A/N: A oneshot that takes place after 4x05, Derek's first attack. Just another way Lucas and Peyton could have found their way to each other. I stole some dialogue from 1x18 and 4x06, but the rest is a crazy idea that literally woke me up at 3:37 a.m. and had me writing for a couple hours. I read it over and made some changes, but there still might be a few typos -- sorry. Review, please.
"Luke!" Peyton squealed, dodging his hands, which were soapy from the dishwater they'd been submerged in seconds ago. "You're such a weirdo," she said, gazing at him affectionately with a pretty smile tugging at the corners of her lips.
He looked back at her, laughter dying on his lips when he noticed her current facial expression. "I love that smile," he said seriously, nodding toward the one she wore.
"Stop it," she blushed, and he couldn't help but be proud that he could still bring forth that reaction in such an independent girl with an I-don't-care attitude.
"No," he said earnestly. "I missed it."
Her blush deepened and she grinned modestly, looking down at the sunflower-patterned dish towel she held. "Me, too," she agreed quietly.
Enjoying the expression of mixed playfulness and peacefulness that the moment brought to her face, Lucas grinned mischievously and lifted up both soapy hands, extending them toward her with a glint in his eyes.
"Lucas! No!" she protested uselessly, her eyes bright, and he dove at her, tackling her lightly.
And then, abruptly, things changed when his hold on her grew a little tighter, and all of a sudden she was panicking, pulling back so quickly that she ran directly into the corner of the counter, the exact corner jabbing directly into her thigh and causing her to cry out in fear and pain. She shrank to the floor, trembling, one hand landing on the spot where a fresh bruise had been added to her already-battered body.
He felt like a jackass as he hastily dried his hands before sinking down next to her, gently pulling her into his arms as he stroked her hair soothingly. "God, Peyton, I'm so sorry. I wasn't thinking. It's just me. I'm sorry."
She managed a small smile through her tears, grasping one of his hands like a lifeline and resting her forehead against his. "I know. It's okay."
"No, it's not, I was an idiot. Shh," he said softly, wanting to calm her frantic breaths. "You're okay. I'm right here."
That was how his mother found them when she walked in seconds later, huddled together on the floor. Worry creased her face as she crouched down by them, placing her hand on Peyton's shoulder in a way that screamed of motherly concern. "How're you doing, sweetie?" she asked Peyton softly, pushing her sleep-mussed curls out of her tearstained face.
Lucas had to give his mother infinite credit. She had sacrificed a lot in life so that she could be the best mother possible to him, and she was still going at it with full force. Not only that, but she was preparing to be a mother to his younger half-sibling, and to top it all off, had easily slipped in the role of mother to both of his ex-girlfriends, Brooke and Peyton. When she'd sensed how absent their mothers were – Brooke's by choice, Peyton's by the unfortunate circumstances of a task that had kept her busy for five minutes too long and a speeding car – she'd instantly extended her maternal love to them, no matter who Lucas was with at the moment.
Peyton cracked a smile that was one part gratitude, one part sheer exhaustion, and one part embarrassment. "I'm okay," she muttered, clinging to Lucas.
Karen nodded, her eyes full of sympathy. "Do you want to come and hang out with me at the café today?" she asked as jovially as she could.
She let out a small giggle that made Lucas sigh in relief. "Hang out?"
Karen smiled back. "You know what I meant…honey, if you're not ready for school, you don't have to go."
"No…I…I should. I'm fine," she assured them.
Lucas exchanged a look with his mother, unsure of what to do. Peyton tended to hide her emotions, and he didn't ever really know what to do about it. He didn't want to force her to talk about Derek – it was understandably difficult. But he also didn't want her to think that she couldn't be openly honest with him. It was a rock-and-a-hard-place kind of situation.
"You sure?" he asked her tenderly, searching her eyes.
"Yeah," she said, shrugging off their concern. "I'm…great. I'm great."
He picked up on the sarcasm; he knew better than to trust Peyton's words: they were first and foremost a defence mechanism. He found what he truly needed to know in her green eyes. Her eyes revealed to him the slow build of her strength, the return of her confidence – but beneath those things he could still detect the desperate fear, the need for protection. He wondered if she'd learned how to shield her true emotions from him even in her eyes.
Lucas placed a hand on her bare knee, but his mother spoke before he could. "Why don't you go and get dressed for school, Peyton?" she asked, keeping her tone light and controlled. "Lucas will clean up the water he got everywhere," she continued, throwing her son a pointed look.
Peyton shared a smile with her and got to her feet, shaking off the drops of water that had landed on her arms before shooting Lucas one of those grateful looks he kept getting from her lately.
Karen looks down at him on the floor, planting a hand on her hip. "How is she, Luke? I can never tell with that girl, she's got her thoughts under lock and key."
He sighed as he got up. "Tell me about it. I think…she's doing better, for sure, but I know she's still scared. Being at school, where everyone knows, is hard on her. I don't know, Mom. It gets the worst at night." He glanced down at the floor, scratching the back of his head nervously. "Thank you…for that. For being so cool about it."
Karen nodded. "You told me there was nothing between the two of you, and I believe it. There is nothing between the two of you, right?"
"We're just friends," he assured her again.
"And you're being a very good friend to her. She can't go home now, and I understand that. And you saved her, and you protect her – I can see that she needs you. She hardly lets you out of her sight. But Lucas…one of these days you're going to have to let her go, and she's going to have to start learning how to be alone again."
"I know," he admitted quietly, not looking forward to that day.
"I know it's going to be hard, honey, but it's necessary. I know how badly you want to be able to save her from everything in the world, but you can't."
"I know," he repeated, growing agitated. He didn't like to think about it.
"I know you do," Karen said calmly. "But does she?"
He hesitated. They'd never really talked about it; he knew that the thought alone would freak Peyton out, and he wasn't exactly gung-ho about the whole thing, either. He was saved from answering by Peyton's nervous yell of: "Luke!"
He rushed into his bedroom, opening the door without a second thought, to find her staring intently at his door wearing jeans and nothing but a red bra.
Lucas halted abruptly, wondering if he should back out of the room and pretend to knock, but Peyton had already seen him, and didn't seem to care about her state of (un)dress. She tucked herself into his secure embrace, murmuring, "I thought I saw something move outside."
He rubbed the cool skin of her bare arm comfortingly, all too aware of her breasts pressing against his chest. "I'm sure it's nothing," he began, but then the door flew open, causing Peyton to jump and bury her face in his neck.
"Yo, Luke," Skills said as he walked in, and then stopped short. "Oh. Damn. Sorry."
Lucas gave him a look and gave Peyton an extra squeeze, his hand drifting to the soft skin at the small of her back. "It's just Skills. You're okay." He grabbed a sweater of his and handed it off to her before placing himself between his two friends and backing Skills out of the house. "Dude," he admonished.
Skills held up his hands. "Hey, I was just coming over to make sure you were cool; I haven't been seeing a lot of you lately. But you seem very good."
He rolled his eyes. "She's a mess. She's staying here because she's scared."
Skills scoffed. "Whatever you need to tell yourself, man. You guys want a ride to school?"
Peyton stepped out the door at that moment, perfectly on cue and fully clothed. She'd put on a black, v-necked tee, but had also pulled the sweater Lucas had handed to her over top. It didn't really surprise him that she was adding tangible barriers to the myriad of emotional ones she'd already put up against the world. She held Lucas' backpack out to him and shouldered her own bag. "Sounds great," she said, her voice steady.
Somehow Skills managed to look both lascivious and sympathetic at the same time as eyed Peyton. "P. Sawyer," he greeted. "How're you doing, baby girl?"
Peyton offered him a weak smile and Lucas instinctively held out an arm to her. She sank into his body. "I'm alright."
Skills nodded in understanding and tilted his head toward his car. "Let's ride."
When they arrived at Tree Hill High, Peyton climbed out of the car and took a deep breath, steeling herself for the day. Lucas made sure that he was in her peripheral vision before placing a hand on her shoulder, not wanting to startle her. "Are you sure you're okay?"
She smiled endearingly at him. "Lucas, I love you, but yes. Do I have your cell number in case I need you? Yes. Do I know your entire schedule in case your cell phone dies? Yes. Do I have other friends who could help me should you, heaven forbid, not be available? Yes. Can I make it through the day without having a panic attack? Yes. If I need to leave, will I call your mom? Yes." She paused in her tirade, inhaling, before carrying on, her tone much softer, "Am I going to miss you like hell all day? Yeah. But I'm okay. I promise."
He smiled back bashfully and gave her shoulder a quick squeeze before she took another deep breath and took off in the direction of her first class.
Skills grinned knowingly. "Oh, you got it bad."
Lucas rolled his eyes and shoved his friend away. The truth of the matter was that he did worry about Peyton, all day, everyday. He didn't think he could be blamed for that. In the short time he'd known Peyton, he'd seen a great deal of destruction in her life, and he knew that there'd been more, even at the time when she was just this far-away fantasy for him. He worried that something would happen that scared her or worried her, and that she'd need him. And he also worried that if he wasn't there, she would do something stupid. He just felt more comfortable when he could keep an eye on her.
In between first period English and his upcoming Health class, Lucas stopped by his locker, quickly swapping books as he scanned the hallway for any sign of Peyton. He reached out to close his locker door and was startled to see Brooke standing on the other side.
"God!" he cried as his heartbeat slowed back to his normal rate.
"You're awfully jumpy," she commented, quirking her eyebrows. "It's kinda cute, you know," she added sourly. "Peyton must be rubbing off on you."
Lucas slammed his locker shut and sighed. "Peyton and I are just friends. She's staying at my place – "
"In your bed," Brooke interrupted angrily.
"Well, would you want to sleep alone after what happened to her?" Lucas demanded, getting angry. "She was attacked, Brooke, by someone she trusted, someone she thought was family. He punched out her window and invaded her space; he threw her around and shoved his tongue down her throat, so I think it's a little understandable if she's not doing all that well, don't you?"
Brooke's expression melted into one of such worry and regret that Lucas felt bad for snapping at her. Brooke was a good person; she was just hurt. Still, he couldn't help but think that if there was ever a time to put aside her jealousy and pride for the sake of the girl she'd been best friends with since elementary school, it was now.
"She's…she's not doing well?" she asked tentatively, trying to maintain her cool.
Lucas stayed calm as he replied, "No, not really. I mean, she's trying. You know Peyton. She wants you to believe that everything's okay, but she's still scared. She feels alone," he added pointedly.
"A lot has gone down between us," Brooke muttered sadly.
He reached out, gently touching her elbow. "Can I ask you something?"
"Yeah. Of course."
"What if Derek – whatever his name is – had truly lost it? He wanted her, Brooke, and her response, since it was of terror, wasn't exactly what he was looking for. What if he'd had his way with her and then killed her? How would you be feeling right about now?"
She stared at him in horror, speechless. Sweet Lucas Scott, the first boy who'd really cared about her, did not ask questions like that. Tears flooded her eyes, but she said nothing.
"Look, Brooke," he sighed. He'd suspected his question would make her cry, but he felt it was a necessary one to ask. "She loves you. I'm sure you two can work it out."
"Dammit, Lucas," she said softly. "I love her, too. I would have hated myself forever if anything had happened to her."
"So don't take that risk."
"Crap," Brooke muttered, staring at the lockers as she tried to collect herself. "Listen, I…today I was going to tell you that I missed you. And I do, Lucas, I miss you all the time, but not…like I should." She smiled bitterly through her tears. "Not like Peyton would."
He frowned, confused. "I think I'm missing something."
She shook her head, a combination of sadness and frustration in her downcast brown eyes, and turned to march off, maintaining as much pride as she could.
He stared after her as she walked off. "Brooke, wait…" he called, needing an explanation.
He heard soft footfalls behind him and whirled around, all thoughts of Brooke's declaration fading from his mind when he saw her tear-stained cheeks and the nervous way she glanced around the hall, huddled into his sweater. "Hey, you," he said softly, reaching out to her.
"Hi," Peyton whispered in reply. "Can we…I want to go home."
"Yeah," he said softly, pulling her to him and wrapping an arm around her shoulders, hoping to make her feel safer. "Let's go."
Since Skills had given them a ride to school, they had no choice but to walk back to his place. He kept his arm around her, and she wrapped her arm around his waist as well, allowing closer contact.
"What's on your mind, Blondie?" he questioned concernedly.
"Nothing," she replied shakily.
He looked at her sceptically. "That was damn convincing," he said sarcastically. "C'mon, Peyton," he prodded, pressing a kiss into her soft, curly hair. "Talk to me."
"I just…I keep seeing him. Everywhere I look, I see him, his back with that tattoo, all covered in blood, and I…" She shook her head, burying her face in his shoulder for a moment as she took a few shuddering breaths, trying not to cry.
"It's okay," he soothed.
Her head shot up, and she looked at him, beautifully tragic eyes pleading with him for understanding. "It's not okay. There has to be something that will help me to forget him. There has to be some way for me to feel safe again. I just wish I could find it."
"You will," he assured her comfortingly. "It's just going to take some time, Peyton. I know you want him out of your life and your mind, but you need to give yourself time to adjust to…the reality of what's happened."
"I can't," she choked out, her tears spilling onto her cheeks, one of them slipping down until it fell from her chin. "It's too hard, Luke."
"I know," he said sadly. "I wish there was something I could do to help, but you need to fight it yourself."
"What if I can't get there?" she asked desperately. "What if it's too much, what if I'm too weak? What if I never make it?"
"You will," he said firmly, truly believing the words he spoke. "And I will be with you through everything until you do."
She smiled mournfully at him through the tears that still glimmered in her gorgeous green eyes. He could have written a poem about her eyes. Hell, he could have written a short story about her eyes. The only way he knew to access her soul. Peyton was beautiful – she had, after all, been the cause of every morning hard-on he experienced in his freshman year of high school – but it was the pairing of honest emotion in her eyes and a shy smile tugging at her lips that got his heart, as opposed to other parts of his anatomy, to swell. She grasped at levity, asking in her raw, tortured voice, "Will you ever stop saving me?"
Lucas stared back at her seriously, smiling affectionately as he let his hand trail up and down her arm. "I don't think I could live with myself."
He glimpsed heartbreak in her eyes, just a flash for the briefest of seconds, before they filled up with a fresh batch of tears and she tucked her head into his shoulder again.
They stayed quiet for the remaining two blocks they had to walk before arriving at his house. He let them in, and felt her intense gaze bearing down on his fingers as he firmly locked the door. "You're safe," he told her simply, shrugging off his backpack and kicking off his shoes.
She nodded and rewarded him a half-hearted smile.
"How about…" he began with a genuine smile, keeping his voice light, "you put on your pyjamas and I'll make coffee, and we can watch stupid movies all day."
"You're too good to me, Luke," she said simply, pulling out a tank top and a pair of shorts from the dresser drawer of his that she'd come to call her own.
He smirked. "You're forgetting that this gets me out of school free. Principal Turner can't yell at me for skipping school. I'm not about to waste that freedom, especially not when I get to hang out with a pretty girl instead of going to Calculus class." He raised his eyebrows, jokingly suggestive, before stepping out of the room so that she could have privacy to change.
Lucas found the instant, French vanilla-flavoured coffee in the pantry, deciding against the rigmarole he'd have to go through with his mother's sophisticated coffeemaker. Besides, the instant stuff had a sweeter flavour, and if Peyton needed anything, sweetness wasn't a bad idea.
She emerged from his room moments later, slipping into the kitchen almost imperceptibly. Her footsteps had become quieter, more hesitant since the attack. He turned to her and held out a steaming, aromatic mug, unable to stop himself from letting his eyes glide down her body. Her long legs went on forever underneath a pair of soft-looking grey shorts, and she was wearing a pale blue tank top that he could see the red of her bra through. Since the attack, she'd been covering herself up protectively, so in addition to making a mental note of just how beautiful she was, he was happy to see that she was so willing to be comfortable with him.
They flopped on the couch in the living room to watch eighties movies, which he knew she loved. Sixteen Candles and The Karate Kid started them off, and her spirits built slowly. Soon enough they'd abandoned their mugs, half-full, on the coffee table and were sitting, their bodies tilted towards each other, yelling lines with the characters and mocking their fashion choices. Lucas liked to speak over the characters, delivering lines that he thought revealed what they were really thinking, at it made her laugh, that loud, musical sound. Peyton's laugh wasn't like the peal of melodic bells or anything, but there was a purity to the joy in her laughter that was even better than something cute or elegant.
Near the end of their second movie, they calmed down as Peyton leaned against him, dark circles under her eyes – for once they were there from pleasant exhaustion rather than never-ending fear. Their easy camaraderie and complete comfort with one another reminded Lucas of the brief period of time in which they'd dated, when they could let go and be themselves and quit worrying about who they were supposed to be. With Peyton he never pretended, because he wanted the same thing back for her. Having her let him in made him feel like he'd won a lottery he hadn't known he'd purchased a ticket for.
His mother came home to find Peyton sound asleep against him while Lucas typed at lightning speed on his laptop, the earlier flash of heartbreak in Peyton's eyes proving to be angst-y inspiration. She placed her sweater on a chair and walked over, perching on the arm of the couch next to Peyton's feet. "I got a call from Principal Turner today telling me you skipped."
He glanced up at her, his brow furrowing in confusion. "I thought he understood when you talked to him last week."
"Yes. And he still does. He knows how hard this has to be for Peyton, and he has nothing but sympathy for her. But Lucas…he doesn't want you jeopardizing your academic future…and neither do I," she told him calmly.
"Ma, I'm doing fine in all my subjects."
"I know, honey, but this is getting extreme. You can't stop going to school."
"I can't abandon Peyton, either," he argued.
"Lucas…" Karen smiled softly at him. "I'm very proud of the man you're becoming. I'm very proud that Keith and I raised a boy like you. You are a wonderful friend to Peyton, and you have never once let her feel like she's alone. But nothing will happen if you leave her, Luke. If she needs to, she can come to the café with me and help out during the day until she's ready to go back to school. But from now on, I want you walking in those doors before the first bell and I don't want to see you until after school hours."
"Mom," he protested.
"I'll worry about her," he said helplessly, setting his laptop aside and tenderly burying his fist in Peyton's hair. Her haircut from the earlier part of the year had looked just as good, but he missed her curls. "She knows you're there for her, Ma, and she loves you for it but I just can't…"
Karen sighed. "Lucas, do you have feelings for Peyton?" she asked quietly, eyeing the sleeping girl.
His face fell into a frown. "I just want to make sure she's safe," he said determinedly, ignoring her question.
She sighed again, and he knew that she'd ask again later – for now, however, he was free from an inquisition. "I really think we should call Larry, Lucas."
"I know you do, and sometimes I do, too, but…it's not what she wants. She doesn't want to worry him, and at this point…there's nothing he can do."
Karen stared at him incredulously. "He can come home and take care of his little girl. He is just as capable of making her safe as you are."
He lifted his eyebrows. "Try telling that to her," he replied simply, nodding toward the girl slouched against him, sleeping peacefully.
His mother pulled back, giving up for the moment, and stood. "She should lie down in bed. Her neck will ache if you leave her there for too long."
Lucas shook his head and carefully eased his body out and away from hers, letting her head rest upon a throw pillow. "She needs to sleep. Sometimes she has nightmares, but when she doesn't…I think it's her only real escape." He cleared his throat. "Are you going to be here for a while?"
"Okay…I need to go pick up some stuff."
He turned to go, but then quickly doubled back to her, leaning in to kiss her cheek. "Thanks again."
Karen smiled widely at him, and gently pushed him away. "Off you go," she said quietly, pride ringing strong in her voice.
When Peyton awoke nearly two hours later, around five o'clock, there was an absolutely disgusting-looking pizza and a couple root beer floats sitting on the kitchen table. Lucas was standing by the sink, drinking a glass of water and wondering if the whole idea had been a mistake.
"Luke?" Peyton asked faintly from the doorway to the kitchen. She had a pressure mark on her cheek and her clothes were rumpled. She stared at the table disbelievingly. "Lucas, what is this?"
He set his glass aside, placing it in the sink. "I…" he trailed off and decided it would be best to start again. This was his big plan, and he only hoped it had his desired results. "Do you remember, last year, when you thought your dad's boat was lost, and they called you to ID that body?"
Her eyebrows rose slightly before settling back to their natural spot. "Kind of a hard day to forget," she said by way of answering.
"Of course, right…sorry. Well, that day, when we were in that hotel room, you told me that when your mom died, you dad couldn't cook. So he bought frozen pizzas and put on his own toppings. To make you forget for a minute, and to help you smile again. I thought I'd give it a try."
She stared at him, her breathing shallow and her eyes glossy – whether from sleep or tears he couldn't tell, but he suspected it was both. "You remember that?" she asked hoarsely.
"Of course I do," he replied, extending a hand to her. She slipped hers into his hesitantly and allowed him to pull her over to the table. They sat down, chairs close together.
Peyton swallowed hard, staring at the pizza with a lot more love that Lucas would ever be able to conjure up for the horrific meal he'd created for them. "Do you think about that day?" she whispered.
"Yeah, sure, sometimes," he said quietly as he grabbed the pizza cutter, wanting to occupy his hands and his mind. He didn't know if she meant all the dramatic waiting and the cruel twist of fate when they'd discovered the bridge was closed, or if she meant the way he'd looked at her when he gently tugged her shirt over her head. "Why?" he asked, struggling to keep his voice casual as he placed a piece of pizza on her plate. "Do you?"
She nodded, looking serious. "Everyday," she said, tears in her voice.
Lucas meant to take a bite, but couldn't. "Because of your dad," he reasoned in that forcibly light tone. The last thing he wanted to do was upset her.
Her eyelids fluttered closed and she nodded slowly. "Because of my dad," she agreed in a whisper, and he detected the faintest trace of sarcasm, so light that he wondered if it was a figment of his hopeful imagination. "Because," she continued in a steadier voice, "it reminds me…of what it's like to lose someone you love," she shrugged.
His brow furrowed and he completely forgot his unappetizing pizza. He placed his hand on his upper arm and allowed the pad of his thumb to softly graze her shoulder. The smallest of shivers coursed through her body. "You didn't lose him," he said matter-of-factly, willing her to look at him.
She did, shock and confusion taking over her eyes before she could hide it. She took a sharp breath in as her gaze travelled over to the slice of pizza sitting in front of her. "I hope not," she murmured, her lips twitching up into a smile for an instant.
Lucas couldn't tear his eyes away from her as Brooke's earlier words echoed pointedly in his mind.
"And I do, Lucas, I miss you all the time, but not…like I should. Not like Peyton would."
"Hey, you weirdo," Peyton said, jarring him back to reality, an unmistakable fondness tucked into her sarcastic words. "How about you eat your pizza and stop staring at the girl who got attacked by her stalker, okay? It might freak her out."
"Sorry," he muttered automatically, immediately looking down.
"Hey," she said again quickly, reaching out and placing her hand over his, slipping one of her fingers in between each of his. "I didn't mean to get all…" she sighed. "Thank you, Lucas."
"You're welcome, Peyton," he said with a smile, mimicking her formal tone.
She released his hand and shoved him playfully. "Eat your food, loser, and then we can listen to Mouth's podcast of the game."
He shook his head, feigning amazement. "Peyton Sawyer, you're a sheep. What a follower you've turned out to be."
The sarcastic gleam he hadn't seen in a while suddenly lit up her eyes. "Have you looked at what you're eating? Not exactly normal."
He grimaced. "I was trying not to think about it."
She grinned at him devilishly before she took a big bite. She chewed, swallowed, and remarked, "Yummy."
"I dare you to find out," she laughed. "No," she then cried right before the pizza touched his lips. "You don't have to eat it, Luke. It was sweet of you to do this in the first place…"
Ignoring her, he took an equally large bite. It wasn't the worst thing he'd ever eaten, but it wasn't exactly…good. "Huh," he muttered as he took a drink.
"Bad?" she giggled.
"Kind of," he admitted, prompting another laugh. "But it was worth it." He lifted his eyebrows, his blue orbs taking in her happy expression. "That's what I was looking for."
Nearly two hours, Peyton was stretched out across his bed while he sat up, typing at a rapid pace on his laptop as the small speakers of his computer filtered Mouth's voice into the room. "Nathan's kicking ass tonight," he commented with a grin.
Peyton, who'd been facing away from him, rolled over onto her back, stretching her arms over her head and revealing a good four inches of skin between the waistband of her shorts and the hem of her shirt. "Mm," she murmured in tired agreement. "He has to make you proud, after all." She placed her hand on his knee, her fingers lazily toying with the fabric of his pants. "I know you miss it," she said, sweet understanding in her voice.
"Yeah," he sighed, reaching out and letting his hand fall lightly over hers.
She flopped over onto her stomach and rested her chin on their entwined hands. "It's okay, Luke. I know it hurts to be pulled away from what you love to do…but it's for the right reasons, you know that. Where would we be without you?"
"You would be locked in your room sitting up all night 'cause you can't sleep without me."
She whacked him lightly with her free hand, scolding, "Jerk."
"And that's three points!" Mouth's voice cried enthusiastically. "Nathan Scott is on tonight!" His words rang just loud enough to be heard over the high-pitched, excited screams of the cheerleaders. Lucas heard a "Woo! Nathan!" that he suspected was Haley.
"Hey," he said, recapturing Peyton's attention. "What about you? You don't miss it?"
She shuddered. "Too many cameras," she said softly, her lips grazing his knuckles. "And I…every time I put on my uniform I'm reminded of that night…it's what I was wearing."
He slipped his fingers away from hers and let his hand drift up to cup her cheek. "You girls and your clothes," he joked quietly, but his eyes told her how sorry he was. He knew she'd get the message.
"Yeah, baby!" Mouth suddenly exclaimed happily. "Skills is killing it!"
Peyton giggled. "Go Ravens," she said softly, and Lucas suspected it was an automatic instinct.
He set his laptop on his bedside table and took the hand that was resting on his knee, using it to pull her to her feet.
"What're you doing?" she demanded, sounding a little nervous.
"I don't think it's fair that we're missing out."
"I am not going to that gym, Luke," she said firmly, attempting to back away, but he held her hand tightly in his.
"I know, I know. Hey," he said softly when she still refused to look at him, tugging her body closer to his. "I would never make you do anything you're uncomfortable with. I promise. We're staying right here."
She let out a breath and shot him an embarrassed smile. "I know. I'm sorry, I just get so…I'm sorry."
"Well," he said, releasing her hand from his grip as he grabbed his basketball. "You can make it up to me now."
"Make it up to you?"
"Yeah. Let's play."
"Play? What's gotten into you?"
Lucas nodded toward the basketball hoop above his bed. "We'll have our own game. I shoot, you cheer…" he looked pointedly toward his laptop, which brought the sounds of screaming fans into the room, "And the crowd goes wild."
"You're crazy," she protested, blushing.
"C'mon, you. Let's have some fun. Get rid of him, Peyton. Lose yourself to something you love and just get him out of your head."
"I feel stupid," she said quietly, tilting her head to the side. Her tone was daring and matter-of-fact.
"Says the girl who just ate a pizza with pickles on it." He smiled softly at her. "It's just me, Peyt."
She sighed heavily as though he was asking her for the world's biggest favour and planted her hands on her hips. She snatched up her pom-poms from the side of the room, a secretive smile sneaking onto her lips as she placed her arms akimbo again. She arched her eyebrows and then flung her arms up into the air forcefully, "Let's see what you got," she yelled out with some sort of complicated arm-punching movement and a jut of her hip to the side, "Do you live up to the lore? Show them, c'mon Ravens, that they'll beat you nevermore! I said: go, Ravens, show us what you got!"
Lucas smirked at the cutesy Poe-related cheers he knew the team had been using since the school had been established. He liked the random choice to through literacy into a basketball game. Peyton's cheer sequence had turned her around so that her back was to him, all her weight resting on one hip as she gazed at him over one shoulder. That cheerleader patented, make-that-shot-and-I-just-might-kiss-you-after-the-game look was evident in her coy smile and gleaming eyes.
"Let's see it, hotshot," she said simply, and Lucas obliged with a self-assured smile on his lips as he threw the ball up effortlessly and watched it slip through the basket.
Peyton whirled around to face him, punching the air with a pom-pom and grinning widely. Right on cue, the joyful, encouraging screams of the spectators of the actual game filtered into the room as Mouth cried, "And Scott makes the shot!"
Peyton giggled appreciatively. "That can't be all you have, let me see it, make 'em mad!" she cheered, tossing his ball back to him and doing another move that involved her arms and hips and some sort of quick foot movement. Lucas turned around, not looking at the basket, hoping that his impressive shot actually went in so that he didn't embarrass himself.
Of course it didn't, bouncing off the rim and making him wince. "Awww," Peyton crooned apologetically just as Mouth declared, "They'll get the next one."
She was forgetting herself, releasing her inhibitions, and it made Lucas happy to see Peyton having actual fun. "I know that you can bring it, c'mon Ravens, you can win it! You better catch your breath, 'cause we aren't gonna let you rest; you don't have a chance, our team's gonna make you dance! Yeah, Ravens! You guys better move, 'cause we're gonna make you lose; I said, go Ravens!"
Lucas shot an easy basket, grinning at Peyton as he caught his rebound, and Mouth's voice, coming from the laptop's speakers, said, "Now they're on! Nathan and Skills are really forcing Bear Creek to work! This game is amazing!"
Peyton laughed. "If it's action that you're craving," she began, but stopped abruptly when Karen walked into the doorway of the room, her cheeks turning a deep pink.
"Um…hi…Mom," Lucas muttered, laughing lightly. "We were just uh…"
Karen interrupted before he could get any further, gently snatching one of Peyton's pom-poms away, and chirping, in a voice Lucas had never heard her use before, "If it's action that you're craving," she repeated, "go and get yourself a Raven!"
Peyton shot Luke an incredulous, delighted smile, to which he could only shrug. She joined Karen, falling into step with her, "I said, go, Ravens, go mighty Ravens!" they said together, making a wing-like motion with their arms.
"If you really wanna score," they continued, emphasizing the playful double-meaning in the words. His mother crossed her arms over her hips, slipping back into the moves of the cheer from her youth, while Peyton slipped a strap of her tank top down, shot Lucas a wink, and pulled it back up teasingly. "Then you gotta work a little more! I said, go, Ravens, go mighty Ravens!"
Lucas sent the ball sailing through the hoop as he watched them laugh together.
"I cannot believe you still do that cheer," Karen laughed, resting her hand on Peyton's shoulder.
A shadow of memory flashed through Peyton's eyes, but her wide smile stayed in place. "My mom taught me that one, actually, when I was little. I showed it to Brooke; we break it out sometimes."
"It's wonderful to know you still use our cheers," Karen said with a shake of her head. "I was just coming in to make sure everything was fine, but you two are clearly in a good mood. Is all your homework done and everything?"
"Yes, Mom," Lucas reported dutifully.
She gave him a look and patted his cheek fondly. "Alright. You two should hit the hay soon, okay?" She pulled Peyton into a one-armed hug, handing bag the pom-pom she'd stolen. "Are we going to aim for a full day of school tomorrow?"
Peyton offered up a smile and weakly waved a pom-pom in the air. "Y-E-S," she said quietly.
"Good girl," Karen said firmly. "You are going to be fine." She released Peyton, kissed Lucas' cheek, and headed for the door. "Sleep tight, you two."
She left, blowing them both kisses and closing the door behind her, and Peyton let out a giggle, biting down on her lower lip to keep from laughing any more.
"What?" he asked indulgently.
"No, I'm sorry, it's just…we're seventeen and we're sleeping in the same bed, but your mom's just light Goodnight, I love you. She's just been really great," she said earnestly.
Lucas nodded. "She cares about you, and she cares that I care about you. And she knows there's nothing between us."
Peyton's eyes shot to the ground. "Yeah. Of course."
"You tired?" he asked gently, noticing the change in demeanour.
"Yeah," she admitted. "But thank you for this…for the fun."
"Anytime," he answered breezily. Something bigger was up, and he was getting worried. "Are you okay?"
"Do you…want to go to bed?"
"Peyton…you've got to help me out a little here."
She blushed. "I need to brush my teeth," she sighed.
She laughed and threw her pom-poms at him before stepping closer, pouting up at him, her eyes captivating pools of green. "Will you come with me?" she whispered. "Your bathroom window doesn't have curtains and it always freaks me out because all I can see is my reflection in the glass, I can't tell if someone's looking in. And you keep your toothpaste in the cabinet above the sink, and I hate closing it, because you know, in horror movies, you always close the door with the mirror on it and then the murderer is standing right behind you and…will you just come with me?"
He smirked, his hand reaching down and clasping hers reassuringly. "You want me to brush my teeth with you?"
She nodded hesitantly.
He laughed. "No problem."
They stood together at the bathroom sink, playfully elbowing one another out of the way. He squirted toothpaste onto her brush courteously and she thanked him. The next two minutes they spent in silence, save for the sound of their brushes against their teeth. He could feel Peyton stealing glances at him, but he didn't comment on it.
They both leaned in to spit at the same time, their heads knocking lightly together and making them laugh. They rinsed out their mouths and rinsed off their brushes. Lucas looked at the open door of the cabinet and stood off to the side.
"What're you doing?" Peyton asked him.
He nodded toward the mirrored door. "Close it."
"Luke," she protested.
"I'm right here. Just close it."
She reached out for his hand and he held hers tightly. "There's nothing there. You just have to prove it to yourself."
Taking a deep breath, she reached out, steeled herself, and slammed the door shut. Her eyes closed as her body relaxed in relief. She squeezed his hand even tighter before releasing it and brushing her hair out of her face. "Thank you."
Lucas simply nodded. He turned to go, leading the way back to his bedroom. The part of the night where they actually got into bed, that one moment as they settled in, was always awkward, just for a second. They'd never slept together in the figurative sense, but climbing into bed together always reminded them both a time when there had been little that they had wanted more than to do so.
For that reason, they always said polite goodnights, and then settled in on their respective sides of his bed, curling as close to the edges as they could possibly get without actually falling off. They'd stay that way for nearly fifteen minutes, feigning sleep, until one of them got sick of it. Sometimes it was Peyton, anxious to be reminded of his presence, or sometimes it was Lucas, frustrated by the habit. Either way, one of them always flopped over onto their back and asked the other what they were thinking.
That night it was Lucas who moved first. "You're thinking's pretty loud over there," he said quietly.
Peyton rolled over onto her own back, looking at him out of the corner of her eye. "Nothing important. What about you? Where's your head at?"
He recognized her last question as something Jake would say. "Have you talked to Jake recently?"
She looked startled by the question. "Um…I went to visit him recently, actually."
Lucas' eyebrows shot up. "Yeah?"
"Yep," she said, a forceful casualness in her voice. "He's working hard, but he's good. Jenny's beautiful."
"And you and Jake are…?"
She smiled, surprising him. There was more hope than sadness in the way her lips twitched upward. "Jake is my very good friend who I really miss. We aren't anything."
"But you loved him," Lucas said, frowning.
She rolled closer to him, curving her body fully toward his and looking straight at him, putting into motion the next part of the nightly ritual they both denied the existence of. Slowly, as they talked, they would move closer. "Jake and I aren't meant to be. It would have been nice to love Jake, and I did, but…Not like I should have," she said simply, wearing a wistful expression.
"And I do, Lucas, I miss you all the time, but not…like I should. Not like Peyton would."
"I'm sorry," he said quietly, turning so that they were even closer together and looking directly at one another. He studied her face intently.
She nodded, her hair tangling as it brushed against the pillow. "Me, too. But I know that I…" she sighed. "He's just not my guy, you know?"
"Sure. Yeah. I guess…that's kind of how I feel about Brooke. It would have been easy and…wonderfully simple…so lucky to just be able to love her, but…" he trailed off and shrugged.
"Exactly," Peyton sighed, squirming even closer. She let her eyes close and sighed peacefully. "Tell me something, Lucas," she murmured.
He smiled at the request, one she often used before they fell asleep to get her mind into a place far from Psycho Derek.
"I have a song stuck in my head," he offered.
"It's weird, but…Wonderwall. Oasis."
Her eyes flew open and she smirked. "Oh my God," she said with a girlish giggle. "Am I supposed to get all gooey and tell you you're my wonderwall now?" she laughed.
"Wellllll," he drawled, pretending to be modest. "I wouldn't object to it." He reached out to tickle her and she squealed.
They fought playfully, throwing pillows and getting tangled in blankets. Peyton had nimble fingers and put up a good fight, but Lucas' strength won out in the end. By the time they were both out of breath, he found himself hovering over Peyton, looking down into her sparkling eyes.
He rested his weight on his elbow and gently touched the bruise on her collarbone. She smiled softly at him. "I'm not going to break."
Lucas nodded. "I know."
"Luke…" She took a deep breath. "You kind of are, you know. My wonderwall," she added. He couldn't see her blush, but he could feel the heat radiating from her cheeks. "And I hate you for making me quote mainstream music, but you are the one that saves me."
He smiled back at her, his fingers trailing down her arm and running lightly over the next bruise he encountered. "I love being that guy for you." He paused. "Have you talked to your brother?"
Her shoulders shook as she shrugged, and when he looked right at her he was met with the familiar sight of teary eyes. "He won't call me back…he's like a Marine or something. He helped rescue me and then he just…disappeared. I want to thank him, but I also…God, I'm selfish, but I want to have him around."
Lucas nodded sympathetically. "I'm still here."
She gripped on his arms tightly. "I know and I love you for it, I just feel a little like I've lost myself sometimes. My body doesn't even feel like my own anymore."
He leaned down to kiss her forehead. Without thinking about it, he let his lips drift down, brushing the tip of her nose and then her cheek.
"Luke?" she murmured in confusion. He analyzed her voice in his head, making sure that the confusion did not stem from fear or uncertainty. When he could be pretty sure it didn't, he kept going, allowing his lips to graze her neck before pressing against the bruise on her collarbone. "Lucas," she hissed, and this time it was more appreciative than anything else.
A quick search of her eyes granted him the permission he needed to gently pull her up with his hand at the small of his back, and carefully pull her shirt off, revealing the red bra he'd already seen once that day and slew of bruises in varying shades of purple, blue, green, and yellow.
Peyton's breathing was shallow, and her eyes were alight with confusion and gratitude, but she didn't say anything more.
Lucas had been wishing for days that there was something he could do to bring back the quiet confidence Peyton had once possessed. It had been defensive confidence, but confidence nonetheless. He was running out of ways to help her and it worried him. He knew, in the back of his mind, that she needed to fully break before he could really repair her, but her stubborn independence – which lately was always short-lived when it surfaced – wouldn't allow it to happen.
He kissed every single bruise on her upper body, his lips making their way across her chest, up and down her arms, and all over her stomach. Sometimes she gasped slightly when he encountered a particularly painful battle scar, and he'd slip his tongue out to touch her skin, hoping to sooth the pain. Her hands found their way into his hair, tangling lightly in the strands at the back of his neck, but he didn't chance a look at her face. He stayed focused on the task at hand, even when he heard her sniffle mutedly a few times.
He finally landed on an especially large, painful bruise at her hipbone, and as he pressed his lips to her skin there, he wondered if he should work his way down her legs as well.
She made up his mind for him, her hands in his hair pulling his face back up. He lifted his head slowly, his nose brushing her chest and his lips resting momentarily on her jaw before he finally allowed himself eye contact.
Peyton's eyes were swimming with tears. She jerked her chin forward slightly, waiting for him to speak. He bent his head and pressed a tender kiss to her lips. Her arms tangled around his neck instantly, pulling him closer to her and increasing the pressure of the kiss. He swallowed her quiet moan.
Lucas pulled back, brushing the strands of hair that had been glued to her cheeks by tears away. "Take yourself back," he said quietly. "You still have yourself, and you are so beautiful." He dropped his lips to her jaw and then he neck, trailing kisses down toward her shoulders at a tantalizing rate.
Her hands on his cheeks forced his face back up to the same level as hers. "Lucas," she breathed, and kissed his again. He let her take the lead, following her movements until he was sprawled out on his back, Peyton settling on top of him as they kissed softly. No tongue, no roaming hands, just chaste, lazy kisses.
They had fallen into an easy pattern over the past few days. Over the night, the inches of space between them decreased until they no longer existed. As they dreamt, they blurred the lines that defined their relationship, and always awoke tangled up in each others' arms, but they had never before pushed their boundaries when they were still awake.
Peyton's hands hovered lightly on his cheeks as she pulled back. "Lucas," she said, her voice airy and perfect as it pierced the night air. He knew what she was going to say, the excuses she was going to make, so he silenced her with another kiss. "No, Luke," she protested faintly. "What is this?"
"What do you want it to be?"
Her smile was watery. "You are the best thing in my life," she said matter-of-factly, ignoring the question. She slipped off of him but stayed tucked into his side, nice and close. Her lips pressed firmly over his heart. "Thank you," she whispered, and shut her eyes with finality.
Lucas laid there, still holding her tightly, his heart pounding. He wished that she would tell him what was going on in her head. Was it comfort? First and foremost, that had been his intention. An old flame relit briefly for the sake of her wellbeing? A newfound infatuation? Mutual weakness? Something more?
He found himself lying awake for most of the night, wracking his brains. He knew it was hard for the girl with a million walls, someone who'd had difficulty letting people truly know her since she'd lost her mom, but he just wanted total honesty. He always got the sense that there was something she was holding back, and it frustrated him that while she let him in so deeply, she couldn't grant him full access to her mind.
He loved Peyton, in whatever ways he did, but she was the worst person to share one's bed with. She flopped around in her sleep, kicked viciously, hogged the blankets, and talked about the most random crap. One entire night, he kept waking up to hear her babbling, "No, put the damn sloth outside the hovercraft, and tell him that he can't come back in until he apologizes to the dolphin." Two hours later it'd been, "No! What did I tell you about the dolphin?" When he asked her about her dreams the next morning, she'd shrugged and said something about being a zookeeper, which had explained some of it.
That night, nearly an hour and a half after she'd given in to sleep, she murmured, "Thank you," and he looked at her in alarm, not having thought that she was still awake.
"Peyt?" he asked quietly, but all she did was smile softly and snuggle closer, draping one of her legs over his.
He chuckled to himself. Apparently she was reliving a conversation of theirs in her sleep.
He closed his arms, determined to get some rest before he had to endure every single one of his classes the next day. Moments later, his eyes shot open at Peyton's words.
"I love you, Lucas," she said softly.
He gaped at her, but she continued, "I hid it for a long time, but…" she sighed peacefully. "I love you."
"And I do, Lucas, I miss you all the time, but not…like I should. Not like Peyton would."
He couldn't help the grin that spread across his face as he relaxed fully against the slumbering girl. He had wanted her so badly the year before, but so much had gotten in their way that he had given up hope. But Peyton, the pessimist out of the two of them, had not.
He wondered what their kisses that night had meant to her. He wondered if she had ever intended to tell him.
Peyton tucked her head into his chest, murmuring something unintelligible.
"And now we can have it," Lucas breathed uncertainly before allowing his heavy eyelids to shut.
The sound of a slamming door woke him up the next morning, and he blinked rapidly, his eyes finally focusing on Peyton's grumpily confused eyes. The previous night flashed back to him and he grinned at her. She returned the gesture with a sleepy smile of her own, undisguised adoration in her eyes. Adoration that, yesterday, he would have written off as gratitude.
He was pulled from his bubble of happiness by the cause of the slamming door. "Oh, God," Haley said, taking in the scene in front of her. The two of them entwined together and dead to the world, Peyton's bare shoulder peeking out from under his comforter.
Both he and Peyton sat up gingerly, as if afraid that sudden movements would spook Haley, who babbled, "Wow, sorry. I just came over to see if you guys could get your asses to school and actually stay there for a whole day, and I just walked in out of habit. I mean, in my defence," she reasoned. "I really didn't think you two were…"
Peyton gripped the blankets tightly to her chest. "Oh, we're not," she said instantly, lifting a hand to wave away Haley's words.
Lucas grasped her hand mid-air and pulled it toward her, smiling at the shock in her expression. "Or maybe we are," he said contemplatively, looking solely at her.
Haley shifted uncomfortably. "Oh-kay, then…I'm gonna go say hi to Karen; you two sort out your relationship," she declared, hurrying out of the room.
Peyton continued to stare at him after Haley rushed out, her breaths uneven. "What do you mean?" she whispered.
"D'you know that you talk in your sleep?" he asked, raising his eyebrows.
"Oh, God," she said, turning bright red and yanking her hand out of his. "Did I happen to tell you I loved you?" she asked wryly.
"Do you remember what you were dreaming?"
"No, I…let's just say this isn't exactly a first-time occurrence," she muttered, and then rushed on before he could say anything else, "Was it, perhaps, I love you, Lucas?"
"Exactly," he nodded. "And I hid it for a long time, but…I love you."
"Oh, God. Listen, I didn't mean – "
"Didn't you?" he interrupted.
"C'mere," he said softly, pulling her with him as he laid back down. She gazed at him in hopeful amazement. "You could've said that to me in daylight, or at least when we were both awake, you know."
She swallowed hard. "It's just that…I think that I need you too much to risk it."
He nodded. "You need me to save you, right?"
"Well, I…I guess."
"Do you ever think…that the reason I always come to rescue you is because I've always felt something for you?"
Her lips trembled. "What would you have done?" she whispered. "If I'd just come out and said that to you one day?"
He brushed his nose against hers and murmured, "I would have told you that I lied."
"When you asked me who I wanted next to me when my dreams come true. There was another answer I wanted to give you, but I was lying to myself, too…and I didn't want to spook you."
"Well…" A shy, delighted smile lit up her face. "What did you want to say?"
He pressed his lips to hers for a millisecond before admitting, "It really is Kate Bosworth."
Her laugh rang through his room and she pushed him away, rolling her eyes. He laid on his back, enjoying the amusement he got at her expense, before she moved close to him again, leaning up and sinking into a blissful kiss that silenced him instantly. "You wanna change your answer?" she murmured.
"Yeah," he grinned, slipping one hand into her hair and settling the other on her bare back. "It's you," he said earnestly.
"Better be," she said, her fingers dancing against across his chest before she captured his lips again.
He deepened the kiss, delving his tongue into her mouth and slipping his arm around her waist, his fingers digging softly into her skin.
Haley chose that moment to charge back in and cried, "Oh! God! Get a room! I mean…one with a lock on the door!" She slammed the door behind her as she stepped back outside. "And hey!" she called huffily through the wood of the door. "About time, you idiots."
Peyton giggled into their kiss. "I agree," she murmured.
Lucas laughed, too, pushing her hair away from her face. "I love that smile," he said, repeating his words from the previous day.
She blushed and kept on smiling at him, and he felt successful in more ways than one. In that moment, she was there with him and nowhere else. She was safe and beautiful and free of her demons.
"What're you thinking, Lucas Scott?" she asked, still giggling.
"Mm," he murmured appreciatively, kissing her again. "Do you think you might want to stay here forever?"
Peyton pulled back and looked at him seriously, her fingertips resting lightly against his cheek. "Luke," she said with a contented sigh, releasing the words and allowing them to brighten the world. "I want everything with you."
A/N: Peyton wants Luke, Luke wants Peyton, I want reviews...