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Coming Back

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TK struggles not to roll his eyes as he hears the front door close. Mateo left maybe ten minutes earlier for his shift at the 122. TK cannot remember the last time he’s had more than five minutes to himself. Ever since his accident, there’s been a very well-orchestrated rotation of people in the house with TK at all times. His father insisted.

Initially, TK couldn’t keep his body coordinated long enough to get around the house and his brain was foggy. He understands why he had needed a baby-sitter. Things are getting better now, mostly, and yet they still show up. It’s almost worse now that his dad is actively trying to get the 126 reopened and his mother is back in New York. It’s less the annoying hovering of his parents and the well-meaning if awkward hovering of his friends.

Today, it’s Carlos’s shift.

TK still hasn’t decided if it’s better or worse: living in his dad’s house and having Carlos come in like he used to, before the break up but after the fire. They’ve talked, now, about what happened, the mistakes both of them made, and admitted they wanted to try again. Life is too short.

But they’ve gone incredibly slowly. Slower than TK has ever moved with anyone. Ever.

So it’s jarring when Carlos walks into the house like he still lives here, with a key he still has, and starts puttering around the kitchen. TK wants to just fit back together, but the pieces are just a little bit different. It’s not the same as it was.

TK pads down the stairs to find Carlos in the kitchen. The mixing bowl and milk are already on the counter.

“Hey, do you want pancakes or waffles?” Carlos asks, his weird spidey-sense kicking in as TK hovers in the doorway. Spidey-sense or the noise of TK rubbing his hands over his pajama pants clued him in. One or the other.

When TK doesn’t answer, Carlos keeps going. “Or I could do a frittata if you’d rather have eggs?”

Carlos turns, an easy smile on his face. TK stutters to a stop because there’s a bruise blooming over the left side of Carlos’ face and a cut running along his cheek that hasn’t been properly attended to.

“What happened?”

“What?” Carlos asks, his brow furrowing in confusion. Considering the bruising, it should hurt.

“Carlos, your face!” TK gestures at him.

Carlos lifts his hand to touch his face and winces slightly. “Oh, yeah.”

“Oh, yeah?” TK repeats, unable to keep the strangled frustration out of his voice.

Carlos just shrugs and TK has to bite on his lip to keep himself from wanting to break something, or yell. He stares, waiting for Carlos to say more. “Extra units were called to Dirty 6th for a multi-bar brawl. A bunch of UT students got into it and then tourists got involved. Someone caught me.”

“Someone caught you?” TK repeats, unable to do more than parrot back Carlos’s words.

“Yeah. So…breakfast?” Carlos asks, jerking his thumb behind him at the items collected on the counter.

TK feels himself reanimate. With a speed he hasn’t shown in weeks, TK instantly moves into the kitchen and grabs Carlos by the arm. TK pulls him to the other side of the island and is met with little resistance.

“Oh my god, sit down,” TK orders, pushing Carlos onto one of the stools. “Did anyone even look at you?”

TK takes a moment to move away from Carlos to the backpack of extensive first aid supplies that Nancy had made for the first floor of the house. She put one on every floor when he came home from the hospital and made sure everyone knew where they were. While she intended them to be used if TK hurt himself “being stupid” as she put it, TK was grateful that it was here.

“It’s not that bad,” Carlos calls.

TK glares at him on his way over. He’s throwing on gloves and uses one hand to point at his own cheek. “You’ve got blood like right here.”

Carlos grabs a tissue off of the island and tries to dab at it. His right cheek, which is not the one with the cut. TK points at the other cheek and Carlos is still missing the mark.

TK tears open a wipe from the backpack. “No, let me,” he says, taking the tissue out of Carlos’s hand and putting it off to the side. He gets most of the blood off of Carlos’s cheek, and TK takes Carlos’s chin in his fingers and begins to inspect his face.

“TK, is this necessary?” Carlos asks, wearily.

TK drops his chin and holds up three fingers. “How many fingers?”

Carlos stares at him, eyes wide. “We’re doing concussion protocol now?”

TK clenches his jaw, thinking about the fact that someone has punched Carlos in the face and no one thought to take a look at him. “You were hit in the head. It’s standard.”

Carlos hums what could be an argument, but follows along with the prompts TK gives him. He answers three, he follows the pen and puts up with the lights.

“Pupils look good,” TK mumbles to himself and earns an eye roll from Carlos.

He’s about to ask some of the standard questions but before he can speak, Carlos is already off and running. “It’s Tuesday, the year is 2022, Biden is president and it’s kinda still shitty, and you’ve only been out of a coma for six weeks, two days and ten hours, so I don’t know if you’ve been cleared for duty.”

TK rolls his lips between his teeth and sucks hard. He could fight and point out that he’s fine. He’s been fine. But there’s something to the line of Carlos’s jaw that makes him swallow any arguments. He does blink rapidly though, not like there’s any reason to do so.

His jaw clenches a little and he just whispers, “Okay, then.”

TK focuses on getting his cleaning supplies ready. He breathes around the bits that sting. He’s felt useless for the better part of these six weeks. TK likes to be busy. Saving other people is important to him and being the person dependent on others makes him feel like the fragile TK of the past who could break at any moment. He doesn’t want to be the kind of person who breaks. Anyway, he may still have babysitters and not be cleared for duty, but he can certainly assess a concussion and clean a wound.

When he goes back to the wound, Carlos has already deflated. His head has dropped and his shoulders have sagged and curled inward. “Sorry,” Carlos sighs. He sounds tired. “I told you; I’m fine.”

It’s a lie, but TK lets it lie. TK wonders if things would have been different, could have been different, if he’d just not reacted, when they were fighting. It’s probably not worth his energy to retread old ground today. They’re moving forward, and Carlos looks like he could fall asleep any second. TK hasn’t been keeping track of Carlos’s schedule, but if the punch to the face was two hours ago, Carlos hasn’t slept.

TK begins to clean out the wound with sure strokes. It earns him a hiss from Carlos and TK pulls back for a moment before softening his touch. It’s not that deep, not really, but it is still a mark on Carlos’s face.

“Someone hurt you,” TK points out before chewing at his lip as he makes sure there’s nothing remaining inside the cut.

He dries off the cut before dressing it, trying to heal more than just this cut to Carlos’s face. He carefully applies a little antibiotic ointment and covers it. TK cannot help but cup Carlos’s face with his right hand and use his thumb to carefully smooth over the adhesive. Carlos closes his eyes under TK’s touch and it’s nice to be useful. It’s nice to just sit with Carlos like this.

When Carlos opens his eyes, the most devastating brown eyes are staring back at TK. “I don’t think I’m the one who should be complaining about being hurt.”


“I just…” Carlos interrupts. “I shouldn’t have said the thing about you not being cleared. It’s really…” He closes his eyes and tilts his head to the side and swallows. TK waits. “Uh, it’s really hard not to see you back in that hospital bed, TK. Like you’re up and you’re good. You’re really good, but I just…”

Carlos looks like he’s about to cry and TK wants to comfort him but he’s not entirely sure how other than continuing to rub at his cheek. His thumb shifts to wipe a tear before it falls.


Carlos shakes his head and huffs softly. “I don’t want you to feel guilty or anything. You saved that kid. You should have saved that kid. I’m really proud of you.”

“But it added to the number of times I…I almost…” TK cannot say it. He knows what happened. He has a vague memory of dreams of his mother, of the people who love him, and the beeping he could hear. In talking it out, between therapy and Carlos and his family, he could probably hear the heart monitors and people talking to him. But still…

“Died?” Carlos asks, on a gasp. He laughs, but it’s cold and harsh. “Yeah. I mean, technically you did. A few times.”

TK folds Carlos into his arms. He presses a kiss to the top of Carlos’s curls before tucking his head under his own chin. “I’m here. I’m right here.”

Carlos presses a kiss to TK’s neck and stays nestled in close. Carlos wraps his arms around TK’s back and one hand fists into his sleep shirt, and oh, TK has missed the feel of Carlos’ hands on him like this. Like Carlos needs him. Like TK isn’t a fragile thing that might fall apart. So TK mumbles assurances and presses kisses into Carlos’s hair until he feels the hold loosen a little.

Carlos keeps his head tucked into TK’s neck, but one of his thumbs starts strumming over TK’s back. “You know why I take all these shifts with you?”

“Cause no one else can stand me like this?” TK quips.

Carlos pulls back and his eyes are still all soulful and open in a way that makes TK’s knees feel weak. Carlos lifts a hand to cup TK’s face. “Because I love you. And every day you get a little bit better and stronger and I can see the TK I know coming back.”

Well, hell. TK leans into Carlos’s hand, unable to form a response to that. He knows Carlos loves him, and was certain even when things fell apart that hadn’t changed. He has been coming back to himself, slowly, and now he is like 96% of the way there. He’s itchy to be useful again, to be in the field. He resents that people want to babysit him when he is a full grown man. But he could maybe see, all things considered, why people want to. Why Carlos wants to.

When TK opens his eyes to look at Carlos again, Carlos looks like he’s drifting off to sleep.

“Alright, let’s go,” TK says, pulling at Carlos so he’s moving him out of the chair. “I’m getting you into bed.”

Carlos blinks and looks up at him with half-lidded eyes. His lip curls up into a smirk. “Have you been cleared for recreational activities?”

TK loses his power of speech and well, fuck, sex has been one of the things that has been slowly returning to his brain. It’s not in the cards for today, not with Carlos half asleep. And also, no, probably not without clearance, damn it. His heart is better, though. “One, rude. Two, you look like you’re about to pass out. We’re just going to sleep.”

“So that’s a no on being cleared?” Carlos asks, undeterred.

“Let’s go.”

“I was going to make breakfast,” Carlos points out on their way up the stairs.

“You can make breakfast after you sleep. How many hours have you been awake? Should I even trust you in the kitchen?”

“I could cook in my sleep,” Carlos objects, evading the question.

“Nope. No. I’m not letting that happen,” TK insists, pushing Carlos into his bedroom, which was their bedroom in those weird limbo days after the fire. He gives Carlos a pointed look. “Worse comes to worse, I can make breakfast. Get comfortable.”

Carlos scoffs, but still strips off his jacket and begins taking off his belt.

“I can! I can make eggs,” TK reminds him, “or pour cereal!”

“True. Would we call that breakfast though?” Carlos asks, an eyebrow raised and a smirk on his lips.

TK is a little too pleased to have Carlos busting his balls again. But then, Carlos has never been afraid to push, to tease and call TK on his shit, whether TK wants it or not. Even if he’s just in his boxers. Okay, he’s not sleeping with Carlos just in his boxers. That’s too much.

TK digs through his drawers and throws Carlos a pair of APD sweatpants that were never separated from TK’s collection. Carlos turns them over, inspecting them carefully, but doesn’t comment on the fact that he’s been handed his own clothes in a house he hasn’t lived in for months.

TK takes the initiative and peels back the covers of his bed and climbs in while saying, “Uh, a breakfast is something you eat in the morning to break your fast. So yes, yes we would.”

Carlos hasn’t moved. He’s just standing there in his reclaimed sweatpants and his lips are twitching as he stares. TK pats the bed, giving him what he hopes is a non-threatening face. “Get in.”

“I could sleep on the couch,” Carlos offers, looking at the bed like it’s about to jump him.

TK rolls his eyes. “You hate sleeping on the couch. You get all cramped. Your neck gets out of whack. Get in.”

Carlos lets out a little sigh and slides into the bed on his correct side for the first time in forever. It feels right. TK tries really hard to remain casual as he pulls the covers up. Before Texas, before Carlos, if anyone had suggested he’d be this excited to just have a man sleep beside him—just sleep—TK would have laughed.

Carlos shifts again, as if trying to get comfortable. He turns and lifts his eyebrow again, amusement lacing his voice. “Are you lulling me into a false sense of security so you can sneak out of the house?”

“So suspicious, Officer Reyes.”

Carlos reaches out and takes TK’s arm. Carlos runs his hand over his bicep and the amusement slides into affection. “I know you’re going a little stir crazy. And you sometimes like your space,” Carlos observes softly.

TK takes the contact as an invitation for more, and pulls Carlos in close. TK shifts himself down to get comfortable and Carlos surprises him by pillowing his head on TK’s chest, right over TK’s heart. Carlos slides his hand across TK’s waist, through his sweatshirt pocket. Even a week ago, it would have been hard to have someone’s head on his chest, but his ribs are healed and his heart is mostly back to normal.

TK lifts his hand to scrub at the back of Carlos’s head. He turns over Carlos’s words about going stir crazy, about how TK likes space. Carlos knows him. Carlos hasn’t been afraid to give him just enough space and hover a respectable distance away. Carlos has been satisfied with grumpy silences and snappy answers to questions.

“I’m not going to go out while you sleep,” TK tells Carlos through his curls.

Somebody else, maybe he’d try it. But Carlos, well, Carlos would call in favors, figure out where he was and show up. TK would see the look of disappointment and fear that he hated seeing. It wasn’t worth that. Besides, he didn’t have to sneak out. “You know, you’re the only one who institutes field trips. Everyone else is too scared of my dad to let me out of the house.”

Carlos chuckles against TK’s chest. “I know you. You’d find a way out of the house unsupervised if you were trapped here.”

TK pouts a little. “I could go places by myself.”

“Told you, I’m selfish,” Carlos mumbles, on the edge of sleep.

“Yeah?” TK asks, hoping to keep Carlos talking. His brow is furrowed, trying to remember Carlos ever saying he was selfish. The less awake Carlos is, the more he’s likely to admit. Any of the walls Carlos constructs during the day to keep himself safe fade away as he drifts off.

TK’s reward is a sleepy chuckle from Carlos. “It’s all part of my grand plan to convince you that you still like being in love with me.”

“Are you wooing me?” TK asks.

“Have been trying to woo you since I saw you,” Carlos admits, his voice clumsy with sleep. “That first call. Still figuring it out.”


TK had known Carlos was trying to date him way back when he’d made red snapper and TK had ruined it. Back then it had scared him. It still scares him, if he’s honest.

TK has never had someone pursue him like Carlos has. TK was always the one doing the chasing in New York. He would hold on tight to the people who were running in the other direction. And when Carlos moved toward him, it was impossible to believe it could last. Instead, TK is still waiting for the other shoe to drop two years later. He’s done everything in his power to see what would be the final straw. What would be the thing about TK that would make Carlos decide he didn’t want him anymore. Everyone else has found something in him that’s just a little too much.

Carlos hasn’t. Carlos keeps coming back.

“Stay with me,” Carlos breathes as his breath evens out.

TK lets his bottom lip slip from between his teeth. He presses another kiss to the top of Carlos’s head. After everything, Carlos wants him to stay. TK is going to do his best. Leaving didn’t make anything better or easier.

“I’m here. I’m staying right here,” TK promises.