Title: Philosophy

Rating: PG-13

Summary: "It tells him a lot that she assumes his great heartbreak was Peyton, not Lindsay… not her."

Author's Note: Um… does anyone still care? I won't try to defend myself beyond saying that I haven't been watching this season for obvious reasons, and I've been busy with school. I would like to say, however, that I have the rest of this story written so I can promise that updates will not be so ridiculously spaced in the future. Also, I love this chapter. I really have been working on this off and on for four months, and I feel like I've been true to what I perceive the struggle of Peyton and Brooke to be.

Disclaimer: I don't own anything related to OTH or Jenny Lewis, to whom the lyrics belong. I also quote actual dialogue from OTH in this chapter, which I did not write. Also, I forget to say in the first chapter that I borrowed a line, not directly, but close enough, from The Office.

this is no great illusion

when i'm with you, i'm looking for a ghost

Brooke freezes, mid-bite, when she hears the door open. It's been four days since the Peyton/Lucas blowout and she's used them well. She's got avoiding her curly headed roommate down to an art form, and she's not about to give up now.

Hastily closing the box of Corn Flakes on which she's been snacking, she turns and heads towards the stairs.

"Brooke?"

Whoops. So close.

"Oh," she says, plastering on a smile before turning around. "Hey, Peyt."

"Hey," Peyton replies, walking over to the island and tossing her bag onto the counter. She reaches over and slides the cereal box toward her, opening it and stuffing a handful into her mouth.

"So..." says Brooke, tapping her fingernails on the table with a bit of thinly-veiled anxiety. "How are you?"

"Good," says Peyton after a moment. "How about you?"

"I'm doing good, too," Brooke replies. She reaches over to grab the cereal box, not noticing that Peyton has gone for it at the exact same moment.

They stand there, each with a hand firmly grasping the box. Brooke makes a slight move to pull it towards her, expecting the other girl to relinquish her grip. Peyton appears to have had the same thought as she also tugs.

Brooke takes a deep breath. "Um... I was actually eating that, so..."

"The box was closed when I got here," Peyton replies in a matter of fact manner that makes Brooke want to punch her in the head.

"I was just taking a break," Brooke explains through gritted teeth. "That doesn't mean I didn't still want it."

Peyton just looks at her.

"Give me the cereal, Peyton," says Brooke calmly.

"No," replies Peyton, looking a bit surprised at herself. Brooke does not share Peyton's feeling. Selfish bitchiness coming from Peyton has long since failed to surprise her.

"I had it first," Brooke argues, still pulling at the box with barely restrained ferocity.

"But it's my favorite and I'm starving," Peyton shoots back, tugging with equal force.

"Well, I love it, too!" Brooke protests. "You can't just have whatever you want, Peyton. That's not how the world works. I had to work hard to buy this cereal!"

"Oh my god, Brooke, what does it cost? Like three dollars? I'll pay you back, okay? I'll buy you another box." Peyton is clearly not giving up.

"I want this box!" says Brooke. "This is mine, and I want it." She is humiliated to realize that tears have sprung to her eyes.

Peyton lets go suddenly, causing Brooke to stumble back from the counter.

"What is going on with you?" Peyton asks suddenly, the expression on her face unreadable. Brooke isn't sure if Peyton is angry or sad, but it doesn't really matter anymore. "You avoid me like the plague all weekend and now that we finally talk, you start crying over a stupid fight about cereal."

"Maybe I'm just sick of you trying to take everything that I want," Brooke mumbles, wiping her eyes with her fingers.

"What?" asks Peyton. Brooke knows she heard her, but she plays along anyway.

"Maybe I'm just emotional right now," Brooke says more audibly. "I've got to go now, Peyton. I'll just... I'll talk to you later, okay?"

She's almost made it to the stairs before Peyton once again stops her in her tracks.

"When are you going to be able to forgive me, Brooke?" Peyton asks, her voice tinged with frustration and a little bit of grief.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Brooke replies, her back to Peyton.

"I can't help who I love," continues Peyton. "I couldn't then, and I can't now, and I'm sorry for hurting you, but I won't apologize for feeling the way that I do."

"I thought you two were over," Brooke says, sounding blatantly accusatory. She hates the fact that she cares, and that she's making so obvious, but she can't seem to help herself.

"Why are we always going in circles?" Peyton asks, ignoring Brooke's question. "Is there any way for you to let this go?"

Brooke sobs low in her throat, a sound that comes out like a raspy choke. She shakes her head, slowly, turning around to face Peyton.

"For a long time," she begins thickly, and then clears her throat. She needs this to come out right. She needs Peyton to hear her, to really hear her, for once. "For a long time, I thought I could. I thought I had. But now, I don't know. It's hard for me to be around you right now, Peyton."

Peyton swallows and nods hard, tears springing to her eyes.

"And I don't know if it's going to get easier… so I think maybe we need some time apart," Brooke continues, looking down at the ground.

"Okay," says Peyton after a long moment, and the vulnerability in her voice cuts Brooke to the core. She struggles to shake the urge to smile and take it all back. Twenty-two years worth of protection and sacrifice are screaming at her that this is wrong. Hurting Peyton is just not what she does. "If that's what you want."

"It isn't what I want," says Brooke, tears silently streaming down her cheeks. "I don't know what I want. Being your friend, caring for your happiness, it's so natural for me. But you know what else it is? It's painful, Peyton. It hurts me to care so much and get so little in return."

Peyton lets out a little sob, and takes a step towards her.

"But hurting you isn't any better," Brooke continues, wiping her fists over her eyes. "It's like it doesn't matter what I do, or how I treat you, because in the end, it all hurts just the same."

There is a long silence then, as two women who still feel so much like girls stare at the ground.

Peyton is the first to act, crossing the distance between them and pulling Brooke into her arms. Brooke reacts quickly, mostly out of instinct, and hugs Peyton back.

"I love you," Peyton whispers fiercely into Brooke's ear, holding her tightly. "No matter what happened then, or what happens now, I love you."

"I love you, too," Brooke whimpers. "How could I not? You're my Peyton."

Finally, Peyton releases her.

"I'm going to go get my stuff now," she says, her voice thick as she struggles for clarity. "And I'm going to go away for awhile."

Brooke just nods, ignoring the impulse to beg the other girl to stay. She can't be that for Peyton anymore. She just can't.

"I love you, but we're stuck in the horrible cycle," Peyton continues, her voice breaking, "and I have no idea how to stop it."

Brooke nods again.

"So I'll see you again," Peyton says carefully, leaning her forehead against Brooke's. "But I'm not sure when."

"Okay," Brooke whispers.

"Okay," Peyton replies, stepping away from Brooke and staring at her. "Okay," she repeats, before turning and walking up the stairs.

And maybe it's not goodbye for good, but it sure feels like it. Brooke leans against the counter and puts her head in her hands.