I know, I know, it's been ages! But here's the next chapter. To everybody who's expressed concern about the future of this story – I'm never leaving anything unfinished! It might take me a while still, but this story will get there. And thank you, girls who PMed me and kicked my ass into gear. I love my reviewers – you know who you are. Another funny thing – I got my first fanfiction request. And I'm seriously considering doing it, so if you, by any chance, decide there is a particular one-shot you want to see – please don't hesitate. It actually makes me write faster. Oh, and I apologize for the sappiness of this chapter. I was just in that mood lately…
Chapter 4. Just In Case We Were Perhaps to Meet
I'll never tell you anything;
discounts on heartaches
and I still can't afford it.
"I want to know what happened when your boutique was robbed," Lucas bursts through the door, sending wayward droplets flying into the room. He didn't bother with pleasantries, but she's pretty certain she doesn't need them anymore. Politeness has somehow erased itself from her list of priorities.
She rises from her favorite rattan chair, blinking against the sight of him, each time a little less shocking but still nothing to be casual about. He's breathing heavily, as if he ran all the way from the hotel to her place and all the demons of his past, followed by Dan, were chasing him.
"I would've thought you'd ask Deb," but Brooke tears her eyes away from him. She's too weak to handle his pity, too scared to see his judgment.
"I did!" Lucas shouts, shaking his head at her. "I asked her over and over, we all did, I heard the whole story from her three times – about as much as I could stomach."
Brooke shivers unconsciously at the way he says that last part, rubs her shoulders and wonders why he thinks she can stomach telling it. It can't be easier then hearing it. So she steels her limbs and shields her gaze and faces him armed and almost prepared.
"Well, if you talked to Deb, why do you want my version?"
"Because I need to know, Brooke," he whispers, "because you have got to go home." There is too much unidentified emotion in his voice when he says the word. Funny how Tree Hill is still referred to as home, by Mouth, by Luke, by herself, yet this reference is more bitter then anything else. Brooke doesn't quite believe in home the way she used to.
"Well, you saw the bruises. You know the store was broken into while I was there. I know math wasn't your favorite, but it isn't that hard to add those together." She figures Lucas will have to use his acclaimed imagination, being a visionary author and all, because going into more detail makes her want to take that gun she still owns from its hiding place just to feel the smooth, cool surface and raw power at her fingertips.
"What exactly… did he…" Lucas stutters which is kind of funny considering, and there's a light strawberry blush across his cheekbones that she thinks both adorable and out of place. It's barely visible in the pool of electricity yet distinctly there and distinctly Lucas, the way she remembers him from high school.
"You're not comfortable asking me the questions, how do you think I feel having to answer them?" She's intent on making Lucas work to get the answers if he wants them. It's the only power she has left over him, and not a single piece of information will slip out unless he earns it. Brooke's too broken to be put back together just like that, she knows that well.
Lucas gulps at her comment, and swiftly changes the direction. "OK, well, why did I not hear about it then? Why didn't you come to talk to any of us?"
She feels hysterics rising up to her throat and blocking the words from coming out, so she has to gulp, herself, just to get around the answer. "I talked to Deb, didn't I? In fact, I called Peyton first." And heard about their wedding plans, and suddenly drawing a breath deep enough to say that was impossible. Because her best friend was getting on with her life, with their man, being happy. And Brooke wasn't selfish enough to ruin their bliss.
"My phone was off. Peyton wasn't taking any calls until that one of yours. And we were off to Vegas and LA." Lucas seems sober, recounting the facts with a calm demeanor.
"Yup," Brooke turns away and takes a seat on the edge of her bed, finally, gesturing at Lucas to do the same, offering him the only chair available.
But Lucas just resumes a measured pacing, back and forth in rhythm with his words.
"I had to get away. And I had to make a choice. And she seemed like the only one I had. And then it was so good, you know… To pretend like nobody else exists. I didn't mean to leave you behind, or take her away from you, and even if I did, I could never…"
Brooke holds her palm up to block the rest of his sentences. "You don't have to apologize for wanting to get away, or wanting to elope. Or even for wanting to ignore me for a while." She thinks it's OK. She wants it to be OK.
"I'm not apologizing for what I did, just for how I did it." And he's breathing hard again, almost sobbing and it makes her face and chest feel so congested she can burst with her own tears. "I got a little too caught up in my own life."
Brooke snickers, "Yeah, you tend to do that." He looks up, hurt, but swallows his response. "But then, yours and Haley's student was shot and none of you questioned the bruises even when you saw them… And Haley suggested I go to the therapist. I guess life just turned out that way…"
"No, Brooke," nobody ever says her name like he does. Like a prayer. "Don't say that. Don't think that Quentin's death could ever stop any of us from caring about you."
She leaned back on her elbows, her pose getting more relaxed. "You would like to think so." It occurs to her that, in some way or the other, he honestly believes that he cares about her. That he takes care of her.
"What I would like to think is that you're home, safe and healthy. I want you to go back to the family." There it is again, that tone of voice that tells her Lucas misses home and family yet isn't ready to face them, almost as if he's terrified of it all. Brooke thinks she should know how he feels. She should, but she doesn't.
"I'm not part of the Scott family, though." Lucas sighs at that and looks down for a brief second.
"You know you are." But she's already shaking her head. "For one, my last name isn't Scott." He flinches at the implication, and she does as well, realizing that it came out in a different way then she intended. Brooke doesn't mean to bring Peyton in this discussion any more then the blonde already is, and she definitely doesn't ever want to question their marriage. In fact, she left the continent to find her own way, her own happiness. Yet apparently, Tree Hill and Lucas Scott aren't quite done with her yet.
"Look, Luke, I'm alive and well, no thanks to you, but that's all there is to it. You're not 'the guy for me' anymore, so the rest is no concern of yours. I'm just a gal you used to know who wants to get on with her life, OK?" Those are just careless, barbed remarks, but they manage to cover up her insecurity around him well enough.
"I promised I would save you." And just like that, with one simple response, he manages to pinpoint why she couldn't fall in love with anyone else for almost seven years. But she doesn't want to think of it now. She's accepted the inevitability of her love for Lucas Scott the same as his inability to give his whole heart to one woman and not take it back. She once hoped he'd grow out of it, but she's terrified of hoping these days.
After minutes of angst-ridden silence, Lucas comes up with another question. "So… Are you coming home? At least, are you going to talk to me?" When she sighs and runs her fingers through her hair, he rises impatiently from the chair to knee in front of her form on the bed.
"I… I wish I could, Luke…" she hates that the cold tone of her voice can not be maintained long enough, not when he looks at her like that. "Please, just abide with me if you're not gonna leave me alone."
"I'm not," he whispers, grazing her fingers with his, and standing up just to sit one the bed next to her. Lucas falls back on his elbows, copying her stance from a couple of minutes ago, and she joins him in studying her cracked ceiling.
They've always had the most comfortable silences.
Lucas is the first to break. "But what are you doing here?" There's none of the frustration in his voice, he exudes patience and a certain sense of calm envelops her from just the sound of his voice. How can she explain the loneliness to a guy who's never been truly alone? Not the feeling of abandon that he's all too familiar with, but the utter emptiness of the world, the quiet, the absence?
So she doesn't. She just turns away from him and fumbles with the hem of her top to keep her hands occupied and distracted from the tingling her fingers still feel from the brief contact.
When she thinks Lucas is asleep he suddenly gets up and gets to cleaning. Brooke watches in silent fascination as he moves slowly in the drenching heat, first carrying all the dirty glasses and dishware into the mean little kitchen. Cleaning up the mess of documents, newspapers, books and a couple of drawings. He pauses on the drawings, noticing that those aren't sketches of designs but true art. Brooke smiles a little, guessing he's never in all those years imagined Peyton wasn't the only talented artist in town. Brooke has her own style, very different from that of her best friend, and she prefers watercolors and oil to black and white pencil pieces her once best friend used to make, but the drawings he's looking at so intently are simply the result of her boredom on a couple of town council meetings she had to attend, and she only had a ball pen on her then. Still, he seems impressed and she's stupidly flattered with his reaction. Brooke even kind of wishes he paid enough attention and she had enough security in their dating days for him not to look quite as shocked now at such a simple revelation.
Lucas goes back to his self-imposed task of cleaning pretty soon, though. He must know she's watching him, yet he makes no sign to account for it. There's not that much to do, yet once he starts he seems to really get into it. In fact, he seems in the zone, and Brooke guesses he's missed doing simple chores that remind him of home, moving from one hotel room to another.
Brooke imagines there must be something vaguely abasing for Lucas in doing her housework, but he seems to welcome the feeling. She welcomes watching him doing it, herself, it provides her feelings around Lucas certain specificity, simple gratitude for washing dishes, sweeping, putting things right, and cooking.
It's probably been an hour and she must have dozed off at some point when Lucas approaches her and touches her shoulder gently. "The dinner will be ready soon," there is a delicious smell of pancakes around the apartment, something she hasn't had in a while and misses terribly. "I'll make the bed."
For some reason, she feels no shame in letting him, just nods towards the chest under the window, not littered with papers anymore.
"You can take a shower while I'm at it, too."
"This doesn't mean we're suddenly friends, Luke." She purposefully wants to anger him with this remark; she's uncomfortable with the comfort of the mood enveloping them both. Yet he's not angry, and he sends her an understanding smile, and her own discomfort collapses under its influence.
"I know." He looks away for a second and mumbles so quietly she barely understands, "but you did call me Luke."
She grumbles as she gets up, more for show then anything, and stifles the urge to slam the bathroom door behind her. This is not going good. Just a couple of hours and he already is getting to her softer side, an ability he shouldn't possess after all this time.
Yet somehow, he does.
And she can't quite bring herself to regret it.
She stays in the bathroom so long after the water isn't running anymore that Lucas starts wondering if Brooke's back to ignoring him or avoiding him But when she finally cracks the door open and peaks carefully, then emerges in fresh clothes – an off-white sundress that transfers his thoughts abruptly to sun-filled daisy fields and he feels like such a pansy. It's obvious, though, that she's made an effort and it makes him happy in ways it shouldn't.
"Feel any better?" He asks impatiently, because he's made his mom's chocolate chip pancakes, one of the few things he can manage and coincidentally one of Brooke's favorites. Though he doesn't know as much as he thought he did about Brooke Davis, he remembers all of the things he once knew. And he definitely remembers that both of them love breakfast food, no matter what meal they're actually supposed to have. She's a pancake girl and he's a French toast guy. For some reason he doesn't want to identify, he's really impatient to please her.
She just shrugs, but there's a smile in the corners of her lips and in the tiniest indentation of her dimples.
"I really hope you're hungry. I went out to get some stuff, too." The only thing he risked to buy, gesturing his way through negotiations, is some fruit, and all the time, he was rushing, eager to get back in unreasonable fear that Brooke will disappear before he can return. He's thankful that the marketplace is right outside her apartment, yet is kind of bothered by the dangerous vibe of the neighborhood. "Let's go sit down, OK, buddy?"
"Don't call me that." Brooke is suddenly sharp on the defensive, sort of like a hedgehog with its needles out.
"What shall I call you then?" He's suddenly frustrated again even though he swore to himself to exert all the patience in the world when she's asked him to abide with her. The words and her voice cut deep through his insides and seem to reside in his heart now. But he does want to know what to call her now?
He doesn't dare to ask.
"Just sit at the table, Brooke. You can go back to bitching after we have a normal meal, OK?" He's found some plates and brewed some coffee which is steaming from the mugs now. A stack of heavenly-smelling pancakes make for a satisfying, if a little infantile, meal. Brooke's smile deepens at the sight, and he can't help the joy that spreads through him at the sight.
"Thank you, Luke." This time, she stresses his name, as if to claim that it's a conscious choice of hers to call him that, and he smiles back at her. Nobody says his name like Brooke does – like a prayer. He feels this could actually be getting somewhere.
So he serves the food – a small amount for her, more for himself. Laboring in the heat has roused his appetite more then one quick smoke outside could help.
"I wish I was hungrier, though…" she mumbles, having barely tried eating.
"I don't really care what you wish. I only care to see you eat, and right now, what I say goes. Got it?"
This might have worked, perhaps, if he'd keep his tone lighter, if he'd smiled. If he'd stayed out of her personal space by refraining from moving the plate and fork closer to her and grazing the soft skin of her arm. More importantly, if he'd stop wanting Brooke Davis with this insane intensity.
Lucas finds that he can't even perceive the levels of fear, loneliness and defense Brooke reached and mastered. He can't even notice her withdraw, just knows that there is suddenly an empty spot where laughter and dimples (God how he misses seeing her dimples) and warmth and something very, very close to acceptance was barely a second ago. Brooke doesn't say anything, doesn't look away, and just chews on her pancake slowly.
An hour later, she politely herds him on the street and doesn't even slam the door.
There has to be something he can do to make her talk, to take her home, to save her. There just has to be.
Next morning, Lucas tries her office first. Then returns to the apartment. He finds in shut up – in his face. He waits around for a while, making a minute inspection of every stall and cart in the market, distributing small coinage to beggar children who might as well have been Slumdog Millionaire castoffs. It's surprisingly not raining, and Brooke doesn't return.
She doesn't show up all day, or all evening.
Lucas entertains a thought of making rounds of Dai Phuong's bars, boutiques, just streets, but knows before he's started that it would be in vain. He doesn't know where they are, he doesn't speak the language. He looks conspicuous. He looks rich and successful and scrawny.
He suddenly realizes that Brooke doesn't. She, somehow, fits.
So it's only on the third morning of him not finding Brooke home that it occurs to him to go back to the infirmary. When the idea hits him, it grips him in a panic – what if she died, for real this time? What if she is in a coma? She has something wrong with her heart, apparently, and lives in a neighborhood so far removed from safe it's not even funny. What of he's missed his chance – again – Lucas starts running.
He has to wait to even be let in the building. Lucas sits in the bare reception room, on a wooden bench under a huge crucifix, terrified. He already knows not to expect anyone to speak English and hopes that he can make himself understood in bits of French he's picked up here and there. Haley's done French in high school, and he's memorized a little conversation since in his travels. Carefully, he assembles sentences in his mind, preparing to spit them out as soon as somebody comes to talk to a tall, white stranger. Je m'appelle Monsieur Davis is about as far as he gets.
It doesn't matter. It's not credible that Brooke's even married to him. He knows for certain that the nurse didn't buy that before, when Mouth could still weave a story to convince her. And Brooke would deny even knowing him. She'd probably shout the place down and throw something at him.
That is, if Brooke's here. If she's conscious.
If she's even alive.
It turns out he doesn't need to say any of his painful French sentences; the nurse he's already sort of met appears in the doorway and beckons to him at once.
Brooke is there, on her side, he back to him, in bed in a tiny bare white room, featureless as a cell except for the identical crucifix hanging on one of the walls and the ceiling fan revolving above, providing no comfort whatsoever. Lucas runs around the bed to face her and wants to cry.
There's an IV fixed to her neck, and another in her arm, dripping fluids into her. Lucas feels himself fix on those IVs, thinking they'd be removed for sure if Brooke died, so she has to be alive at least.
"Merci," he murmurs not daring to look away from the girl in the bed, slipping to seat next to her body. Her hand lays flaccid on the blanket, so Lucas curls his own around it. The nurse withdraws, and Lucas listens to the firm tapping of her steps down the corridor. When they're gone, the only sound is the thin whirr of the fan overhead.
He hates to sound like a Simon and Garfunkel song, but he doesn't dare disturb this sound of silence.
Her hand feels not more infused with life than the plastic tube going into it, but when he squeezes her fingers, he can feel a pulsing. And then he touches the place where he can feel the beating of her heart. It's probably only his imagination that it seems indolent, reluctant. Now that he's so close he can tell the differences in this new smell of hers, and what surprises him is the tenderness that yawns open in his heart at all these sad details. Lucas realizes suddenly how desperately he needs another chance to do right by Brooke – maybe not romantically, he doesn't dare entertain those thoughts anymore, but in any way she lets him. He know he'd be glad to have her any way, ill or angry or silent or even belonging to other man, as long as she's not pushing him away anymore. He doesn't think he's ever felt this way about anyone before. There is something squirmy – embarrassing – about how much he's willing to give and how little he's ready to take.
Brooke is still for a long time. The grey light in the room shifts, darkens. At dusk – of what would've been dusk, if not for the rain that started again – she opens her eyes.
Lucas breathes loudly, as if he was holding it inside him all these hours.
"Are you in pain?" He asks, feeling her fingers warm between his own.
"I'm always in pain," Brooke rasps.
Lucas can barely hear her, can barely notice her eyes falling shut again. He's out into the corridor, calling for help.
As the days elapse, no one makes him leave. Doctors barely check on Brooke, and he soon realizes that her problem isn't physical as much as it is mental. He feeds Brooke the food the nurses bring, pays them to bring something for him to snack on. He napped on the floor the first night; Brooke mostly slept or just stared through the window.
Lucas experiences something like serenity in his uninterrupted vigil. It is something of the redemption, the penitence he's been looking for. Hour by hour, he grows bolder, he takes liberties. From merely holding her hand, to twining his arms around her. To resting his head on her pillow so he can murmur elaborate stories in her ear, to touching his mouth to her warm cheek. To putting his fingers – very gently, carefully – through her hair. Every time Brooke doesn't protest, by word or movement, against these gestures, it gives him enormous pleasure.
Nothing can compare to that one moment when she cuddles back into his form.
He talks to he in low, warm tones, careful to say nothing significant because it can upset her or force her to think. Mostly he looked for new, different ways to repeat the soft assertion that she'll be alright, that he will take care of her. He recognizes this as a sort of ecstasy of tenderness, in which neither the bedpan-and-catheter realities, nor his own exhaustion make any impact on his disposition.
He knows, in his brain and in his heart, that it's horrible and he wants Brooke to get better. Yet there's a part of him that loves Brooke being this way. It gives him a chance Brooke would've never given herself, of her own free will.
On the fourth morning, when Lucas returns from a quick shower, Brooke is suddenly alert. There are no signs of whatever problem she had, she's sober and rational and she frowns when he comes in.
"You still insist on staying here?"
"Yup," he nods, insanely happy to hear her raspy voice.
"You know I don't want you to?" He doesn't know how to answer this, until he remembers a day, not too long ago, when Angie left. Brooke hates to let him see her vulnerable. Well, she's just gonna have to deal.
"The thing is, I want to." He plops next to her on the bed and revels in the familiarity of the feeling when he puts his arms around her. "You never left me alone. Not even when I gave you every reason to. Well, turnabout is fair play, right?"
"You're joking?" Her voice is cold, yet her body is warm and soft and fits his own and she doesn't move away, so Lucas' confidence doesn't ebb away.
He finds it in himself to smile.
Brooke sighs, and is silent for the longest time. But there's a happiness in his heart that bursts all colors of the rainbow once she moves her body closer to his and adjust her head to lay on his arm.
"I don't know what you want from me…" she whispers, and Lucas thinks it's a beautiful sound.
"Well, I wanted you to talk to me, for starters. And look at that, you are!" He tips her a little smile of victory that turns gentle when Brooke doesn't act angry.
It's probably just because she has no energy to battle him, but it makes the tenderness inside of him grow nonetheless. She looks like a week-old kitten, weak and tired and adorable… and his presence finally, luckily, doesn't torment her.
"You should really listen to me, Luke," she catches the fingers of his other hand in an affectionate gesture. Her squeeze is light, almost not there, but it is. "I can't fulfill this fantasy of yours. I can't fill in for Peyton, so you can be all Mother Theresa and knight in shining armor, and you can think you're responsible for me, but you're not. And you shouldn't."
Dejection never felt as sweet because her hand is still touching his.
"You know where that logic is wrong?" He smiles in her hair, happy to be able to say it. "It's not about the shoulds and shoulsn'ts. It's about what I want to do." Suddenly it doesn't seem important, defending himself. He just wants to reach her, however he can. "I guess I can understand why you hate me, and it seems fair if you do…"
"I don't!" She cuts him off with enough decision and confidence in her voice to make him happy somewhere in the deep recess of his heart.
"Why do you think I'm here?" he starts in another ten minutes of silent cuddling. "I'm told that this amazing girl, who I love, but thought was dead, is alive. So I come to where she is. You of all people have to understand, there's just nothing else I could have done. I have to do whatever I possibly can for you. I have to get you home. If you just let me save you."
She still doesn't move away, but her voice carries a sadness that terrifies him. "Poor Lucas. You're always too late."
He sighs, and closes his eyes against the wave of this sadness. "When did things change so much?" he asks, not recognizing the tone of their conversations.
"Things aren't different," Brooke whispers back. "Things are just things."
When she falls asleep, Lucas leaves for his hotel room, torrents of rain purifying him of the rest of the universe.