Author's Note: This is an entry for a challenge on another board entitled '10 Years Into The Future'. Um, I had a lot of fun writing it, and I hope you enjoy reading it. No real pairings - just friendships. Um, yeah. Spoilers for seasons 1-3, and the rest is just my insane imagination.

Challenge: "Ten Years into the Future".

Title: Gate Twenty-Three

Pairings: Hints of Brooke/Lucas and Nathan/Haley.

Rating: K+ (PG)

Summary: Brooke Davis encounters a familiar face upon a trip home to California, ten years following the devastating events that took place in Tree Hill years before. One-shot. Hints of Brooke/Lucas and Nathan/Haley.

Gate Twenty-Three

"I'm sorry, Miss Davis. The flight's been delayed. There's nothing I can do." The woman at the desk gave her a tiny shrug as she typed away at her computer.

"Look, there can't be nothing you can do. I have to be in California by tonight at seven, or I'm going to suffer the consequences greatly." It was at this point that Brooke realized she was mere seconds away from panicking.

"There's a problem with the engine that must be fixed." The woman, who Brooke now realized wore a nametag entitled 'Cathy Windsor', did not budge.

"So, get a new plane!" She threw her arms up, mentally begging this woman to simply comply with her wishes.

"We can't just get a new plane, Ms. Davis. It's not that simple. Now, I'm sorry. Please feel free to wander around the airport until you get called back." Cathy said this sternly, as if Brooke had done something wrong and deserved to be punished.

"I can't believe this." Brooke picked her carry-on bag off of the ground, stalking away.

Of course this would happen to her! Of course. Things were finally going well in life. She was finally becoming a big name in fashion, and she had recently developed a new winter line of clothes that were set to be released tonight at her fashion show. Only problem was, she probably wouldn't even make it to the fashion show.

She glanced down at her bag for a moment, contemplating her next move. With a hesitant sigh, she lifted her cell phone to her ear, dialing in her assistant's number.

"Brooke Davis's office, how may I direct your call?" Her lips curled up the slightest bit. She remembered the days when hearing those words made her want to jump for joy. She'd squeal and tell the people around her, 'I have an office! Can you believe that?'

"Sarah, it's me."

"Oh, Brooke! When are you getting back here?" She imagined Sarah then. Her bleach blond hair and chocolate brown eyes. She almost cringed at the girl's squeaky voice, and then remembered that Sarah was probably the closest thing she had to a friend.

"My plane got delayed. I'm probably going to be stuck here for hours." She looked around the John F. Kennedy Airport, rolling her eyes.

Silence on the other end.

"Okay, Sarah," She frowned. "Don't panic."

Still, silence.

Brooke pulled the phone away from her ear. It was off. That was strange. She pressed the 'end' button until the screen turned blue, and the Motorola sign popped up. It did so only briefly, before the words, 'Low Battery: Powering down.' popped up, and the screen once more turned black.

"Oh God. Oh, no. Dammit!" She ran her hands through her hair. How was this happening? She figured that this was probably something insanely close to her worst nightmare.

Okay, she reasoned with herself. She could visit the payphones. Yes! Payphones. No need to panic.

Her heels clicked against the ground as she made her way towards the phones. She'd been to this airport numerous amount of times, and was constantly making phone calls when she didn't have her cell phone functioning.

The payphones were located in between the male and female restrooms, which Brooke thought was mildly absurd, but really never cared enough to actually think about.

As she walked, she began to rummage through her bag for change. Usually, she didn't carry around a lot of dimes or nickels, but she was sure she had a few quarters around there somewhere.

When she found none, Brooke slowly began to slip back into panic mode. She began to frantically search through her bag, and stopped only when she ran head on into someone.

The person she ran in to was obviously much bigger than her, as she was nearly sent topping backwards.

"God. I'm so sorry." He held onto her arms, steadying her.

"Oh, it's fine." She kept her gaze down, still searching for some - any - change.

After a couple moments, Brooke realized his hands were still on her arms. She sighed. Great. So she'd bumped into a creep. Fully prepared to give this man a piece of her mind, she looked up.

The second she did, she regretted it. Her jaw dropped and her eyes widened. "Oh my.. Oh my God. Oh, wow."

"Brooke." He said the word slowly. It was unfamiliar on his tongue.

"Hi." She said softly, letting her hand fall from her bag.

"Uh, sorry. For freaking you out." He said this sheepishly. She almost smiled.

"It's fine," Her gaze never left his. "How are you?"

It was obvious that he wasn't doing too bad. Nathan Scott still looked almost exactly the same as he had when he'd been seventeen. Maybe a little handsomer, if that was possible. His hair remained the same shade of dark brown, and his eyes were still icy blue. There were no traces of pain in his eyes, and no dark circles underneath them. He looked happy.

"I'm doing okay. What about you?" He seemed mesmerized by her. Like she was a mirage. Like she could fade away at any second.

"I'm," She paused. "Um, would you like to get a cup of coffee or something? I have a feeling this type of meeting is going to require more than a couple seconds worth of explanation."

He chuckled and laugh lines appeared around his eyes. "Sure."

-

They decided on Starbucks for coffee, and Brooke immediately forgot about all her fashion dilemmas. This was probably not good, but seeing Nathan was like seeing a loved one after their death; the chances of it happening again were slim, and really, you were so curious as to what they'd become, you couldn't just walk away.

The walk to actually get the coffee was painful. It was the most awkward conversation Brooke had ever had. Actually, it wasn't much of a conversation. Mostly they just looked at each other, smiled, and then looked away.

Once they finally reached the Starbucks counter, the two argued over who'd pay for their coffees. Brooke accused Nathan of being sexist, and he rolled his eyes, flopping a twenty dollar bill onto the table before them, instantly settling the argument.

"So, um, where are you flying to?"

"Back to Tree Hill." He said simply, and they looked around the airport for a place they could sit. He gestured towards two empty seats located under Gate Twenty-Three, and mentally, she chuckled at the irony of it all.

"You?"

"Oh, uh, California."

He nodded. "So you live there now?"

"For the past nine years."

"Oh," He said awkwardly, "I like it there. It's.. warm."

She smiled. "Why is this so weird?"

Nathan chuckled. "I'm sorry. It's my fault. I just haven't seen you in forever. Ten years, I think it's been."

"Wow. It has been, hasn't it?"

"Since you left." The words sounded harsh, even though he hadn't meant them to. It was just honesty, and maybe these days that was too much.

In an attempt to avoid his gaze, Brooke's eyes flickered around, finally landing on the simple gold band on the wedding finger of his left hand. "You and Haley are still married?"

He looked down at his hand, a smile growing on his face instantly. "Yeah. She's pregnant with our second daughter."

"That's wonderful." Brooke smiled. Her little Tutor Wife was a Tutor Mom. She'd expected this, and yet it was still exciting.

"It is. Melissa's four now, and we're thinking about naming this next one Quinn, after Haley's sister. Her favorite sister." He was practically glowing.

"Quinn. I always liked that name. But my favorite name was always-"

"Elizabeth." He answered with a smile. "I know. Lucas told me. And.. so did you. About a million times."

Lucas. Just the sound of Nathan saying his name made her heart pick up it's pace.

"Ah." She said, because she really didn't know what else to say.

"He's okay."

"He must hate me."

"Pretty much." Nathan said this with pure honesty, and she had to smile. He never had been good at putting things nicely for the sake of someone's feelings. Although many disliked this quality in him, Brooke loved it.

She swallowed. "And how about Haley?"

"Not so much. Haley doesn't really hate anybody."

"I always liked her." Brooke found herself thinking of Haley. She hadn't really allowed herself to think of the Tree Hill Residents that she'd left behind much during the past ten years. But her eyes moistened at the thought of her former roommate.

He furrowed his eyebrows, laughing. "No, you didn't."

"I know. But I always liked her after I knew her." She giggled.

"She's a teacher."

"Of course she is. Haley always loved kids."

He nodded. "I coach basketball. I have my own program. Ages four to fourteen."

"Wow. So you're both teachers?"

"I'm a coach." Nathan shrugged.

"You're a teacher, Nate." She smiled.

He returned the smile. "Yeah, I guess I kind of am. What about you?"

"I'm a fashion designer. My line's pretty successful, actually. I mean, I'm not trying to toot my own horn, I'm just - probably not going to get too far, since my flight got delayed and I'm going to miss my own fashion show." Brooke sat back in her chair, suddenly remembering her plane from hell that had managed to break down when she needed it the most.

"You're a fashion designer," Nathan repeated. "Just what you always wanted to be. And my flight's delayed too."

"So I guess it's fate that we ended up here."

He bit his lip, staring ahead. When he finally turned back towards her, the look in his eye had changed. "Yeah. So, let's make the best of it."

"What do you mean?" For the slightest of moments, she feared he'd ask her to follow him into the men's bathroom.

"I mean, why'd you leave?"

Brooke sighed, looking down. "I wanted to study fashion."

"Liar." He didn't miss a beat.

She frowned, wishing he wasn't so good at detecting lies. "I thought that if I left.. I'd be making things," She paused. "Easier."

"Easier?"

"Yes."

"For who?"

"You know who, Nathan." Her grande chai-tea latte was now empty, and she set the cup down on the ground. Instantly, she regretted this movement, as she now had nothing to fiddle with.

"You thought you'd eliminate yourself from his decision making process between you and Peyton." Nathan stated this. To him, there was no doubt that this was why.

"Basically. It was too hard to be there. I couldn't handle the drama."

She missed Peyton. After what had happened between them, she'd assumed her feelings for Peyton would simply disappear, but more and more, as she hung out with her new "friends", she found herself remembering the pretty blonde.

"Brooke," Nathan frowned, "Lucas never got with Peyton. He never wanted her. After you left, he was so heartbroken he stayed in bed for months. And maybe she loved him, but the feeling wasn't mutual."

"Please don't tell me this." She said weakly.

But he continued. In a way, Brooke thought he was musing out loud to himself, more than telling her. "Even if he had wanted her, I still don't think she would have done anything, actually. I think she was too loyal to you. In a way, I think he was too, although he'd never admit it."

She clearly remembered the day she'd left. Only weeks after Nathan and Haley's second wedding. She'd been staying at Bevin's house, and in the middle of the night, she had packed and left. She'd left Bevin a note, and that was it. She was gone before she'd even been able to process anything.

"Do you hate me, Nathan?" Brooke spoke in a small voice, and Nathan looked over at her. Unlike himself, she'd changed. Her hair was now stylishly chopped and straightened a few inches below her shoulders. She looked tired; he could see the bags underneath her eyes, despite the makeup attempting to cover them. She didn't look like Brooke. She didn't look happy.

"No, Brooke. I don't hate you."

"Good." She sighed, and a lump grew in her throat. She attempted to swallow it, and then rubbed her eyes. She'd spent the last ten years training herself not to cry, and one revisit from her past was seconds away from ruining that.

"So, are you married? Any kids?" He was attempting a subject change, and was doing quite a lousy job, but she almost loved him for it.

"No. No time. I'm all work." She chuckled, and he nodded. He remembered when she and Lucas had first broken up, and she'd put all of her effort into cheerleading. Something told him this was like that.

"Ah."

She bit her lip to keep from crying. "Is Lucas? Did he - he's okay, right?"

No, Lucas was not okay. He hadn't been okay since the day she'd left, and although he'd tried his hardest to move on, he'd never be the Lucas Scott he'd been before. But as Nathan looked through her eyes, he knew that he could not tell her this. She needed to let go, and she could only do so if Lucas was okay. "Yeah, Brooke. He's fine. I mean, things were really bad at first, but he's moved on. He's happy."

"Good. I'm so glad. I would never want him to be unhappy."

"I know."

"Has he - is he married?" She bit her lip.

Lucas had been married a little over two months, now. He'd never emotionally moved on from Brooke, but he'd forced himself to try.

"Um," Nathan sighed, "no. He, uh, he ended a relationship a couple months ago, but he's not married."

"Oh." She tried to hide her smile, but found she could not.

He'd lied twice for her sake, and now he felt his loyalty to his brother kick in. "You know, you should have said good-bye."

"I know. If I could go back in time now, I would have. But I was scared, and I knew if I talked to Lucas, he'd convince me to stay. So, I did what I had to do."

"You could have left a note."

"Nathan, you don't understand. Okay? You'll never understand. I needed to get out. If I didn't leave, I would have died. I would have put everyone through emotional hell, and I just - I needed to get out. And that meant severing all ties." A few tears strayed from her eyes, and she mentally cursed at herself, wiping her cheeks forcefully.

Sometimes, he thought that the reason Haley didn't hate Brooke was because she knew what Brooke was going through. She'd been there before. She'd had to leave. He always wanted to ask her, but for some reason unknown to himself, he could not.

"Ever coming home?"

She shook her head. "No. No, I don't think I can. I want to. I think about it all the time. But I've put everyone through enough."

He sighed despite himself. "You know, I missed you. I know it's kind of weird, because we were never all that close. But I really did. You're like, my oldest friend, Brooke."

"Not true."

"Yeah, it is. I've known you since I was three. I remember that no matter what, you've always been a constant in my life. Or, you were."

She chuckled, and a few more tears spilled from her eyes. "In elementary school, we were our own screwed up version of Lucas and Haley."

"Yeah. And now look at us."

"I'm really sorry, Nathan," She whispered. "I never meant to hurt anyone. I'll never stop loving Lucas. Ever."

"I know. It's okay."

Suddenly, both heard the sounds of the airport's loudspeaker. "Flight 907 to California will start boarding in five minutes. Flight 907.."

"Well," Brooke stood. "That's me."

He stood as well, pulling her in for a hug. She wrapped her arms around his wide shoulders, trying her hardest to stop crying.

"Are you going to tell anybody you saw me?"

He contemplated for a moment. "No. It's better this way."

She kissed his cheek. "Good luck in life, Nathan Scott."

"Right back at 'cha, Brooke Davis."

And with one final look back at the last part of Tree Hill she'd probably ever see, Brooke walked towards her gate.

In the next few months, Haley and Nathan would have their second daughter. As to Nathan's persistence, Her name would be Elizabeth.