Lukas’ definition of love has always been skewed at the edges.
He thinks he might’ve had a better understanding when his mother had still been around, with kisses on his forehead and hugs that felt like home and smiles warmer than the sun outside, but she’s not, and for all his father tries, Lukas knows love in pats on the back, in the rare hug, in the occasional reminder that he can talk to his father, if need be.
When he meets Philip, his heart skips a beat—or he thinks it does, anyway, because he doesn’t have anything to compare the feeling to outside of the stupid chick flicks he’s been strong-armed into watching. It’s cheesy as shit, but. Maybe, he thinks, breathing in sharply. Maybe that’s what his mother had spoken of in that beautiful voice of hers, when she’d sit him on her lap and tell him all about how she believed in love at first sight, and how you know when you know.
He’s too out of practice to say for sure.
Loving Philip is a hard thing to grasp, when it stops being a maybe and starts being something closer to a definitely.
There’s some sense of understanding happening inside his chest, beneath the bones caging his heart in, because Philip—sweet, beautiful Philip, with his soft eyes and his sharp jaw and his sweet mouth, who’s impossibly stubborn even on a good day, and who’s probably more than Lukas deserves—slips past his defenses and through his ribs, worming his way into Lukas’ heart. For his part, Lukas makes no actual attempt to stop it.
It’s his head that’s the issue, spitting out words like wrong at him, echoing the voices of his parents as it insists that he’s not That, that Lukas can never be That, that Philip is nothing.
His heart calls bullshit.
Sometimes, Lukas feels The Words deep in his chest, or at the back of his throat, or on the tip of his tongue, but all that comes out is shit like, “I’m not supposed to like you this way,” when what he means to say is, I’m not sure I’ve ever really known what love is but I think it might be you, and, “I fixed your flat tire,” even as he thinks, vehemently, I really, really think I might be in love with you, now, and that scares me because I don’t know how to love you, so I’m telling you to go even though I don’t want you to leave, but my heart does funny things when you’re around, and don’t you see how confusing this is for me?
If there’s any gratitude to be had, it doesn’t show. Philip barely acknowledges him, but he picks up his bike and rides off, so Lukas thinks it’s a win, however small.
He wonders, though, if it could mean I love you too in this game they’re playing of having to read in-between the lines with one another. He hopes it does.
It’s dark, when he kisses Philip on a street crowded with strangers he’ll probably never see again, but he hopes his body says everything his mouth can’t: I like you, I more than like you, I maybe love you. I’m still trying to work it out, but I meant it when I said I’d tell my mom about you, if she were alive. True to form, he says nothing and grins instead at Philip, awestruck before him and marveling at something previously impossible, and eventually waves away Philip’s surprised you kissed me with a simple, “I didn’t. Rick Anderton did.”
When Philip says, “I like Rick Anderton,” eyes sparkling like he’s finally decided to play along, Lukas leans forward to steal another kiss from his lips because Philip—sweet, beautiful Philip, who’s dangerously perceptive and still infuriatingly headstrong, but in a way Lukas is suddenly grateful for—talks with his body, clutching at Lukas with the same raw desperation Lukas feels at the center of himself.
Lukas likes Rick Anderton, too.
Rick Anderton kisses his boyfriend—and isn’t that a nice fucking word, when it’s not loaded with double meaning and overshadowed by crippling fear—in plain sight because he has no reason to hide. Rick Anderton gets to push his boyfriend up against the wall of a nearby alley and rut up against his thigh like a horny teenager that hasn’t witnessed something unspeakable, none the wiser to the stuff of nightmares plaguing a little town called Tivoli. Rick Anderton gets to be That Guy.
Lukas isn’t Rick Anderton, but he thinks maybe he could be, someday, when he’s brave enough to love Philip the way Philip deserves.
They never get to spend the night together after their trip to the city, but they find the time to fuck, slow and experimental, when and wherever it’s convenient. Sometimes, when they’re sure no one will be around until late, they’ll let their guards down and fall asleep together on whoever’s bed, after, just for a bit, always waking up a hairbreadth away from each other, touching in some way or another, because even in sleep they’re apparently drawn to each other.
Philip never says anything about it, but Lukas learns the hard way that he has nightmares, too. It shouldn’t be a surprise; it’d been Philip at gunpoint, completely helpless under that bed, shaking like a leaf when Lukas had finally pulled him into a careful hug. Still, Lukas isn’t expecting to be startled awake by a hard kick to the shin, and he’s still trying to gather his wits when he catches an errant elbow in the ribs.
“Philip,” Lukas murmurs, reaching for him before thinking better of it. “Philip,” he says again, louder this time so his voice can carry. “Hey, come on, come back to me. You’re okay now.” Broken pleas keep tumbling out of Philip’s mouth, sharp like daggers that cut right to the bone. “I’ve got you,” Lukas tells him, fingers finally daring to caress at Philip’s furrowed brow. He presses close to Philip when he’s sure Philip won’t spook, warm skin against warm skin. “I’ve got you, it’s okay. You’re okay.”
There’s blood, a lot of it, and Lukas can still only say, “Stay with me. Please.” If he’s broken, he’s hard pressed to give a shit, because I love you feels too much like a fucking goodbye anyway. His fingers are sticky with blood and he presses down on the bullet wound a fraction harder because he knows he has to. Pressure, he reminds himself. Keep applying pressure.
Philip shoves uselessly at Lukas’ shoulder. “Get out of here.”
Lukas is already shaking his head before he even realizes he’s doing it. “Fat chance of that happening.” We go together or not at all, he doesn’t say, but Philip hears it all the same.
“I don’t want you to d—”
“I’m not leaving you,” Lukas insists, sending a pointed glare Philip’s way when it looks like he might fight it again. “I don’t think I could,” he admits, “even if I wanted to.”
“Do you?” Philip asks quietly. “Want to?”
It’s not I love you, but it feels like the closest he’s ever come to saying it. The words are there, he can feel them just beneath the surface.
“I wouldn’t have either,” Philip tells him from his hospital bed. It doesn’t make much sense to Lukas, and he isn’t sure if it’s because his brain is still sleep-muddy after his little nap or if it’s the morphine drip talking.
“Left you,” says Philip, searching for Lukas’ hand and squeezing tight once he’s got it. “I wouldn’t have left you either.”
“Oh.” It’s not I love you too, but their bodies have always been open books for the other read and Philip is holding on to his hand like he never wants to let go of it. “I think I’m in love with you,” Lukas blurts out, and then deliberately looks at their joined hands to avoid staring at Philip, nonplussed at the suddenness of it.
“I know,” comes Philip’s reply. Another squeeze. “I’ve been paying attention.”