"What does it matter what I call you?" Reid dropped his gaze away from Luke. That small smile of his was leaving the doctor short of breath. Still. After all this time. That smile alone was enough to get his heart pumping and knock him off-kilter. This madness had to stop.
"Mr. Snyder is my father," he said; Luke snatched the folders from Reid's hand before he could slip them into the briefcase. He hit the files on top of the desk to straighten them. "I'm Luke," he added.
Reid frowned. "Can I have my files back, please?" He wasn't looking, but he could still hear the smile in the other man's voice. It was aggravating. And endearing. And sure to be a distraction at his hearing.
"You call Noah by his first name," Luke said. He clutched the folders in his hand just out of Reid's reach, snatching them away when the doctor tried to take them.
"He's my patient," Reid said. As if either of them needed reminding. He was always between them with a vice grip on Luke's heart.
"So?" Luke responded. There was that damn teasing smile again.
Reid looked away. "So it's a simple, well-defined relationship. It's patient-doctor. It's clear." He frowned. Luke dangled the medical files under Reid's nose.
The doctor took the opportunity to snatch them up and turned away again. The transfer was probably more aggressive than he would've liked. Still, the distance was necessary. More than he wanted to admit, even to Katie Snyder, who seemed able to read him when the person who should've seen the signs was as oblivous as he was optimistic – even about this hateful malpractice suit. Reid had never seen someone so...enthusiastic about a subject even the most hardened of observers would find macabre at best. And yet, there he was, involving himself in Reid's problem, immersing himself as if his own happiness counted on the result of the board's decision.
Maybe it did. Maybe the possibility of Dr. Reid Oliver putting aside his well-earned ego and actually going after what – and who – he wanted depended on the Texas Board of Medicine seeing the truth for what it was. A grieving father who refused to see past his own grief. Or maybe Luke's happiness depended on Noah being able to see again. And he'd put aside his own distaste for the doctor's brusque manner to make sure Reid was available to put Noah back together again.
"What does that make us, then?" Luke asked, leaning closer. His tone was expectant, hesitant. I think you feel a lot more than you let on, he had said. An understatement, to be sure.
It makes us impossible, Reid thought.
"I-I'm tired of explaining myself," he said after a long pause. "That's what I've been doing all night." Reid dropped his gaze. No, they couldn't even share the intimacy of first names. In his mind, all he could see was himself kissing that silly smirk off Luke's face. Bruising the other man's lips with his until he looked at Reid with the same intensity in his eyes that he had when speaking of Noah. The supposed love of his life. A man who brushed him aside when it became too difficult – more than once, if Katie's gossip was to be trusted. And Luke was too much of a fool to see how he was selling himself short by chasing after a man who didn't want him. And he, the brilliant Dr. Reid Oliver, was as much of a fool for wanting this romantic pretty boy with the big pockets and even bigger heart to feel...what exactly?
When Reid looked back at Luke, for a second he thought he saw a flicker of interest. He dismissed it immediately. The imaginings of a mind too tired from going over his testimony for hours. He blinked and whatever he'd seen – or thought he'd seen – was gone.
"I'm going to go home and get some rest. Thank you for helping me prep for the hearing," he added, abruptly changing the subject.
"Are you sure you're ready for this?" Luke asked. His teasing manner was gone.
Again, Reid found that he couldn't help staring at the young man. His eager, open face. His lips just asking to break the tension between them. The trust that was there, just beneath the surface. The very reason Reid had to fight whatever he was feeling and just get through the hearing to keep his medical license. After that, he would deal with his feelings for Luke. He would find a way to excise them for good. Or suppress the part of himself that was intent on making him love's fool. Even the smallest slip would cost him.
"Yeah, I'm sure," Reid said. It wasn't a lie exactly. He knew his testimony inside and out. Knew even that Luke was right. He would have to show the doctors in that hearing some of the man who had cared for the little girl who had died, without letting them think he was too emotional to be professional. But could he keep going on like this with Luke? Knowing how he felt and not having the courage to show it? No, not for much longer. He would never be ready for that kind of pain.
For a second, Reid imagined his vulnerability was there in his eyes and on his face, as easily discernable as the shields he had to put up between them. Without another word, he brushed past Luke and out of the hotel room.
He couldn't let himself fall. Not like this. Not for Luke Snyder. Not when his job and the lives of so many people depended on his brilliant mind and focus. The last thing he could do when treated to one of Luke's mocking and beautiful smiles was focus on medicine. All he could think, as much as he tried to fight it, was that he'd do just about anything to earn a true smile from him. Even save Noah Mayer's vision – the one thing that could drive Luke away from him forever. But Reid would take that chance. He had to. He was the reluctant hero of this romantic melodrama. Even if he wouldn't get the ultimate prize.