Hard to Find

Still Joined

It's the first time in weeks where she's slept the whole night through, and when she awakens, she's not exactly sure what to expect. Has she drunken herself to sleep, yet again? Or will there be a stranger wrapped around her, because she's certain that someone is there, and equally certain that it's not Jake. The torso pressed against her back is more sculpted, she grudgingly admits. She can feel the muscles bulging unassumingly against the bones of her back, the cuts clearly defined. Swirls of lust begin in the pits of her stomach. Her heart screams at it, (BETRAYAL!), but it has little to no affect. But more surprisingly, she can feel this all through two layers of cotton, and it's then that her hazel eyes open wide.

The room is vaguely familiar, but too empty to be sure. The walls are an obscure, off-white color, with absolutely nothing to decorate them. There's wooden furniture, a dresser and a night table, and the blanket tossed over her is thoroughly nondescript. There is nothing to indict that this is a home more than a hotel room, and for a minute, she wonders if that's exactly where she's ended up. The slight craters in the mattress seem to indicate otherwise, and it slowly dawns on her that she knows exactly where she is. And she knows exactly why it doesn't feel like a home anymore.

The Scotts'.

Exactly when they'd been relocated, she wasn't sure. There had been a loud argument over which movie to watch, ending in a compromise when she realized that watching romantic comedies with a man who's wife had just left him probably wasn't the best idea anyway, especially while nursing a broken heart of her own. Internally, she's been keeping time. Jake's been gone, in search of his daughter, for fourteen days, six hours, and twelve minutes. She tries not to though, because as much faith as she'd once had in him coming back to Tree Hill, she has equal faith now that he'll never return to her again.

She probably fell asleep during the movie, while he was hogging the couch, and he thought that they'd both be more comfortable in here, she thought, trying to ration out a chain of events that would've led her to Nathan Scott's bed. The lack of alcohol and addition of clothing rule out the potential of being lured there, and for that she is grateful. She wouldn't doubt it in many other instances, because while he wasn't exactly famed for his sentimental ways, Nate was widely renowned as being sexy as hell. It might not even be so bad, she mused lazily, because while she'd cared more about Jake than any boy she had ever met, nobody quite matched up to her first in the sack.

Whoa. Her eyes widened in shock. Where did that come from?

Peyton Sawyer is in love with, and trying to get over, Jake Jagelski, who is in love with and trying to get over her. The curly blonde does not think of any guys in the same way, and he was the best she'd ever had.

Now, all she has to do is repeat it silently a few times over. Then maybe she'd start to believe it.

"I hate myself," she groans softly, and realizes afterwards that she'd said it aloud.

"It's really not your fault that creeps occupy the internet, Peyton," the chest cushioning her head rumbles with his words. Peyton jumped about a million feet into the air, and locked her eyes upon the light blue ones, twinkling at her in amusement. She most definitely hadn't realized he was awake. She could feel herself flush, thankful that she hadn't said all of her thoughts out loud. That would probably give him warrant to tease her for the rest of their lives, and put just a teeny bit of strain on their newly reinforced friendship. They were bonded by their loses, and by the bruises on their hearts now. Besides, she didn't really mean it anyway.

At least, she doesn't think she did.

"I know I'm hot, but there's no reason to stare," he teased, wiggling his fingers only inches from her face. Resisting the childish urge to bite him, as she would if it were Brooke in his position, she rolled her eyes and sat up.

They could banter in the way that only Nathan and Peyton could, but there was something eerie hanging in the air. This was an apartment, not a home, and it had been that way ever since she left. He had been different too, a little emptier, and she could sympathize more than anyone. Lucas and Brooke had both lost a best friend when she had gone away, but so had Peyton, and Nathan had lost so much more. Lucas and Brooke needed only to open their eyes and see what they were both skirting around, and they could be happy, with or without everybody's favorite tutor. Nathan and Peyton were harder to patch up. Something weird swirls around the room nonetheless, and it takes her a moment to figure it out. There aren't two depressions in the bed, but a larger than average one in the middle. She realizes, with a romantic sigh that strangles itself long before it's released, that they had never slept on different sides of the bed, but entangled together in the center. They had slept like she and Jake had slept, once they realized that the love had gone both ways. But it was different. They had realized what they had long ago, and vowed to make it last forever. They had vowed to never be apart. Everyone in Tree Hill, and those who had seen press coverage of an accident in which a seventeen year old slammed into a concrete barrier at 200 miles an hour, could see exactly how that had turned out. The only thing of "them" that had remained in the apartment was a sunken portion of a bed that used to be theirs.

And right now, Peyton Sawyer was lying in the ghost of Haley James Scott.

She wonders for a second if Haley had ever felt this way. After all, Peyton had had the delectable Mr. Scott first. It's kind of stupid question, seeing as she knows the answer. Haley compared herself to Peyton almost every day of her relationship with Nathan, until they finally tied the knot after the first playoff game. Sometimes even after then. Peyton can't help that she gets a twisted sense of satisfaction that Haley lived with the unease that the blonde is stewing in right now. Back then, she had felt guilty sometimes about being a shadow on a relationship so beautiful. Now, she knows that if she'd realized what the girl she'd considered a close friend was capable of, and would very well do, she would've gone out of her way to make it more awkward.

It's probably not normal to want to set a mattress on fire, but she does. She wants her entire life free of Haley, whether she's a James or a Scott or a fucking Keller. She's sick of people leaving, and she's sick of people hurting, and the two people lying too close on the mattress of victims of exactly that. Peyton's not so needy that she's desolate that Haley's gone. But Nathan is, and Peyton realizes now that he's probably the most understanding friend she's got. His pain is now her pain; she's just lacking the crutches and medical bills to prove it.

"You're kind of my best friend. Isn't that weird?" he blows out a soft, almost disbelieving laugh, and she wonders if he can read minds after all.

"A little. But it kind of makes sense," she nodded slowly.

"How do you figure?" he quirked his dark eyebrow at her. Sometimes he really, really reminded her of Brooke. They were very similar, in theory. Dark, good-looking, rich, cocky. Their parents were noticeably absent in all the ways that counted, and overbearing in the areas they wished they would avoid. In their younger years, both had left a trail of broken hearts wherever they had gone. Nathan was intense though, while Brooke was breezy. In a way, both were defensive mechanisms—he needed it because of how hard his father rode him, and she needed hers because her parents barely knew she was alive, and both had to pretend not to care. They were actually even more similar than she'd thought previously, and while some at their school had speculated that a Nathan/Brooke hook up would be the hottest thing since…since, well, anything, both had been a bit repulsed by the idea. They sincerely cared about each other, but they bitched like brother and sister. Her eyes opened a little wider. Knowing Dan Scott, that wasn't a possibility she could rule out.

"I guess we can only hurt each other so much before we start being there when the other one does, right?" she questioned, obviously rhetorically, but he nodded slightly, deeply in thought.

"You know, I am sorry for being a dick."

"But not for having one," she added knowingly.

"Obviously," he grinned, making her laugh. "No, but seriously, I should've treated you a lot better, and I'm sorry."

"I know you are," Peyton said softly, and watched the relief flood into his eyes. Had he seriously still been carrying that around with him? "And you can start making it up to me by making breakfast."

"You want me to burn down the complex as penance?" he gasped, his eyes wide with mock-terror.

"That depends. Will Mrs. Merriweather still be inside?" she asked with feign solemnity, but his laughter coaxed out hers.

"Okay, well, seeing as my expertise is quite limited, and the cabinets are just full of booze and cereal missing constantans, what if I buy you breakfast instead? Equal forgiveness points?" Nathan cocked his eyebrow playfully at her.

"One of these days, Mr. Scott is going to realize that he can't buy his way out of everything!" Brooke muttered in exasperation, while eying the dainty charms that hung from her best friend's thin wrist.

"Yeah? What day will that be?" Peyton laughed, her arm twitching slightly. The light glinted off the silver, and she let out a happy sigh. She didn't tell Brooke yet that the new accessories weren't acquired as a guilt gift, or a forgiveness plea. Nathan Scott had actually gone a record amount of time without fucking up. He was even buying "just because" presents for his girlfriend of a few months. Major brownie points there.

"The day he's poor," Brooke quipped, shooting her friend a dazzling smile. "You really lucked out in that department, P. Sawyer."

"Because my boyfriend is rich?" her brow furrowed slightly, and she felt self-conscious all of a sudden. Was her best friend implying that she was shallow? She couldn't possibly be saying she was only with Nathan for his money…

"And talented… and hot… and considerate… and crazy about you… and has damn good taste in jewelry. But he's even luckier. He's got a girlfriend as amazing as you," the brunette beamed genuinely, and Peyton found herself mimicking the action. Her best friend could be blunt or flippant at times, but she really came through on occasion. It always took her by surprise with how sweet Brooke could be with the people she cared about.

"He is pretty lucky," Peyton let out a small smile, trying to suppress her laughter. She failed, however, when Brooke burst out in giggles first.

"Please. You know you two are meant to be together," an air of solemnity fell over the head cheerleader then, and the blonde knew that meant that she was absolutely certain of what she was saying. It freaked her out, just a little bit, but she couldn't deny the way her heart fluttered when it was said.

"That's a scary thought," she deadpanned, causing Brooke to whack her with the nearest pillow. A full-on pillow fight ensued then, but the small smile stayed with her for a long time after—and it had nothing to do with pillows.

The silent peace of the moment was interrupted by the front door crashing open. Groaning slightly, Peyton burrowed her head into Nathan's shoulder, whining incoherently. This would be the official "get the hell out of bed", and Nathan seemed to realize it too, shifting slightly below her and letting his eyes drift closed. It wasn't awkward for them to be so close, or even unusual. It was even peaceful, really, until a perky voice shattered the almost-silence.

"Nathan! Boy toy! Rise and shine! Luke and I are going to the café for breakfast, and you are so—in bed with Peyton!" Brooke bounced into the bedroom, stopping short in the doorway. For a second, it seemed they all had a flashback, because only God could count how many times the brunette had walked in on her best friend and Nathan post-coital. But that was a long, long time ago, and the shock registering in her bright green eyes was appropriately.

The excitement wasn't.

But Lucas was right behind her, lingering awkwardly in the doorway, a bizarre mixture of confusion and betrayal written in his light blue orbs. It vanished quickly, but it seemed to leave an eerie feeling lingering over them.

"This really isn't what it seems like," Peyton began to explain, more than a little uneasily, attempting to detangle herself from the basketball star. Their long limbs seemed to be impossibly twisted together, but fit comfortably.

"So you're not in bed with the Nathan Scott?" Brooke asked, her eyes widened for emphasis. A happy little bounce was in her step, and her voice trilled slightly. It was the way she always was when she'd come across particularly juicy gossip. Peyton leveled her with a foreboding look, and she stopped her bouncing. Last time Peyton checked, Brooke had still harbored the "friend" feelings for Haley, whereas she had long abandoned hers. She had a sneaking suspicion that the trip Brooke and Lucas had taken a few days earlier had everything to do with her, and she was more than a little nervous as to how the shit would hit the fan when that came out.

"The Nathan Scott?" she asked, with mild amusement. It seemed she'd forgotten that he was in the room at all.

"Oh, come on! You know what I'm talking about! We went over this! Good looking, arrogant, sexy, talented… sitting right next to you and having his ego inflated. Hi Nathan," Brooke smiled, more sheepishly now. It was unlike Brooke Davis to ever be appropriately embarrassed, but she knew when she'd stuck her designer-heels-clad foot in her mouth.

"Hey Brooke," he smirked at her, and Peyton rolled her eyes. Brooke batted her eyelashes teasingly, and Luke looked more than a little uncomfortable. Peyton noted with a wry smile that it was probably envy. God knows why, but both girls had fallen for the blonder Scott at one point, and now he got to observe as one flirted shamelessly with his brother as the other lay in his bed. Though the Triangle from Hell had dissolved long ago, things lingered, none of them making Luke eager to see the girls move on. Karma truly was a bitch.

"So, would you like to tell us what's going on here?" Lucas asked, more than a note of accusation in his voice as his ice blue eyes glanced back and forth between them. "Or should we make our own assumptions?"

"We could do the second," Brooke wiggled her eyebrows suggestively. "And you could call me later with details, P. Sawyer!"

"Actually, we were just going to breakfast. So now we can all go together," Peyton smoothed over the tension, rising from the bed and running her fingers through her hair. She looked towards the closet instinctively for a change of clothes, but found nothing but basketball shorts and large jerseys. Walking determinedly over to his dresser, she grabbed a polo at least three sizes too big for her and marched towards the bathroom.

"Sure Peyton, you can borrow that!" Nathan called after her, trying to sound annoyed but coming off as amused. She disappeared into the small bathroom, freshening up and reemerging in his shirt and her jeans. It actually looked really cute, she mused to herself. When she returned, a far different atmosphere greeted her. Tension crackled between the brothers, electric and terrifying, and Brooke's eyes darted between them, scowling slightly at Lucas.

"What's going on?" she inquired.

"Nothing, let's go," Nathan grabbed her hand, brushing past her and tugging her along after him. Apparently he'd changed while she was in the bathroom, and in full view of his guests. Oh well, Nathan Scott was never a shy one.

Especially because he had nothing to be shy about.

Brooke bounced along beside them, chatting happily. Luke lagged behind slightly, even broodier than usual. His glare was overly intense, and his typical "weight of the world" sagging of the shoulders seemed more prominent. Something seemed to weigh horribly on his mind, and as Peyton opened her mouth to ask exactly what it was, she realized what he was staring at.

Hers and Nathan's still joined hands.

Hey everybody. Sorry about any errors that appear here, but I didn't have time to reread, I really wanted to get this up tonight. Please review and let me know what you thought.

x Sam

P.S.: I just posted up a one-shot that anybody who likes this story will probably like. So please check out Failure's Always Sounded Better, drop me a review, and let me know what you thought of it.