As he walked through the automatic doors and into the overly sterile smelling hospital, Reid found himself for the first time hating that he was here. In the past he had found refuge in hospitals, and in the past few years, especially at Memorial. It had started out as his prison, but at least he could get lost in the eave and flow of patients and rounds and surgeries. With time it had become his safe haven, a place where he could go for an excuse to ignore everything else in his life. Once the new wing had been finished, nearly a year after he first arrived in Oakdale, it had become his castle in many ways. He reigned over that neurology wing like a protective father. Every decision filtered through him and within six months the Snyder-Coleman Neurology Center had rightfully earned it's place as one of the top neurological facilities in the country, soon to be in the world. Reid loved Memorial, believe it or not. He felt safe here, things made sense as long as he was in his scrubs and walking around the clean and detail oriented institution. Today, though, dressed in jeans and a button up shirt, dark circles under his eyes, he felt anything but at home or at peace. He felt nothing but emptiness. In many ways, he felt nothing at all.
That is, until he approached the small ICU room a stones throw from the entrance to his neurology wing. He glanced at the doors separating this part of the hospital from it's newest addition. "Snyder-Coleman Neurology Center" was written in bold, golden letters above the doors. Reid looked to the plaques on the wall where pictures of Luke and Henry shaking hands at the grand opening, as well as a few with himself, Bob, Chris, who was now Chief of Staff, and others involved in the project, were hung proudly. One of the plaques read "Celebrating Five Years of Extraordinary Neurological Care." Seeing Luke's name and his face alongside so much promise made Reid's stomach churn. He'd never felt so mocked in his entire life.
Before the sensation could make him sick, as it actually had once or twice in the past few weeks, he turned away, forcing himself to face an even more terrifying visual. He glanced through the half-closed blinds into the dark room. It was still early and sunlight filtered in through the far window, casting stray beams of light over the thin body of a beautiful blond, sleeping in the bed. Reid wanted to tell himself that he was sleeping peacefully, but as he took in the tubes and monitors that made him look more like an experiment than a person, he knew that wasn't true.
Reid stood there for a long time, just watching. He knew that if he opened the door he would wake the poor boy, the poor man, who needed his sleep but hardly got it these days. He slept so lightly that Reid was afraid to move too much. A part of him greedily wanted to stare into his eyes and never look away. However, he knew better and that he couldn't let his own desires get in the way right now. Luke needed sleep, desperately needed it, and so that is what Reid would give him.
Footsteps that normally would have registered with the somber man were only heard when he saw the shadow of a figure approach. He looked up to see the sympathetic smile of Chris Hughes. He was dressed in scrubs and a lab coat, though that was to be expected. Reid found himself thinking back on when he'd last dressed like that. It took him a minute to figure it out, and while he couldn't pinpoint an exact date, his estimate was at roughly a month and a half ago.
"I hope you haven't been here long," said Chris kindly.
"Not too long," lied Reid, but then again he hadn't glanced at a clock, so how was he to know that he'd been standing there for almost two hours?
Chris frowned. "You don't look like you've slept much," he commented. "You know you're welcome to crash in the lounge, or we can pull up a cot in his room…" Reid winced a bit and shook his head.
"No, I don't want to wake him," he began defiantly. "And you've slept in the lounge. Like I'd get any sleep in there," he said with a hint of sarcasm. Chris smiled.
"Good to know you still have some humor."
"Yeah, well," Reid sighed. Chris put a hand on his shoulder, something he never would have done six years ago, but things were different now. Chris had taken over his father's position as Chief of Staff going on three years ago. It was only then that he and Reid decided to make a go at being civil, mostly because Bob intimidated both of them into it. The fact that Chris and Katie were engaged also gave them some motivation.
Reid looked up, his eyes tired and sad, but he managed a weak smile.
"Thanks, Doogie," he said. While the old nickname was still around, it didn't sound nearly as much like an insult as when Reid had first started using it. Actually, it almost sounded endearing. Chris smiled back before quietly walking away, leaving Reid alone again with nothing but the heartbreaking sight before him.
It continued like this for two more weeks. Reid would arrive by 10am and wouldn't leave until 10pm each day, and most times he didn't even leave, taking to the lounge or a random bench for a few hours of uneasy sleep only because Chris forced him to. He would only take a lunch break or get some fresh air when forced to as well. This happened every few hours and the Snyders had gone from simply coming up to make visits of their own to both visiting Luke and tending to Reid, who insisted he was fine and didn't need to be looked after. No one believed him.
This routine ended abruptly, though, when Reid's pager went off at 3am. It was the first night in a week he'd actually gone home, though he was sleeping on the couch. He had taken an extended leave from work and the sound of his pager was almost foreign to him. He hadn't heard it in almost three months and so for the first time in years the noise actually startled him. Jumping up he glanced down to see it was from Chris. Immediately he reached for his cell phone and called him back. Five minutes later he was simultaneously zipping up his pants and walking out the door, speeding the entire way to the hospital.
"Just let me see him, Chris," Reid said firmly. Chris held out a hand to stop him, frowning and, for the first time in his life, hating his job.
"Reid, you know we can't let anyone see him until he's stabilized," said Chris. Reid stepped back, pacing a bit and running his hands through his thick hair, breathing heavily and clenching his fists. He almost punched a wall but managed to resist.
"What happened exactly?" asked Lily, who had also been called in. Holden stood beside her, arm around her shoulders.
"We knew this could happen, that he could react badly to the transplant," began Chris. "We were already watching him since it's been almost ten years since his initial transplant, and with his medical history…"
"Screw his history, Hughes," yelled Reid. Chris didn't object, just frowning at his friend. "He's had transplants before, and his body accepted the new kidney just fine."
Chris sighed. "Reid, you know as well as anyone that every transplant is unique," he started. Reid let out a loud yell, storming off down the hall again. Lily was almost in tears when she turned back to Chris.
"Why didn't it work this time?" asked Holden, speaking the words Lily didn't have the strength to say herself.
"There is always a chance that the body will reject a new organ, even if all the blood work matches up and things are done perfectly. Luke's body is already weaker when it comes to accepting new organs because it's strained from his past transplants. The infection was already beginning to spread, which only made things more difficult to introduce a new one."
Lily was crying by now but, in her usual fashion, she was trying to be strong, biting her knuckles and blinking back the tears. Holden's eyes were beginning to glaze over. They stood in silence for a moment before it became too much. Lily let out a sob and pulled away, waving a hand to excuse herself and walking briskly down the hallway. Holden took a deep breath and turned to Chris desperately.
"Be honest with me, Chris. How does it look for him?" he asked, his voice shaking.
Chris hesitated. This was a situation he never thought he'd be in, delivering this kind of information to friends, to family. He thought about the Snyders, about his own wife who was a Snyder in her own right, and how much the Snyders had meant to him over the years, how they and the Hugheses had always been so close. He took in a shaky breath before looking Holden straight in the eyes, hoping he had the strength to give Holden the honesty he was looking for.
"It doesn't look good, Holden," he began uneasily. Holden shifted. "We can't perform another transplant for quite some time, and his body isn't going to accept the kidney he has now. Even if we kept him on dialysis…" his voice cracked, "the odds are against him. I'm so sorry, Holden." Chris wanted to reach out, but he was afraid that if he moved he, too, would break down.
A few hours later Chris was at one of the front desks, filling out forms and doing anything to keep busy. Luke had crashed during the night, which is why he had called Reid, Lily and Holden. He had been stable before then. While he wasn't getting better, he hadn't been getting any worse, either. Until now. He was hooked up to the dialysis now, and Chris knew that was the only thing keeping the young man alive. By six o'clock his eyes were dizzy from staring at the small words in front of him. His concentration was, almost thankfully, broken when a nurse tapped him on the shoulder.
"Dr. Hughes?" she asked unsurely. Chris looked up. "It's Dr. Oliver. He's in Mr. Snyder's room and asked if you could come by," she said. Her words weren't urgent so Chris didn't worry. He just nodded and dismissed her, handing off the paperwork to be properly filed. As he walked toward the ICU he wasn't sure if he should take his time or move quickly. He found his pace changing each time he turned a corner or moved around another person in the hall. Eventually he came upon the room, walking in as quietly as he could to see Reid sitting in a chair beside Luke's bed, holding the young man's hand. Luke was awake, though he looked like hell. The bed was raised and holding him at a slight angle; it was the only way he could sit up since he didn't physically have the strength to do so on his own. Chris smiled.
"Hey, there," he said in an even voice. Luke smiled weakly.
"Hey, Chris. Haven't seen you in a while," he said in a raspy voice that broke Chris' heart.
"Yeah, well I've seen plenty of you. You need a hair cut, buddy," he joked lightly. Luke just smiled, having no energy to laugh just yet. Reid looked at Chris appreciatively. Chris was always the ray of light in Luke's room. No one else had the strength.
"You wanted to see me?" Chris asked, turning to Reid.
"Oh, yes, I just thought you'd want to see him while he's actually awake," Reid began, stumbling a bit over his words. His eyes never left Luke.
"How is Katie doing?" Luke asked. Chris relaxed a little.
"She's doing good. I hope she's sleeping right now. I talked to her a few hours ago and she was up with Carter again," he smiled. Carter was their eighteen month old who was going through a nightmare phase right now. Luke loved to hear about Carter and Jacob. Katie had brought them up to visit him a few weeks ago and Jacob had drawn Luke a picture of him and 'Uncle Reid'. It hung on the wall above his bed. The Hughes boys were only two of a slew of children in and out of Luke's room during the day. Ethan, now nine, would sit there and tell Luke about his baseball games. Natalie talked about high school and Faith had come home from school almost every other weekend for the past two months, sharing stories about NYU. Reid had protested the first time the gaggle of Snyders had invaded Luke's room, insisting that Luke needed rest, but the way Luke's face had lit up at the sound of his siblings' voices made it impossible to turn them away after that.
Luke smiled at the thought of Carter, of Katie. "Tell her hi from me, and that I miss her face," he laughed weakly, coughing a bit. Reid shifted uneasily.
Chris smiled. Luke closed his eyes and began to drift asleep. Reid glanced at Chris with a well known look.
"I'll be right outside," Chris said knowingly. Reid nodded. A moment later the door closed, leaving them alone.
"You get some sleep, got that?" said Reid, trying to smile. Luke smiled up at him and Reid felt his heart break for the umpteenth time that day alone. He leaned forward, kissing Luke on the forehead and squeezing his hand. "I love you, brat" he whispered, making the word 'brat' sound like the most affectionate word in the English language.
"I love you, too, jerk," Luke whispered back. He was asleep before Reid left the room.
Reid shut the door quietly behind him, crossing the hall to Chris.
"I'm sorry, about earlier," he began. Chris held up a hand.
"Don't apologize, Reid. It's understandable."
Reid frowned, shaking his head and running a hand over his hair. "I just don't know what to do, Chris. I feel like I'm not even functioning. Holden tried to get me to use one of the overnight rooms for family members, but I just couldn't do it. I couldn't stand to sleep in a room I knew only even existed because of him," he sighed, his voice quivering. "I just can't do this."
"I wish I knew what to say, Reid, I really do," said Chris sincerely, putting a hand on his shoulder again.
"How long do you think he has?" Reid asked. Chris was surprised by this question, and startled by the fear in Reid's eyes. He'd never seen the man look so vulnerable. He hesitated, but Reid silently urged him to answer.
"Not long," he began quietly, his own voice shaking. "Dialysis will support him for… maybe another week or two. After that, I'm not sure his body will be strong enough…" he trailed off. Reid's eyes closed tightly and his entire body clenched. Chris could see the tears brimming in his friend's eyes and could feel the tears in his own.
"What am I supposed to do without him?" Reid cried. It was finally too much and the tears slowly began to fall. He didn't sob, but he did cry, and that was enough to break Chris. With wet eyes, Chris wrapped his arms around the other man. It wasn't as strange as he might have imagined, hugging the person he'd once loathed, but Reid had become his best friend in many respects, as well as a part of his family. He was a significant part of Katie and Jacob's life, and now Carter's. As Luke's partner, he was practically a Snyder, giving him an even stronger connection to his family. They'd come to respect each other, eventually coming to a place where Katie would come home to find them on the couch, drinking a beer and watching the game. They spent time together socially and often spent the majority of their time at Snyder events talking to each other, both as an excuse to avoid mingling with their in-laws, but also because they genuinely appreciated the other's company. As he hugged Reid, Chris realized that he was hugging his best friend, and more painfully, he realized that he was literally holding that best friend together, though he wasn't sure how much longer he could prevent him from falling apart.
A few days went by and Luke's condition continued to worsen. However, Luke's attitude only seemed to improve. It was almost more painful for Reid than before, knowing the inevitable and yet watching Luke act as though everything was fine. Luke knew exactly what was going on and had come to accept his fate. This angered Reid, to think that Luke was just going to let death take him. He wouldn't have any of it and he spent hours calling and researching and desperately trying to find an answer he knew didn't exist. Finally Luke had told him to stop, promising that he wasn't going to stop fighting, but that he needed Reid to prepare himself. Reid cried himself to sleep next to Luke's bed, but agreed.
One evening, nearly a week after that fateful 3am call, Reid was, as always, with Luke. He'd been sleeping in the chair when he felt Luke's hand tighten over his. He woke quickly, jumping a little and asking if something was wrong. Luke laughed, sounding stronger than he had in days, but looking even paler and thinner than before. Reid sat up, moving closer and pushing Luke's hair away from his sweaty forehead, hating how clammy and warm his skin felt.
"Do you ever go home?" Luke asked. Reid shook his head. There was no point in lying.
"Not really," he admitted. Luke frowned.
Reid bit his lip and took a much needed deep breath, steadying himself. He shook his head, already feeling the tears pinching at him mercilessly, but he managed to hold them back.
"I can't, Luke," he sighed, defeated. "I can't be there, I can't be around our things, or sleep in our bed, knowing that…" he trialed off, his voice cracking quite noticeably. Luke reached for him and Reid leaned close, their foreheads resting together. He quietly began to cry. Luke's eyes were filled with tears as well, and this time he stroked Reid's hair.
"I love you, Reid," he cried. Reid tried to say the words back, but he couldn't get past the tears. Still, Luke knew. He'd always known.
They cried together, clinging desperately and trying to ignore reality, but such delusions couldn't last forever.
"I want you to do something for me, Reid," said Luke in a weak whisper. Reid looked up, nodding.
"Anything," he responded immediately. Luke stared him in the eyes, searching them with obvious desperation. Reid didn't even try to raise his guard. Right now he was an open book, inviting Luke to see everything in him. Luke's mouth turned into a sad smile, tears falling again. Reid watched him, nervous and terrified, but anxious to do anything Luke would ask of him.
"First, I need you to promise me something," he began. Reid shut his eyes and shook his head. He knew where this was going and he didn't want to hear it. "Reid, look at me," Luke insisted. Reid's breathing was barely sufficient, but finally he managed to fill his lungs and opened his eyes. "Promise me that you'll be happy. Promise me that you'll do whatever it takes to be happy, and that you'll help my family to do the same."
"Luke," cried Reid. His eyes were dry now. He was trying to pretend this wasn't real, and failing.
"Reid, please. I need to know you'll be happy. And you have to promise that you'll keep going to Thanksgiving dinners, and you'll go to Ethan's baseball games, and Natalie's graduation, and Faith's. I need to know you'll be there for all the anniversaries and birthdays. You have to be there for them, you have to keep going."
It was silent and still for a few moments, but Reid finally nodded. "I promise… I promise, Luke," he stuttered.
"And there's one more thing I need you to do for me," said Luke, whispering again. His voice was shaky, though not due to his condition. Reid sensed the hesitation in him, the nerves, and it made him shift uneasily. He questioned Luke with his eyes, not trusting himself to speak. Luke smiled, and pulled Reid close, kissing him gently on the mouth. When he pulled away he stared at Reid with nothing but complete and utter admiration and love.
It was a simple service held in Luke's hospital room a few days later. Aaron flew into town and he and Chris helped to change Luke into some real clothes, at least from the waist up. It wasn't anything fancy, just a nice button up shirt and a tie. This specific tie was dark blue with red diamonds. Reid had bought it for him their first Christmas together, having no idea what else to buy him, and it had instantly become Luke's favorite. Lily, Katie, Allison, as well as Natalie and Faith, had spent the day decorating. Luke would comment on how girly the decorations were, only to be hushed and reminded that it as a wedding after all.
When it came time for the actual ceremony, only a few people were invited. As much as Luke wanted everyone to be there, they all knew it was best to keep it small. His parents, along with Katie, Chris, Aaron, Casey, Allison, and Noah, who had also flown in, stood beside them.
Noah's appearance was warmly welcomed by everyone. Reid had met him first in the hall, sharing a manly handshake-hug with him, smiling with civility. They had come to terms with each other in the past few years and were able to get along without forcing it whenever Noah would come back to town. He was in California now, working on his films, but made sure to visit Oakdale whenever he could. Reid had appreciated it more than he could say when Noah had flown out when Luke had first been hospitalized, and he called or emailed almost every day for updates. When he'd approached Luke, the two friends and former lovers hugged and cried. Reid stood in the hallway, watching through the window and smiling through the tears. Now, holding the hand of the man he was about to marry, Reid found himself feeling extremely grateful that Noah was standing proudly beside them, smiling with genuine happiness.
Emma and Lucinda were also there, of course, for nothing could keep them from their grandbaby's wedding. Luke had been resting and taking his meds at a slightly stronger dose that day and was able to sit up on his own, a true accomplishment. Reid was dressed in dark jeans and his favorite maroon shirt. He wore no tie, which Luke teased him about, but truth be told, they both looked absolutely perfect.
Reid beamed, seeming genuinely happy for the first time in weeks. A few months ago he never would have imagined marrying Luke, at least not so soon. They'd talked about it in the past and had decided that if they did ever marry, it would be many years from now. They were happy where they were and even Luke was just fine with letting things remain the same. Now, though, Reid couldn't think of anything he wanted more than to take Luke as his husband.
As said, it was simple. They decided not to write their own vows because honestly, no one knew if they could handle that today. Still, the generic vows dictated by the reverend were perfect. As they slipped matching silver bands onto each others fingers, they realized that for the first time since Luke had first been admitted into the hospital, there wasn't a single frown or crying face in the room. Sure, there were tears, but they were happy tears this time. Luke felt pure joy as he kissed Reid, sealing their promise. The clapping began and hugs were passed around. A short while later the other family members and friends began to pour in one by one to share their congratulations. Jack, Carly and Parker stopped by first, followed by Margo and Tom. Meg, Paul, Henry, Barbara, Emily and Eliza came by an hour or so later.
As the evening came Lily arrived again with the original wedding party, bearing a cake made by Emma. Pictures were taken as the newly weds cut it together and shoved the pieces into each others faces, smearing the frosting over cheeks and noses. Their friends continued to talk with them, enjoying the evening together unlike they had in far too long. It was getting late, though, and the day was beginning to take its toll on Luke. Even though he tried to act okay, he'd stopped being able to sit up hours ago and his eyes were turning red with exhaustion. Finally they said their goodbyes and left. Chris and Katie were the last to leave.
"You can stay with him tonight, if you'd like," said Chris as Katie said goodbye to Luke, kissing her cousin on the cheek and congratulating him again. Normally he'd be telling Reid to go home or at least go pass out somewhere else by now. Reid smiled, shaking Chris' hand firmly..
"Thanks, Doogie," he said with a grin. Chris laughed.
"Congratulations, you two," he said with a smile. Katie was out in the hall. She waved to them and blew them both a kiss before taking her own husband's arm and leaving Luke and Reid alone.
Without discussion, Luke began to scoot over in the bed. Reid kicked off his shoes and climbed in, carefully wrapping his arms around Luke's frail body. Luke sighed happily and sunk into Reid. Neither could remember the last time they had been able to just hold each other like this, though they wanted to think about that right now. All they wanted to think about was how amazing the day had been, to keep playing with the rings on their fingers, and to hold each other close.
"I love you Reid James Snyder Oliver," Luke smiled, kissing Reid's hand. He laughed at little at the new longer name.
"I love you Luke Eduardo Snyder Oliver," Reid laughed back, kissing Luke's head and holding him a bit tighter, clinging to his husband as if maybe, just maybe, he could hold on tight enough to keep him there forever.
But nothing lasts forever.
Reid was at his side when it happened. As expected the dialysis began to fail almost two weeks after Luke had crashed. Finally Luke had insisted that they take him off. Reid fought him at first, but finally gave in. They gave him sedatives to ease the pain. He held onto Reid's hand, staring at his husband's face for as long as he had the strength to keep his eyes open. Reid held back the tears until he knew Luke couldn't see him. With his friends and family around him, Luke reminded them all how much he loved them. His final words were to Reid.
"I love you."
He smiled. And then he was gone.
The funeral was on Saturday. It started with a small service for family and close friends only, followed by a public burial. It seemed as though the entire town, including people Reid didn't even recognize, had come out to pay their respects. Damian, who was still serving time in prison, had been released under careful observation to attend. Reid wasn't sure what to expect from him, but when the older man shook his hand and then pulled him into a firm hug, thanking him for being there in his son's final days, Reid was filled with a strange sense of pride and respect for the man. No matter what Damian Grimaldi did, Reid knew he was still a man who lived on love, especially for his son.
As the horn began to play a sorrowful melody and the tears began to flow more freely, Luke's casket was slowly lowered into the ground. Several other Snyder headstones could be seen around them and morbidly Reid realized that he hoped to be buried here some day as well. He stood and walked up to the casket as it descended, holding a single white rose. Everyone had one and most had already placed theirs onto his casket earlier in the service. Now Reid stood, staring down as the man he loved moved lower and lower into the ground. He brought the green stem to his lips, unable to fight the tears.
He held out his arm and watched as the rose floated down, landing on top of the others with a soft thud. He could hear birds chirping and the sound of the wind in the trees. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, and for a moment he honestly felt Luke beside him, and smiled.
"I love you, too."