This is the last chapter of The Search for Something More. I'm sorry for the delay, and I hope you all enjoy the last chapter. Although it's taken me forever and a day to complete this story, I've greatly enjoyed writing it. I appreciate all the lovely feedback people have submitted. Thank you to all the reviewers.
It's been a week, one goddamn long week, since he's talked to Haley. He has seen her in the halls but only briefly, before she practically sprints in the opposite direction to get away from him. If their fight in the Tutoring Center didn't make her feelings, or lack of feelings for him, perfectly clear, then her impression of a track star certainly has. Nathan Scott might not be the smartest guy at Tree Hill High but he certainly knows when someone doesn't want him.
That doesn't soothe the ache in his chest, but it's an ache he's used to by this point. Since their argument in the Tutoring Center it has been a constant reminder of how utterly fucked everything is. He's used to screwing up, a fact his dad never lets him forget, and if he's honest with himself, he's not surprised he ruined his relationship with Haley. He was the one who wanted to hide the relationship from the beginning, he was the one who shrugged it off as "having fun," he was the one who hurt her repeatedly.
That knowledge, that he is the reason for the most important relationship in his life turning to shit, doesn't ease the pain. Nothing does, and even the realization that when push came to shove, he fought for them doesn't lessen the sting. It doesn't matter, not when Haley clearly doesn't feel the same.
Even his confession to Tim earlier doesn't make a difference. Although he is relieved to have finally spoken out loud the feelings that had been coursing through him for weeks, he knows it is too little, too late. He's not sure if she even heard his declaration. He wants to believe that she didn't, because if she did and still walked away, it would crush whatever small sliver of hope still resides in him. It's a hope he can't give voice to, but it remains like a tiny flame flickering in the dark.
So now he's alone in the gym, basketball practice long over. The thud of the basketball against the gym floor breaks the silence pressing on Nathan, but it's not enough to drown out the voices in his head.
The echo of his father's words that he'll never be good enough, that he's not strong enough, he's weak…
Peyton's voice yelling that he's an uncaring bastard whose only concern is for himself…
Lucas's angry declarations that Nathan is just like Dan, only good for using or hurting people…
Haley's whisper that she doesn't want him…
He shakes his head, almost welcoming the pain brought on by the memories. The pain is nothing new, he lives with it every day, but for the first time in a week, he's almost grateful for it because it distracts him from the ache of missing Haley, of not seeing her smile as they sit on the docks in the crisp morning air, of not feeling her lips pressed against his. The pain is also tinged with anger: anger at Haley for giving up on them, not fighting for them, for making Nathan feel again when so long he turned off all emotions in order to survive, but mostly anger at himself for allowing someone to get close. He had been numb for so long, carefully crafting an image he hid behind for years and it had been successful. He was the big man on campus, girls fell at his feet and guys wanted to be him. Then along came a tiny slip of a girl, with big brown eyes he could drown in, and his façade shattered. Haley James made him want to become someone different, someone worthy of her, and within the span of six weeks, he has found her burrowed so deeply inside him he doesn't think he'll ever be free. Not that he wants to, if he's honest with himself.
But if he's honest with himself, he's not sure if it's worth all this pain and anger. He can feel himself reverting back to the old Nathan Scott: the asshole who cares for no one but himself. It scares him how easily he can slip behind the old, carefully crafted image, and he wonders if he has truly changed. Maybe that is the real façade, that he could actually be someone worthy of Haley. For six weeks, he had hope for a future he had never imagined possible but it all shattered with her words in the Tutoring Center and now, now he feels helpless as the world spins madly on and he's trapped in a never-ending cycle of regret and love and sadness and pain. Is it worth fighting for Haley, for proving to her that he, they can be something good?
It doesn't matter, he tells himself as he methodically shoots baskets, one after another. She doesn't want him; it was all a game to her, so why fight? Why not be who he was, instead of who she made him want to be? It's easier to let it all go, to chalk up the last six weeks as a mistake.
The pain in his chest tightens sharply at the last thought. Loving Haley could never be a mistake, could it? He's not sure anymore, and that thought terrifies him more than anything else.
The slamming of the gym door breaks him from his thoughts. He glances up to see Haley standing at the edge of the court, her expression unreadable.
After her conversation with Lucas, Haley spends the rest of the lunch period searching the school for Nathan. The bell rings, interrupting her mission to find Nathan and to explain why she's scared and why she lied in the Tutoring Center. She sits through her last two classes, mind drifting far from the lectures to thoughts of Nathan. Of the smile he shares only with her, of the way he opens up to her, showing the real Nathan Scott behind the mask he wears with the world, of how she feels when she's with him. For her entire life, Haley has been the smart one, the responsible one, the dependable one, but always feeling that something indefinable was missing. That there was always something more to be found. With Nathan, she feels as if she's flying: wild and free, experiencing new heights she never dreamed possible, but also scared and unsure. It's a heady feeling, an exciting contradiction, but for the first time, she feels whole. For the last week, she's being going through the motions, feeling scared and unsure and just plain miserable.
She's tired of that; she wants to be whole again.
When the final bell dismisses them, she rushes to her locker, intent on finding Nathan and finally, finally making things right. It will be an uphill battle, she's not foolish enough to believe differently, but her mom always told her the best things are worth fighting for.
Haley has never been more sure of anything in her life but this: Nathan will always be worth fighting for.
Waiting for her at her locker is Lucas, and before she can say a word, he is rambling about basketball practice being cancelled and how Peyton ignored him in History but Brooke seemed to be giving him the eye in Biology and Haley can't take anymore. She is on a mission and right now, that doesn't include listening to the woes of her best friend's love life.
"Listen Luke, I gotta go," she says as she grabs her last book and shoves it into her messenger bag. "I still haven't found Nathan yet and—"
A scowl crosses Lucas's face for a brief moment but not before Haley catches it. She sighs. "Luke, I thought—"
"I know, Hales," he interrupts. "I told you at lunch I was okay with this, and I am. Or will be," he clarifies when she rolls her eyes. "It's just…. It's hard to completely forget a lifetime of hate in the span of three hours."
"I'm not asking you to forget, Lucas. I'm just asking you to not put me in the middle. It's going to be hard enough to get Nathan to listen to me, much less forgive me after I hurt him, but I can't do that knowing it's hurting you."
He shakes his head, throwing his arm around her shoulders. "Don't worry about me. I'll be fine."
Haley is skeptical but right now, she has more urgent things on her mind: finding Nathan and telling him that everything she has been searching for was always in front of her.
With a hasty goodbye Haley hurries down the hall, praying that she's not too late. She searches the halls, and when she can't find him, she practically sprints to the parking lot, hoping he hasn't already left. Spying his car still in the lot, she heads back to the school, knowing he can only be in one place.
She races to the gym, stopping suddenly when she gets to the door. She can see him through the small glass window, his gaze focused on the goal. She watches him for a moment as he shoots the basketball, admiring the strength and grace in his lean body. She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. It's now or never.
She opens the heavy gym door and steps in the gym, jumping slightly when the door slams behind her, and meets his gaze, his expression unreadable.
During the past week, every time he imagined his first conversation with Haley after their fight, he never pictured opening with a lame "hi." A question about why she lied, a biting retort about her selfishness, anything but "hi."
But like always, nothing with Haley James ever goes as expected.
"Hi," she replies, biting her lower lip in her typical nervous gesture. Next will come fiddling with her pinky ring, and then running her hands through her hair. Having spent the last six weeks studying memorizing her every move, he can read her like an open book.
The silence stretches between them, neither sure where to start. The hurt is almost palpable, the harsh words last exchanged in the Tutoring Center practically echoing in the quiet stillness of the gym.
Nathan manages a soft smile when he notices Haley playing with the ring on her pinky. Two down, he absently thinks to himself.
After long minutes of silence, he clears his throat. He's not sure what she wants, he's too afraid to hope her appearance in the gym means anything, but he figures it's better to jump right in.
"What do you want, Haley?"
She flinches at harsh tone, and for a moment he wants to apologize, to take her in his arms and kiss away the hurt in her eyes. Then he remembers her last words to him and he steels himself against the pain. He can't allow himself to fall back into… whatever it is they had. She made her choice, and it wasn't him.
"I want… I want to apologize—"
"Apologize, Haley? For what? For breaking my heart? For not fighting for us? For running like a scared little girl the moment I want this to be real? Huh? Is that what you're apologizing for?" His words are like ice, clipped and short. He wants to hurt her as much as she has hurt him. "Because you don't have to. I'm over it."
The look on her face says it all: mission accomplished.
He has never hated himself more.
Haley shakes her head, unable to speak for a moment in the face of his anger. He clenches his hand around the basketball, willing himself to calm down. He curses himself for hurting her, for allowing the old Nathan to take control. His heart breaks once more when a tear slides down her cheek, Haley hastily brushing it away.
"No, Nathan, it's okay. I know you don't want to hear this from me, but I need to say it. Can you give me five minutes?"
Her expression is hopeful, urgent, and Nathan can't deny her. He never could, even though it took him awhile to figure that out. He thinks that if it hadn't, if he had been more willing to fight for her earlier in their relationship then maybe it wouldn't be such a disaster now. The "what ifs" have haunted him since their fight, but he can't allow himself to go there. Not anymore. He'll listen to her apology, he'll nod his head and then send her on her way.
It's the only way he'll survive.
He nods his head and turns to walk to the bleachers. Haley follows behind him, silence once again surrounding the two. They settle into the first row, the physical space between them echoing the emotional distance. Nathan waits, his elbows on his knees and his gaze concentrated on the gym floor. He prepares himself for Haley's apology, for the pretty words that will crush him yet again.
When the silence becomes too much, he opens his mouth to speak when her soft voice interrupts him.
"This is hard for me to say, Nathan, and to be honest, I don't know where to start," she explains.
"Why did you lie to me? I know you, Haley, whether you believe it or not, and I know that what you said in the Tutoring Center was a lie. I just don't understand why," he says, his voice breaking at the end.
"I don't kno—"
"That's bullshit," he exclaims, his loud voice echoing in the gym "That's bullshit and you know it, Haley. Just tell me why."
"Because I'm scared!" Her shout rings out throughout the open space. "Because I'm terrified of the way you make me feel."
His head shoots up, surprised at her declaration. In all his "what ifs" imagings, Haley being scared of her feelings for him was never a possibility. He feels a small flicker of hope brought to life once again. "Hal—"
She holds up a hand to stop him. "Please, I need to get this out. Nathan, when you confronted me in the Tutoring Center, all I wanted to do was tell you the truth about how I was feeling, but I was scared and so tired of lying. Lying to Lucas, to my parents, to you and, most importantly, to myself. I've never felt anything like this before, and it scared me. Plus the situation with you and Lucas and Dan and everything was so jumbled and mixed up."
She stops for a moment, taking a deep breath before continuing. "For my entire life, I've been seen as Luke's best friend, the nerdy tutor. And that was fine with me. Something was missing, but until you entered my life, I never knew what it was. You made, make me feel… whole. Like when I'm with you, everything is how it should be. And that terrified me, Nathan. Because you were Nathan Scott, big man on campus and Lucas's sworn enemy, and here I was, having way more than warm and fuzzy feelings for someone I was supposed to hate. So I ran. When you confronted me, when you fought for me, I ran because I didn't know how to handle it."
Haley smiles at him, a tiny, wavering smile, and that small flame of hope begins to melt the ice around his heart. "Hales, I—"
"Nathan, I love you. It scares me, but there it is. I know it's probably too late, that I've hurt you too much, but I had to tell you." She reaches for his hand and brings it to her lips, pressing a gentle kiss to his knuckles. "I don't expect you to forgive me, but I want you to know how sorry I am that I hurt you. I never meant to, and if I could take it back I would. I'm so sorry, Nath—"
At her words, hope flares into a raging inferno, burning away the rest of his anger and confusion. He leans forward and kisses her, swallowing the rest of her apology. They kiss for long moments, his battered heart healing with her every sweet murmur of appreciation.
"Shh, Hales," he whispers against her lips. "I just need to kiss you right now."
Haley finally pulls back, breathless, and Nathan smirks at the sight of her kiss-swollen lips. "That was…"
"Yeah," he agrees, his smirk turning into a full-fledged grin. "I've missed you, Hales. This past week has been hell."
She nods in agreement. "I'm so sorry, Nathan. I've been feeling this way for a long time, but the situation with Lucas just made it so much more complicated than it needed to be. And I know that was my fault—"
"But I didn't help matters," he interrupts. "We both screwed up, Hales. I wanted to hide for too long and when I was ready for that to change, I didn't stop to consider that you might need more time. I know Lucas and I have our differences, but I promise I won't make you choose between us. I shouldn't have forced that on you in the first place. I-I love you."
"You're right, Nathan, you shouldn't have, but I also shouldn't have let it get to that point, where it felt like there had to be a choice between the two of you. Lucas is my best friend, I love him, but I'm in love with you." Her voice is light and her words ring of the only truth she knows. "I want to be with you, Nathan."
He grins again, a silly, carefree smile that makes him look like a little boy. He's never felt so free before, so happy. "You sure about that, Hales? You're not going to tear out of here on me, are you?"
She hits him in the stomach, a mock glare on her face.
She nods. "Just a bit. At least I didn't declare my love in front of practically the entire school."
"Hey, I thought it was romantic!" His protest is cut off by her giggle.
"Oh, it was, but also kinda mortifying, especially since no one knew we were even involved. I thought Lisa Martin's head was going to explode, she was so mad."
He laughs, relieved they can joke about everything. He knows they still need to talk, to soothe lingering hurts, but for the first time in his life he knows true happiness, all because of the girl beside him.