Wow it's been a long time huh LOL. I wish I had more time to upload as often as I would have liked, but unfortunately I don't. But I did manage to find some time to update this. I hope you guys will enjoy it. xoxo

Chapter 24

She could see white clouds in the sky as she looked out the bus window. She could have sworn that at times that the clouds took the shape of Nathan. Her mind was playing tricks on her, she tried to convince herself. She missed him, no doubt, but she had made the decision to leave. It was the hardest decision that she had ever made but it had to be done.

She looked at her watch and noticed with apprehension that in twenty minutes she would finally reach her destination. She took a deep breath and tried to steady herself.

"You're looking nervous," a lady sitting next to her commented.

She shook her head and smiled. "Yeah you can say that."

"Are you visiting someone in Northridge?" the lady asked with a smile.

She shook her head. She looked out the window and with a voice that was barely a whisper said, "No, I'm coming home."

"Hales?" Nathan said groggily as he opened his eyes. He felt a hand touch his. He turned his face and saw that it was Dan. "Dad," he said.

"Hey son. It's okay. You're gonna be okay. I'm gonna go get the doctor and your mom okay?" Dan said. The relief that Nathan was awake was evident on his face.

Nathan reached out to touch his arm. "Dad, where's Haley? Is she okay?"

"Yeah she is. I'll go get the doctor," Dan said and exited the room before Nathan could question him further.

He knew something was wrong as soon as he asked Dan about Haley. He felt panic rising. He saw that his phone was on the table next to him and dialed. To his disappointment all he got was a voicemail.

Before he had the chance to ponder, the doctor and Karen entered the room. Karen immediately rushed to his bedside and gave him a kiss.

"Oh my God you're okay. You're gonna be okay," she said, her voice filled with relief. "He's okay isn't he doctor?" She looked to the doctor for confirmation.

The doctor examined Nathan for a couple of minutes before declaring that he was indeed okay. "Everything looks good. Your vitals look good. Looks like you could be discharged as early as tomorrow. Although you have to take care of that wound and keep it clean every day. Do you feel any pain?"

"Nothing I can't handle," Nathan said with a wry smile.

"Brave man. I like that," the doctor said with a twinkle in his eye. "Be that as it may, I will prescribe you some painkillers just in case you need them okay?"

Nathan nodded. All he wanted at that moment was for the doctor to leave so he could ask his parents about Haley. Something was not right. He could feel it. But then again maybe the doctor knew what was going on.

"Doc, is my girlfriend okay? Haley James?" he asked.

The unsuspecting doctor said with a smile. "Yeah she's fine. She had a few cuts and bruises but other than that she's okay. Why don't you get some rest and I'll get the nurse to check in on you in an hour."

As soon as the doctor left Nathan turned his attention to his parents. "Mom, where's Haley?"

Dan gave Karen a warning look. With what she hoped was a straight face she said, "she's resting at home. She's been here all night and I told her to go home and get some rest. Which is exactly what you should do too Nathan."

Nathan knew how Karen would fuss over him when he was not well. She had been doing that all of his life. And while he was grateful that he had a mom who loved him, all he wanted at that moment was to see Haley. But he knew better than to not listen to Karen.

"Ok I'll rest. But could you tell Haley that I'm okay?"

"We will son," Dan said. He watched as Nathan closed his eyes and nudged for Karen to follow him outside.

"Dan we need to tell her about Haley," Karen said.

"And have him jump out of his bed and go running after her. Karen he's still weak. He needs to stay here, at least until the doctor says that it's okay for him to come home. And then we'll tell him."

"Tell me what Dad?" Nathan's voice made them both jump. They turned to see that he was already out of his bed and had apparently heard every word. "Tell me what Dad?" he repeated.

The bus finally came to a halt. She waited for her turn to get down and when she did she made her way slowly to the baggage compartment. She wasn't expecting anybody to wait for her. Nobody knew that she was back and she would like for it to stay that way. She had made some calls in Tree Hill on the way to the airport as soon as she figured out where she was heading. She had managed to secure a reservation at a motel in town. She knew that she had to come home to Northridge. Lucky for her the there were still seats on the flight to LAX. From LAX she bought a bus ticket to Northridge. All of a sudden she felt tired. All she wanted to do was to check in and sleep.

She scanned her surrounding and saw that nothing much had changed. Despite all that, she didn't feel like she was actually coming home. In fact Tree Hill felt more like home than this place where she grew up. She missed Tree Hill. She missed her friends. Most of all she missed Nathan. With a heavy heart she picked up her bags and hailed a cab to take her to the motel. She still had her parents house but she wasn't ready to go there yet. She easily got a cab and quickly got in. She didn't want anyone to recognize her. She wasn't ready for that either. After telling the cab driver where to go, she sat back and leaned her head against the window. She saw the cafe where she used to hang out with her friends after school. She saw her school where she met Steve and suddenly all the memories came flooding back. She shook her head as if to shoo her away. She must have looked weird doing it because the cab driver looked at her through the rearview mirror and asked, "are you okay miss?"

"Yeah, I'm fine," she said, although she was far from it. She took out her phone from her bag and switched it on. She saw that she had almost twenty messages and she knew that those messages could only come from one person. She pressed a button and steeled herself for the voice that was to come.

"Hey Hales. I'm up but the doctor said I have to stay at the hospital for a couple more days. Dad said you've gone home to shower. Will you come back? I miss you. I love you." She felt tears stinging her eyes. He sounded tired but he was awake. That was all that mattered.

She was relieved when the cab came to a halt in front of her motel. She didn't want the cab driver to ask again if she was okay. She paid and thanked him and checked in. She scanned the room as soon as she walked in, and after deciding that it was livable she unpacked. When she was done she sat on her bed and took out her phone again. She still had nineteen messages from Nathan. She pressed a button to listen to the latest message and pressed the phone close to her ear.

"Hales, where are you? Dad said that you left Tree Hill. I didn't believe him. You couldn't. Please pick up the phone baby. Please," she heard a pause before it continued. "Baby, I know what happened must be difficult for you but we can face this together. Please come back. I need you Hales. I love you so-" and then the beep indicating that he had exceeded the time limit sounded.

She swallowed a sob and hugged her knees. She wanted to call him so bad. She made a decision and dialed his number. He picked it up on the first ring. "Hales?"

"Hi Nathan-"

He cut her off. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine. Listen," she said and brushed off her tears. "I'm sorry I wasn't at the hospital and I didn't say goodbye. I wanted to but it would have been more difficult. It's easier this way," she said.

"There is nothing easy about this Hales," Nathan said. "I woke up to find that you were gone with no explanation and you thought that it was easier this way. How? How was it easier? Don't run away Hales. Not from me. Not from us. After everything we've been through together."

"Nathan, I can't explain myself right now but you have to know that I want to be with you more than anything-"

"Then be with me!" he exclaimed exasperatedly. "Baby I'm begging you. Please come home."

'I can't," she said. This was harder than she thought. "I have to go. I'm sorry."

Before she could hang up he said, "Hales wait. I love you. You know that, right?"

She closed her eyes and said, "How could you still love me after everything I put you through?" She didn't even give him a chance to reply and hung up before switching off her phone. She then curled into a ball and sobbed until she fell asleep in exhaustion.

He stared at the phone and all he felt was anger. He wanted to throw the phone against the wall but restrained himself. He was angry at Steve for making Haley stop believing in love. He was angry at Joe for hurting her the way he did a few days ago. He had to find her if it was the last thing he did.

She opened her eyes and sat up. For a moment she couldn't remember where she was. She looked around her room and her memory came back. She was back home. Her stomach made a sound indicating that she was hungry. She didn't have anything to eat since last night. She took a shower and grabbed her bag. The first she had to do was find a car to rent. She had called the reception and was told that they had a few cars available. A knock came on the door just as she was about to open it. The door didn't have peep hole that she could look through.

"Who is it?" she called out.

"It's me." She gasped and leaned against the door. It couldn't be.

"Hales, open the door."

She could recognize that voice anywhere. "What are you doing here Nathan? How did you find me?"

"Just open the damn door Hales," he said. She thought for a second before opening it cautiously.

"Are you okay?" Nathan asked with a tremor in his voice. He felt a surge of relief as soon as he saw her face.

"I'm okay. What are you doing here? You can't be here." Before she could get an answer he had gathered her in his arms.

"Don't you ever leave me like that again? Do you hear me?" She couldn't answer him. This felt like a dream. "Are you sure you're okay? The doctor said that you've got a few bumps and bruises."

She pushed him away. "Nathan, stop it. I told you you can't be here."

"And I told you that I was never going to leave you. Whatever you're facing, we're going to face it together."

"But I don't want you to!" she cried vehemently. "You shouldn't have come," she said. "How did you find me?"

"Dad told me where you were." He saw the look on her face. "Don't blame him. He was just looking out for you. He loved you like a daughter you know."

She did know and she didn't blame him for telling Nathan where she was. She knew that he would but she thought that it would take him longer to spill her secret. She thought that she could buy some time before facing Nathan.

"Are you going to let me in?" he asked.

"I was going out actually," she said and closed the door.

"Then I'll go with you," Nathan said.

"Nathan-" Before she could answer he had cupped her face and kissed her. For a moment she was lost in that kiss. Then she remembered why she left Tree Hill and pushed him away gently.

Nathan gave her a questioning look. "All I could think about in that hospital was you. I wondered if you were okay. I wondered why you left. I wondered if you still loved me and if you did, how could you have left."

"I can't do this right now Nathan."

"I understand that you're scared. I just need you to know that whatever happens I'm right here with you. I'm not going anywhere." He said it with such conviction and she believed him.

She shook her head and said, "I can't talk about this. Not now."

"Can we at least have breakfast then? Please," he said. "Have breakfast with me."

It didn't take long for them to reach a diner. She didn't to go somewhere in the middle of town. She didn't want anyone to know she was back. They managed to find one not too far from town. They ate in silence. After convincing her that he was not going away, she agreed to have breakfast in town with him. She had picked up the car and drove in silence, aware that he had his eyes on her the whole time.

"How did you get here so fast?" she asked as she pushed her food around the plate.

"I took the first flight out." He was studying her face the entire time.

"Are you in any pain?" she asked. She had noticed that he had winced a few times when he picked up his fork.

"A little but the doctor gave me some painkillers to tide me over."

She put her fork down and hung her head. "I'm sorry Nathan," she said in a small voice. She didn' t let him answer. "I'm so sorry that I got you hurt. Joe wanted to hurt me and if you hadn't come, you wouldn't be-" She suddenly felt unable to continue. "I need to get some air," she said and got up and left.

He looked bewildered and after putting some cash on the table at the diner he followed her.

He found her in the car wiping her tears away. He got in next to her and said nothing. All he wanted to do was to put his arms around her, wipe her tears away and tell her that everything was going to be alright. But he sat there until she calmed down somewhat.

"Come on, I'll drive us back to the motel." She shook her head but he wouldn't take no as an answer. "Haley, give me the key," he said firmly. She looked at him but decided against protesting and handed him the key. They switched places and he drove in silence, which was fine by her. She couldn't think of a word to say to him. They reached the motel and he walked her to the door. She turned the key and didn't say a word when he walked in behind her.

As soon as she closed the door, he touched her arm, making her face him. "Haley, we really need to talk."

"There's nothing to talk about. You shouldn't be here. I'm not going back to Tree Hill but you should. Today," she said firmly, although there was a quiver in her voice.

"No, I'm not going back. Not without you," he said. "Hales, at the diner you apologized because I was hurt in the attack, but Hales, I would do it again if I had to. No question about it."

"You're missing the point Nathan. I'm not asking you to!"

"No, you're the one who's missing the point. I love you Hales. So much that it hurts. And I'll be damned if I was just going to stand by and watch anybody hurt you."

She believed every single word he said but she couldn't allow that to happen. She'd put him through enough. She knew that she had to be firm with him if she wanted him to leave. She took a few steps back and ran her fingers through her hair. She took a deep breath before saying, "Nathan I love you. I want you to know that. But you can't be with me. Bad things happen to people around me and I'm not gonna allow that to happen anymore. You have to leave. Please."

He shook his head and took a few steps forward until he reached her. He then placed his hands on her face and said tenderly, "Haley, I'm not leaving without you. You can tell me a hundred times a day to go back to Tree Hill but I'm not going anywhere. I know you're scared but I'm here. I'm right here baby. Don't let this come between us. Don't let Joe win. Not this time." As he said those words he could feel his eyes stinging. He couldn't lose her. He lowered his head and kissed her tenderly. He didn't want to push her. She seemed hesitant at first but God she missed his touch.

"I missed you," he said, voicing her own thoughts and pulled her close. She didn't have the strength to push him away. She hated to admit it but she needed him, for today at least.