For Better or Worse
It's Been a while. I was off-grid for about two weeks and once I was back, posting one measly chapter just seemed so wrong after such a long break. I wanted to have something substantial to post for those of you who have been waiting for these updates. So I have two huge chapters coming your way right now. And hopefully, another two by the weekend. They're written already but I just need to go over them first.
This chapter is over five thousand words long only because I decided to add a short POV from Alaine's mother. I'm not sure that it works seamlessly but I'm also not sure that I want to give her an entire chapter for herself even if I already have it mapped out in my mind. I included her POV here just in case I decide to forgo giving her a chapter of her own because there are some important things about her personality that needs some explaining.
Anyway, sorry for the long author's note. I hope you guys enjoy these new chapters. I'm sorry for delaying so long. Thank you for waiting. Thank you for reading and let me know what you think in the comments.
In all of his life, Lucas has never hated falling asleep more so than he does now. The drugs in his system, though he’s taking them in smaller doses, once he does, make it impossible to fend off the encroaching darkness for very long. The makings of a sigh fill his chest but he lets it out softly so that Alaine doesn't hear and forces his eyelids to stay open a little longer.
God, how he enjoys looking at her.
For a while, he’d forgotten the immense pleasure he’d derived out of something so simple.
Alaine is kneeling on the floor in their room and he propped up against a stack of pillows on the bed. The room is smaller than anything he’s used to. So is the bed. Being in such close quarters with her makes it impossible to ignore the wall -- though now, hopefully, it’s crumbling -- between them.
She has her head bent over her opened suitcase, rummaging through its contents. Her nervousness is an insidious unseen thing crawling over Luças’s skin. Her wariness is on him and he supposes that it would have been too much to hope that a mere apology and a scant few hours could simply erase the damage that he’d done to their relationship and return them to what they had been just moments before Angus’ bullet had taken a part of his life from him.
They haven’t shared a bed or a bedroom for an entire night in so long, he understands her trepidation. As a matter of fact, he feels a measure of it himself -- kind of like the first night that they’d spent together. He’d been eager and nervous and hopeful and terrified all at the same time. He'd had no idea where the night would have led. It had led them to this -- him an invalid, her blaming herself for it and their future uncertain. Still, Lucas knows that he would not trade his life with Alaine for anything. Even knowing that Angus would try to kill him for loving her, except a few things, like chasing her down that first night he'd seen her at his cousin's wedding, there isn’t much that he would have done differently.
When he’d made the rash decision to board a plane to Idaho, and his health ‘be damned’, he hadn’t known what he would meet. Oh, he’d hoped, said a little prayer even, that she hadn’t decided to leave him but he couldn’t have been sure. Here she is, nervous, but as resolute as he’s ever seen her. It makes his insides flutter with hopefulness.
Her little fingers close around something and though her head is bent forward, Lucas can see the smile teasing at the corners of her mouth. A bit of jealousy trickles inside him while he focuses on the instrument of her happiness. It's ridiculous to be envious of a piece of fabric, but there it is. That's the way his mind works these days. Sometimes, he'd swear he suffers from a split personality disorder or something.
This should make him happy. Even if Alaine hadn't informed him of her impromptu trip to Idaho, she'd found a way to take a part of him with her. Satisfaction should swell his heart. Instead, it just makes him angry.
“I’ve washed this and it still smells like you,” she says then brings his shirt to her nose.
An uncontrollable but lazy smile tugs at his lips at that and at the way she inhales him into her lungs as if breathing him in will keep there.
“What’s this brand of perfume?” she asks.
His shoulder lifts in a shrug, that’s made weighty by drowsiness, to say that it’s of no consequence.
“How many of my t-shirts do you plan to steal?” he asks to force an interest in the conversation. “I seem to recall that the last one you stole was navy blue. This one is dark grey. When did you take it?”
Alaine chortles. The sound of his low laughter joining the merriment makes her heart flutter.
“I did not steal anything,” she answers. "Plus, you have so many, I didn't think that you would miss one or two or five." Then she sobers while staring down at the shirt with a wistful and sad expression on her face and says, “they’re soft and comfortable and it feels like a part of you is with me even when you’re not. They’re a poor substitute but the best I had.”
Those words are double-edged sword digging into Lucas. On the one hand, she’d missed him - had been longing for him - whereas, on the other, they just remind him of how terribly he’d let her down.
She pulls herself up from the floor and strips out of her clothes in front of him without reservation.
Every part of her is glorious and Lucas's disabilities do not prevent him from noticing that. The glossy richness of her dark hair, glowing skin, sensual figure - even her dainty feet. He can feel his brain’s reaction to her state of undress. The right neurons trigger with recognition and fire but his body doesn’t respond the way he wills it to. He tempers his frustration the best he can as she slips the t-shirt over her head. It fits her like a short dress, yet, she looks even more enticing robed in his clothes than she did naked and it has to be because he knows that underneath, she’s wearing nothing, only more of Alaine. He may be an invalid but he was still a man.
A thought sparks in his mind and with it comes a little more hope. Once he gets better, there are ways that he can pleasure Alaine’s body even if he won’t be able to take any for himself.
She walks over to the queen bed and slips under the covers to join him. To his disappointment, she leaves a few inches of space between her body and his. For the briefest of moments, Lucas considers respecting that distance but quickly changes his mind. If they’re going to get back to the way things were, they can’t keep doing this new dance.
“Closer,” he requests before giving his nerves a chance to clam up and stop him. But even as he makes it, his body stiffens as the doubt starts to trickle in. During the time he’s spent recuperating, his physique is no longer what it used to be. His muscle mass has deteriorated, making his body softer and thinner. While she's remained just as sensual as the first day he'd seen her.
Will she notice? Will she find him repulsive? He can’t help but wonder, nor the way his heart begins to thud against his ribs.
Without having to be prompted again, Alaine sidles close to him, pressing her body to his side. Were their situation still normal, she would have rested her head against his chest. Lucas misses the comfort of her weight resting on his body but she does take the chance of slinging her arm across his torso.
Just to be sure, she asks, “is this okay?”
“Mhm,” he responds. “Unless you’re not comfortable. Are you?”
They seem as awkward as they had been at the start of their relationship. The notion is cute in some way and frightening in others.
“I would be if this bed wasn’t so hard and lumpy,” Alaine complains.
Lucas can’t help but chuckle at that. “As I recall it, you slept on a sofa that had to have been at least four or five times smaller and ten times as course as this.”
“I’ve gotten used to a certain type of comfort,” she says without any shame. Grinning down at him, she adds, “you’ve spoiled me.”
He can think of nothing to say to that. Finally, the spread of the satisfaction that he's been looking for comes and it's the thought that he's still able to take care of her in some ways that brings it. Her declaration soothes him, in fact. Finally, his eyelids drift close.
“I don’t think I thanked you for coming,” Alaine whispers.
Again, Lucas stays silent. What is there to say that he hasn’t said already? Except maybe... “I love you,” he says because he hasn't said those words enough since he cloaked himself in a robe of bitterness. "I'll still come for you anywhere, Alaine," he reminds her. "Always."
“I love you too, baby,” she replies.
Before long, he's dead to the world.
The nightmare comes as it always does. Here and there a few small details may change but other than that, the content is almost always the same. His tormentors are always the same. These wraithlike, shadowy figures in the form of Claudia, Kurt, and Angus dogging his every step. They move silently behind him and no matter how much or how hard he tries to outrun them, they always keep up even if their pace never changes. Eventually, his body grows sluggish, maybe because he’s tired from running for so long or it could be the virulent wound in his chest, oozing pulses of warm, sticky blood in a steady stream. Then he hears the loud crack of a gunshot and he’s on his knees, this time in a cemetery. Alaine always appears then and he begs her to run, but she doesn’t. Even as his strength continues to fade, he turns to the merciless shadows and begs them not to hurt her.
“Please, I’ll do anything,” he pleads with them. “Just let her go, please.”
Then starts the ridicule. He can hear Angus gloating that he’d won and would continue to win; that he will always keep coming to claim what’s his. Claudia’s derision and reminders of how little she loves him mix in with Kurt’s insults and pummeling fists on his already weak body. For a time he tries to fend off the blows but eventually, it becomes too much. He’s tired. So very tired of fighting. He knows that he shouldn’t - that he should try to keep Alaine safe - but he’s so desperate, he asks her, “please, help me.”
Once she tries to move to his side, the shadows begin to multiply, boxing him in and locking her out of the tight band they close around him.
Over and over again, he feels the bullet piercing his body like it’s playing on repeat. Suddenly, all fall silent in a flash of white, and the only sound he can hear is the interminable beep of a heart monitor. He dies in every dream. Not even death is able to break the invisible force that keeps him pinned in this state of REM. Because of the drugs, he is forced to endure the constant drone of the heart monitor.
A soft hand shaking him sends a jolt to Lucas’s body. For the first time since that particular nightmare started, he comes alive again. The heart monitor begins to record his strengthening heartbeat and he looks around to find himself in a bright white room - no wraiths haunt him there but he realizes that he’s alone. There’s no Alaine either and it dawns on him when he tries to rise off the ground that he can’t move.
“I’m here,” he hears Alaine’s voice say. Only then does he realize that he’s been calling for her.
Strangely, when he comes awake, this time, it’s without the gasping breath. He slips steadily back into consciousness to a world still swallowed up in darkness, with fluttering lashes to the familiar scent of her soap and shampoo and her. He sighs softly, turns his head to nuzzle Alaine’s hair, and breathe in a lungful of air around her.
“Ali,” he calls softly, for no other reason than to say her name. Since the accident, he’d been afraid to appreciate the miracle of still having her in his life. He’d been afraid that any minute someone could come and try to steal their happiness again. Now, he just wants to hold her and feel her in his arms.
“I’m here, my love,” she says close to his ear. “I’m right here. We’re okay,” she assures him. “I’ll be right back.”
“Where are you going?” he asks.
“You’re drenched with sweat, Lucas,” she tells him. “I’m getting you a clean shirt.”
The need to tell her no, that he doesn’t need her help, claws its way up to his throat but he keeps it there and nods his head instead.
With his consent, she digs through his valise and returns to his side carrying a plain white sleeveless vest. Silently, her lips pressed together in concentration, she struggles to strip off the sodden t-shirt he’s wearing. Lucas keeps his eyes pinned on her face, searching for signs of pity or annoyance or anything. All he sees is the fierce look of determination as she helps him into the clean vest. Because of her small stature, he’s forced to do most of the work anyway, so by the time they’re done he’s winded, his limbs shaking with protest.
“I’m sorry,” he says when he flops back onto the pillow. “I was dreaming and...”
“I know,” she cuts him off as she settles in beside him again. “Do you want to talk about it? When did they start again?”
Although she can’t see him in the dark, he shakes his head in response. “It’s always the same. I die, over and over again,” he says. “And you, they hurt you sometimes.”
“But you’re not dead,” Alaine tells him. “And I’m fine. You saved me; remember? Come here, baby,” she orders before he can protest. Not giving him a chance to argue on that front either, Alaine shifts him gently, coaxing him to rest his head over her heart.
“See? I’m fine,” she tells him. “And it’s all because of you.”
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Alaine questions. “I’m not sure I want to.”
“I know you don’t,” Lucas tells her. “And I’m questioning it myself. But it’s our last day in your hometown and you can’t come all the way here and not see your parents. And...” he says when she opens her mouth to interrupt. “I get it. My mother won’t be winning any awards either but my conscience with Claudia is clear. I wish our relationship could be better but I’ve done my part as her son. Accordingly, I bear no blame nor guilt in the status of our relationship. Only the shame of...” he shakes his head and lets the sentence die. “Whatever is or isn’t between us, it’s all on her.”
The wisdom in Lucas’s words has Alaine sulking. “You’re saying I’m a terrible daughter?”
Despite the seriousness of the conversation his lips work themselves into a smile.
“Not at all,” Lucas answers. “You’re the smarter of the two of us in this, I think. I also think that you’re well within your right to be apprehensive and guarded. I, on the other hand, keep going back to Claudia, knowing that she will make me suffer for it. So no, I don’t doubt that you’re a good daughter. But, I think you will want to know that you tried to fix things. Even if their treatment hurts, you want to do the right thing.”
Alaine sighs heavily and continues sulking. “You’re too wise,” she tells him.
She walks to stand in front of him and offers a hand to pull him up from his perch on the sofa.
“Maybe you should get Dion,” Lucas suggests, eyeing her delicate limbs skeptically.
“I can do it,” Alaine says.
“Are you sure?” he asks.
She nods her head and plants her feet firmly on the threadbare carpet. He curls his fingers around her forearm and she does the same to his. Lucas groans but pushes himself off the chair while she tugs him to his feet. The look she gives him after is one of gloating that makes him laugh even while he accepts the dreaded cane from her hand.
It’s so wonderful to see her happy again, he puts his weight onto the cane, leans down a little, beckoning her to meet him the rest of the way. Since they arrived at the hotel in the little room they’d booked, he hadn’t kissed her. While she shared his bed last night, he couldn’t have even if he wanted to since sleep held him, prisoner. She was already out of bed when he opened his eyes early in the morning. Now, he takes advantage. His lips work just fine after all.
She sighs into his soft kisses and lets him do whatever he wants to her mouth. He nips at her lips, tugs them into his mouth. He uses his tongue expertly too. If not for the strain she knows that he's putting on his body by leaning down to meet her, Alaine might never have let him stop.
She eases back and he tries to follow her with a little sound of protest. Though she loathes to end it, Alaine gives him one final swift kiss.
Lucas looks down into her eyes at the familiar glow of adoration and desire in the twin green and gold depths and smiles. When she looks at him this way, it's hard not to believe her promise to stay. It's easy to see their future in these moments.
A knock sounds on the door, breaking apart their little private moment.
"Ready?" Lucas asks.
"No," she answers.
"Well, you've met my family. It's only fair that I meet yours. Plus, I'm every mother's dream for her daughter."
Alaine opens her mouth to argue but a laugh comes out instead. "Still so modest," she teases as she turns to walk to the door.
"Modesty is for losers. I still subscribe to that," he answers.
They might be trying to make light of the situation, but the apprehension is still so plain on her face to Lucas, he calls, "hey," to stop her.
When she turns around to look at him, he ambles the few steps over to where she's standing, looks deep into her eyes, and says, "For better or worse, I'll be with you. I promise."
With her sigh of resignation and a little nod of appreciation, Alaine turns around to lead the way to the door.
During the ride to her parents’ home, it is impossible for her to come up with talking points. What can she say to them that’s appropriate after five years of estrangement? She has her accomplishments under her belt but can’t imagine that either Andrea or Brian would be interested in hearing about that. They never had before - not even after she’d invited them to her graduation. Only Mona and Seth had shown up and he had, understandably, remained on the outskirts of the ceremony.
All she has that they might or might not be keen to hear about is her relationship with Lucas but she has little faith in that topic as well. If they were any other parents other than hers, they might have been eager to know how their daughter had managed to snag a billionaire for her boyfriend.
She looks across to see the grimace of discomfort on Lucas's face and feels a kaleidoscope of emotions shifting in her gut. Love, admiration, fear a deep sense of protection that makes her want to hide him from even this experience balloons inside her. There’s no point in telling him that he doesn’t need to be here, however. He won’t hear it.
This is going to be a disaster, she thinks while stifling a groan of distress.
As much as she would have preferred to avoid the situation or at the very least, keep Lucas out of the minefield that is her family, Alaine finds herself extremely grateful that he hadn't listened to her pleas for him to stay behind. For the entire ride, he keeps her hand in his, lending her a measure of the strength that she needs to walk up to the front door of her childhood home. The place holds not one pleasant memory that she can remember. Not a single one.
A single look at the man beside her makes her flush with shame. Despite his aches and pains, Lucas is willing to see this through. He is the very definition of stoic and stolid. Whenever she feels like the ground is shifting, turning to quicksand beneath her feet, he has his way of planting himself there, a rock, keeping her steady. He being there doesn't do away with all her fears but it's certainly reassuring to have him in her corner.
The car comes to a stop. Lucas glances out the window at the house.
“This is where you grew up,” he says in wonder as he peers at Alaine’s parents’ two-story craftsman style home. It looks like the sort of place where children should be happy. Like a bonafide family home. “It’s beautiful, Ali,” he tells her.
“I’m not making this trip again unless I have to,” Alaine grumbles. “Let’s just get it over with.”
She's always known that the day would come when she would have to face her parents again, no matter how far she went to avoid it.
Alaine steps out of the car and comes around to Lucas's side quickly to open the door for him. He clambers out slowly and she hooks her arm through his to help him across the street and up the paved pathway. After climbing the three steps to the front porch, all Alaine does is stare at the door. It's Lucas who lifts his hand to press the doorbell. The sound makes her jump like it's frightened her out of a daze.
“No going back now,” Lucas says at the sound of approaching footsteps coming from inside.
The door opens slowly. For a few awkward beats, no one says a thing.
"Well," the woman standing only a couple of feet taller than Alaine says to finally end the painful drawn-out silence. "I'd heard you were in town. I can't say I expected to see you."
Alaine opens her mouth to respond but nothing comes out. Her heart is in her throat. The familiar contempt she'd felt turned towards her as a child whenever her mother's eyes fell on her is there as if she'd never left.
Lucas turns to look at her. His heart breaks when he does. She looks so much like a scared little girl. Not at all like the woman who'd handled a gun to try to save his life. It's too close to home, for him - exactly how he feels in the presence of his own mother. She turns her eyes on him then and his heart fragments a little further when he sees the pain there. So he gives her a look, one that reminds her, for better or worse and visibly, she steels herself to address her mother.
Pride, that's what Lucas feels then.
“Hi mom,” she greets. “May we come in?”
For the first time, Mrs. Andrea Knight’s eyes light on Lucas. She assesses him briefly and Lucas has the suspicion that if it weren’t for him, Alaine might not have been allowed across the threshold.
“Sure,” she says, stepping aside. “After five years, that’s fine.”
The house is almost exactly as it had been when Alaine had left it. She'd heard her classmates reminiscing about time spent in their family homes. How eager they had been to return for the holidays to store up a few more precious memories. No sense of nostalgia grips Alaine as she steps inside. There's no longing for the things of the past. She crosses into the living room, the scene where the incident with her uncle had started and ended with her broken on the coffee table and wishes she could turn around to flee.
When she enters the kitchen after her mother it's to the memory of the conversation they'd had about that day. That's wrong. It wasn't exactly a conversation. What she remembers is the taste of her mother's hand when she'd struck her across her face. It was the first and only time her mother had ever raised a hand to her but the recollection is no less painful. Neither is the memory of the shouting, the accusations, and insult which had chased the slap that had caused Alaine's jaw to throb and bloodied her mouth.
You’re a liar and a troublemaker! A little slut. You're not fooling anyone, her mother had hissed at her. You shut your mouth and I don't want you breathing another word of that filth in this house or to anyone else. Do you hear me?
Those memories of home have overridden all others. If there had ever been any pleasant ones here, she honestly can’t recall. All she has is her uncle’s brute attack and her mother calling her a liar. What is even more painful is the fact that she was still in recovery when that happened. It’s something she will never understand. How, with no provocation, can a mother be so cruel?
No one ever defended her. Only Seth when she thinks about it. No one’s offered any comfort either, except for the man beside her.
“Are you going to make introductions?” Mrs. Knight says. "Or are you just going to keep staring?"
She sounds cold, as always but Alaine can tell that she's a little frazzled. Possibly, she's remembering too, she realizes.
Alaine gives her the best faux smile that she can manage. “Mom, this is my boyfriend, Lucas Bright,” she says. “Lucas, this is my mother, Andrea Knight.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Knight,” Lucas says, offering a weak handshake.
“Ah yes,” the lady replies. “I've heard about you two in the news. You’ve certainly moved up in the world, Alaine. I can see why you’ve forgotten your home.”
For Alaine’s sake, Lucas swallows his response. All he wants to do is slip his arm over her slumped shoulders to offer his support and voice the insults in his mind. Would it be inappropriate to ask Andrea Knight, upon their introduction, what it was that kept her from her daughter’s side after her harrowing experience? It most likely is. Because of that, he says nothing but does what he can. He takes a step closer to stand with Alaine and laces his fingers with hers.
“Is dad home?” Alaine asks though she doesn’t know why. His welcome would be just as artic.
Her mother's scoff is surprising.
“Your dad doesn’t live here anymore sweetie,” she says. “We’re separated. Two months, now. But I'm getting the house in the divorce,” she says in a sing-song voice. “Where are my manners,” she chimes on.
“What?” Alaine questions from the shock of her mother’s announcement. As she recalled it, Andrea Knight doted on her husband.
“Can I offer you two a drink?” Andrea asks, brushing her off. “Your man looks like he’s about to keel over, Ali. Why don’t you two have seat?”
“We’re not staying,” Lucas intervenes and gives Alaine’s hand a gentle squeeze. He just wants to get her out of there and admit that he was wrong to drag her through such an experience.
“I just wanted to meet Alaine's parents to let them know my intentions with their daughter. I love her and I’m going to spend my life, showing her that she is loved,” he explains. “Thank you for your time. Are you ready to go, babe?” he asks her.
The relief in her eyes breaks his heart a little more. Without a second of delay, Alaine leads the way back to the door with her mother on their heels. She’s not sure why her heart is breaking for her parents. Her mother doesn’t even seem affected. Lucas is right, she is a terrible daughter. How could she not know they were getting divorced?
“I’m sorry mom,” she says when they’re at the door. “About everything,” she adds.
Something flickers in Andrea Knight’s eyes and heart. She’s sorry too. She loves her daughters. What mother doesn’t? But there are things that always prevented her from showing it. One of them was trying to win back the love of her husband. How could he have loved her with another man’s child growing in her stomach? Back then, she'd thought that if she had given him all her attention, instead of the spawn of another man, it would have fixed things. but it hadn’t. Her husband had grown more and more embittered. He'd withdrawn himself into a shell made of hatred and indifference from the moment he'd learned that Alaine wasn't his daughter.
She'd wanted to tell him the truth of what happened that night after the party. So many times, those noxious words had gotten stuck in her throat, she'd thought that she would choke on them. All it had taken to ruin her perfect marriage was one night. One stupid night where she'd drank just a little too much. She'd been too tipsy to drive home so had done the responsible thing. She'd called her husband to pick her up. Brian had been at work still and commissioned his brother with the responsibility of taking her home. That's the night she'd gotten pregnant with Alaine.
Why hadn't she had an abortion?
It was the heartbeat from the sonogram -- the steady rhythm, the doctor’s voice telling her that her baby was perfectly healthy, the evidence of the innocent life blossoming inside her that changed her mind and she mistakenly thought that with time her husband could forgive her for the infidelity that she hadn’t committed.
She couldn’t be honest about the thing she feared. How could she tell him that his brother had raped her? She hadn’t even been able to accept it herself -- that her husband’s brother had done something so unspeakable. She’d held on to that denial until Alaine’s accusation.
Uncle topper tried to rape me. That’s how I fell.
It came crumbling down then. Thirteen years of denial -- thirteen years of telling herself she hadn’t been raped unraveled when her daughter told her that her uncle had tried to do the same to her. What had stung even more was that such a frail child had put up such a valiant fight to preserve her virtue, where her mother had failed to do the same.
Instead of doing what a loving, undamaged mother should have done, she’d spurned her little girl, ruining whatever chance she had of a relationship with her forever.
“Well,” Andrea says to Alaine’s apology. It makes no sense to try to patch things up now. “Nothing can change the past.”
After the door closes behind them, Lucas doesn’t really know what he should say to Alaine. That was brutal. Looking at Alaine now, he can’t help but wonder by what miracle she'd survived here. Such a small, sweet thing she is. How is she not jaded? Even Claudia knows to be the doting mother when in the company of others. He’d been wrong encouraging her to come here.
Finally, he finds his words and tells her so.
“It’s fine,” she says with a shrug. “I didn’t really expect anything different. She’s always been this way.” At least as far as she can recall, her mother has never been the loving type. If she was, then it had ended with Delah.
From that day and because of that experience, Lucas promises himself that he will live each day to see her happy, loved, and satisfied. Alaine will want for nothing. Not from him.
They left Idaho the following morning with that unspoken promise driving him.