A/N: The OTH muse has deserted me. Blame Mark Schwann and his ridiculous cliffhanger (dude they showed it in the damn preview!! How in the hell can they then in turn make it a cliffhanger?!). Honestly, I've really just suffered enough from this show. But! Alas...I came through in the end. I don't know how I feel about this chapter. I really don't like the beginning, but I love the end so I say it balances itself out. Go enjoy! And review. Because I cling to them as a reason to keep writing.

Also, this wasn't beta'ed. So all mistakes shall be blamed on me.

Disclaimer: I don't own OTH. If I did, it would rock hardcore and it really REALLY doesn't rock hardcore right now, does it?

Chapter Fifteen: Grief

In life, the hardest thing one has to face is loss. The lives we live are fleeting, just brief moments in time. Even with its shortness though, life leads us down paths that interconnect and cross with others. We touch each other's lives. We leave our marks, and therefore, when we leave this world, we leave someone crying in the shadows.

As a result, grieving is a natural process, something everyone will encounter at one point in time. And when grief hits, we will need that shoulder to cry on, that person to let us know it will be okay, even if they don't know if its fact or fiction.

Some say death is the one common experience, but really, that's not the truth.

Grief is the one thing that connects us all.

--

He didn't remember sunlight being this bright. Lucas rubbed at his eyes. This was the first time he'd been outside in a week. He had spent the past week holed up in his hotel room writing nonstop, only taking breaks for food and sleep. His fingers ached from the speed at which his muse was forcing his hands to type. His head hurt from thinking through plot holes, side arcs and character flaws. His eyes were blurry from staring at a computer screen day in and out for seven days.

Still, he hadn't felt this alive in a long time. This was what he was born to do, and the smile had yet to disappear from his face. How many twenty-eight year old, soon to be divorcees would say that, especially if said divorcee was also without a home and without a real job.

The money from his second book had more than sustained him these past six years. Lindsey had made it clear in her last email that she would not be seeking any alimony, meaning that money was still all his. The amount would cover rent for a year someplace.

He had been hoping that he would have his mother's house back, but apparently she had sold it. She mentioned it in passing during their last conversation before the wedding. At the time, he hadn't thought twice about it, but now, he realized how sad it made him.

That home was such a huge part of him, and he wished he could see it one more time, just to give himself peace on the matter.

That's why he was standing outside of it, with his fingers lingering at the doorbell.

He remembered once before his wedding Haley talked about Peyton visiting her old house, and how it helped her move on. He realized that was probably bullshit from Peyton, but it still made him want to give it a shot. He just hoped that whoever was behind the door didn't think he was crazy. But that was the chance he'd have to take.

Lucas rang the doorbell, and took a deep breath.

--

It felt weird. That was the first thought that passed through Peyton's head as she cooked breakfast. She looked around the kitchen and tried to pinpoint what it exactly was that was throwing her off today.

It had been a week since the wedding. Most of it, she had spent in isolation, unintentional isolation that is. She and Maggie had been busy. They were making their new house, a home. When they had first moved in, she had been preoccupied with helping Brooke plan the wedding of the century. With that gone, Peyton had no excuse for the boxes strung all over the floor and the waiting paint cans in the corner.

They had spent the past week picking out furniture and painting rooms throughout the house. As a result, most phone calls went straight to the machine, even Haley's frantic rants. Peyton figured if anyone needed to talk to her, she was five feet down the road. They made cars for a reason.

She knew that this was just a way of avoidance. She didn't want to confront what had happened at the wedding. She didn't want a lecture from Haley or Nathan or Chase or anyone else that they could throw at her. Lucas was probably back in New York with his wife, and there was no need to dwell on him. It would just make everything worse.

Luckily for her, Maggie was more than happy to play along. She had been bugging Peyton to finish unpacking for weeks. After the initial unhappiness with moving, Maggie had adjusted wonderfully to living in Aunt Karen's old house.

"Something's wrong with the kitchen."

Peyton turned around to find her daughter at the corner of the room, peering up at the wallpaper with a scrunched nose. "I think so too."

"It doesn't look right with the living room."

Peyton glanced towards the living room and spotted the problem right away. The olive colored walls in the living room were clashing terribly with the pale yellow paisley print in the kitchen.

"What color should this room be then?"

"Blue!"

"That's your answer for every room," Peyton chuckled.

"Pink?"

"Even worse," Peyton mulled as she slid the omelet she had been cooking onto Maggie's plate.

"I'm out of ideas then," Maggie shrugged.

"How about green?"

"The whole house will be green then," Maggie whined.

"What's wrong with green? It's your favorite color."

"Nuh-uh. My favorite color is blue."

"Oh right," Peyton nodded, "and if it was up to you, the whole house would be blue."

Maggie nodded enthusiastically.

"Well green's my favorite color, and since it's up to me, we're going to paint the kitchen green."

"Why's it up to you? I live here too!"

"Yeah," Peyton conceded, "But I'm the one who pays for the paint."

"Not fair," Maggie pouted.

"Life is not fair, kiddo."

Just as Maggie opened her mouth to respond, the doorbell rang.

"I'll get it!" Maggie said as she ran to the door, without warning.

She opened the door, and came face to face with Lucas. Her eyes widened as she remembered who the face in front of her was.

"You're Lucas Scott."

Lucas just peered down at the little girl with one eyebrow raised. "Yes I am. And you're Maggie."

"Margaret Drew Sawyer," Maggie corrected, "Are you here to see my mommy?"

"Uh-"

"Maggie! Who is it?" Peyton said as she approached the door. Her eyes froze as she saw who was standing there. "Lucas?"

"Hey Peyton," Lucas said softly. His hands slipped into his pocket, a nervous gesture he still had.

Peyton smiled at him, "What are you doing here?"

"Well, I wanted to see the old house."

"Oh," Peyton said. She was suddenly aware of the fact that she was standing in her foyer (his old foyer) in tattered pajamas which revealed most of her long legs.

"We live here now," Maggie supplied.

"I gathered as much," Lucas said, smiling down at her.

"I'll show you around." Maggie grabbed his hand and led him inside, past the still shell shocked Peyton.

"Umm, is that okay with you, Peyton?" Lucas asked, though Maggie was already pulling him into the living room.

"Huh?" Peyton said shutting the door. The sound of it clicking shut woke her up. She shook her head, "Sorry. Yeah, go ahead."

"Okay," Lucas nodded, letting Maggie show him around.

Peyton plopped down on the couch, and buried her head in her hands. There were a thousand questions suddenly swirling through her head, along with the always present voice of Brooke Davis whispering, 'karma's a bitch.'

--

"The house looks great."

Peyton peeked out through her hands and saw Lucas smile at her knowingly. Maggie had spent the past ten minutes giving Lucas a world class tour, unaware to the awkwardness that was present between her mother and this man now in front of her.

"Thank you," Peyton said. She noticed that Maggie was no longer beside him, "Where'd your tour guide go?"

"She said she needed to get dressed, but that you would be more than happy to show me the new whitewash on the wraparound porch."

"Oh," Peyton said, standing up, "Do you want to-"

"No, it's fine," Lucas laughed.

"I didn't think you were still in town."

"Yeah well," Lucas said, rubbing the back of his neck, "I'm kind of moving back."

"Oh."

"You keep saying that."

"Sorry," Peyton said, a slight blush rising to her cheeks, "This is just all very…"

"Weird."

"Yeah."

"I know. I mean, you're living in my house. Well, not my house…my old house…and you think someone would have let me know before I showed up."

"Because they you could have called me before you came, and I could have changed out of my old pajamas."

"No," Lucas said simply, "I like you in the old pajamas. It's about the only thing in this house that reflects what it used to be like."

"Uh huh," Peyton nodded, a wry grin on her face, "Where's your wife, Lucas?"

She expected the comment to be like a bucket of cold water to him, but instead he just matched her grin.

"I don't have a wife," he shrugged, "I have an ex wife, but she's back in New York, finalizing our divorce and shipping my stuff back here."

"Lucas," Peyton said softly, her hand reaching out to touch his elbow, "I'm sorry."

"Peyton," Lucas said, the grin softening on his face into something warmer and more honest, "It's okay. It was a long time coming."

"Still you were married for seven years. It has to hurt a little, losing someone who has been such a staple of your life for so long," Peyton frowned. Lucas placed his hand over hers. Peyton's eyes snapped to his.

"It hurt everyday," Lucas whispered, and Peyton just squeezed his elbow before letting her hand slip away.

"Luke, I-"

Peyton never got to finish that thought. Instead, her daughter came bursting into the room with all the energy that a normal five year old carried.

"Mommy, I was thinking…"

"Well that's never good," Peyton muttered, but Maggie just continued on.

"Lucas was talking about how he was going to visit his uncle today and I was wondering if we could visit daddy before we do the painting? I want to tell him about my new room and about Auntie Brooke's wedding."

"Of course," Peyton nodded, "We haven't been to the cemetery in awhile."

"Carpool?" Lucas offered, and Peyton bit her lip contemplating the idea. Lucas rolled his eyes at the gesture. "Peyt, it's just a ride. Think of it as a way to save gas."

"How do you even have a car? You just moved back."

"Nathan owns Dan's old dealership, but really you're just avoiding the question."

This was all happening too fast, and Peyton knew it. If she didn't take a second just to breathe and reexamine things, soon she would be depending on him all over again, and it would be an even harder fall than last time, something she couldn't imagine.

"Okay," Peyton nodded, "Just this once."

"If you insist," Lucas grinned.

Peyton swore she was starting to hate that damn grin.

--

Lucas had many regrets about not coming back to visit Tree Hill. He maintained that it was for the best. A clean break with his home town would save all parties involved from rehashing the could have's and the should have's. Still there were the little things he missed, the type of things that nagged at the back of his mind, like the smell of the first spring coating River Court or the sound of the chime over Karen's Café—now Brooke's Boutique.

And there were the big things. Like visiting Keith's grave.

He remembered when the wounds were still fresh from Keith's death and he spent almost every other weekend treading the ground before him. He remembered the nights following Dan's arrest and the arraignment and sentencing where he sat here and rambled on about how unfair life was, how Dan would serve ten years, how he would get away with murder and Keith would be dead. He would talk about how nice guys always finished last.

He was never alone on those nights, he thought. He glanced over at Peyton who was placing a bouquet of daisies on the top of her husband's headstone. She was always there with him, listening to him. She let him vent, kept her lips sealed through most of his rants, and when he was done, he'd see that look in her eyes, the one that just spilled compassion and tenderness and he'd know she understood.

He should have known then that it wasn't just high school puppy love. It was true love, utterly cliché as it sounded.

"You like her?" a small voice said from behind him. He jumped at its presence, forgetting he was still not alone in this cemetery.

"Excuse me?" he asked.

"Do you like my mommy? Cause you sure stare at her a lot."

"Of course, I like her," Lucas said.

Maggie paused, biting her lip. "I think she likes you too."

Lucas's eyebrows rose at that, "I'm not so sure, Maggie."

"Well I like you," Maggie said, "So I'll tell her she should like you too."

Lucas stared down at his five year old wingman…or well wing woman, and smiled.

--

"Hey baby," Peyton whispered as she set the flowers on top of his grave, "I brought you daisies. I figured roses were way too cliché. That's one thing we promised ourselves we'd never be."

"Truth is…I've been thinking about you a lot. I don't know why but it seems like every day Maggie grows older I see more of you in here. She's got your smile and your eyes. And she's got that bluntness to her already. I know her mouth's gonna get her in trouble."

Peyton sighed, "I've kind of been thinking about all the opportunities we missed out on, and I keep wondering if we would have lasted, especially now.." Peyton trailed off.

She glanced over to check on Maggie, but instead she caught a glimpse of Lucas at Keith's grave. She smiled despite herself.

"That's Lucas," Peyton said, "True Love Always Lucas, not Lucas in Account Management which makes a huge difference. I imagine right now you'd be sizing him up or making some snide remark about his hair, but yeah…that's him. He's back…apparently for good, and I…don't know what to do. I don't know what it even means."

"I'm gonna take the advice you once gave me and just live. I'm not going to over think any of this because that's what got me in trouble last time," Peyton sighed.

"Oh God, I'm being incredibly rude. Here I am rambling to my dead husband about my love life," she paused contemplating how to word what she wanted to say next, "Drew…you know that no matter what happens you'll always have a good chunk of my soul, right? I mean…that boy over there might have stolen my heart a long time ago, but my soul…well that'll always be for you and Maggie to share."

Peyton looked up just in time to see Lucas approaching. "Oh crap, here he comes," Peyton sighed, "We'll continue this conversation later, baby. Wish me luck…or don't; whatever's cool with you."

Peyton closed her eyes and exhaled. A strong wind blew threw the oak tree above Drew's grave, shifting the branches and allowing the bright sun to beat down upon her. It was almost as if she could feel Drew's presence in that very moment. And then, the wind died suddenly, and it was gone. Her eyes snapped open and she was aware of her sudden proximity to Lucas. She gasped and stepped back.

"Sorry," Lucas whispered.

"It's okay," Peyton smiled.

"Maggie asked me to let you know that she was going to visit Chester's grave over by the hill."

"Oh. Chester, the rabbit?"

"I guess," Lucas shrugged, "She was waving that bag of carrots she brought."

"My daughter has way too much fun with these visits," Peyton laughed. Lucas chuckled along with her.

"She's just very well adjusted. Always a good sign."

"Or she's yet to grasp the concept of death, and it's going to hit her like a ton of bricks."

"Because she brought carrots for Chester?"

"No, she just…" Peyton sighed, "Well she talks to the headstones like they're the actual people."

"And you and I don't?" Lucas said, raising an eyebrow, "I thought you and I agreed that there are souls out there listening to us."

"Well yes, I would hope I didn't just waste five minutes talking to a chunk of marble. Speaking of which," Peyton turned back to the headstone, "Drew, Lucas. Lucas, Drew."

"Introducing me to your dead husband? Now that's a new one."

"I introduced you to my dead mom before. I'm just keeping you in my dead family's loop."

"Well thank you for that," Lucas nodded. He turned his gaze toward the headstone, studying it carefully. "Dying is easy. It's living that's the real challenge."

"It was his favorite saying," Peyton said softly, a small smile coming to her face remembering the first time she heard him say the words, "At first, he said he loved it because it was a justification for why he did the heroin. I used to tell him he should be worried about dying young, and he'd shoot that back at me as if it explained everything. But then, he started telling me I was wasting away here because I thought my life was over. He said that girls like me think that they've accomplished everything they ever thought of getting their hands on. Fame, money, success, friendship, true love," she spared Lucas a glance at that one, "And he said that it would be easy for me to just lie down and be content with what I had experienced."

"He said living was the challenge because you should always have to find something new to live for," Peyton paused to smile, "I remember we were standing around my kitchen when he said that. Afterwards he just gave me this look…this 'I-know-you-can-do-it' look he always gave me…and I remember thinking at that very moment I had found something new to live for."

Lucas watched her speak, listened to her words and felt nothing but heartache for her. He knew at that very moment how deep their love was; how it reached past jealousy and pettiness. It didn't matter to him at that very moment that she had fallen in love again or that someone else had been privy to a part of her that he had always held. All that mattered was that she was hurting. Her pain would always be his pain, and at that moment, he felt as though he would give anything for her to have her husband back, as long as it made that hurt go away.

"I'm so sorry you lost him, Peyton," Lucas whispered. Their eyes met, and Peyton saw the sincerity, felt it etch its way into her very core and stay there.

"It's okay," Peyton said, wiping the few tears that had sprung to her eyes away, "Like he said, the challenge is to find something new to live for, right?"

"Yeah."

"And he gave me that. The odd little girl talking to Jamie's dead rabbit right now."

Lucas and Peyton both couldn't control the laughter that burst forth at that truth. The image of that curious little girl was enough to brighten anyone's day.

"Hey Luke," Peyton managed to whisper after the laughter had subsided.

"Yeah?"

"Thanks for listening."

"Any time," Lucas nodded.

--

The ride back from the cemetery was quite pleasant. Peyton spent most of it with her head pressed against the passenger side window, while Maggie and Lucas chattered back and forth. Maggie kept pestering their chauffer with questions, all of which Lucas was more than happy to answer. He had a way with children, Peyton noted. It was such a shame he didn't have any of his own.

He could be Maggie's, Drew's voice whispered in her head. Peyton felt her eyebrows furrow at the thought. The sudden impulses from her brain often came out voiced as Drew, seeing as he was always the id to her superego, but hearing his voice suggest something like that made her uncomfortable.

She loved Lucas. This would always be true, but Maggie was not his. It was the part of her life she had created without his help or gentle prodding and she felt some sort of duty to herself to keep it that way. Besides, she doubted that either of them even wanted to go down that road again. It was always a bumpy one, filled with roadblocks, delays and detours. They had the type of relationship that was not suitable for a woman with heavy baggage. Still…would it ever be possible for them to be friends? Would she have to just let him go all together and would she be capable of doing that knowing he was just a few blocks down the road? And hell, Maggie was already becoming attached to him…this was not a good start.

Lucas tapped her on the shoulder. She was so wrapped up in her internal rant over Lucas's place in her life that she didn't notice they had already arrived home.

"You okay there, Peyton?"

"Yeah, sorry," Peyton sighed, shaking her head, "I was just thinking about some things."

"Yeah?" Lucas said as he opened his door. He let Maggie out on his side and then proceeded around the car to open Peyton's door. She beat him to the punch, which almost resulted in him receiving a face full of car door.

"Sorry," she said sheepishly.

"You really are out of it," Lucas joked. He walked behind her cautiously, and Peyton raised an eyebrow.

"What are you doing?"

"Walking you to your door."

"Why?"

"I'm a gentlemen."

"Pfft," Peyton said, "Sure."

"I wanted to talk to you about something."

"Oh," Peyton said. Her mind immediately thought of all the terrible possibilities where this could be heading. Flashes from the wedding flew through her mind, accompanied by the time her proposed and all the other stupid mistakes they had made when opening their mouth.

"Maggie mentioned that you're looking for a babysitter."

Wow. She had been way off.

Peyton breathed an unconscious sigh of relief, which may or may not have gone unnoticed by Lucas, she wasn't sure. "Yeah, well, I want to give Brooke and Owen some more alone time when they get back from their honeymoon. It'd probably only be for a couple months. Why? Do you have someone in mind?"

"Well…I could do it."

Peyton stared at him blankly. "You?"

"Well, yeah. I'm gonna be watching Jamie and Natalie. What's one more kid?" Lucas shrugged.

"I don't think that's a good idea. Given our history…"

"I'll be honest with you, Peyton. I came back for you."

"Oh God," Peyton said timidly, her knees shaking at where this was heading.

"It's not like that, okay?" Lucas sighed, "I'm not here to make your life complicated. I'm here to square my karma, like you used to say. I want to make things right between us. That means that whatever you need me to be, I'll be. If that just means you need a babysitter, then I'm here."

Peyton bit her lip, but didn't respond. There was something off about his words, something she couldn't quite put her finger on.

"Let's face it, Peyton, I'm not going anywhere. You might as well make use of me."

That part hit her hard. He was full of words. Peyton knew this well. After thirteen years of sweet words followed by elongated absences, Peyton had learned that she couldn't trust anything that came out of his mouth. This time around she had to keep her distance. She had a daughter to think of, a daughter who didn't deserve to be picking up the pieces of a mother's inevitable heartbreak when, not if, Lucas left her again.

"People always leave, Lucas. Even you," Peyton whispered, "But if you want to watch Maggie for me during the week, I'd very much appreciate it."

"Peyton," Lucas said before she could shut the door. Peyton mustered all the strength she could to look him in the eye without tearing up. He held her gaze, his eyes filled with determination and conviction.

"Sometimes they come back."

With the proof standing right in front of her, all Peyton could do was nod.