anybody sitting across him.”

Grace sneaks another look towards her right. “He doesn’t look sad. I don’t think he’s been waitin’ a long time.”

Judd hums, trying to convey his agreement. They’ve been here for an hour, but he doesn’t think TK has been here for that long. He shakes his head and tries to keep his attention on Grace, but he can’t help how his mind wanders. He likes to believe that the crew has gotten close over the past few months. And while he’s aware that he’s part of a different generation than the rest of the crew, he likes to think that there’s an older brother-younger brother sort of relationship between himself and TK.

He feels like he should have known that TK was coming to this particular restaurant. He’s sure he’s mentioned it being a romantic attraction once or twice throughout the time he’s tried to organise a reservation for Grace. If TK’s the one doing the inviting, then he must have done so months ago, that’s how full the reservation list is. And if he got invited, it’s something note-worthy enough to mention, even if just in passing.

There’s a distant part of his brain that goes down darker routes, conjuring thoughts that he hasn’t said a word because there’s something to hide. But he stops them in place. TK is not a child, and according to Owen and Gwyn, he has matured a whole lot since coming to Austin. The single most important thing in the firehouse is trust, and he has to trust that TK isn’t making a mistake, and that he’ll be smart enough to come to them in case he is.

So he forces his eyes away from TK, and focuses his mind and attention back on Grace. He pushes all images of a hurt TK to the back of his brain, and allows himself to be brought back to reality, to the beautiful woman sitting across from him. Which isn’t all that hard to do whatsoever.

Soon enough, the desserts start to appear on their table, and he finds himself lost in the conversation with Grace surrounded by crème brûlée and chocolate mousse cake. Although, he supposes that some part of his subconscious was still worried about TK, because he finds his eyes drifting to TK in the middle of a bite. And there’s nothing out of order yet. TK doesn’t seem to be sad or frustrated, he’s got his phone out and his head down, eyes on the screen. Judd almost looks away, but at the very last second, he catches movement.

He watches as TK looks up, then down, then he does a double-take and looks up again. And then a giant bright smile splits his face — his eyes seem to twinkle as if literal happiness shines from within. He drops his phone, standing up and rounding the table to throw his arms around a slightly muscular man in a fit just as fancy and elegant as TK’s own — a blue long sleeve shirt and dark khakis to match.

Judd’s entire mind is consumed by the mystery man. He has half a brain to reach out and nudge Grace, hearing a hum and then a small gasp as she undoubtedly looks at the same scene he’s looking at. TK and the man sway in place for a few moments, before TK pulls back and plants a kiss onto the man’s cheek.

He manages to catch a glimpse of TK’s face before he moves back to his seat, and what he sees is pure giddiness. Whoever this man is, it’s clear that he makes TK happy. And just as TK sits down, the man moves across the table and seats himself. And Judd realises that he knows that profile. He knows the dark, curly hair and the sharp eyebrows. He knows those dimples that appear when he smiles wide and the watch on the man’s wrist.

TK is on a date with Carlos Reyes.

Judd snaps his eyes to Grace to find her own wide eyes on him already.

How did this happen without anyone knowing? Without him knowing? Carlos has become a staple in their outings, and he’s always been close to TK. Judd just didn’t realise how close. He thought they were just friends, just like Carlos was clearly friends with Paul, Marjan, Mateo and even Michelle and Iris before they relocated out of Austin.

“What’s goin’ on in that mind of yours?” Grace asks, and Judd can’t help the soft groan that he lets out. He shakes his head, trying to find coherence to his thoughts.

“How?” is, unfortunately, all he comes up with.

“How what?” Grace pushes.

“How did this happen? When?!”

Grace doesn’t say anything, she just looks at him, but if Judd knows her — and he does — then she‘s reading through his thoughts, trying to come up with some sense from his mess of sentences and questions. After what seems like minutes but is probably no longer than a few seconds, she lets a smile take over her face.

“How did this happen? Or how didn’t you know?” she asks.

“Is there a difference?” Judd asks in return.

“Of course there is. You and I can both guess how it happened in any basic way; two people meet and they show interest and they go out and then they’re dating. But if we’re asking how you didn’t know, well, I’m guessin’ you’re worked up cause you can’t protect what you don’t know.”

Grace is a smart woman. Judd has always known so. And yet, it still shocks him how she seems to have found the source of everything he’s feeling down to a T. He exhales, glad that someone understands, even if it wasn’t him mere moments ago.

“I know you're worried, but TK’s a smart man, and Carlos is one of the best. They’re good for each other, you know it.”

As Judd pays for the bill, and extends a hand to pull Grace from her chair and out the door, he can’t help but throw one last glance towards the couple. He knows they’re good for each other. That isn’t the issue. But he also sees the living proof that TK isn’t ready to share this part of himself with them yet. Judd may not understand, but he’ll have to respect that.

And keep an eye out for the two of them.

 

 

Patient Partners

Tommy has been a paramedic for a long time.

She has seen a lot of human interaction during her years. How people react when their loved ones are hurt. She’s seen the ones who scream and howl, almost as if they’re sharing the pain. She’s seen the ones that cry in a corner, eyes closed and mouths clamped shut, wishing if they don’t move or speak, then the reality will dissolve into a nightmare. She’s seen the ones who sit silent and still, shock running so deep into them they don’t look like they’re in the same universe as everyone else.

She’s also seen the level headed ones, who put aside their emotions and try to help anywhere and any way they can. They seem to be holding it in, moving as if the person injured means nothing to them. Like if they let go, they’ll collapse. There’s a slight shiver to their voices when they speak and a minor shake in their hands sometimes. But for the most part, they’ll compartmentalise and keep their focus on what’s important.

The last type, for some reason, fits TK to the last letter.

The scene they were called to wasn’t a catastrophe by any means of the word. It had started as a simple bar fight in the late afternoon that soon escalated to the point that the police were involved, and then the cops themselves were injured. It’s a classic case of a bad scene evolving to worse, but it’s not at the final stage of worst yet, which Tommy will forever be grateful for.

And yet, as TK holds gauze up at Carlos Reyes’ head, trying to dab away the remainder of the blood from a cut on his forehead long enough for Nancy to get the wrapping around his shoulder, she thinks it might be the worst-case scenario for TK.

The case itself isn’t all that bad. As far as they know, Carlos was in the middle of the bar when a new fight broke out. He was the collateral damage of a fight between two teams of college football players. A bottle caught him on the head, and in the following dizziness, he was pushed and fell on his arm wrong. His shirt may be half-covered in blood, but they all know that’s just because head injuries are notorious for their bleeding tendencies. His shoulder does seem to be dislocated, although they haven’t delved into the extend of that yet. That, coupled with a number of minor bruises and cuts from when he caught the floor do make an ugly general picture. But it’s still not that bad.

That’s why Tommy doesn’t understand the unusual tenseness in TK’s movement. His shoulders are pulled taut, his jaw snapped tight shut, the muscles contracting and relaxing every few moments. She’s sure it’s not because of the severity of the case or insecurity from TK about his own skills. His eyes go everywhere on the cop on the ambulance stretcher — everywhere except for his eyes.

Nancy finishes the splint around the cop’s shoulder, and she pulls out of the ambulance, coming to stand by Tommy a few feet away as they observe the rest of the cops rally the last of the bar attendees outside.

“Everything okay?” Tommy asks, walking around the side of the ambulance in an attempt to give TK and Carlos some touch of privacy.

“Yeah,” Nancy replies with a nod. “He’s a little drowsy, I think we’re dealing with a concussion. His shoulder is stabilised and the bleeding has basically stopped. TK is getting the last of the smaller cuts covered.”

They stand in place for a few minutes, allowing the chaos of the scene to dissolve in the background. Tommy would love to find something to do but as the majority of the police cars start to make their way back to the precinct to process all the people that got arrested, she realises that they will soon get the all-clear to move out as well.

She tries to keep her questions to herself, she really does. But Nancy doesn’t seem half as surprised as she is, so she lets herself delve into some gossip.

“Sooo, TK and Carlos, huh?” she starts, keeping her eyesight forward and trying to act as nonchalant as possible. But when Nancy snorts, she finds her head turning towards the woman almost immediately.

“Yeah, TK and Carlos,” Nancy says with a roll of her eyes. “They think they’re subtle, but they’re really not. I’m pretty sure everyone knows that there’s something going on there.”

Even though Nancy clearly seems to be annoyed with that aspect of the secrecy, it’s all said with an overwhelming fondness, one that Tommy can’t help but share.

“Do they know that people know?”

“I’m not sure,” Nancy shrugs. “A part of me thinks they know but don’t wanna confirm anything. But sometimes I think they’re actually so oblivious just because they’re always lost so deep in each other’s eyes.”

Tommy hums to show that she’s listening as she racks her mind through her interactions with either or both of the men currently in the ambulance. She’s friendly with both of them, but she hasn’t really gotten the chance to form an actual bond with either one of them — or anyone else in the crew — outside of work.

“How long has this been going on?” Tommy asks.

“I’m not really sure. I only noticed after he joined EMT, but I’ve started seeing them hanging out a lot right before you joined, so it might have been sometime then.”

Tommy is in shock, there are no other words to describe the emotions she’s feeling. She’s had her hands full between getting back into the groove of being the EMT captain and her family. Still, TK dating a full human and having been in said relationship for months feels like something she should have taken notice of.

Just as she’s about to ask Nancy about more, the scene finally wraps up and they’re given the good to go, which sends the conversation to the back of her mind as Nancy moves ahead to the driver’s seat of the ambulance and Tommy moves to the back. She stops a few feet from where the door stayed open and knocks on it in an attempt to warn the couple of her presence. She gives them a few more moments before she moves into plain sight of the backdoor.

As she round the door, she comes in view with TK’s back, one hand holding onto a confused looking Carlos’ hand, as the other seems to rub at his own face. She waits in her place until TK turns around a few seconds later, and when he makes eye contact with her, it’s clear that he’s been crying.

She gives him a sympathetic smile. “The scene is wrapped up, we can head to the hospital now,” she informs him as she moves to help with getting the stretcher secured in the ambulance. TK doesn’t speak much, answering with a nod as he immediately presumes position. As he moves away, Carlos seems to jerk away from his half-sleepy state and he looks around frantically until he finds TK standing at his head.

Tommy tries to stay behind as much as possible, looking at the straps of the stretcher as TK extends his hand to rub at Carlos’ cheek.

“I’m right here, calm down,” he whispers. “We’re moving to the hospital. I’ll secure the stretcher down and sit by your side, okay?”

Even though Tommy tries to not look at them, she can still tell that TK doesn’t move immediately afterwards. It’s only when Carlos hums and nods does TK resume the process. Once the stretcher is locked in place, TK steps aside to make space for Tommy to take her place at the front of the ambulance, and he moves to the seat closest to the stretcher.

The moment he gets the seatbelt across his body, he seats himself as close to the edge as possible, hand tangling with Carlos’ as his other hand goes to his head to run through the bloodied hair.

Tommy knocks on the barrier between the cab and back of the ambulance, signifying to Nancy that they’re ready to move.

When they get to the hospital and TK hovers at the door while the doctors and nurse take over the case, Tommy lets her feet carry her to his side, pushing him towards the entrance and nodding when he throws a questioning look at her. She smiles as he runs in after them, taking a mental note to give him as much time off as possible so he can stay with Carlos as he recovers.

 

 

Gossip Girlies

Evie and Izzy don’t really know how to do what they want to do.

Their mom always says that some personal questions can be rude. But their dad said that it’s important to comfort and help people when they can.

They aren’t sure how to tell Carlos that TK will be okay when they don’t know if they are friends.

“They have to be more than friends, Izzy!” Evie whispers to her sister even though Carlos is all the way in the kitchen and they’re in the living room. “Did you see how worried he gets when he calls TK and he doesn’t answer? He was whispering please reply, TK, please.”

Izzy seems to disagree, shaking her head before Evie even finishes her sentence. “Mom gets that worried about Auntie Grace and Uncle Judd when they don’t pick up too,” she argues. She doesn’t think it’s that special that Carlos is worried, but she does want to make sure so that they word the cards they’re making correctly.

It's been around three hours, they'd guess, since they managed to convince their mom that she had to help the people that got hurt in the bad weather, and they've spent a little over two hours since with Carlos.

They've never really interacted much with Carlos. They knew he was a cop. They knew that he was an old friend of Uncle Judd's, and friends with Paul, Marjan, Mateo and Nancy. Izzy thought he was TK's friend too, Evie however seems to think that they're more.

Still, without good proof, they chose to ignore it momentarily and make We Hope You're Well cards for everyone else, leaving Carlos and TK to the end.

They see Carlos as he makes his way back from the kitchen with a plate with cut-up fruits and a jug of what looks like orange juice. He sets them down on the coffee table where the twins are kneeling, helping them put the cards away. He picks up one of the cards, the one labelled Marjan, and opens it up.

It's silent for the first few minutes as they all eat, Evie and Izzy keep making faces at each other, driven forward by the chuckles that come out of Carlos as he watches over them. They steal glances at him whenever he isn't looking, finding him staring at his silent phone.

People always said that because they're twins, they can read each other's minds. Evie guesses it's true, because she looks at Izzy and she can immediately tell what she's being asked to do. So she clears her throat and slides a few inches closer to Carlos.

"Hey, Carlos?"

"Yeah?" He replies.

"Izzy and me are making cards for everyone. Anyone you want us to make a card for?"

Carlos looks at the cards for a moment, reaching out to ruffle through them and read the names on the outside.

"Who didn't you write for yet?"

Evie freezes at the reply. She had expected a name, not a question in return. She turns to Izzy looking for help, and her sister seems to have an answer ready.

"We did everyone we remembered. Is there anyone special for someone?"

If Carlos catches the lie, he doesn't comment on it. Instead, he looks back down at cards.

"Well, you didn't make one for TK, so maybe you can write for him?"

Evie wants to celebrate the answer, she really does, but she manages to keep her composure long enough to turn to Izzy, giving her a look that says I told you so. Izzy doesn't seem to be convinced.

"Is he special to you?" she asks, leaning forward and placing her head on her arms across the table. Carlos' answer, however, is disappointing.

"He's my friend, of course he's special," Carlos replies. He opens his mouth, about to say more, when his phone rings.

The vibrations across the table shake the twins out of their stupor, Izzy leaning forward even more and Evie turning to look at Carlos. They watch as he leans closer, catches a glance of the name, and then grab his phone and move across the room. The moment Carlos swipes on the phone and bring sit to his ear, Izzy is leaning over at Evie, clutching at her arm.

“That’s TK!" she exclaims. “I read the name on the screen, it’s TK!

Now, Evie and Izzy were taught to not eavesdrop. Their parents said that listening to things when people don’t mean for them to be heard is rude. But, Carlos is standing in the room still, and he’s not being exactly quiet when he answers the phone with “Hey, baby, are you okay?”

Izzy and Evie turn to each other, a giant smile on both of their faces.

“Auntie Grace calls Judd that! And mom calls-” Izzy pauses. “Or, well, called dad that.”

Evie smiles, a small, little smile that shows that she caught the slip. Thankfully, she lets it go. Izzy doesn’t think she can handle being asked about it right now.

“Yeah, I think we can write that card the way we want now,” Evie confirms.

At the end of the day, when their mom, Nancy ann TK come back to their house, Evie and Izzy peak at Carlos where he stands in the kitchen, cleaning up, even though their mom said he doesn’t have to. And if they see the way TK blushes when he reads their card; “ Dear TK, You are the bestest ambulance friend! We hope you stay safe, and you are forever happy with Carlos. Love, Evie and Izzy!, well, they pretend they didn’t see anything.

 

 

Relationship Reveal (+1)

Carlos can admit that he hasn’t been this nervous in a long time. A very long time. The closest memory to this amount of nervousness he’s felt goes back to when he came out, and while that didn’t go well in the long term, he was still grateful for it. He doesn’t even know what he’s so worried about. Everyone in his house right now was accepting of their sexuality. There’s no logical explanation for why they wouldn’t approve of his relationship.

Logic, unfortunately, doesn’t stop his mind from overthinking, conjuring up theories and possible reasons for why people might not be okay with what they’re about to reveal. He can feel himself drowning in his mind, the negative thoughts taking over his common sense.

And then he feels warm arms wrap around his waist and a chest press to his back, and he doesn’t need to open his eyes to tell who it is. Instead, he lets go of the edge of the bathroom sink and tangles his fingers with the hands around his middle, leaning his head back until it’s resting on the head that’s snuggled between his shoulder blades.

“You’ve been hiding here for a while,” TK says, his voice muffled by Carlos’ shirt. “I thought I’d check up on you.”

Carlos takes a deep breath. He would love to explain what he’s feeling to TK right now, but he finds that the hug alone is to comfort him, so he turns in TK’s arms instead, wrapping himself in a proper hug.

TK chuckles once he realises what Carlos is doing, but he tightens his arms around the man all the same. Trying to convey every ounce of love and care through the hold. He’s noticed that Carlos was fidgety and anxious the moment the first of their guests arrived. He’s tried to keep his distance and show his support from far away, but when Carlos disappeared into the bathroom fifteen minutes ago, he decided it was time to take action.

“What’s wrong? Having second thoughts?” TK asks.

He wouldn’t blame Carlos if he was. They’ve hidden their relationship for a while, wanting to make sure that they were serious about it before they told people about it. The longer that time passed though, the more they found out that they enjoyed keeping their relationship to themselves; they enjoyed the rush of hanging out without anyone finding out, the secrecy of going behind his dad’s back like he did when he was a teenager, going to restaurants and picnics and all forms of dates without anyone questioning them or what they were doing.

There were times when they wished they had told people. When one of them was hurt but the other person had no real reason to stay once everyone else left usually hit the hardest, but there were other moments when all one of them wanted was to hug the other, or steal a kiss during a hangout.

After a certain point, they realised that the rush didn’t outweigh their need to show their love publicly and openly any more.

He supposes that, ultimately, it was a way to have fun without having to drag their friends and family into it. But once they decided that they were legitimately serious about one another, they discovered that their hiding had much to do with previous relationships and fears and insecurities, even if they had presented it as a way to keep the relationship fresh.

TK had already been through the disappointment of his parents when he brought a man home, proclaiming that he was the newest and last love, only for the relationship to crash and burn within months. The fact that his last relationship had ended the way it did wasn’t helpful to his case either. He wasn’t supposed to be dating this close to an overdose, but he wasn’t about to let Carlos go either, not again.

And Carlos, it turned out, had a much more complicated relationship with his parents than he had let on. It took an unfortunate meeting with his parents in the farmer’s market for that revelation to make itself known. TK wasn’t expecting to be introduced as his partner, but he didn’t expect the awkward and almost non-existent introduction either. The fight and subsequent conversation that occurred was one of the most painful moments they shared, but one that proved to be fundamental for their relationship. And once that was resolved, they decided they were done hiding.

Of course, it still took Carlos’ parents telling him that they had seen them holding hands and kissing minutes before they approached them at the market, but they were at the end point now, and that was the most important part.

But if Carlos was doubting the decision, then TK wouldn’t push him to it.

Carlos however, shakes his head. “No, no,” he says as he pulls his face from the nook of TK’s neck. “No second guesses,” he sighs before he untangles himself from TK and leans back on the sink behind him.

“Just anxiousness. These are your friends, your family. It would suck if they didn’t like me or, even worse, us.”

The sentence is barely out of his mouth before TK is closing the couple of feet between them, cupping Carlos’ cheeks in his hands. “Hey, hey, now, don’t say that!” TK scolds, trying to express a stern face, but the fond smile that Carlos throws his way tells him that’s not succeeding very well. Still, he pushes through. “They’re your friends too! They love you! No one is going to have an issue with us, and if they do, then we don’t need them in this family we’ve curated for ourselves.”

Carlos doesn’t say anything for a moment, but after a beat of silence, he finally meets TK’s eyes and nods. “I know, I know,” he takes a deep breath. “I’m just nervous. But I want to do this! If I have to sneak into one more storage closet to get a kiss I might just lose my mind”

The last sentence is said with so much frustration and annoyance that TK can’t help the loud, booming laugh that it rips out of him. In all fairness, it is very true. They’ve hidden in many places in a bid to keep their secret a secret; they’ve rounded corners to share a prolonged hug, cowered into pantries to share a kiss, cornered themselves into bathrooms — much like this one right now — to say that they love each other.

“Yeah, we’ve hidden in bathrooms long enough for a lifetime, let alone your promotion party” he snickers.

“Yeah, well, we still need to come up with a plan. We said we’ll figure it out, and we haven’t really. We’re about to serve dessert and we still haven’t done anything,” Carlos reasons, which is rational. They didn’t want to over-complicate their reveal, so they agreed to just go with the flow. The flow, however, didn’t go anywhere, and they’re now nearing the end of the party and their secret is still very much a secret.

TK, however, is struck with a brilliant trail of an idea right then and there. And so, with a last encouraging smile and a deep kiss, he tells Carlos to follow him outside the bathroom in a few minutes and makes his own way out. His first stop is to the kitchen, taking the amazing chocolate mousse cake that Carlos worked on the prior day out of the fridge and moving it to the dining table. His movement attracts the attention of everyone in the house, and the conversation starts to fiddle out as they make their way to the table, ready for the last course of the night.

Paul and Grace move from where they’re sitting at a table in the nook of the living room, his arm around her as he helps her get up. Judd carries the twins from where they have been building up legos around the coffee table while Tommy and Owen wrap up their conversation on the sofa. Marjan and Mateo drop the dishes they volunteered to clean up and carry the rest of the plates, following TK back out of the kitchen. He finishes spreading them around on the table just as Carlos finally makes his way out of the bathroom.

There’s a weird vibe that TK feels tingling his senses, eyes that follow him as he moves from the side of the table where he was previously standing to the head of the table next to Carlos, but he doesn’t pay them any attention, keeping his eyes on the cake and Carlos. There’s a shy smile on his face, one that TK reciprocates, albeit his smile is slightly more mischievous. With a small nod and a deep breath, Carlos takes his eyes off TK and faces everyone else in his home.

“Hey, guys. Thank you again for being here, and for celebrating this with me,” he starts, barely flinching when TK wraps his arm around his waist. “This is a big deal for me, and I’m so happy to be able to share it with you. You’ve made the last year of my life one of the best of my life, and I’ll forever be grateful that I’ve had the honour of knowing you.”

There’s a round of applause, and calls of praise from multiple people in the room, all of which cause a slight blush to rise onto Carlos’ face and he ducks his head a bit. He locks eyes with TK for a moment, almost as if to say now? But TK has another idea, so he doesn’t close the distance between them, choosing to stay put until the cake makes its way around the table and everyone has a plate in their hands.

Almost immediately, appreciation of the cake makes itself known, whether it be in the form of weird-sounding moans and groans, or actual words. When Nancy says “this is so sweet, man,” however, TK decides it’s finally time.

“Yeah,” he agrees, taking the last bite of his cake. “Still not as sweet as you are though,” he says to Carlos and then immediately pushes up to plant a kiss directly on his lips.

The room falls silent, and Carlos falls still. Even when TK pulls back, grins up at Carlos and takes his plate to the sink. When he turns around, he finds Carlos’ face a violent shade of deep red, and everyone’s eyes are on either him or Carlos.

And yet, there doesn’t seem to be any surprised expressions. Something that his boyfriend seems to notice too.

“I’m not gonna lie, I was expecting a much different reaction,” Carlos admits.

That causes a myriad of reactions, but they all fall on the same scale of a shake of the head and a snicker to a loud laugh and a smack on the shoulders, the last one coming from a very amused Judd.

“Maybe if you were, like, a hundred times more subtle, we would have been surprised!” Mateo snickers, the rest of their group, of their family joining in on the teasing.

“There’s no way you all knew!” TK argues as he makes his way back to Carlos’ side, immediately getting into a bickering battle with Mateo and Marjan, grinning as he feels Carlos’ arms wrap around his waist.

They’re in for a world of teasing, they can immediately tell. But as they share a moment a few minutes later in the kitchen, they realise there are no regrets, and it’s all worth it. Even if everyone already knew, and their hidden secret turned out to not be that secret whatsoever.