"What are you thinking about?" Lucas asked, turning to glance briefly at me.

We had just dropped AJ off at the airport. After our conversation the previous night, we had all camped out in front of the TV and watched Gilmore Girls. We ordered pizza for dinner and sat with paper plates in our laps, binging over a period of several hours.

In the beginning we had paused the episodes every ten minutes because Lucas would need us to explain some of the nuances of the show. Eventually he seemed to accept the quirkiness of Lorelei and Rory's relationship and actually get into the show. AJ and I ended up passing out on the sectional sofa and Lucas took over the recliner.

A couple hours before AJ's flight we had woken and headed to a diner by the airport. After breakfast AJ and I had said a sappy goodbye and the two brothers had talked for a couple of minutes before saying goodbye.

Now Lucas and I were driving home. "You don't want to know."

"Alright. Whatever," Lucas scoffed, changing lanes on the highway. "I wouldn't have asked if I didn't want to know."

I rolled my eyes at his dismissal. "Fine. I'm thinking that a few shots of tequila would do wonders for my peace of mind at the moment."

He nodded and reached over to squeeze my hand. "Not feeling so safe now that AJ's gone?"

"I don't know," I answered. "I guess not." I took in his profile, watching a flash of disappointment cross his face. "I'm sorry that hurts you. It will take time for me to feel comfortable."

"I know," he responded, smiling sadly. "I'm here for you though. If you want to talk or just don't want to be alone. Do you want to see if Tyler wants to come over this morning and we can go out for a ride? We could go down to the lake and have a picnic. Maybe go swimming. The water wont be warm enough much longer."

"Riding would be fun…" I agreed. "But I don't think I want to swim in that dirty water."

Lucas grinned, "I wasn't talking about the pond. There's a small lake farther out. It would be a half hour ride, but I promise the water is not dirty."

"Oh," I acknowledged, embarrassed I hadn't known that. "I guess that would be good."

Tyler showed up and hour and a half later, looking like he'd been run over by a semi. His hair was standing straight up, his clothes didn't match, his lips were swollen and he was sporting a nice purple hickey.

Lucas' eyes shot up at the sight of him. "Long night, huh?" he asked, in a voice that clearly said envious.

"Zero fucks are given right now!" Tyler declared. "I don't care what I look like. Y'all are just lucky I dragged my ass out of bed for this. I could've stayed in his bed all day long. As it is, we have a date at six so I need to be done before then."

I grinned and hip checked him, handing him the reins to one of Lucas' horses. "Good enough for a second date? Must've been an interesting night."

We all saddled up and began to ride, Tyler talking animatedly about the guy he'd spent the night with. He'd met him through a friend of a friend. The guy was a sophomore in college and had taken Tyler to a movie before they'd gone back to his apartment.

When he had started to talk about the rest of the night I'd cut him off, telling him that Lucas' most definitely did not need to hear details of his night. Lucas sent me an appreciative glance.

"Sorry Teach," Tyler apologized. "I just happen to like sex a lot."

Lucas coughed, but his lips twitched upward. "Most people do."

"It's too bad AJ is gone," Tyler sighed. "We could have had a nice conversation about this."

"Okay," Lucas harangued, "as much as I know my brother is human, let's definitely not talk about his sex life." He shivered and rubbed his hands up and down his arms as if wiping off the cooties.

I could feel a stupid grin spread across my face at the childishness of Lucas' actions. Whenever it was the two of us, things were always serious. It was really nice to be able to see him let loose and have a little fun. A twinge of jealousy crept into my body.

I wanted to be able to spend time with Lucas and not have the rest of the world creep into our interactions. It was becoming clear that he really was a good guy and in another world we could've been good friends. It seemed so easy for AJ and Tyler to spend time with him and make him laugh.

Whenever we were alone his emotions were guarded and he held himself back. Logically I could understand why he felt the need to do it, but it still stung. I desperately wanted for it to be simple between us, but I didn't think it ever would be.

"God," Tyler called out, staring up at the sun. "It is way too bright out. And hot. It's the end of September. Jesus!"

I rolled my eyes at the dramatics of his voice and did my best not to feel jealous. He was obviously a little bit hung over from his night and I really, really wanted to be feeling just a little bit of the numbness that alcohol could bring me.

"Well," Lucas drawled, drawing my attention, "you'll be thrilled for swimming after lunch then."

His eyes were on me and I was certain that he could read my thoughts in that moment. A sad smile graced his features, before he guided his horse to the right fork of the trail that we were on.

Henry followed easily, but Tyler's horse tried to veer off to the left and I had to turn around to redirect them both. "Maybe you should do something with horses," Tyler suggested once he was successfully trailing Lucas again. "You sure are good with them."

The thought of a career in horse care crossed my mind for the last ten minutes of my ride. I played around with the different things I could do and one emerged as a possibility. Henry was a rescue. He would've died if we hadn't come across him the day we did.

He was skin and bones. No one had taken care of him in a long time and he had been too young when his mother had collapsed and never gotten back up. Surely there were more horses out there that nobody saw the potential in.

I pushed those thoughts to the back of my mind as we came upon the lake. It was breathtaking. The trees had given way to a small lake that emerged from a rock wall. The sun shone through the break in the forest and hit the water, making it sparkle.

As Lucas and Tyler dismounted their horses I sat in stunned silence atop Henry, wondering how something so beautiful could be hidden away from the world.

After they'd set up the picnic blankets and tied up their horses Tyler wandered off to use the 'facilities.' Lucas came up beside Henry and wrapped his palm around my calf, giving a gentle squeeze.

"Pretty, huh?"

"Amazing," I agreed, feeling shockingly emotional for no reason at all.

After another moment of silence I slid down Henry, Lucas' hands gripping my sides to make sure I didn't fall. He tied him up and returned to my side, "you okay?"

"I don't know," I admitted.

He wrapped an arm around me and tucked me into his chest protectively. "I know it's hard. And I know I can't even begin to understand how you're really feeling. I'm sorry. All I can do is be here and try to keep you busy."

I felt another hand rest on my back and then Tyler was smashing himself against us. "You okay babe?"

"Getting there," I answered.

After a couple minutes we sat down and dug into the lunch that Lucas and I had packed. There were sandwiches for each of us, fruit and vegetables (with Ranch), a bag of homemade chips, and some cookies we'd made the night before during a break from TV.

Lucas had continued to impress me with his cooking skills over the past week. I had a rough time in the kitchen, but he made it look effortless. Similar to everything else he did, Lucas excelled at putting together meals. Better yet, he enjoyed cooking.

Tyler moaned when he finished eating, rubbing his stomach as if it might explode. "You should cook for me always, Lucas! That was sooooo good. I can't even… God I wish there was more room in my stomach."

I watched Lucas shrug modestly, "you're always welcome at our house," he said.

My chest tightened at the use of the word our to describe Lucas' place. It was scary for him to include me as if I belonged just as much as he did. Scary, but nice.

After cleaning up a bit, Lucas disappeared for a few minutes and then came back wearing swim trunks. He tossed his clothes down on the picnic blanket and then walked towards the water, climbing onto one of the rocks before diving into the water.

"Oh my god! GOD!" Tyler cried. "Did you see his body? Oh my god! How can you not want to climb that like a tree." His tongue licked at his lips in an appreciative manner.

I shoved him and rolled my eyes. "Stop it! That's your teacher!"

Tyler shoved back and stuck his tongue out at me. "With a body like that somebody has to appreciate it and if it's not going to be you then I'm going to enjoy the show."

Lucas popped back up at the water and began to swim across the water, getting farther away. I watched drops of water slide down the tan, taut skin at his shoulders. His back was built with incredible muscle definition and it was admittedly hard not to admire the sight before me.

He turned onto his back and began to float, exposing his pecs and abs to our vision. Momentarily, my breath caught in my throat. It was unfair for a man to be carved so beautifully.

"I didn't say it wasn't a nice sight," I denied. "I just told you to stop drooling. It's inappropriate to lust after your teacher."

Tyler conceded the point. "Then I guess it's a good thing he isn't your teacher." He rose beside me and grabbed his own swim trunks, disappearing for less than a minute before returning and running towards the water, cannonballing into the water.

The two of them swam for a few minutes in silence. I continued to watch Lucas, wondering what it would take for me to feel comfortable with him. Certainly it would probably help if he kept his clothes on. Without them, I was finding it hard to breathe, let alone form coherent thoughts.

"Come on Rina!" Tyler shouted. "I know you're wearing your suit under there. Come in!"

I smiled, but shook my head and continued to watch the two of them. They ended up having a splash fight, which turned into wrestling in the water. Tyler had absolutely no chance, but it was comical to see him try to get out of Lucas' hold. Lucas dunked him four or five times before swimming over to the edge and climbing out of the water.

He slowly walked over to me, water dripping off of him the whole way. His eyes were locked on mine and he raised an eyebrow at me, grin plastered on his face.

"Gonna come swimming?" he asked. "Or you just going to keep checking me out?"

My cheeks went up in flames and I tore my gaze away from him, looking out to where Tyler was swimming. I took a step away when Lucas stepped closer, wanting to keep as much space between us as possible.

"Chicken," he chided. "It's okay to look. I don't mind."

I could feel my blood boiling and I turned away from him, trying to hide my embarrassment. It made me incredibly uncomfortable to have been caught staring. Lucas caught my wrist and spun me around, forcing me to look at him.

"I'm sorry," he apologized. "I'll shut up. I'm trying to make you more comfortable, but obviously I'm not doing a good job. It is okay to look, though. Okay? I don't mind and it doesn't have to mean anything. Come swimming, please?"

His hand squeezed mine reassuringly and more than anything I wanted to say yes, but I couldn't. I looked down at our feet and shook my head.

"Are you scared of the water?" Lucas asked, confused.


"Then it's me…" he guessed, pulling his hand back. Though his face was masked I could sense that I'd hurt his feelings yet again. "You don't want me to see your body?" he asked.

I swallowed the lump in my throat, trying to blink back the tears that had washed over me. "I'm sorry," I whispered. "I'm scared…"

He ran his hands through his hair in frustration before bending over and picking up his t-shirt. "Put this on over your suit," he suggested. "I'll ride back without it. Just come swimming with us. Please."

My hands shook as I took his shirt, looking up at him with wonder. How was it possible that he could be so sweet?

Briefly, I hesitated, but finally turned and ducked behind a few trees. Moments later I heard a splash as he jumped back into the water. I took off my shirt and jeans and covered myself in his t-shirt. It came down to mid thigh and covered my bikini well enough.

Slowly, I walked back to the edge of the water and dipped my toes in, shivering at the wonderful coolness. Tyler swam over to me and offered me his hand, helping me into the water.

It took less than a minute for me to acclimate to the temperature. The water wrapped around me, refreshing me from the scorching heat.

I began to swim across the lake, feeling comfortable with Lucas' shirt protecting me from his gaze. He'd stop every once in a while, treading water to watch me swim.

Tyler and Lucas decided to have a cannonball competition and they had be judge whose splash was the biggest. Lucas won every round until Tyler, fed up with losing, decided to do a belly flop. The wake that he created beat the splash that Lucas had made and he grinned triumphantly.

We swam on and off for an hour and a half, before deciding to head back. When we took off I felt a twinge of guilt as the sun beat down on Lucas' back, but he sent me a dismissive grin.

That night I had a lot of trouble sleeping. The craving for some alcohol, for oblivion, was stronger than it had ever been. I couldn't lay still so around eleven I went downstairs and camped out in front of the TV.

After an episode of Gilmore Girls, Lucas came down the stairs in a pair of pajama pants, shirt in his hand. He paused upon finding me on the couch and he looked down at his chest and frowned. "Sorry. I uh… was coming to get some aloe."

I frowned and stood up to examine his chest and back, wincing at the sunburn spread across his skin. He walked to the fridge and pulled it out, before sitting on a stool and pouring some into his hand. When his hand began to spread the gel he winced in pain.

"I'm sorry," I murmured, taking the bottle of aloe from him. I paused momentarily, but then poured it into my hands and began to rub it gently over his skin.

"It was worth it," he admitted, "to see you smile."

After I had lathered his chest and back in the lotion I returned the bottle to the fridge. "I can't sleep. Just want to drink."

Lucas hummed and lifted himself off the stool, wrapping an arm around me and drawing me towards the couch. "Talk to me instead."

"I was jealous today," I said. "Of how easy it is for AJ and Tyler to get along with you. It should be easy for me too, but it isn't."

"Unfortunately, life isn't simple."

"Then why do it?" I asked. "Why keep going?"

If Lucas was surprised by the question, he didn't show it. "There are things that make it all worthwhile," he insisted. "There are sucky things. There are moments where it doesn't make any sense to keep on pushing through, but then you get a moment that makes it all worth the pain. Seeing you smile today," he proposed, "that made my day. I hate watching you suffer. I want to wring your parents' necks. They have no right to hurt you like this. But seeing you smile shows me that you aren't going to let this break you. You are strong Rina. Stronger than you know. And we will get through this."

A tear dripped down my face and Lucas drew me into his side, holding me close. I curled into him as gently as I could, trying not to hurt his sunburn.

He held me as the tears fell freely. "I love you. I'm here for you. I'll hold you when it all gets to be too much. All you have to do is come get me."

Lucas had said we. We will get through this.


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wildchild - Thank you for being a continued fan! I'm glad to be back too!