Title: The Stages
Pairing: Lucas' POV, BLP.
Summary: "He tried it so hard it nearly killed him." Some BL, some LP. A pretty unhappy ending.
Rating: T-ish (mostly language)
Disclaimer: None of my profit this year came from writing these.
Notes: This is unbeta'd and English isn't my native, so my apologies for any mistakes. I give no warnings barring the rating up there. You read it, you risk it. Picks up after the end of 6.01, goes AU immediately after. I admit to plot being somewhat cliché and completely unoriginal. But some things just work.

One short sleep past, we wake eternally.

And death shall be no more.

/John Donne/

He remembers more these days then he ever did. Sometimes Lucas wonders if he's remembering or imagining things.

He's pretty sure Brooke's used to waking up really early, though.

Peyton likes to sleep in. She stays in bed way past eleven on Sunday and likes to take occasional naps in the afternoon. He used to be pretty ordinary, once. Despite not working nine-to-five hours, he woke up and went to bed with the rest of the world. Now, early morning Brooke wakes him with whispered giggles in his ear. It's strange to have both Brooke and Peyton sleep in his bed yet it isn't, not at all, not really. Years ago, after the girls were attacked by Peyton's stalker, the blonde couldn't close her eyes without having him and her best friend pressed to her sides. And it was awkward, and messy, and still absolutely his every wet dream.

So it's no wonder that now, after what happened, Brooke would want her best friend at her side. She doesn't even mind him counting her breaths through the night (which she's thankfully not aware of) and spooning her when his mind gives up on math and succumbs to sleep (which she couldn't have missed).

"Rise and shine, broody boy," she rasps, and shivers run up and down and across his spine before Lucas even opens his eyes.

He groans. Not because it's oh-so-hot to him still, but because she's too bright, too incessant, too cheery. Not even mentioning the fact that it's too effin' early. And Lucas was up way too late last night.

But then he opens his eyes, and he sees her smile, all pearly teeth and perfect dimples and sparkles in her brightest eyes, and remembers that he doesn't mind. That he just can't.

Waking up with Brooke beats waking up without her any day.

The morning is too warm and sunny for October, so it all works out. He runs in slow, widening circles; an outward spiral of streets he knows since being a fetus, a blob on his mom's first sonogram. He's supposed to stop on the Rivercourt, where other, possibly better teens play now.

Beside him, Brooke is shadowing his movements, her stride completely synchronized with his. He smiles. And not just because he exhales and inhales in the same rhythm she does. Lucas gets this feeling again, a memory he can't quite put his finger on, of when he knew this level of comfort and familiarity and calmness.

As they turn the corner and the Rivercourt comes to sight, Brooke punches him in the shoulder, sprinting ahead, tossing a "Race you, Broody!" over her shoulder before setting the pace he can't quite match because his heart can't quite take it. Not just literally, too, now that he sees her hair fan out behind her like she's in a Maroon 5 video.

So Lucas just laughs breathlessly and gives chase anyway. He won't catch her – not ever – but he finally knows that it's beside the point.

On Monday, he has a bunch of kids to train. All alone, because Skills has a day off and Nate has to baby-sit today. And this is a first time a newly formed cheerleading team has practice, as well. Brooke, tearing up nostalgically, sits in the second row a little across from him, feet propped high and tight skinny jeans reminding him how those thighs used to feel wrapped around his waist. Lucas has to shake his head a dozen times the first five minutes in vain attempts to concentrate. He gives up when she jumps to stand next to him, rolling her eyes as he breaks down the Pirate's tactics and the blonde head cheerleader tries to explain some combination of movements Brooke apparently finds too easy.

"You'll be double-teamed by them and your first instinct will be to look for who's open. Don't. Go for the shot. Their defense is useless unless you're immediately…" He hears a squeak and a thump distinctive of a heavy fall. The same blonde – Kerry, he thinks he should remember the girl's name – is on the floor.

"She forgot to bend her knees before that jump," Brooke yawns. She slumps her shoulders a little and returns to her seat behind him. But a little across from him, too.

"Right," Lucas says, and when Kerry looks up at him. "Before that jump after that high kick, you have to bend your knees a little." He thinks he's never managed to astonish his team more. "What? My girlfriend was a cheerleader."

Brooke chuckles, "Yeah, and Peyton was the least cheery cheerleader the world's ever seen."

It's funny how he didn't think of Peyton at all when he said it.

Lucas calls Jake in Savannah.

Not because he misses his friend, although he's missing a lot of things – people – these days. And definitely not because he wants Jake to come back to Tree Hill – he loves Peyton and she's been through enough lately to add emotional meetings with subsequent even more emotional goodbyes. But she's just so sad all the time Lucas doesn't know what to do anymore.

Jake doesn't either. As Lucas hangs up, he knows he's running out of time. And Brooke reads his mind. She hands him a mug of coffee and sips on her hot chocolate, and nods as if he said it out loud.

"You need to do something before Haley's birthday. Jamie can't see her like this. I'll sleep on the couch." Lucas shakes his head "No", because sex is not really solving this problem – never solved any problems, really, otherwise he and Brooke would've stopped the global worming and implemented worldpeace by graduation – but she's relentless.

"It'll get her through the week." And she's right. Crude and awkwardly blunt but so completely right. "Just save her, Broody, you used to love to do it."

"I know."

He does, even though the implications of her words tear a hole in his throat and he's suddenly suffocating. Then, he hears Peyton sob quietly, curled in his bed, and it doesn't matter that he can't breathe anymore.

"I know," he repeats and shuts the door.

Their talks later are succinct.

Peyton asks no more questions then she absolutely has to, his answers are monosyllables, and for a bestselling author, it's not the best of signs. He remembers to have done this before – this complete alienation, impenetrable emotional bubble. He regrets it now, same as he did before.

"Nathan might need help with preparations," Brooke suggests in the morning of Haley's birthday, as she gets up from the sofa she's been sleeping on now.

Lucas nods and moves to flip the French toast on the pan, sending a brief look in her direction. "Maybe we should take Jamie for the day and do the leftover shopping and decorations later?" he half-asks, half-tells Peyton.

She's too sad to be anything other then apathetic, really.

So he and Brooke run around with Jamie, barely managing to get everything ready while Peyton does one balloon after another. But, Lucas tells himself, this is how she deals with loss.

The party he helped organize should be everything Haley likes. It's on the roof of his mom's café slash Brooke's boutique, and there're lights and water balloons and mini golf and mac-and-cheese and ice cream and old Sheryl Crow records. There's Jamie and Nathan and all their extended family.

Later, when the party is almost over and it's only them left, Haley turns and hugs him tightly. "Nate says you practically forced him into doing this party. Thank you. It was perfect."

Lucas sees Brooke still beside him, a little behind and a little across, as per normal now, studying the hues of the night mix with a single broken sigh of hers. She barely flinches when Jamie runs past her.

"It was all Brooke's idea," he says, and Haley hugs him even tighter.

He says he'll walk home, and Brooke silently falls into step beside him just a minute after that.

"It's your own fault, you know," she whispers in his ear, and it's raspy and soft and cheery and he nearly breaks at the familiarity of it.

Lucas sighs reluctantly, but still asks, "What?"

"What do you think? Peyton. I told you to keep talking to her until she said something back." He just rolls his eyes. They've been through this too many times already. Any other time, any other thing – he would've done exactly that. But this broke him too much to keep opening up and bleeding all over the place, especially when most of the time it seemed to anger Peyton more then make her talk about it.

"Of course, I still stand by my first suggestion. You coulda keep fucking her until her brains turned to mush and she'd forgotten all about it," Brooke grins widely.

A couple of weeks after it happened, that was all he and Peyton did. They barely got out of the house, relying on sex to alleviate the guilt and the pain and the grief that consumed them. He hasn't touched her in a couple of months, though, just twice when Brooke told him that he had to if he wanted to see his fiancée live through the night without slitting her wrists.

He's almost through the door when he realizes Peyton's on the porch, waiting.

"We need to talk," she says looking at the space between Lucas and Brooke. He shrugs and sits on the stairs, and so does Brooke. One step behind him and a little across, so that he could still see her face and brush her knee with his hand and pretend it's accidental.

Peyton doesn't like the whole relationship dynamic of the triumvirate. He doesn't care, much. He can't. It's something he's decided on, it's something done, solid, in stone.

"I can't believe that you can…" Peyton half-whispers, half-sobs. It's a heartbreaking sound, but his heart is so flawed, so broken at that point that it barely chips at him. He's thankful that Brooke is quiet, though. "After what happened, I just can't believe what we're doing to this engagement, Lucas. After what I… what we lost, we can't loose each other. We can't let this come between you and me. Anything but this…"

"Oh, please!" Brooke snorts. Her eyes roll in that adorable annoying manner and Lucas has to agree – Peyton's right, but she's wrong in saying it the way she does. He can't – won't – pretend it wasn't hard, but it's nothing to do with their relationship, not really.

He chooses not to respond.

But when Peyton chokes on another sob, he hugs he flush to his body and whispers an "I love you" in her hair.

When they go to bed that night, he hugs Peyton even closer, but leaves the right side of the bed free for Brooke. She never shows.

In the morning, he wakes on his own and kisses Peyton. It initiates a clumsy, tender lovemaking that makes him feel a little more secure about his engagement.

Until, in the lazy afterglow, he notices Brooke in the doorway.

He leaves the bed and leaves for a run, silently showing for her to follow.

He rambles and babbles and all those things writers and eloquent book-worms aren't supposed to do. It's a chaotic confession, structured only in the sense that he's been making those awkward embarrassing speeches to her before.

So when five minutes into his rant Brooke cocks her head, shows her dimples and laughs, he chokes, but stops and grins despite himself.

A few weeks later it's six months. Peyton's been drinking too much, even though they're on babysitting duty tonight.

And he can't help but hold Brooke's hand all day, not caring to pretend it's accidental anymore. By the nighttime she's more then annoyed with him, so when he tugs her away from the kitchen after Jamie asks him to read him a story, she snaps.

"Sometimes," she whispers in that deep and raspy voice that is completely inappropriate in front of a six-year-old, "You, Lucas Scott, are just no fun."

He rolls his eyes, and reads the story until Jamie is out, and tucks the blanket around him. He doesn't let go when he walks into his bedroom, and he doesn't let go as he climbs beneath the covers next to Peyton, nearly causing Brooke to fall on the floor with all the tugging.

She doesn't complain, though, and they settle. Somehow, she's straddling his hips and glaring down at him. He glares back and remembers what she said.

"I'm lots of fun," he counters quietly, intensely, brushing his palms over her knees possessively. "Just not when today is what it is…"

"Hey!" she slaps him on the chest, but it feels more like a caress. "No brooding! You've been doing pretty good so far."

It's not often she can surprise, let alone shock him, but this does, because for the life of him he can't figure out where this is coming from. How this can be considered pretty good. But he can't really disappoint her today – any day – so he just shrugs. "I do what I have to do."

"Anything to keep going, right?" She smiles a little crookedly, but still full of dimples and sparkles and everything that he misses so fucking much. "Well, you're good at this."

"I have to be."

Next to him, Peyton turns away and sighs in her sleep. Brooke grins wickedly at this, her hands finding his abdomen and slidingslidingsliding up and down; her touch it too light, her smile is too teasing. "Ya wanna play?" He eyebrow kinks and he's completely and utterly gone.

Brooke's not really subtle and not really gentle, but he can't, he's not in a position to mind. This is mostly – if not fully – his fault anyway. Besides, he doesn't remember any better, and really, he doesn't want to.

Then, Peyton sighs again and it's loud and Brooke laughs in that 'gotcha' way and shakes her head and while part of him is relieved, most of him breaks. Lucas captures her hands in his then.

"Who's no fun now?" She kinks her brow again, eyeing Peyton's form and her engagement ring and returning to meet his gaze. "Sorry," he supplies, because it's the only word that ever came out for her, even though he has so much more stuck to the back of his throat.

She sighs and her palms flatten against his chest, fingers spreading over his flawed, broken, barely beating heart, and he holds them there. "Don't go."

She flashes her dimples again. "It's OK," she says, freeing one of her hands to brush it tenderly across his forehead. It's so gentle and so rare now that Lucas' eyes drift shut reluctantly. "Sleep," she whispers.

But Lucas forces his eyes to open again, and begs. "Stay." He doesn't care how desperate that makes him sound. He can't afford to care. He just can't anymore. This is all that's left now, all that matters. These moments.

"Hey, not going anywhere," Brooke says, and for less then a moment the hand on his heart is there, is real. "I'm right here." And she is. Right there in his heart.

"I know," he closes his eyes again, clenches his jaw too tight and believes. "I know." And he does.

He has to.

(He tried all the stages. Peyton's stuck on depression. Nate's been angry for the longest time. Haley's always been the most accepting of them all. But he's tried it all, acceptance and dealing, and drinking, and throwing things, and trying to find and fucking murder her attacker who's raped Brooke and beaten her and left her to bleed to death in the place that used to be better and safe, and crying, and even talking about her. He tried it so hard it nearly killed him. This, denial, is, in the end, the easiest thing. It gives him the strength to inhale and exhale and inhale and just keep doing it on and on and fucking on.)

He just wishes she had the chance to breathe in sync with him, a little behind and a little across from, so that his hand could accidentally brush her thigh and his eyes could sometimes meet hers and his heart could maybe, once in the rarest while, touch hers.