It’s been so long...too long for Lucas and Alaine. These next few chapters are a transitional period in their relationship. I promise, the mushy Lucaine stuff is coming!
The irony of this present situation is not lost on Lucas. Alaine regards him with a frown on her face -- an unmistakable show of disappointment, so severe, that it takes a knife to his gut and almost makes him cave to her gentle request.
“I could move in with you to help.”
She’d made the suggestion a few moments ago. His heart had sped up a bit in response to his excitement. Until the crushing blow of his new reality had come flooding in with an equally pulverizing blow of defeat.
No matter how badly he wants to, there is no way that he could accept her offer.
If she’d made it at a time before he had gotten shot, he wouldn’t have hesitated a second to say yes. He probably would have demonstrated his elation too, kissing her until they were both consumed by their passion. More than anything, he’d love to feel her hands on him. Her lips against his skin driving him insane with desire in the way that only she can. In his mind, he can see it and feel the images like a tingle in his nerves. However, where once a mere thought of making love to Alaine had held the potential to throw all of his faculties into a tailspin of maddening lust, he now feels nothing and this new dynamic both confuses and angers him. It makes him want to snap that he doesn't need her help. That he already has a host of people who will soon be assigned to him to help to take care of every private business imaginable -- just as he has now.
It’s not that he doesn’t love Alain anymore. He still does with every fibre of his being. He still can’t imagine life without her. Waking up in the morning to see her snoozing in the lounger resting against the wall, or sitting beside his bed with his hand held in hers has been the highlight of every day since Dion lifted the ban off Alaine. But just like the rest of his body, his mind feels as if, in large part, it had also suffered the brunt of Angus’ attack. Though, for the life of him, he hasn’t been able to determine how or why.
The way he hesitates with his response, pulls Alaine’s brow into an even deeper frown. Her features crumble with the wave of tears glistens her eyes. For his sake, she tries to be strong and bats her lashes quickly to blink them back.
Her sadness weakens Lucas’ will and he feels himself succumbing to his need to comfort her. He opens his mouth to agree but, at the last second, hardens his heart against the obvious hurt and confusion playing over her features. Instead, he clamps his lips shut again.
Knowing that he is going to refuse her offer, Alaine asks, “why not?” in a tone so soft, yet, because of her despondency, it feels as if he’d taken a bullet straight to the heart.
“Because,” Lucas sulks his own voice hoarse with the hurt he inflicts on both of them. “I hate you seeing me like this --” he whispers. “So helpless.”
He drops his head to look at his hands lying limp and practically useless in his lap.
How will he ever hold her again?
How will he get down on one knee to ask her to marry him when he can’t manage to lift a spoon to feed himself without giving in to fit of strain and tremors?
And once she realizes that he’s now weak and inadequate -- incapable of functioning in any meaningful way -- won’t she leave him again?
“That doesn’t matter to me, Lucas,” Alaine professes and captures his fingers on one hand to bring to her lips.
His eyes snap up to meet hers, the gray in them flashing in anger.
“It matter to me,” he clips.
Taken aback by antagonism leaking from his pores and flowing in her direction, Alaine steels her already fragile emotions by stiffening her spine. Whereas, she wants to drop his hand, give him the space he so obviously prefers now and acquiesce to whatever he wants, she ignores the impending flare-up that her presence so often incites these days.
Instead of running away to hide from his hostility, she holds firm.
“Baby, I just want to help,” she pleads. “You’ve done so much for me and I just...”
“You just what?” Lucas interrupts.
The bitter edge to his tone makes Alaine tense further and rethink her next set of words.
“You want to return the favour?” Lucas mocks with a scoff. “No, thank you.”
“I thought you wanted me to move in with you,” she mumbles. “Now, I’m offering and you’re...”
“That was before all of this,” Lucas sighs and motions towards his still ailing body. “Besides, I’ve decided to stay here in New Jersey.”
Alaine balks at him. She catches herself staring down into his face with her jaws hanging open because of the suddenness of this pronouncement.
“I wasn’t aware...” she starts to say. Softly, she tries to clear away the painful lump in her throat and continues. “This is new.”
“It’s better this way,” Lucas says without meeting her eyes. “Shanice already has the house set up to meet my...needs,” he concludes, still without eye contact.
Unsure of how to proceed, Alaine nods at him. Since her guilt over him getting shot and putting him in this position is still raw, she doesn’t try to argue.
“If that’s what you need,” she agrees. “I suppose you won’t want me to visit?” she questions. And though she tries to hold it back the tears, her voice cracks.
Lucas regards her, fighting back his own need to howl his pain. Unable to ignore her distress any further, he beckons her nearer to him in a far gentler tone than he’d used on her a moment ago.
“Come here, Ali,” he says.
Before she follows his order, she hesitates briefly. Is it wise to entangle herself even further? Feeding herself with a false sense of hope that Lucas can forgive her for ruining his life?
Knowing that she wouldn’t be able to deny him anything, that she’d cut her own heart out if it meant that he would be able to get off this bed and walk out of the hospital as the man he used to be, she walks with timid footsteps to sit beside him.
“Give me your hand,” Lucas requests and again she obeys. “This is only temporary,” he assures her.
Although, she isn’t certain that he’s telling her truth, Alaine nods again. It feels so much like the end -- like Angus had truly taken everything from them even if he’s locked inside a jail cell -- and she has no idea how to get them back.
“Whatever you need,” she says while looking down a their joined hands. The tears streaming freely down her cheeks now fall there, over his knuckles. To keep herself busy, Alaine wipes away at them.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers. “I’m really trying not to cry but...” she starts to say but stops herself from expressing what she truly wants to say -- to ask really.
Are we over?
“It’s only temporary,” Lucas tells her again.
His own voice is choked by emotion and he doubts the sincerity of them. His heart is cracked wide open and is bleeding over what Angus has taken from him. Yes, he’d survived the ordeal, but he’d also lost a lot more that day. Angus had taken from him the one thing he desired most in the world. At least it feels that way, to him, even if Alaine is sitting right there in front of him, taking his abuse in silence.
The words I’m sorry hover at the tip of his tongue. The need to beg her not to leave him again -- to keep her promise to never leave him -- beats with every thump of his breaking heart. But he can’t allow Alaine to tie herself down to him when there is such a high probability of him being an invalid, in some way, for the rest of his life.
All she does in response to his declaration is nod her head. Lucas watches her throat work as she swallows.
“Look at me, Ali,” he commands “Please,” he requests as she sniffles.
The door to his hospital room opens, stealing away the chance for him to say anything else. Lucas feels relieved because he really had no idea what he could have said to make any of this better for her.
“You ready to get out of here?” Dion questions.
He walks up to stand beside the bed, silently studying the two of them. If he notices the emotion laden atmosphere, he makes no comment on it.
In a voice devoid of any enthusiasm, Lucas replies to him, “sure.”
Dion doesn’t comment on that either. He gives Alaine a half smile, an encouragement not to give up on his brother now that he’s developed the personality of a complete asshole.
“I guess we should cancel the parade,” he jokes and throws Alaine a wink.
Lucas cuts him a stern look that he ignores.
“Can you give me a second with my brother, Ali?” Dion requests.
Happy for the chance to escape and regain her composure, Alaine hops off the bed. She doesn’t bother saying anything to Lucas. Rather, she swipes at the wetness on her cheeks and strides toward the adjoining en suite.
“Ali?” Lucas raises the question, along with an eyebrow, at Dion. “Since when are you this familiar with my girlfriend?”
“Is she even that anymore?” Dion fires back. “I wouldn’t be able to tell that you give a shit about that girl with the way you’ve been taking all your shit out on her. In front of others, no less. A word of advice, Luc,” he says, stressing on the shortened version of Lucas’ name. “If you don’t want her, let her go or risk losing her in a fashion far worse than you can bear -- to another man. I’m still happy to take her off your hands.”
Lucas lets out an actual growl. It’s the most that he can do even if he wants to wrap his fingers around Dion’s throat and squeeze hard. If it were physically possible, he’d have knocked his brother on his ass too. As it is, all he can do glare and breathe like a dragon.
“I thought so,” Dion chuckles. “You’d do well to remember what the thought of losing her felt like that day. How it still feels. I get that you’re messed up about all this but stop being a jerk or that’s exactly what will happen.”
Two orderlies join them in the room before Lucas can say how scared he is that she will leave either way. Tears pool in his eyes so he shuts them tightly to seal the cascade behind his eyelids.
The sound of other voices in the room draws Alaine out of her hiding spot. Seeing the orderlies tasked with wheeling Lucas to the medical transportation van waiting outside reminds her again -- as hard as it still is to believe -- that Lucas is still here. That they’ve been given this precious, extended time together and it infuses her with a bit of hope for their future together.
She shifts her focus to him. Just like earlier, her joy deflates when she notes that he gives no acknowledgement to her re-emergence by his side. Alaine swallows down her pain and is happy that she’d had a life long of practicing how to do so -- although, this new type of agony is more than anything she knows how to deal with.
“I thought your dad would be here.” She strains those words beyond the rock in her throat.
“He decided to wait at home,” Dion answers. “Take him away boys,” he orders the two men in the room.
The wheels on the gurney squeak over the tiled floor. The orderlies wheel Lucas out of the door into the hall. He feels overwhelmed by the occasion. A mixture of emotions swell in his chest but he tries to relay some enthusiasm and hopefulness as the medical workers who’d cared for him this past month wave and smile their goodbyes. He owes them at least that.
The closer they get to the exit, the more saturated he feels. He breathes deeply to prepare himself for the first breath of fresh air he’ll inhale in a over a month.
The glass doors gleaming in the afternoon sunlight looms ahead of him. Lucas fists the sheets at his side in a feeble grip, wishing that it was Alaine’s hand instead, offering him solace, and searches frantically for her. It’s then he notices her walking near the head of his bed, her eyes trained on him and his travel bag slung over her shoulder. She snaps her attention away as if she’d been caught doing something forbidden and it twists his inside.
Remembering his brother’s words of caution, he whispers, “baby,” to her.
“What is it?” she answers when he says nothing else.
Lucas shakes his head and uncurls his fingers around their purchase. He looks down at his opened, upturned palm in a silent plea for her to place hers in his. Needing no other prompting, she gives him a little smile -- a genuine one -- before wrapping her small hand around his.
For the first time in a long while, Lucas feels a ray of hope, as bright and warm and just as pleasant as the sunlight heating is face when they wheel him through hospital’s entrance and into the open air.
In spite of that hope, recovery turns out to a long, slow and uphill journey for him. Accustomed to rigorous workouts, joy riding on his motor cycle, coming and going as he pleases, and making fervent love to the woman he desires above everything else in the world, his confinement, along with all the rules that go with it, becomes unbearable. Added to that, his mood has been perpetually foul in the last two months since he’d been released from the hospital and degenerative, as well. He’s grown more and more embittered by his new position in life, being dependent on others, despite, his and everyone else’s efforts to improve his spirit. Both psychologically and physically his progress seems staunched. From start to finish of everyday, he remains frustrated and bares his teeth at every well wisher in his so called ‘support group’.
He would have been better off dead.
So he’s expressed to Alaine - repeatedly. Like the true trooper she is, she hadn’t descended into hysterics each and every time his ill-temper has been directed at her; which really is more often than not. Even Lucas knows that he’s testing her patience and off late, that knowledge has started to terrify him. The way she simply excuses herself, as she does these days, during his meltdowns and episodes, has served as a warning that Dion was right. He may scare her off. His volatile behaviour is further proof that his mind is just as broken as his body. Though he tries to, he has no idea how to repair the damage.
Jackie dropped a pot the other day and the loud bang had seen him ready to scamper for cover.
When will this part of his recovery, of his life be over? He is so ready to move on from it. Is wanting to make forward strides with Alaine too much to ask after what they’ve been through? What kind of relationship will they share if he isn’t a whole man?
Though knowing Angus can no longer hurt her, he hates having Alaine out of his sight. How many more Angus’ are out there just waiting to pounce? He knows at least one person who lying in wait -- the elusive accomplice. Yet, when she is here at this apartment, all he wants is to avoid her.
At least, he can be content with his decision to decline her offer to move in with him since he can barely stand to look at her. That offers him a little bit of solace. He may be suffering but he will always do what is best for Alaine.
The entire process is a confusing one. When he gets upset, which in hindsight, always seems like for no good reason, or when he lashes out, the hurt in her eyes kills him.
Why can’t he stop himself? A little voice answers him he doesn’t try hard enough.
Never in his life has he ever felt this powerless and out of control. Having no governance over his wayward emotions only makes matters more bleak.
His greatest fear, as Dion and just about everyone else has warned him, is that Alaine tires of it. That despite her promise of, never, that one word he won’t ever forget, she may yet walk out on him.
It taken a full month after his four week stint in the hospital before he had reverted back to being a tiny semblance of the man he used to be. A full month before he was able to walk across his bedroom at his parents’ New Jersey mansion without a pair of hands to steady him in case he stumbles. And another two weeks before he’d felt comfortable moving back to his apartment on his own.
Even now, the trek across his living room still gets him winded with beads of sweat rolling down the sides of his face. Not to mention the other personal things that someone has to assist him in doing every damn day.
Alaine looks at him as he makes his way to the sectional where she is sitting. Earlier, before she’d arrived, Lucas had excited to display his newest achievement - getting around without his cane. Now that she is here, smiling at him like it’s his greatest accomplishment ever and it grates on his nerves. All he can manage is a scoff.
What is she so happy about anyway?
If she notices his bitterness, she doesn’t show it. “Look at you,” she says, standing to greet him.
Though his excitement has been inexplicably curtailed and his mood soured, Lucas totters with determined strides in her direction.
He should probably simply accept this small victory. But when his stance sways a bit, she immediately reaches out. Lucas instinctively brushes her hands aside. She’s small. It’s not like she could do much to help anyway.
Though she tries to hold on to her smile, her features wobble between happiness at his progress and hopelessness at the coldness is his eyes and treatment.
Alaine already knows that it’s only a matter of time. She’s losing him to his process. It’s so clear but she refuses to abandon him now. She holds on to a thin thread of hope inside her even if Lucas has given her no reason to do so.
When he reaches her, she runs her fingers over his forehead to smooth away his perpetual scowl and wipe the sweat glistening on his skin.
Afraid to ask how he is feeling or doing, lest her head is chewed off again, Alaine says nothing and they remain in an awkward silence.
There’s something she should to talk to him about. Something important. As painful as it is, as scary as it is, Alaine chooses not to burden Lucas and to face this issue on her own.
“So,” she begins.
“Don’t ask how I’m doing, Alaine,” Lucas interrupts, his tone harder than he intended. “My answer is the same as it was the last time you did.”
“I wasn’t going to,” she replies in that small voice that reveals her hurt. To bolster her nerves, internally, Alaine reminds herself that this person isn’t the Lucas that she knows.
This is a shell of the man he once was. A broken shell that just needs time to recuperate, to mend and adjust before he can regain what he lost. He’ll be a better man for it. Or so she hopes; so she tries to convince her heart and mind. Though they are beginning to stir up doubt.
“I was thinking that maybe we could take a walk outside. The park? It’s summer. It’s sunny,” she adds going for a cheery voice to perk up his mood or cajole his interest. “You’ve been in here for so long that...”
“I can barely walk across the apartment,” Lucas sulks. “You think I want people to see me like this?”
“I remember you saying you don’t care what people think,” Alaine counters, trying to keep up her spirits, though she feels like a part of her heart is dying. “We’ll go slow,” she tells him hopeful that they can have that time together. Maybe they can resume a little normalcy in their relationship . “We can sit by the lake or...”
“I’ve an image, Alaine,” Lucas interrupts. “I don’t want anyone seeing me as a victim. I don’t want to see myself as a victim. You already see me as such with all your coddling,” he argues. “That’s bad enough.”
“I don’t see you as a victim,” Alaine responds. With a resigned sigh, she drops the hand stroking his hair. “I see you as a fighter. A survivor. I always have.”
With that she rises from her place beside him and picks up her bag. “I just thought it would be nice to spend some time together outside. I’ve had a lot of disappointment in my life, Lucas,” she tells him fighting her tears. “None of them ever hurt as much as your treatment of me.”
Still she leans down and places a kiss on his cheek. “I love you,” she tells him. “With all my heart. But I’m not going to accept it anymore.“Bye Jackie,” Alaine calls to the housekeeper before walking towards the elevator with all the confidence of a wounded spirit, to the elevator.
After offering Lucas a wry, pained smile from inside the carriage, the door closes, just in time so he doesn’t see the evidence of the hurt he’s inflicted in the form of tears staining her face.
When Alaine leaves, Lucas feels empty. From the kitchen, Jackie watches his anguished expression but says nothing. He wishes that she would. He wants her to go back to being herself; to speaking her mind instead of walking on eggshells around him all the time. Anything would be better than her silent scrutiny that has him feeling like asshole.
For the life him, he can’t decipher his treatment of Alaine. When she’s here he’s angry. When she’s not, like now, he’s desolate. Every morning he tells himself thathe will treat her like the goddess she is. Like the woman he loves, deserves to be treated. He promises himself that he won’t be responsible for the pain in her pretty eyes. Then he sees her and he just loses it. Not even all the love in his heart can save her from this cruel version of himself.
He’s dealt with trauma before and came out victorious. Which is part of the reason he doesn’t understand his descent into this insanity. Not many people share his story. A billionaire after facing so much adversity. That just proves that he’s not weak, nor broken. Like Alaine said, he’s a fighter and a survivor. To know that she see’s him that way, as a conqueror, is everything. No one can dispute that he is. Except himself. In his mind, in his, heart he knows better. He knows that he is weak and a failure. A failure who doesn’t deserve the affection and care that she is determined to show him.
How can he when he couldn’t even save her?