Guys, we are almost to the end of Lucaine's or Lalaine's love story. I'm sorry for the long wait and even sorrier that this isn't some glorious and fantastical romantic scene. It's been so long, I hate to disappoint you after this extended wait but I'm honestly just relieved that I'm posting something. Thank you for your patience, if you have been waiting.
The sun is already dipping towards the horizon when Dion drives the SUV back into the parking lot at the Keepsake Motel. He's not at all surprised to see that Lucas has already nodded off. While he's happy that his brother is finally getting some rest, he would have preferred it if he was his usual vital self.
Had he known of any way to have convinced Lucas not to board that flight, in the first place, he would have utilized it. As his brother's doctor, he should have insisted against this trip.
He'd wanted, so badly, to impress upon Lucas that his focus should have been on resting and healing; not on chasing a woman from one end of the country to the other. To Dion, the fact that Alaine hadn't divulged those plans to her boyfriend had been telling and he'd wanted to make Lucas see that the entire journey could have been for naught...maybe Alaine had had enough.
Crushing an already dispirited and broken man had left a vile taste in his mouth, however, and he couldn't bring himself to do it. Furthermore, he also knew that any such argument to dissuade an already decided Lucas would have been met with fierce resistance; because, especially when it comes to Alaine, Lucas gives no quarter.
And so, here they are.
Rather than focus on how the stress of the day might have impacted both Lucas' health and progress, Dion looks for the silver lining in this whole situation. From the looks of it, they're trying to work the kinks out of their relationship. That knowledge gives him a measure of relief.
He's glad to have witnessed the spark of hope in Lucas' eyes for the first time since the first day Alaine had walked into his hospital room. He's doubly glad to have heard his brother's laughter again -- the sound of which had given him hope that maybe the woman who had transformed Lucas' life wouldn't give him the boot for the shitty way he's treated her.
That had been his fear from the moment Seth had called him to say that she'd hopped on a plane and headed home. He'd genuinely despaired that Lucas would have come all this way for nothing more than a broken heart. Since they were kids, he'd felt an odd responsibility towards his strangely quiet stepsibling so, he'd been worried about Lucas' reaction if that had truly been the outcome.
Dion's purpose had been damage control. Thankfully, there is no need for him to intervene.
Alaine isn't asleep and he observes her occasionally from the driver's seat. Her gaze is intent on Lucas' resting features. He's not sure whether her eyes have ever strayed from his face, since, every time he chances a glance at the two of them in the rearview mirror, her focus has always been trained on him where his head is cradled in her lap. If Dion had ever doubted her intention with Lucas, if he'd ever thought that she was with him only for his money and looks, those doubts would have been laid to rest from the moment he'd seen her walking out of the motel room all dejected and looking as if someone had just died.
He hadn't known that it was possible to see love in a touch but the way that she strokes Lucas' cheek with the back of her hand seems like she's painting her love into his skin. It's in the way she looks at him too -- with such adoration, he could almost be jealous. Not of the woman. He's joked about taking her off Lucas' hands in the past but that's all it ever was. Sure she's a beauty but tiny women aren't his type. It's the way she loves Lucas that he wouldn't mind receiving.
It actually pains Dion to disturb them. After the night he's had, Lucas needs the rest and the ministrations at the hands of his girlfriend can't hurt him either. But he parks the car and clears his throat to get her attention.
Alaine looks at him in the rearview mirror and he is more certain that his assessment had been right. She takes in her surroundings and sees that they are back to where they had started. Her eyebrows pull together in a frown as she whispers, "he seems so peaceful. I hate to wake him up."
"I'll go," Seth offers from the passenger seat. "I'll get your stuff and have Delah and the little rug rat come down to meet you."
She nods her head and gives him a small smile to show her appreciation to how everyone has rallied around Lucas now that he needs it.
While he walks away on a brisk stride, Alaine studies Seth's gait. A pang of pain twists inside her. If she hadn't witnessed it for herself, she would never have been able to guess that he'd shot by the same man and the same gun that had shot Lucas.
Her eyes shift from Seth's back to the sleeping man in her lap but she swallows her wistful sigh. She doesn't begrudge Seth his perfect health. She just wants the same for Lucas. The love and loyalty she has toward him are unquestionable. Should his condition not improve, her place will be by his side and she will fight tooth and nail for the two of them.
But she wants him hail and hardy, dammit!
Not because she would esteem him less of a man should he not make a full recovery but because after everything he's been through, he deserves a full life.
"He'll get better, you know," Dion tells her, as if he'd read her thoughts.
Alaine meets his dark eyes in the mirror again.
"He is getting better," he amends. Then he sighs and looks to be uncomfortable with his next set of words. "Most of Lucas' problems are physical but a lot of it is in his head too."
Before Alaine come up with a reply, voices, more Isabella's delighted squeal, coming from the second floor snags her attention. Alaine laughs at her niece's antics when she leaps into Seth's arms and wraps both arms and legs around him.
The noise makes Lucas stir. He blinks up at her, his gray eyes dulled by tiredness and sleep and possibly the drugs he'd taken and the sharp lines around his mouth speak of discomfort.
Still he offers her a wan smile. From his position, the bruise around her throat is slightly hidden but the effect of seeing it there is not at all diminished. Lucas promises himself that he will get better, if only to visit Harlan Jackson to pay him his just desserts.
His extreme fatigue won't allow him to lift his hand up to Alaine's face to coax her down into a kiss as he used to do but he feels a bit of contentment that she's looking at him in the way that only she does. The tender emotions staring back at him incite an arrhythmia in his heart. He remembers the warnings from his doctors against too much excitement and pulls in a deep breath to regulate the wonky beating in his chest.
Worry sweeps in to wash away the love in Alaine's eyes and he has to beat back the aggravation it causes him. Thankfully, she doesn't ask him if he's okay -- a question he's come to abhor, he's heard it so much.
"You're beautiful, even when you're worried," Lucas says to distract her.
"Whipped," Dion coughs from the front seat.
To preserve the tender moment, Lucas lets the comment pass without a retort. Unfortunately, a gang bounds toward the SUV, driving the rest of their intimate moment away. Seth opens the trunk to drop Alaine's small suitcase in while her sister comes up to the window.
"Can you sit up?" Alaine asks him. "I need to talk with Delah and say goodbye to Izzy."
Lucas nods his head and strains. Alaine's little hands provide assistance to push him up the rest of the way. Strangely, he doesn't feel the irritation he would normally feel when she offers him aid. Or maybe it's not so strange, considering the sharp stab of pain cutting his breath. He keeps his reaction to it hidden so as not to distract her from her purpose.
She slips out of the backseat into the evening air. Because the windows are up, Lucas can't hear what they're saying but he can read her sister's reluctant smile and the apology and guilt in her eyes. It doesn't really matter that Delah seems regretful, his spirit is still soured that she'd been so reckless and her recklessness had gotten Alaine hurt.
Since Alaine's back is towards him, he can't read her reaction but the two exchange a hug before her attention shifts to her niece. Alaine walks a little distance away from the vehicle with the little girl's hand in hers and then crouches in front of her.
Now that she is distracted, Delah taps the window. Lucas can sense her hesitation and he understands why. Although he does his best, he knows that he must appear as an ogre unable to hide his disapproval.
"Hey, Mr. Bright," she greets when Dion rolls down the window.
Lucas responds with a tight lipped smile. Even if Tawny had been with them, he can't imagine what either one of them had been thinking putting themselves at that kind of risk. It hadn't been lost him that the motel is no safe haven either. There's no additional security or even cameras that he can see. The locks on the doors are flimsy and he'd seen that after only a cursory glance. All of it is further proof that Alaine hadn't thought this through. He would have argued those points but hadn't wanted to diminish her experience with a scolding.
"I'm really sorry," Delah tells him since he does nothing but observe her.
It makes no sense to berate her when she's so obviously haunted by what happened, so Lucas nods his acceptance of her apology. To offer her an olive branch he says, "I think we can dispense with the formalities. My girlfriend's sister should be able to refer to me by my given name, I believe."
She visibly brightens. "So you guys are okay?" she asks. Then she adds, "Lucas," to test out the leeway she's been given.
Unable to help it, Lucas chortles softly but he says, "I really wish she'd come to me with this."
"I really wish I'd made that bet with Alaine," she tell shim. "I told her you would come. I'm glad you didn't disappoint her and, you thank me, by the way."
Lucas' eyebrows quirk up. "Thank you," he drawls drily.
What on earth would he thank her for? For dragging Alaine into danger? For the bruises on her neck? For the mounting agony he now endures because of the long journey?
To avoid causing a scene, he doesn't say any of that but waits for her to expound on why she presumes he owes her gratitude. She pulls out a folded piece of paper from her pocket, flips it open and hands it to him.
"I am so sorry about what happened with Harlan," she says. "It's all my fault. But I wasn't about to let Alaine give him money that he hadn't earned. He doesn't deserve it."
Lucas takes the paper she hands him and smiles because he knows how fiercely protective Alaine is of her sister. He could tell Delah that he thinks her irresponsible and a bit selfish at times, but doesn't imagine it will go over well with Alaine. He sighs instead and concedes with deep fondness in his voice, "I imagine she came along because she wanted to. Alaine is Alaine. She fights for those she loves."
“She does, doesn’t she?” Delah confirms. “You’ll do well to remember it,” she tells him.
Lucas turns away from her. He’s so tired of always being on the verge of tears. The need to focus on something else directs his attention from the woman currently studying him to the check in his hand. Lucas reads the name, then the amount scrawled in Alaine’s handwriting. Both cause his eyebrows to draw together. He turns questioning eyes, first to Delah, before finding Alaine walking back in their direction.
How could she do this without his knowledge?
Yes, he’d given her the money. It’s hers to do with as she pleases.
Had she blown all the money away on a one day shopping spree, he'd have been less surprised. He would not have minded either. After all the trouble they'd endured, he could even accept a spontaneous vacation.
But not this.
Never mind that he has more than one man needs. Giving away his hard earned money to a man who beats his wife and child? He expects better from the only person he’s shared his history with.
Lucas considers the best way to approach this new development without showing his displeasure and inciting an argument. They’ve just crossed a hurdle in their relationship. After so many strained weeks, being at peace with Alaine is heaven. He doesn’t want to screw it up with barely an hour since they'd reached a treaty. Not over a mere twenty thousand dollars. He hasn’t the energy for it either. However, it’s not something he can let slip by without addressing.
“Harlan is in lock-up,” Alaine explains to Delah as she stops beside the vehicle. “Lucas' new driver is going to stay with you, just in case,” she adds and leans up to hug her sister again. “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”
“Bye,” Delah sings, waving at the two of them when Alaine climbs into the back seat of the SUV with Lucas.
He ensures that the window is rolled up and the privacy glass is in place before handing her the check. Despite his previous determination not to fish for trouble, Lucas demands, “do you want to explain this to me?”
A flush warms Alaine’s cheeks. “I was going to pay you back eventually,” she mumbles almost incoherently. “I would have. I just...”
“I don’t want you to pay me back, Alaine,” Lucas snaps.
He takes as deep a breath as his pain will allow and lets it out slowly. “The money is yours to do as you wish. I just don’t understand why you would want to throw it away.”
“Paying my sister's and niece’s way out of a dangerous situation is not throwing money away,” she argues. “But you’re right, I should have told you,” she adds quickly, because like him, she doesn’t want to lose the even ground they’ve come upon.
“Had you, I would have told you, no,” Lucas persists. He grabs the check out of her weak grip and rips it up. “That’s the other reason you didn’t tell me isn’t it?”
“No,” Alaine defends in earnest. “The money had nothing to do with it. I don’t want to fight, Lucas,” she tells him firmly. “It never ends well when we do.”
Lucas leans back against the headrest and shuts his eyes. She’s right. He doesn’t want to fight either. Plus he doesn’t have the energy for it. The night before had been long and sleepless like every other. At his request, the dosage of his pain medication had been lowered, making it near impossible for him to sleep through the night. Besides not wanting to grow dependent on those things, when he takes them they leave his mind too open. He has no control over his thoughts and he falls too deeply into slumber to escape his bad dreams. In all honesty, he'd rather deal with the physical pain since he has so much past experience with it.
Aside from his constant nightmares about that afternoon he’d been shot, worry over Alaine had also kept him awake. When they'd made it to Idaho, the hour been had late. The drive to Kellogg had been long and grueling. At Dion’s insistence, they'd stopped to rest at an inn before proceeding on his journey to Alaine. There were no nightmares then because he couldn’t sleep. Only thoughts and memories haunting him. So many thoughts and memories, crashing into each other, threatening to drive him mad.
Now fatigue is taking over. He hates his weak body and restless mind.
“I should have told you,” Alaine says again, slipping a little closer to him. “I’m sorry.”
“I don’t have a problem with you using the money, Ali,” Lucas assures her. "I gave it to you."
To that, she gives him a perplexed look since he'd almost chewed her head off.
"But to give it to a man who beats his wife and daughter? You had to know that I would oppose this," he explains.
In truth, Alaine hadn’t considered that and she tells him so. In the heat of trying to save her sister and niece, she hadn’t been thinking about what he'd revealed of his childhood.
“Alright,” Lucas says in understanding. “I don’t expect you to tell me about every dime you spend,” he concedes. “But something like this, baby, I’d appreciate if you would let me in on it first. Not necessarily for an opinion, but just so I know.”
She agrees and studies his resting form when he goes back to leaning against the head rest with his eyes closed. Guilt rises inside her again. “You look tired,” she notes. “How far is this hotel?”
“I am,” Lucas admits. “It’s a few miles to the next town. But I’m glad you agreed to come with me,” he adds and leans down to lay his head against her shoulder. She adjusts her body for his comfort so he can sidle closer.
“Tell me we’re going to make it, Ali,” Lucas says softly after a while of riding in silence.
Added to his lack of experience in this kind of relationship, the fact that they bicker now, over everything, makes his heart seriously question whether or not they will.
But Alaine kisses the top of his head and laces their fingers together.
"We are," she determines.