Carlos was flipping through the files on his desk, making sure he had signed off on the last of them, when a familiar name being spoken caught his attention.
"TK Strand, yeah. He's a firefighter with the 126. Guess he got a little hot-headed."
"You can't keep reusing the same joke every time something involves a firefighter, Ben, seriously."
Carlos looked up from his desk to see two of his colleagues ribbing each other, all talk and no malice.
Jill was right – Ben liked to reuse the same heat-related jokes about firefighters, but his curiosity was peaked over the implication in regards to TK.
"What's that about one of the 126 firefighters? Did they get hostile at a scene we were at or something?"
The two cops looked over at him in surprise. He wasn't normally one to join in on gossip.
"Nah, he was off duty. Started a fight at a bar. Provoked two built men that were drunk off their asses. Bartender called it in after security tried breaking it up."
Carlos felt his worry double. What was TK doing? Why was he picking a fight? He knew he had freaked out on him the other day, making it clear there was a lot more going on internally than he was letting on, but volunteering to get pummeled? That had to be a cry for help.
"EMS clear him?"
"Yeah, he's fine, just some cuts and bruises. He's cooled off now; just gotta process him, give him back his shit, and do the usual stern warning that means bull."
Carlos seized the presented opportunity, hoping Ben would take the bait. "Hey, if it's that easy, why don't I take over? Your shift just ended and I owe you for staying late when I had my abuela's birthday to run to. I've finished the last of my reports from that three car pile-up earlier, so I'm free."
"Well, me and Ella were supposed to do date night tonight… yeah, all right, Reyes. He's all yours. Thanks, man."
"Of course. Have a good time." Carlos said, trying to play it off casual, like it was no big deal, even though he was itching to corner TK and ask what the hell he was thinking. He didn't need his coworkers knowing details about his private life so it was better they didn't know he knew the guy more intimately than professional overlap.
"I think you still owe Spencer, Reyes. Pretty boy is easy on the eyes, even if he is an idiot who started a bar fight." Officer Porter teased.
Carlos didn't bite; the station knew he was out, at least most of them did, so it wasn't that weird of a comment. Reacting would only make it obvious that something had gone on between them and he didn't need a lecture from the sergeant on duty about professional conduct or bias.
Ben passed over the folder on his way to his desk. Carlos immediately sifted through it, scanning the pages quickly to learn the basics of what had gone down.
Caucasian male, mid-to-late twenties, athletic build. 0.0 BAC on breathalyzer test. No abnormalities on basic toxin screen. No prior records with APD. No registered fingerprints in American database. New York driver's license – Tyler Kennedy Strand. Firefighter identification lists station 126. Charges of assault and disturbing the peace dropped by others involved. Release from policy custody with warning.
He read further through the other two men's files, piecing together that the story detailed matched what he had already been told.
Carlos looked up as another one of his colleagues led a handcuffed TK to his work desk and nodded in his direction. He accepted the plastic bag of TK's belongings from Jill and headed over to his… well, he didn't really know what they were.
He watched as TK held an ice pack to his temple, the odd cough wheezing out of him. He probably had a bruised rib or two, if not fractured, and it no doubt left his chest extra tight.
Carlos strode over and dropped the plastic bag of belongings onto the desk without a word.
TK looked up and groaned at the sight of him. "Seriously?"
Carlos grimaced as he sat down. "Austin's a small town, TK. Or should I say, Tyler Kennedy."
"Ugh." TK grumbled, eyes closed as he kept the ice pack against the side of his head.
"Bummer about getting arrested – people might find out your real name. Which marks the first actual thing I've learned about you."
Being good with his mouth, hands, and body notwithstanding…
"Isn't your processing me, like, a conflict of interest?" TK asked, a thin shred of hope clinging to the words.
It wasn't really an issue, given that Carlos hadn't been the deciding officer on charges and, technically, he wasn't even sure what their relationship could be classified as in order to consider it. If anything, it would be their definable working relationship that was the issue, but most officers in the precinct would have the same problem since they all crossed paths at one time or another on the job.
Carlos chose not to answer him, instead changing the subject. "The good news is that neither of your new friends want to talk about that little scuffle tonight…" he explained while unlocking the cuffs around TK's wrists, trying not to react when their hands brushed in the process. "…and since you blew a 0.0, we're not even giving you a drunk and disorderly."
He finally freed TK entirely of the metal, and TK rubbed his wrists, still not looking at him straight on.
Carlos pushed the bag towards him. "You're free to go."
There was a pause as TK digested that.
"And what's the bad news?" he asked as he picked up his stuff.
Carlos inhaled. "The bad news is that means you did this with a clear head." He swallowed before leaning on the desk to bring them closer together, lowering his voice so any nosy coworkers couldn't overhear. "I'm not trying to be your boyfriend, or even your friend if you're not into it, but you should probably talk to someone about why you felt compelled to do something so suicidal."
TK's eyes held so much pain as he looked back at him that Carlos had to look away. Needing something to do with his hands before he grabbed TK and refused to let go, he tossed the tissue box in front of him.
"You've got a little crud there, by the way." he added, gesturing to the side of his mouth.
TK plucked a tissue out and rubbed at the opposite side of his mouth to where the blood had piled up.
"Other side." he said, staring unblinking at the computer screen without taking any of it in. He was way too hyperaware of the man he hadn't been able to get out of his head to concentrate on the words on the screen.
TK wiped closer to the spot but still missed and didn't get the bulk of it, so Carlos sighed and grabbed a tissue of his own.
"Stop. Just… let me."
Deep green eyes bore into his brown ones as Carlos gently wiped the area, managing to get at least the worst of it. Their gaze was locked so intensely, Carlos was half-expecting sparks to explode in the air. God, he wished he could read TK's mind. There was some sort of storm brewing behind his eyes and Carlos had no idea what kind of emotion was rolling in.
He pulled the tissue away, crushing it up in his fist to stop him from saying or doing something stupid. He had already put his heart on the line enough with the man. No need to solidify his humiliation any further.
"Thanks." TK muttered, looking away finally.
Carlos didn't look at him, pretending to be wrapped up with finalizing the paperwork on the computer.
TK leaned over the desk, crossing an arm over the space between them. "Hey. I'm sorry I went crazy on you the other night." he said softly.
Carlos didn't want to reveal all of his cards, but there was no denying the thrill that rolled through him that TK was trying to apologize for what went down between them the other day. It had been eating him up inside since. And if TK was bringing it up unprompted, maybe that meant it had been bothering him too. And that he actually wanted to mend things between them.
Carlos managed to play it cool and indifferent. "I'm a cop. I'm used to crazy."
"Look, I just went through a really bad breakup. Like, nuclear bad. And then I relapsed."
Carlos had turned his body to face him but couldn't look him in the face, instead busying himself with a report on his desk. "You mean with me?"
Great, he was just a mistake. A 'relapse'. Guess that meant TK slept around, or used to, and it really had meant nothing to him.
"No. I mean with substances."
Carlos finally looked up at that. He wasn't expecting the confession, nor the way that TK was exposing himself to him right then. TK had addiction issues? Had given up substances likely due to misuse or overuse and his breakup had been bad enough to trigger using again?
Something clicked in his memory from the other night and he felt shame wash over him. "Right. Which explains your reaction to the champagne."
He had never asked if TK was even a fan of champagne or alcohol in general. He should've been more respectful and anticipated the idea that maybe TK had a poor relationship with it, or a bad experience, or just wasn't interested in it at all. No wonder he got his back up right away – Carlos had been trying to have a proper date with him but he didn't know this important thing about him. And TK was still probably pretty raw after his relapse that even the pressure to be polite would've been enough to set off some ugly emotions. That he'd have to come up with an excuse or lie, because who wanted to reveal their deepest secrets that early on?
"I'm such an idiot. I'm-I'm sorry…"
TK cut off his stammering. "No, it's fine, okay? I just… ever since I got here, it's just… it's just grey. And I just feel numb, all the time. I guess I just… I wanted to feel something."
TK's eyes were wet now, and there was nothing but heartbreaking honesty reflecting out of them.
Carlos felt his own eyes filling with moisture. He didn't know what to say. Hearing that TK had been hurting so badly, that he still was struggling so much… it broke his heart.
TK slipped his wallet and phone out of the clear bag finally and stood up to leave, heading in direction of the exit without another word. It seemed he had said all he needed to say.
Carlos couldn't let him go yet, couldn't let that be the last thing said between them tonight. "Judging by that lip, I'd say mission accomplished."
TK stared at him in irritable disbelief, the barest hint of amusement at the edges. "You really busting my balls right now?"
"Yeah. I suppose I am." Carlos replied.
He couldn't help the way the corner of his mouth lifted in a slight smirk, and he felt his heart pick up its pace when he saw TK's expression break into one of his gorgeous smiles.
TK shook his head at him in mock-disappointment. "And all this time, I thought you were too good for me."
It was clearly meant in jest, but Carlos could detect the hidden truth behind the words. He was a little too stunned to say anything to dispute it, their easy banter normally coming naturally to him but he was drawing a blank.
It wasn't until the door closed behind him that Carlos moved, and then he was crossing the station to chase him outside.
TK turned from where he was walking down the sidewalk, his movements more ginger now than they were in the station. He likely was in a lot more physical pain than he had let on.
Carlos stood in front of him and inhaled a breath in the hopes that it would instill some courage in him.
"Thank you for telling me all of that. I know that couldn't have been easy. But I want you to know, it doesn't change anything for me. I still want to be with you. Whenever you decide you're ready. I…" He exhaled shakily, glancing down at his shoes as he tried to dig for that bravery somewhere deep inside him. "I really like you, TK. Not just because you're the best sex I've ever had. I… there's something here. I feel it when I'm around you. You're… you're special. You make me feel… so many things I don't know how to name yet."
Great, now he was rambling. Even better, making it clear how much of a lovesick fool he was over the guy. That wouldn't freak him out or anything.
He corrected his throat, trying to calm his anxiety. "Look, all I'm saying is that if you feel anything for me, I can be patient. I can wait until you're more ready. I think you're worth the wait."
TK's responding smile could outshine the sun. He wasted no time in coiling his arms around Carlos' waist and burying his face in his shoulder.
"I really like you too. And I do want to give this a shot. Just… when it has a better chance of not blowing up before it gets started."
Carlos pressed a quick kiss to his good temple before pulling back.
"For now, try to stay out of trouble, okay? You won't always be so lucky to get such an understanding cop like me processing you at the station."
TK blew out an exasperated breath that turned into a laugh. "I'll do my best."
Carlos couldn't help grinning at him, a much bigger fan of a laughing and teasing TK than a shattered and beaten one.
"I should get back. You gonna be okay to get home?"
TK nodded. "Yeah I already called a ride."
"Well, see you later then." Carlos said, not really sure how to be less awkward as he headed back up the stairs to return to the station.
He turned around. "Yeah?"
"Best sex you've ever had, huh?"
TK was sporting his cockiest grin, and Carlos wished he could kiss it off of his stupid smug face.
"You would pick that as the only takeaway from that whole speech…"
TK chuckled. "No, I remember it all. I just latched onto that because it was the same for me too."
Carlos took an extra second to process and then he felt himself flushing in pride.
TK's smile softened, no doubt reading his reaction even from several feet away. "Goodnight, Officer Reyes." he said cheekily as he moved towards the car marked with the Uber sticker that had pulled up.
Carlos could only watch as the car drove off into the night.
He felt a little bereft being apart from TK after all the honesty of the evening. Something about being so vulnerable together gave him the urge to be within close quarters, not wanting to give up the resulting rush that came with exposing your heart and having it be safe with the other person.
But Carlos knew that TK needed time. And he was willing to wait as long as it took.
For now, he returned to his desk, this time with a little more of a spring in his step.