A/N: You all are so lovely. I so enjoyed all the wonderful things you all had to say.
Scenes and lines from this particular chapter were partially inspired by the movie The Brave One so all rights reserved to that.
Enjoy and leave me some love :)
The Brave One
She felt heavy.
Once, when she was a young teenager Taylor had shoved her fully clothed into a pool. She had been caught off guard and the chlorine filled her nostrils and throat so quickly that she had no time to react. Her lungs felt flames licking inside of them from the harsh chemicals she was gulping down. It was Lucas who had pulled her from the darkening abyss she had been trapped in and once she had landed on concrete, her body desperately seeking and gasping for air that she realized just how weighted down she felt with all her clothes clinging and molding to her body.
She thought of Nathan then, how the sun crept across his shoulders as he sunk himself into her. There wasn't an inch of his skin that she hadn't touched or explored in some way. Her fingers had traced the ink and the contours of his body and the more she lost herself him the more they too, had molded into one another. Even with the enormity of what they were feeling, she had never felt weighted though. It was in those small moments, drowning into him that she felt the lightest.
How vastly different this feeling was.
In her head, it was Nathan's hands that were pulling her shirt from her torso and his calloused palms sliding across her chest. It was his cool lips pressed against her neck and warm breath she was inhaling. His voice, whispering her name, was the only thing she was hearing. She was sensing and feeling it all, but the motions and sounds weren't connecting together correctly. This feeling was foreign and invasive to her. Shouting and beeping were overtaking the moment. Heavy, she still felt so heavy. She felt him slipping away and he was no longer upon her and she was sinking.
Nathan had been wandering aimlessly.
The thought occurred to him that he had been his whole life. And along came Haley, sneaking her way into his life and his heart and suddenly he didn't seem so lost anymore. The more time he spent apart from her the more despondent he grew and the less he felt tethered to her. He knew that as long as he felt some connection, even fading or weak, that there was at least a chance that things would turn out okay after all.
After so much time with no news involving Haley, Nathan could no longer stand to sit in the tiny box and sit and wait for the news that the only other person he had loved and let into his life had suffered the same fate as the first. He had to escape but his clothes, still wet from the river, clutched at him as an unwieldy reminder of all that he had endured in just a short amount of time. His shoulder and the cuts on his body were throbbing in agony but it was miniscule compared the the ache resting in his chest.
He had always believed that fear belonged to other people. Weaker people. Fear was brought on by the unknown, a dark hole of unexpectedness. It never touched him. And now it had because Haley, and everything that having her in his life brought had been unexpected. It was consuming his very being now. He supposed that it had been there all along, fear, just waiting beneath the surfaces of everything he loved.
Which wasn't much.
He loved basketball. Even when it was convoluted and sometimes even torture, he loved the game. It had taken him so long to admit his love for Haley; the realization had always been there. He had kept hiding in the words of his father and the blank expressions of his mother and the distance that had always remained between his brother despite the closeness. He supposed though, that the feelings he had for her had mimicked like none other he had ever experienced and he just hadn't recognized it soon enough.
Nathan's steps were halted by the deep agony resonating from the voice in the room to his left. He crept his torso around the corner of the door and watched as a woman with long dark locks clasped Peyton's hand, shrouded in a plaster cast, around her two smaller ones and rested her head on their knotted formation. Her other hand was lifeless next to her body, white gauze wrapped securely around it from the gash she had suffered earlier that night. There was a large bandage covering her forehead and tubes were going into her chest from various machines.
Sliding his body down the length of the wall in the hallway, he continued to listen to the woman's pleas. The sight was startling to him and he knew then that he wasn't prepared to see Haley in that kind of condition. With Cooper, he had seen him alive and vibrant right before the race and then he was cold and gone in a mahogany box. He had never seen someone literally having to fight for their life and struggle against the behemoth that was time.
"I never carried you inside of me. I never felt you kicked through my belly or feel your tiny heartbeat nestled next to mine."
He felt intrusive but he couldn't force himself to leave.
"One day, I hope you wish and hope for something so desperately that when you finally get it, like it did when you were placed into my arms for the first time, that you'll realize just how much I persisted through life to have you." he heard her choke back a sob. "Please come back to me Peyton. All of you."
Nathan jerked himself to his feet in a mere second. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to eavesdrop."
"You pulled her from the car." she continued, without missing a beat, her brow furrowing as she studied him. She had had startled him, her pretense suddenly in the hallway. He towered over her by at least a foot but he felt small with her, the same, their grief bonding them. "And Haley? You pulled them both from the car."
"Have you," Nathan swallowed hard, his voice thick in his throat at the mere mention of Haley. "Have you heard anything about her yet?"
She slowly shook her head and glanced back into the room. "Did you know Peyton? Would you like to see her?"
It was a loaded question. Nathan had known Peyton. He had studied her porcelain face and her green eyes and he had saw himself in her smirk far too many times to count. In her, he had seen the very worst of himself and he had embraced it, almost to the point of oblivion. He had thought that in her, he had found a kindred spirit; a soul that he could wander along with. But listening to her mom talk about that desperate need for something so amazing he had realized that it was in Haley who he had found a soul to journey with.
"No, I didn't know Peyton at all."
"Here, drink this."
Lucas gratefully took the coffee from Rachel's hands and gave her a tight smile. She sunk into the seat next to him, her cheer track suit swishing against the fabric of the chair. It was surreal to him all of a sudden locking at the Raven's emblem on her jacket. Had they really been state champions mere hours before? The emotional high and overwhelming exuberance from what was supposed the be the best night of their lives had felt like nearly a lifetime ago at this point.
"She'll be okay." Rachel said, her jaw set in determination. Her hand found Lucas's and gave it a squeeze. "Haley wouldn't miss her valedictorian speech for anything."
Lucas chuckled despite himself. He had known Haley for the better part of a decade and she had stepped in as a surrogate sibling when it seemed like he needed one the most. They had grown up playing mini golf on his mom's cafe roof, and digging through the lost and found and he had even humored her with pretend SATs. He knew that their lives were heading in different directions but the thought had never occurred to him that she wouldn't be a part of his in some form or another.
"It's just all so hard to believe."
Rachel was never one to fully portray her emotions. Truth be told, for most of her life she had been down right snotty and mean. She had started Tree Hill High late in her sophomore year and had quickly climbed the ranks of top enemy to both Haley and Brooke. It was only after a few bitchy cat fights and a budding friendship with good guy Lucas that she finally had broken down the walls and the three had become inseparable. She could admit there were days her surliness still came bubbling towards the surface but being friends with people as goodhearted as Brooke and as genuine as Haley had kept her from going back to her old ways.
"I just knew Peyton was going to be a disaster." Lucas scoffed softly. "I just didn't realize that she was going to end up bringing this much pain and suffering."
"She was clearly troubled. Maybe this can be her wake up call. " Rachel responded, empathy for the troubled blonde resonating in her voice. Lucas looked at her in disbelief, his head cocked to the side. "What Lucas? All I'm saying is that you don't know the demons people carry. She was into some bad shit, but look at all this. Haley went after her. Whether that was because she loves Peyton or because she's family, she saw something worth saving. Maybe that's all Peyton needs to finally free herself of those demons; for someone to see something worth saving."
"But Haley could die."
"Yes." Rachel nodded her head woodenly. "But that's what faith is all about Lucas. Faith she'll pull through. You had faith in me that I wouldn't always be the stuck up and raging bitch I was when we met. And you pulled me through; with the help of Brooke and Haley. Just like Haley pulled Nathan through. I'm not happy with Peyton at all. She put the life of someone I consider family in danger. In fact, if she wasn't lying in a coma I'm pretty sure I would Muhammad Ali her ass. All I'm saying is that with two people's life in the balance, maybe we should have a little perspective instead of placing all this unnecessary anger out in the world."
Lucas sighed, looking around. He hated to admit it, but maybe there was some truth to what Rachel was saying after all. The waiting room was filled with Raven's cheerleaders and players alike, as well as Haley's family. Karen was taken care of the the younger of James's brood, but everyone else important in Haley's life was there anxiously awaiting for any news. Nathan had taken off some time before, his body ripping out like a tornado and even though he had tried to go after him, Quentin had stopped him and promised him that Nathan would be back.
"He's been gone a while." Lucas ambled over to Quentin and took a seat next to him. "You said he would be back."
"I watched him fall into the river with her." Quentin responded, sliding his body from leaning on his knees to an upright position. "I watched helplessly as he struggled with her seat belt and when they were both overtaken by the water from the levy breaking. And I watched the surface of that water until he came up,with her." Quentin looked directly at Lucas. "He never left her side and he never stopped fighting for her. He's sorting things out, that's all. For some people, waiting is a an ultimate torture. But he knows that if there's a possibility she's okay and that at the end of all this waiting, its her waiting for him then it's all worth it. He wouldn't abandon her now."
The door to the waiting room creaked open and with a start, they all jumped up expectantly. Haley's mother and father had paused their pacing, waiting in bated breath at news, any news of their little girl. It was an odd mix of relief and disappointment that washed over Lydia James's face as Nathan stepped into everyone's sight. Nathan paused in the doorway, his shoulders slumped. It only took a few moments before Lydia made a few quick strides and wrapped her arms around his sagging frame. The motion took Nathan off guard but as the small woman squeezed him tightly, he found his arms returning the gesture.
"Quentin told us." she pulled back from him, her hand gently cupping his cheek. "You saved our little girl."
"She's okay?" he hope in his voice was enough to make them all believe, just for a moment. Lydia dropped her head and her husband clamped Nathan's shoulder. After a beat, he realized that there was still no news. "Oh."
Hope was a tricky emotion. It was something that, once held was powerful that it could give you a false sense of security. Nathan had spent his life grounded in certainty, that was never room for useless emotions such as faith and hope. Even love, he soon discovered after Cooper's death was a senseless emotion. He felt overwhelmed; he had denied everything inside of him in regards to Haley that now, on the brink of possibility losing it all and feeling it all at once, it all seemed so much that he felt ready to implode.
"Have a seat, son." Jimmy James lead Nathan to a nearby seat and guided him down. He bent down enough to look Nathan in the eyes. It felt odd to him, to have someone call him son so genuinely and compassionately. Jimmy's eyes flickered over the shattered boy in front of him. "Nathan? She's in surgery to fix the internal bleeding from the car crash. But son, I want a doctor to look at you and make sure you're okay, alright?"
Nathan vehemently shook his head. "Not until I know she's okay."
"You're going to be no good to her injured." Jimmy responded, sternly. Nathan looked at him, and Jimmy could see the soft sheen of tears in his eyes. "Don't you have any faith in what you did tonight?"
"I'm no good for her."
"Nathan." Jimmy clamped his hands on both of Nathan's shoulders, a soft commanding timbre in his voice "If you hadn't been there, god knows what would have happened. I'm telling you right now, that anyone as brave and unselfish as you were go do that for my Haley, is good enough for me. And for her, do you understand?"
Nathan nodded numbly. It wasn't lost on him that this was the first time he was meeting her parents. What an unfortunate and terrible way to meet the people who created the person you cared the most about. He could see so much of Haley in them; the crinkle in her fathers forehead and the soft cheekbones of her mother. But what he saw most was the utter kindness radiating off of these two people and how when he had been the most undeserving, Haley had showed him. God, did he need her to be okay.
"Good." Jimmy signaled for Quentin "Take him and get his shoulder looked at."
"Well Mr. Scott, its a good thing your season is already over." the doctor spoke, coming into the room and flipping his chart shut. "It seems your shoulder is dislocated. We're going to have to pop it back into place. The nurse is going to come in a few minutes and suture your cuts and give you a mild sedative."
"No? Nathan, putting your arm back into it's socket is a very painful experience."
"I need to be lucid." Nathan ran a hand through his disheveled hair. "Just do what you need to do, but I don't want to be sedated."
"Very well." the doctor nodded and left the room.
"You have to stop being so hard on yourself."
Nathan rolled his eyes at Quentin as he painfully stepped into a pair of scrubs. His wet clothes dropped on the floor with a soft thud. Reluctantly, he could still feel the twinges of joy from winning the state championship and having Haley safely in his arms only hours before. At the same time, it was an ugly reminder of just how much time had passed since he had felt such immense happiness.
"How did you feel?" Nathan bit out harshly.
"How did I feel?"
"When a bullet came gunning for Dre because of you?"
Quentin closed his eyes as the memory. "It was the worst feeling of my life."
"Exactly." he grimaced as he sidled up on top of the examine table. "Don't try an absolve my guilt when you've got your own to worry about."
"Guilt?" Quentin parroted, incredulous. "Man, please. I took the bullet and the consequences and moved on with my life. I'm someone that kid can look up to now. You just want to wallow the warm pool of your own self pity. She has one hell of a fighting chance because of you."
"It's not because of what I did in the river." Nathan explained. "Its what I didn't do earlier today. I could have prevented all this. Peyton; she was at my apartment, just out of her mind. I should have called someone and I didn't. She bolted before I had a chance to react and if I had done something sooner Haley wouldn't even had been in the car with her. She would have been safe."
"Nate," Quentin started as Nathan pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. "Look, all I'm saying is move on, man. Everything is in the past. Quit being a jackass."
Before Nathan could respond, a nurse and the doctor were returning to the room to set Nathan's arm. Quentin came behind him and held his good shoulder as the doctor got into place to twist the arm back into place. Nathan's jaw clenched as his arm was wretched back to his rightful position and nearly bit his tongue to keep from crying out in pain. It was every bit as painful as he thought it was going to be but it was quick and over with before he knew it. It was the most fleeting pain he had endured all evening.
Nathan ran his free hand over his haggard face as he walked down the hall with Quentin. He had lost sleep for days due to alcoholic binges and drug induced hazes and from caring for a feverish infant to nights with Haley he had experienced it all. A day that had had started out so bright and full of promise and life was gradually and then all at once spiraled into a pit of destruction and despair. But today, was exhausted down into his bones.
He wanted to go home.
Lucas met them in the hallway, his breath ragged from his sprint. He bent over, his palms on his knees, struggling to catch his breath. For an athlete, he was in top physical condition. For a friend who was emotionally and mentally drained from a night of oscillating emotions from one extreme to the other, he was an absolute wreck. He gulped in a huge chunks of air before finally erecting himself upright and gripping his hand on Nathan's shoulder that was in a sling.
"She's going to be okay."
For so long, when things had gotten tough or rotten or unbearable it was in his nature to bolt. To run as fast and as far as his legs or drugs or alcohol would transport him to. It wasn't fair to keep comparing what was happening to him now, to what he had endured with Cooper's death. But he couldn't stop himself from stacking two against one another and feeling that between one or the other he had at some point been a far lesser man. He hated to think that Cooper's death had been planted in his life to prepare him for this fracture in time; a time when he would not longer feel the need to run.
But to plant roots.
"She's not awake. But she'll pull through." Lydia informed him as she stepped out of the ICU unit of the hospital. She handed over her visitors badge to Nathan and winked. "If anyone asks, you're her brother."
He felt a tremendous privilege to be able to see her before everyone else. Summoning up every once of strength he could muster, he pushed himself though the dark, beeping wing of the ICU. The enormity of the delicacy of life hanging in the balance as he trooped on was stifling. He thought of Peyton's lifeless body from earlier and even further back the limp one of Haley's as he pulled her through the raging river waters.
He held back the gasp in his throat and bile rising from his stomach once his eyes rested on her. No matter how weak he felt at that exact moment, he knew he had to be strong enough for the both of them, as she had countless times before. It was her connected to a breathing tube, her head bandaged completely around at her forehead. It was her leg suspended in the air, and along with her arm wrapped in a plaster cast. But it was Nathan who felt the most fragile in that room.
Hesitantly, he took small steps forward until he was at her side and his fingers twitched before finally encasing her hand in his. He had expected it to be cool but still anticipated her warmth nonetheless. There was so much he wanted to say and to tell her. He wanted to beg her to wake up, just look at him one more time with that deep promise that things would always work out. In the end he settled for just a few.
"Haley, I am waiting. I am here."
He ebbed into the chair beside her bed, his grip tightening as the seconds turned into minutes. He wasn't sure how long he waited there, his head finally resting on the bed beside her. The only sounds echoing through the small room were the sounds of her the accordion machine breathing for her and the small sobs finally escaping from Nathan.
But most importantly, the steady rhythm of the beep of her heart.
He felt her smooth fingers sail through his rumpled hair and looked up, drowning in the deep pool of her eyes.
And he was home.