i see darkness where you see light (5/?)
man, this one has been a long time coming huh. sorry about that. thanks, as always, to my co-author @tarlos-spain for being the best and for giving me the push to finish this chapter 💚
ao3 | 1.9k
In the end, the swelling around TK’s ankle goes down fairly quickly and a trip to the hospital is deemed unnecessary, much to their relief. But the fall still left TK with a significant limp which is throwing him even more off balance, yet he keeps refusing to rest.
More than once, Carlos has had to stop him from wandering the house on his own, and there have been several more near misses. It gets bad enough that he decides to take a week off work, ignoring TK’s protest that he’s fine and he doesn’t have to be babied.
Or, Carlos tries to ignore them.
“Then start acting like it!” he cries, TK having driven him to the end of his rope. “I know you don’t want to, but you have to accept that you need help, else you really are going to put yourself in the hospital again. We got lucky this time, but what about next time when you trip and crack your head open? You need to stop being so stubborn and let me in, TK!”
TK visibly recoils from the outburst, and Carlos belatedly realises that he wouldn’t have seen any of the desperation or worry he knows is painted all over his face. All TK knows is that Carlos had raised his voice, something which he tried not to do before the accident, let alone now.
“It’s okay.” TK’s voice is dangerously quiet and his posture is slumped, and Carlos doesn’t know what to do anymore. “You’re right. I’m… I’m a cripple and I’m never going to have a normal life again—”
“That’s not what I said.”
“—and I have to accept that. It’s just… I have to accept it.”
Almost mechanically, TK turns and slowly feels his way to the couch, slumping down into it when he makes it. He just sits there, looking smaller and more lost than Carlos has ever seen. He yearns to go and comfort him, but he has no idea if his presence would even be welcome now, so instead he heads upstairs and sits on the edge of their bed.
A minute later, the distinct sound of TK’s sobs drifts up to him, and Carlos feels his heart break all over again.
The next week is strange. Carlos has seen TK in moods like this before, when he gets caught up in his own head and takes everyone’s words out of context, but in many ways this time is nothing like those moods at all. He feels like he’s walking on eggshells, and each time he tries to have an actual conversation, it ends in more seemingly wilful misunderstandings.
It becomes their routine, though Carlos can’t lie—TK’s newfound caution does make him feel better about going back to work. Especially as TK has a house call with a physical therapist that morning, so he won’t even be alone for half the day. PT usually tires TK out, so Carlos is hoping that he’ll rest for the other half of the day, but he just has to trust his boyfriend on this count. Everyone they know is also at work, and he wants to give TK some of the freedom Carlos knows he’s been missing ever since the attack.
So, hard as it is to walk out the door that morning, Carlos forces himself to do it without a backwards glance.
Owen was not expecting to return from a call that afternoon to find his son sitting at the kitchen island, his hands loosely clasped around a glass of water. He knows Carlos is at work today—they’d had a long conversation last night over whether TK was ready to be left alone—and there’s no one else around who could have brought him.
TK is completely alone, yet somehow he managed to make his way to the firehouse without getting in trouble. Owen doesn’t know if that scares or relieves him.
He’s about to call TK’s name when Lewis, one of the 126’s reserves, comes up to him.
“Captain,” he says quietly, nervously glancing back at TK. “He showed up about an hour or so ago, says he called an Uber to bring him here.”
“He says?” Owen frowns and exchanges worried glances with the rest of the team. “You didn’t see?”
Lewis shakes his head. “None of us. Seems like either the driver didn’t bother to offer help or TK didn’t ask; all we know is that we were working, then Martha spotted him wandering around outside. He was completely disoriented; he would have ended up in the middle of the road if we hadn’t caught up to him when we did.”
“Jesus.” Owen closes his eyes briefly, then looks over to TK. It’s evident that he’s noticed their presence, his head seeming to be on a swivel as he searches for where they are. It still hurts to see TK like this, and a part of Owen is grateful that TK can’t see just how much they’re all feeling it.
“Thanks for helping him out,” he says to Lewis. Then, to Paul, “Call Carlos.”
Both of them nod, and Owen spares himself a moment to compose himself before heading over to the kitchen.
“Hey, son,” he calls, gently placing a hand on TK’s shoulder.
TK turns in Owen’s general direction and smiles. “Hey, Dad. Are the others here?”
“They’re…” Owen hesitates, gaze flicking between the various members of the team, who all really need to work on their eavesdropping skills. “Around.”
“Can you get them to come here?”
“In a minute,” he promises. “TK, what are you doing here? Why did you think it was a good idea to come on your own?”
TK visibly bristles at that. “I made it, didn’t I?”
“According to Lewis, you were two seconds from walking into traffic.”
Owen has to fight to suppress a groan. He knows this isn’t a fight he’s going to win, and it’s not really one he wants to have, but it’s still a struggle to drop the topic.
Still, he manages. Just. “Where’s your cane?” he asks, looking around but spotting nothing. “Please tell me you at least brought that with you.”
TK bites his lip and hangs his head, which is all the answer Owen needs, and this time he does groan.
“I would have brought it,” TK half-whispers. “I just… It’s embarrassing, but I put it down after PT this morning and then I couldn’t find it. I figured I’d be okay without it, and it’s not like it would have been much help out there anyway.”
Owen has to concede that point—the space outside the firehouse is next to entirely empty—but he’s not about to let this one go that easily. “But in here, it’s too dangerous for you. There’s so much you could run into, and don’t even think Carlos hasn’t told me about your little trip down the stairs at home—a place you’ve been practicing in, I might add.”
“I know!” TK shouts, sending a hushed silence across the firehouse. He shrinks in on himself, clearly embarrassed, and doesn’t look back up at Owen until the conversations around them start up again. “I know. Look, Dad, I’m sure I’ll get the third degree from Carlos later, so can you please drop it? Lesson learned, I won’t do it again, can you get the team now?”
He hesitates a second longer, but softens at his son’s pleading look, and gestures for the team to come over. They’re a lot quieter than they were last time they all gathered, back at the ill-fated surprise party, and Owen is grateful for it—though TK looks strangely guilty.
“Guys, I…” he starts, before anyone else can get a word in. “I’m so sorry.”
Owen blinks, and it’s clear he’s not the only confused one. Paul’s brows are knitted together and Mateo’s mouth has dropped open, Marjan and Nancy exchanging a wide-eyed stare across the island.
“For what?” Owen asks. “Son, what happened wasn’t your fault.”
“I know that,” TK says, though his mouth does twitch into a small, sad smile. “Though, Nancy, I am sorry that you have to find another partner now. I wish I could still be out there with you guys.”
Nancy nods. “Ditto,” she says, reaching over to squeeze TK’s hand. “But you still don’t need to apologise.”
TK huffs a brief laugh, and mutters, “Yeah,” under his breath. He gently pulls his hand away from Nancy and folds his arms, almost curling in on himself. “What I meant was, I’m sorry about the party you guys planned for me. You just wanted to support me, and it was really nice of you to do that, and I just went ahead and ruined it.”
A chorus of protests rises at that, and Owen winces at the same time TK does. Thankfully, they die down almost immediately, though TK still seems tense.
“Brother, you ain’t got nothing to be sorry for,” Judd says eventually, the others nodding along. “It’s us who need to apologise; we shoulda known that you weren’t ready for any of that. Alright? It’s not your fault.”
TK purses his lips, clearly unconvinced, but the bell, with its usual impeccable timing, chooses that moment to go off. They all hesitate to leave TK alone again, but it seems like they have at least some luck today, as when Owen turns, he sees Carlos striding into the firehouse.
He takes one last look back before he pulls himself into the truck, smiling at the sight of Carlos and TK embracing.
“Why didn’t you tell me you wanted to go to the station?” Carlos asks later, as they’re walking hand in hand. “I would have driven you.”
TK shrugs, tapping his cane against the sidewalk. He had been desperate to go out somewhere, and Carlos figured a walk around the block together could hardly hurt—it’s the closest they’ve come to a proper date in weeks.
“I thought you might have stopped me.”
Carlos frowns and tugs on TK’s hand to get him to stop. “Why would I have done that?”
“Because of what happened after the hospital,” TK says, shrugging again. “Because you think the same as they do—that I don’t have to apologise for anything.”
“Of course I think that!” Carlos reaches up with his free hand to lay it on TK’s cheek. “Baby, you have done nothing wrong.”
TK mouth twists into a dubious expression. “Nothing? You sure about that?”
“Well, you shouldn’t have gone to the station on your own, but I think I get it. I’m not mad at you.”
Carlos waits for TK to respond, but all he gets is a sigh, and he’s forced to follow as TK starts walking again.
“I mean it, you know,” he continues, squeezing TK’s hand. “You’re being so strong and I don’t blame you for anything. But”—Carlos bites his lip, debating how best to say this—“I also meant what I said the other day. TK, you need to start asking for help. If you want to go visit the others at the station, if you want to get water from the fridge, if you lose your cane—you need to say something. At least until we’re all a little more used to this.”
TK still says nothing, so Carlos gets him to stop again, looking intently into his eyes though he knows that TK isn’t looking back. “Promise me.”
TK swallows once, twice, then sighs and leans into Carlos. “I promise,” he whispers.
Carlos cradles the back of TK’s neck and presses a kiss onto the top of his head. “Thank you,” he murmurs back.
And, at last, the ever-present worry inside him begins to settle.
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