After half racing to get there, the door seemed suddenly impenetrable.
Luke's feet came to a solid standstill... arm raised, frozen in mid-knock. Noah was home. He could hear the man shuffling around inside, getting ready to leave for work. Noah was there. Noah. Right behind this one slab of pine. No longer just in Luke's mind, but fully-fleshed, all 6'1", brown-haired, blue-eyed, muscle-bodied Noah.
Luke's heart squeezed in his chest. Panic came swift... feet shuffled back... body pressed against the opposite wall. It was white; clean and tidy like the building in general. Simple and smart... just like Noah.
He almost jumped a foot in the air when his phone rang.
"Shit, shit, shit!" Never was he more relieved to have changed his ringtone from True Colors to a generic old fashioned version Noah wouldn't react to.
He wasn't ready yet.
"Hello?" he whispered.
"Darling, why on earth are you speaking so softly?"
"Have you seen him yet?" So direct as always.
Luke scoffed, somewhere between a laugh and indignation. He glanced back up at the fortress-like door. "Grandmother, I came here for the meeting. That's it."
"Mm-hmm," she hummed knowingly. "I'm willing to wager you are standing directly outside his door as we speak."
How does she do that?
He knew there was no point in lying. "For about 20 minutes now..."
"Luke, I realize this is not a walk in the park for you, honey. You have suffered a lot these past months. But take it from an old soul such as I, once Noah opens that door, you will wonder why you took so long to knock."
"But what if he-"
"Darling, it's no coincidence that gay also means happy. Don't let fear rob you of your chance."
He had to laugh at that. "Where do you even get this stuff?"
"Experience, intelligence and wit are things I was born with," she smiled through the phone. "Now go and get him! I have meetings all day, darling, but I expect a full report in the morning."
"Yes, ma'am!" If Lucinda were standing in front of him, he would have added a solute; just to wind her up.
He'd hardly hung up when his phone lit up once more.
"What the fuck?" he whispered, quickly silencing the ring by answering, without checking the display... speaking with a hint of annoyance, "Hello?"
"Oh hey, Luke... Is this a bad time?"
Luke's eyes shot up to the door. "Noah? Um... wow... no... no, of course not. "
"Just have a quick question, if you aren't too busy?"
Luke could hear papers and other items rustling in the background. "Are you okay?"
"Oh, yeah. Yes. Just multi-tasking as usual. You know me."
Yes I do. Everything...
"How can I help?" Luke swallowed the sudden lump in his throat.
"Faith... um... her birthday is coming up and... You know, when she was younger is was easy, but now everything I think of to buy her I'm worried that-"
"...she'll take offence?" Luke finished with a laugh.
"Yeah," Noah sounded relieved. "I don't want to insult her near womanhood or anything by getting her a baby toy."
"I know the feeling." Luke started to pace the corridor, still unsure whether to reveal himself or not.
There was a moment of silence where Luke forgot to give Noah an answer; thoughts racing along with this heart.
"Sorry, I'm just trying to think. Um... Well, she's currently nurturing an obsession with Carol Void books."
"Oh my God, Luke!"
"What? What is it?
"You're a genius!"
Luke smiled at Noah's tone. "I am?"
"Yeah! I know her! Carol lives in my fucking building! Why didn't I think of that?"
"Ah, don't tell Faith that! Not unless you want my little sister to move in."
Noah laughed sadly. "I miss her so much, I'm not sure I'd mind."
Do you still miss me?
Noah cleared his throat. "Do you know which book in the series is her favorite?"
"I don't," Luke replied, "but I know she's currently reading Hidden Rumors, so maybe the book that follows that one?"
He could still hear Noah shuffling around inside the apartment; papers and other items moving about. "Thanks Luke. I knew you'd have the answer..."
Luke felt the end of the conversation approaching; suddenly couldn't breathe. "You're welcome."
"Well, you can be sure I'll be giving you a call when..." the door to the apartment flung open so suddenly it made Luke jump. Their eyes locked... Noah's growing into blue saucers. "...it's Nat's turn..." his voice trailed off as his phone wielding hand dropped to his side. The bag he had slung over his other shoulder echoed as it thudded to the floor. A myriad of emotions flittered across his face. "Luke?"
Luke couldn't breathe, but somehow managed to pop his phone in his back pocket; lift his hand in a small wave. "Hey, Noah..."
God, he looks amazing.
"Oh, my fucking...!" The smile Noah gave him had enough voltage to power the entire length of Hollywood Boulevard. "Oh my God! What are you doing here?"
Seemingly without thinking, the brunette swept Luke into a bear-hug; at first the kind male friends give each other... softening into the other kind. Noah's body shook against Luke's; his breath shuddering against Luke's neck.
"Hi," he whispered softly... holding on... not letting go.
"Hi," Luke whispered back; feeling that familiar sense of warmth and belonging missing so long from his life.
"You're too skinny..." a warm hand traveled down Luke's spine; a million sensations thundering after it.
Luke swallowed. "Ditto..."
"A year..." Noah said; pressing even tighter... seemingly unable to let go.
"Yeah," Luke replied, suddenly feeling overwhelmed. He pulled back; created a distance between them once again... too many thoughts and feelings rushing him at once.
Noah's eyes flashed that same hurt he'd carried the last time they saw each other, when Noah didn't want to leave Oakdale, and Luke wanted him to stay as much as he wanted him to go. It was quickly hidden behind one of Noah's patented emotional walls. "What are you doing here?" he repeated.
"I was in town. I had a GS meeting last night and..." he swept his hands down his body, "here I am..."
"It's," Noah reached over; pushed hair from Luke's eyes, "it's amazing to see you..."
Luke coughed; ignored the tingle where Noah's finger brushed skin. "But it looks like I've come at the worst time... Do you need to get to work?"
Noah looked down at his forgotten bag. "I was, but... Come in." He stood to one side, ushered Luke in.
"I was stupid to come at this time. I'm sorry. I can come back later if you-"
"Are you kidding me?" Noah laughed. "Hell no! Get your butt inside, Snyder!"
Luke immediately obeyed; feeling more and more anxious over what might happen.
Luke froze; felt an instant need to escape... shelter.
"I have to ask why you're here. Why did you come? Was it just to..." Noah sighed. "I have to know."
The atmosphere changed so quickly Luke almost stumbled. "Please don't start..." Luke felt conflicted; confused. He didn't really know what he'd feel on seeing Noah again, but he hadn't expected this. Of course he knew it wouldn't be easy. Too much had happened. But he'd been holding back waves of emotion ever since the moment Noah opened the door. Their hug felt so good... so right... like coming home. He didn't really expect Noah to still be waiting for him, though he had hoped. But a year had past since they parted and Noah was... well, Noah was desirable. Luke found it hard to believe other men wouldn't have made a move on him; that Noah wouldn't have been tempted.
"I meant what I said before I left for LA," Noah told him; hope, desperation and a hint of fear clear in his voice. "My feelings haven't changed. I still want you back, Luke. I can't just let you walk out without asking. Can we at least talk about it?"
Luke faced the apartment door; his back to Noah. He'd been about to leave. They had run out of small talk and catch-ups. The only conversation left was the heavy stuff, and he just wasn't as ready as he thought he'd be. These feeling were far sharper; so much more than he remembered. Yet there were no longer any more excuses for him to stay. He had both expected and dreaded Noah bringing this up; but he still wasn't prepared for the torrent of emotions that seemed to be raining down on him.
Lucinda had been pressuring him about Noah for weeks; sick to death of watching her grandson floating aimlessly around like a lost ship out at sea. Subconsciously he was looking for an excuse to see Noah. When he heard the annual financial meeting would take place in LA, the decision was made for him. And he wanted to go, first and foremost to see for himself that Noah was okay. Despite what Noah told him the few times they spoke over the phone, Luke always sensed the lie. He was protective over Noah, and despite everything that never changed.
When Noah left for LA, Luke was ready to see him go. He wanted Noah to achieve his dreams, and at the time his own feelings were clouded by grief. But standing in Noah's LA apartment after all the long months, feeling that familiar charge... the electricity still alive between them as he hoped it would be... Luke felt his heart squeeze in his chest; old hurts seeming to reach up and drag him down to a place he thought he'd escaped from.
But along with those hurts, he felt something else too... something he hadn't felt in a long time... something that scared him more than anything. He felt want, desire and most of all love; that all encompassing love he and Noah shared.
He'd buried his feelings for Noah deep inside... as survival. It was such an unnatural thing for him to do, but the only way he could cope with losing Noah... the only way he could move on with Reid. And by then he wanted that. He wanted Reid and the new life the doctor promised to give him... a new adventure. But as quickly as he appeared, Reid was gone. It took Luke some time and painful soul searching to accept Reid's death, but he did it. He thought about Reid almost daily. At first this was torture, but lately it was with fondness... only a dull ache of loss and regret, instead of the full force it had once been.
Without saying a word, Luke sought escape. He wasn't ready to release those bottled up feelings. He needed more time... a moment where he could breathe again. He couldn't witness whatever expression played on Noah's face. He marched through the nearest doorway... heart banging in his chest... but there was no sanctuary to be found there. The guest room was filled with unpacked boxes that made Luke scream inside.
"Noah isn't happy in LA," they seemed to mock. "Noah never really left Oakdale. Noah is all packed and ready to return to you at a moments notice!"
Luke felt like he was dying... right there, he would die! He knew it! The feelings inside would burst out and tear him in two.
He felt Noah enter the room. He always could... had always marveled at that... their intense level of connection.
"Luke?" Noah's voice was wrecked; broken beyond measure... only serving to hurt Luke even more.
Luke wanted to ask Noah to leave... to ask for more space... but he turned to find that Noah was crying. Luke had only ever seen Noah cry like that after his father's death... just that one time. Noah was crying now; an expression of the depth of his hurt.
Luke took a step forward, as always wanting so much to take Noah's pain from him, but he stopped short... didn't know where the line was anymore. The urge to touch him was a burning in his fingertips.
"I'm sorry," Noah wept. "I can't help it. It's… you're in here, Luke." Noah banged his fist against his chest.
The look of love and longing in those blue eyes caused something inside Luke to explode. Every feeling he'd ever held for this other man; every ounce of love, want, hate, frustration, lust, longing, kicked up intensely. Noah still wanted him. He still wanted Noah. And yet...
"Dammit!" What fine thread of control Luke maintained over his emotions snapped. He pushed Noah across the room; forced him up against the wall. He watched the air knock out of the brunette; barely gave the man time to recover, before pressing their lips together... devouring him with fathomless intensity. Noah responded with equal measure; tongues slid; load groans rumbled between them.
When they first met... Noah almost clumsy tall, Luke shy and awkward... they quickly worked out the best positions... the angles where they fit the closest. And their bodies remembered; every stretch of their length meeting; covering.
It had been too long! God but he had missed Noah! Every part of him screamed with the need to touch; but he wasn't ready for the feeling of Noah's hands on his body... couldn't handle that just yet. He pinned Noah's arms firmly to the wall above their heads.
How did I ever let this go...
Because he gives up. He makes you love him and then he pushes you away...
Luke pulled swiftly out of the kiss; panting for air. Their eyes were deeply connected... hazel on midnight... foreheads touching. A small drop of blood dribbled down Noah's chin from a cut on his lower lip. Luke wondered when he did that.
Just as quickly as the desire and want flared up under his skin, the fear and uncertainty crept in. His heart ached at knowing he might still lose this. There was still so much anger between them, just as there was so much desire to start again. It was like a story he once read to Natalie. The prince standing on a rocking outcrop above stormy seas. If he jumped he risked death, or he might sink into a magical mermaid kingdom hidden below; live out the rest of his life happily ever after. Noah had been the cause of some of Luke's worst pain... sent him on a long, ugly journey he almost didn't come back from... but Noah had also been the source of the most fulfilling joy he'd ever experienced.
Still holding Noah's arms up against the wall, Luke dropped his sad gaze to the floor. He shook his head in resignation or frustration. He wasn't sure which. He released his grip and turned his back; took a step away from Noah.
Noah slowly lowered his arms. His voice betrayed the lack of control he had over his emotions; feelings ran too deep, hurt too much. His voice hitched as he said, "You can't get past it… can you?"
Luke's shoulders sagged; even as he breathed deeply... painfully. "I want to. I need to..."
Noah took a deep breath; swallowed hard before he spoke. They were teetering on the edge of something; everything seemingly riding on this one moment between them. "I wish I could have found a way to deal with the blindness without hurting you. I wish I could take back what I did to you… but I can't. All I have is…" he looked around trying to find the word, "…now. I love you so much. I love you more than I ever did and I want you back. I know for you it's not that simple, but I also know that you still love me, otherwise you wouldn't be here... you wouldn't have kissed me. All I can do is wait and hope that you can find your way back... Because you haven't forgiven me, have you?"
Luke knew how difficult Noah found it to express how he felt; even felt a sense of pride as he said, "Noah I…"
"You hurt me."
"I know. You hurt me too."
Luke nodded; turned to face him again. "You did what you had to do… to deal… and I get that. So really there's nothing to forgive. Mostly I'm just disappointed. I thought nothing could ever break us up. We were a team. I truly believed you were over dealing with things on your own. You became so much better at letting me in and then..."
"Can you understand, Noah?" Luke almost whined, shaking his head. "You pushed me away, over and over... You made it clear that you didn't want me in your life. Do you have any idea what that felt like?"
Noah lowered his eyes; blinking tears.
"You did what you've always done... As soon as things got hard you ran away. And to hell with the consequences! To hell with us even! You gave up. You broke my heart, Noah. And then you got angry with me for trying to move on… for hooking up with someone else. I mean what did you expect?"
"No Luke! You have to believe that I wasn't angry at you for finding someone else." Noah took another deep breath. "When I let you go, I knew you would. Hell I even wished it for you! I wanted you to find somebody to make you happy where I couldn't anymore. I wasn't in a place where I could do anything apart from get up in the morning!"
"But you and Reid..." he trailed off as his voice constricted. "I was angry that you never told me. I was angry because the two of you were carrying this thing on right-in-front-of-me! When I couldn't see it! It made me feel like a fool!"
"I'm sorry, Noah." Luke sighed. He was tired… so tired... tired of apologizing, tired of hearing Noah's apology, tired of running in circles on a wheel they both so desperately wanted to get off of. His emotions were in turmoil.
"And I trusted him, Luke! He was my doctor. I confided in him about us! I told him things... and he knew how desperate I was to get my sight back… so that I could make things up to you! Fix us! And I felt like he took the things I told him, and used them to draw you in. It was like he stole my chance to make things right again!" He shook his head.
"How could we have told you, Noah?" Luke whispered, and then louder as frustration set in. "You needed him! You needed him to give you your sight back! I couldn't tell you, can't you understand that? I couldn't risk doing something that would jeopardize your chance to see again. Besides, how could I have explained it to you what I didn't understand myself?"
Both men remained silent for a while after that. Luke was about to speak when Noah interrupted him by holding up his hand. "I know that. Please believe me... I do. I know Reid just fell for you like I did. Hell, I can hardly blame him. If anybody understands how easy it is to love you, it's me."
Luke stood frozen by Noah's words.
"Looking back, I realize Reid did try to warn me. I guess at the time he was afraid to fall too deep. I guess he knew I only had to open up and you would pick me."
"I know… and I shot you down. But I was angry and shocked and... scared. I was a coward and I didn't have the right to…" he sighed. "Look… I know you loved him. And I'm sorry for the way you lost him. I've accepted it, Luke. I've accepted a lot of things about what happened. I know how much I hurt you, alright? I know I'm asking a lot because of it. Maybe I don't deserve you anymore, and maybe I should just let you go... But I can't… I've tried… I just want you back… I just want to hold you so much, Luke. I miss you so much."
Luke couldn't contain his surprise. Noah was different somehow. In the past Luke could only guess at what was going on in Noah's head, or he would have to draw it out of him bit by agonizing bit. But here was a different Noah… a Noah whose heart was open; expressing himself; expressing his feelings clearly… with words! And for the first time since their breakup, Luke allowed himself to hope. Maybe this could work. Maybe Noah really had waited like he promised he would. Maybe everything that had happened... and everything they had become because of it... only meant that now they were even more… right for each other? Was it even possible? He shivered... tried to push past the fear for this one last chance. "When we spoke on the phone, why did you tell me you're okay out here in LA?" Luke asked.
"Because you needed me too." There was a long pause before Noah spoke again. "I know you want me... need me... to tell you that I'm happy, but I'm not. Look at me, Luke!" Noah gesticulated toward himself with his hands. "I love my job, but... I am such a mess! I mean look around!" His hands swept the room. "I'm stuck, Luke! I'm stuck without you. I can't move on. I can't settle. How can I call this place home when you're my home? I need you! I don't want anything or anyone as much as I want you." His wet blue eyes pleaded; begging for a release only Luke could give him. "I would give up the job in a heartbeat for you. If you don't want this anymore, then I can understand that. After everything," he let out a bitter laugh, "I can understand. But I don't know how I'll cope. This past year... this whole time... all I've done is wait for you. I've just passed the time with work and sleep and hope! And now you're finally here! Like out of my dreams! And I'm terrified, Luke! I'm so scared that you're gonna walk away and never come back." A pained gasped escaped his lips. "If you leave now… if you walk out that door… you take that final speck of hope with you. If you leave then I really have lost you for good." The panic was setting in. It was getting difficult to breathe. He swayed. "God I… I…"
"Noah!" Luke caught him just before he hit the floor.
Noah choked; coughing.... sobbing... trying to get in mouthfuls of air as they both lay sprawled across the floor.
"Noah, calm down. Breathe. Just breathe…" And those words brought back such an overwhelming feeling of love for this broken man. Everything that had happened to them and between them since the first day they met flashed through his mind. All the emotion he'd locked away inside burst out like a tidal wave, and suddenly... just like that... Luke knew what he wanted. He knew what he had to do. Softly Luke smoothed the unruly black curls from Noah's face; whispered gently, "It's alright. I'm here. Just breathe."
Luke moved to hold him, spooning him as they lay on the floor. It felt so good... so close... so right. Noah's breathing calmed; became more regular. He pulled Luke's arms close around him. They lay there in silence on the plush carpet, gaining comfort from the warmth of each other; listening to their hearts beating the same tune. And they slept... right there on the floor. They slept for hours... until rays of afternoon sunlight fell through the open blinds and bathed them in zebra patterns.
They stared at each other, both too afraid to say anything; arms and legs wrapped around each other like a pretzel... holding on tight... both afraid this might be the last embrace. If they spoke, all the pain still laying between them might rip them apart for good.
Noah broke the silence in a voice so soft and hesitant, Luke had to strain to hear it, "Please don't leave me. Stay."
Luke closed his eyes, paused for just a moment; leaned in to place a chaste kiss on Noah's expectant lips. He pulled back; thoughtfully studied Noah's mouth. He pressed a finger over the small cut he'd made that morning, as though to smooth it away somehow. "Slowly."
"Everything you said... I've felt that too. That fear this might be the last chance? I didn't know what would happen when I saw you again. I hoped... I wanted..." he sighed. "Surely you know I want this too? I just don't know if I can survive if it doesn't work out again."
"But what we had... what we have... it's worth the risk..."
Noah's eyes welled. "Yes, for me too..."
"So I think... we can take things slowly. See what happens?" Luke hardly dared to hope.
Is this really happening? God, but he's so beautiful.
"Start again?" Noah asked, hopefully.
Luke nodded. "But Noah…?"
"I can't be hurt like that again," he shook his head, "I won't make it."
"I know. Never again." They kissed as if to seal a deal.
"It won't be easy," Luke started as they broke apart. "There are so many things we need to talk about... things wrong that need to be made right if we want this to work, but…"
Noah stopped Luke's words with another burning kiss before uttering, "I'll work with you this time, okay? I never want to feel what it's like to lose you again! Trust me, Luke! From now on it's you and me, together on everything, I promise."
"…but…" Luke drew the word out to indicate that he hadn't finished with his previous thought, "laying here right now… it feels like… it feels like we were never apart."
"Yes, it does." Noah agreed with a smile, playing with Luke's fingers.
They lay in silence for a while longer, until Luke erupted in an unexpected and totally inappropriate fit of giggles.
"What's so funny!" Noah laughed; face brightening.
"Wait until Mom hears out about this!"
Noah snorted in response. "She always has been our biggest supporter."
"Yep. Surprised she never marketed Luke and Noah T-shirts and celebratory mugs."
That really sent Noah over the edge. "I'd buy them!" He laughed loudly for quite some time. It was the most beautiful sound to Luke's ears. "I love you, Luke Snyder. I never stopped."
"Same here, Noah Mayer. Same here."