And after all of my alibis desert me
I just want to get by
I had no idea where my head was at
But if my heart says I'm sorry can we leave it at that?
Because I just want for all of this to end

And I so hate consequences
And running from you is what my best defense is
Oh God, don't make me face up to this
Cause I know that I let you down
And I don't want to deal with that

xXx

The moment of stunned silence seemed to stretch for hours. Peyton could feel her heart pounding faster, her eyes drinking in the speechless judgement drawn on the faces around her. She clung to Nathan's hand for dear life and pacified her inner panic by focusing on the familiar feel of his fingers against hers.

"What?" That was all anyone had managed to say. It came from Haley.

"They've been screwing." Lucas said quietly. He was subdued and his eyes were shut; he looked tortured and clearly uncomfortable with the way things were unfolding.

"We were seeing each other." Peyton corrected, her voice shaking. She could feel Nathan look at her in surprise.

"What?" Haley repeated.

"Since things are coming out, they might as well be told fully." Peyton admitted. "And the truth is, we were together. Much more than physically."

Lucas looked even more hurt, something that Peyton tried to ignore.

"I didn't want it to come out like this, but I knew it had to come out sometime." Nathan said, his voice stronger now than when he stood alone. "We were both hurt and abandoned, and we did the only thing that felt natural, the only thing that saved us."

"You self-righteous ass hole." Haley was crying.

"This was the guy you were sneaking around with?" Brooke managed to ask.

"I never want to see either of you again." Haley swiped angrily at her face and started to walk out of the room. "Get out. All of you. Just get out."

"Haley-" Lucas protested, while Brooke reached out for her hand.

"Get out." Haley hoarsely begged as she disappeared from view.

"You two should stay." Peyton said. "She'll need you."

"Peyton, I don't even know what to say to you right now." Brooke looked at her best friend with a puckered brow, muddled emotions mixing in her eyes.

"I do." Luke said. "Get out."

The moment Nathan and Peyton closed the door behind them, Nathan dropped his hand and Peyton felt her heart break again at just that one act.

"So. Everyone knows." Peyton stuffed her hurt feelings into a box and ignored them. Nathan's silence was unnerving to her so she continued, "Lucas told me he was going to tell Haley just before he drove off. I came as fast as I could."

"You probably shouldn't have said anything." Nathan said finally, staring ahead.

"Come to think of it, having sex with me is probably worse than just having sex with some random person." Peyton said, her form all casual indifference as the ice she protected herself with coated over her once more. "I guess I was trying to be noble, but it ended up just being another stupid thing to add to my list."

"Noble?" His tone was as even keeled as hers.

She opened her mouth to say that her morality wouldn't let him go down alone, but the cold lack of feeling that implied made the words die on her lips. A tangible hesitance filled the space between them, and then she looked at him and smiled wryly. "I love you, Nathan. Keeping silent was not a possibility."

She didn't wait for him to eviscerate her. Stuffing her hands in her pockets, she started to walk back to her car.

Nathan's hand touched her elbow for just a second. "I'm grateful." He loosened his stiff upper lip for a moment and she felt from his voice that his words were deeply sincere. "And my anger… it doesn't mean I don't feel the same way."

"But that doesn't mean things have changed between us." Peyton stated knowingly, keen on stomping on any flicker of foolish hope that would spring in her.

"Peyton, you just jumped willingly into the lion's den with me in a situation where I was beyond saving just so you could suffer with me. I- that's…" He tried to articulate himself but words were never really his forte. "That changes things." He ran a hand through his hair tiredly. "Nothing can erase how you chose my brother. And one act can't make the hole in my chest go away. But of course this changes things."

Peyton wanted to kiss him or take his hand or fall into his chest. Instead, she smiled her sad little smile and continued walking to her car, allowing the subject to drop without closure because she knew there was nothing more he could say and nothing more she could do. "Shit's hit the fan, Nate. I'll see you around."

xXx

"Why didn't you tell me?" Brooke had demanded that evening, her voice completely betrayed. Peyton had been eating dinner by herself in the kitchen and looked up wearily.

"Because I knew you'd look at me like that."

"If you had told me earlier-"

"You'd still be looking at me like that." Peyton cut her off and put her dishes in the sink.

"They're Naley, Peyton."

"I'm not sorry."

xXx

"You've done a lot of crappy things Nathan, but what the hell." Mouth had interrupted him at the gym.

"I wouldn't have thought it'd be you doing this." Nathan said, putting his weights down.

"Lucas is catatonic and Skillz hasn't been around. And I knew someone had to say something to you about how horrible-"

"Cut the crap, Mouth. You don't need to guilt trip me, I know what I did."

"Haley hasn't stopped crying. She hasn't even left her room. Did you know that?" Mouth didn't care that he had never been all that close to Nathan or Haley; someone had to speak up to Nathan and he couldn't stand knowing how hurt Lucas was. "Luke has gone back to drinking himself black and your son's just confused to death because everyone's upset."

Nathan winced. He had tried to see Jamie a little over an hour ago but Deb hadn't let him in. His own mother didn't understand where he was coming from.

"I know. Everyone hates me. I'm banished." Nathan said sarcastically.

"It's more than that. You broke us. The group. The family. You broke us."

"If something I did could have done that, maybe it's time to focus more on your own damn lives." He snapped, glaring at his friend before he left the room.

xXx

She expected the anger, she expected the feelings of betrayal… but Peyton had not expected the black out that followed. It was as though Brooke didn't even know how to interact with her any more. Mia, who had taken to seeing Haley as a musical mentor, had responded to her emails and phone calls in matters of business only. Lucas and Haley were invisible to her. But more than that, Peyton felt entirely cut out from her old world.

Nathan found himself alienated from everyone in the same way he felt back when he ended up in a wheel chair. Unable to see his kid, exhausted from the judgemental lashings he received anytime he ran into any of his friends around town, he fell to locking himself in his house and getting drunk.

And on one of his few but necessary trips to the outside world for food and other necessities, he ran into Peyton who looked like she was on the same voyage. They were both in the liquor store and her basket was heavy with large bottles of heavy liquor. He eyed it sceptically and she looked at his beer and rum. Ashamed of their coping mechanism even though it was a shared one, they ducked their heads and moved in opposite directions.

She made it out of the store faster than he did but he waited for her to make it a few paces down the sidewalk before he exited behind her. His gut clenched up as he saw that Haley, with Lucas on her arm, was just getting out of her car directly beside where Peyton was headed.

Nathan was close enough to hear Haley hiss out slut. He was close enough to see Peyton stiffen in place for a moment before she ducked into her car. Haley and Lucas disappeared in the grocery store but Nathan's eyes were still on Peyton, and how her shoulders slumped inside her car and how her face broke once she thought no one could see her.

He clenched his jaw, wanting more than anything to climb into the passenger's seat and comfort her. Instead, he slipped into his own car and accepted that this painful isolation was his penance for two months of undeserved peace. He wanted to hold her but he knew that act would comfort him as much as it would her and he wasn't ready to feel anything yet. His chest was a block of ice and he did not want it to melt away, even if the emotion to be found underneath was a good one. He did not trust in emotions anymore; he clung to his numbness as the only way he could survive this.

xXx

Peyton bit down on her jaw and resisted the overwhelming urge to throw her lap top across the room upon receiving the next piece of cold correspondence Mia had sent her. Giving up on work as a distraction, she leaned back in her chair and automatically flinched as she remembered how she and Nathan had screwed right where she was sitting. Pushing herself off the chair, she grabbed her purse and slipped into Tric.

Throwing back a drop shot of something bittersweet, she leaned against the counter in front of her and talked to Owen, who was really the only person she knew in Tree Hill who wasn't entwined in the recent drama.

"How sad is it that you're my only friend right now?" She had laughed, fingering her glass.

"Peyton, you do realize we've never talked about anything straying from the topic of liquor, right?" Owen raised his eyebrows.

"I said it was sad."

"Listen, if you do need to talk-"

"She'll talk to me, thank you very much." Brooke sailed in next to Peyton and gave Owen a pointed go away look.

Brooke casually shrugged at Peyton's look of confusion, "Hey, I don't know what guy you'll bond with next."

Peyton looked indignant, so Brooke quickly added, "I'm joking, hon. Look, I feel terrible for being so speechless earlier."

"What, because you didn't rip me a new one too?"

"Because you've obviously tortured yourself enough without all of us piling it on you and as your best friend, you should have been able to count on me to stand with you."

The blonde looked touched, but that emotion would soon fade.

"And I wish I could stand with you, Peyton. I really do. But why did it have to be Nathan?" Brooke genuinely wanted to understand. "He has a family with one of our closest friends."

"One of your closest friends." Peyton sullenly corrected.

"Peyton, please hear me out. I refuse to let anything get between our friendship again and I'm on your side no matter what you do, no matter who else is involved… But I'm not going to cheerlead you as you do something we both know is wrong. So I will absolutely not hold your past against you, I know you've paid for your mistakes already. But I need to know that you don't intend to go back to Nathan."

Peyton laughed hollowly.

"It's too screwed up. You know that."

"And you know that it wasn't just sex. You know that I really care about him."

"It's not healthy and it will destroy you knowing that it's destroying everything we know."

"Brooke, I don't want to be a martyr any more."

"Peyton, I don't want you to put yourself through another relationship that people will throw rocks at, that you'll have to hide; that will eat you alive."

So here it was. Peyton shut her eyes against the dizziness that was starting to invade her mind. She could be absolved from her tryst if she moved on and away from Nathan, if she left him alone. But that would be an absolution from everyone but Nate- and his was the only forgiveness she ached for.

"I know what I did." Peyton said at last. "And it healed me. Can you understand that? He healed me. If it's so Goddamn wrong then why did it feel more right than anything I've ever felt?"

"Tell me you didn't feel the exact same way about Lucas."

"That's-"

"Not in the last year. When he was with me. In high school. Tell me you didn't justify it in just the same way."

Peyton felt like she was punched in the gut with that statement. The guilt she had fought so aggressively came swimming back. A few hours ago, the black loneliness in her would have had her on her knees with gratitude for the company of her best friend but now she wasn't so sure Brooke could help her.

"You know I just want what's best for you." Brooke said quietly, taking Peyton's hand.

Peyton leaned into Brooke for a hug, all the while thinking how can you help me if you don't see what I see?

xXx

Days were passing. Things were not going well. The days were gloomy and isolated now and tensions were running near breaking point. Haley was angry at Brooke for not immediately kicking Peyton out of their house and saw that as a point of betrayal. The fact that she wasn't evicted didn't matter much to Peyton- she couldn't stand to be around anyone any more and had taken to crashing in the couch in her office. It was pathetic, and cowardly, but she was hiding in herself. She would drink at Tric, Owen would stare at her with concern but she would never say anything. All she did now was work and drink.

Nathan was startlingly functional in comparison. Four days into trying to drink himself black, he decided that the whole hiding thing was bull shit. He still slept in the same room in the same house as he had been doing for the last several weeks and his routine had changed only in the details. He still went on his morning runs, still worked out at the gym nearly every day. The main difference now was that when he swung by the place he used to live in with Haley, she no longer answered the door and when he tried to call his son, a click was his only response. The change gutted him but he had survived so much crap in his life that he knew he'd survive this. His way to cope involved keeping as much of his normal daily routine intact as possible. It was cloaked in denial, and avoidance. At night, when he couldn't distract himself with things to do, when there was nothing but an eight hour stretch of nothing but his thoughts ahead of him, Nathan turned to the bottle to make him unconscious and to cut off the dull ache in his chest before it could blow him apart.

xXx

All of my escapes have been exhausted
I thought I had a way but then I lost it
And my resistance was once much stronger
And I know I can't go on like this much longer

xXx

People can't run and hide forever. Peyton had thrown out the bottles in her office and nipped her bar habit, throwing herself back into art instead. It had saved her when she was younger and she put her faith in it now.

She was curled into the back corner of a café, sketching absently and on her fifth coffee; doing anything to be anywhere but the state of mind she was in- and even in the musical ambiance of the area, she could hear the shouting that erupted outside of it. Someone had opened the door to leave and the muffled shouts became distinct words and recognizable voices.

"You'll never see Jamie again. I won't let my son be raised by a man like you."

"You can't do that! Haley, I know I hurt you but he's our son and nothing can ever change that. You can't-"

"Don't try to tell me what I can't do. You have no right to even talk to me. I was a fool to ever believe you were anything but what you were on the surface."

"Hal-"

"Stop trying. I won't change my mind."

And then Nathan had barged through the doors and straight into the washroom, staring ahead and ignoring the looks people were giving him. He walked straight past Peyton without seeing her; but she saw the despair painted on him and it was all she could do to stay where she was. She knew he would be even more upset to see that she had witnessed the blow out and she knew she should stay back and out of his life as they both sorted through their messes. They had gotten into this because they were together and logically she knew that the only way to fix it would be by doing it separately.

But when she saw him emerge from the bathroom a full ten minutes later, his face desperately blank, Peyton threw away her pre-made decision and took his hand as he walked by her.

He jumped back in surprise and pulled his hand away as he realized who grabbed him. As expected, he looked furious that she was there and eyes flashing warningly, he stormed out again.

Peyton felt the rage in his eyes but she knew that as always it was covering up a pain too deep to voice and, unable to bear the thought of either of them going through such pain alone any more, she ran after him.

She could see him already pulling his car off the side of the street several feet away but instead of giving it up as a lost cause, she jumped into her own car and followed him.

He arrived back at his summer house, his car pulled to a screeching halt inside his garage. She slammed into the driveway and ran around the house, knowing instinctively where he was headed. Sure enough, as she ran down the field that was his backyard, she saw a lone figure silhouetted against the dusk sitting on the gazebo up ahead.

She grabbed the bottle out of Nathan's hands and collapsed beside him.

"Why the fuck did you follow me?" He asked brokenly. The cold mask was gone, the man was crying. He swiped at his face in frustration and turned away from her. "I don't want you here." She knew he meant I don't want you to see me like this.

And so she tried to slip her arms around his solid frame- but he wouldn't let her. "Don't touch me."

"For God's sake Nathan, just let me fucking comfort you." Peyton exclaimed in exasperation.

"I ruined everything. Go away. Leave me alone. I don't need to be comforted." He was choking back sobs now and rambling hysterically, "I'm never going to see my kid again. The only good thing I ever brought into this world, and he's taken away from me because I'm such a Goddamn screw up." Peyton tried to put her hand on his arm but he ripped himself away. He stood up suddenly and punched one of the pillars of the gazebo with an anguished yell. Peyton winced and a pang of electric pain rippled through her in seeing him purposely hurting himself.

His fist bloody, Nathan leaned against the opposite end of the gazebo and sucked in a calming breath. "I want to be alone. Can't you see that?"

"I'm not leaving you here to drink yourself unconscious or burn the house down." Peyton said, surprising him with how calm she sounded.

"I'm pitching a gigantic fit and having a fucking break down, why are you so unnervingly composed?" Nathan demanded.

"Because a bunch of yelling and violence isn't going to scare me away."

"The sight of a grown man crying should've done it." Nathan answered bitterly.

"God Nate… all I want to do, all I've wanted to do, is to put my arms around you or take your hand or kiss you or anything at all to make this feeling go away but I know that nothing's going to do that and there's nothing I can say to help. I feel like crying myself just in knowing that." Peyton said. "But even if all I can do is sit here uselessly, I'm not leaving you. There was a time when you used to come to me for comfort, when you used to trust me enough to be vulnerable in front of me and I know I destroyed that but God, it doesn't have to be about trusting me or caring about me or needing me… it can just be about letting it out, about getting comfort somewhere. I don't care if we forget this ever happened, just let me in right now and let me help you."

"I can't." Nathan's voice was empty. "You can't even imagine how much I want to, it sickens me how much I want to, it sickens me how much I fucking need you but I can't, I won't let myself be that stupid again; you have to leave, right now."

"Nate, please."

"Get the hell out. I ruined everything and every second you're here makes it that much worse and I wish you never came here that day and I wish I had tried harder for Haley and I wish you and I never fucking happened-"

Shocking him silent, Peyton pressed her lips against his briefly.

He blinked at her in confusion.

"We're both hurting. And I think we've been through too much together to bull shit any more." Peyton smoothed away the angry tears that stuck to his cheek and took his hand firmly in hers. "You can say what you want, do what you want. I'm not leaving you."

When he pulled away again, she didn't know what else she could do… But then Nathan fell against her, his head buried in the crook of her neck, his fingers entwining in hers, and he sighed against her, "Peyton, I've missed you so much."

xXx

All this time I needed you, I needed you

When I got tired of running from you
I stopped right there to catch my breath"
And my sins, they watched me leave
The love you felt for me was more than
The love I'd wished for all this time
And when the doors were closed
I heard no I told so's
I said the words I knew you knew
Oh God, Oh God I needed you