Luke looked up at Dallas who sat across him in the garden outside the French Doors of the rehab center. Vince had been sitting with him earlier but left them alone when Dallas showed up.
"She thinks you hate her."
Dallas looked up at his cousin.
"Reese…how could she think such a thing?"
Luke folded his arms.
"Because of the way you've treated her," he said, "You blamed her for what happened to me and that's so unfair. She had nothing to do with it."
Dallas sighed, rubbing the back of his neck.
"I know that…but I blamed Rodrigo and the others who put you in that chair."
"I'm not going to be in it forever Dallas," he said, "I'm making progress every day and I'm getting closer to walking."
Dallas knew how strongly Luke held onto that and his doctors and therapists had been encouraging but he still had a long road ahead of him just to get out of here.
"Yeah…I know and your job will be waiting for you."
Luke nodded and then moved ahead with his train of thought.
"So you're meeting up with Serena after you leave here?"
"Yeah…I need to talk to her about what happened that night."
"Yeah you do…"
Dallas's eyes narrowed at him.
"I don't know why you just can't tell me what Reese told you."
Luke paused for longer.
"Because it's not my story to tell," he said, "and I told her I wouldn't tell anyone. I had to do that just to get her to talk to me and I don't think she told me the whole story."
"Well Serena better shed some light on it," he said, "I'm not sure she even wanted to meet with me."
Luke leaned forward, his eyes serious.
"You have to promise that you're not going to do something crazy when you find out."
Dallas rubbed his jaw line with a thumb listening to his cousin's warning. What did he think he was going to do, and then he remembered he had taken off on a cross country quest to hunt down the men who had shot his cousin.
"How bad is it?"
His cousin looked away and a chill went through Dallas. And then he realized not for the first time that it must be very bad.
"It's the kind of event that can change a person's life forever Dallas," he said, "and it's changed her into someone else."
"I know…and I know that part of that's my fault."
"You were very hard on her," Luke said, "much harder than you had a right to be."
"I was angry and I guess I got scared with what happened to you," Dallas said, "and not knowing why she changed so much overnight."
"Dallas…she's still Reese."
Dallas shook his head.
"No she's not…not the woman I have known most of my life," he said, "She's angry most of the time, very defensive and she doesn't want anything to do with me."
"That's not true…she's just like you angry and scared," he said, "and trying to figure out how to move forward from what happened."
Dallas rubbed the bridge between his eyes.
"I guess Serena will shed some light on that," he said, "At I hope so."
Reese had woken up and headed down to eat breakfast in the diner before heading over to the nursery where she'd be working by herself. She'd finished the herbal section and was moving on to the vines, including different species of Passion, Morning Glory and others to do the task of carefully separating plants where the vines had intertwined melding them together. Given the size of the shipments, that might take her the rest of the morning.
So she sat on the ground and set to work, deftly moving her fingers to gently unwind the tendrils from where they had gripped the plants. Sweat broke out on the back of her neck before long as she progressed through the Passion vines, which reminded her of another place and time.
She and Dallas had been sitting on the patio near the bungalow eating breakfast of one of his favorite style omelets and slabs of bacon. Her body ached pleasantly from spending a night in his arms and in his bed. She'd woken up still wrapped in his embrace and with his scent.
She had smiled when she heard his voice, a bit gravely in the mornings and had moved in his arms to where they faced each other, their eyes a couple of inches apart.
He reached out to finger a tendril of her hair, looking at her.
"So you up for some breakfast…?"
Her smile widened.
"After last night…yeah…a big breakfast…"
He sighed still playing with her hair.
"You know how much I care about you don't you?"
She knew that more than she knew anything in her life.
"Yeah…and the same goes for me Dallas," she said, "It's just that…"
"I don't know what comes next for us," she said, "We've never done anything like this before."
"No we haven't," he said, "but now that we have, I don't want to go back."
Neither did she but surely he must know how complicated they had just made their relationship because how many friendships between men and women even tightly knit ones like theirs had been messed up when sex came into the picture? She didn't want to think about what might happen if they hooked up, then broke up and couldn't even be friends anymore. She couldn't let that happen with them, losing him as a friend would be worse than losing him as a lover.
"You're not going to lose me," Dallas said, "Not ever…but when we finish this job and go home, I want us to be together and to figure out what to do next together."
That sounded so nice, she thought the feeling still permeating her body months later even with everything that had happened that had destroyed all that. A part of her thought about what it'd be like to have continued on with a relationship with him, god how much different life would be than now if only…
But she felt the familiar coldness fill her body. No, she couldn't change what had happened and she couldn't make it go away. All she could do was try to integrate it in her life in a way where it would no longer control her. Miranda had been helping her with that but this part of her therapy, the desensitization part unnerved her. She had left her last session feeling so damn raw and tired after having to relive some of the emotions she'd fought so hard to keep buried, from showing to anyone. But she trusted the therapist.
But what about Dallas, it broke her heart that she didn't know how to answer that anymore. No, she couldn't let him or anyone else see that part of her that had been broken.
Dallas left the hospital to head where he'd be meeting Serena and he parked his car outside the restaurant. Heading inside, he looked for her trying to remember what she'd looked like the night of the party but didn't see anyone resembling her. The waiter seated him in a booth and he ordered an iced tea.
He braced himself for what she might tell him and wondered if he wanted to hear it. But he had to listen to her, to find out what had happened to Reese.
And what he had done wrong.
Because if something awful had happened to his best friend on the assignment then it had been because he hadn't done enough to protect her, to make sure that she'd been safe. But he'd been so focused on his cousin after the shooting had started and hadn't thought of much else. He tried to remember the first time he'd seen her but it had been when she'd been wearing something over her dress and being looked at by a paramedic. It had been rudimentary but she hadn't been hurt, hadn't needed medical treatment and at some point had joined him at the hospital with Vince so they could begin their vigil while Luke underwent surgery.
But she'd spent most of those long hours sitting by herself away from the others, seemingly lost in her own thoughts. He'd thought she'd just been worried like he'd been but now he knew it must have been something more than that.
He looked up suddenly and saw Serena standing there. He hadn't even heard her approach. Her hair was worn up in a bun and she dressed much more casually in cotton slacks and a silk blouse, different than the night of the party. She sat down to join him and ordered a tea.
"You're here…I wasn't sure if you really wanted this meeting."
She looked directly at him.
"I didn't…but I know that you're looking for answers about someone you really care about and I can help you with that."
He looked at his ice tea glass.
"I do have questions, I just don't know if I want to hear them answered."
"Yes you do…underneath it all you want to help your friend," she said, "Because she means so much to you."
"I haven't acted like it lately," he said, "I've been a jerk to her and now she doesn't want much to do with me."
Serena smiled and he saw something akin to compassion on her face.
"It has nothing to do with you," she said, "It's what happened that night when Rodrigo's men came for her."
"She'd gone back to wait with the rest of the women, I thought."
"Oh she did and we did talk," she said, "but they'd taken Anna screaming right past us and we didn't know what happened. She said a man had been shot."
"My cousin…he's in a wheelchair now."
"I'm sorry…there was a lot that happened that night," she said, "and the men returned and it was clear who they wanted to go with them…I don't know why they picked her but they did."
Dallas felt his stomach tightened.
"Why…why did they take her?"
Serena paused for a long moment.
"You know why…and you know what they did," she said, "and I did when I saw her again…"
Dallas felt his heart drop to the point where it hurt inside his chest, almost like it had stopped beating. But he still was alive looking back at Serena.
"Oh my god…"
He couldn't find anything else to say, the horror just swam through him as his suspicions became reality inside his head.
"She was standing in the room when I found her," she said, "but her dress had been torn and she was trying to find something to cover herself. The commandos were running through the building but I guess they hadn't secured that section yet. The men had gone and we were alone. So I helped her find a robe in a closet so we could leave…"
Dallas covered his face with his hand, his mind still reeling, the words becoming more and more difficult to say.
"Did she…did she tell anyone…any of the paramedics?"
Serena shook her head.
"I doubt it," she said, "She didn't want to tell anyone. She didn't even tell me any details. She just…well she blamed herself for what happened."
"Blamed herself why?"
"You probably know the answer to that better than I do because you know her."
Yeah he did know her very well and he realized that she probably would blame herself in the midst of the operation going so badly, Luke getting shot and knowing that if he died, Dallas might do the same thing, blame himself. But he had only cemented it for her with the way he had treated her.
"I need to talk to her."
"You need to listen," she said, "and let her tell you when she's ready."
"I don't know when that'll be considering how she's feeling about me now."
"Give her some space Dallas and I think she'll let her guard down," Serena said, "and you'll know everything."
Dallas left her not long after that and drove back to San Francisco thoroughly shattered by his meeting with her. His heart beat hard inside his chest, his breath had become harsh and his muscles had tightened into knots. His hands into fists as rage had filled him too. If he had known what had happened to her when he hunted Rodrigo's men down, he would have killed them all. But he couldn't be tempted to go out and punish Rodrigo, he had to do what he failed to do that night and protect her.
But he had to earn her trust first and he thought of how to do so during the drive back to her.