Title: A Shorter Story
Character/pairing: Brooke and Jamie
Summary: Jamie finds time to listen to that long bedtime story. Early season 6.
Rating: T-ish
Disclaimer: this is done with no expectation or intention of profit. Characters and commercial trade marks belong to their respective owners.
Notes: This is unbeta'd and English isn't my native, so my apologies for any mistakes. The title comes from a Damien Rice song.

"Once upon a time," she starts.

She forgets the rest.

The world forgets the rest, and when Brooke returns to Tree Hill after four odd years of absence, streets don't seems the same, air doesn't smell the same, and Luke's door is still red, but simply because he doesn't remember the significance of the gesture. Her signature on the Rivercourt is the single most washed out, as if it was scrubbed out, and the farthest one from her friends'. You did good, she hears from people she used to know. You must be proud of yourself. It stings, but Brooke smiles and cares and gives and loves. That's just who she is.

Back before then, Brooke makes a million. Five. Eight hundred and seventy four million, her bank account full and her bed and heart empty. Somewhere before the first hundred million Lucas illegitimately presses his lips to hers. They're in her apartment or his hotel room, she can't remember which, and his fingers are digging into her shoulder blades hard enough to bruise. His soft, tender kiss hurts her more. Back then.

Except that she doesn't, not really, can't ever forget. And once upon a time, the wraith comes.

The wraith comes, and then another one, and they come and come and Brooke isn't nearly as prepared as she would have hoped. Not for the attempt of marriage, runaway Lindsay, not for Angie being taken away. But least of all Peyton, the ultimate haunting and ultimate love of hers. But then, Brooke finds, her evil mother who she wishes to be able to add step- to in true fairytale fashion just so she doesn't have to share that DNA, topped them all with how unprepared Brooke was.

"Your Uncle Lucas and I… I never thought…" Brooke flows into a fractured, jumbled speech when Jamie doesn't flinch, doesn't ask questions, doesn't judge. He just thinks she looks defeated, and when she never finishes a single sentence of this long story Lucas doesn't even want to start telling, Jamie knows that she truly is.


But not in a bad way that hurts you to think about in regard to your family. Jamie thinks she's graceful in defeat, even though on the verge of imploding with tears. He saw Brooke cry once, cry harder then he ever thought possible, watched her crack in half, shear away, melt in flames, dissolve in the sky, wash away with the ocean, bury in the soil. Not now, though. Now, the story she weaves hits Brooke just hard enough for her to shudder, reverse the words before their aftereffect can settle and fades into another praise of her best friend. Jamie wants to close his eyes and make the slight tremble in her voice go away.

He can't, can't even make her dimples show with stupid antics and Chester. It feels like the funeral, ash and dust and misery floating around her like snow.

Before he semi-elopes, Lucas finds her between drinking and brooding and life, again and again, with only his fiancée or his book or himself for suggested topics of conversation. And Brooke refuses to bring her own to the table, because they are of loneliness, emptiness and misery and she tries not to cry in front of Lucas.

After, he once finds her at the funeral, cold and surrounded by processions. Her dress is black linen, her skin tainted white silk. When he runs his fingers down her arm, half looking for sympathy, half tracing the bruise he should know is not from falling down the stairs, but doesn't, it's like he's trailing them through water. She kisses him – barely traces his stubble with her cheek, lips far away from his, because nothing else is appropriate anymore, and nothing appropriate will ever be enough now, for either – he smells of Peyton. Of her perfume, and coffee, and brandy, and she's probably not supposed to notice that last one.

Eight hugs so far, and she's learning to hate them all. Condolences, not people. She hates the sticky perfumes that pretend to be French, tears that are nowhere near sincere enough. Hates that she's not alien enough from it all, and Brooke needs more distance. Hates the constant presence of black suits uniform for the occasion, and the way Peyton clings to his shoulder and seemingly knows nothing about Lucas Scott's true grief. Definitely knows nothing about Brooke's grievances.

Hates that no matter how many times Lucas glances at her, he's never quite the man she loves.

Her body is dirty after, even by her standards, and she still remembers scrubbing in shower for nearly two hours after Vegas, then captain of the basketball team, took her virginity and left her sore for a week.

In the moments before the seventh blow, and yes she counted, Brooke blacks out completely, and by the time she's with it again, there is blood and vomit and urine on and around her. She claims she wasn't raped later, but Brooke has a façade to uphold. Victoria is the only one to know just by looking at her. Not much of a loss considering her high school career.

But on that floor, she's breathing, which is all she cares about. She tries to get up, once, twice, crawls then, even though it takes away a little more of whatever pride and self-worth she had left.

She wills her cell to work; hopes and prays and wants for someone to pick up so hard she forgets to breathe for a minute.

It's not enough.

Bruises heal, and her shoulders are straighter, and she cries in Jamie's arms. It doesn't matter though; nothing's healed, not really. The only thing that keeps her in Tree Hill is the fact that, geographically speaking, she's close to her friends. She's stopped referring to people as family somewhere in the course of a week.

"There's a therapist…" and that's Brooke's only option of talking now. Safe in the confines of confidentiality act and federal law, she draws breath after breath. "There's a teenage kid who needs you, acting out for attention, just like you were…" or something along those lines. She's never hated Haley as much before. Never wanted to act out more, to prove an inexistent point. But a Brooke Davis people see is still caring, still giving, although Lord knows she hasn't got much left, not even in financial terms of which everyone was more proud then herself.

It's weeks before she sees Lucas again, and she hears about the movie from other people, and she knows now that he never will ask her about Angie and never will be the father he wants to be. Brooke can't bear it after he compliments the wedding dress with what definitely is flirting in his eyes. She walks up to him, tugs on his hand, pulls him in close. "Congratulations," because that is the only appropriate hug she can give.

"Thank you."

He kisses her, and she kisses him back, and it's so fleeting it's dismissed as nothing; except not ever, not really. Brooke wonders if that's how it felt when Peyton kissed him while Lucas still belonged to her. She pulls away so quickly as if he's a hot stove, and his eyes scream 'too soon'. "It means you won't have time to come around here," she says, smiling through her teeth. "Time for this."

"Brooke…" But she cuts him off.

"You won't have time."

And Lucas thinks she's wrong. It's way too sunny for this, and he can taste her on his lips, and she has to be wrong, maybe lying, which she's entirely too good at, and they both know it. He has all the time in this world.

He lets her watch him walk away.

Brooke has bites on her neck, fingerprints down her arm, and two, maybe three cracked ribs.

Every single number she can think of goes into voicemail. She hangs up before she can leave the message to Lucas and vomits again.

She moves behind the counter and curls up on the floor. Rests her arms on her knees, and bows her head.

She's grateful that the lights are off.

Jamie thinks she looks tired. It doesn't stop him from begging for a story.

"Was Uncle Lucas ever in love with you?" She wishes he's phrased the question differently, because this one, she doesn't have the answer to. She whispers a brief curriculum vitae in the empty space between him and Chester, censors as much as she can and the entire story looses whatever sense it once made, but Jamie seems spellbound. Things replay over and over in her head, "You can be proud of your parents… Your Uncle did well… Aunt Peyton…"

"Peyton," he corrects. "You're Aunt Brooke. She's Peyton."

Brooke does her best to convince him otherwise. Then stops talking slowly, and looks at a memory. Jamie is right, she is tired. Tired, alive, distant enough that nobody touches her anymore. "Did you ever…?"

She's up and pacing his bedroom then. "I just… Aunt Peyton…" her hand reaches out and brushes his hair, his shoulder. He looks entirely too much like his Uncle, and his uncle did kiss her, but she won't let the kid ask.

Lucas kissed her, and made love to her, and it felt real, it was real to her, they were at that point once, he was everything. And while Lucas said he loved her, she does love him. With him and Peyton, it's all role reversal to the best of her knowledge. Peyton says she loves Lucas, and she's said it before, to him. But, she said it before to Jake, and to Nathan, and to Julian, and it's not like Brooke knows everything, but that's not love in her books if it goes around so much in just a handful of years.

So she doesn't let Jamie even ask.

Brooke's lips are salty from blood, and she watches, unmoving, how her skin slowly turns to blue and black. Soon her tears will stop.

She tries to pretend that someone's coming to save her, even though there's nothing left to save anymore. Factors in possible lies, pregnancies, medical bills, construction costs and insurance, and wants to slit her wrists.

Her fingers tremble and itch with the need to touch someone else's. Despite herself, she wants to hold on to someone.

She tucks Jamie in again, pushing the blanket even closer to his small body, and pretends she never happened in his family's life, not the way she had. Because no matter what he says, in a few short month she will be the only one who's last name isn't Scott, and she will shy away from Aunt in her name.

She says nothing for the longest time, but Jamie is still awake with greed to hear more.

"Why are you not telling me the truth?" It cuts her, because even though she doesn't lie – not exactly – she can't tell this little guy what he wants either.

"Because it's a happy story, Jamie, but it makes me sad sometimes."

He stares at her. Stares at her, and doesn't say a word himself, and knows that she loved Uncle Lucas even if he doesn't tell the story, and thinks that maybe, maybe…

"But why…?"

A thousand reasons. A hundred thousand, but she picks one, and knows it covers them all. "Because your Uncle Lucas makes you Aunt Peyton happy, the way your dad makes your mom happy." She doesn't have to say she isn't.

"Okay," Jamie nods, and she smiles the first honest smile since she doesn't remember when anymore.

"How does it end?" Jamie's asking her, eating waffles for breakfast.

"Hmm?" She yawns and looks down at her hands, still black and blue in her mind's eye.

Jamie shifts on his chair, moving closer to her, and his head finds her shoulder. "What you said. Last night. Your story." She yawns again. "Once upon a time?"

Brooke frowns, and almost asks, what story? Because she doesn't want to remember what she was thinking thirty seconds ago, let alone last night. Her chest hurts, because her ribs are still healing.

"Aunt Brooke?"

He presses himself closer, and his warmth and touch is a bittersweet comfort. Her cheek brushes the top if his head, and she exhales slowly.

"It just does."