Dallas waited for his cousin in the visiting area of the rehab center. When Dallas had passed through its double doors, he'd been impressed with the facility. He'd met the doctors, the nurses and the therapists who seemed very concerned and committed to helping his cousin recover from his spinal injury. They were sensitive to his history and his PTSD diagnosis, including his therapy for that in his structured program and had taken the time to discuss Luke's care and therapy with him.
Luke had wanted to make the trip from L.A. to this cutting edge rehab center up in San Francisco because he wanted to get back on his feet again. Dallas knew the odds were long against him and he knew that for the first few months, his cousin had fought against the surgeon's prognosis that he'd spend his life in a wheelchair. There was just no convincing him otherwise and any attempts to suggest that maybe he should create more realistic goals was met by hostility by Luke just before he'd shut them out behind the wall he had erected around himself.
Dallas had been familiar with that wall when he had first found Luke and had brought him home, through his suicidal period when they had finally crumbled nearly sending him over the edge of a skyscraper. But over time and with much love and patience from those in his family he had made a lot of progress in addressing his demons and trying to rebuild his life and identity in a world that had changed so drastically in his absence.
But after what happened in that estate in Mexico, it had seemed as if his cousin had gone back to square one.
Not during those few frantic hours when medics flown in on a chopper scurried up to put him on a stretcher and prepped him for the 30 minute helicopter ride to the trauma center. Dallas had been beside him most of the time while medics stuck him with needles for IVs and monitored his vitals.
"How you doing buddy…?"
Luke had opened his eyes when he heard Dallas's voice but they had him on his stomach and he couldn't see him.
"I don't feel any pain cuz, shouldn't I be in a lot of it?"
Dallas had closed his eyes at that briefly because he knew what Luke didn't and that was that he'd taken a bullet wound to the lower back. The medics had fussed over it but given that he had lead still lodged inside him, they wouldn't do much except try to insure that the bullet didn't shift its position during transit.
If Luke couldn't feel anything that meant one thing, the spinal cord was involved. But whether it had been severed by the bullet or merely bruised, only a doctor could determine that and that was quite a distance away.
"Oh god…I just feel numbness…I can't feel my legs."
Dallas impulsively reached over and grabbed his shoulder.
"Do you feel that…?"
He thought he saw a slight nod.
"Yes…yes I do…that's good right?"
Dallas didn't know how to answer his cousin while the paramedics continued to work on getting him ready for a quick transport. Vince had gone off to make phone calls to contacts he had who knew the best neurosurgeons. The plan was to stabilize him at the trauma center and then do another quick transport to a surgical facility in San Diego to remove the bullet. His life wasn't in immediate danger and his vitals were strong.
Dallas had seen her being examined by a medic just as he'd been for a couple scrapes and a cut on his face that had been butterfly stitched already. He shrugged off any advice to get checked out at the hospital focused intently on his cousin.
"She'll be at the hospital with me."
The surgery had gone well within an hour of when Luke had touched down in San Diego, with the hospital OR prepped and the surgical team, one of the finest waited his arrival. But the doctors' prognosis had been guarded.
The bullet had nicked Luke's spinal cord in the area of the lumber vertebrae which was why he had no sensation from the waist down. The cord had swelled in response inside the spinal column that shielded it. After carefully extricating the bullet, the surgeon had treated the cord with some newer medication to help facilitate the healing process. It had shown promise in cases where there was still viable cord tissue at the area of injury.
Whether or not Luke would respond to it could take weeks or months to evaluate whether the procedure had succeeded or failed. Dallas had spent hours waiting with Vince and Reese. for the surgeon to come out after the surgery. He and his uncle hadn't talked much and his conversations with Reese. had been even more limited. She sat apart from him and his uncle in her seat seemingly someplace else.
Brock had joined them and expressed his regret at Luke's injuries and Dallas had felt anger fill him at his friend for how the operation had gone down but he was still too focused on his cousin who lay on the operating table.
Dallas would have given anything that his cousin would walk again. But it wasn't up to him and that left him feeling helpless when Luke remained paralyzed. Not much could be read into that at first because if he regained his legs it would still take months and a grueling regimen of physical therapy to get there.
Luke had started working on his goal from the moment he woke up from surgery. It was as if the surgery, being bed ridden in the hospital were but an interruption to his life…the one he had tried to live…when the one he'd spent years trying to create inside his head to keep from going crazy hadn't panned out.
But it didn't take long for a man who had survived on patience to become inpatient with his progress and then it had gotten ugly for a while. Dallas hadn't been there through much of it, he'd been traveling the globe trying to hunt down those who had put his cousin in a wheelchair.
Several months of his life spent doing that and a couple of Rodrigo's lieutenants that had eluded the dragnet were rounded up, even as their boss' team of lawyers worked around the clock to keep him from spending the rest of his life in prison or even going on death row for an untold number of murders committed on his watch.
None of which could be tied enough to him to guarantee him death by lethal injection. Some of the people Dallas knew to be dead had just vanished and never been found…but not all of them.
Dallas looked up from where he sat in the waiting room and saw Luke wheeling his chair to him. He'd insisted on using a manual chair so he could put all the intensive strength training in his core and upper body muscles to work.
"Luke…how goes it?"
Luke gestured him towards some French doors that led to a small patio outside which would afford them some privacy. The sunlight warmed them as Dallas sat down to visit with his cousin.
"I'm doing better…the therapy here's so intense it's kicking my ass but I feel like it's working."
"Yeah I know it might not get me my legs back," Luke said, "but I couldn't live with myself if I didn't at least try to get out of this chair."
Dallas noticed the change in his cousin, because only a couple of months ago he'd never admit that his hard work and the surgery might not pay off the way he wanted. He'd have cut off anyone sharply who even suggested that he might not ever walk again.
"I get that Luke…I know what it means to you but your job's still waiting when you get out."
Luke chuckled, his hands resting on his wheels.
"Look I know you mean well but I'm not sure your line of work is for me," he said, "I might go back to focusing on my plans to be a counselor vets…maybe I'll focus on disabled vets."
Dallas considered that.
"Sounds like a plan."
"There's a lot of guys who see combat who come back with shattered spines and blown off limbs," he said, "I know what it's like to have your whole world change because of what happens in a split second."
Dallas looked at his hands.
"Luke I'm sorry about what happened that night."
His cousin held up his hand.
"Don't apologize…I went into this knowing exactly what I was getting myself into and I could have said no."
"I did pour on some pressure and you didn't ask questions."
"Because you're my family…you and Dad and Reese …."
Dallas leaned closer to him.
"We're all here for you Luke, for as long as it takes," he said, "whatever life throws at you and whatever you give back to it."
Luke digested that and nodded.
"My dad's been a regular since he rented that condo by the bay and Reese's been here a few times since she moved up here."
Dallas's eyes narrowed.
"You knew about that?"
His cousin looked right back at him.
"Yeah…she dropped by after she settled in that village. She works at the nursery."
"So do I now."
Luke rubbed his forehead.
"You two getting along okay?"
"We're getting along," Dallas said, "She's the one putting up barriers."
"You can't change what happened and neither can she."
Dallas fidgeted in his chair, the leather squeaking beneath his weight.
"I'm doing this to make sure Rodrigo and his thugs don't find her," he said, "I don't know about the rest of it."
His cousin just paused.
"You know I thought I had a real good thing going on with Deanna…that she and I…well we'd just gotten together before…"
Luke's voice ebbed off. His memories of those days perhaps catching up to him…after all she hadn't stuck around him long after he started lashing out at everyone around him. Dallas had missed that part of it while searching for Rodrigo's men.
"She really left you."
"Not really," Luke said, "I pushed her away. I guess she could only take so much before she said she needed to give me some space. But I haven't heard from her."
Dallas remembered that day they had spent together on the boat just before the assignment. A deep affection seemed to exist between the counselor and his cousin. But it's not like he'd been around to see what had gone wrong.
By the time he had gotten back to L.A., Reese had already taken off not leaving much about why or where she'd headed.
"What about you and Reese?"
Dallas blinked his eyes at his cousin's question.
"What about us? I tracked her down with the news about Rodrigo and she told me to keep away from her."
Luke shook his head.
"Dallas, I know we missed a lot of years together but I never took you to be such a jackass when we were growing up back in Texas."
"What did you just call me?"
Luke didn't retreat but then that wasn't exactly his style.
"You heard me cuz… This whole attitude you have towards her now," he said, "As if she did something wrong."
Dallas shook his head dismissively.
"She didn't do anything wrong and I never said that she did."
Luke remained quiet for a long moment as they sat there together, the only sound being birds flying in and out of the tree branches.
"You don't blame her for what happened to me do you?"
Dallas shook his head.
"No…I blame Rodrigo for that but after what happened when you needed us, where was she?"
Luke sighed and Dallas saw more than a little anger defining his features then.
"Now hold on cuz…what the hell kind of question was that?"
"A fair question actually," Dallas said, "I mean she was there but not really…and then she just took off one night."
Luke just stared at him.
"So did you…you left town in your jet to go hunt down Rodrigo's men and no one knew when you were coming back."
Dallas sighed again.
"That was different, they had to pay for what they did and the feds didn't seem interested in tracking them down."
"So you thought you'd try…to go out and find them and bring them in to custody like some commando."
"Someone had to and once they caught up with Rodrigo, Brock and his agents seemed to forget about everyone else."
"He was the big player Dallas, and he could lead them to the rest if they could get him to cooperate."
Dallas shook his head.
"He didn't seem interested in doing that and that was before his lawyer got him out of jail and he disappeared."
"Anyway while you were gone, Reese put up with a lot of what I was dishing out to everyone when things weren't going so good."
Dallas narrowed his eyes at his cousin.
"What do you mean?"
Luke looked away for a moment.
"I'm not proud of the way I acted when I thought I might never get better," he said, "I got really depressed and I got really angry…at everything and everybody. You know Deanna had dropped out of sight…kind of my fault for pushing her away but well, Reese got a lot of that too."
Dallas stroked his jaw with his finger, thinking back to those days which he'd missed. He'd been too busy moving; too busy tracking down leads in hopes of finding some bad guys that hadn't been busted after the feds finally broke up the party.
"But she put up with it, I don't know why. She came back even during the time I told her not to bother and when I tried to bait her, she just wouldn't bite except…"
Dallas listened to his cousin talking about all that he'd missed out when he'd been out on his hunt. By the time he'd returned, something had changed with his cousin, something that had left him with a better outlook.
"I'm sorry I wasn't there for you."
Luke shook his head.
"I'm not blaming you cuz. If it weren't for you and the others, I'd still be in that hellhole rotting away. Now I'm back with my family and even if I never get out of this chair, I'd never change anything."
Dallas knew his cousin spoke honestly with him on that fully aware of the challenges and struggles which still lay ahead. But then Luke had been a survivor, he'd had to be just to make it until someone came to find him.
"But you Dallas…you've really made a mess of your own life over what happened."
Dallas felt defensiveness tense his muscular frame. He tried to control the tone of his voice not wanting to get into it with him.
Luke paused a moment choosing his words.
"You have a woman out there who loves you and you love her…now don't deny it because I knew you both before I went missing and afterward. And I saw the two of you on that boat that day."
"That was then Luke."
"Yeah well, when I returned to civilization out of that hellhole, I saw how things between you had changed from way back when. Then you went and got engaged to Elizabeth and I thought this guy just doesn't get it."
Dallas bristled when that subject came up.
"I loved Elizabeth…it just never would have worked out between us and we were smart enough to figure that out before the wedding got crashed."
"Yeah right cuz… I'd hoped that was when you figured out that you need a woman who can handle you and love you even when you run off chasing danger."
"I don't chase danger…I'm an investigator, it goes with the territory."
"I understand that but I also know that you enjoy that part of it and that'll scare a lot of women."
"I think it scares Reese sometimes."
"But she works alongside you and she's had a few close calls herself based on what I heard."
Dallas flinched when the litany of them ran through his head. She'd been shot three times and it had gotten harder for him each time even though she seemed to shake her injuries off and returned to the field after the surgeon cleared her.
"Yeah well…you nearly got killed with this last assignment."
Luke grew silent then, just resting his hands again on his wheel chair and making little movements back and forth.
"Dallas, did you ever talk to her about what she experienced that night?"
Dallas blinked his eyes.
"Of course…the assignment was a bust and we did try to sit down and reassess…"
"No cuz, that's not what I mean and I think you know it."
Luke just looked straight at him and he called it right, Dallas did know what he was talking about it but he didn't want to get into it now.
"No she hasn't said much about it."
"Did you ask…and I mean nicely like you give a damn?"
Dallas felt the anger rise up inside him and he forced it down. Why did Luke have to ask him something ridiculous like that? Of course he cared about his best friend; he had the time he'd known her. But right now, it was almost like she didn't want him around, like she hated him. No, that was probably too strong a word to use but he didn't recognize the woman he'd known nearly forever.
She'd become a stranger to him.
"She doesn't invite questions, in fact she's told me to go to hell a few times."
Luke's mouth quirked into a slight smile.
"You probably deserved it," he said, "I thought she'd do the same to me a time or two but she didn't. Probably doesn't feel as comfortable doing that with me as she does with you."
"She's not the woman that I knew…it's like I came back and everything completely changed."
"You're right about that," he said, "I've changed…she's changed. It's what you do when survival comes first."
Dallas furrowed his brow. He did get what his cousin meant by that, had been in that situation a few times himself including back in the military.
"I understand that…"
"Then maybe you can cut her some slack and let her make her own decisions."
"Even if she makes the wrong one and it gets her killed, or worse she disappears forever?"
Luke folded his arms looking at his cousin.
"That night…what's it done to you Dallas? Given you bad dreams? We already knew it drove you across the globe."
Dallas remained silent a long moment but finally responded…his voice a bit jagged.
"We went in with a plan and then everything went south…Carlton got killed…Anna…"
He put his head in his hands just then and Luke just sat there waiting, showing the patience that had gotten him through so much.
"There was nothing you…or I could do about that," he said, "Everything happened so fast…didn't even know I got hit at first and that they'd taken the women to the back."
Dallas pursed his lips as he remembered that too, but so much had been happening, and his first instinct had been to kneel beside his cousin who lay on the rug, his blood staining it quickly. Vince had more focus, more control and had somehow gotten them to stop from finishing Luke off and Reese...
She'd been the calmest of all of them even while Milan and Dash had taken her out of the room leaving the men alive or dead alone.
Dallas hadn't seen her after that, not until the siege had been broken up by the feds who had finally got wind that something had gone horribly wrong with their perfect strategic plan and had begun some form of communication with Rodrigo.
Even though they hadn't been willing to negotiate…most of the talking had been done by one of Rodrigo's own lieutenants named Nikita.
"Yeah it was hard to know what happened when it did," Dallas said, "and then those hours after when the feds were trying to get us out of there."
"They sure did a lousy job of it didn't they?"
Dallas remembered back to that night while his cousin lay pale and still on the floor and there wasn't anything he could do once he realized that at least he wouldn't bleed to death. Vince had found some towels behind the wet bar and they had let Dallas use them to staunch any blood flow but it seemed that the bullet lodged near his spine had done most of that. Still, Dallas knew enough from his rudimentary medic training that any sudden or wrong movement of Luke could change all that and maybe even kill him.
"Luke…you just stay right here with us," Dallas said, "We missed so much time already…don't die on us."
He hadn't known if Luke could hear him. He didn't know that Vince had been trying to coolly assess their new situation even as his son lay shot and he didn't know where the hell they had taken Reese.
Rodrigo and Milan had been in and out of where they were, standing over them and telling them that stunt would get them killed as soon as they found an exit plan in a mansion surrounded by armed feds.
"You thought you were so smart coming here and thinking you could take my property," Rodrigo said, still holding his gun, "but now you're going to die in here all of you…well maybe not everyone."
Dallas gritted his teeth.
"This man needs to get to a hospital…if he dies, they'll put you up on murder charges and you'll go to the death chamber."
Rodrigo didn't look impressed.
"No…he's going to die here and there's nothing you can do about it," he said, "Then you'll die the moment you're no longer needed to get us out of here. Your girlfriend on the other hand…I haven't decided."
Dallas had frozen inside when he heard Rodrigo mention Reese.
"If you hurt her…"
Rodrigo put his hand up.
"Far from it…she's sitting comfortably with the other women in the entertainment room," he said, "Probably discussing inconsequential topics…but if the feds play their cards right, we might release them."
Dallas had closed his eyes then, thinking of Reese being released safely on the outside.
"I never thought he'd lie about that."
Dallas took a deep breath and then released it.
"About releasing the women…"
Dallas had left Luke not long after that but remembered his cousin's words. He promised he'd be back to see him and he knew that he would be soon. His cousin wheeled the chair alongside him as he walked back to the double door entrance to the building.
"Hey go easier on her," Luke said, "Remember what they taught you in football."
"That sometimes the best defense is a better offense…remember that the next time she comes at you."
"I'll try to remember but you haven't seen her like I have lately."
Luke stopped suddenly as they stood near the parking lot.
"That's where you're wrong cuz," he said, "You see I know what's going on with her. She told me."
Dallas was stunned by his cousin's words.
"She did what?"
"You heard me. I forced it out of her and as soon as she told me, I hated myself for doing it."
Dallas ran a hand through his hair.
"Then tell me…what's going on…what the hell happened that night?"
Luke shook his head slowly.
"I promised her I wouldn't and I meant it Dallas," he said, "You're going to have to get her to tell you and you've already damn close to making that impossible for her."
"I'm not trying to hurt her."
"I know cuz…believe me I do but I hurt a woman I cared about enough to push her away," he said, "Don't do the same with Reese. You've got so much together, you could still have everything…but the ball's in your court and you got to use to wisely. You lose her…she's not coming back."
Dallas sobered after listening to Luke, knowing down to his marrow that his cousin spoke the truth.
"You have a choice here. You can either be right and lose her or you can be the man I know you are and be the one taking the risks here…because if you love her even if it's just as your best friend, you owe her that."
"You owe yourself that too."
Then he wheeled back in the building leaving Dallas alone.