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Cross my heart won’t tell no other

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When Reggie died, lots of bad things happened. Being dead for one.

Obviously.

However, there was another part of him – one he doesn’t always share with his friends – that when he died realized a massive weight had been lifted off his chest. This metaphorical force that had been pushing at his chest for so long, holding him down and keeping him from breathing properly.

When he died and turned into a ghost, he could leave his life behind and so many of the ties that felt like they were strangling him there. He only took the good things – Luke and Alex – with him. He could leave so much of the bad stuff behind.

Don’t get him wrong, his life wasn’t the worst thing ever, he had it pretty good compared to some. He had great friends, school was okay, the band was awesome. But there were some things he was glad to leave in the living, and unfortunately a few of them were his family.

He won’t go into details, it’s not something he chooses to relive (relive? Is that right if he’s dead?) if he doesn’t have to. He knows his parents cared about him on some level, they demonstrated that enough.

But they also managed to demonstrate that they didn’t at times. Which, well that’s a hard pill to swallow for anyone.

The times they yelled in the kitchen for hours on end as Reggie sat in his room blaring his music to try and drown them out.

The times he would hear smashing and banging, and he’d come downstairs the next morning to his base and several other things destroyed in pieces.

The times he would get in the way of the yelling – and then the yelling would be directed at him. For not doing well enough in school, not paying enough attention, being a burden.

The times when they didn’t need yelling anymore, because his Dad was in bad mood most of the time anyway, and a glance in the wrong direction would get him a scoff and something lobed his way.

The times when he curled into himself, trying to make himself as small as possible trying not to get in the way.

The times he would just stay away from his house, because he was too scared to find out what waited for him.

It started small, and for a while it was fine. Good even. But over the years it escalated, to yelling and throwing things. To where he couldn’t just pretend it didn’t exist because it’s hard to hide actual physical evidence on your face or purple bruises on your arms.

Reggie learned to live with it, and he also learned to keep it to himself. If he told someone not only would they know, but they might want to try and do something, like help. Which in the end wouldn’t. Sure, it wasn’t always safe, but he had a place to go most nights and when he didn’t he had Luke and Alex, and the studio.

He couldn’t risk losing that. He cared about it too much to jeopardize it.

He never told Luke and Alex, and he’s not sure they know. He thinks they probably suspected, he’s not a great liar on a good day and it affected him in ways that bleed into relationships with people, they must have noticed on some level. They never pressed or asked too many questions when he clearly didn’t want to answer them. But he did notice over time that they took on the role of silent protectors, rather then just ignore it.

He got used to that, knowing Luke and Alex would be there and he could hide behind them. It became safe, it became home. It became the only consistent in his life and it worked.

He’s always appreciated that about the boys. He knows he could have said something and they would have done everything possible to help. But he likes that he didn’t need to tell them, they treated him with kindness and respect every single day and it wasn’t out of pity or a sense of obligation, it was because they were friends.

And Reggie will always treasure that, he still does.

He wasn’t kidding when he said they were the only family he’s ever known. They are the only family he’s ever had, and they’ve taken that on without questions or hesitation. Embraced it easily and allowed to be comforting lights in his life, rather then cause more pain.

So when they died, and turned into ghosts, Reggie could feel the weight of all he carried when he was alive leave. The fact that nobody could actually see them anymore helped, because Reggie didn’t need to be afraid of anyone. Nobody could see him, which meant nobody could hurt him.

Plus, he had Luke and Alex with him, he was always safe with them. That was something he knew. His consistent.

Reggie started to learn as a ghost who to feel safe around, and who was a threat. He started categorizing them into neat little boxes. Obviously, Luke and Alex were safe. They were always safe.

Julie could see them, and immediately Reggie could tell she was kind. She radiated empathy and compassion, she was kind and Reggie knew instantly that he didn’t need to be afraid around her. She wouldn’t judge him, she was good.

Reggie entered the Molina household, and he knew it was safe.

The house was warm, and comfortable and even as a ghost Reggie could feel it. It was safer than any house he had ever lived in before.

Reggie took to Carlos quickly, because he was innocent and sweet. Reggie wanted to protect him, which was a new, but welcomed feeling. Carlos was light in the darkness and he was not only safe, but comfortable. Something Reggie didn’t have a whole lot of experience with outside his boys.

What took Reggie by surprise himself was how quickly he took to Ray. Because Ray was many things Reggie had learnt to fear over the years. He was tall, powerful and masculine. He was the authority figure and what he said went. However, Reggie learnt he was also caring and compassionate, and he cared so deeply for Julie it hurt looking at them. It made Reggies heart ache, but in a nice way.

One of the good things about Ray also, was that he couldn’t actually see Reggie. So, the boy knew he didn’t have to fear him. He didn’t have to fear the rejection from hanging around the parent, nor worry about the physical moralities that come along with it. Ray was safe because he couldn’t see him, and Reggie liked pretending to have a male authority figure in his life who was caring, and not scary. He knew that was a little sad, but the boys never commented on it and he liked their weird little one-way relationship.

Then there was Caleb. And at first, he was hesitant hiding behind his bandmates, like he was used to. But Luke was so excited, and Willie seemed nice enough so it was okay. Reggie was still safe.

Until he wasn’t. And he couldn’t bare to face Caleb, he radiated power, virility and everything he’d learn to fear and avoid from his own father. Reggie panicked and froze up when Caleb claimed they were his and used his power to control them. So he stood behind Luke and Alex, while Luke yelled and cursed and stood up for them.

While Luke protected him.

And then, something weird happened (if that all hadn’t been weird enough).

Julie hugged them and they glowed for a while, and then they were solid.

And now, they’re solid some of the time (there’s no rhyme or reason to this ghost thing they tend to just go along with it at this point) and now people close to Julie can sometimes see them?

Reggie does have to agree with Alex sometimes, this ghost thing should come with an instruction manual.

They’ve got to give it to Ray though, he takes it surprisingly well when he finds out Julies hologram band are actually three teenage ghosts living in his garage. He’s mad and confused, but he takes it in stride eventually.

At first Reggie is excited, because wow everything has actually worked out and its awesome, and he’s back. As back as he can be at least.

But then it dawns on him, that Ray can see him now.

And well, Alex and Luke notice the change. But, they’re Alex and Luke so they clearly don’t know how to bring it up.

Bless their hearts.

Reggie’s kind of glad, it means he doesn’t have to deal with the fact that Ray is no longer in the safe box.

Until, he does have to deal with it.

-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-

Reggie is playing video games with Carlos in the lounge room when Ray is first introduced to some of the back story of these weird teenagers living with him. It’s been a few weeks since he’s adjusted to the whole ghost thing, and he realizes it’s something he’s going to have to live with. Also, he trusts his wife enough to know everything happens for a reason. Even if he does believe she’s really testing his patience with this one.

But the boys, well Ray believes Rose had a plan and she was right. As always. They just seem to fit. Fit into this weird little dynamic and now, whether Ray would like it or not, they’re apart of his family.

The two boys are sat on the ground playing FIFA, they both look about Carlos age with the yelling and good-natured ribbing going on. Alex and Luke are on the couch, watching and in their own conversation about band stuff with Julie who is perked on the edge. Probably a little too close to Luke for his liking, but he’ll keep an eye on them.

He’s cooking dinner in the kitchen where he can see them all perfectly anyway, so it’s not like they’re hiding anything. Ray can respect that. He’s also aware how complicated the situation is in itself, he knows Julie isn’t stupid.

He watches them for a bit longer, Reggie’s wide smile on his face as he carelessly plays with Carlos. The way Alex and Luke are deep in conversation but clearly still connected to their appointed brother.

Ray hasn’t had much to do with Reggie so far, both Alex and Luke have openly had discussions with him but Reggie is always oddly quiet and stands a few feet away, not making eye contact or engaging. He didn’t think much of it, some kids don’t like speaking to adults they don’t know. That’s normal.

But it was the way everyone else acted that made it weird. Julie had seemed shocked Reggie wouldn’t talk to him and Alex and Luke had clearly had a silent conversation with only their eyebrows while Reggie kept his head down. It was a weird vibe all round, and Ray wasn’t sure what to make of it. When he’d asked Julie she had shrugged it off, saying she wasn’t sure, and she honestly sounded so confused Ray had left it alone.

He won’t push, Ray likes to think he doesn’t push things he knows not to. But still. Odd behavior from a teenager that seems very carefree.

It’s a few minutes later when dinners almost ready, and he calls for Carlos to help set the table.

He doesn’t hear any grumbling, so he calls again a little sterner this time and it’s at the same moment he accidently drops a pot that clatters loudly. He curses annoyed in Spanish, aware there are many minors in the room, but it’s just a pot at the end of the day. Loud, but no damage done.  

A moment later Ray hears another smash, but this time it’s absolutely one of the PlayStation controls being dropped loudly and unexpectedly, and Ray looks up to see Reggie has shot up looking like a stunned deer.

Its only for a second, but the boys hands go up to protect his face and then quickly back at his sides. Like he realizes too late that he has read the room incorrectly and that was the wrong instinct for the situation. But it clearly was a natural instinct.

Ray is so caught off guard by it he stops and stares dumbly at the boy.

Everything is clicking so painfully together in Rays mind that he wishes it wasn’t. Ray would bet anything that the boy has gone a long time pretending this isn’t an issue, because he won’t meet anyone’s eyes and he’s probably about a second from poofing away.

Everyone is kind of caught. Luke stood the moment Reggie did but hasn’t approached him yet and Alex is watching him warily, trying to catch the other boys eye but it’s not happening. They clearly want to say so many things but the silence has caught them, each boy doesn’t know how the others will react.

Carlos, sweet innocent Carlos is looking confused at Reggie to his dad and then back to the ghost he has learnt very quickly to adore, “Reggie?”

Ray holds his breathe for a moment and tries to gage the room, is it best to approach the subject or move on?

He decides to go with his gut.

Mijo its fine, just dropped a pot by accident,” Ray says easily, trying to make himself as non-threatening as possible for the other boys sake, “Please set the table for me?” He uses his dad voice, but the kind, pleading one and Carlos is young but he’s not dumb. He gives Reggie one more quick glance but quickly shuffles to the table.

Again, its tense for a moment where nobody really knows what to do until Reggie finally looks up. He looks to Luke, and his eyes are full of pleading and terror, but Rays just glad he’s looking up.

This seems to be Lukes permission to move all the way to the other boy, but Reggie takes a step back.

“I’m just going to go to bed,” The flannel wearing bass player mumbles, fiddling with the hem on his flannel shirt, and if Ray didn’t know better his heart is breaking. Right in front of him watching this boy, this boy he watches on stage play with such passion and raw emotion, who look so afraid. Afraid of him.

“Reggie,” Ray tries calmly moving closer but it’s the wrong thing to do. Because Reggie steps back again, but its different then with Luke. Its tense, quick, and you can see the fear behind the movement.

Ray instantly stops, and so does Reggie. The poor boy looks guilty, like he didn’t mean to but its another one of the instincts buried deep down. Now Luke and Alex are looking his way, and he is being glared at by the two teenagers. Like he intentionally has caused that wounded look on Reggies face.

Before anyone says anything else Reggie poofs out and Ray gaps at the teenagers glaring at him.

Well, two can play at that game.

Ray looks sternly back at them, matching their pouts for his patterned dad look and it seems to get them to chill a bit.

“So,” Ray starts, moving towards the couch and sitting on the coffee table facing the ghosts and Julie, “Does someone want to fill me in here?”

Alex and Luke share a look, and by the looks of it, Julie is as confused as he is.

“Looks boys I can make a few assumptions, but I’d like some information if you think it will help,” Neither boy says anything, but they share a look and Ray prods again, “I don’t want Reggie to be afraid of me.”

Alex looks up guiltily and shrugs helplessly, “It’s not just you.”

Ray could have assumed as much, he sighs and runs a hand through his hair.

“Boys, I want Reggie to feel safe in this house,” Ray stresses and in that moment, he realizes how important that is to him, “I would never hurt him.”

Alex seems to sympathize with him, but Luke is still frowning at him like its all his fault.

“We know that,” Alex says, “And I think Reggie does too. Most of the time, he was just, startled.”

Luke frowns, “I should go check on him. Make sure he’s okay.”

“Luke,” Ray starts but he’s not even sure what he would say, finally Luke seems to stop glaring at him, but he looks upset.

“I know, it’ll be okay. Reggie is just, he hasn’t had it great. He needs to be reassured, I’ll talk to him,” Luke says and its in that moment Ray can see the fierce protectiveness pouring out of Luke, like its life or death and no matter what happens he will protect Reggie.

With that he poofs out and Ray turns to Alex, who also looks insanely protective but at least approachable.

“Its fine Mr. Molina, Reggie isn’t afraid of you. I know that,” Alex says.

“What exactly do you know?”

Alex shrugs, “He’s never said anything directly. He’s Reggie you know, but you can put stuff together. Sometimes… sometimes he’d come to practice pretty shaken up. Or he’d have a bruise or cut that was weird, he’d say he was just clumsy. But nobody’s that clumsy. Luke and I, we never pressed because every time we did he’d clam up. But we could tell, so we just… I know we should have told someone…but we didn’t, and we just made sure he was okay. Those last few years, we just made sure he was okay and he knew he was safe. That he had a place to go.”

Alex looks almost guilty for what they’ve done, like Ray will think it’s the wrong thing but he has so much admiration for these young men living in his house.

“Alex,” Ray says resting a hand on the boys shoulder, “Reggie is very lucky to have you as friends.”

The tips of his ears go red and he smiles shyly.

“Why don’t you check if they’re okay? Don’t try and bring Reg back if he doesn’t want to, just do what you guys do. Be there for him. We can sort the rest out later?” Ray suggests and Alex seems relieved to be given the option. He nods once and poofs out.

Ray turns to his daughter and son, who have been standing by watching the conversation intently. Julie bites her lip, like she’s confused but has so much she wants to say.

“Jules, you okay?” Ray asks, moving over to her and wrapping her in a hug she takes gratefully. He feels like he needs to hold one of his children right now.

“Yeah, I just, poor Reggie,” She mumbles into his chest and Ray couldn’t agree more.

“Its just,” She starts and Ray looks down to her, encouraging her to continue, “It’s just odd. I had no idea.”

“You couldn’t have sweetie,”

“No, not like that,” She seems puzzled, “Its just when you couldn’t see him, he loved hanging out with you. He was here all the time, just watching you cook or work, he seemed so comfortable. It was weird when suddenly you could see him and he wouldn’t go near you. I didn’t understand…”

She trails off and Ray can fit another puzzle piece together from this bizarre situation.

He decides that worrying over it won’t help though, Luke and Alex have it covered for now, and despite anything he seems to trust the boys. Weirdly.

“Come on, lets have dinner,”

-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-

For the next 5 days, Ray doesn’t see Reggie. For the first few days he doesn’t bring it up. He knows its not a direct reflection on his character but he understands he is the source of Reggie’s problem right now, so he won’t push the matter. However, after 4 days of Alex and Luke being constantly in his kitchen and avoiding the topic, he needs some answers. Reggie lives here, its his home. He can’t ignore him forever.

“So, hows Reggie?” He’s cooking again, because that seems to be all he does nowadays, while Luke and Alex sit on the kitchen bench talking to Julie about music.

He’s not sure he approves of them on his counter, but he’s been more lenient this week.

The conversation stops at his question and Alex and Luke share another look full of silent communication. From the looks of it, Luke wants to say something, but Alex is trying to tell him not to. All with their eyebrows.

Interesting development. Ray can work with that, Luke looks like an easy egg to crack.

“He’s okay,” Alex says amicably, and Ray lifts his own eyebrows at Luke.

“No,” Luke interjects, “He’s pouting.”

Ray tries not to laugh, “Pouting?”

Alex rolls his eyes, “He’s just, trying to give everyone space.”

“He’s being stupid, he hasn’t left the studio in a week,” Luke says.

“He’s allowed to want some space,” Alex tries, but even to Rays ears he can tell Alex doesn’t think this is the best course of action for his friend.

“Yes,” Luke agrees, “But in this instance he’s being stupid.”

“Luke,” Alex hisses, “You promised Reg,”

“Some promises need to be broken,” Luke insists and turns to Ray, “Reggie thinks you’re mad at him.”

Ray actually opens his mouth in shock, “I’m not mad at him!”

“We know Dad,” Julie says comforting.

“Yes, we know that. But Reggie is convinced your mad at him. Or at least trying to convince himself of it, he won’t leave the studio because he thinks you’ll be mad and kick him out, or want to talk sternly with him,” Luke says.

“Why on earth would I be mad at him?” Ray asks, “I didn’t say something, did I?” He turns to Julie replaying every interaction he has had with the bassist. This is absolutely the opposite he was trying to do.

“No dad, of course not,” Julie says, “Reggie is just, concerned.”

“No, Reggie is being stubborn and he’s about 8 hours away before I drag him in here whether he likes it or not,” Luke says.

“Luke, come on man, you know Reg,” Alex says.

“Yes I do,” Luke rolls his eyes, “I know when he needs to stop being ridiculous, I know how he gets when he’s upset. This place is safe. We’re safe. He knows that, he just won’t let himself believe that. He can’t avoid it forever; we can’t keep avoiding it when its clearly not working. It’s our job to make sure he knows he’s safe.”

Ray takes a moment to digest this, because he wants Reggie to feel safe. But he can also understand the boys need to self-sabotage. Rays done a few child psychology courses over the years, and he knows kids in Reggie’s position can assume that good things can’t happen to them, so they ensure they’re never in the position to be hurt. Better to take it away yourself, then have your fears confirmed by those around you.

Luke might be brass, and loud and not necessarily going about it the right way. But he might not be wrong either. Reggie is probably caught up in his own head and fears, he’ll need help to be pulled out of them.

Alex seems to somewhat reluctantly agree, “I think he’s a bit embarrassed about the way he reacted as well.”

Ray can understand that, they are teenage boys at the end of the day. Far easier to embarrass then you would assume.

“We have far more embarrassing things on him then this,” Luke says stubbornly crossing his arms over his chest, in that moment Ray can picture a stubborn toddler, “He’s caught up in his own head and crappy thinking, and it’s all his Dads fault. That guy was a jerk. We’ve always looked after him before, and I don’t know why he thinks now we won’t.”

There seems to be more then this then meets the eye, clearly Luke has formed the need to protect his best friends and that has always been acknowledged. The fact that Reggie hasn’t recovered from this is affecting Luke in more ways then just being concerned, almost like he has let Reggie down in some way.

God, when Ray realized this band was living in his studio, he didn’t realize the extremely complex codependency or emotional rollercoaster that would come with it.

“I’m sure he knows that you boys will always look after each other,” Ray says because he doubts this is Reggies issue (Luke still looks put out), “How about we give him until tomorrow to come around, if he hasn’t poofed into the kitchen by then I’ll seek him out?”

Alex agrees easily, like his grateful someone else is taking charge of the situation and while Luke still looks a little bit annoyed also agrees, “You boys will look after him until then?” Ray asks.

Luke scoffs at him, but there’s not too much heat behind it, “Dah,”

-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-

The next day is Saturday, and Reggie still hasn’t resurfaced in the house. Julie said that morning they were practicing a new song, and when Ray had gone down to ‘check it out’, the band – not just Reggie – Reggie had frozen up upon seeing him, spluttered out some nonsense and then poofed away.

Not what Ray was hoping for.

The boys had quickly gone after him, mumbling about stupid bandmates but Ray hadn’t seen them since.

Its after dinner now, a quiet affair with just Julie and Carlos considering he has become accustom to the new house guests. He couldn’t focus enough on a book or TV, and Carlos had gone to his room to play video games while Julie went to Flynns, he decided he might as well try and get some work done.

It’s a bit later as he sits at the kitchen table working on some editing when he hears a loud poof.

He’s surprised to find Alex in his kitchen, waving at him sheepishly.

He’s even more surprised when a few moments later Luke and Reggie poof in.

Reggie looks lost and guilty, and Luke has a very firm grasp on his upper arm.

“Hey Mr. M,” Luke says a false sense of over cheeriness.

“Hello boys,” Ray drawls out slowly, trying to appear as less threatening as possible. Its hard because he wasn’t aware he’s ever come across as threatening. Most of the time people are happy to tell him that. Carlos has mentioned many times he’s not that scary.

“Lovely night isn’t it?” Alex fills in the awkwardness bouncing on his toes, but it doesn’t help.

Ray looks to Reggie who catches his gaze for a millisecond before looking down with a clear blush on his features. Interesting that they don’t have a heartbeat but blood can rush to their faces. He wishes there was someone he could ask about that.

“So, what are you doing?” Luke asks, and deliberately takes a few steps forward, bringing an ever-reluctant Reggie with him. When Reggie barely moves Alex gives him a little encouraging pat on the back that moves (pushes) him forward. He stumbles a bit but Luke pulls him along and Alex steadies him from behind without thinking twice.

Watching the boys maneuver around each other is fascinating.

Reggie looks hesitant, sheepish and embarrassed. But he doesn’t look scared, so Ray will take the little win.

“Just editing some photos, do you boys want to have a look?” Ray asks gently, angling his laptop to them so they can get a better look.

Luke moves forward, changing to grasping the boys hand in his own so it’s a bit more gentle and Reggie seems to take his fate and move along. Its not long before Luke maneuvers them around so Reggie is sitting in the chair opposite Ray, and Luke is behind the boy rubbing his shoulders through his black and red flannel encouragingly. Alex is standing very closely next to them, offering his support silently and almost standing like a guard dog between Ray and Reggie.

Reggie hasn’t made eye contact with him again, his fiddling with his hands in his lap now.

Ray would have liked to be a fly on the wall during the conversation that brought them here. Reggie doesn’t look like he’s here under duress. But its certainly not his idea.

Ray decides to try and defuse the tension, he starts talking about composition and lighting, and a whole lot of photography jargon most people don’t care about. But when Reggie finally looks up, hesitate but interested it encourages him to continue.

Luke smiles brightly at the change and continues to massage Reggies shoulders in praise, and before long Reggie asks, “How long have you been a photographer?”

Ray is almost snapped out of himself that Reggie has asked, and he spares a quick look at Alex and Luke who seem to think this is some kind of breakthrough.

“I’ve always loved photography,” Ray begins and Reggie actually looks at him now when he speaks.

He goes on for a few more minutes before Luke and Alex quickly excuse themselves with some lame excuse about Luke wanting to show Alex a game on the play station. It’s a feeble excuse, Ray has to physically stop himself from rolling his eyes, but the boys move along to the next room and a part of him feels accomplished that they seem to think Rays safe enough to be left along with the boy.

The man does notice that while they’ve given Reggie space, they haven’t left him either. They can hear everything, would they need to intervene.

Rays going to make sure they don’t need to.

Reggies demeanor hasn’t changed with the departure of his shadows, so Ray continues to talk and he even asks a few more questions.

For a while, its nice. Not only having someone interested in his work but having the boy here. He’s such a lovely soul to have around, it breaks Rays heart to know how much he is hurting.

Finally, Ray sees an opportunity to change the subject.

“So, how are you mijo?” It’s a loaded question he phrases as dedicatedly as he can, Reggie looks down and begins fiddling with his flannelette shirt again.

After a beat, where Ray can literally see Luke and Alex tense up, Reggie speaks. Ray is shocked and appalled at what comes out of his mouth, but unfortunately not necessarily surprised.

“I’m so sorry Mr. Molina, I- I didn’t mean, I’m really sorry,” Reggie pours out and Luke and Alex whip there heads around ready to interject.

Ray gives them a knowing look, silently asking with his eyes to try and handle this first.

“Reggie,” Ray says slowly reaching out a hand, ensuring his movements are slow and non-threatening, to put it on the boys shoulder. When Reggie doesn’t flinch, he takes it as a very big step.

“You have nothing to apologize for,” Ray says sternly, “Nothing at all. I can’t think of one thing you should be sorry for.”

Reggie looks up from his long eyelashes uncertainly, “Sir, I just. I didn’t mean,” The boy is stumbling over his words panicked and Ray wonders if an adult has actually ever taken the time to hear this boy out before.

Instead of interrupting again he gives the boy a small open smile, hoping he takes that as to continue.

“I just…” He trails off.

“What Reg?” He asks kindly when it looks like he won’t continue.

Reggie swallows determinedly, like he wants to put what he’s feeling into words correctly.

“I just, I sometimes panic. A lot like Alex,” Reggie tries to joke, Ray watches as Luke smiles, “I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable or anything in your own home. It was just the noise and yelling, I just, panicked. I said that already, but you get it. Luke says I’m being stupid, that you’d understand.”

He’s rambling and fidgeting, and Ray wants to do nothing but wrap him in a hug, but he knows Reggie needs to say this so he lets him continue.

“My Mom and Dad, lots of yelling. All the time. And throwing things,” He swallows again, “But you didn’t even yell or throw anything. So, it was silly. But I’m sorry, it wasn’t your fault. Really I overreacted. I’m sorry.”

He seems done, and almost proud of himself that he said that. Like he owed Ray some kind of explanation for what happened.

Ray doesn’t move his hand away from Reggie, but moves his thumb around his shoulder in a comforting manner, “Reggie. You are entitled to how you feel, your emotions. You never have to apologize for having them. Not with me, not with your friends. Not in this house.”

This clearly isn’t the reaction that Reggie was expecting, he looks up at Ray puzzled.

“Thank you for helping me understand, but Reggie. This is now your home as much as it is mine, and while I’m very grateful you don’t want me to feel put out, I’m the parent. I never want you to feel uncomfortable in this home. Julie brought you in as family, there’s no going back on that and we look out for family.” He says sternly and he hopes it’s catching on.

Reggie laughs a little bit self-deprecating, “I don’t really know what that’s like,”

“We can all learn along the way,” Ray says and he can feel the tension from this conversation ease a little bit, “Besides, I think you’ve got some pretty good friends who have been showing you for a while.”

Reggie looks up and smiles a bit, “They have,” he turns to his friends who are badly pretending not to be listening to this conversation, “They said I was being stupid for thinking you’d be mad.”

Ray chuckles, moving his hands behind his head easily, “Well, they’re not necessarily wrong. A little dense I’d imagine, but not wrong.”

“Hey,” A put out Luke complains.

Reggie smiles, and Ray can’t imagine why anyone in the world would want to hurt this kid. Ray might spend the rest of his life ensuring this kid if smiling.

“So, you like photography?” He asks and Reggies face brightens.

“Yeah! I love taking photos and the ideas behind them, I had a camera, when I started high school. I used to take photos of everything until it was bro- “ He starts bright but his voice fades as he realizes what he’s about to reveal, and Ray can put it together.

The wounded, distraught look appears back on the boys face and Ray would do anything to bring the smile back. For a moment he doesn’t know if Reggies about to tear up and he glances to the boys on the couch. He might now need there help.

They must sense the distress in the room, because they come to his rescue.

Luke launches himself at Reggie, sitting on the other boy’s lap and hooking his arms around his neck easily. Alex comes behind them, holding tightly on to the other boys shoulders and Reggie is sandwiched between the two boys, which instantly brings the smile back.

This relationship these boys have is certainly something to watch.

“How’s it going?” Luke asks happily, planting a sloppy kiss on the other boys cheek.

Reggie pushes him away but the guitarist refuses to be dislodged.

“Its fine boys, we were just talking about photography,” Ray says and Alex looks surprised.

“Did you know Mr. Molina, that we had to blackmail Reggie to get him here tonight?” Luke says conversationally and Reggie looks appalled.

“That’s not true,” Reggie tries to savor some of his dignity but the blush is back.

Alex interjects, “It is.”

Reggie rolls his eyes and drops Luke ceremonially on the ground. Alex kicks him lightly for good measure.

“See, we have these pictures of Reggie in a tutu, god knows how they’ve lasted 25 years,” Luke starts and Reggie shoves a hand in his face, but both boys are grinning stupidly.

Luke licks said hand on his face, and Reggie pulls back disgusted.

“You have a problem,” Alex deadpans, taking a seat next to Reggie, close enough so their elbows are knocking together which looks uncomfortable to Ray.

“You’re a problem,” Luke says childishly and pops up from the ground and onto the table.

A part of Ray wishes Luke would stop using all his surfaces as chairs. A bench is not a chair, no matter how short you are.

“Right boys,” Ray says clapping his hands together, although he does enjoy watching the boys antics it’s slowly reveling into chaos he doesn’t know he can shuffle back. It’s tiring watching them bounce around, “It’s getting late, we’ve had a big day. I think it’s time for bed.”

Alex frowns, Reggie nods like he agrees, and Luke looks actually horrified, “Time for bed? We’re not children.”

From that little display Ray would very much like to disagree but he goes for neutral, “Well, I just think its time we settle down for the night. You guys sleep, don’t you?”

Alex still looks a bit put out, “Well yes, but,”

“No buts,” Ray interjects, standing up and motioning with his hands that they too should follow, “You live here now, its your home, we go to bed at a reasonable hour so we can rock out in the morning.”

“That’s such a dad thing to say,” Alex groans.

“Well yes,” Ray grins, “Because I am in fact a dad.”

“Bossy Dad,” Luke grumbles.

“Yes, and you are not above being picked up over my shoulder and taken to bed,” Ray smiles at Luke and for a moment the boy looks horrified at the suggestion, however it quickly changes to taunting and challenging.

“Prove it,” The cocky guitar player insists.

Rays glad Luke knows how to defuse a situation, because one quick glance at Reggie he can tell the boy is rigidly waiting for the situation to play out, unsure how this will go. Ray wonders if on some level Luke realizes this, and he’s trying to show Reggie it’s okay. Again, a glimpse of how Reggie has grown up flashes across his mind and he just doesn’t understand how someone this bubbly and bright and good can’t understand an adult messing around with their kids.

Rays not sure if Lukes plan goes as far as to demonstrate it to Reggie, but he thinks he can make it work.

In one swift motion Ray goes for the boy and tosses him over his shoulder, Luke yelps undignified for a moment clearly playing a bluff that has backfired. But then he cackles as he goes limp in the man’s arms, making himself heavy.

God, Ray is way to old for this. Adopting 3 teenage boys, he isn’t sure his back can take this. He wasn’t sure Luke would even be solid enough for this, but its working and the boy is heavy.

Ray turns to Alex and Reggie.

Alex just looks done, like he is sick of putting up with this every day for the rest of his un-life. But Ray can see the fondness for his bandmate seep through, Alex isn’t as passive as he would like.

Reggies just standing there, going back to twiddling with his fingers but a ghost of a smile is on his features. He’s clearly uncertain about the play out of events, and on some degree probably uncomfortable which Ray can understand. But he hasn’t poofed out and he is smiling at the antics. Ray doesn’t think Reggie is ready to be tossed around just yet, but maybe one day he’ll get there.

Also, note to self to chuck Alex in the pool next. Just to see what would happen.

“Come on boys, bed time,” Ray jokes and with one last wink to Reggie he carries Luke to the studio. Luke whoops, seeming to be enjoying himself and Alex swings an arm around Reggie following along.

Ray doesn’t know how it happened, but he supposes somewhere along the way of music, holograms and ghosts he unofficially adopted 3 dead teenagers who live in his garage.

Life is weird sometimes.