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AJ lightly tapped his fingers on his car's steering wheel, contemplating when to go inside Luke's Inglewood apartment. Part of him couldn't believe he was doing this again, but that was quite a few years ago. The last time the two of them spoke things were fine, he just didn't know exactly what he'd be walking into...
He sighed. 'Here goes nothing.' AJ left the safety of his Porsche and walked to the front door of the apartment complex, hearing it squeak as he pulled it open and stepped inside. If his memory served him right, Luke was on the third floor. He passed the mailboxes and went to the stairs, going up three flights before stopping at 12C. He urgently knocked and again a second time when there was no immediate response.
A very pale and disheveled Luke unhooked the deadbolt and answered the door. He sniffled. "Hey, man."
"You asked for my help, that's what I'm here for."
"T-That's really decent of you, but I'm f-fine," he said.
AJ couldn't believe it. "You called me practically begging me to come over here and now you're 'fine?'"
"I just panicked. Y-You know how it is, Alex, you're sick and you think the world's gonna end."
"Invite me in."
"Invite me in," AJ repeated.
"Sure. C-Come on in."
Luke let AJ inside and he looked around. "It smells like a locker room in here." He slipped his shoes off by the door.
"I should've cleaned up before you got here, sorry." He went over to his coffee table and lit a cigarette. "Want one?"
"No, thanks, I quit."
"No shit. Since when?"
"It's been about five years," AJ replied nonchalantly.
Luke took a drag from it and sat on his couch.
AJ stared at him hard. "So, what am I here for? Same as last time?"
"I thought you were clean, sober."
AJ raised his eyebrows. "Was?"
"For four years. I got back into it last year. September."
"I know, I know." He put his head in his hands.
"That shit is gonna kill you." He went over to where Luke was sitting.
"Oh, like you're one to talk—"
"Look, do you want my help or not? I don't have time for this," AJ countered.
"Well, I don't need a lect—I think I'm gonna be sick..." Luke covered his mouth and AJ hurried to the kitchen for a bowl. He handed it to Luke just before he violently vomited.
AJ knew exactly what he was dealing with. Heroin withdrawal. "We could look up some treatment centers, get you into detox."
Luke shook his head. "C'mon, Alex, I'm not one of those...B-Betty Ford people. I mean, half of my graduating class from Westland is in rehab. I-I'd bump into somebody I know, word would get out, and tongues would wag."
"You should take a look at yourself, Luke. You're a mess." AJ crossed his arms in front of his chest.
Luke rolled his eyes. "Thank you, Mr. Blackwell. I'd l-love to hang out like old times, but I w-was actually going to h-head out."
"Why don't you give me a break?"
"You're certainly not helping—"
A loud knocking was heard at the door. Luke groaned loudly and put his head in his hands, further messing up his light brown hair.
"You gonna answer that?" AJ wondered.
The knocking was heard again as Luke shuffled to the door and unhooked the deadbolt before opening it slightly.
"Luke. Buddy. What's up? Dude, I am sorry it took so long for me to get here. I was in the middle of a wicked poker game and I didn't feel my phone vibrate."
"It's alright, man," Luke mumbled.
He looked cautiously up and down the hallway before continuing in a hushed voice. He unzipped a bag he had with him. "So, anyway, I got you a couple grams of the usual and check this out." He pulled out a small baggie of brown powder. "A gram of this, this is some superb—"
AJ realized what was going on and went to the door, appearing behind Luke. "I think you'd better go."
"Who the hell's this guy?"
"M-My friend," Luke said.
"Well, your friend needs to learn some manners. Anyway, as I was saying—"
AJ lightly pushed Luke aside to get to his dealer. "Hey, I don't think you heard me. I said to get outta here."
"Whoa, whoa, wait a minute. Last time I checked, this was Luke's apartment, okay? So, why don't you go make yourself a hot toddy or something and let us talk."
AJ turned to Luke, his expression serious. "Luke, if you do this you are on your own—"
"Oh, you know what? What's it gonna be, man? Do you want this or not?" His drug dealer showed him again and Luke bowed his head, shaking it for no. "Huh? Yeah? Is that a yeah? Yeah, alright."
Conflict twisted Luke's face as he stole glances at the bag of heroin. "Y-You better go, John."
"Huh. Alright. Well, you know where to find me when Mommy's gone—"
AJ pushed John. "Hey, you heard him! Get outta here." And with that, he slammed the door in his face.
Luke went up to the door and punched it lightly, regretting his decision. With a whimper, he sunk to the the floor, sucking in a breath and sniffling. AJ just stared at him and he couldn't help but think of what drugs had done to his friend.
Luke was sitting up on his couch with a blanket wrapped around him, shaking with chills. "C-Can you turn the heat up, please? It's like a f-freakin' meat locker in here."
"Heat's cranked up to eighty," AJ said as he turned a page of the local newspaper and put it down. "I'll make some soup—"
"I don't want soup!" Luke bellowed. "I am sick, I need something!"
"I'll make some tea," he replied calmly and stood.
"Ugh, I'm gonna vomit..."
"Use the—" Too late.
Luke coughed and spit. AJ patted his back. "It's okay. Next time you feel it coming on, use the bowl. Don't worry about it. You wanna take your shirt off?—"
"I can't do this anymore!" He kicked off the blanket and started for the door. "I'm getting out of here."
AJ grabbed Luke by his shoulder. "I'm not gonna let you do that."
He turned around and pushed him away. "Get off of me! You are not helping!" He pointed at him, stomping his foot in anger. "You are not helping me, you are not doing jack!" Luke reached for the doorknob.
AJ grabbed him and pushed him away from the door. "The only way you're gonna leave through here is through me!"
"Fine, I'll call John back—"
AJ lunged at the phone and ripped it away from the wall. He proceeded to grab Luke by his shoulder and led him to a chair and held him down. "Sit down."
"I am sick! I need something! You gotta help me...you have to help me!"
"I'm going to help you. I'm going to help you, Luke but you've gotta stick with me!"
He groaned and fought against AJ before giving up. "Alright?" He felt his forehead and sighed. "You're burning up."
"N-No shit, Sherlock."
"Alright, I'm gonna make a few phone calls."
"Phone c-calls?" Luke questioned.
"Yeah, I've got connections at Cedars-Sinai. I'll get some meds for you."
"You're the best, Alex."
AJ chuckled. "Right."
A short time later, there was a knock at the door and AJ was surprised to see an old friend on the other side. "Anna? What're you doing here?"
"You uh, called in a prescription for Compazine (an anti-emetic). You're gonna need a lot more than that, trust me."
"Come on in."
"Luke." She nodded in his direction as she came over to him on the love seat.
"H-Hey, Anna. Long time, no see. Sorry I didn't tidy up."
"It's no problem. You should see my brother Rob's place, it's a super fun sight." She brought a backpack of medical supplies over to him. She was a trauma nurse at the hospital, she'd seen tons of drug overdoses. She opened the bag and took some things out of it. "I've got Clonidine and Propranolol."
"Propranolol?" AJ wondered.
"For his withdrawal symptoms. I 'borrowed' it from the ER. I've also got your saline and rectal Compazine."
Luke took a drag from his cigarette, his hand trembling. "R-Rectal? I got my choice of who gives it to me?"
Anna raised her hand. "That would be me, I'm the medical professional here. I'm gonna get you set up with an IV, okay?" She put on a pair of rubber gloves and got to work. Afterward, AJ brought over a coat rack to hang the saline bag on a hook. Anna injected a substance into the bag with a syringe. "This is gonna lower your heart rate and blood pressure and take the edge off the jitters."
AJ put his hand on Luke's head. "You're gonna be okay," he tried to reassure him.
Luke ate a little bit and fell asleep soon after that, curled up on his couch. AJ was cleaning up some while Anna was looking at the black and white pictures on the wall near by. "These are great photos."
He looked up and joined her. "Those are Luke Gattuso originals."
"Gritty stuff, it's not what I would've expected," she remarked.
"Yeah, he's got a lot of talents," AJ said quietly and sighed. "I guess that's why this is all so hard to understand."
"Well, this happens to all kinds of people. I see it every day."
AJ just nodded.
"...Before, when I said I had a friend on heroin, I wasn't being completely honest."
Confusion showed on AJ's face. "How so?"
"It was my boyfriend." It was her turn to sigh. "I've done the detox dance more times than I can count."
"How come you didn't cut him loose?"
"It's not that easy when you love someone."
AJ looked over at Luke's sleeping figure. "No," he agreed. "Do you think this is the worst of it?"
"I wish it was."
He groaned and started pacing the floor. "God, I don't know what I'm doing here..."
"You're doing great."
He stopped to look at her. "Thanks for coming."
Anna rolled her eyes. "What are friends for?"
AJ began pacing again. "My kid's home sick—"
"Stomach flu. Kim's probably worried—"
"Kim?" Anna wondered.
AJ lifted his left hand to show her his wedding ring. "Since August 2002. I should call her..."
"Thanks." He sat down on the love seat. "What are we gonna do? Throw him in my car and force him into rehab? He needs help."
"That's the worst thing you could possibly do. Treatment has to be his choice only, we can't make it for him. He's got to want it."
AJ shook his head. "He's got such a bright future, he's so much better than this shit...drugs and all."
Anna came over to AJ and put her hand on his shoulder. "I know. I can see it in him. We'll help him get through this."
AJ was beside himself with rage at Luke. They'd gone back and forth over the past two hours about him going into rehab. He wished more than anything that he could wake him to see what drugs were doing to him. "Take a look in the mirror, dude, look at you! You're killing yourself and I'm not gonna stand around to watch a train wreck! You're twenty-six years old!"
"Screw you, Alex!" Luke yelled back, his hands balling into fists.
"This is killing me to see you like this. You were doing so well: four years sober, a steady job working with some of the best photographers in LA. What made you decide to throw that all away, to give that up? The cravings were too much for you? They made you—"
Luke scoffed bitterly. "You'd know all about that, wouldn't you?"
"This isn't about me! I—"
Anna stepped in between the pair, putting her arms out to separate them. "That's enough. Either of you yelling isn't helping this situation any."
AJ turned away from Luke and rubbed his face with his hand before sighing heavily. He turned back around to face his friend again, his tone more stern rather than angry as he gave his final plea. "Luke, if our friendship means anything to you, you'll go into treatment. But you have to want this. We can't force you. But if you don't accept what we're offering, I'm walking out that door right now." AJ glanced over at it. "I won't answer your phone calls. If you don't get help, I don't want anything to do with you. Do you hear me?"
Luke was silent. AJ sighed and went to the door as promised just seconds before. "Wait." He turned around and looked at him.
"I-I'll go. I'll go," he decided in a whisper.
AJ gave him a small smile, it was a start. "Great. Let's get your stuff."
Fifteen minutes later, Luke and AJ went in his car and Anna followed them in hers.
"I'm proud of you, Luke. You're doing the right thing."
He shrugged. "...I guess."
After a few minutes of silence, they reached their destination and parked in front of the New Beginnings Recovery Center. They got out and walked to the front doors, with Luke carrying his luggage and AJ placing a comforting hand on his back. Anna was on his left side.
"This is it, you can do this."
Luke took a deep breath and pulled open the door and stepped inside, taking in his new surroundings. He was immediately met by a staff member, as promised when AJ spoke on the phone with the facility.
"Hello, you must be Luke. I'm Corina Maldini, the Admissions Coordinator here. Welcome." She reached to shake his hand and he took it in his.
Corina looked to Anna and AJ as they stood behind him. "I spoke to you on the phone earlier. Thank you so much for accompanying your friend here. It's time to say your goodbyes, we need to get Luke settled and get him started in detox."
AJ nodded and embraced Luke. "Good luck, man, I'll call you every day. Stay strong, alright?"
"Thanks, Alex," he mumbled in return and hugged Anna.
The two of them left Luke behind as they exited the building. AJ breathed a sigh of relief as he went to his Porsche. "Hey, Anna?"
She looked up at him from her car door.
"Thanks again. I couldn't have done this without you," He smiled lightly.
"Any time. Let's hope that we don't have to meet again under similar circumstances."
"Agreed," AJ said with a nod.
"Take care of yourself, alright?"
"Will do." AJ got in his car and began the drive home while trying to process everything that had happened over the last few hours, during the day as a whole. He was holding out hope to have at least one peaceful moment before the day was over.
"How's Luke?" the two of them wondered simultaneously as AJ walked into the house, shutting the front door behind him.
Kim chuckled slightly and shook her head. "You first."
"Jordan's okay? Is he asleep?"
She sighed. "No. He's restless and fussy. I just came down from his room to get him some water."
"Go relax, I'll get it," AJ offered her and started for the kitchen.
Kim followed him. "I would think that you need to relax, being with Luke all day. It's not good, is it?"
"No, he's back on heroin," AJ replied softly and filled a glass with filtered water from the fridge; they were trying to cut back on buying bottled water. "He said that he was clean for four years. Started up again in September."
Kim knew that this hit her husband hard, especially since he helped wake Luke up the first time he got sober back in 2003. "Alex, I can take that up. Really, I've got it."
AJ put on the best smile he could and declined her offer. "I'm fine. I'll be back." He walked past her and went upstairs, first making a pit stop in his closet to slip off his shoes before going to Jordan's bedroom.
"You're home," he remarked with a small smile.
"Hey, J, I've got your water." He came over to the edge of his bed and handed the glass to him. "Small sips, okay?"
Jordan drank some of it and gave it back to AJ, who put it on his nightstand. "You need to go to sleep now, okay, buddy?"
"Uh-uh," Jordan whimpered and shook his head. "Tummy hurts too much."
"Alright. Lay down." He did and AJ covered him lightly with the top blanket. "What can I do to help you get to sleep?" He went over to the corner and brought over Jordan's rocking chair from when he was a baby and sat down in it.
Jordan only shrugged. AJ racked his brain for ideas until one came to him. "How about I rub your back until you fall asleep? Roll over on your side for me," he requested gently. Jordan did so just as AJ heard Kim come up the stairs and presumably went into their bedroom. "Now, just close your eyes and take some deep breaths. Where's one place you wanna be right now?"
"Disneyland," Jordan answered softly.
AJ smiled, he was of course talking about the theme park and resort in Anaheim. Kim and himself took Jordan there for the first time last summer. "Maybe we can squeeze a trip in before Daddy leaves again for tour."
"Of course. What would we do there?"
"Ride the tea cups."
AJ heard Jordan let out a small yawn.
"You loved that ride. What else?"
AJ laughed. "We rode that thing what, four, five times?"
Jordan matched his father with a giggle of his own. "It's my favorite, Daddy."
"Well, I like the pirate ride."
"Me, too," Jordan agreed and curled up into his blanket as AJ continued to calmly smooth his back. Several minutes and pirate imitations later, Jordan was fast asleep as he clung to his teddy bear. AJ noticed this and put the rocking chair in its proper place before coming back to the bed. He kissed his forehead lightly and picked up the glass from the nightstand. "Daddy loves you. So much," he whispered. AJ walked to the door and flipped the light switch down as he closed it and went back downstairs.
'God, I need a shower...' AJ thought as he flipped through TV channels with the remote. With a sigh, he turned off the TV and stood just as Kim descended the stairs and walked in on him. He looked over at her and couldn't quite read her expression, it didn't look pleasant, that's for sure.
"Hey, babe, I'm gonna go shower and..."
AJ could feel the blood drain from his face after what Kim did next.
The scenes at Luke's apartment were inspired by an episode of ER. No harm is intended.