Author's Note: Hi. I don't even know if people still read OTH fic, but I feel compelled to finish this darn story. I've always figured there were roughly two chapters left. And I'm determined to finish these last two chapters. So here it goes.
Disclaimer: I do not own One Tree Hill or any of its characters. I also do not own "Vampire Smile" by Kyla LaGrange.
baby you have a choice,
cause you burn my ears with your magic voice.
i'm a paper doll, you can tear me up,
we'll be the broken lovers with the poison cup.
For a woman who had just given birth and been in a coma for as long as she had been, Haley looked fantastic.
It was hard for Peyton to really believe her eyes once she entered the room. Haley had that ethereal glow that people always said came with motherhood, but which Peyton had never believed. Now, Peyton remembered the photo of Ellie tucked in her leather jacket and how she always assumed it had been the lighting that brought it alive. Clearly it had been more.
"Peyton Sawyer," Haley said. Her voice cracked and it was only then that Peyton could tell how much she had been through. Haley beckoned her forward and Peyton took a seat next to the bed.
Peyton asked how she was and Haley was never one to complain. They talked about college and the new baby and Haley thanked Peyton profusely for pulling Nathan out of the darkness he was so prone to without his wife. And then mid-conversation, Haley changed course.
"So you're still with Chris, huh?" she finally said. The lack of transition had stunned Peyton into silence. Not that she could have said anything what with Haley intent on elaborating. "I saw him in the window when I woke up, and not that I don't think he would have came and visited me if you weren't together, but I'm 95% sure that I'm right."
Haley looked at her poignantly and Peyton realized it was a cue for her to confirm it. She managed to stutter out a reply. "Yes. We're still together."
Haley nodded, "Interesting."
Peyton scoffed, leaning back in her chair. It was strange how easily she relaxed once she was put on the defensive. "Will you be lecturing me too?"
"No," Haley frowned. It was more directed at the suggestion than at Peyton's life choices. Peyton counted it as a tiny victory. "I'm a little disappointed that it took me almost dying to get you back to Tree Hill."
"I've been busy," Peyton said, but even she couldn't believe her words. "I've been avoiding it."
"Can't say I blame you," Haley shrugged and then winced in pain. Peyton instinctively moved forward but Haley shook her off. "This place is like a magnet for tragedies. And heartbreak."
"Yeah." Peyton's knee gave a twinge as if to remind her. She rubbed at it subconsciously, being sure to look at the ground when she did so. "I'm happy. I've never been happy before."
"How's it feel?" Haley smiled as if it were that simple. For Haley, maybe it was. She came from a good home with a happy family whose biggest concern was there were too many children to love. Haley met her soul mate at sixteen and not once did either of them ever doubt they were the ones for each other. Haley was a mother at nineteen, and while most women would be freaking out over that prospect, Haley smiled because for her it would always be that simple.
For Peyton, with her two dead mothers, her father that was always gone, her soul mate who never really committed to her and the boyfriend whose love she'd never know how to trust, it was impossible to believe she'd ever know a carefree smile.
"Weird." Peyton admitted, "I don't think I'll ever get used to it. I've never had someone love me and only me."
"Lucas loved you and only you. Before. When you didn't know he existed." Haley argued, and Peyton had to give her credit. She would always be Team Lucas. It was required of her.
Peyton shook her head. "I'm not sure that counts."
"Hey." Haley waited until Peyton looked back up at her. "We're friends, and even if Lucas is my best friend I'm never going to be that person who pushes him at you. I know there's a lot of damage that happened there. But I figured it didn't hurt to remind you."
"I know he did," Peyton said and the amended it, "I know he does."
"But?" Haley asked.
"But I love Chris," Peyton said, "And I think it's enough."
Peyton found Chris outside the nursery.
He was keeping Nathan company as they prepared Baby Scott to see her mother. Both men were carrying on a conversation, but neither could take their eyes off the little one as she was maneuvered into the rolling bed. Peyton waited until Nathan and his baby were on the move, waited until Chris stayed behind staring at the children left before she slid beside him. Chris instinctively raised his arm and let her tuck under it. For awhile, they were silent.
"I want to have kids." Peyton blurted out and she waited for Chris to tense beside her, but he didn't.
"Right now?" he said, "I'm pretty sure their parents would miss them. Except maybe that couple in the corner. Three in one shot. I'm sure they wouldn't mind if we took one off their hands. Boy or girl?"
Peyton allowed herself a soft laugh before slapping him lightly on the chest. "That's not what I meant and you know it."
"I know." Chris said, amusement laced in his voice. Peyton felt relief knowing he wasn't freaked out by the idea. "I want kids too. I'd also like to get married someday. Is that something you'd be down with?"
"Yes," Peyton found herself saying though she wasn't sure when marriage had become such a viable option. She suddenly remembered the way Lucas had looked at her when she mentioned the idea of starting a family with Chris, the way his disappointment had manifested in a way that had little to do with his jealousy over Chris – almost as though he had expected more out of Peyton. Peyton had once too.
"Okay then." Chris said. Suddenly he looked at her with concern. "What's this really about Peyton?"
"Nothing." Peyton shook her head and put on her best smile. "I'm going to grab lunch with Brooke. Think you can keep yourself entertained for an hour or so?"
Chris didn't seem entirely convinced but he managed a weak smile. "Of course. I'm going to have the guys down on Main Street tune my guitar. You'd think with all the music shops in New York, I could find someone halfway decent."
Peyton shrugged, "There are some things that Tree Hill will always do best."
Chris smirked, "Teen weddings and guitars."
"So. What's new with you?" Brooke twirled her straw between her two fingers and wiggled her eyebrows. Beneath the good natured smile, there was a silent accusation. Peyton knew better than to respond. Instead she smiled her best smile.
"I moved in with Chris. Eight months now."
"Impressive," Brooke nodded.
"How about you? How's your boyfriend?"
"We broke up." Brooke waved it off and Peyton knew right away he hadn't been serious. She could always tell with Brooke. "He wanted to go to Paris without me. Actually I think he wanted me to just leave Haley like this and go with him. Whatever. It was fun while it lasted."
"I have a fashion show there this winter."
Peyton nearly dropped her drink. "Seriously?"
"You would have known all about this if you had checked in with your BFF in the past eight months instead of just facebook stalking her." Brooke said, "I'm interning for one of these obscure designers who does their spring show ridiculously early. It's either going to be a trendsetter or a total bust, but like my Product Development teacher always says, 'go big or go home.' My name won't be on any of the work even though I'm the one hand stitching it all, but at least it's a foot in the door, and I'm pretty sure I'll die happy having seen spring fashion week in Paris up close and personal."
Peyton watched how Brooke glowed with confidence as she talked. She never doubted that her best friend would make a name for herself in fashion, but she never could have imagined this soon out of high school she would have started making waves. "I'm proud of you, Brooke."
Brooke smiled softly. It was softer than Peyton expected and filled with nostalgia. "You remember our plan?"
"I sure do," Peyton said. When they were children, they planned to bolt to Paris after high school. Brooke would work her way into the fashion scene and Peyton into the art world. For money they would bartend or bust tables until one of them made their break. Whoever got in first would be sure to take the other with them. Eventually, they succumbed to the ideal that they would go to college first, but Peyton was happy Brooke still found a way to get herself to Paris. "I'm glad you stuck to it."
"I wish I didn't have to do it alone." Brooke said. "You know the program I'm interning through is looking for art history majors and a NYU background makes you a shoe-in. We'd be in Paris together."
Peyton frowned, not because the idea wasn't a good one but because the timing seemed impossible. "I've got a lot going on in New York."
"Keller would approve." Brooke said, reading her mind. "Besides you owe me. We would have so much fun together in Paris."
Peyton barely managed to contain her exasperated sigh when she heard that voice. It was as if Lucas had a sensor that went off any time Peyton had the slightest hesitation about her life choices so that he could swoop in and make things more complicated.
Brooke rolled her eyes. "Seriously, Broody. We've had like ten minutes together."
He was standing behind her, but Peyton just knew that he had put his hands up defensively. "I was picking up lunch for everyone at the hospital."
Peyton didn't say anything, but she watched Brooke stare back and forth between her and the spot over Peyton's shoulder where Lucas must have been. Peyton felt as though they were having a silent conversation without her knowledge, but she refused to turn around and look at Lucas if she didn't have to.
Before Peyton could change her mind, something shifted on Brooke's face and she stood up. "Fine, Broody, I'm giving you five minutes."
"You don't need to give him anything." Peyton said, but it was too late. Brooke was grabbing her purse and heading towards the counter to flirt with the bartender. She tried one last attempt to get her friend's attention. "Brooke!"
"Looks like you're stuck with me." Lucas said, as he took the chair next to her instead of the one across from her that Brooke had been occupying. She spared him a glance and immediately regretted it. His smile was infectious and it made the eye roll she had prepared more playful than serious.
"You should go to Paris," he said, not wasting any of his time on pleasantries. "Didn't you always tell me you were going to see the Louvre someday? And d'Orsay and Rodin? Cruise the Vedettes du Pont-Neuf and leave a shot for Jim Morrison in Pere-Lachaise."
"Yes I did," Peyton admitted, "And some day I will do all of that."
"You said you were going to do it all when you graduated," Lucas said, "Because – and this is a Peyton Sawyer quote – the world was meant to be explored before you drink your way through your twenties."
"Things change," Peyton said, trying not to marvel at the fact that he had remembered those conversations. "You should know all about that. I remember you being quite fond of making promises and then not being able to keep them."
Instead of stinging Lucas like the words were intended, he smiled as if she had just proven his point. "This isn't about us. It's about you. You had dreams that weren't centered on babies and weddings and live-in boyfriends."
Peyton sighed this time. "When you love someone, you have to have that conversation. You have to make sure you're on the same page and that's what Chris and I are doing. Neither of us is saying we want any of that now."
"Don't settle," Lucas said, "New York is great. It's perfect for you. It understands you. NYU is probably one of the few places that will ever truly recognize just how brilliant you are. I have no doubt that if you stayed there you would do great things, but I also know that it would be easy and you have never been satisfied with things that came easy."
"We're not talking about New York."
"We're talking about your whole life." Lucas boldly reached out and grabbed her hand. She flinched and tried to pull back but his grip only tightened. "I know you better than anyone. You may think that's arrogant and maybe you'd be right about that much, but Peyton, I know you. You almost did this with Jake. Don't do it with Keller too."
Peyton stared down at their intertwined hands because it was easier than looking him in the eye. All Peyton had ever wanted was a family, but what she truly needed was so much more complex. She had spent so much of her time trying to make sure that she held onto the men in her life that she had forgotten all of her other dreams.
"Peyton," Lucas whispered, and Peyton felt her eyes clench shut at the sound. She pulled her hand away quickly and pushed away from the table.
"I can't do this right now. Tell Brooke I'm sorry."
Their hotel room was better than she expected. She didn't know how much of that had to do with the amenities and how much of it had to do with the sweet sounds of Chris's latest single that rolled through her as she opened their door. The guitar guys had worked their magic.
When Chris saw her, he smiled, and knowing what came next, Peyton never wanted that moment to end. "It sounds great."
"I know, right? Do you think I could convince the studio to pay these guys to move to New York?" Chris shook his head before he had even finished the question. "Never mind. New York would probably taint them."
"Probably," Peyton said, managing a smile. It must have been a weak one because Chris immediately recognized it and frowned, "What's wrong with you, babe? Something's been off with you ever since Haley woke up which is pretty strange considering that's awesome news."
Peyton took a seat beside him on the edge of the bed. She took the time to remove the guitar from his hands and gently place it behind them. Then she took both those hands and cradled them in her lap. She could feel the calluses against her palms and the familiar feel of it centered her. "You know I love you right?"
"I already don't like where this is going." Chris said.
"I love you so much that I don't even know what to do with it. It's like pure happiness. And that's something I've never really had a chance to feel before. So sometimes I wonder if it's even real or if I just wanted it so bad that I made myself feel it."
"It's real," Chris interjected and Peyton nodded but continued.
"I want to settle down in that shitty studio apartment with you forever. I want to have long phone conversations with you while you're on tour or I'm away at art shows. I want us to cook crappy welcome home meals for each other. I want the wedding and the kids and everything else."
"I want that too," Chris said, and while she expected him to try and take over the conversation from there, he proved her wrong and let her finish. She should have felt grateful but she dreaded continuing.
Peyton took a deep breath, "But there was a time, I wanted that with someone else, and I don't know what it means that I can still spend five minutes with Lucas and let him convince me that all the things I want in life aren't actually what I want."
She watched the breath drain out of Chris in one foul swoop and she knew he wouldn't fight her on this. "It's what he does."
"He's right though. There are things I always wanted to do that I'm not doing and I don't want to wake up one day and realize that the reason I didn't do them was because I was afraid of putting any space between us. Because I was afraid that if I did, I'd fall back in love with him."
Peyton paused, and waited for Chris to look her in the eye again. "When I'm with you, it's you and only you. But when I'm around him…"
She couldn't finish that sentence, and Chris didn't make her. He had promised her a long time ago that he never would. Instead he took a deep breath. "What do you need to do?"
3 days later
The sight of Peyton at the door with her bags was not something Lucas could have predicted. In fact, it left him nearly speechless.
It had been three days since he had given Peyton a meticulously planned speech about how she was wasting her life at NYU when she could have been in Paris with Brooke doing what she always wanted. He had assumed that she and Chris had hightailed it back to New York. Brooke had refused to confirm or deny it and Nathan and Haley were too busy fawning over their baby that they didn't even notice if anyone else came or went. Tree Hill was too small of a town for Peyton to disappear in which meant she had either holed up in her hotel room or returned to school and buried her head in the sand, ignoring his heeding.
Apparently, Lucas had never learned his lesson about assumptions.
"You left him," he managed to splutter out. Peyton shook her head but Lucas couldn't be sure whether it was directed at his assumption or at his blundering attempt at communication in general.
"I should have waited," Peyton said. "How I felt about you – how I've always felt about you – those feelings were strong enough that I should have trusted them. I should have given you a chance when you told me you felt the same way. I should have chosen you and not Chris. But the thing is Lucas, I keep telling myself I should have done those things and I can't for the life of me figure out why I didn't do them. That has to mean something."
Lucas took a moment to process those words. As a writer he was always struck by how Peyton managed to convey two things at the very same time.
"I didn't leave him," Peyton clarified finally.
"You're going back to New York," Lucas said.
"No," Peyton said, "I'm going to Europe because it's something I always wanted to do, because this thing with Chris is headed in a very serious direction and you were right, I haven't had a chance to stand on my own two feet yet. I need to know that I can do that before it goes any further. And I need to be sure that I am over you because I'm not sure."
"How long will you be gone this time?" Lucas asked.
"NYU's study abroad program goes three months. Brooke's coming with me. She's going to stay for the baby's christening and then meet me out there."
Lucas nodded. "I think that's a wonderful idea."
"I can't promise that I'll have all the answers when I get back, but I think it will be a good start for me." Peyton glanced down at her watch. "I should go. I need to catch my flight back to New York. I have to finish up some paperwork at NYU and be on a flight to Paris by this weekend."
"Well, at least I'm getting a goodbye this time," Lucas said. Peyton hesitated at the words before pushing herself up and planted a soft kiss on Lucas's cheek, "Goodbye Lucas."
The week leading up to her departure was one of the most awkward weeks of her life. She and Chris both tried to make it seem as though nothing was different, but it was. Something had definitely shifted and the more they ignored it, the more it showed itself. Chris had understood why she had to do what she was doing but that didn't mean he liked it or that he didn't wish things had been different, and Peyton wished so badly that she could have been an easier girlfriend. He deserved at least that and more.
In the meantime, Chris spent more time at the studio and Peyton spent time with Carly who still couldn't believe she managed to get study abroad as a freshman. You're so lucky, Sawyer – Carly would say, and Peyton felt like saying – you don't know the half of it.
On the night she left for Paris, Chris accompanied her to the airport. They stood in front of the baggage check while Peyton pretended she was checking she had everything when really she was trying to figure out a way to say goodbye. Chris caught on quickly.
"This week sucked pretty bad, huh?" he said.
"It was the worst," Peyton admitted, "I just keep telling myself it's all for the best."
"It is," Chris said, "You know how much I hate admitting it, but Lucas has a point. You haven't really had a chance to spread your wings. You came to New York for me."
"Yeah, but I stayed for us."
"I'll still be here when you get back," Chris said, "And I know in my heart, you'll come back to me."
Peyton smiled, happy to see a glimpse of his confidence shining through. She wrapped her arms around his neck and felt the whole world shift into place as he pulled her close, pressing his lips against hers in a sweet kiss. "I would never count you out, Keller."
"Damn straight," Chris grinned, kissing her again until the first boarding call for Peyton's flight was announced.
"I have to go," Peyton sighed as she pulled away. She tugged on the lapels of Chris's denim jacket, straightening them as best she could. "I love you."
"Love you too," Chris said, "Goodbye, Peyton."
Peyton nodded, unwilling to utter the words back. She turned to head through security. Afterwards, she spared one last glance over her shoulder once she had been cleared, expecting to find Chris still there, but he had already slipped through the crowd. She could see the back of his head in the distance and the sight sent a chill through her.
Two minutes alone and she already felt terrified.
baby you need to leave,
and I know you know
that's why you keep ignoring me
because if you don't,
gonna run me down, let myself go.
A/N2: One chapter left. Chris or Lucas? Which boy are you hoping she chooses?