Love (For the Damaged)
Summary: Lucas and Haley (and Nathan), after four years of silence.
Spoilers: Post-"The Hero Dies In This One". Nothing else exists.
Pairing: L/H, N/H
Note: I started this last year, and it's been lying on my hard drive since then. So I don't know when it'll get finished, but it will. Eventually.
(ghosts all around you)
It's Monday morning and he checks the mail before leaving for work, a gig in an office in the middle of Boston, thirty feet above the ground. He's been assigned an interview with the newest draft for the Boston Red Sox, just another stuck up son-of-a-bitch with genetics and luck.
(Luck -- something he's never had, he thinks, not with his bad shoulder and his heart problem.
Unlike Nathan, who got everything. Who always got everything. The father, the status, the trophy wife, the basketball career, the seven figure contract.)
He pauses, shakes his head, attempting to clear his head. He fumbles for his mail key, slips the metal into the lock, twists.
Inside, he finds a postcard.
Niagara Falls, it says on the front, the typography a shade of pink fit for spandex and leg warmers. The glossy picture on the front shows a happy family, posing in front of a tacky tourist storefront. Lucas flips it over, brow crinkling in confusion at the postmark (April 3rd 2015, Monroe, Wisconsin).
He reads the message:
The Met. Birds in Space. March 4th. 17:00.
Emphasized by two underlines, a heart dotting the i.
No name, no return address.
But it doesn't matter. He knows the loopy handwriting, has known it for years, will always know it.
His heart suddenly spasms − angrily, painfully, longingly.
He shuts the mailbox door, strolls onto the streets of Boston and finds the nearest payphone.
Calling the first travel agent in the book, he says: "I need a flight that arrives in New York Thursday afternoon."
(And that is how it begins)
He spends forty-five minutes looking for Birds in Space, asks two security guards, a gift shop cashier, and a lady with a furry pink coat before finding the stark white statue.
She is looking at a painting across the room, tilting her head in focus. She is wearing dark glasses and a heavy back winter coat. Her hair is longer and redder, the expression on her face sad and tired. But it's her. It's Haley.
His palms suddenly feel clammy with sweat, and the room feels warmer, claustrophobic. He doesn't know what to think, what to say, what to feel.
Because it's Haley.
(Haley, the little girl who cried when he fell off his bike and broke his arm. Haley, his only childhood friend. Haley, the only person who ever understood who he was; really, truly. Haley, who left Tree Hill without looking back. Haley, the girl who destroyed Nathan, who transformed his brother into a cynical, bitter shadow of his former self. Haley, who left him.)
She turns around, her face changing in recognition.
"Hi," he says, slowly, carefully, trying to keep his voice low, his voice steady.
She straightens up at his voice, slides off her glasses. She says his name in wonder. "Lucas." Shaking her head in shock, she whispers, "You came. I wasn't sure, after Nathan, after…" She composes herself. "You just, came," she repeats to herself.
He looks at his feet, doesn't know what to say. He examines the wine stain on his khakis, his eyes focusing on the painting above her shoulder.
He stays silent for a few moments, but says, finally:
"It was you."
She brings him to a bar at the edge of Manhattan, thick with smoke. She keeps her head down, hair obscuring her face, almost trips twice. It's too dark to wear sunglasses, she tells him, but paparazzi these days.
The price of fame, he thinks.
She finds a booth at the corner, away from drunken co-eds and leering business men. She slides in. He follows, awkwardly; limbs too long to be graceful.
"So," he starts, slowly. The word feels thick in his mouth, but he forces it out anyway. "Why?"
"Why what?" she asks, avoiding his eyes.
"You know what," he states. Feels the slow, dull anger well up in his stomach.
She looks at him, eyes wide. "I—" Stops herself, looks down at the table, traces the scratches on the black formica.
"What Haley?" he asks, a hard edge slipping into his voice. "It's been four years, Haley. I haven't seen you in four years. And then I get a postcard, and I come. I come. I deserve an explanation. I need to know why you left. Why you left Nathan. Why you left me."
She avoids his gaze, looks down at her reflection. "Lucas…" she whispers. "I…"
He is angry now; a volcano. Five years of questions and pent-up fury. His head suddenly feels hot, his breathing shallow. "God Haley! Don't have anything to say? I haven't heard from you in five years. Five years Haley." He stops, waits for her to say something, anything. But she's clenching her jaw, and she remains silent. "No? How 'bout I'm sorry Lucas? I'm sorry that after I broke – no, shattered – Nathan's heart I ran away, like a coward. I didn't call and I didn't write. I'm sorry I left you, my best friend, and ruined your life."
Her eyes glittering now, fingers shredding a wrinkled napkin lying on the table. And he knows. He knows he's hurting her, plunging a knife into her heart, twisting hard. And he wants to stop, doesn't want to hurt her, because even after everything, she's Haley. She's his Haley.
"God, Haley. God." His voice breaks. He takes a deep breath, closes his eyes.
She's crying now; tears slipping down her cheeks, hair sticking to her face. "Lucas," she gasps out, "I'm sorry."
At her words, he looks up at her bitterly. "You're sorry?"
"Yes," she whispers. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry that I handled things badly with Nathan. I'm sorry I let our friendship die. And I know it's not enough. I know it's not enough. But-" She looks up at him, wrings her hand. "I love you Lucas. And I miss you. I miss you so much. Please." Her voice scratchy and desperate, "Please."
He looks at her. Sees her hollow, pleading eyes, and his heart hurts.
Because things are not okay. Would never be okay. Not really, he thinks.
He misses her.
And suddenly, that's all that really matters.
It's past midnight and his flight leaves in two hours. They're sitting over coffee in a restaurant in JFK and it's almost the same. Comfortable. As it was back then, when it was them, just them (before Nathan, before Dan and Deb, before everything fell apart).
She's tucking her hair behind her hair when he catches a glimpse of her palm. "What happened here?" He touches her hand, traces the scar he can't recall inscribed on her skin, spanning from the base of her thumb to her wrist.
(He read in a book once, the story of one's life is etched on one's body. A roadmap of a lifetime of mistakes and triumphs. He thinks, maybe, just maybe, the answers are buried in her flesh)
An uncomfortable look flashes across her face, "I broke something, cut myself on glass." Swallows, "I was drunk."
He stares intently at her, sees a look of pain behind her eyes, knows there is more to the story. "Why?"
"Why was I drunk?" She laughs, sharply, bitterly. "I was lonely and depressed." She pulls her hand away from his grasp, pauses before continuing, "And my ex-husband was getting married."
"Oh," he says, too stunned to formulate anything else.
She misinterprets the shock on his face, says quietly, "Just because I left him first never meant I never loved him."
He shakes his head, "That's not what I meant. I just- I didn't know you knew, about Nathan."
She answers his underlying question, "It was all over TV." She hesitates a moment before continuing, "And Peyton told me." She answers his question before he voices it, "We write, sometimes. She was the only one who didn't hate me."
He's too tired to feel angry at Peyton for keeping Haley a secret, too tired to deny Haley's observation (because maybe, he doesn't want to; he knows its true, knows that he did hate her. Maybe a little part of him still does). Wearily he asks, "Why didn't she tell me?"
She looks down at her fingers, stirs her coffee and answers, avoiding his eyes. "I asked her not to. I was too afraid, I didn't want to deal." Haley shakes her head, "It doesn't matter."
"It does," he whispers, strained.
Her body tenses, doesn't know how to respond. So changes the subject entirely. "Is he happy?"
"Yes," he answers; slowly, cautiously.
Her heart stings, suddenly. Tears prick her eyes. "I'm glad," she manages.
Her words ring false.
At that moment, the PA comes to life, the voice crackling with static, repeats his flight and gate number twice. He puts on his coat, slings on his backpack. Stands up, about to say goodbye, to leave without answers; she stops him. Puts a hand on his arm, asks hesitantly, "Does he still hate me?"
Crushes his cup with his right hand, pauses, and answers, "Yes."
(This is the truth. Knows that even though Nathan still loves Haley fiercely, angrily, he hates her more.)
She nods quickly, looks down at the table, rubs her temples. "I see."
"It doesn't matter what Nathan thinks about you," he offers. "It doesn't matter to me."
"He's your brother," she comments bitterly, "He wouldn't want you consorting with the enemy."
"He doesn't have to know," he says, looking her in the eye before tossing the crumpled Styrofoam cup into the trash and walking away.