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In Another Life

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 Luke’s life starts out normal and happy. His parents, mainly his mom has money which means he never has to go without. His dad and his family have a farm which means he gets lots of time outdoors and a unique perspective in life growing up. Although they’re both busy with their respective jobs and businesses they always make time for him and his younger siblings when they come along. On the off chance they’re not able to be there Luke has two grandmothers who always are. Both with excellent advice and loving hearts that warm Luke’s, and help him to become who he will be. He has a great life that’s loving, innocent and lively until his ninth birthday when everything changes and he no longer is a child anymore.

 Nine years seems like a long time to be innocent and carefree but half of those years Luke won’t remember, and the other half are so blurry it’s hard to discern if they even happened. If those memories are even real. Nine years is nothing if they’re not reliable, they’re confusing and not happy as they were because it’s all about how you remember it. The person you become is all about the memories and moments that have changed and made you who you are. If most, if not all are painful and only a handful are happy yet confusing, then what kind of person will you turn out to be? What kind of life will you have? For Luke it’s not a good one.

 Shortly after his ninth birthday his birth father comes into the picture, his biological dad. Luke knew that Holden wasn’t really his dad, he knew that he married his mom before Luke was born, and that there’s a man out there who is his real father. As a child he thought it was kind of cool, two dads, and two dads to protect and love him even though he only knew one of them, until his ninth birthday that is. That’s when his other father shows up, Damien Grimaldi. He’s intimidating at first for Luke but Luke has always been open and accepting so it doesn’t take long to get past that. His mom is nervous about them getting to know each other but in the end it’s Holden who convinces her to let them have more time together. Him of all people, but that’s just who he is. He’s the kind of dad who puts his son first before his own feelings, his own insecurities. He loves unconditionally. He loves forever. Later in his life, Luke will swear that’s the reason he knows Holden is his real dad (not biological, he’s not that dense, but real in the sense that he’s the only one that he’ll ever refer to as his father), because like his father Luke loves forever.

“Luke?” Damien asks one day, a few months after he first met him.

“Yeah?” Luke asks looking up with innocent blue eyes.

“Have you ever been on a plane before?”

 Luke’s smile lights the room up as he shakes his head no. Damien smiles at that, a little guilty, not that at that age Luke would have noticed, and says, “Would you like to be on a plane?”

 At the tender age of nine, and still so innocent Luke nods his head ‘yes’. It’s all the permission that Damien Grimaldi needs before he’s whisking him away on a plane to Malta where he promised to bring him. He didn’t know what was going to happen next, not really, he thought it would go smoothly with his brother. How was he supposed to know? He’ll say this to Luke’s parents until he’s blue in the face but it won’t matter, the trust is broken, and so is Luke. He’s never the same after those three months alone with his ‘uncle.’ Never.

 When Luke turns fifteen and enters high school for the first time he finds himself in a brand new and terrifying world. He meets new people and becomes friends with friends of his long time best friend Kevin Davis. He joins the basketball team with Kevin and surprisingly he’s actually pretty good. Of course he always shot hoops with Kevin out at the farm but this is different, this is competitive sport and there’s more than just the two of them playing so it’s a great compliment when he can get more shots in the hoop than the rest of his team. Kevin’s pretty great too and they soon become Co-Captains which raises there popularity in the school. Suddenly girls are talking to them and Kevin is soaking up the attention every time Luke looks over. He tries his hardest to pay attention to the girl in front of himself flirting with him but he feels more uncomfortable than ever. He tries to let her adown and the others that come after, gently.

 In the middle of tenth grade he can no longer keep lying to himself. He can no longer pretend that the lingering looks at Kevin without a shirt on is just platonic. He can’t lie to himself that his first erection wasn’t watching Kevin shoot a winning goal, shirt tucked up to show off his stomach and the muscles hiding beneath. He can’t lie that the nervousness and butterflies in his stomach every time Kevin touches him on the shoulder or arm means that he just hadn’t had enough breakfast. He can’t lie anymore, and at the age of sixteen he feels like maybe he’s not so normal after all. That he’s a freak and that everyone will hate him if they find out. It tears him up inside.

 At first he tries to go out on a date with a girl and he even tries to kiss her but it doesn’t feel right. It feels wrong and he can’t bring himself to go through with it after all. Kevin thinks that he just hasn’t found his type yet and Luke can’t help but laugh bitterly inside because, yeah that’s partly true, isn’t it? He doesn’t want to feel this way, he just wants to be normal. To play basketball and have a girlfriend like everyone else. He just wants to be like everyone else.  It’s then that he starts remembering things he never wanted to know, things he never wanted to think about again. He tries his best to push it all away but it’s so damn difficult sometimes. It’s only when he finally agrees to go to a party with Kevin and has his first drink that it finally does slip away. Everything slips away when he’s drunk and he finally feels better. Okay. Normal. He looks over to Kevin and he looks back. There’s a moment when they lock eyes and Luke knows just as Kevin does that they’ve found the one thing that can silence the dirtiness Luke feels and the arguing of Kevin’s parents trapped inside Kevin’s head. Luke knows his reason but Kevin doesn’t know his, and he never asks. Which is just as well, because Luke would have told him and then he wouldn’t have been able to live with himself knowing that someone knows. Least of al Kevin.

 He goes to Mexico with his grandmother when he’s almost seventeen. Not because he wants to but because there’s always booze stalked up in the private jet, and lately neither Kevin nor himself has been able to obtain much for themselves. He feels too on edge and too desperate to refuse his grandmother’s offer when he realizes the access he’ll have to the one thing he needs more than anything right now. So he goes on the trip with her and once she falls asleep Luke finds the alcohol. He told himself that he would wait until he got to the hotel and his grandmother was off to meetings or whatever else she had on her plate (honestly he was too far into withdrawal to realize what she was talking about [not that he knew that it was withdrawal]) but with the bottle in his hand he can’t take another minute, another second of being sober. He takes the longest sip he’s ever had. Then another and another. He’s like a drowning man on dry land.

 He doesn’t remember much after that, but his grandmother must have found him passed out because the next thing he knows he’s in a hospital that doesn’t really look like a hospital. He must still be in Mexico. His grandmother is there next to him with her back to him talking on the phone to someone about him he’s sure, but can’t really make it out. Everything is blurry and his side hurts like someone’s jammed a hot poker inside. He tries to speak but can’t he finds that he can’t anything out. His grandmother is about to turn around when everything gets black again.

 The second time he wakes up he’s not in Mexico anymore. He knows this because Bob Hughes is leaning over him with a pen light checking his eyes. Luke pushes away from the harsh light and before he knows it his mom and dad are near him. They hug him, touch him, and love him like they’ve never loved him before. That’s when he knows it’s serious. They try to play it down, to make it not as bad as it is but Luke sees right through it. He tells them to say it straight and after much convincing they do.

Kidney infection.

Kidney failure.

Death.

 Alright, so they don’t say the death part but it’s heavily implied and Luke wants to throw up. He should have known right away that it was bad since they weren’t lecturing him or giving him the eyes of doom for the drinking. They don’t mention his drinking once and that’s the biggest red flag ever but Luke didn’t want to believe it was this bad. He really didn’t, but once he hears it, well, it’s awful and terrible but he feels relieved as much as he feels scared. He’s going to die because even though they say a kidney could become available they also say he doesn’t have much time. Days. Some people wait months for organs, there’s a high probability that he won’t get one. That he’ll die.

 He thinks of his little sisters and he feels sad. He wants to be there to protect them the way no one’s ever protected him before. To be there for them as they grow up, to be an extra heling hand. He thinks of basketball and Kevin, and how he’ll never see him again. It should hurt more than it does, he thinks, but it doesn’t. He feels relieved about that. He feels relieved that this painful and dirty- uncomfortable blurry existence is almost over. He feels relieved that soon he won’t have to wake up and ask himself, ‘how am I going to do this? How am I going to get through this day?’ With our without alcohol. He won’t have to do it anymore. He feels relieved for that but scared for his family. What they’ll do with him gone and how they’ll cope. He’s scared for them only.

 On the third day he’s in so much pain that he begs his parents and Bob Hughes to give him enough drugs that he won’t know who he or anything else is. He says to hell with dignity and that he wants to die unaware. His mom bursts out crying and has to leave the room. His father goes after her and Bob Hughes puts his hand on his shoulder. He tells him he’ll up his morphine but that if he truly wants to enter palliative care he needs his parent’s consent. Luke’s in too much pain to argue so he only nods his head as a nurse is called in and more drugs are pushed into his IV. It makes him drowsy and he finds himself falling asleep pretty soon after. When he wakes up nothing is the same once again.

 No one tells him how at first but Luke knows that this Kidney he wakes up to having was not gained through legal channels. He only has one now and that means an adjustment in his lifestyle. He’s no longer allowed to play basketball or do any other sports for that matter. He’s officially banned from drinking for the rest of his life and he’s now shackled to anti-rejection drugs as well. He’s told to keep having a balanced diet and that it would be better if he takes daily vitamins. He wants to argue with this last order as he’s not allowed to argue with any of the others but a look from his mother stops him. She’s angry and worried all in one. He remembers her running out of the room crying and maybe just maybe he won’t be so stubborn for once. So he nods his head and agrees to all of the terms listed. He gets out of the hospital just in time for his seventeenth birthday.

 His big secret stays with him as he goes through recovery than back to school again. He upholds his promise not to drink for eight months. For eight months after the surgery he stays sober and aware of every little thing, every little pain physical and emotional. It’s the best and worst he’s ever felt, but like most things it doesn’t last because one day he can’t take it anymore. All of these secrets, emotions, and feelings are just too damn much and before he knows it he’s kissing Kevin in the locker room when everyone’s gone. He’s not on the team anymore, his failing kidney saw to that but he still helps out from time to time with the plays and refereeing every once in a while. This particular day him and Kevin were going to go to Al’s for some food to celebrate a win. Luke was waiting for him in the locker room and…. He couldn’t take it anymore. He kisses him.

 Kevin’s reaction is instantaneous. He pushes Luke away so hard that his back cracks into the lockers. Luke is shocked and hurt but the look on Kevin’s face makes him feel more disgusted with himself than ever before. He feels guilt fill his veins as they stare at each other in shocked silence. Luke knows Kevin, he should have never done this and yet he did. He couldn’t help it. Not being drunk has actually made him more stupid than smarter. He watches Kevin, waits for him to do something, most likely just walk away but then there’s a whooping and a hollering from the entrance door. Both Luke and Kevin look over to see four of their teammates. They’re smiling and laughing at them. Luke’s never felt so embarrassed in his life. He looks to Kevin but before he gets a full view of his reaction to their audience there’s a fist in his face and he’s going down.

 He’s not really sure what happens but when he wakes up and walks over to the mirror in the empty locker room it all clicks into place. He’s bleeding from his nose and a split lip. His eye is turning black and blue, and his jaw aches furiously. This was no doubt Kevin. It has to be because he was looking at the others when the hit came. He’s lucky that’s all he remembers because the other hits must have hurt quite a bit when they were coming. He can’t remember, after one punch he must have passed out. Now all he has is the lingering pain from them.

 How the hell is he going to explain this to his parents?

 He ends up ignoring them by grabbing the first bottle of alcohol he can find at the house. It’s a bottle of old bourbon. Luke hates bourbon, but he hates being sober even more so he takes it and makes his way to the guest house. Nobody’s there, it’s blessedly quiet. He takes a sip of the alcohol, wincing at the burn and texts his mom to tell her he’s staying over at Kevin’s for the night. What a joke, but it works and his mom tells him to have fun. He smiles bitterly at that and takes another sip. It’s not long before the soreness and throbbing of his face disappears in the haze of the alcohol. He drinks and he drinks and then he forgets, everything.

 When he wakes up he almost doesn’t make it in time to the toilet. He throws up more than he ever has before. When he’s done he sits back against the bathroom door and rests his head back. He feels nauseous and everything is still hazy. He’s more sober than he was last night but it’s clear that the alcohol is still doing its job, even if slightly. There’s no way he can go home today. He hasn’t even looked in the mirror yet but he knows it will be awful. He reaches for his cell phone and sends another text. This time it’s to his dad who seems a little suspicious but it’s quickly written off with a ‘have fun’ and ‘see you later.’ Luke slumps back against the bathroom door and slides to the floor. He curls up in a ball on the cold surface and shuts his eyes tightly. He squeezes the phone in his hand and before he knows what’s happening he’s crying. Big sorrowful sobs that wrack his body so much it hurts. But then again maybe it’s because his best friend just beat him up.

 He tells his parents that he got mugged. They’re so concerned and worried that it breaks Luke’s heart, and makes him all the guiltier for it. He wants to get some more alcohol and drain another bottle but there’s no way his parents will let him out of their sight tonight so he stamps that idea and feigns tiredness. Reluctantly his parents let him go upstairs and to bed for an early night, but he doesn’t sleep. He should. Its Monday tomorrow and he’ll have to face everyone, but he can’t. Instead he opens up his computer and logs into his blog. He starts writing about what happened but before he knows it his writing becomes something else. He transfers the text to a document program and keeps writing. It starts out as journal entry at 8pm and ends with a short story at two in the morning.

 Luke takes a seat back and stares at his words. He feels better, he feels more right than he ever has before. Getting it out there, even if on paper and putting it into some else’s world feels so, so good. For the first time in a long time he smiles and he feels like maybe he can get through this. That maybe he can keep going and he can face Kevin. He can face the whole. That maybe he can even face the world with his head held up for once, instead of down in a river of despair.

 It’s worth a shot, right? At least that’s what he tries to tell himself anyway.

 Eleventh grade is the hardest grade but with his writing he somehow gets through it. He and Kevin don’t talk about what happened, or about anything. Luke doesn’t go to anymore basketball games and Kevin doesn’t come over to the Snyder pond on hot days anymore. Luke drifts away from one of his passions and moves to another. He meets Maddie in the school’s writer’s club and they become fast friends. He meets Casey through her, then Will and Gwen, and suddenly he has more friends- real friends than he knows how to handle.

 His parents find out he’s gay through the rumour mill. First they find out that he wasn’t mugged and that Kevin beat him up. They’re angry and they’re parents so they talk to Kevin and he tells them the truth. According to his dad he called Luke a ‘faggot’ and that Luke was all over him. When his parents ask him for the truth, that they want to hear it from him, Luke finds that he can’t lie anymore. He tells them the truth. He says, ‘I’m gay’ and ‘I’m sorry.’ His mom doesn’t take it well but his dad does and it in the end it almost splits them all apart.

 Luke drinks to stop the guilt as his parents fight about him, and to his surprise his new found friends aren’t as ignorant as Kevin was. It’s Will and Gwen who suspect something is up with him but it’s Casey who finds him passed out in his own vomit one night. He rushes him to the hospital and Luke makes him promise not to tell his parents. Casey promises but Bob Hughes isn’t so keen. In the end though Luke’s birthday was a week ago and he’s eighteen now. Bob has no choice but not to tell. Casey on the other hand only agrees as long as Luke stops drinking. Luke isn’t so sure if he can but he says that he’ll try.

 It takes a while but eventually his mom accepts him for who he is and Luke can’t help but cry in relief. His mom holds him and tells him that she’s his mom and she’ll always love him no matter what. Luke already knew this but now hearing the bonus of ‘I accept who you are’ makes him feel more complete than ever. He tells Casey first about his mother’s acceptance and Casey is happy for him too. He hasn’t had a drink in two months; since Casey found him and it’s been so difficult, but in this moment he truly feels like he can stop. For good.

 High school goes by faster than Luke would have ever thought. He applies to college and gets in along with Casey, Will, and Gwen. Maddie applies to her dream school a few states away and gets in too. She at first doesn’t want to go for Casey’s sake but Casey makes her go anyway. He tells her he loves her too much to hold her back. They end up broken up and it’s painful for a long time but it turns out they’re better friends than a couple. They move on. Casey finds Alison and Maddie finds Dave in her hotshot school. Will and Gwen stay together though, they were always meant to be if you ask Luke. They get married young but Luke isn’t worried, in fact no one really is.

 Luke is in school for writing but he finds himself drawn to teaching too. He switches his degree major in the second year to teaching and he feels more confident and steady than ever. He hasn’t really dated much but then he meets Reg and he’s pretty great. They get along well and the sex- God, who knew sex could be this great? Luke really likes him, might even love him actually but it feels like something isn’t there yet. He hopes, and maybe Reg does too that it will grow in time, but they never get the chance to find out. Reg ends up overdosing in their third year of college. The doctors say it was quick but Luke doesn’t believe them. He looks it up online and apparently it can take hours. Hours of Reg lying there, inhaling the drugs into his lungs and slowly suffocating to death. That hurts more than the fact of him actually being dead does.

 Luke’s not really sure why Reg did it. Maybe it was a onetime thing, maybe he’s always been doing drugs or maybe he used to and stopped. Maybe he was like Luke only instead of alcohol it was drugs. Luke doesn’t know, never will know because he’s dead and he was never really close with anyone before he met Luke. So no one knew or knows in the end. Luke’s left in the dark and in an apartment that screams ‘Reg’ and for the first time in a long time he thinks seriously about picking up a bottle of vodka. Except he doesn’t. He’s not sure who’s more surprised when he shows up at Casey’s door, Casey or himself.

“Luke?” Casey asks worriedly as he sees Luke’s red eyes when he opens his door.

“I want to drink.” Luke says.

 Casey looks at him sympathetically. “Come in, man.”

 Luke walks in but instead of going over to the couch to sit down like usual, he wraps his arms around Casey. He holds on for dear life and Casey holds him back. Luke starts crying somewhere in between the crushing hug and it takes him a long time to stop. He wants to apologize. He always feels like he has to apologize but the sobs and the grief are too loud to get anything else out. Instead he just hangs on.

 He meets Dr. Reid Oliver at a benefit his grandmother asks him to come to. She needs a date and his mom is busy with the kids so Luke agrees to go. It’s February break at the Oakdale elementary school he teaches at so he is free and after everything his grandmother has done for him he can hardly say no. They go on her private jet and make their way to Dallas Texas. It’s hot and humid all in one and Luke immediately regrets his suit choice but once they get into the building the air conditioning is on full blast and it isn’t so bad. He tells his grandmother that he’ll get some drinks and she raises her eyebrow at him but he only gives her a look as if to say, ‘I’ve been sober for seven years, I’m fine, I’ll be fine.’

“A white wine and a club soda please.” Luke says to the bartender.

“You’re at a bar and you’re having a club soda. What? Is the alcohol too cheap for you?” A snarky voice says from beside him. Luke turns with a smile and is met with a very handsome face.

“I don’t drink.” Luke says with a smile of his own.

“Just as well this bourbon is anything but satisfactory. You think they would have got something better when they’re asking for thousands of dollars for nothing.”

“It’s for charity, not for nothing.”

 The man scoffs.

“So, if you hate it so much, why are you here?” Luke asks curiously as he’s handed his club soda and wine for his grandmother.

“My boss is a people pleaser and an idiot.” The man answers.

“Well Mr. Idiot, I guess you’ll have to suck it up then if it’s your boss making you go.”

“It’s doctor.” The man insists. “Dr. Reid Oliver.”

 Luke smiles. “I’m Luke.”

 It’s not until eight months later that they really start dating. They dance around each other and flirt like there’s no tomorrow. Luke shows up to every benefit in Dallas, some Reid’s at and some he’s not. When he’s not there Luke feels disappointed but instead of moping he gets his favourite coffee, caramel toffee, and brings it to his office. Sometimes he’s in surgery and sometimes he’s just getting out. Luke waits for him in those instances and Reid pretends to be annoyed. Eventually they stop playing cat and mouse, and simply start playing.

 Luke’s never felt this close to anyone. He’s never felt this connection and neither has Reid. It’s like they were meant to find each other, meant to be together. When Luke tells Reid this he shrugs it off and laughs. He doesn’t believe in all of that fate stuff but Luke believes enough for the both of them. They get closer and closer and Luke feels like he has to tell Reid. He has to tell him about his drinking. Reid already knows about the kidney transplant but Luke never explained it, never talked about it and now he feels like he should. He feels like he can.

“I was sixteen when I had the transplant.” Luke says quietly as he lays in Reid’s arms one night. It’s completely dark and they’re both naked, bare from their previous activities. Luke’s never felt so secure, so safe, and so real. “I got a kidney infection and it spread so fast. One minute I was fine and then I was…”

“Dying.” Reid supplies as his arms tighten around Luke out of instinct.

“Yeah. It was bad. I got a kidney though. I’m pretty sure it was illegal.”

 Reid’s a stickler for rules but he doesn’t comment on the illegal part. If Luke hadn’t gotten a kidney, illegal or not he would have never met him. He would be dead and Reid would have gone through his whole never knowing what it means to be happy. What it means to love and to be loved in return. Luke would have never got to go to college, to teach, and to live his life. He would have never gotten this far and damn it Luke deserves it all. He’s the kindest hearted and honest person Reid has ever met. He’s smart and stubborn, and beautiful.

“I didn’t take care of it that well. I started drinking and it- it took a long time to stop.” Admitting it out loud is hard and it makes Luke want to hide away from Reid. To lose himself under the covers and take back those words as soon as they’re out of his mouth. He feels more naked than he’s ever been and he just wants more than anything to put the clothes back on, but he had to tell him. He had to know before Luke brought up moving in together or taking things to the next level, whatever that may be, moving in or otherwise.

“How long- How long have you been sober?” Reid asks in a strange voice.

“Seven years.” Luke admits. It’s a long time, and yet it doesn’t feel like long enough.

“Alright.”

“Alright?”

“Yeah, alright.” Reid repeats, but he feels Luke tense, confused and so he clarifies. “You were young and I’m sure you had your reasons but you stopped. Just- If you ever need to drink I’m sure- I mean obviously there’s people you can go to, but you can come to me too, if you need to.”

 Luke looks up, his chest feeling like it’s going to burst, and brings Reid’s lips down to his in a messy and intoxicating kiss. He never thought that he would be able to have this. To find someone like Reid- to find him period. And he never thought he would be able to be this happy and this at peace with everything that’s happened. It’s a fucking miracle. It really is.

 Luke stays in Oakdale until the school year is done and the class he’s teaching will be moving onto the next grade. He says goodbye to all the kids and packs up his classroom. He packs up his stuff at home and says goodbye to his family next. He’ll come and visit them loads and they all know it but it’s still difficult. On the plane he’s sad but there’s an excitement thrumming in his veins and a happiness in his soul that makes it all worth it. Soon he’ll be in Dallas, in Reid’s- their apartment and they’ll be together- properly together.

“Honey, I’m home!” Reid calls out when he enters the apartment later that night after a twelve hour surgery. He’s immediately assaulted with cooking smells and his stomach grumbles impatiently. Luke peeks around the kitchen corner and meets Reid’s surprised look with a sheepish grin.

“I made dinner?” Luke half tells him, half asks a little unsure with himself.

 Reid’s grins turns massive. “You, Mr. Snyder, are the perfect househusband.”

Luke laughs. “Come here.”

 They meet somewhere in the middle, lips moving against each other in happiness and contentment. Neither sure how they got it this good, but both hoping that it stays like this forever.

 It’s on April the 1st when Damian Grimaldi shows up at Luke and Reid’s door. Luke will remember this day for the rest of his life, mostly because he thought it was some horrible practical joke and that it wasn’t real, but the universe is rarely so funny. Instead his biological father stands in front of him with a smile that Luke hates. Unfortunately Reid is at work and Luke is home alone on that particular Sunday. It makes him feel even smaller and weaker than ever. He knows that he should be fine on his own, strong on his own but when he sees Damian again after all these years he feels like he’s nine. Young, vulnerable, and innocent. Stupid.

“Luciano, you look well.” Damian says.

 Luke should say something, anything, but he can’t find it in himself to respond. He’s motionless as Damian walks inside the apartment, passed Luke like he owns the place or something. Luke’s left standing, dumbstruck as Damian tells him to close the door. For some reason that gets to him and he does just as instructed. He turns around and faces Damian who is looking at every square inch of his and Reid’s place as if it’s a restaurant and he’s a health inspector. All the while he asks questions and Luke can’t help but respond in one word answers. The whole time he feels all dizzy and faint. His brain is empty and he feels sick.

 He’s not sure how but somehow he makes an excuse to go to the bathroom. He gets there in one piece and takes his phone out of his pocket. Luke calls the one number he knows by heart and without thinking. He calls the only person he’s ever felt completely safe, completely secure with. Reid picks up on the second ring, out of surgery than. That’s good. That’s good. Luke doesn’t feel as guilty calling him if he’s done surgery already.

“Yes?” Reid answers in his usual business tone.

“Reid?” Luke can hardly hear his own voice, much less what he must sound like but it must be bad because Reid’s words sound scared and worried.

“Luke? Luke what’s wrong?”

“Come home.”

“What?”

“Please, hurry.” Luke pleads as his last remaining strength fades. He hangs up just as there’s a banging on the bathroom door.

“Luciano? We need to talk.”

“I’m sorry about what happened last time we met.” Damian starts as he sits across from Luke on the other sofa. “I didn’t mean for my brother to kidnap you. It wasn’t my intention to cause you any harm, Luciano.”

 Luke’s pretty sure he’s forgotten how to speak.

“Luciano-” Damian tries again but before he can continue the door to the apartment is opening and a scared, frazzled looking Reid enters. He’s by Luke’s side in a second. His hand is on the back of Luke’s forehead and he’s checking his heart rate next.

“What happened? Luke?” Reid asks.

“Nothing.” Damian intercedes. “He’s fine, simply a little shocked maybe but-”

“I’m sorry but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t asking you.” Reid cuts in before his eyes turn back to Luke’s.

“I’m- I’m fine.” With Reid right next to him Luke finds his voice once again. “I just- I- This is Damian.”

 Reid stiffens. He knows who Damian is of course, well as little as Luke could get away with telling him. He didn’t like talking about Damian that was for sure and Reid can’t fault him for that. Kidnapping? Held hostage at the age of nine? It’s fucked up beyond belief, and by his own father and uncle. When Luke finally told him as much as he could Reid truly started to piece together the picture of Luke Snyder’s life and it wasn’t as simple or clean cut as he first thought. Luke may be rich but he was in no way privileged when it came to how his life has gone. Reid started to see why Luke had become addicted- dependant on the bottle.

“Get out.” Reid says with a new fire in his eyes that makes Damian feel less inclined to argue, but he’s a Grimaldi after all and they haven’t gotten anywhere without standing their ground.

“Luciano is my son and I am his father coming to visit. There is nothing wrong with that,” Damian persists.

 It’s those words, ‘son’ and ‘father’ that snap Luke out of his daze. He looks up and stares at Damian with a new found anger and hatred that’s always been there, lying just beneath the surface of his skin, now finally unleashed. Out in the open. “Holden Snyder is my father. You are nothing to me. Now get out!”

 Damian looks taken back and Reid looks proud.

“I said GET OUT!”

 Luke gets up as Damian does the same and then he’s pushing him towards the door. Damian follows his lead but once they get to the door Damian stops and says, “You’re a Grimaldi and always will be, Luciano.”

“My name is Luke! Luke Snyder. Luciano Grimaldi doesn’t exist.” Luke says coldly as the anger thrums beneath his fingers. His right hand tightens into a fist then unclenches as he waits for Damian to leave- or, to do something else.

“Luciano, I care about you. I will always-”

 Luke’s fingers clench into a fist as he puts his weight behind the punch that lands squarely on Damian’s jaw. He stumbles and Luke kicks him as hard as he can where the sun don’t shine. Damian falls into the hallway and Luke immediately slams the door shut. He locks it quickly and rests his forehead against the door as he breathes heavily. A hand on his shoulder startles him as he turns around to look into Reid’s worried yet impressed eyes.

“I don’t know why you called me, looks like you handled it all on your own.” Reid says with a smirk, but still with a hint of worry in his eyes.

 Luke wants to run into his arms, to pulls him close but there’s a chill in his bones and a pain that resurfaces. He mumbles something about needing to have a shower and then quickly walks past Reid into the bathroom. He locks the door, something he never does and turns the shower on to a burning temperature. He strips down and walks in. He sits down on the shower floor exhausted as the water falls down on him. His face is in his hands. He feels the hot tears coming but he does his best to ignore them, or at the very least pretend that it’s only the shower’s hot water. It doesn’t really work.

 Reid knows that something is wrong. At first he gives Luke space, then he’s saying he’s there to listen, and finally he can’t take it anymore and calls Casey Hughes. Casey tells him that he’ll try to call Luke but that if they have any alcohol in the apartment to get rid of it. Reid dumps the couple of beers in the fridge that he keeps around for after long days at work. Luke said he was fine having it around, that he’s okay but right now he’s anything but. Reid’s a little ashamed that he didn’t think to dump it before calling Casey, but watching Luke like this has done a number on him too.

“Luke, please, just talk to me, or talk to Casey if you can’t talk to me.” Reid tries for the hundredth time as they lay there in the darkness after a long day. Luke doesn’t say anything, instead he turns around and pretends he’s asleep even though they both know he’s not. Reid doesn’t push him but Luke knows he won’t quit, he also knows that he has to tell him. He has to tell someone before this thing eats him alive. He decides right then there that he will tell him, tomorrow. But tomorrow never comes.

 He gets the call at around two in the afternoon during math class. He gets Mrs. Lemur from the class next to his to watch his before he rushes to the hospital. When he gets there Reid’s heart is failing. They didn’t tell him everything over the phone, only that there was an accident and Reid isn’t in a good condition, that he needs to get there as soon as possible. But then he gets there and Reid’s heart has stopped. They work on him for a long time until it finally starts beating again. Luke could laugh in relief but then the doctor starts talking to him and his whole world begins collapsing around him.

 Reid is brain dead. A train. A heart. Reid is brain dead and Luke knows what that means. He believes in miracles and fairy dust, as Reid used to say but Reid doesn’t. He believes in science and even though he’s designated Luke as his medical care proxy, he also stated that in the case of brain death organ donation is his wish. And Luke would never deny his last wish, so he signs off on it and watches as the vultures take him apart, piece by piece. He feels numb all over.

 He doesn’t tell his parents but they find out anyway. They come out to Dallas immediately and Luke accepts this on one condition; that they don’t come to the apartment- their apartment. His parents are hesitant to do this but Luke insists, claiming that he needs his space to get over this. To grieve. It’s all lies of course, he’ll never get over this and he’ll never finish grieving. He just needs a place to drink and to remember without everyone else around judging him and putting in their opinions. He needs the quiet.

 He should have told Reid the truth from the beginning. It leaves a bad taste in Luke’s mouth and he feels guilty all over as though it’s his fault. As though the moment he decided to reveal all it doomed Reid to an early death but that’s insane and stupid, and yet it feels so true- so real. He drinks to forget and to push all of that guilt away. It doesn’t work as well as it used to but maybe that’s because this pain is worse than anything else and because Reid is all around him. His clothes, his fucking scrubs, and his food. He’s everywhere and yet he never will be again. It’s more than a nightmare he’ll never wake up from again; It’s hell.

 It takes him two years to get sober again and to get his life back together. He’s not quite happy, never sure if he will be again but he’s alive and he’s dealing with that. He needs a fresh start, somewhere knew. He stayed in Dallas for almost a year after the funeral and then moved back to Oakdale for a little over a year after that. It helped to be surrounded by his family and friends. He owes them all his life, but he’s doing better now, okay at least and he needs to start somewhere new. So he decides on LA. It’s big enough to get lost in and that’s what he needs right now. He needs somewhere he can get lost in so he stops getting lost in himself and his pain.

 He finds a job teaching sixth graders in a LA elementary school and the kids are great. The school is a little run down but a few anonymous donations here and there gets it up and running better. He introduces free breakfast since most of the kids don’t get it and he starts running after school activity clubs for parents who work late and can’t really afford a babysitter. Luke starts to feel better with every kid he helps and soon the emptiness lessens. It doesn’t go away completely and he’s pretty sure it never will but it’s better. It really is.

 Then he meets Noah.

“Shit, sorry.” The guy says as he bumps into Luke making him drop his coffee all over himself. The guy’s large stack of papers goes flying everywhere and he winces in pain. “Dammit. Now I have to print another copy.”

 Luke wants to say that he’ll help him gather it all but most of the papers fly into the road and they both know it’s defiantly a lost cause now.

“It’s okay.” Luke settles on as he tries in vain to shake the coffee off. “At least it was a cold coffee. It would have been a different story if it was a hot cup of coffee.”

“Yeah, look, I’m really sorry. I’d get you a new one but I’m going to be late for set.” The guy says in true remorse as Luke finally looks up at him. He has dark eyes and hair, and he’s honestly quite handsome. If Luke was a different person, a more confident person he might ask for this guy’s number but he’s not and he doesn’t. That doesn’t stop the guy from giving him his number anyway though.

“Here’s my card. Call me some time and I’ll make it up to you.” He smiles in what can only be determined as a flirtatious smile but it’s still very honest and warm, and nice. Luke feels something deep within that he hasn’t felt for a very long time.

“Noah Mayer, director?” Luke reads and half asks as he looks up at the director, Noah.

“Yeah.” Noah blushes and it’s oddly endearing.

Luke can’t help but meet his flustered smile as he says, “I’m Luke. Luke Snyder.”

 Getting close to Noah, being with him is like breathing. It comes so naturally it’s as though they’ve known each other forever. The first coffee is like friends catching up after being apart for a while, and the next is like they’ve always done this. Nothing more than friendship goes on for many months until it’s been almost seven and Luke can feel this thing between them start to become something else, something more. He wants to stop it, to put a hold on it all but there’s no way it can happen and it’s hard. He doesn’t want to let Noah go but he also doesn’t want to give in. He doesn’t- He can’t do this again.

“I’m sorry, Noah.” Luke says as he leans away from the kiss Noah tries to give.

“Oh.” Noah says, his eyes becoming sadden. “Sorry, I just- I thought you-”

“No, I- I do. I just- I can’t.”

“What do you mean?” He asks confused as he leans back on Luke’s couch, Luke next to him.

“I’m sorry I can’t do this.” Luke tells him again.

“Why not? If you feel- if you like me we can- because I really like you.”

 Luke’s heart does that weird flip flop thing and he wants to lean in, to erase the distance between them but then he remembers Reid. He remembers the drinking. He remembers being kidnapped. He remembers it all and it’s not fair to Noah. It’s not fair to him to be put in the middle of his messed up life, and maybe it’s selfish but Luke doesn’t want to get to that dark place again. He doesn’t want to love and to have it taken away in seconds. He doesn’t want any more pain. He’s had enough for one lifetime. He can’t do this. He can’t.

“I’m sorry, Noah, really. If things were different…”

“Different? Is there something I don’t know?”

 Luke wants to lie and say no, but he can’t, not anymore. “Yeah. There’s a lot you don’t know.”

“Well I want to know. I want to know you, Luke, I’ve never felt this way about anyone. We just- we click.”

 And how can Luke argue with that? Besides, he’s so fucking tired. He’s so tired of fighting. Before he knows it he’s giving in and Noah’s lips are on his.

“I love you.” Noah tells him earnestly as Luke’s head rest on Noah’s shoulder. It’s five months after their first kiss and watching some foreign movie, Noah’s pick. “You don’t have to say it back I just- I love you, Luke.”

 Luke freezes. He doesn’t say anything and he knows that Noah’s disappointed in that even if he doesn’t say it. They end up watching the movie until the end and instead of staying the night like they planned Luke goes home. Noah doesn’t fight him on it but he looks pretty damn pitiful as Luke says goodbye and walks out of his apartment. His brain is on the fritz as he makes his way home. It’s only when he’s laying bed a few hours later that it all sinks in.

‘I love you.’ It replays in Luke’s head over and over until the tears come down and his mind is filled with painful dreams of Reid saying the exact same thing.

“Hey.” Luke says a few weeks later after Noah’s admission. They haven’t seen each other since and Luke has ignored every single text message and phone call. Now he’s here in front of Noah’s apartment. Noah is wearing nothing but his Superman boxers and if Luke wasn’t so nervous and scared he would have laughed.

“H- hey.” Noah says unsure but a little relived as he sees that Luke is indeed still in one piece.

“So I love you too.”

“Oh.”

 There’s an awkward silence between them before Luke manages to say the words he’s been practicing in the last few weeks. “I need to tell you about Reid.”

 They both call in sick that day, and then Noah puts on some pants and makes some hot chocolate. He remembers Luke telling him that his dad always used to make it on bad days, and Noah isn’t sure yet who Reid is but he’s pretty sure this will qualify as a bad day. He brings it over when it’s done to the living room and sits across from Luke who takes a long sip of the drink. He seems to be taking as much time as he can before he has to speak. Noah doesn’t mind though, not when Luke is here after weeks of worrying and hurting. Feeling like it was over with this amazing man before it even started. Don’t get him wrong, he’s a little pissed that Luke ignored him for so long but he’s gladder that he’s here and okay than anything.

“I loved Reid, too.” Luke starts by saying as he looks down into his lap. “And before I knew it he was gone.”

 The sobs that come next are heart wrenching.

 They get passed it. Noah knows that Luke isn’t one hundred percent okay but neither is he. Shortly after Luke tells him about Reid Noah tells him about his father. How he kicked him out, how he hated him, and how he tried to kill his boyfriend at the time. After that his boyfriend didn’t stick around for much longer not that Noah can blame him, but something tells him that if it was Luke he would have stayed. He’s a better person, Noah comes to learn, than anyone he knows, than even himself. And somehow they get through it until they start to get happy. Start to be really happy.

 It’s not all perfect or happy all the time, no relationship ever is but overall they’re happy. Noah is sometimes an asshole but then Luke tells him to cut it out or he’s finding his own place and Noah does. Sometimes Luke becomes distant and dazed but then Noah will snap him out of it with a breathless kiss or a call from his family. That usually helps more than anything. They get closer and closer until it’s been over two years and both of their careers are taking off. They’re lives get better, they get good, and they’re together. They’re happy, almost content.

“Luke! Luke? Hey, hey, it’s okay. I’m here. I’m here.” Noah’s voice is somewhere close by but far away in some other universe at the same time. Luke is rocking back and forth and he’s trying to breathe, he really is but his heart beat pounds unbearably fast and his lungs don’t seem to be working very well. He feels a hand on his shoulder and he flinches, hitting whoever it is. “It’s okay. I won’t touch you, okay? Luke, I’m here, just try to match my breathing, okay?”

 Luke can’t even concentrate on himself let alone someone else’s breathing, but it doesn’t seem to matter much because as soon as the panic attack starts it’s slowly ebbing away. His breathing becomes languid and his limbs becomes noodles. His head rests against the living room wall where he found himself curled up, mostly covered by the couch to his back. Noah must have heard his breathing, that’s the only way he would have found him.

“Baby, it’s okay, I’m here. Luke, I’m here.” Noah says soothingly as he holds his hands out like he’s waiting for Luke to fall into his arms. It would be a comfort if Luke did but he can’t find it in himself to be touched right now. His skin already feels like something is crawling beneath it, Noah, or anyone touching him right now would make it so much worse. “Can you talk to me? What happened?”

 All Luke can say is, “Bed.”

 Luke won’t talk to Noah and Noah can’t keep pretending that everything is fine. They come to some sort of agreement a couple of weeks after the panic attack. Luke will see a psychiatrist and Noah will stop asking. They book the appointment that day and with Luke’s connections get in two weeks down the line. Noah grumbles that it’s too long but Luke knows that the waiting list is usually a few months, they got lucky, although he doesn’t say it. He hasn’t been saying a lot lately.

“Did you want me to drive you?” Noah asks the day of.

 Luke looks over and shakes his head no. Noah looks like he wants to argue but then thinks better of it and doesn’t say anything. Luke’s both glad and angry at the same time that he gave up so easily. He’s a mess. He knows this. He thought he was getting better, but he’s not, maybe he never will be. Noah deserves better. Noah deserves the world. He’s so good. Last year when Luke broke his wrist he bathed him, fed him, and made sure all medications were taken on time. He cuddled him and calmed him down at the hospital. Noah knows he hates hospitals. He was there for him through everything. He’s always there, but Luke sometimes isn’t, is he? It’s not fair to Noah. It wasn’t fair to Reid either.

 Luke makes sure to lock the door behind him as he leaves.

“Mr. Snyder, I can’t help you if you don’t talk to me.” Dr. Meres says.

 Luke looks up and meets her eyes briefly before looking down again. He doesn’t want to be here, he doesn’t want to talk but he promised Noah and Noah deserves better. He deserves a boyfriend who can love and who can let someone love him. He deserves a boyfriend that’s not as broken as he is. He deserves someone who can always be there for him. A boyfriend who can be completely open and honest just as Noah is. Luke can’t do that, not now anyway. Maybe he never can, but he won’t know unless he tries, right? Right?

“My boyfriend made me come here.” It sounds so childish and Luke cringes at his words but Dr. Meres doesn’t seem to care. She simply nods and asks, “Why did he want you to come here today?”

 Luke looks up and meets her eyes. “I had a panic attack.”

“I love you. I am so in love with you.” Noah says heatedly as he kisses Luke furiously. He pulls away and Luke smiles. Noah’s movie just got into Sundance and they’re both excited, but Luke just had a session with Dr. Meres earlier that day and he can’t do this right now. He can’t, but Noah looks so happy, so excited that Luke tries to do this for him. So he kissed Noah back.

“I- I love you, too.” He stutters slightly but Noah doesn’t notice in his euphoria and instead continues kissing Luke. He kisses along his jaw then down his neck as his hand reaches Luke’s flaccid cock. They’ve done this a million times and now should be no different, but it is, and Luke has no control over himself (not really) as he pushes Noah away and clambers off the bed. Noah looks at him shocked.

“Be a good boy, Luciano. You’re going to like this.”

“Luke.” Noah says incredulously and extremely worried. He tries to take a step forward but Luke flinches back. “Luke, what’s wrong?”

 Luke wants to lie, to cover it up but then he remembers Dr. Meres words of encouragement and the memory still so fresh that he blurts it out before he even knows what he’s doing or saying.

“I was raped.”

 Child sexual abuse is what they call it, Luke simply calls it a confusing hell that never ends. Noah is angry after he tells him and at first he thinks it’s because he’s mad at him for not telling him or something but then Noah explains that he’s not angry at Luke. That he could never be angry at Luke about something like this. He tells Luke he’s angry at Damian, at that sick perverted uncle of his. Is ‘uncle’ really what you can call him? Luke feels relived but he’s still on edge, he still wishes he could take it back as the shame and embarrassment becomes almost overwhelming.

“I’m sorry.” Luke whispers painfully.

“Hey.” Noah says softly as he gently takes Luke’s hands in his. “You have nothing to be sorry for. It’s okay. It’s okay, we are going to get through this.”

“We?”

“We.”

 Luke is thirty five when he starts to believe that everything really is going to be okay. It’s just after his birthday and him and Noah are about to move into their first house together. Noah’s directing career is going amazingly and Luke’s first book was just published. They’ve talked about the future more than a thousand times and they’re still as happy as when they first declared their love for each other. They fight and make up, and they live. They still feel that click when they’re together, like everything is slotting- fitting into place. It’s the best feeling in the world.

 Luke’s family is more than tolerating of Noah, they’ve practically accepted him as a Snyder already. Luke can’t help but smile every time they get together and he sees how happy Noah is. He’s never had a real family before and Luke is more than happy that he can provide it. Noah is his rock after all and has always been there for him. Luke promises to do the same, no matter what.

 On his thirty seventh birthday Luke calls Casey.

“Hey, Snyder, haven’t heard from you in a while.” Casey says, clearly happy to hear from his best friend.

“I know. It’s been awhile.” Luke says.

“That’s the understatement of the year. How’s the book? And Noah’s movie?”

“Noah’s movie wrapped up last month and my book is on its way to the publisher. We celebrated last night.”

“I bet you did.” Casey says cheekily.

“Shut up, Hughes. I called for a reason.” Luke says without much fire.

“Okay, okay, what is it?”

“Well, I have something to ask you.”

“Okay, I’m listening. As long as it isn’t to check on your horses at the farm. I swear they hate me.” Casey says with a shudder.

“They don’t hate you, they just hate when you sneak up on them.” Luke explains with a laugh.

“Sure, sure. Now what is it you want to ask me?”

 There’s a pause and it sort of freaks Casey out but then Luke tells him and he can’t stop smiling in happiness for his friend. He’s had a hard life, but now he’s happy, and he’s getting the happy ending he deserves.

“Will you be my best man?”

“Do you even have to ask?”