A/N: So, there's no way I could ever match in my writing what Chad and Hilarie rocked on the show last night, but nevertheless, here's my post-episode oneshot, spoiler free. It's a series of connected drabbles, I guess, that have been floating around in my head, begging to be written down. The title and lyrics come from the song in the coda of 6x17; really, really beautiful song. Enjoy.

I still love you, after all

I still want you, after all

will you keep me? after all

please don't leave me, after all

She's so exhausted, physically worn out and emotionally burdened, that she starts drifting off to sleep in his arms on the floor of the perfect nursery he's created. Her hand rests on her stomach and his hand gently covers hers. It's going to be okay. It has to be.

His lips brush her temple. "We should get you to bed."

She doesn't open her eyes, simply cuddles a little closer to him as she murmurs, "Not yet."

Sighing, his chest rises and falls under her head. "Maybe I should just forget about the movie," he muses.

"Oh, Luke." Reluctantly, she wrenches her eyes open and sits up a bit so that her green orbs can meet his blue ones. She wonders what colour eyes their baby will have. "Don't do that."

"I want to be here for you. With you. I have to be."

"You don't. I want you to do this movie, Luke. It means a lot to you."

He scoffs. "Not as much as you do. It doesn't matter."

"It does," she insists. "Besides, how cool is our baby going to think it is that his or her daddy made a movie?" She tries for a smile, tries to coax one out of him as well.

His eyes are still rimmed with red. He shakes his head, whispering her name in a way that means a million things: "Peyton…"

She cuts him off. "Hovering over me is only going to make me cranky, and you'll get tired of me soon enough. Go make your movie. If…if something is going to happen…to me, or to the baby…then it's going to happen whether you're sitting next to me or you're ten blocks away. I don't need…" She searches for a way to phrase what she's feeling without it sounding morbid. She doesn't want to talk about finality. "I know that you love me, Lucas. And that is enough. It's more than enough."

It takes him a long time to grudgingly say, "Okay. I'll keep doing the movie."

"Thank you."

"And can you do something for me?"

She nods. Of course she can.

"Don't…no more jokes, okay? I can't…it's not funny, and I don't really need to be thinking about Jake's sex appeal right now."

Peyton chuckles in spite of herself. "I promise you, Lucas," she says softly, vowing even more than he's asked her in the way she looks at him.

"Let's get you to bed." He manages to sweep her up in his arms with surprising ease, and she snuggles into his body as he carries her to their bedroom.

Even if he doesn't think he can save her, she still feels safer with him.

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They don't sleep much. His hand traces lightly up and down her arm, lazily, soothingly, as they lie facing each other. He wants to make her comfortable, asking, "Can I get you anything? Can I do anything for you?"

She shakes her head.

"I wish…God, Peyton, I wish I could promise you that this will be okay, but I…I'm scared."

She shakes her head again and takes a deep breath. "I really do believe in fate, you know?" she whispers. "And that this baby is our miracle." Sucking in some more air, she continues, "We weren't even trying, you know? And even though I was scared and I am scared, I'm happy. This is right, Luke, don't you feel it? You and me and…" Her hand drifts to her abdomen, "us. And anything that happens…it's going to happen because it's supposed to."

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He's hesitant to leave her in the morning. He rushes around, making sure she has everything she could possibly need within her reach, and begs her to call him if anything at all is even possibly wrong. She watches him hurry around fondly, nodding patiently at all that he says, but she's hormonal and eventually her patience boils over. "Go."

Lucas leans down to kiss her, pressing his lips gently against hers. When he pulls away, he closes his eyes, just taking a moment to breathe her in. After a moment, he dips his head down further and presses his lips to her tummy.

And when he says "I love you" she knows that he's addressing her and their baby both.

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He can't concentrate. Everything seems meaningless and menial with this movie when he's facing the prospect of losing his child, of losing the love of his life. People whine about costumes and locations and whether or not Missy's hair looks right, and he keeps having to take deep breaths, to remind himself to unclench his fists and try to smile.

Dixon is driving him insane. Julian, seeming to sense that something wrong, is tolerable, but Dixon is wearing him down. He talks and he talks, in the most boisterous way about the stupidest things, and Lucas loses it, screaming at the roomful of people, which includes Haley, there to consult on music.

"I don't care!" he yells at the top of his lungs. "I don't fucking care, okay? Shave Missy's head, for all I care, because you know what? I don't. My fiancée could die because her body can't handle carrying our child, and you want to talk about whether Haley should have more than one poncho!?"

Infuriated, disgusted with them all, scared, and lost, he storms out.

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Haley catches up, screaming his name repeatedly as she runs behind him. "Lucas Eugene Scott!" she finally yells in a motherly, authoritative tone, and she reminds him so much of Peyton only hours before that he breaks down.

He falls to the ground, head in his hands, unable to catch his breath. The frantic movement of Haley's steps slow as she approaches him and sits down on the pavement at his side. "Oh, buddy," she breathes sympathetically, her tone carrying the weight of her shock, tears in her voice.

Lucas looks up at her, revealing his devastated face. "I can't be without her. I don't know how I…"

"Luke…" She shakes her head, her eyes apologetic. "Oh, Lucas."

"I love her so much, and I…I love our baby, but I…" This breakdown has been hours in the making, but he doesn't want to scare Peyton. Always, always he is driven to protect her. To save her, even this time, in what little ways he can. "I don't know what to do."

Haley gathers him up in her arms, holding him close. "Shhh. It's going to be okay. I'm so sorry, but it's going to be okay."

"You can't promise me that!" he says hotly, but she's his best friend and she loves him so she doesn't back down and she doesn't pull away. She knows that this anger isn't really directed at her.

A tear drips down her cheek. "Oh, but Luke, you don't know how much I wish that I could."

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There's a light rap on the doorframe before Brooke steps into the room. "Hey, mama-to-be," she says with a small smile.

Peyton returns it more genuinely. "Hey, you." She bites her lower lip and sets her copy of The Comet aside. "Did Lucas send you to babysit me?"

Brooke walks into the room, rolling her eyes slightly. "Busted. But what about you, P.? I thought you were supposed to be on bed rest."

"I'm still resting," she protests from her spot in her comfy chair.

The brunette looks around, taking it all in. Peyton thinks she catches a watery glimmer in Brooke's eyes, but it might just be the light. "This is amazing. Luke did all this?" she asks, picking up the rocking chair and setting it down so that she can sit right in front of Peyton.

"Yeah."

"I see there are…monkeys. That's good." She tries to grin. "You know how I feel about monkeys."

Peyton sighs. "Are we really going to pretend?"

Brooke glances downward, shaking her head. "Guess not."

The way Brooke looks today makes Peyton think that something else might be wrong. She's gotten very good at reading her best friend over the years. "Brooke, is everything okay? I mean…Julian? Sam? Victoria?"

She shakes her head, swallowing hard, and her voice shakes when she speaks. "I don't want to talk about me." She looks up, concern radiating out of her brown orbs, which are most definitely shining with tears. "Tell me what's going on in that broody blonde head of yours."

Peyton smiles mirthlessly. She's appreciative of Brooke's worrying but she really doesn't have any words. "I'm okay."

Brooke glances toward the ceiling, blinking frantically. "Peyton…" Her voice cracks. "I know that Lucas is freaking out, and that's understandable, because of…everything…and because he's Luke and you're…Peyton. And I can tell, honey, that you're trying to brave for him and I am so proud of you. A-and I'm not going to sit here and tell you that I'm not just as scared as he is because I am, but I need you to know that you don't have to be brave for me." She reaches out, resting her hand lightly on Peyton's tummy, her eyes searching the blonde's face.

Peyton's tears, the one's she's been holding back from her fiancé, gather in her eyes but don't spill over. She doesn't need to cry quite as much as she thought she would. She opens her mouth to reply, but stops short, smiling through her tears. "You feel that?" she whispers.

Puzzled and concerned, Brooke shakes her head.

She moves her friend's hand a couple inches to the right and waits for it. Sure enough, barely a minute later, her baby kicks again.

Her tears tumble down her cheeks at the same time Brooke's do.

"I get it, now," she says quietly, locking eyes with her long-time friend, elaborating, "Why you wanted to be a mom."

Brooke doesn't even reply, simply scrambles out of her chair and squeezes into the bigger one with Peyton.

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Nathan shows up while Brooke is in the kitchen making herbal tea.

"Hey, Sawyer," he greets her softly, studying her face worriedly. Thinking about the fact that she's enraged to his brother, as an afterthought he adds, "Scott."

She smiles half-heartedly. "What do you think about that name for a boy? Sawyer Scott."

He can't form a reply and she feels pressure building behind her eyes.

"Don't you dare cry on me, Nate," she mutters.

He grins for a split second, sitting carefully in the rocking chair and reaching out to give her hand a quick squeeze. "Never."

"Did Lucas tell you?"

"No…Haley called. Apparently he freaked out at Tric today when they were doing movie things." He grinds his teeth together worriedly. "Maybe he should quit this stuff, Peyton. You know he'd be willing to. He'd do anything for you."

"We are going to be okay," she says forcefully, unsure if she's talking about herself and baby or herself and Lucas. Really, she supposes, she means all three of them.

Nathan believes her, because he knew her when she was sixteen, bitching him out and punching walls. "Yeah. You are."

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Some nights, they lie in bed together and stop worrying for a while. They listen to her favourite music while they kiss and she can feel it, they overwhelming buildup of emotion, as he kisses her softly. She loves him. This the reason they are having a baby, and this is the reason she's fighting so hard.

He reads to her, to their baby, and they talk about names. On these nights she looks at him and sees nothing but love for her, joy for these moments, and hope for the future.

For just a few hours, they're normal and everything's okay and she truly believes in ever after.

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Karen shows up a month before their wedding is scheduled. Peyton wants to leap up when she sees the familiar face, but she lets her almost-mother-in-law come to her instead. Karen gives her son a quick kiss on the cheek before making her way over to Peyton, wrapping her up in a wonderful hug that is distinctly reminiscent of comforting way Lucas holds her.

Karen takes a deep breath when she pulls back, and she manages a sincere, joyful smile as she says, "I'm going to be grandma."

--------------------

"Sit, right now," Karen orders her when she walks into the kitchen and finds Peyton washing dishes. "You've been trying to plan a wedding all day. You're supposed to rest, honey."

Sighing, Peyton hands over the sponge and lets Karen help her into a chair. She's used to her independence, but she'll sacrifice it for the health of her child.

"Can I ask you something?"

"Of course."

"Has Lucas been freaking out about this to you?" She waits for the answer with baited breath. Her fiancé's fears have calmed but are far from disappearing.

"He needs an outlet to vent," Karen says reasonably. "He doesn't want to upset you in any way, so he talks to someone else. He just loves you, Peyton, you know that. It all comes down to that fact."

She feels the baby move and her hand lands instinctively on her stomach as she meets the older woman's eyes. "Do you think I'm doing the right thing?"

Karen abandons the dishes, turning around to fully face her. "I think you are very brave," she says seriously, holding Peyton's gaze.

She can only shrug. Personally, she doesn't really see any other options, she doesn't accept any other possibility. "It's my baby," she says softly. "It's my family."

It's all she's ever wanted.

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"Luke!"

Her frantic shout has him darting from the kitchen to their bedroom, where she's sitting up in bed. One hand is behind her, supporting her weight, the other rests on her stomach as she waits.

"What is it?" he asks worriedly, placing one hand on her tummy, the other rising to gently cup her neck, massaging the tense muscles. "Peyton?" He's starting to panic. "Baby, do you need –"

She cuts him off, staring up at him with wide eyes. She sneaks slowly and carefully. "I think…I think I just had a contraction."

"Come on, we have to get you to the hospital…"

"Luke…" She reaches for his hand and clings to him. Her face contorts in pain and she starts crying, really sobbing for the very first time since they've heard this life-changing news. She's done the most unreal things, writing letters to her husband and her unborn baby, leaving them with a lawyer along with a mixed CD, and she's managed to convince herself that things are okay. But her own fear creeps up on her, hitting full-force along with the pain that radiates through her stomach and back.

His other hand slips into her hair, his eyes full of desperate concern as she speaks, words mangled by her tears. "It's early. We're supposed to get married next week! I…"

"Peyt, babe, it's okay –"

"I'm scared," she blurts, confessing this fact for the first time since she told him so, standing in the baby's room and searching for humour in a tragic situation. "Luke, I…" She trails off, wincing again.

He calms down, perching next to her on the bed, squeezing her hand comfortingly right back. He brushes her hair out of her face and whispers, "Hey. Peyton. Listen to me, okay?"

She manages a nod.

"It's going to be okay. I love you." Those words mean a thousand things and she understands them all. It's a declaration and a reassurance and reminder of what she's been trying to tell him all along. He closes his eyes and kisses her forehead, his lips lingering against her skin, salty with sweat. "Come on, baby, let me get you to the hospital."

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"You can do this," Lucas says softly, his lips close to her ear. She's glad she can't see his face and the tears she knows are in his eyes. The hospital seems like it's teeming with doctors and friends and family, but right now it's just him, here with her, whispering in her ear. She closes her eyes, desperate to ignore the pain and concentrate only on his voice and his lips and his love. "You've told me that all along, Peyt, and I believe you."

She knows what he's saying. It's not like she can truly do much herself – in minutes, maybe even seconds, she'll be drowsy from anaesthetics and drifting away. He's just asking her to fight. And she will. She has so many reasons to, including the one nestled inside of her and the one holding her hand.

"Mr. Scott," a nurse says quietly, a patient reminder that they need to take care of Peyton.

He sighs shakily, kissing her temple. "You've come this far. We have come this far, and I love you so much."

She clings to his hand as he fuzzes in and out of focus in front of her green eyes. "Don't leave me," she says plaintively.

Lucas squeezes his eyes closed for a second. He holds onto her hand, a silent promise that he won't leave her side until she's been knocked out completely by the medication they're currently pumping into her body. "Back atcha, baby girl," he says softly.

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He watches helplessly as the two most important people in his life are wheeled away from him. One of them may never have the chance to breathe. The other may never come back to him, not with that familiar spark in her green eyes and the adorable way she scrunches up her nose when they're being goofy.

He can't be without her. He doesn't want to be without either of them.

His mother reaches for his hand, holding on tightly. "Come on, Lucas," she says softly. "Let's go sit down."

"She said…" He takes a deep breath and swallows back his tears. "She said she could feel it. That everything would be okay."

Karen rubs his back soothingly. "Then believe it, honey. Believe it with all your heart."

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She wakes up slowly, her whole body heavy and strangely empty all at once. She has never felt so tired. She blinks slowly, but before she can process what's going on, lips are pressing against her cheeks, her forehead, the corner of her mouth.

She hears him breathe, "Oh, thank God," and that's when she finds those blue eyes she loves so much.

"Hi," she whispers, her voice gravelly, lifting her hand oh-so-slightly toward him.

His hand closes gently over hers as his eyes water. "Hey, sweetheart."

It takes serious effort to speak; she has to take great big breaths. "The baby…?"

"Fifty-one hours old," he says quietly, a sparkle of joy dancing through his eyes. "Ten fingers, ten toes, breathing fine. And beautiful," he adds, the back of his index finger tracing gently down her cheek, "just like her mom."

She's speechless for a moment before she can rasp, tears forming in her own eyes, "It's a girl?"

"We have a daughter," he confirms.

"Luke…"

"Anna Karen."

Her mind still hazy with drugs, she mixes up Russian literature with the names of those she loves and murmurs, "Like the book?" He's such a dork, though she loves him for it.

He laughs and it's the sweetest sound. "More like after both of our mothers."

"I…I want to see her."

He nods, promising, "I'll see what I can do." He leans in, brushing his lips against her. "I love you. So much."

She achieves a soft smile. Her throat hurts too much for any more words, but she knows he understands what that simple smile means.

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It takes her breath away when he places a tiny human being, all bundled up in pink, into her arms.

"Oh, my baby," she finally manages to breath out, in awe. She feels Lucas' presence next to her, hovering protectively over them both, but she can't tear her eyes away from her daughter.

Her delicate eyelids flutter upward, revealing baby blues much like her daddy's. She has Peyton's nose and blonde wisps of hair atop her head. She reaches out her little baby hand toward Peyton, cooing nonsensically, oh-so-softly.

"Hi," Peyton says breathlessly, gently slipping her index finger under her daughter's whole hand, admiring her perfection. Her eyes burn as a smile blossoms on her lips. "You were worth it," she says softly. Worth the pain and the fear, the fighting and the broken dishes, the moments of doubt, even the possibility of death. "You are so very worth all of it."

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"You're home," she says happily, smiling up at Lucas from where she sits in Anna's room, her baby girl half-asleep in her arms. There isn't any feeling like this, her daughter's warm body cradled against hers, her husband watching over them from the doorway.

"I missed my girls," he says with a smile, walking over to them. He kisses Anna's nose gently before straightening up a bit to give Peyton a quick kiss as well.

She returns his smile at full wattage. "Come sit with us," she whispers.

Lucas obliges her instantly, shrugging off his coat and grabbing the nearest book he can get his hands on. He sits next to her in the chair. There isn't much room to spare, but she'd be lying if she said she didn't love the close quarters.

Getting comfy, she rests his head against his shoulder. She loves that he reads to their daughter already, his tone soothing and sweet, though she can't understand a word. Right now it's fairytales, but Peyton won't be surprised when he moves on to the classics. No matter what he's reading or saying, Anna's proven that she loves her father's voice. It works as a lullaby.

Anna's in dreamland and Peyton's halfway there herself when Lucas finishes the short, hardcover book with the quiet declaration, the perfect summation: "…and they all lived happily ever after."

As he closes the book and sets it to the side, he pulls her a little bit closer, pressing his lips against the crown of her head. She smiles, perfectly content, and whispers against his shoulder.

"I told you so."