A/N: I was overwhelmed by the amazing responses the last chapter got. Now I'm really scared to disappoint, lol. So... the big moment is coming up soon but a few more things had to be said and done first, I hope you all approve. Thanks again for the wonderful reviews. Like I mentioned before, the chapter was difficult to write because the wrong wording can throw the whole thing off and make it seem unrealistic, but enough about that. Hope you enjoy this next one!


Chapter 22 - Broken

I'm falling apart, I'm barely breathing

With a broken heart, that's still beating

In the pain there is healing

In your name I find meaning

So I'm holding on, I'm holding on, I'm holding on

I'm holding on to you

Lucas slid into the driver's seat and drove to Brooke's house because he knew that no one else would be there. She had almost cried herself to sleep out in the field before he lifted his head from where it rested in the crook of her neck. They both felt exhausted by it all. A story that had never been told about a girl who had her innocence stolen in a vicious way.

Brooke wouldn't even consider that what had been done to her was rape because she didn't say no. At least not after her initial reaction to the idea. Instead she had agreed to go upstairs with Felix, despite the dread and fear she felt. And when he slid inside of her, she'd done nothing to stop it.

So she carried it around with her like a scarlet letter, convinced that it was no one's fault but her own.

"You should take my car and go back to school, Luke. If you miss practice, Whitey might not let you play tomorrow," Brooke said, worried about his game more than she was worried about getting through the rest of the afternoon alone. "I'll be fine," she added as convincingly as possible but she wasn't fooling anyone. Least of all her boyfriend.

"None of that matters right now, Brooke."

He wished he knew how to help her. It had all happened two years before but the scars still seemed fresh.

"Luke…" but she couldn't bring herself to protest because the truth was that she didn't want to be alone. More than anything she wanted him to just stay with her. To make her feel safe for just a little bit longer while she worked on putting it all in the back of her mind again. "Are you sure?" she asked timidly.

Lucas hated that the memory of Felix alone could turn his confident girlfriend into someone that was so uncertain. He couldn't help but wonder how many other times in the past someone had taken it all too far. How many other girls had eyes that filled with tears as they thought about their initiations? About the nights they were welcomed into the group after paying a small fee that sometimes wasn't that small.

They called it a game but it would mean nothing once they'd walked the stage on graduation day. Pranks they pulled and pictures they took of each other in compromising places… none of it would matter in college. Yet the players continuously banded together each year to tear apart the worlds of the newest team members.

"Come on," Lucas gently coaxed and walked around to Brooke's side of the car to hold open her door.

With her hand in his, the couple made their way up to the red door and found silence on the other side of it. "You deserved to know the truth but I don't want this to change us," Brooke said once they were tucked away inside her bedroom. She had instantly climbed onto her bed, legs folded beneath her but Lucas kept his distance. He continued to stand by the door as if he was scared to get too close. "You don't have to feel sorry for me," she added sternly. "It was a long time ago. I'm fine now."

But Lucas knew that she wasn't.

Unfortunately Brooke had a lot of pride and breaking down in front of him had placed a serious dent in it. She also believed that given the chance, she'd be able to lock away the memory again just as she always did. She just needed a little more time to do it. "Lucas, I'm still me. I'm still the same girl I was yesterday and the week before that. The only difference is now you know why I'm this girl," she reasoned, hoping that she hadn't done irreparable damage to their relationship. To his view of her.

"Brooke, knowing the truth doesn't change how I feel about you," Lucas promised but he still didn't move any closer.

"Then why won't you come near me?" she asked in an even voice.

Brooke was tired of crying. Tired of hurting.

"Because if I do, I'll want to wrap my arms around you and never let go," he declared, surprising and silencing Brooke at once. "And that scares the hell out of me," Lucas admitted. Digging his hands inside his pockets, he stared down at the carpet, unsure about what he should do next.

"Why does it scare you?" Brooke asked in a small voice, just as he had asked her the same question on the beach that night when he asked her to trust him.

"Because I'm sixteen," Lucas answered honestly. "Because you're the first girl I've ever dated. Because I'm not supposed to understand or even know what it feels like and yet somehow I fell so far deep in love with you. And I want to protect you but I know you don't want that and because I want to break this guy… but I know I shouldn't. And because when I look at you, I feel everything that I've never felt before."

Closing his eyes, Lucas shook his head at himself for the poor way he had just blurted things out.

Pulling his hands from his pockets, he walked up to the bed where Brooke sat and knelt down before her. He found tears in her eyes. A beautiful shade of hazel that had followed his movements, staring intently into his blue gaze. Gently, Lucas brushed them away with the pads of his fingers. "Don't cry, pretty girl," he said quietly. One of the last things he ever wanted was to make her cry. "I'm sorry," Lucas added and wrapped his arms around her, holding her close because it was what he had wanted to do all along. "I should have said it better but… it is the truth. I love you, Brooke."

She cried a little, admitting, "I was scared you wanted to break up with me." He held her closer. The words didn't offend him because Lucas knew that it wasn't because she didn't have faith in him, but because she didn't have faith in herself. "Sometimes I do wish you could protect me from my past. From all of it. I just… I know that I have to find some way through it myself."

Cupping her face gently between his hands, Lucas kissed her softly.

"Just so you know," he whispered against her lips. "You don't always have to do it alone."

-----

After the emotionally exhausting afternoon she had, the last thing Brooke Davis should have been was happy. But somehow she was. Lucas was in love with her and the impulse to call Peyton and ramble on about it had never been greater. Then all too suddenly she realized it was out of the question. Outside of cheerleading practice, neither had made an effort to talk since the day of their fight.

It was almost as if their friendship never existed.

So instead she contemplated calling Haley. Granted they weren't anywhere close to being best friends but their friendship was steadily growing each day. Plus there was no one who knew Lucas better so whatever Brooke said to her would definitely be safe with Haley James.

Uncertainly, she dialed the girl's number and listened to three rings before a voice answered. "Please don't tell me that you're calling to say I now have a date with Tim to the Winter Formal," Haley greeted without preamble. "Because I swear, Brooke if you did…"

"Lucas is in love with me," she blurted out suddenly.

"I'll totally… wait, what?" On her end, Haley shook her head, trying to decide whether or not she'd heard Brooke correctly.

"Lucas told me that he loves me," she repeated slowly. "And I wanted to share it with someone because it almost seems too good to be true." Softening, Haley listened to her friend's brief explanation, all the while silently glad that Lucas finally worked up the courage to admit his feelings. It had been inside of him for a while but he was scared to voice it out loud.

Strangely, in some ways he and Brooke were just as insecure as each other.

She was afraid that her past would always be around to bite her in the ass whenever things were going good. Lucas, on the other hand, wasn't from Brooke's world. He had grown up on the outside and feared that maybe she'd see their differences as being too big of an obstacle. Even though to him, those differences were what made their relationship that much better. "I know that you're more of Lucas' friend than mine but Haley… when I heard him say the words I felt like my heart sped up and stopped beating all at once," she admitted quietly. "I know it doesn't make much sense but it's the only way I can describe it, you know?"

"Do you love him?" But Brooke didn't have a chance to respond before Haley asked her to hold on for a few moments. "Come in," she called out in answer to the knock on her door. "Nathan? What are you doing here? I thought we were meeting at the library later."

"I know but I thought that maybe we could talk a little," he said nervously, shoving his hands in his pockets as he stood waiting for her to invite him further in or reject him completely.

Hesitance written plainly on her face, Haley picked up the phone and said, "I'm really sorry but I have to go. Can we talk about it some more later?" she asked, unaware that Brooke had heard and recognized her visitor's voice.

"Sure thing, tutor girl," she agreed easily. A small smile had turned up the corners of her lips as she hung up the phone and flopped back against her bed. Haley's question lingered in her mind, repeating itself over and again. Did she love Lucas? Of course she did but the timing to say it just hadn't been right. Brooke didn't want him to think she was only parroting his words back at him because of how understanding he had been.

When she said it, she wanted him to know that it was what she felt in her heart.

So she waited, hoping that until then, Lucas knew how much she cared.

-----

"Talk about what?" Haley asked, shifting nervously on the bed as Nathan closed the door.

"Us," Nathan said simply.

"Us?"

She sounded so tentative, unknowingly assuring Nathan that he was making the right decision. "Yeah… the whole tutoring thing," he clarified. "My grades are basically where they should be so I figured you're off the hook," he shrugged, appearing unconcerned. "So thanks… you know, for helping."

One way or another, Nathan knew that he had to do something about his crush. He just wasn't sure which direction was best. But that had changed after practice when Lucas waited in the gym's weight room to talk. Nathan figured it had something to do with Brooke since he had correctly guessed that she intended to tell his half brother about her initiation into the group. What he hadn't expected was the punch his older brother landed on his face.

He had been angry but before Nathan could strike back, Lucas yelled at him for not protecting Brooke.

Excuses came pouring from the younger brother's mouth, momentarily forgetting about the punch as he tried to explain that there was nothing he could have done. He was nobody then. Just a freshman. A small fish trying to make it in a big pond. But while he didn't understand it, Nathan couldn't deny the shame he felt when Lucas kept yelling.

"How the hell could you keep that stupid game going after what they did to Brooke?" he had all but demanded. "You really are Dan's son. Just a heartless bastard who doesn't care about anyone or anything but his status."

The words stung and for the first time Nathan acknowledged how screwed up his own life was.

With that acceptance came the realization that acting on his crush would only bring Haley into a world she didn't belong in. Not to mention that he believed she would never forgive him if she found out he slept with her sister Taylor. Initiation or not… it wouldn't matter. She would still end up hurt.

"Wait," she called out when he shifted his stance, ready to walk away. She wasn't thinking about much, only that if she didn't ask, she'd always wonder what if. "Would you… would you go with me? To the Winter Formal, I mean."

His eyes widened, the only outward sign of his surprise.

"Me?" he asked uncertainly.

"Yeah, well there's no one else in the room," Haley said, laughing uncomfortably as she attempted to lighten the mood.

"I um…" he trailed off. Nathan knew he should say no. He opened his mouth again, prepared to say the word but his lips formed another response. "Okay." And once it was out there, he couldn't take it back. He didn't want to because he realized that it was his only chance to show her that he wasn't a complete jerk before walking away completely. Suddenly that seemed more important than all the guilt he felt inside. "We can… you know, we can go as friends," he added and cleared his throat self consciously when Haley merely nodded.

"Right. Of course," she said. "Friends."

"Friends," Nathan repeated. "Right."

-----

"Hey, boyfriend. How was… practice, what happened to your hand?" Brooke asked while she reached for his hand. Gently skimming her fingers over his knuckles, she winced because of the small areas of pushed back skin. "Luke?" Concern clouded her features as she looked up at him, questioning. She had already showered and changed for the night, dressed in a pair of baggy plaid pajama pants that she had taken from him a couple weeks before. The white tank top she sported was tight fitted and left little to the imagination.

"Skinned it in the weight room after practice," Lucas answered, deciding to leave out the way it happened.

"Does it hurt?"

"Not so much anymore," he said quietly.

Smiling a small smile, she leaned down and gently pressed her lips against the injured area. "Better?"

"It's getting there."

"Yeah… I know what you mean."

With her parents absent once again, the two were all alone in the house. The silence was everywhere as they looked at each other, both with so much to say and no idea how to say it. "Do you mind if I stay for a while? My and mom and Keith are going to a banquet tonight," Lucas explained, almost loathsome to disturb the quiet. "The Small Business Association or something like that."

"Only if you agree to come lay down with me for a while," Brooke negotiated, kinking her brow questioningly.

"Deal, pretty girl."

He followed Brooke upstairs to her bedroom, but she stopped him before he could sit down on the bed. "Price of admission," she said. "I want to feel your skin next to mine."

"Brooke…"

"Same girl, Lucas. I'm still me and I still want you." Her gaze was unwavering, giving him the chance to see the seriousness in their depths. With slow, unhurried movements she pushed the baggy pants down her legs so that they pooled on the carpet around her ankles. "That's one for me. Now it's your turn," she said and waited, watching as he finally reached for the hem of his t-shirt. Inch by inch, his skin was revealed. Perfectly sculpted abs leading up to a wide chest and muscular arms. "Impressive," she smiled and slowly began to lift her thin shirt.

Halfway up, Lucas remembered that she wasn't wearing anything beneath it. But the protest got stuck in his mouth when she lifted the garment completely off and tossed it aside.

Leaning up, she placed a kiss at the base of his neck and his eyes involuntarily closed, enjoying the feather light touch. "You're turn again," she whispered in his ear. Hands flat against his stomach, Brooke trailed them upwards, following each muscular ridge before wrapping her arms around his shoulders. Bodies pressed together, she tried to get as closed as she could once his shorts joined the growing pile of clothes on the floor.

"You're making it really hard to stay strong here," Lucas said while his hands rested lightly against her hips. The lace beneath his palms was like a tease, her final barrier. "And I'd feel like I was taking advantage of you after everything you told me today," he admitted but the words didn't deter Brooke in the least.

"Did you mean it when you said you loved me?" she asked.

His answer was without hesitation. "With all my heart."

"Good. Then kiss me."