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"So we're just going to visit him?" Carlos asks, sitting on the edge of the bed watching TK pack his bag. "You've met Evan once. In a fire," he announces like TK wasn't the one to live through it.


"He goes by Buck... and I'd like to see him again. He was really nice," TK says and Carlos thinks he might be a little crazy to be the only one to realize how that sounds. He likes it less knowing they exchanged numbers and sometimes texted. They mostly shared stories about weird calls they've been on, always trying to beat each other on the level of ridiculousness. But still, he wasn't fond of the idea.

"You said he flirted with you," Carlos raises a brow at his boyfriend as he tries to make sense of this. When they made plans to take a few days off work and go away on a romantic weekend, Carlos thought maybe they'd go somewhere colder, with a cabin, a fireplace, perhaps some mocktails, and definitely a lot of naked time. The last thing on his mind was to meet up with an LA firefighter who apparently steals firetrucks as a side gig.


"Uh, well. He said I had good reflexes," TK starts, a teasing smile on his face. He knows Carlos gets easily jealous and loves to push his buttons. Carlos simply hums, staring down at TK's half-full bag of clothes. "He also said if I was ever in LA..."


"Yeah, what you think that was about? To go watch a kids movie at 3PM?" He scoffs, only slightly amused at his boyfriend's lack of judgement. "No, he clearly meant sex," he adds.


"If that's the case, then I guess you'll just have to let him know you're packing a piece." TK chuckles, folds a shirt, and leans forward to plant a kiss on Carlos' temple. He smiles because he's not really worried about it. Carlos just doesn't appreciate when other people hit on his boyfriend. But he does like to let them know TK is his and no one else's.


"Okay." He sighs.


"Yeah?" TK stands in front of him, a hopeful smile on his face.


"Yeah," he agrees. Carlos holds his waist and TK rests his arms on Carlos' shoulders. TK smiles at him and leans down to capture his lips in a long, sweet kiss.


"It's gonna be great," TK says before giving him another peck on the lips, and returns to packing his bag.

 

The LA sun blinds him and Carlos has to squint to look at TK, who is searching for their sunglasses in his backpack. Once his vision is not being compromised anymore, he actually lets the sun warm his skin and it's nice. The air in Texas is just too humid to sometimes let Carlos simply enjoy the sunlight. 


They have all afternoon to settle into their hotel room and take a shower after hours at the airport and a 3-hour plane ride. They eat a lot of street food and take a walk on the Santa Monica Pier.


"I just got a text from Buck," TK says, checking his phone.


"Oh, great," Carlos comments sarcastically and TK reaches to grab his hand, offering him an easy smile. 


"Don't be like that. He just sent me the name of the bar and to meet him and the others there later." He turns his phone to Carlos. "See? The rest of the team will be there."


"I hope so."


"Even if they're not, you'll be there. And then we'll go back to our room and I'll do that thing you like," TK suggests with a smirk and dreamy eyes. He cups Carlos' neck and kisses him in the middle of the Pier, his lips then leaving a promising kiss behind his ear. Carlos relaxes a bit and smiles. He's very fond of that idea.


Later, they get an Uber to the bar and TK squeezes his hand before they walk in. There's a stage and two people singing - or rather, screaming - the lyrics into the microphones. When they finish, the crowd applauds and another person steps into the stage to perform next. People laugh and talk around them, groups of friends and couples mingle with their drinks in hand. TK doesn't let go of Carlos' hand and drags him to the bar. 


"A coke, please." TK asks the bartender. "What you want, babe?" He turns back to Carlos.


"A beer. Thank you," he says loudly so the bartender can hear him. "Are they already here?" Carlos questions, looking around the bar like he would recognize someone when they finally get their drinks. He's never actually seen a photo of Buck or any of his friends. All he has is a general description and based on that, it could be literally anyone.


"We're a little late so yeah, probably." He shrugs, looking around as well.


In that moment, they hear a voice above all the chatter in the space. "TK!" A man is waving in their direction from a few tables over.


"Buck!" TK's smile grows wider and Carlos follows him to where Buck is with a group of people. "How's it going?" Buck and TK hug, patting each other on the back.


"Good, man! It's good to see you," Buck says. Carlos looks at him up and down. He's tall, blonde hair, a gorgeous smile, and blue eyes that shine under the dim lights of the bar. Okay, that is a handsome man. Carlos clears his throat and wraps a protective arm around TK's waist.


"You, too. This is my boyfriend, Carlos." TK smiles at Carlos reassuringly. 


"Hey, it's nice to meet you. Welcome to LA, both of you." Buck leans a bit as to take a bow and laughs a bit. "Let me introduce you. Hen, Eddie, you've already met TK. This is his boyfriend, Carlos. And that's Chimney," Buck introduces when they get closer to the table. 


All of them smile at Carlos and TK, and Chimney raises his beer in their direction. The four of them sit on the booth and Carlos and TK take the two empty chairs across the table, and quickly fall into easy conversation. Carlos feels himself relax as he laughs at the stories everyone shares.


"Wait, you're the guy who got a rebar stuck in the head? I heard about it when I moved to Texas." TK looks at Chimney with more enthusiasm and wonder than he probably should have. But Chimney just laughs and leans over the table to get closer to them both. 


"All the proof I got is this." He points at a small red scar on his forehead and Carlos can't help but also be in awe as he examines the scar.


"Wow," Carlos whispers. 


"I know, right?" Chimney smiles, a little smug. Hen rolls her eyes.


"That's not the only proof he got. There's a video," Hen says.


"I wanted to see how bad it was," Chimney clarifies. Carlos doesn't think he'd have the courage to watch a video of himself with a rebar stuck in his head, especially when still being in that position. He'd freak out, for sure. "Wait, I thought you deleted it?" Chimney looks at Hen.


"I did. Buckaroo over there still has it, I think." She accuses.


"Buck." Chimney looks at him with faux disappointment, shaking his head.


"He does," Eddie whispers. "He showed it to me." 


Buck punches Eddie's shoulder and mutters  'traitor' before taking a sip of his drink. Eddie bumps his shoulder against Buck's and doesn't move after that, their sides pressed together as they finish their drinks. Carlos raises an eyebrow at the sight.


Hen stands up to get more drinks and Carlos offers to help her. As they wait in line to order and then for all their drinks to be ready, Hen tells him how she met her wife, Karen, and how they have a son named Denny. And they're going through the process of adopting a little girl. 


Carlos smiles the entire time. He can't help but think about him and TK - maybe that could be their future. Carlos knows they haven't been officially together for long but if he's being completely honest, he can't imagine a future without TK in it. TK is his future. Carlos' heart jumps at the idea - at how much he loves his boyfriend.


"Oh my god, they're so adorable," Carlos says as he looks at the picture of Denny and Nia on Hen's lockscreen. "You have a beautiful family." 


"Thank you." Hen's smile is soft and lovely, the adoration she feels for her family written all over her face. Carlos can't wait to have that - to build it with TK.


They get back to the table with everyone's drinks. Carlos hands TK another coke and kisses his cheek, his hand rubbing his back in small circles in a caring gesture. TK looks at him with a grin that makes Carlos melt, and a glint in his eyes that Carlos considers himself incredibly lucky to be the only person on the receiving end of that adoring gaze.


"So, let me get this straight." Carlos points at them with his bottle. "They cemented another guy's head into a microwave?" 


"Yeah. It was one of my first rescues when I started at the 118," Eddie says and Buck rest his head on his hand, listening to Eddie talk about it as if he wasn't there, too. "Coming from Texas, I never thought I'd see something like that. But here we are, and I can say I've seen even weirder things since then. Much weirder." He laughs into his drink.


They keep exchanging the funniest and strangest stories they can remember. Buck tells them about the night of the full moon and all the pregnant ladies, TK tells them about the guy who fell from the sky straight onto a casket in the middle of a funeral. They also talk about all of the injuries they had on the job. It's not the most lighthearted topic, but between drinks and jokes, they can laugh about it now.


"I got shot by a kid," TK offers.


"A kid?" Chimney frowns.


"Yeah, he was scared and simply reacted on impulse when I opened the door," he explains and pushes the collar of his shirt to the side to show them his scar.


"I got crushed by a firetruck!" Buck's voice comes out louder.


"It's not the same as getting shot, Buck." Eddie rolls his eyes. He lifts his sleeve to show Carlos and TK the scar on his arm. "Afghanistan," he explains.


"Hey, they didn't think I was gonna work again," Buck continues a little offended that his injury is not being appreciated. Carlos chuckles at the pout on Buck's face and the eye-roll he gets from Hen, Chimney, and Eddie at the same time.


"Yet, you did." Eddie looks at him. "And now I have to listen to you talk about it every chance you get. Chim got a rebar through his skull and he doesn't talk about it nearly as much." Chimney laughs and cheers at that, taking a gulp of his beer.


"Shut up." Buck tries to act upset but the seriousness in his expression quickly melts into a calm and effortless smile when Eddie winks and smirks at him in a way that lets Buck know he's only teasing and nothing more.


They move on to another subject, but Carlos is confunsingly looking at Buck and Eddie. They are sitting next to each other and they're pressed together, arms and shoulders glued to each other, like there's no more space on the booth. Meanwhile, there's a whole empty space between Eddie and Chimney - enough space to probably fit another person. It's not a matter of lack of space, they're just sitting close because they want to. Then Eddie streches his arm over the back of the booth and Buck seems to sink into the comfort of having Eddie's arm almost draped around his shoulders. Oh, Carlos thinks, okay. TK hadn't mentioned Buck had a boyfriend, or maybe he didn't know. Carlos looks over at TK but he's too invested in the conversation he's having with Hen and Chimney. 


Buck and Eddie appear to be having a conversation of their own... with only their eyes. Carlos arches an eyebrow at them. It looks oddly intimate and he doesn't think that even he and TK have developed the ability to have telepathic exchanges yet. He looks away, feeling like he's intruding into the bubble Buck and Eddie swiftly created in the last few seconds when everyone else carried on with the conversation.


"I didn't know Buck and Eddie were dating," Carlos comments in a whisper. He offered again to get another round of drinks, and this time TK went with him. They're a little far away from the table, but he still speaks in a low voice. "You didn't tell me."


"I didn't know, either. I was just as surprised as you." TK looks at him after checking the time on his phone. 


They've been here with the others for almost three hours, and Carlos was surprised at how fast the hours are passing by. It's been a while since Carlos had one of these nights where he could just fall into easy conversation with people he never met before. Now that he had an established group of friends, he didn't feel the need to go out and talk to strangers. It was nice, though, and it definitely helped that Buck and the rest of the group were welcoming and amazingly charasmatic. They were funny and had an effortless banter between them that allowed Carlos and TK to fit right in.


TK looks back at the table and Carlos follows his gaze. Buck and Eddie are pressed together. Eddie says something that makes Buck laugh, his head falling back on Eddie's arm that is still draped over the back of the booth. Eddie looks at Buck like he hangs the moon and stars. "I didn't notice back in Texas. Buck spent most of the time with me, and Eddie was with Judd, I think. So I didn't really see them interact much," TK adds with a shrug.


"Interesting." Carlos thinks it over. "They did this thing with their eyes. Like they were having a whole conversation without actually saying anything. It freaked me out." 


His boyfriend scoffs at how weirded out Carlos looks and shakes his head. The bar is more packed now than when they arrived, and TK leans against the counter once the costumers in front of them move and the bartender asks them their orders. TK stares at him the whole time they wait for their drinks and Carlos simply frows. 


"What?" He asks.


"Nothing," TK replies but a smile takes over his lips as he reaches to wrap his hand around Carlos' arm to pull him a little closer. Carlos lets himself be dragged so his boyfriend can capture his lips in a sweet kiss. "I just love you."


TK says it in the most casual of ways, like Carlos is supposed to hear that and keep functioning normally. He doesn't believe he'll ever get used to hearing those words come out of TK's mouth. Carlos stares back at him, wondering for the millionth time how did he get so damn lucky. "I love you, too." He presses his lips against TK's in a another short kiss.


They finally get their drinks and walk slowly to the table, trying not to trip on anyone the whole way there. Eddie thanks for his drink and clicks his glass on Buck's. Buck just smiles and watches attentively as Eddie swallows almost half of his drink.


Carlos' hand rest on TK's leg as he leans a little forward to get Buck and Eddie's attention.


"So, how long have you been together?" Carlos asks with a curious look at both men staring at him, their reactions mirroring each other's as their faces express confusion.


"Who?" Eddie scrunches up his face, not understanding the question. Carlos feels like he might've just stepped into a subject he shouldn't have and regrets it immediately.


TK proceeds when Carlos stays quiet. "You two" - he points at Buck and Eddie - "how long have you been dating?" TK questions. Hen snorts halfway through a swig of her drink, and Chimney widens his eyes but an amused smile crosses his lips before he hides it behind his beer bottle.


Buck goes pale and Eddie scratches the back of his neck nervously. Oh, shit. Carlos doesn't know what to say.


"Uh, we're not together." Eddie avoids looking at the rest of the group.


"Oh, we thought... we just assumed..." TK trails off, taking a sip of his Ice Tea so he doesn't have to speak any longer.


"Why'd you think we were?" Buck asks. He seems to have recovered a bit and doesn't seem offended by the assumption. In fact, if Carlos is reading him right, Buck actually looks a little pleased with it.


"Just... you know." Carlos can't really explain so he lets Buck and Eddie's postures speak for themselves. He points in their general direction, making Buck and Eddie look at themselves and then each other. It's only then they realize how close they seated together, Eddie's arm basically wrapped around Buck's shoulders, and how Buck sunk into the comfort of Eddie's presence. They straighten their backs immediately, and Eddie puts a bit of space between them by letting his arm fall on the table. 


Buck and Eddie look at each other for only a second before turning away, a blush takes over both their faces. Carlos gazes at TK who looks a little guilty, if slightly entertained by the situation. Carlos knows TK is thinking the same thing as him: these two men already act like a couple and haven't even realized their feelings for each other, yet.


"Oh, don't feel bad," Hen chimes in with a smirk pointed at her friends. "We are all waiting for the day they get their shit together." She lowers her voice when talking to Carlos and TK, but makes sure Buck and Eddie hear it all.


"We don't know why they keep living in denial. At first it was fun, now it's just annoying." Chimney looks at the two men who are speechless. He shrugs at them as to say he's really done with the little game they've been playing.


This time, when Hen leans to whisper something in Carlos' ear, it's meant just for him. "We have a bet going on," she lets him know. Carlos eyes Hen for a few seconds, a grin spreading on his face for being let in on the joke. Hen presses her finger to her lips, silently asking Carlos to keep the secret. He nods.


"But we're not..." Eddie starts but doesn't finish the sentence. 


The entire group stares at them while Buck and Eddie look at each other.


"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said anything," Carlos apologizes for the awkwardness his curiosity caused. "It just seemed like you were acting like a couple, and flirting..." He tries to explain himself, not wanting to be the reason for any tension that might rise between the two men staring back at him.


"We weren't flirting..." Eddie says, his face wrinkling with uncertainty. He looks at Buck, searching for a clear answer on his face. "Right?"


Buck's brow raises at the look Eddie gives him, his posture now calm and collected. "What you looking at me for? I was flirting this whole time," Buck says matter-of-factly.


TK lets out a muffled laugh into his glass, Hen and Chimney interchange a look between them while secretive and knowing smiles take over their faces... and Eddie's eyes widen and he gapes at Buck, trying to read his expression. Buck manages to keep an easy smile and relaxed demeanour that Carlos deeply admires.


"You... were?" It's all Eddie can get out after long seconds of simply studying Buck's face.


Buck slowly nods like it was the most obvious thing in the world. "How could you not know, Eddie?" He sounds a little incredulous. Apparently, Buck hasn't been very subtle with it. Eddie just hadn't realized it. "Okay, so tell me what you're doing."


"What?" Eddie's hands play nervously with the almost empty glass, twirling around the rest of liquid in it.


"I know I'm flirting. If you are not, then what the hell are you doing? Because this" - Buck points between himself and Eddie - "is not how you treat a friend." 


Silence settles between them. Hen and Chimney don't know what to do, and if they don't, Carlos does even less. Carlos squeezes TK's leg as way of telling him that maybe it's time to leave. He thinks Buck and Eddie need to be having this conversation in private, and not in front of two of their friends and two almost-strangers witnessing as they try to figure out whatever is happening between them.


"Well, this has been fun," TK says, finishing his Ice Tea. "But we should go."


"Yeah, we're going too." Hen gets up and Chimney follows.


"You don't have to..." Buck looks at Carlos and TK, a sudden nervousness in his voice.


"Nah, it's getting late." Carlos offers a weak smile. Buck nods and stands up as well to hug TK.


"Thank you for coming. It was really nice to see you again," Buck smiles at TK. "And very nice to meet you, Carlos." Buck hugs Carlos, too, with a pat on his back.


"If you ever find yourselves in Texas..." TK says and he doesn't need to elaborate any further. They all nod, wide grins on their faces.


"We'll visit sometime," Eddie promises with a smile of his own. He's still sitting, his face still flushed and his eyes refusing to meet Buck's. Carlos hopes they figure it out, still feeling guilty as they make it out of the bar followed by Hen and Chimney, who assure them it'll be okay and it was about time they had a proper conversation about their feelings.


Carlos takes a deep breath and nods. They say their goodbyes and Carlos finds himself thinking he'll miss them. He just met them tonight, but it's rare to meet people who just welcome you and accept you right away, no questions asked. And that's exactly how he felt the moment they joined them at the bar. Carlos is glad TK forced him to come, and he hopes they'll find a way to meet up again sometime in the future. 


TK grabs his hand, plants a kiss on his wrist and grins at him. Carlos feels at ease.


It's a few days later and they're back in Texas. Carlos is cooking dinner and TK is just sitting there looking pretty, refusing to help. He claims he likes the sight of Carlos cooking, and uses it as an excuse to just stare at him the whole time and do nothing else.


TK nods his head along to the music playing through the speaker. The volume is low, just audible enough to fill the bits of silence when they're not talking.


Carlos is washing his hands when he feels TK's arms wrap around his waist. He smiles to himself and dries his hands before turning around. Carlos lets his weight rest on the counter and smiles down at TK, who takes Carlos' face between his hands and plants a small kiss on the tip of his nose. It pulls a giggle out of him.


"I forgot to tell you," TK starts. "Seems like Buck and Eddie worked it out."


"How you know?" Carlos' hands hold TK's waist so he doesn't pull away from him.


"Buck texted me: 'we've worked it out'. That was my first clue." TK jokes. 


"Then I guess we helped?" Carlos thinks back on that night at the bar. The awkwardness and guilt he felt in that moment. Seems like it was worth it, after all.


"Of course. If it weren't for us, they'd probably still be tiptoeing around each other." His boyfriend smiles, proud and smug.


"Eh, they'd get there sooner or later." Carlos chuckles, leaning forward to rest his head on TK's shoulder. He kisses his neck and feels TK shiver under his touch. It's enough to make Carlos feel giddy all over.


TK pulls at the strands of hair to make Carlos look at him. He kisses Carlos, long, soft, and sweet. He holds TK even closer to him when the kiss deepens. Carlos feels nothing but peace right now, standing in his kitchen with his boyfriend in his arms. And this is his idea of heaven.