Actions

Work Header

fanning the flames of my beating heart

Work Text:

 

ONE

When he was a kid Luke had had a lot of dream jobs.

There was a week when he’d wanted to be a landscape gardener after watching too many renovation shows during a week off school sick. When he was eleven he’d seriously considered being a doctor for approximately two days after watching too many reruns of ER with his mom, but it was quickly pointed out to him that he would need to go school for years. And he’d given serious consideration into being a professional bungee jumper, which he still maintains is a real career path and he’d have been excellent at it.

But then he’d discovered music when he was thirteen when his parents had given him a guitar for his birthday, and that had been it.

That was his dream.

To stand on a stage and play for an audience and create a connection with the world. And he’s pretty sure he could have done it. It would have been the dream he reached.

But then the garage they rented to rehearse caught fire while he was asleep on the ratty old sofa they’d found on the street. And maybe the fire itself wouldn’t have been enough to make him change his dreams, but everything that happened afterwards?

Well, there’s nothing like almost dying to reorder your life, right?

(It’s the story he tells everyone if they ask, it’s the one he almost believes too.)

The owners of the house had left a candle burning or forgot to unplug a toaster or something mundane and silly like that. Something that people always warn about but never think will happen to them. He doesn’t know. He can’t remember.

All he knows is he’d been sleeping on the sofa and the garage had gotten warm and he’d woken up to a room full of smoke. There had been a moment of panic, as he sat frozen, chest having and eyes stinging, before he’d jumped up, grabbed his guitar, his notebook, his phone and ran outside.

Luke remembers watching the flames grow higher and higher in the garage, smoke following after him from the door he’d just run from. He remembers watching them seem to jump from the roof of the house to the garage. He remembers seeing Mrs Anderson running up to him, the oldest daughter trailing behind with wide eyes, and asking for his phone. He remembers fishing it from his pocket and dialling 911. He remembers the moment he heard the line click, a voice asking him a question as his eyes locked on the house and he saw two hands hitting at the upstairs window.

After that he doesn’t really remember much of anything, he tells everyone.

Except that he does.

He can still remember the heat on his skin, how he’d been grateful for once that he’d fallen asleep in his coat. He remembers his lungs aching as he sucked in smoke and coughed it back out. He remembers a split second decision. Guitar and notebook falling to the ground and running into the house as Mrs Anderson screamed something behind him.

He remembers, as he tried to cover his mouth, his nose, with the sleeve of his coat, thinking that this would be an awful way to die. He remembers not wanting to. He remembers, as he kicks down the jammed door of the youngest kids bedroom, how he really wanted to hug his mom again. He remembers someone screaming and his name being called and throwing a blanket over his head, a weight in his arms he doesn’t remember picking up. He remembers flames and heat and wet tears on his neck and gasping for breaths and then he really doesn’t remember anything at all.

Until he wakes up in a hospital bed and his mom is in the chair next to him and it hurts a little to breathe and there’s bandages on his arms but he’s alive and Luke’s pretty sure that’s the important part to remember.

It’s the part he remembers when the doctors say he can’t play his guitar for a couple of weeks while the skin on his hands and arms heals, that he should avoid straining his voice for a while. It’s the part he remembers when they pick through the rubble and burnt out remains of the garage he’d called home for the last few weeks. It’s the part he remembers when Alex and Reggie tell him it’s okay that they take a break from ‘breaking into the music scene’ while he heals and they find a new place to rehearse and replace their equipment.

It’s the part he remembers when the Anderson’s show up at his parents house with flowers and a basket of snacks and thank him.

He’s alive and they’re alive and part of that is down to him.

And it’s that bit that keeps tripping him up. No one has ever called him a hero before, but that kid does. The youngest Anderson that he’s shared maybe five words with before running into a burning building to carry out. He’d called him a hero and hugged him and Luke had spent the next hour trying to figure out what that meant to him.

Music was his dream. He was pretty sure it was his heart and his soul and everything in between. But it hurts to talk for the first few days after and it hurts to sing for a few weeks after that and, without really noticing it, he ends up back at school. And then he’s graduating and Alex is going to UCLA and Reggie decides he wants to be a teacher and the band is at a stand still.

And Luke— doesn’t mind as much as he thought he would. Doesn’t mind putting this dream on hold while he maybe explores something new. Something he’d never even thought about before.

(And if telling people about the fire kept them from asking why he no longer sang, well, that was a bonus. He nearly died, that was a good enough reason to reorder anyone's life. Right? They didn’t need to know about his performance issues.)

The point was, Luke had once dreamt of playing music to the world and leaving a mark, something to be remembered by.

And then he’d nearly died and music had to wait and he...found a new sort of dream. It wasn’t exactly making a connection with everyone but for the couple of minutes he was carrying someone out of a burning building? It was a connection that would leave a mark, at least for a little while. And it really didn’t hurt that people seemed to love a man in a firefighter uniform.

But just because his dream of playing music didn’t come true didn’t mean he didn’t still love it. Which was why standing outside the burning record store was really hurting his heart.

“Do we know if there’s anyone inside?” He calls over to his captain who’s already directing people around, but Luke’s eyes are on the windows of the second floor and the smoke he can already see against the glass.

“Not that we—” the words have barely left Harrison’s mouth when they both see a face through the smoke and hands banging on the glass. Whoever it is looks like they try opening the window but nothing happens and their knocking on the glass gets more frantic.

“Roof, window or stairs?” He asks, already flipping his visor down and checking the straps across his waist holding everything important.

“Stairs, they’ve cleared the side entrance. Try to come out the same way you go in this time, Patterson. And take Danforth,” she waves one hand in the air but Luke is already heading towards the side of the building, his mind already ten steps ahead.

Get to the door. Check his oxygen. Check Danforth isn’t about to fuck things up. Count to five in his head and walk inside a burning building..

“Going in now,” he says into his radio, as he nods his head at Danforth and pushes on ahead.

Lukes has been into a lot of fires since that first one when he was seventeen and running on nothing but adrenaline and impulse. But there’s still always a moment after he first steps inside a burning building that feels the same as the first time. A rush of heat, heart pounding, thoughts running wild about how this would be an awful way to die.

Then he sucks in a breath, lets the weight of all his equipment resettle on his body, in his mind, and he gets on with his job.

And sure okay, he still runs mostly on the adrenaline coursing through his veins, but he’s pretty proud to say he thinks things through a little more now.

Mostly.

They make it up the stairs and through the flat's front door with little issue, which is, of course, when the issues decide to show up. He can see why the girl in the window was looking frantic, and swears at the fact no one downstairs had noticed the huge fucking hole in the ceiling.

It stretches from just in front of the door to what he assumes used to be a living room, but half the sofa is hanging down and there’s flames already licking their way up a kitchen bar stool. His eyes scan the room on the other side of the hole, trying to spot the best place to cross and the stranded resident.

“Hello? Fire and rescue, we’re here to get you out!” He doesn’t hear anything for a moment, and then a hand shoots up from behind a table followed slowly by a head of curls.

“Over here,” at least he thinks that’s what she says. It gets cut off by a cough and her head ducking back down.

“I’m coming to you,” he calls, but she either doesn’t hear or can’t acknowledge it, but that’s fine. Luke just needs to know where she is. He backs up a step, looks back at the hole in the floor and backs up another, and then he runs, jumps, lands with a thud that echoes up his legs.

There’s a cracking sound behind him, and Luke turns in time to see part of the floor where he’d just been standing start to give away as flames leap up and smoke clouds the area, while Danforth hops backwards to avoid taking a fall. He can see wide eyes through the screen of his visor and Luke reaches up to tap the button on the talkie, inclining his head towards the door as he speaks.

“Better tell Harrison I’m coming out the window.” He shoots the other man a grin before turning back to his job at hand. Find the stuck girl, go out a window, hopefully make it home before Reggie eats all of Alex’s leftover lasagna. Oh he hopes there’s still some garlic bread left over too. Or maybe he can convince Alex to whip some up for them, that man knows how to make a good garlic bread. Little cheese on top. Some of the fancy salad he steals from work. Maybe Willie will be over and he’ll have bought dessert.

Luke’s planned out his ideal menu for the evening, and breakfast the next day, by the time he makes his way carefully across the crumbling floor and is kneeling down across from a girl whose face is mostly obscured by wild curls and a damp towel. Someone paid attention during a fire talk, he thinks.

“Hey, are you hurt?”

It’s only four years worth of training and feeling the heat of flames slowly getting closer that stop Luke from completely blanking on his job as wide brown eyes meet his through his visor. There’s a streak of soot on one of her cheeks and he catches sight of unshed tears pooling in her eyes. She’s looking up at him with a mix of fear and worry and what he really hopes is gratitude and a large part of his mind knows this isn’t the right time, but holy crap, Luke’s pretty sure she might be the prettiest girl he has ever seen.

“No,” she coughs out, shaking her head and Luke blinks. Pulling his thoughts back to the issue at hand. The fire, the falling floor, the window, the— was she wearing monster slippers? He bites back a smile even as his eyebrows tick up, just a little.

“Let's get you out of here, yeah?” He ducks his head to catch her eyes and make sure she’s heard him. “You ever jumped out a window before?”

The girl's eyes widen a fraction as they dart towards the window she hadn’t been able to open and when they dart back to him there’s a determined glint mixed with the fear.

“Wait here, I’m gonna make sure we’ve got a soft place to land,” he pushes himself back up and over to the window, gives it an experimental tug and frowns. Someone has painted the window shut, which is bad for fire safety, but great for him being able to show off a little and smash a window. Luke unhooks the axe from his belt just as his radio crackles to life.

“Which window are you coming out of Patterson?” Harrison’s voice comes through and Luke can picture the way she’d probably sighed in resignation when Danforth had turned up outside with his news. He was always being told off about coming out through a window when it wasn’t a part of the plan. Turning slightly so he’s standing side on, Luke raises his arm and swings the axe at the glass. Someone shouts from below and he hears the girl let out a gasp over the sound of shattering glass.

“This one,” he says, holding down the button on his radio and reattaching his axe in one movement before leaning out the window to see them pulling the large inflatable cushion to below the window he’s standing at. He wishes the bigger ladder truck hadn’t been redirected across town, it was much more badass to help a pretty girl down a ladder then it was to push them out a window and say ‘jump’. He waits until someone shoots him a thumbs up and turns back into the apartment.

“Alright, let's get out of here shall we?” Luke says, holding out a hand to help her up, there’s a second of hesitation before she drops the towel she’s holding and reaches up to grab it. He notices the bag she’s clutching to her chest and idly wonders what she’s deemed important enough to save from a fire. He’s been doing this job long enough now to know that everyone has different priorities. Some are more questionable than others.

“Wait,” she pulls her hand out of his grasp as they reach the window and she leans out, “You’re serious about jumping out? I thought you had like ladders or something! I can’t— I—”

“Woah hey, hey,” he puts a hand on her back as she tries to back up into the room and Luke is conscious of the fire still raging, eating away at the floor, and he knows there’s no time, but sometimes people just need a little reassurance, “It’s okay. What’s your name?”

She looks up at him and there’s tears streaking through the soot on her skin as she breathes in shallowly, “Julie.”

“Alright Julie. Normally we do have a ladder, and I know it looks scary but this is perfectly safe. I promise. It’s like jumping onto a giant cushion. Kinda fun if you forget about the fire.”

She still looks unsure, head shaking slowly as her grip on the bag tightens and Luke ducks his head, and even though he knows he shouldn’t, he flips up his visor so she can see him better.

“I know we’ve just met and you have no reason to trust me, but I’m going to ask you to trust me anyway. It’ll just be a shortfall and a bounce. Over before you even remember to be scared,” he can feel his lips tugging into what he hopes is a reassuring smile. Julie’s eyes track over his face quickly before she shuts them tightly and nods once.

“Okay. Okay. I’m jumping out a window. Sure. This is fine,” she mutters and Luke grins, flipping his visor back down and slowly helps Julie up onto the window sill before she can change her mind.

“I’m gonna keep hold of this alright?” he gently extracts the bag from her fingers and secures it over his shoulder before helping Julie sit on the sill and jumps up to join her, legs dangling in the open air. “Short fall and a bounce. You got this,” he squeezes her hand that’s gripping the window frame as she flinches at the sound of something falling behind them. “Ready?”

She whispers something that he doesn’t quite catch but nods her head, squeezes his hand back and jumps. There’s a rush of air, Julie sucking in a breath somewhere next to him, and then he’s hitting something, body being absorbed by something cold and bouncing once, twice, and then settling.

Despite the fact he’d just told Julie that there was nothing scary about jumping out of the window, Luke always felt a spike of fear in the first second he’s airborne. There’s a moment, just a single moment, where he worries that this time he won’t hit the ground again. That he’ll float away. It’s illogical and crazy, and Luke knows that. But he still worries. The same way he always worries that this burning building will be the one he doesn’t walk back out of.

For a moment, Luke just lies there. He lost Julie’s hand somewhere in the fall but he can hear her breathing somewhere nearby and slowly the sounds of his crew start coming back to him and he blows out a breath and gets back to work.


One of the bonuses to being the person to jump out of a burning building is that Luke doesn’t have to help deflate and put away the cushion. The downside is that he has to spend twenty minutes with one of the paramedics as they check him over.

No matter how many times he tells them he’s fine. You lie about bruising a rib one time and no one lets you forget it.

“Are we done here?” He asks as the paramedic finally doesn’t swat his hand away as he takes his oxygen mask off and Luke tries really hard to not let his leg bounce too obviously.

“Any sign of issues—” they start but Luke is already pushing up from the back of the ambulance, shooting the paramedic a two fingered salute and picking up the bag he’d dropped by the back tire when he’d been told to sit. It’s only a short journey to the gurney on the other side of the vehicle and the girl lying on it with her eyes tight shut and holding a phone to her ear, though he thinks it’s more for comfort then actually talking given she’s still got an oxygen mask over her mouth.

He approaches slowly, trying for a gentle smile as her eyes snap open and lock directly with his. He holds her bag up, and fully intends to just leave it by her side and get back to work — no matter how much he so desperately wants to talk to her again, even though he’s not sure why, but he’ll think about that later — but she pulls the mask away from her face and smiles back at him.

“Flynn just hold on,” she rasps and there’s a slight wince on her face as she realises how saw her throat is, Luke slowly approaches the side of the gurney and gives her what he hopes is a sympathetic smile. He remembers how shitty a smoke hurt throat can be.

“I gotta get back to my crew but I just wanted to check in,” he says, resting an elbow on the metal railing and pretending the way his eyes rack over her face and body is simply to check for injuries — though he’s glad to see the monster slippers survived the fire and the fall —, before he licks his lips once, and holds her bag up for her see, “and to make sure you got this back.”

Julie takes her bag with a relieved sigh that Luke might think more about if their fingers didn’t brush slightly in the transfer and leave him wishing he hadn’t been wearing gloves when he’d held her hand as they jumped out of a burning building.

Which right. Burning building. Almost dying. Being scared. Priorities Luke!

He clears his throat and smiles again, a little softer as his eyes linger on her face. Someone has wiped away the worst of the soot from her cheeks and forehead, but there’s still streaks of it across her skin. And she’s looking at him with the same sort of grateful look that he’s seen countless times before, and he swears there’s something else. But she had nearly died, and he’d helped save her. His job here was done. A connection with someone that would last long after she forgot his face or his name.

“I should uh—” he points over his shoulder with his free hand, taps along the side of the gurney once, twice before breathing out, “I’m glad you’re okay.”

He only manages to take a step back and turn around before Julie is coughing out, “Wait!”

Luke doesn’t hesitate to spin around and back to her, eyes quick to scan her face to see what might be wrong, “What’s wrong? Are you hurt?”

“No I just—” she coughs again, and Luke reaches across to slide the oxygen mask back on her face, keeping a careful eye on how many breaths she takes before she slides it off again, about to say something when she beats him to it, “Sorry. I just. I wanted to thank you. For y’know. Saving me. And…” she trails off, biting her lip and for a moment Luke thinks she’s about to start coughing again but with the way she starts avoiding his eyes she realises she’s just putting it off.

“And…?” he prompts, ducking his head slightly to catch her eyes.

“And I realised I didn’t get your name. Which sounds silly now I’ve said it out loud,” she mutters the last part, head hitting the flimsy pillow with a soft thud that makes him grin. Because she wanted to know his name! And it’s not the first time a person he’s saved has wanted to know his name, but it’s the first time a super pretty girl has asked and he’s wanted to tell her.

“It’s Luke,” he says with a grin, taps against the gurney one last time, “Maybe I’ll see you around sometime Julie.”

 

TWO

Luke had taken up running when he was 19, between jobs and starting to worry all his potential had been burnt up in the same garage fire that had destroyed his favourite couch and stolen his voice at 17.

It had been his dad's suggestion. A way to get him out of the house and doing something that wasn’t moping or waiting for his friends to be finished with classes, he’s sure. But, even after he’d signed up to be a firefighter and had a whole new fitness schedule, running was still his favourite thing to do. He and his dad might have had their issues but he’d been right about needing a way to clear his head when he could no longer write.

And while he no longer really needed to run to clear his head about what he wanted to do with his life, he did need to breathe in fresh air and forget about the damage a fire can cause.

Some days he had more images to forget about then others.

Some days he just wanted to run.

And some days, he needed to get out of the house before Alex force fed him some weird experimental fish dish. Apparently they were testing out a new menu at the restaurant which just meant Alex was testing the food out on him and Reggie and occasionally Willie when the skater couldn’t come up with an excuse quick enough.

So maybe he was running in the park and avoiding one of his roommates. It was still a valid reason. He’d seen grapes being mashed up with paprika and had not been interested in trying it. Reggie and Hotdog could take one for the team.

The route he runs takes him past a duck pond and a bunch of teenagers throwing a frisbee and other people walking their dogs and —

“Fire! Dad! It’s on fire!” A voice from his left screams and Luke’s instincts kick in as he changes the direction he’s running without faltering a step.

It’s one of those stand alone bbq things that parks have dotted around and Alex hates. Something about not being able to properly grill the meat. Luke had given up listening the third time he’d started talking about them, much more concerned about how no one ever checked them over or made sure they were safe to use.

He can see the problem straight away, something has fallen between the grates and caught on the coals, and where it should just be glowing embers and small flames there’s smoke billowing and flames jumping out at the teenage boy frozen in place.

“Hey can I borrow these?” Luke asks as he comes to a stop next to him, carefully extracting the tongs from his grasp before he can respond. It’s not exactly standard protocol or even the safest plan but Luke clicks the tongs together once before darting them into the flames and pulling out whatever was causing the fire and dropping it on the square of concrete that the bbq is planted on. He stops on it a few times until there’s no longer any flames jumping up at him and all that’s left is smoke and what looks like a half burnt cloth.

“Carlos! Are you okay? Are you hurt?”

Luke turns around just as an older gentleman rushes over, eyes darting from the fire Luke has put out, to the still cooking burgers, to the teenager who’s grinning.

“I’m fine,” he reassures his dad and Luke takes the opportunity to shake some ash off the tongs before offering them back to him, “Dude that was so cool! You just stomped out a literal fire!”

Shrugging, Luke rubs at the back of his neck as he shoots the dad a quick smile, “Just doing my job, it was no big deal. Honestly.”

“Your job?” The man asks, head tilted curiously as he accepts the tongs.

“Yeah I’m a fi—”

“Luke?” A voice he hadn’t expected to hear again cuts him off as a girl with a mass of loose curls in a pretty pale yellow sundress skids to a halt in front of them, eyes looking quickly between him and the other two with increasing concern as she seems to notice the burnt ground. “What happened?”

“Julie! I— Hi,” Luke starts and suddenly wishes he was wearing something more flattering than shorts and an old band t-shirt he’d cut the sleeves off of on a whim. He at least wishes he’d had time to shower before she starts to think he just always stinks like smoke and sweat.

“This young man just saved your brother from a flaming napkin,” the man says and there’s a teasing note in his voice as he looks at his son before raising an eyebrow, “You two know each other?”

“Yes. I— well sort of?” Julie says and there’s a slight furrow between her brows, “Luke’s the firefighter who got me out of the apartment.”

“You’re the one who got my Julie out of the fire? And you just saved Carlos too?,” he says, taking a step closer to him and Luke only has time to nod before he’s speaking again, “You must let me thank you! Do you like burgers? You should stay, eat with us.”

“Oh that’s— that’s really kind of you sir but you don’t have to do that. I was literally just doing my job. Both times,” Luke’s quick to say with a shake of his head, but there’s a gleam in the man's eyes that makes Luke pretty sure he’s about to be eating a burger. Which is better than the option waiting for him at home.

“I won’t hear anything of it. You saved my children, the least I can do is offer you some food. And you can call me Ray,” the man — Ray — waits until Luke gives a smile that feels only a little forced before turning back to the bbq and Luke catches him muttering something, “We really should have attended that fire safety course Victoria mentioned.”

Coughing to hide a laugh Luke looks back in time to catch the tail end of a look that Julie shoots at her brother and the way he rolls his eyes before he grins and walks over to his dad. And then it’s just him and Julie. Who apparently told her family about him. Luke bites his bottom lip to try and not smile because of course she’d told her family, she’d nearly died and hadn’t. It was a big deal. It was something you told people. It doesn’t make him special.

Julie’s looking up at him, her head tilted slightly like she’s considering something and he desperately wants to know what’s going on inside her head. But then his eyes glance down and he can’t stop the grin that spreads across his face at the sight of the doodle covered sneakers she’s wearing and how different they are to the monster slippers he’d seen her in last time.

“No slippers today?” the words slip out of his mouth before he can stop them, brows rising as he looks pointedly at the sneakers on her feet and back up at her.

“Didn’t want to make anyone jealous,” she laughs, but Luke can see a slight flush in her cheeks as she brushes some hair behind her ear and he’s suddenly struck by the urge to do it for her. He’s saved from making an embarrassing move by her next words, “I see you’re not in a uniform today either.”

And, if Luke didn’t know any better he’d say she was upset about that fact if the way her eyes tracked down his body and back up to his face, and if the deepening colour in her cheeks was anything to go by. But why would she be upset about him not wearing his uniform? That thing was heavy and warm. He did not get the fascination.

“They let us wear other clothes sometimes. The uniform can get a little hot,” he grumbles only for his lips to pull up into a slight smirk as he watches the way she bites her lip and avoids his eyes, “Why, disappointed?”

“What? No! I—,” she sucks in a breath and blows it out and Luke watches as she tosses curls over her shoulders and straighten her spine before looking him straight in the eye, and there’s a fierce sense of determination mingling with something like excitement, “I was just thinking how I never got to thank you properly. For helping me out of the building. And how I’d like to do it in a way that doesn’t involve my dad burning burgers in the park.”

Luke blinks and just stares at her because it sounds a little like she’s just asked him out but he doesn’t want to be one of those guys who just assume they’re being asked on a date because of a little life saving. She could just mean a totally harmless thank you coffee and he’s just overthinking it and oh fuck she’s still talking and he’s just gaping at her.

“And I mean it doesn’t have to be a date if you don’t want it to be! I could just buy you a– a doughnut or something. Wait, that’s police isn’t it? Shit what do you buy firefighters? Do you have a stereotypical food? That’s not the point. I—” she sucks in a breath like she’s about to ramble on some more when Luke’s mind finally catches up and he grins at her, reaching out to catch one of her hands that had started waving through the air mid spiel.

“Julie. I would really fucking love to go to dinner with you.”

Her eyes light up as she looks from where he’s still holding her hand, their fingers somehow becoming interlocked and Luke doesn’t know if he did it or if she did but she doesn’t seem to mind and neither does he. It kinda feels right.

“So dinner. So I can thank you, and we can… get to know each other,” she sounds a little shy as she says it and Luke squeezes her hand.

“It’s a date.”


He gets to the restaurant ten minutes early and Luke’s pretty sure it’s the first time he’s been early for something since they had the chance at playing at an under 21s club when he was 16. He hadn’t even been early for his first day at the station.

But for a date with Julie Molina? On time wasn’t even an option.

There was just something about her that made him want to show up early, to wear his fanciest shirt, to comb his hair. She made him feel alive in a way he hadn’t in a long time — which he’s pretty sure says something about a guy who runs into fires for a living and maybe he’ll think more on that later — and so far he’d only really met her twice.

And one of those times probably shouldn't count, given all the fire.

But his point still stood. There was something special about Julie that meant she deserved him dressing up and bearing Alex’s teasing and having to gently push Hotdog away before she left hairs all over his pants.

For half a second, as he stands in the doorway of the restaurant, eyes glancing around before landing solidly on Julie in a booth against the wall, Luke wonders if she thinks he’s special enough to not be on time for too. And then he blinks, and she’s waving a hand at him and he remembers he’s pretty ordinary in the scheme of things and Julie is probably just a very punctual person.

“Hi,” he breathes as he slides into the booth on the opposite side of the table from her, noticing her bag and jacket filling the empty space between them and then the way her fingers are fidgeting with one of the cloth napkins on the table, “Sorry I’m late. You look really nice.”

Because she’s wearing a dark blue dress with little stars stitched into it in silver thread that glints under the lights of the restaurant, and her curls look bouncier, if that was even possible, with some pulled back at her temple with clips. And she looks more than nice, but Luke’s already said nice now so he can’t take it back, can he? Oh no, he’s spiraling.

“Oh. I’m just…early,” she trails off, giving a small shrug and shooting him a smile that he doesn’t hesitate to return and he doesn’t know if it’s him smiling or just the fact he’s shown up or — what, but Julie’s fingers still on the napkin as she seems to settle more in herself, and she blows out a breath before smiling at him, “You look nice too. You’ve got...sleeves today.”

Luke can’t help it, he blushes, a laugh working it’s way past his lips as he rubs at the back of his neck, trying to play it off cool only to promptly give up when he catches sight of the way Julie is trying to bite back a smile at his reaction; because making her smile is quickly becoming one of his favourite things. And hopefully, if tonight goes well, he can spend a long time making her smile, and more.

“You’ve seen me with sleeves more than without,” he points out and this time it’s Julie’s turn to blush a little, ducking her eyes.

“Well your arms certainly make an impression,” she mutters with a roll of her eyes at him. But it’s hampered by the blush still on her cheeks and Luke grins, nudging her ankle with his foot under the table.

“Have you been here before? I looked up the menu but couldn’t decide what looked good,” Luke says, letting the topic of his arms drop for now. Though if all goes well he’ll make sure to bring it up at another time.

“My tia says they do a really nice tagliatelle,” she replies, picking up her own menu and letting her eyes glance at it before back up at him with a smile.

“This is the tia who makes the really good um,” Luke bites his lip as he tries to recall the conversation from yesterday, snapping his fingers when the word comes back to him, “Tostones! That your dad was talking about?”

The smile that graces her face lights up her eyes, like she hadn’t thought he’d been paying attention to what was said yesterday, or that he wouldn’t remember even if he had been.

“Yeah, that one,” Julie looks back at her menu and Luke follows suit, eyes skimming past all the options but not really taking any of them in. His mind is still stuck on the way she’d smiled at him and how pretty her eyes were when she did.

Their waiter comes and Luke takes her tia’s suggestion and goes with the pasta dish, pretending not to notice the way Julie smiles at him when he does.

“So,” she starts when the guy has gone and they’re alone in their booth again, her hands folded over each other on the table as she looks at him, “Firefighting huh? That must be...I don’t want to say fun but...interesting?” She wrinkles her nose a little, like it’s still not the word she wants to use, and he gets it.

“Interesting is a pretty good word for it. And it can be fun,” he nods, biting his bottom lip as he thinks about it, “When we get to rescue cats or someone's trapped on their roof or something. But it’s intense too. Some days are harder than others to go home from.”

“Is it something you always wanted to do?” There’s honest curiosity in her voice and Luke almost feels bad for laughing after the way it makes her blink in shock.

“No,” he shakes his head, still laughing a little, “I uh I was gonna be a rockstar. Not like kids say they’re going to be,” he’s quick to add as her smile returns, “Me and my best friends, Alex and Reggie, we had a band and we were fucking good. Played our own instruments, wrote our own songs. I think we could have been legends,” his voice trails off as he thinks about it. About that abandoned dream and the scars from it he still holds.

Julie tilts her head at him and he blinks to pull himself back to the present as she speaks, “Can I ask what happened? If it’s too painful or anything you don’t need to tell me I’m just...curious. Don’t hear many people who sound so passionate about lost dreams.”

“Ironically, there was a fire at our rehearsal space and uh, no one was seriously hurt or anything. Everyone got out. But um, I was in hospital for a few days for minor burns and smoke inhalation,” Luke frowns and tries to keep to the facts, no need to wander down that memory lane right now, “I couldn’t play for a few weeks afterwards, and then the first time I tried to sing was about a month later and it...hurt. So I haven’t tried since.”

“How long ago was that?”

“I was 17 so uh seven, nearly eight years ago now,” he hadn’t realised it had been so long. Huh.

Julie blinks at him, her mouth opens only to close again a few times before she seems to find the words she’s looking for, “That’s...wow Luke, that’s a long time. But I— I kind of understand. The being hurt and...scared to sing again.”

Ignoring the way she seems to have caught on to his unspoken truth in being scared about singing, Luke focuses on her own apparent issues. And the fact that she’s apparently a singer. He might have pushed down all his own music related dreams but he’s always had a type.

“Can I ask what happened?”

“My mom died when I was 17,” she gives him a sad smile and Luke’s eyes immediately widen, lips tugging down as he starts to get an idea of the story that’s about to follow.

“I am so sorry Julie. You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to,” and it’s instinct to reach across the table and touch the back of her hand that’s strayed back to the napkin, and it seems to be instinct for her to turn her hand over and link their fingers.

“No, no it’s fine,” she sucks in a deep breath, and lets it out again, keeping her eyes on their interlock fingers, “It was um cancer. And we knew it was coming, so we got the chance to say goodbye. But my mom she was— God she was the best person I knew. She was amazing and my best friend and just this amazingly talented musician who used to be in some badass bands. She taught me to play piano, and a little guitar and we used to sit out in the garage that her and my dad turned into a studio and just — write and play and sing together for hours.”

There’s a pause where she looks lost in a memory of a different life, and Luke lets her have it. Lets her play with his fingers and figure out how much of her past she’s willing to divulge on a first date. Alex is always reminding him that not everyone subscribes to his brand of honesty from the get go. And then she sighs, licking her lips before looking up at him with a small smile that he thinks means thanks.

“After she died I uh I couldn’t play or sing for a long time. Music was just— it was our thing and I didn’t know how to do it without her. So I avoided it at all costs and didn’t sing for nearly three years,” she blows out a breath, shaking her a little at him, “And then I was in the car one day, I don’t know where I was going, but the radio was on and one of my mom's songs came on. I didn’t even think about it, I just… started singing along,” she shrugs one shoulder at him before blowing out a breath and laughing.

“God, sorry. I really brought the mood down huh.”

“Best to get the traumatic backstories out of the way now,” he grins, squeezing her fingers quickly, “But hey, you can’t just mention your mum being in a band and having songs on the radio that casually! Gotta tell me more now. If you want to.”

So she does. She tells him all about Rose and the Petal Pushers and how her tia was the original bassist before life got in the way, how they’d played the club scene in the 90’s and landed a gig at the Orpheum, about the few songs they’d had that landed on the charts and the ones that some classic rock stations would still play. She tells him about the vinyl she’d had of their first album that she hadn’t been able to save from the fire and how her dad had been the one to shoot the cover art. She tells him about teaching music part time to kids while she works on making connections and plans for an album and how much she hates looking at apartments.

In turn Luke tells her all about his parents, and Alex and Reggie and how he saved Hotdog the cat from under a hotdog vendor's cart and had been hiding her in their apartment ever since. They spend too long talking about how she knows of Reggie’s music classes and how she’s been to the restaurant where Alex works too many times to count, and how it’s so weird they’ve never met before an apartment fire. He tells her how Alex and Reggie are his family, how they’d been with him through the loss of music and finding firefighting and how he’d already beat Reg at rock, paper scissors five times to be Alex’s best man when either he or Willie popped the question. He tells her how he can’t play his guitar unless he’s drunk and the place that used to be full of lyrics is silent.

At the end of the night, when their waiter finally gets tired of them hogging a table and asks them to leave, Luke knows enough about Julie to know that if they hadn’t met the way they did then they would have met some other way.

So he kisses her slowly, gently, against the side of her car and knows that she feels whatever it is between them too when she asks if he has plans tomorrow.

He doesn’t. And even if he did, he would cancel them for her.

 

THREE

“Ugh I love my dad but I have got to find somewhere to live before him and Tia drive me mad,” Julie grumbles through the phone and Luke smiles as he pictures her gripping her steering wheel a little tighter as she struggles with her love for her family and her need for space.

“Still no luck with the apartment hunting, huh?” He asks, hoping the sympathy is evident in his voice even as it’s partly muffled by the way he’s trying to pull a t-shirt over his head at the same time.

“Everything’s either too expensive or too far away from work or just has bad vibes,” she sighs and Luke can faintly hear the ticking sound of an indicator in the background.

“How can a place have bad vibes?” he laughs as he pulls the hem of his shirt down with one hand, closing his locker with his elbow of his other, nodding at Harrison as she raises an eyebrow at him as she walks past and Luke already knows he’s going to be teased today. Much like everyday since he and Julie had officially started dating.

But look, it wasn’t his fault he’d somehow met literally the best person on earth and she’d decided he was worth spending half her time with. Even Alex, Reggie and Willie had agreed that Julie was pretty fucking awesome and way out of his leage and had made him promise not to fuck it up. Which personally, Luke had found a little rude because he had no intentions of fucking things up and full intentions of spending the rest of his life with her.

Which yeah, okay, he knows is a little much after only a few months.

It was why he hadn’t asked her to move in with him. A voice that sounded suspiciously like Alex was in the back of his head reminding him that they’d only been dating for two months, or sixty seven days if you wanted to be exact. Not that he’d been counting or anything. Because that would be weird. It was just— Luke didn’t do casual when it came to relationships. He was either all in or not at all. And he was all in for Julie, and he was like, 75% sure she was all in for him too. But even still, it was too early to ask her to move in. Right? Fuck, he was going to have to go back to his pros and cons list later.

“Trust me, if you’d been in this place you’d know what I mean by bad vibes. Carlos would say it gave him ‘bad ghost tingles’, which I really didn’t understand before today,” she laughs a little before muttering something he doesn’t quite catch and then something he’s pretty sure translates to shoving something somewhere unpleasant and Luke grins to himself. Julie with a little road rage is kind of hot.

“Anyway,” she returns to the conversation and he really wishes he was in the car with her and not across town leaning in a doorway, it’s almost enough to make him start pouting before her next words are crackling through the phone, “Are we still on for dinner tonight after your shift?”

“Yeah!” Luke clears his throat, hand rubbing at the back of his neck at just how quickly and loudly he had agreed to that, but he can hear Julie laughing gently through the phone so he’s not really all that embarrassed, “I mean, yeah as long as you’re still up for it?”

“You said Alex was going through a fusion phase and I really want to see how he’s going to combine Italian and Thai food.”

“Oh I see, so you’re only using me to get close to my chef roommate, huh?” Not that he could blame her. Alex made some pretty great food.

“Don’t be silly, I’m clearly playing the long game and intend to use you to get to play with the sirens on a fire engine,” she giggles and it’s nearly enough to make Luke quit his job to spend the rest of his life trying to make her repeat the sound over and over.

Which is of course when the alarm sounds and people start rushing around him. He hears Julie blow out a breath on her end of the line and for a moment Luke can picture her so clearly. Sitting in her car, hands gripping the wheel and fingers tapping along to whatever melody is stuck in her head, hair tied up because she was going to wash it tomorrow, a little crease between her brows as she concentrated on the road that would deepen every time someone pissed her off. God he— huh. Luke blinks and blows out a breath of his own. If it’s too early to ask her to move in, he knows it’s probably too early to say the thought that just stuck him.

“I gotta,” he rasps, swallows and tries again, “I gotta go. Duty calls. I’ll see you tonight?”

“Eight o’clock. I’ll meet you at yours,” he imagines she’s nodding her head at him, “Be careful out there okay?”

“Always am,” Luke wants to say something else, but Danfroth hurries past him and he’ll be damned if he's not ready first, “Bye Jules.”

He holds on for a few more seconds, to see if she’s going to say anything more but it’s just static and their breathing and a click as they hang up.


His first year at the station there had been a massive ten car pile up on I-5 where the Hollywood freeway decided to join the party. It had been a lot of broken glass and people calling for help and a car hanging over the edge as others started burning. Luke doesn’t remember many of the details of the night. Except that he kind of remembers all of it.

Because his brain hates him and insists on keeping hold of all the traumatic moments in his life no matter how hard he tries to forget them.

He remembers being frozen at first. Gripping the strap of the bag he’d been told to hold as people bumped into him as they’d got straight to work. He’d been 21 and a probie and suddenly thinking he’d made the wrong career choice. He’d been seconds away from bolting when he’d heard a small voice calling for help. And Luke had blinked. Sucked in a breath of cold air and got to work.

It had been a series of reassuring smiles and telling people to cover their eyes and trying to ignore the way some people were covered in more blood than what was left in their bodies. He hadn’t had to deal with the worst of it, not really, but that didn’t mean he didn’t still sometimes wake up having dreamt of blood on roads and pulling people from cars before they blew up.

Now, as he closes the door of the engine and snaps the strap on his helmet closed, Luke thinks he’ll be dreaming of this call for a long time to come. On the plus side, at least this one was taking place in daylight.

“The hell happened?” he mutters.

“Truck lost a wheel and took out three cars in front of them and then another four behind. I think the rest are just collateral damage,” Danforth shrugs as he passes by Luke to open one of the side hatches on the engine.

Something about the way he says it rubs Luke the wrong way but he doesn’t have time to figure it out because Harrison comes up to give them assignments and he’s grabbing the jaws of life and heading into the chaos and the mess.

There’s a moment of calm between him helping get a young man out of a car and arguing with someone from a different station about not scaring already scared people by saying they’re going to cut trapped limbs off, where Luke manages to take a moment to breathe. There’s sweat coating the back of his neck and he knows if he looks close enough he’ll spot blood on his gloves but that's a problem for future him. Right now all he wants is a cold breeze to blow across the freeway and to not see an other person stuck in their car.

“Can we get some help over here please!” Someone shouts and Luke rolls his neck, pushes away from the wrecked car he’d been leaning against and heads towards the voice.

The first thing he sees is a car on its side with something leaking from somewhere it shouldn’t and knows they don’t have long before it makes a bigger problem. The second thing he sees is someone with strangely familiar curls kneeling over a body surrounded by an awful lot of glass.

“We’re gonna need a medic over here!” He calls over his shoulder before closing the distance with a jog and dropping into a crouch next to the young woman with her hands pressed into the side of an older man. Luke’s eyes track from his body to the car and the trail of blood and back to the woman's hands, coated in blood and arms that are shaking.

“Okay, we got him. Did you pull him ou— Julie!?” Luke’s hands falter for a moment as he reaches to replace the woman's hands with a wad of gauze as he finally has a chance to glance up at her face and realises the familiar curls were familiar for a reason. There’s blood on her sweatshirt and a streak across her cheek that’s disturbed by tear tracks and Luke remembers the first time he’d met her, crouching behind her sofa with tears on her cheeks, holding a bag full of song books and photos to her chest, and looking terrified.

She looks scared right now, but not like she had then, a different kind of scared that comes from not knowing if you’re doing enough to save someone.

“I— I pulled him out because the car is leaking gas and I didn’t—” she pauses to suck in a breath, hands balling into fits as she tries to steady them and Luke takes the pause to run his eyes over her and check for any injuries. But she seems fine, which is the important part right now. Well that and doing his job.

“Hey, we got him,” he ducks his head to catch her eyes and waits until she lets out a shallow breath and nods, “You need to go get checked out by a paramedic.”

“I’m fine, it's— it’s not my blood. I wasn’t in the crash, I just got out to help,” she trails off as her eyes follow the path of a pair of paramedics hands that come into view, taking over his job of putting pressure on the wound and Luke rocks back on his heels to let someone else take his place.

“Come on Jules,” he puts one hand on her elbow and slowly pulls her up as he stands too, moving them both out of the way so the paramedics can do their jobs. He waits until they’re lying down a backboard and Julie can see that he’s breathing. That he’s alive they’ve done all that they can and Luke practically feels the breath she lets out, shoulders dropping and her hands finally uncurling as she lets him pull her further away from the scene.

“You’re okay?” Julie asks as they come to a stop near his station's engine, hands reaching out for him only to seem to notice the blood and stop half in the air, and Luke can’t stop the half scoffed laugh that comes out of his throat as he unclips his helmet to pull it off his head to see her better.

“I should be asking you that,” he mutters, raising a hand up only to remember he’s still wearing his gloves and starts to pull one off before trying again, letting his palm cup her cheek, thumb brushing gently over her cheek and taking some of the blood with him. “What were you doing out there? You could have been hurt.”

“That guy was hurt and he needed help,” Julie shrugs a little as she looks up at him with a small twitch of her lips, leaning her cheek in his hand as her lips brushing slightly against the skin of his wrist as she speaks, “You’re out here every day risking your life, Luke. All I did was drag a guy from a car and try to stop him bleeding out.”

“Probably saved his life is what you did,” he blows out a breath and tries to send all his worries and concerns with it. He wonders if this is how his family and friends feel everyday he goes off to work, because it kinda sucks, maybe he should apologise to his mom later. Luke opens his mouth to say something before being cut off.

“Patterson! We got another call, come on,” Harrison interrupts, shooting a quick smile at Julie before looking at him and nodding towards the engine.

“Are you okay to drive? I can get someone to drop you off at mine?” He’s pretty sure someone around here owes him a favour, or he can see if Willie’s free or—

“I’m fine to drive but you’re not going to be finished for four hours. I don’t want to be intruding or anything,” there’s a small frown between her brows that makes Luke grin and want to kiss it away. So he does. He presses his lips to her forehead, and rests like that for a second, two, three.

“They won't get this all cleared for a while but they’ll let you turn around and my place is back the way you came,” he points out as he pulls back a little to be able to see her eyes better, “So, you go back to mine, feel free to use one of Reg’s bath bombs if you want, raid the cupboard next to the fridge for some of Willie’s cookies. Relax. Plus you know where the spare key is, and Reg should be back at about five so if you can’t find anything he’ll be there to help.”

“You sure it’s okay?”

“Go. I’ll be back by eight. Promise. I love you.

They stand like that for a few more seconds, his hand on her cheek and staring into each other's eyes in a way that he’s sure is going to get him teased later on. And then Harrison calls his name again and he rolls his eyes to make Julie laugh and press a quick kiss to his lips. Before he leaves her, he catches someone from the 97 and asks them to make sure she gets out fine. And Julie rolls her eyes at him, but he simply shrugs as he starts to walk backwards with a grin.

It’s not until he’s sat in his seat, headset on and clutching his helmet that he realises he’s just said he loves her. Oh fuck.


As the door clicks shut behind him the first thing Luke notices is Hotdog waiting by the pile of shoes for him like she does every Tuesday when he gets home.

The second is the smell of onions and garlic, which means Alex is home and cooking dinner and he hadn’t realised how hungry he was.

The third thing is the sound of Julie’s laughter mixing with Reggie's and Willies and Alex’s voice trying to sound offended. And Luke smiles to himself as he kicks off his shoes, drops his bag and bends down to pick up Hotdog, fingers scratching under her chin as he thinks about how all of this is something he could get very used to.

Plus, if Julie’s here it means he hadn’t scared her off with his spontaneous declaration earlier. Which is good.

“...found her behind the bookcase in Reggie’s room like, 3 hours later!” Alex finishes saying as Luke strolls into the kitchen with said hide and seek champion in his arms.

“Are we talking about the first or the second time Reg couldn’t find her?” He asks leaning his elbow on the back of the chair Julie is sitting in and drops a quick kiss to her lips as she turns her head to smile up at him. She’s retied her hair up and all traces of smoke and sweat and blood are gone from her skin, leaving her smelling like peaches, so Luke’s going to guess she took him up on the bath bomb offer.

“Hey,” he whispers as he pulls away to run his eyes over her face, pretty sure she’s doing the exact same thing to him.

“I’m still fine. Better even. You have a really great bath,” she says, quite enough that only he hears, and he definitely doesn’t miss the suggestive tone that makes him bite his lip before he says something not appropriate for present company. Instead he settles for poking her lightly between the shoulder blades and letting his fingers trail up from her shoulders to her neck to idly play with a loose curl at the nape of her neck. Biting down on the smirk that’s threatening to take over his face, Luke turns his attention back to his boys and the times Reggie has lost their cat.

“Wait, you lost her more than once?” Willie stares pointedly at Reggie who pauses in his cutting up of vegetables to smile a little sheepishly at them all.

“Hey, Alex is the one who freaked out thinking she was blind when she just didn’t give a fuck about the laser pointer!”

“That’s not even—” Alex starts, turning around and pointing his spoon at Reggie only to sigh and shake his head before turning to look at Luke with a raised brow and a look in his eyes that he doesn’t understand in relation to his next words, “Okay, moving on. Put out many fires today?”

Luke rolls his eyes at him because ever since he’d started his firefighter training six years ago Alex had been asking him the same question every night he came home. It was tradition at this point. So he adjusts his position so Hotdog can jump from his arms to the ground and make her way over to Willie before he answers so he has full range of movement for his dramatic retelling of his day. He only gets as far as lifting one arm to point at his friends before he’s cringing and lowering it again, instead holding up his index finger and nodding towards the bathroom.

“Actually, let me shower first. There was a whole incident with vinegar at a store earlier,” he waves away confused looks and drops one eye in a wink as he starts to back out of the room, “All will be answered soon.”

He tries to shower quickly, but gets caught up in scrubbing his hands through his hair and letting the hot water pound on the tight muscles on his back for longer than he’d like to admit. Someone he’d carried down five flights of stairs had once told him that he carried too much tension in his shoulders, like he was carrying a bunch of burdens and shit that he needed to let go. At the time he’d just said it was because his equipment was heavy. Now he’s starting to think that they might have been on to something.

Only problem is that he doesn’t really know what his burdens are or how to let them go so he just keeps ignoring them in hope they’ll sort themselves out.

Turning the water off and wrapping a towel around his waist Luke wipes condensation off the mirror as he grabs another towel to rub over his hair quickly, pushing still damp strands out of his eyes. He can still hear the boys talking faintly in the kitchen and doesn’t have a chance to wonder where Julie might be when he picks up a voice singing from his room. It’s something from a musical he thinks, something that she’s been working on with the kids she teaches for the last few weeks and Luke feels bad for them because how could they possibly compare to her voice?

Luke leans his shoulder against the doorframe, arms crossed on his bare chest as he watches Julie move around the other side of his room, picking through the books and cd’s he has stacked haphazardly on a bookshelf. She has her head tilted a little to the side as she reads the spine of something, shoulders moving up and down as she skips through a verse to hit the chorus again, hips swaying in a pair of his dark jogging bottoms that she’s had to turn up several times at the bottom. He hadn’t realised before that she was wearing his clothes, that she must have relaxed in the bath and then rooted through his drawers to find his softest pants and comfiest looking t-shirt. It must be a newish one, he thinks, because it’s still got sleeves attached and he can’t recognise it from the back. God he kind of loves to see her in his clothes.

The frame of the door starts to dig a little uncomfortably into his shoulder and he hisses a little as he pushes away, grabbing Julie’s attention who looks over her shoulder at him her mouth turning up into an almost coy smile as her eyes track down his body. His eyes brows raise a little as he grins back at her, pushing further away from the door to walk towards her only too falter as she fully turns around and —

Luke sucks in a sharp breath as he finally gets to see the t-shirt she’s wearing. He had forgotten he still had it. Cheap white material that was soft until you washed it once and it turned like paper, but when they’d been sixteen with their only money coming from allowances and busking, it was the best they could afford. He can still remember Reggie spending painstaking hours designing their logo, testing out different versions of the curve and font styles before settling on that one. And then the three of them spent even more hours carefully transferring the logo onto cheap t-shirts.

He hadn’t really thought about those t-shirts for a long time. He didn’t know if the others even still had any left. He didn’t know why he even still had one. The thing hadn’t fit him in years, like the second he’d given up on singing and music the t-shirt had grown too small for him. Or he’d just grown too big for it.

“Are you okay?” Julie asks, and he doesn’t know when she has moved, but suddenly she’s in front of him and Luke is getting a clear, up close view of his old band's shirt on her. 17 year old Luke would be losing his mind at the sight. Actually, 24 year old Luke is kind of losing his mind at the sight.

“Yeah just—” his voice cracks a little and he swallows, trying not to notice the way she’s biting her lip to stop a smile, “Not seen that t-shirt in a long time.”

“Oh?” she hums looking down at her chest, pulling slightly at the hem so she can see the logo a bit better before looking back up at him from beneath her lashes, “Reggie did say you might be a little surprised by it. I can take it off if you want?”

Fuck. He kind of wants to kill his friends for not warning him. Kind of wants to not be thinking about anyone but Julie for the next half an hour at least.

“It looks much better on you then it did on any of us,” he mutters, one hand coming up to lightly trace the lettering across the fabric.

“So you want me to keep it on?”

“Did they say how long dinner would be?” He asks as his fingers move from tracing the letters to up following the curve of her collarbone gently, lips ticking up on one side as she shivers.

“Twenty minutes,” she breathes, arching her neck to give his fingers more skin to explore and letting her breath fan across his lips as her fingers drop to the edge of his towel, using a fingernail to trace his hip bone. He’d want to talk about what he said earlier, to see if she felt the same but there’d be time for talking later.

“Keep the shirt on.”

 

FOUR

Luke really fucking hates working nights.

It’s a fact Alex is always laughing at him for, because of them all he’s always had the worst sleeping habits, had always been known to be up in the middle of the night doing something else. But that was by choice. This is because he needs money to pay rent and buy food and take Julie on nice dates.

Which is his newest reason for hating working nights.

He misses spending time with Julie. Being on opposite schedules really fucking sucks.

At this point he’d even take just getting to hug her, to watch something crappy on tv and fall asleep together in the same bed.

Logically, Luke knows that Harrison hadn’t been aware of what stage his relationship with Julie was at, but a part of him truly believes she had scheduled his turn of nights just as they’d gotten past that awkward stage of not knowing if they could stay over at each others place and where hitting the stage of leaving a toothbrush and saying ‘I love you’ when they said goodbye. And hello. And just anytime one of them felt like it.

Harrison couldn’t have known, but he’s going to blame her for not getting to see his girlfriend in daylight for the last week anyway. And when he starts to feel bad for blaming Harrison he’ll find a way to blame Danforth instead.

“You’re extra grumpy today,” Alex comments as he stirs something in a pot on the stove, watching the way Luke dumps cream into this coffee and grunting at the way his favorite bowl is still dirty in the sink from yesterday.

“I hate the night shift,” he mutters, giving up on his hunt for cereal and pulling a box of leftover pasta from the fridge instead.

“If you wait five minutes you can have some of this.” Luke doesn’t even have a chance to say anything before Alex is pulling the container away from him and is left with no other choice but to wait.

“Something is smelling good!” Reggie breezes into the kitchen with the air of someone who has been up for hours and is preparing to wind down for the evening. Luke kind of wants to throw something at him for it, and might have tried if he didn’t spot a ball of fur purring away on his shoulder, “What’s going on with Mr McPouty?”

“He’s not seen Julie in a week. I think he’s having withdrawals,” Alex whispers loudly as he spoon what Luke thinks is risotto into a bowl and slides it across to him.

“Can’t say I blame him, we went for coffee yesterday between classes? Man Julie’s so cool! And did you know her dad's this, like, semi famous photographer?” Reggie gushes and it takes everything in Luke not to pout even more at the fact Reggie got to hang out with Julie and he didn’t, “She says hi by the way.”

“Fuck off,” he mutters, flipping Reggie off as he starts laughing and pulling a fork out of the drawer closest to him, it does nothing to dissuade his boys from their laughter and Luke can’t find it in himself to care.

He’s tried and he misses Julie. He’s allowed to be grumpy about it.

“Anyway, you can’t talk to me about being grumpy. Remember when Willie went to that competition thing in San Diego and you didn’t see him for two days?” Luke points his fork at Alex and is rewarded with him having the decency to flush a little at the memory.

“Oh yeah! You lonely baked like, fifty cupcakes!” Reggie grins, snapping his fingers and leans in to whisper to Hotdog, “Two of your parents are lovesick fools. But it’s okay, because Julie and Willie are super cool. I’m sorry I didn’t properly prepare you though, I thought we’d have more time.”

“If I wasn’t so tired I’d take offence at you insinuating we’d never get partners,” Luke grumbles, shoving a fork full of risotto into his mouth and shooting Reggie a half hearted sort of glare.

“Well I’m not tired so I take full offence to it! And stop lying to Hotdog about us!” Alex steps away from the stove, picking up some cooked chicken to toss towards Hotdog, grinning at the way Reggie sputters in protest as she tries to climb his face to catch them.

He knows Alex and Reggie are still bickering around him but he lets it all fade into the background as he eats and thinks about what Reggie had said. Because he wasn’t strictly wrong. Luke's last serious relationship had been at least four years ago and had lasted a month before things had just...fizzled out. And yeah there’d been the occasional girl since, but nothing serious. Nothing like what he felt for Julie.

She made him want to pick up a pen and write again. She made him want to look at old dreams he’d pushed aside out of fear. Which was a kind of terrifying thought in itself. Because Luke hadn’t thought about that dream of standing on a stage and playing music he wrote and making a connection to everyone in a long time. Not since he’d left the hospital after a house fire and the first time he’d tried to sing a month later his throat had felt like it was bleeding. So he’d pushed that dream down and found a new one and had avoided looking at it ever since.

Until Julie.

With her stunning voice and captivating laugh and blinding smile. Until she’d dragged him to a silly open mic night and handed him a guitar and just asked him to back her up.

Luke hadn’t told the boys about it.

That he’d stood on a stage and played while a crowd cheered. He didn’t know what it meant. Wasn’t even sure if it could be classed as progress if he hadn’t actually sang anything. But playing something for someone that wasn’t him was something, right?

He chews thoughtfully at a piece of chicken and looks between Alex and Reggie who have moved on from bickering to discussing weekend plans. Maybe he should tell them, they’d probably have some helpful insight into his problems.

Or they might just call him dumb and point out it’s been seven years and his throat is fine and he’s not had any problems talking since two weeks after leaving the hospital and he’s just been a coward. Damn he needed to get Alex and his stupid logical voice out of his head.

“Dude,” Reggie cuts through his thoughts, frowning at his phone screen, “You’re gonna be late if you don’t get ready soon.”

Luke squints at the screen as Reggie turns it towards him and nearly chokes on the bite food in his mouth as he pushes out of his chair and picking up his bowl as he goes, “Fuck!”


Luke slams the door of the fire alarm panel shut as the beeping and sprinklers in the restaurant finally stop and he’s left with a slight ringing in his ear and water soaking into his back. Which is bad. Because it means he’s torn his coat at some point and is going to need to sort that out before their next call. He’s glad he found out on a false alarm rather than while being in a burning building though, better a slightly damp back to being burnt.

“Alarms off, I’m going to do a sweep through,” he holds down the button on his radio and waits for the crackling to die down and Harrisons voice to filter through a confirmation.

False alarms are his least favourite calls, which he knows is bad, but he likes a little action in his night. If he’s going to be stuck on the night shift he at least wants to be doing something more than opening storage closets to check there’s no one trying to wait out a fire.

He hums the theme tune of some 90’s sitcom he can’t remember the name of as he walks down the short corridor between the kitchen and the main dining area, glancing in the men's room and the ladies and pauses a moment too long as he looks in the disabled toilet.

The last time he’d been out for a meal it had been an awful group event that Alex had made them all go to for one of the waiters at his restaurant. The food had all been weirdly sticky and they kept playing a questionable remix of Bless the Broken Road and the biggest bright spot of the whole evening had been when everyone was wandering around talking, Julie had dragged him down a corridor and into a bathroom.

Letting the door shut, Luke lets out a slight groan as he moves away from the corridor and back towards the main entrance. As if he wasn’t missing Julie enough already. He just had to go and remember that evening.

“Place is clear. It looks like a wire got loose but they’ll need to get someone in to check all the detectors. It didn’t seem like the sprinklers were really doing their job in the kitchen,” Luke reports to Harrison once he’s outside and within earshot of her, taking his helmet off and running a hand through his hair as he comes to a stop beside her, glancing towards the crowd of people waiting behind cones and a man arguing with someone in a police uniform. Luke shakes his head at the sight of the man gesturing towards the building and back at himself as he unfastens his coat and shrugs it off his shoulders, “He doesn’t think he’s actually going to be able to reopen tonight does he?”

“Hm? Not our problem,” Harrison says without even looking up from whatever form she’s filling out, though she does lift her pen up and wave it to something over his shoulder, “There’s someone over there looking for you. You’ve got 15 before we’ll be ready to leave.”

With a frown Luke looks over his shoulder, but can’t see anyone that he knows and it’s as he turns back to tell Harrison that when she taps him on the ear with her pen and Luke gets the hint. He leaves his helmet and coat with her and is halfway to the taped line when he spots a face in the crowd that makes a smile split across his face.

“What are you doing here?” He asks, not even attempting to keep the widening smile off his face as he jogs to a stop beside the tape line where Julie is standing with an arm linked through Flynns.

“Well we were trying to have a nice dinner,” Flynn mutters, and Luke catches the way she wrinkles her nose as he pulls away after leaning over to kiss Julie quickly, but there’s a slight smile on her lips too. Which is always nice to see because winning over Flynn had felt like the biggest test of his life and some days he still wasn’t entirely sure if she liked him or not.

“Just karma for trying to eat anywhere that’s not Alex’s place,” he rocks back on his heels and crosses his arms over his chest, letting the thumb on his right hand hook under the suspenders and dragging it a little across his chest.

“I don’t want him to think that I’m interested in being his friend because he can get me a table at the last minute,” Julie says, a small furrow appearing between her brows and Luke can’t help but shake his head with a laugh.

“Trust me, Alex’s first rule of friendship is don’t eat at crappy places that don’t get their fire alarms checked regularly.”

“That sounds more like your rule,” Flynn points out and she’s raising an eyebrow as she looks at him in a way that sends him back to being fifteen and put on the spot in a maths class.

Before Luke can formulate a reply Julie is shaking her head at her friend with a laugh and Luke’s eyes are drawn back to her, “No. Luke’s first rule of friendship is that you need to be able to name at least one band or artist from the 80’s. Quickly followed by knowing where all your fire exits are.”

“Just like to make sure people know the classic,” he shrugs, lips curving into a smile as realises just how well Julie knows him, and how much she remembers from their first date too.

“Ugh. You two are annoyingly cute,” Flynn mutters which is only when Luke notices that Julie’s been smiling back at him. But he can’t find it in himself to care how annoyingly cute they might look, he’s not seen her in a week and has to go back to work in less than five minutes. He’s gonna stare at her like the lovesick fool his friends accuse him of being.


A yawn creeps up his throat as he balls up his t-shirt and throws it into his bag, rolling out his neck as he reaches for the navy hoodie from inside his locker, foregoing another t-shirt in order to speed up the process of getting home and going straight to bed. He has plans to sleep for the next forty-two hours and only answer his phone for Julie, or his mom if she rings more then twice.

Heaving a breath he slips his hands through the arms of his hoodie and has it half lifted up to his head when a shiver runs up his back as someone traces a spiral pattern up his bare back.

“Hi,” a voice whispers behind him and Luke feels a sudden spike of energy at the sound of her voice. Enough to slip his arms the rest of the way into his hoodie and pull it over his head, he can feel Julie tugging at the hem at his neck, pulling it down to the waistband on his jeans and he tries not to be sad at the lack of her touch.

“Hey,” he finally replies as he turns around, eyes sweeping across her face and the casual leggings and too big band shirt that he’s pretty sure is his that she’s wearing, “You’re up early.”

“Mhm,” she smiles up at him, and it’s sweet and simple and lights up Lukes life in more ways than he’ll ever be able to express to her in words. “Thought I’d come pick you up. See if you maybe wanted to grab a little breakfast before you vanish into your bed.”

If it was anyone else asking him, Luke is pretty sure he’d give them a flat out no and grumble about people being too cheery in the morning. But it’s been five months and he loves her and he’s not been able to say no yet. He’s not sure he’ll ever be able to say no to her. Luke blinks as that thought settles within him.

Spending his life being unable to say no to Julie. He really likes the sound of that.

Completely unaware of the sudden life epiphany he’s experienced, Julie has zipped up his bag and is holding it, eyebrow raised as she looks at him. Waits for him. And Luke pushes all thoughts so the future aside for now, he’ll deal with them later and focuses on the now. On how easily Julie slips her hand into his when he offers it to her, how simple it feels to tug her a little closer and drop a kiss to her forehead before they leave the locker room.

“So you're gonna buy me pancakes, right?” He asks as he waves at one of the engine drivers already busy readjusting his seat for the day.

“I’ll even treat you to an extra topping,” she teases and Luke wrinkles his nose at her even as a smile pulls at his lips.

 

FIVE

“Hey so uh, I have to ask you something,” Luke started, eyes following the hands of the paramedic as they checked her over for any injuries. But, much like all the previous times, Julie seemed perfectly fine. Which was part of his problem. Or not problem. But his concerns. Because this was the fifth fire his station had been called out to that Julie had been at the scene for. And yeah okay maybe asking her while she was sitting on the sidewalk after running out a burning building wasn’t his best move but he’d been holding off on asking for a while and it just sorta slipped out.

“Are you—”

“You’re all good here, just keep with that oxygen for a little longer for me and then we’ll clear you to go,” the paramedic says, giving her arm a single pat before nodding to him and walking away.

“Julie, are you an arsonist!?” He blurts the question out before he can stop himself, and he watches with mounting embarrassment as Julie removes the oxygen mask from her face — slight indents in her cheeks that he’d want to smooth away if he hadn’t just accused her of a crime — and eyebrows halfway to her hairline.

“Excuse me?” she rasps and Luke winces from the hurt look in her eyes.

“I just—” he starts, waving his arms around them to try and encompass where they are. The store that’s still on fire, the firefighters still trying to get it under control, the people being treated for minor burns and smoke inhalation. “This is like the fifth time you’ve been at a fire! And I love you, you know I love you but I just gotta know if I should be covering for you or something here!”

For a moment Julie doesn’t say anything, just stares at him with her wide brown eyes and lips slightly parted and a little smudge of dirt across her chin. And then she laughs, throwing her head back against his shoulder and eyes shut tight as her body shakes with the force of it. Which does nothing to calm Luke’s fraying nerves about dating an arsonist, but does a lot to make him want to smile at the sight of her joy. Even if it’s maybe tinged with a little insanity.

“You’d really cover for me if I was an arsonist?” She asks after she calms her laughter and regains her breath.

“I mean...yeah,” he shrugs, rubbing one hand at the back of his neck as he smiles at her, a little sheepishly as he tries his best not to dislodge her head from where it’s resting.

“Luke, you’re very sweet and I love you too,” she reaches out a hand and wiggles her fingers at him and Luke barely even hesitates before he’s putting his hand in hers, fingers interlocking and rubbing his thumb over the back of her hand as he waits for her to carry on, “But I promise, I’m not an arsonist. I just seem to have really bad luck when it comes to places with faulty wiring.”

He’s silent for a moment as he lets her words register in his mind. Not an arsonist. Just bad luck. God, he’s so dumb.

“And!” she continues, sitting up straight again and poking a finger of her free hand into his cheek and snatching it away quickly before he has a chance to bite it, “You’re not even on duty today! I wouldn’t have even been in that store if you hadn’t been running late because you had to help Reggie with something.”

“Ah so it’s Reggie’s fault then,” Luke agrees and is rewarded by Julie huffing a laugh as she drops her head back to his shoulder, her hair tickling his cheek as he rests it against the top of her head. He gently reaches over to reattach the oxygen mask to her face as they sink back into a comfortable silence.

Luke thinks back to an hour ago, when he’d been hovering over Reggie’s shoulder and trying to help him work out the issue with a song he was helping to produce. He thinks about the look of shock and then excitement that had taken over his best friend's face at the sight of him scratching out a rough arrangement on his notes. How it had been the first time outside of drunken nights — and a dark crappy bar’s creaky stage for an open mic night — that he’d played anything on his guitar for someone.

When Luke had sworn off music, out of what he can now recognise as fear, he’d never really stopped to think what it meant for the people around him. At the time, he’d thought his mom was just still trying to keep the peace whenever she’d asked why he didn’t play anymore, had thought Alex and Reggie were happy for an excuse to not follow him on his quest for connections with the world, had thought that maybe music wasn’t for him.

He had never thought maybe they missed him playing as much as he had loved it.

And then he’d met Julie and that part of his brain that he’d shut off had exploded with lyrics and melodies and chords he hadn’t thought about in years. He still hadn’t sung, still wasn’t sure if he could, but Luke was starting to think maybe not being able to sing was okay if he could grab his guitar and finally express his feelings through music again. Some of them at least, he turns his head a little to press a kiss into Julie’s hair before resting his cheek back in the same spot.

“I’m sorry I was late,” he whispers, “And that I accused you of being an arsonist.”

“I’ll forgive you,” she mutters, the sound a little lost by the mask but he doesn’t miss the way her lips are pulled up into a smile, “If you buy me pancakes.”


“Okay what about this one?” Luke asks as he holds up a vinyl, The Bangles staring out at them from under their big hair and questionable bangs of the Manic Monday era.

“I’m trying to find some music from this century,” Julie rolls her eyes at him as she pushes his hand down and Luke pouts at her, which only earns him another eye roll.

“But you’re going to need some of the old classics too! You did say you lost most of your music in the fire,” he points out, slipping the vinyl into the small growing collection under his arm with a sweet smile at her. If she’d wanted someone to suggest modern music she had to have known he was the wrong person to bring shopping.

“You know there’s this thing called spotify? It’s amazing, it has like, all the music you could possibly want on it,” she teases as she leans in a little and Luke can’t help but do the same, wrinkling his nose as he pretends to look lost.

“Never heard of it, guess you’ll just have to come home with me later and show me how to use it,” his eyes glance down at her lips before slowly trailing back up to her eyes in time to see her rolling them again, though he also notices the slight flush to her cheeks and grins.

“Only if you help me find the records on my list,” she whispers, and for a moment Luke thinks she’ll close the distance between them and press her lips to his and is so distracted with the thought that he misses the way her hand comes up to push at his chest, sending him rocking back on his heels and Julie sliding past him.

“Tease,” he mumbles and Julie laughs from behind him, already moving through the rows and looking for things on her list. Things she lost in the fire, things she’s just always been on the lookout for. And Luke here’s to try and help her find them. But he’s also here for an ulterior motive and uses Julie’s distraction of looking through the r&b to head towards the other side of the store where he knows they keep the unsorted second hand stuff.

He’d started his hunt a few months ago, stopping by various music stores and second hand places to look around and ask the staff to let him know when they get a new stock of vinyl's or tapes. So far he’d not had much luck. But he was feeling confident about today. He’d played music for Reg and Julie wasn’t an arsonist and Willie was ‘stealing’ them some of his uncles cheesecake for tonight. So today was the day he was going to find it. And it would be the best housewarming gift for when Julie moved into her new place next month.

And he really hopes he can find it because his back up plan is a plant of some kind and that just feels too cliché.

He shifts through copies of The Beatles and The 1975 and a shocking number of The Zombies which is something he’ll be thinking about later. He’s down to the last few vinyl's in the crate and close to heaving a sigh when he flips back the second to last one and grins. Purple petals falling onto the upturned faces of four women who are smirking up at their band name on a dark blue background. Pulling it out, Luke flips it over and skims the five songs on the back and bites his lip as he examines the small signs of wear and tear on the edges but otherwise seems fine. Almost perfect condition.

He just knew today was a good day!

“Luke!” Julie’s voice startles him out of his thoughts and he only just has enough time to slide the record between two others in his hands before she spots it as she runs up to his, fingers wrapping around his forearm as she tugs at him, “They have a photo booth! Come take some photos with me. Please?”

She looks up at him with wide eyes and everyone always tells him he has the best puppy dog eyes they’ve seen, but Luke thinks that’s just because they’ve never seen Julie’s. Not that she needs them. He’d say yes to anything she wanted. Which she knows.

“Only if we take the most cliché ones possible,” he lets himself be pulled towards the back of the store where an old fashioned photo booth with a red crushed velvet curtain is nestled between stacks of crates and t-shirts on a railing. Putting the records down on the edge of one of the crates Luke digs some change out of his pocket while Julie slides onto the bench, leaving a space for him to join her.

Her hair brushes against his shoulder as she leans forward to read the faded instructions and Luke hands her a couple of dollar bills before she can even reach for her own purse. There’s a whirring sound after she feeds them into the machine and the screen flickers a few times before a countdown starts and Julie lets out a gasp as he wraps an arm around her shoulders to pull her back just in time for the first flash.

“Oh fuck,” she laughs and flings her arms around his neck, smooching their cheeks together and now Luke’s laughing, their reflections showing two people a mess of hair and half closed eyes. By the third flash Luke has his face buried in her curls as his shoulders shake with laughter while Julie tells him to get it together between her own giggles.

“Shall we try that again?” He asks after the last flash and the whirring has stopped and they’ve managed to calm their laughter down.

“I didn’t think it would be that quick!” Julie shakes her head, but fishes some more money out of her bag, tossing her hair over her shoulder as she sits up, “Okay. We need a plan this time around. Money in. A nice smiling one, a funny face, kiss on the cheek, classic peace sign. Got it?”

Julie waits for him to nod before leaning to put money in the machine again, and Luke honestly has every intention of following her plan. Smile, funny face, kiss on the cheek, peace. Cliché, just like he’d wanted. But as the countdown starts and Julie sits back, shoulder brushing against his as she smiles, he can’t help but turn to smile at her. At the way she’s tucked some curls behind her ear so he can see the butterfly earrings and the little stars that trail up from her seconds to her helix, at the collection of necklaces glinting at her throat, the chain of one resting below the pulse point on her neck that he knows makes her moan when he presses his lips against, the way her lips stretch into a smile that he knows if she was facing him he’d be able to see the little gap between her teeth.

A flash goes off and Luke licks his lips, mouth ticking up a little at the side as she turns to look at him with her eyebrows raised, “You were meant to be smiling.”

“I was,” he defends and proves his point by grinning at her, teeth sinking into his bottom lip as he tries to keep it in check.

“You’re not following the plan.” But she doesn’t seem to be too annoyed, even as the second flash lights up the booth and Luke knows they only have a few seconds before the third one goes off so he takes his chance and leans forward to capture her lips before she can say anything else.

They miss the third flash, and the forth.

When they leave the booth a few minutes later his hair is sticking up and his lips are a little swollen and Julie has to spend a few seconds readjusting her crop top so it’s no longer riding up. If the guy at the front counter had noticed them giggling or being in the booth for too long he doesn’t show it and Luke’s not about to push his luck.

“See, told you I was smiling,” he mutters as he looks over her shoulder to look at the two strips of photos in her hands, at the blurry giggling messes that they are in the first one and the heart-eyed cliché couple they are in the second. He’s starting to get what Alex, Reggie and Flynn mean about the way they look at each other.

“I’m going to go pay for these then we can go check out that place with the lamp you liked,” he says, pressing a kiss into her temple and reaching around her to pick up the records and gently pulls the second photo strip from her fingers, dropping her a wink as she turns to pout at him, “I’m going to put this one in my locker at work. They’re starting to run low on stuff to tease me about.”

Julie’s laugh follows him as he makes his way up to the counter where the guy doesn’t even blink at his messed up hair or the bruise he’s pretty sure is starting to show up on his collarbone given how tender it feels as he brushes past it to scratch his neck. Which is another thing for his friends to tease him about.

Luke grins at the strip of glossy photos in his hand. So worth it.

 

+ ONE

As he waits for the shower water to heat up a little Luke taps out a quick reply to Julie promising he’ll be at her new place by two to help her move boxes and unpack. Which is all very exciting. He’d personally been round to check all the fire detectors and the wiring were up to code, and should anything happen, her new apartment was in his station's district so he’d be on the scene to help.

Apparently even Ray found that reassuring, and Luke was trying to not let that go to his head. His girlfriend's dad likes him. He thinks that’s pretty cool. Of course Ray had also taken up texting Reggie a lot which was a little weird but it was fine. He had bonus points of saving both his kids from fires.

Locking his phone he puts it on the counter, bobbing his head as a song from a tiktok plays in his head as he moves back over to the shower and stepping into the hot water.

He doesn’t really know what happens next.

One minute he’s lathering shampoo into his hair, head swaying from side to side and hips rocking in a circular motion as he hums along with the song in his head.

And then his mouth is opening and he’s singing.

We're stuck where we are, with no house, no car. Castaways, ahoy, we are castaways,” his voice tails off as he starts humming again as he sticks his head under the shower stream to start rinsing off the shampoo. Only he only gets as far as leaning a little forward before he realises what’s just happened.

“Holy shit!” he sputters, stumbling a step backwards and wiping water out of his eyes only to wince and swear again as he rubs shampoo into them. Fumbling, he reaches for the face cloth he knows is somewhere nearby and wipes at his eyes again, blinking and heart racing.

For a moment the only thing he can hear is the water hitting tiles and his heart racing in his chest and that damn song still playing on a loop in his head. Swallowing, Luke sucks in a breath and tests his voice out again. He hasn’t sung anything in seven years but he can still remember the lyrics to Now or Never like he’d written them yesterday and as he pushes himself off the wall his fingers absentmindedly start picking out the chords as the words breeze out of him.

Like they’d just been waiting on the tip of his tongue all this time. And fuck, he really does feel like he’s been hit with an electric hammer to the heart with how fast his is beating right now.

He knows exactly what happens next. He acts on instinct. And instinct tells him he has to tell someone else.

Not stopping to turn the water off, or even grab a towel, Luke jumps out of the shower, fingers scrambling with the lock on the door before he can jank it open and then he’s running down the corridor, bare feet slipping on wood.

“Boys!” He shouts, skidding to a stop in the doorway of the living room, chest still heaving as he bends over a little to catch his breath. Pushing wet — and still soapy — hair out of his face, Luke turns a wide grin at the three pairs of wide eyes watching him from the sofa. He hadn’t known Willie was here. But that’s fine. Willie’s practically family, they’re all just waiting for one of them to propose at this point.

“Uh Luke—” Reggie starts, eyes firmly on his face even as his hand waves in the general direction of his legs, but Luke doesn’t have time to worry about dripping water on the floor right now.

“Boys. I sang again.” It’s a statement. A sentence that wouldn’t mean anything to anyone else. That wouldn't be a big deal or cause for celebration.

But Alex and Reggie had been there after the fire, after the doctors had told him to rest his voice, after he’d tried once and refused to do it since. It had been Alex and Reggie who he’d blown up at one day after school at 17 when they’d suggested going out for the school talent show as an attempt to help him. It was Alex and Reggie who have been with him every songless day since.

So they get it.

“Holy shit,” Alex whispers, standing up from the couch at the same moment that Reggie vaults over it, both of them grinning just as wide as Luke is sure he is.

“And your voice, it was…” Reggie trails off, but his eyebrows wiggle and Luke gets the point.

“I don’t want to brag but I think a seven year vocal rest might have possibly made me sound better,” he shrugs one shoulder, but the calm, cool and casual air he’s trying to project is totally ruined by the way he’s practically bouncing in place. He feels jittery, his fingers itching for strings, mind racing with years worth of lyrics he’s suppressed.

“We told you!” Alex slaps his hand on his bicep, only to cringe as he wipes his now wet hand on his jeans.

“Dude you are so naked right now,” Willie laughs from his place on the couch, and Luke can’t help it, he drops one eye in a wink and dodges out of the way of Alex’s fist, which only makes Willie laugh more, “Happy for you though man. On the singing again. Does this mean the band is back together?”

The three of them look at each other, eyebrows raised and smiles stretched and Luke doesn’t know. But he does know that something has shifted back into place inside him. Like he’d been walking around a little off balance, not enough to really notice it until he’d been righted.

“How about we discuss future band plans when you’ve washed the shampoo out of your hair,” Reggie suggests, and Luke’s not self conscious about being naked in their living room, but he is starting to feel a little cold.

“Good plan. And then I need to get to Jules’ to help move furniture,” he points once at Reggie, and then at Alex as he starts walking backwards down the corridor, “And then we can get this band back together.”

The bathroom has filled with steam by the time he gets back, and the water is a little too hot, but Luke doesn’t care as he jumps back under the stream and finally washes the shampoo from his hair as he sings through Now or Never twice.


The second he steps through the door Luke knocks into a bed frame and only just manages to catch it before it topples on to him, raising an eyebrow at Julie who’s grimacing at him from the other side, “I say we move the bed first.”

Her eyebrows shoot up and she rests one hand on her hip, “Oh?”

“Not for— I just meant before it knocks someone out! Not for that,” his eyes trail down her body, at the denim shorts and plain purple t-shirt she’s tied up to making to a croptop that expose just a little of her skin, and he can’t help but grin, “Not yet at least.”

“You grab that end? And try not to drag it on the floor, I don’t want to scratch them,” she says, hands wrapping around one side of the frame and tilting her head at him until he follows suit. There’s a lot of awkward pulling and lifting and bumping into stacks of boxes with Julie’s neat writing scrawled along the sides. Then they spend a solid few minutes struggling to fit the thing through her bedroom doorway until they do some pivoting and silly impressions of Ross from friends that does little to help but make them laugh.

“Okay, okay,” Luke pants, resting against the wardrobe that’s already in the room and looking around, “I’ve lifted weights in the gym that were easier to move then that thing.”

“My tia says a sturdy bed frame is always a must have,” Julie grins at him from where she’s sat on the floor, with her legs outstretched and Luke wrinkles his nose at her before pushing away from the wardrobe to offer her a hand up.

“Come on, let's get the rest of your boxes into the correct rooms and we can test out this sturdy bed frame your tia recommended,” he pauses after pulling her up, the lack of distance between them meaning he has to look down at her as his brows pull together in a frown, “Wait that sounded weirder than I meant.”

“Just a little,” she agrees, nose wrinkling and reaching up on her tiptoes to wrap her arms around his neck and kisses him. It’s soft and quick, like they’ll have forever for something more. And then she pulls away, hands sliding down his shoulders to his biceps, “Can you move the boxes for the kitchen and I’ll get the ones for the bathroom?”

It’s a few hours later when all the boxes that had been stacked by the front door are spread out in the correct rooms and they’re sitting surrounded by pieces of wood and nails that are supposed to make an ikea table.

What Luke is learning from it is that Julie is not very good at flat pack furniture.

“It says the weird squiggly one goes into the inside holes at the bottom! But I can’t find any holes and the weird squiggly things won't turn!” she whines, jabbing the screwdriver in the direction of the half built table and waving the instructions at him like he’s personally written them.

“Well uh might help if you turn it the other way around,” he suggests, fingers wrapping around one of the legs and rotating it so the side that had been facing him and is now facing Julie and she can see the holes she was missing. The flush in her cheeks darkens a little as her mouth opens to form a silent ‘oh’ and Luke grins, stretching an arm out to pry to the screwdriver from her fingers. “How about we take a break from building furniture, have some lunch? I’m no Alex but I know how to fry an egg and bacon.”

Julie heaves a sigh, head falling into her hands and then pushing her hair out of her face as she looks back up at him with a tired smile, “I can go and grab us some coffees?”

“Sounds like a plan,” he smiles at her, pushing up onto his knees and kissing her cheek before pushing up further on to his feet with a groan and then offering Julie a hand up too.

“Try not to burn my new apartment down while I’m gone,” she taps her fingers against this chest and then picks up her phone and moves towards the front door to find her shoes.

“Think you’ll find you’re the arsonist in this relationship,” he calls after her, grinning as she laughs into the kiss that she blows to him before shutting the door. And then he’s in her apartment by himself. The place still feels a little empty and cold, with the only furniture in place being the sofa her dad and brother had helped carry up earlier and the bookcase against the wall that connects to the second bedroom. But Luke had caught a glimpse of her old apartment, and had seen her room at her dad's house and knew that while Julie might not be good at putting furniture together she was really amazing at decorating a space and making it feel like home.

After rooting through one box to find a frying pan and a second to find a spatula, Luke grabs eggs and bacon and glances at the spinach that’s part of Victoria’s welcome package before ignoring it and turning back to the stove. He’s pretty sure she’s got a speaker or a radio in one of these boxes somewhere, but he doesn’t want to go rooting through her things. Not that he needs to, because he can make his own background music now and it’ll probably be better then anything on the radio too.

Idly, as he cracks open an egg, Luke wonders if maybe he’s a little too cocky inside his own head for someone who hasn’t sung a note in seven years but well, he’s never been known as the humble one in his friend group.

You can't start a fire, you can't start a fire without a spark,” he sings, hips swaying as he pokes at the eggs, “This gun's for hire, even if we're just dancin' in the dark,” he mumbles through the next sentence as he flips a piece of bacon before throwing himself back into the song in full force, “Radio's on and I'm movin' 'round my place. I check my look in the mirror,” he sucks in a breath and raises the spatula up to his mouth like a makeshift microphone and scrunches his eyes shut as he almost growls the last sentence, “Wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face!

Oh.”

If he hadn’t been gasping for a breath he might not have heard her. Because he certainly hadn’t heard her come back in, but as lowers his spatula and spins around he comes face to face with Julie clutching a tray of drinks and staring at him wide eyed.

“Uh, hi,” and, for some reason, he waves at her with the spatula while his other hand rubs at the back of his neck with a sheepish smile, “Sorry I uh, didn’t hear—”

“When did you start singing again?” She blurts out before he can finish his sentence and right. He hadn’t told her. He’d nearly gotten squished by a bed frame and forgotten about his news.

“Um like, six hours ago?” He shrugs, finally putting the spatula down and taking a step towards her, suddenly nervous in a way he hasn’t been since their first date.

“That was— you’re—” she trails off, eyes trailing over his face with something that looks like awe, but Luke doesn’t understand why. Shit maybe time has fucked with his brain and he actually sounds shit? Oh god is she going to break up with him for being a terrible singer?

“Fuck Luke, you never said you could sing!”

“Yes I did,” he frowns at her, “I said it on our first date that I used to sing and then I stopped because of a fire!”

“Yeah but I didn’t know you could sing like...that!” She shakes her head slightly, her smile widening as she puts the drinks down on the counter and closes the gap between them, arms reaching up to circle around his neck and Luke’s hands automatically rest on her waist, fingers brushing against the strip of skin above the waistband of her shorts and below her top.

“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” she asks.

“Nearly got hit by a bed frame,” he shrugs and flexes his fingers against her waist when she giggles.

“This is big,” she breaths, and her smile softens a little and Luke’s eyes dip to her lips before going back to her eyes, “This is big, right? Because you sounded pretty amazing just now. And it really fucking hot too, but if this isn’t an exciting thing I can—”

“No this...it’s big and it’s exciting,” it’s his turn to cut her off with a shake of his head, and his fingers trail down her ass and trace the edge of the top of her back pocket before sliding in and squeezing, Julie rocks forward, mouth opening to say something but Luke takes his chance to put his lips against hers and find her tongue.

She moans into his mouth and Luke walks them backwards until the hand that’s on her waist hits the counter. He lowers his hand to tap her thigh, and without breaking apart she lifts her leg up to his hip and he hoists her up the rest of the way until he can balance her on the edge of the counter and get better leverage. Julie pulls away first, her breathing heavy and Luke smirks at her before trailing his lips up her jaw and down her throat, paying extra special attention to her pulse point on his way down.

“You really found me singing hot?” he whispers as he sucks at a spot just above her collarbone, nipping at her skin when she only moans instead of answers.

“You already know you're hot,” she groans, fingers in his hair and tugging gently until he gives in and lets her tug his head away from his attack at her collarbone and can reattach her lips to his. And Luke’s not about to complain about that either. Kissing Julie in any way is one of his favourite things. He pulls away first this time, pulling his hand free of her pocket and wrapping it around her thigh to push her further onto the counter. Her whine of protest at the lack of contact pulls a grin from his lips as he leans forward to kiss her again quickly, once, twice, and then runs his hands down her legs slowly as he pulls away again, head lowering back to the dip between her clavicle.

“Fire,” she whispers, and Luke grins against her skin because yeah, he kinda feels like he’s on fire right now too. Julie runs her fingers through his hair again, nails scratching at his scalp, “Luke. Fire.”

“I know, Jules, me too,” he mutters against her, lips moving up the other side of her collarbone and half wondering if she’d mind if he ripped her t-shirt and — “Ow!”

He pulls away sharply, eyes widening as he looks at her while one hand goes to his head to rub at the spot where she’d pulled at his hair too hard, “What was that for?”

“Fire!” Julie shouts and points over his shoulder. Where the stove is. Where Luke had been cooking before getting distracted. Where a small grease fire is now raging in the pan with eggs and bacon for fuel.

“Fuck,” he hisses, dropping his grip on Julie’s leg to lunge for the box of kitchen equipment to pull out a metal baking tray before turning back to the fire and slamming the tray on top, wincing at the heat but pushing through to turn the stove top off and push the pan to the back.

Hands on his hips, Luke blows out a breath and is about to ask if Julie is okay when he hears her burst out into laughter. Eyebrows raised, he turns to see her still on the counter top, fingers gripping the edge as her legs swing back and forth and she leans forward, “I thought I told you not to burn down my apartment?”

“Guess I’ll just have to find a way to make it up to you,” he chuckles and, checking the pan isn’t about to burst into flames again, turns his attention back to what he was doing with a little more attention to detail then before.


“I got you a gift,” he whispers much later after the sun has set and they’d ordered pizza and given up on building furniture to pile blankets and pillows on the floor of her living room to stretch out on. Julie turns her head from where it’s resting against his chest to look at him, eyebrows raised and a small smile playing on her lips.

“You got me a gift?” she repeats, “You didn’t have to get me anything.”

“I know but…,” Luke shrugs and gently dislodges her head so he can reach over to grab his boxers and slip them back on before getting up and padding across the apartment towards the front door to retrieve the wrapped box he’d left there earlier. By the time he’s padding back to their nest of blankets Julie is sitting cross legged and pulling her hair out of the neck of his t-shirt.

“It’s uh,” he rubs at the back of his neck as he sits back down, mirroring her position and carefully setting the box between them, it’s dark green paper rustling a little as Julie traces a finger down one edge, “Well you’ll see. And if you don’t like it or— or if it’s too much then that’s fine. I can uh I can take it back or something. But I just, you said it was important to you.”

There’s a quizzical sort of look on her face, brows furrowed and lips pursed as she pulls the box closer and finds the edge of the paper to unwrap it. Luke watches her face carefully as she pulls the paper free and then slowly lifts the lid off the box to see the record nestled in purple tissue paper underneath. Her hand freezes with the lid half in the air, and her lips part and fuck there’s tears in her eyes. He gives her a moment before tilting his head to try and catch her eyes, but they’re tracing over the cover art.

“Jules,” he whispers, though he doesn’t know what he’s going to say, if he should be apologising or comforting or what. “Is it too much?”

Julie blinks and Luke watches as a tear glides down her cheek and he aches to reach over and catch it but she’s closing her eyes, head shaking as a watery laugh bubbles past her lips.

“Where on earth did you find this?” She finally asks, turning eyes of unshed tears at him but she’s smiling so he’s going to guess happy tears.

“Remember that place with the photo booth?” He asks and shrugs when she nods, “I asked a bunch of people to let me know if they got any second hand vinyl's in and well, just got lucky that day.”

“Dad looked everywhere to try and find another copy after the fire,” she whispers, and Luke sees her fingers shaking a little as she reaches out to trace the letters of Rose and the Petal Pushers on the cover before looking back up at him, “You’re— Thank you. This is...this is amazing Luke.”

“Good thing we dug your record player out, huh?” He nudges her knee with his own and nods towards the only table they managed to complete, where her TV and record player are set up and Julie wipes at her cheeks before reaching into the box and carefully pulling her mom's record out, holding it like it’s the most precious thing in her life. Which, he supposes it kind of is.

Julie pads across the room to put the record on the machine and set the needle and Luke watches her and thinks. He thinks about music and how it has always been such a large part of his life even when he couldn’t play it, couldn’t sing. How he’d once dreamt of filling his days like this, listening to songs sung by people who understood just how amazing music was. He thinks about how he’d given up on that dream and found a new one, but how he’d ended up back here anyway.

Luke thinks, as Julie sits down next to him, her arm wrapping around his waist, as his goes around her shoulders to pull her closer, his fingers making idle circles on her shoulder through the arm holes of his top, that maybe he was always going to end up here. With Julie in his arms and music playing around them.

He thinks maybe he has a couple of fires to thank for it too.

Luke's fingers are idly playing with one of Julie's curls as the her moms voice echoes around the apartment, drums fading into the background as a piano plays them out of the song and Luke's thinking about how much she sounds likes her, and how incredibly she'd sound singing this song when it hits him. It's sudden and harsh, like a hammer has just landed on his gut and he lurches forward pushing Julie up with him as she looks at him with wide eyes. 

"What? What's wrong?" Her hands hover in the air around his chest, like she's afraid she might hurt him by touching him. 

"The first song I sang after seven years was the stupid fucking Castaways song that people keep using on tiktoks," he whines, head falling into his hands and Julie's attempts at comforting him by rubbing at his shoulder is lost in the way her laugh replaces the music, both in her apartment and in his head.