A/N: My weekly oneshot (it does seem that I post one every week...) Not much more to say about it. Hope you like it.
If she hadn't found that ring, she'd still have him.
But she found it. The little black box that she was afraid to even open. He hadn't done a very good job of hiding it, but she knew she shouldn't have found it. She still, however, sometimes wonders if he wanted her to find it.
After a summer away, interning in L.A., she came home to him, just like she said she would, and he was waiting, just like he said he would. They'd barely been together six months, and most of that was spent with miles and miles of distance between them, but they were going to be separated again by school. Thankfully, those schools were only a few hours away from each other.
They had two weeks. Two weeks to be together before she had to move and he had to move, and then they'd be apart again and only able to see each other on weekends or when his coaching schedule allowed.
Two weeks were cut short when she found the ring.
She was terrified. Not even 19, and her boyfriend had what was obviously an engagement ring sitting in his desk drawer. She was scared that he'd propose and they'd fall apart and it would hurt even more. She was absolutely terrified that she wasn't ready to be a fiancé, let alone a wife.
So she picked a stupid fight, and brought up the ring at the exact wrong time - it had nothing to do with what they were even arguing about - and he ended things.
He always thought that she ended them for him. If their relationship wasn't heading in that direction, where she'd someday wear that ring, then what was the point?
He didn't chase after her when she left his bedroom, and he didn't try to explain that the ring was for 'someday', and not that day. He didn't tell her that he hadn't bought it, but instead it was given to him by his mother and was the ring Keith had given her. He didn't tell her that he loved her or plead for her to understand. He just let her walk away. It was cowardly and stupid and stubborn, and he realized it when he tried to call her an hour later and she didn't answer.
That was three months ago.
And three months without her have left him feeling absolutely broken and empty. He doesn't want to, but he feels like nothing without her. She isn't smiling at him when he completes another chapter of his book, or laughing at his lame jokes and stories from his practices.
They haven't even spoken since she walked out his bedroom door, and though he knows his brother keeps in contact with her, he doesn't ask questions. Her name is too hard to hear, and he doesn't want to know anything more about her other than where she goes to school.
It doesn't help her that Skills is Lucas' best friend, and that he happens to be the only person she really knows at the school they both attend. He tries to fill her in on what Lucas is doing, but she'll cut him off, telling him in no uncertain terms that she doesn't want to hear it.
She's grown quite close to Skills, and she knows he only wants what's best for her, but it still just hurts too much. It hurts to hear his name, let alone anything else about him. If he's happy, it'll hurt her, and if he's sad, it'll hurt her, so it's best just not to know.
She's sitting on her sofa, eyes closed as she tries to weather the storm. Literally. The rain is pouring down and she's completely alone in her apartment, listening to a little music and the raindrops she can hear so well. She tries to tell herself it's soothing, though, really, it's everything but.
There's a knock a the door, and it startles her. She doesn't know who would be coming around this late. Skills has a game the next day and she knows he goes to bed early when that's the case.
Hesitantly, she pulls the door open, and she can't hide the shock on her face when she sees him. He looks so damn good, and she hates herself a little for noticing it so quickly and letting herself even think it.
He wonders, for a moment, if he's ever seen her look more beautiful. He's got a catalogue in his mind - though he'd never tell anyone else that, not even the girl herself - of all the moments she's made his heart stop. There are a lot of them.
Add another to the list.
He thinks it'd be so much easier if he could hate her. Of course it would be. She broke his heart, and he should be able to despise her, to never want to see her again.
But he knows, just as he suspects everyone else does, that he still wants to marry her. Because he's in love with her. Of course, he's in love with her.
"Hi," she says. Her voice is soft and timid, and he's not sure if he's ever heard that tone before. The fact that it's making the hair on the back of his neck stand up isn't helping him at all.
"Hi," he responds.
She pulls the door open a little more and steps aside so he can walk out of the rain and into her home. It feels like her - that little house - and it makes him smile. Bold colours and artwork and walls lined with all those vinyl records they used to spend hours listening to. Even the music that's playing is a song that has always reminded him of her, and he wonders for a split second if she expected him to come. He knows, of course, that she didn't, and that he's surprised her, and that maybe he's making her totally uncomfortable by just standing in her living room, looking around at all her things.
There are a few candles lit, and a small lamp, but that's all the light that's in the room. Flickering flames from red and brown and cream-coloured candles. It smells like her. She'd never been the girl to enjoy fruity scents. Her room always smelled like lemongrass or sandalwood or cedar or, his favourite, though he'd make fun of her for loving something so abstract, 'breeze'.
It's not lost on her that the album playing is the one that was playing the first night they ever spent alone in his house. His mother had gone away, and so she'd gone to keep him company. Her sole job, he'd told her, was to bring music. He'd added the mostly-serious suggestion that she didn't even need to bring clothes. That was an amazing weekend, and those memories are flooding her mind as she stands behind him.
She's not sure if she wants him to leave or to stay, and it scares her that it's a toss up. She should have slammed the door in his face, but he's just so beautiful. All blue eyes and crooked smile. The fact that he's wearing a colour that she's always loved on him doesn't help. She wonders if he wore it on purpose.
But then she remembers that she has no idea why he's there, and she stops herself from thinking he'd put any thought into his wardrobe choice.
"What...um...what are you doing here?" she asks as gently as she can. She thinks the words she chose are too harsh or too forward, but she needs to know, and he isn't exactly offering anything up.
"I got your address from Nathan...I hope it's OK that I came," he says, adding the last part quickly. He can't really read her reaction, and it terrifies him to think that he might not know her anymore.
"Yeah, of course," she replies insistently, waving off his concern. "It's just...a bit of a surprise."
She laughs a little and it makes him smile, because...well, her laughing has always made him smile. Always. It's infectious and when she's happy, there's nothing more beautiful than that.
"We're in town for a game, so I thought I'd...you know, say hi," he offers lamely. He knows she'll see through his every attempt to downplay the significance of his impromptu visit.
"Yeah, I actually knew that," she says softly.
Skills keeps her up to date with game schedules - she actually goes to every home game to watch him play - and this is the only game her school plays against Lucas and Nathan's all year. She fully intended on sitting in the stands, as far away from Lucas as she could be. But she had to go. Of course, she did. And Nathan had sent her a two line email the day before that simply said; "Game Saturday. Your skinny ass better be in the stands." She had laughed and replied that she'd be there.
"You want tea or something?" she offers. She needs something to do with her hands to keep herself from grabbing the collar of his shirt and pulling his body against hers in that way she's missed for so many months.
"Got anything stronger?" he asks with a smirk, and she lets out a breath and she smiles, and he knows that she was thinking the exact same thing.
She pulls a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red out of the cupboard and he nods is approval at her choice. She'd never really been one to drink hard liquor, and there's hardly anything gone from the bottle, so he wonders briefly where it came from and why she has it. He doesn't question it because it's silly for his mind to race, wondering if there's been another man in her life, drinking whiskey and sitting on her sofa with her in the dark.
She hands him a glass of the amber liquid and watches as he takes a sip. He doesn't wince the way she does when the whiskey burns the back of her throat, and she wonders if he's ever looked more like a man. And why does she find that the sexiest thing in the world? She doesn't really even need to ask.
She keeps the counter between them, just to keep her willpower strong, and he perches himself on the stool across from her. Another few moments of silence and she wants to scream, begging him to tell her why he's there, already. And why is he staring at her that way, a near blank expression on his face, save for that glint of sapphire blue in his otherwise icy eyes?
"So...?" she drawls, making him laugh. It's a childish way to break the tension, but she doesn't care, because she just needed it to be broken.
"Right," he laughs. He knows he's been staring, and he's thankful that she pulled him from it. "How are you?"
"Home alone at 10:00 on a Friday," she says with a raised brow, as though that'll explain it all. She's single and she lives by herself and she doesn't want to be out meeting other boys at lame parties.
The only boy she wants lives two hours away.
The only boy she wants is sitting across from her now.
The only boy she wants broke her heart, but somehow, in the span of 10 minutes, has completely fixed it.
"So you're good, then," he says with a cheeky smile, and she knows he's taken from her statement exactly what she wanted him to hear. She knows that cocky grin he's flashing her is only there because he knows she's single, and it's probably making his heart race as much as hers races every time she talks to Haley and the brunette casually slips into the conversation that Lucas hasn't met anyone special.
"What about you? Coaching everything you thought it'd be?" she asks, though she knows the answer already through conversations with Nathan.
"It's great. Busy, you know? Juggling school and coaching, but it's a blast," he answers honestly.
What he doesn't say, is that he wants her to be part of that mix. He wants her to go to his school instead of this one, and live with he, Haley and Nathan, and share his bed with him, and love him. He wants to come home to her after practice and have her rub his shoulders and kiss that spot on his neck that she always used to pay special attention to.
There's a clap of thunder outside, and she flinches. He knows she's never liked thunderstorms. She used to drive to his house and burst through his door and cuddle up with him on his bed and whisper that she just felt safer with him.
Their eyes lock, and they both know they're reliving the same memories.
"Come here," he insists, extending his hand over the counter.
He stands from his place and she walks around to stand in front of him, and he does what he's wanted to do since she opened the door. Actually, it's what he's wanted to do for months now. He pulls her against him and wraps her into his arms and places a hand on the back of her head like he always used to. She takes a deep breath and wonders how he can comfort her so quickly; how they can just fall back into each other like this after everything that's happened.
And that's the best she's felt since the last time he held her that way.
"Thanks," she murmurs. He doesn't say anything, just runs his hand slowly down her back as he looks at her.
She pulls away from him completely and moves to sit on the sofa where she'd been sitting before. She wraps the blanket around herself again as he sits down, and he smiles when he sees her all bundled up.
Silence comes over them, and she doesn't know if she loves or hates that he's not talking. Clearly, they're still able to just sit and not say anything, but he still hasn't really told her why he's there, and she knows it isn't just to say hi.
She's about to say something - what, she's still not sure - when the power flickers off, and she closes her eyes and inhales deeply. She doesn't know why she's surprised when he takes her hand in his, but she is. He weaves his fingers through hers, and she feels like she wants to cry, because of the few hands she's held in her life, nothing has even felt close to this perfect.
"What would you do if I wasn't here?" he asks softly. He tries to make it sound playful, but he knows it's a loaded question.
She opens her eyes to look at him, and she tilts her head to the side, and he knows he's been caught, but he doesn't really care. She's not yelling or blaming him for anything, and she hasn't pulled her hand away, and those are all good signs.
"I'd be scared all by myself," she answers honestly, and she realizes that in a few simple words, she's summarized her entire time away from him. It takes everything in her not to cry when she feels his thumb run over her knuckles the way it always used to.
There's a flash of lightening, and he doesn't hesitate to move closer to her and pull her into his side.
And it should infuriate her that he just assumes that she wants him to do it (she does) and that she needs him to do it (she does). But she loves that he knows her so well, and all she wants to do is tell him that she's wanted him all along, and that nothing else makes any sense to her.
"What are you doing here?" she asks quietly as her head rests comfortably against him.
"I just needed to see you," he says, and she feels him shrug his shoulder. But she knows it's more than that, and so she doesn't say anything, and he knows from the silence that he needs to say more.
Those words, however, still made her heart flutter.
"It's too hard without you," he admits. He knows she's about to ask what's too hard, so he answers before she poses the question. "It's all too hard."
"It's crazy, because I've only really known you for what? Three years? But...these past few months have been...just..."
"I know," she whispers. He thinks he hears a break in her voice, and he hopes to God she doesn't start to cry, because that, too, will be too much for him.
And she does know. She's been trying to avoid it and ignore it and hide it, but it's there. The place in her life where he used to be, filled now by only memories of the two of them. His smile when she told him she'd always love him, and the way his body felt against hers. She wants more than memories, but it shouldn't all be this easy. He shouldn't have her in his arms so quickly, and she shouldn't be praying that he can spend the night.
The thunder rolls again, and she flinches, but now she's scared of much more than just the storm. She's afraid of him. She's afraid that maybe he's still in love with her and they'll try again but it won't work out.
And that thought is absolutely fucking heartbreaking.
She stands up and reaches for one of the candles and she walks to her bedroom. She wants him to follow her, and she's sure he will, but she just needs a moment alone away from him to digest what is or isn't happening.
A few moments later, he's standing against the door frame like he always used to, watching as she pulls the elastic from her hair and then quickly pulls her blonde locks back up again, fastening them in place. She pulls off her sweater, revealing just a black tank top. He's not sure such a simple action has ever made him feel so much.
"You want to say something?" he asks with a cheeky tone. She knows it must be killing him that she hasn't really responded to his confession.
The rain is pounding hard against the windowpane and suddenly, she thinks that might be the most beautiful sound she's ever heard. That, coupled with the gravelly tone of his voice, is putting her at ease.
"I miss you, too," she admits, though he didn't actually say those words; she still heard them loud and clear. He smiles a little wider, and steps a little further into the room, and she looks to the floor before speaking again. "Can you stay?"
It's a timid whisper, and he knows she's scared and nervous, but he knows it's not just the storm. He's sure if it was a clear night, she would have asked the same words in the same tone.
"Yeah," he nods.
He watches her slip between the sheets, and he walks closer to her, tugging off his shirt and unzipping his jeans. He almost hesitates for a moment, wondering if he's just jumped to conclusions, but she's not protesting or looking at him like he's crazy, so he steps out of his pants and moves to the bed.
She's laying on her side with her back to him, and all she wants is for him to pull her into him, to press his chest into her back and comfort her with his body against hers. She doesn't say anything when he does that very thing, but she lets her hand rest atop his and she weaves their fingers together.
Neither says another word, and he doesn't kiss her shoulder the way she always said she loved, or kiss her temple like he wants to. He just holds onto her, and he knows that she's already given him so much more than he expected from this visit.
But somewhere in the night, when she's asleep and he's awake, he can't take it any more, and he trails his hand up and down her side, attempting to wake her like he always used to do. She stirs a bit and sleepily says his name, and it sounds as though she thinks she's dreaming, and he smiles and briefly wonders if she dreams of him often. She rolls onto her back and he gazes down at her beautiful face, and he does the only thing that makes any sense to do.
He kisses her. She's half asleep and her eyes are barely open, and they haven't talked about anything they need to talk about, but he kisses her because he needs to do it, and he'd hate himself if he didn't.
It's not a protest or a call to attention or a plea for him to stop and take things slower. He knows that tone. He knows that when she says his name like that, soft and breathless, almost a whimper, that she only wants more.
And so help him, he'll give this girl whatever she wants.
So he kisses her a little deeper, and rests a little more of his weight on her, and then she's running her fingers through his hair and he feels like he might just cry because no one feels like this. Not that he's tried to replace her. He hasn't even kissed anyone else since the last time he kissed her, but he won't bother. She sets him on fire and he doesn't know why he ever thought he could live without that. If she ever asks, he'll plea temporary insanity.
She's got one hand on his cheek and she moves away from him, making him whine just a little bit. She smirks at the sound and licks her lips in the most damn seductive way, and she pulls her tank top over her head and discards it somewhere in the room.
And he's missed this. He's missed her. He's missed that look in her eyes that tells him she wants more, and her whispered demands, and the way she mumbles his name when she's craving him, and how she gets just a little more brazen than usual when it's just the two of them in the darkness.
He realizes, maybe for the first time, really, that he loves her. It's not just an emotion or a cute phrase or a feeling felt as a teenager. It's more than that; more than he ever thought it'd be. He loves her. It's big, and it's scary, and he doesn't really know what any of it means, other than he simply can't stop doing it. He can't be without her and he's sick of trying, and he wants this to mean as much to her as it does to him.
Because his hands are on her bare skin, and he's perched over her. Those damn legs of hers that used to torment him are wrapped around his waist, and he's never needed her more. He's never, not once in his life, needed something more than he needs her.
They don't speak any more words - not coherent or important ones, anyway. It's all just intensity and perfection, and afterward, when she's tired and he wants more, she gives in because, really, who is she to deny him? And she's never had anyone like she's had Lucas. He gives himself so completely that it makes every single kiss feel like a promise. A vow to never stop kissing her that way. It's strange and it might not make sense to anyone else, but it makes sense to her and that's all that really matters.
She hopes that in the morning, he'll keep that promise.
When she falls asleep in his arms, she wonders if she's ever felt better. It was a reunion of the best kind. Everything she's waited months for, save for those three words she was too scared to admit, and it all still felt so good with him.
He wakes up with her blonde curls tickling his chest, and he knows that he'll be asked questions by his brother and by his head coach about where he's been. They'll both know the answer, but they'll ask anyway, just to give him another shove in the right direction. They've both always known those two blondes are meant to be, too.
She stirs a little in his arms, and he's not sure if he wants her to wake up so he can talk to her and see her smile, or if he wants her to stay asleep so he can avoid the possibility that she'll say it was all a mistake.
But something in him tells him that she doesn't think it was a mistake.
She quickly realizes she's not alone, and she knows immediately whose arms are around her and whose chest she's resting against. She thinks that if she woke every morning like that for the rest of her life, she'd be just fine with that.
It's not lost on her that those kinds of thoughts were what made her run away from him in the first place.
But all she wants is to love him and to have him love her, and it all seems so simple when it's just the two of them in bed together. Maybe, though, it is that simple.
"Hi," she mutters against his chest. His hand trails up and down her arm the same way it used to, and she smiles a little at how familiar it all is.
She wants to blurt out an 'I love you'. She wants to tell him to get the ring and put it on her finger because that's where it belongs, and she'll never take it off. But instead, she says;
"Nathan's gonna make fun of you."
He lets out a chuckle because not only does he think it's hilarious that the first thing she says to him is about his brother, but because he knows she's right.
She stretches and her body presses against him a little more when her back arches, and he's not sure he can control himself. His beautiful girl is laying naked in his arms, a million times more seductive than she even knows, and he doesn't care what time it is or that he's expected at practice, or that they haven't talked about anything. It's not just the physical act, it's the two of them together, and that's bigger than anything else he's ever experienced.
His fingers dance over her bare hip, and she looks up at him with a raised eyebrow and a hint of a smile. She knows that look in his eye, and she knows that touch, and she'd really love to tell him she needs to get up. But that'd be a lie. All she needs is him. Coffee and daylight and the fact that Skills asked her to meet him for lunch after his practice. None of that matters more than Lucas. Nothing matters more than Lucas.
He kisses her once more, and they have barely spoken two words to each other since they awoke, but he doesn't care. He knows she'll feel what he wants to tell her. They've never needed words, no matter how many they've used in the past. And when he settles himself on top of her again, he takes a moment just to look at her; to look into those eyes of hers as her fingers run through his hair.
She just nods.
She doesn't know what makes her do it, but the way he's looking at her has her thinking that he's just waiting, begging her to give him any indication that this is what he wants it to be. So she nods.
Later, she gets up from the bed, winking at him when he laughs at her for stealing the covers off him to wrap them around herself. He reaches for his boxers and his jeans, and he doesn't put on his shirt, knowing that she always loved it when he just wore his jeans and a bare torso. She knows he's done it on purpose, so she walks to him and kisses him heatedly, almost as though they hadn't spent the last hour and a half in bed together; the last however many hours in bed together.
She slips a satin robe over her shoulders, and it flows over her body in the most amazing way he's ever seen. It takes every ounce of strength he has not to tug the sash and let the fabric fall off her again as quickly as she'd put it on.
It's earlier than either of them thought it would be, since the clocks in her bedroom were flashing 12:00 from the power outage. She knows he probably has to leave soon, but she won't let him go just yet.
She wonders if she'll ever really let him go at all.
She turns on the coffee pot and he starts toasting bagels, and he smiles at how natural it feels to be making breakfast with her. He's already wondering - well, he's wondered for a while - if she would transfer to his school. It's a little selfish and a little crazy, but he doesn't care, because this is them he's got in mind. And he's always been just a little selfish when it comes to Peyton.
He pours her a cup of coffee just the way she likes it, he even added a sprinkle of cinnamon - a trick she picked up in L.A. - and she's not sure he's ever done anything so romantic for her. He's saved her life in so many different ways, and given her so much, but the sight of him preparing her morning coffee makes her want to cry because this is the way it should be.
She smiles when he hands her the mug, and she grabs his wrist with her free hand before he can turn his back to her again. He looks at her questioningly, and she says the only thing that she can think to say.
"I'm going to marry you."
It's not a question or a timid declaration of something that someday may happen. It's assertive and she's determined, like it's the only thing in the world she knows. It's a promise that he hadn't necessarily asked for, but she knew he'd appreciate.
And she's not going to break that promise.
He takes the mug from her hand and sets it on the counter, and he pulls her into his arms. It hits him that he hasn't actually told her he loves her. He knows he doesn't really need to, but he does it anyway. And he knows she doesn't really need to say it back, but she does it anyway.
It wasn't a proposal. They aren't engaged, and neither knows when they will be. But they're together, and nothing feels more right than that.
Later that day, when she walks to the gym with him, hand in hand, she sees Nathan wearing the biggest, goofiest smile she's ever seen, and when he says, for the second time in his life, 'it's about damn time', she just wraps her arms around him. Those were her thoughts exactly.
She kisses Lucas after his team wins, and Whitey's laughing, and Nathan's smiling, and Skills is shouting that she's a traitor.
It's all a little familiar. A little comfortable. They both secretly wonder if that's what they've been waiting for all along.