A/N: I've been in a Nathan/Peyton mood lately; I think that the show deprived us of a lot of their relationship. I think Lucas belongs with Peyton and Haley with Nathan, but I've always thought that Nathan and Peyton had something less sex-oriented and more genuine – even if for the wrong reasons – than Mark Schwahn ever decided to reveal. Anyway, give it a read, and throw me a review to let me know what you think.

"Hey, best friend!" Brooke chirped perkily as she skipped over to Peyton, flipping her hair over her shoulder in a practiced motion.

"Hey, you," Peyton returned with a wry, fond smile at her ever-peppy friend's predictable behaviour.

"Guess who I just kissed? I'll tell you." Brooke asked, her cheeky, dimpled grin in place as she grabbed Peyton's arm, turning so that they were facing the same direction. She pointed out the blonde-haired, brown-eyed basketball player whom Peyton was pretty sure was named Theodore, and arched her eyebrows. "What's your opinion?"

Peyton couldn't help but grin back. "He's pretty cute."

"He's also getting the privilege of Brooke Davis after the game tonight," Brooke replied, eyeing the boy up and down.

"Lucky boy."

"Yes, he so totally is." She hooked her arm through Peyton's and began to walk, steering them toward their next classes, which happened to be across the hall from each other. "So what's up with you, P. Sawyer?"

Peyton looked at Brooke with wide eyes, blinking innocently. "What do you mean?"

"Don't play dumb with me, fake goldilocks. Who's the boy that's got you smiling?"

Unbidden, Peyton's eyes travelled across the quad, settling on the brunette boy who was currently surrounded by his friends, laughing enthusiastically, probably at something basketball related or a dirty joke.

As though he felt his eyes on his back, he turned, and for the briefest second his macho look faded and he smiled at her. She bit back her own smile, trying not to give away anything with her eyes.

Brooke, however, as her best friend of many years, could see even the hidden emotion. "Ah," she said sagely. "Did you and Nathan play a little game of one-on-one last night?" she asked with a mischievous chuckle.

Peyton bit the inside of her cheek, praying that the blush she could feel heating her face wouldn't become too prominent. "Brooke," she groaned, but her protests went no further than that.

Her best friend dropped her arm and stood directly in front of her. "Peyton Elizabeth Sawyer, did you have sex?" she demanded excitedly.

"Why don't you let the whole world know?" she questioned sarcastically, gesturing to the guys standing nearby who'd leered over at them when Brooke spoke.

"Shut up, shut up, you did! Oh my God, we're skipping class!" She grabbed Peyton's hand and pulled her after her before Peyton could even muster up the air necessary to speak in order to protest.

The two of them fell into Brooke's car, throwing their bags and books into the backseat. "Okay, talk," Brooke ordered. "Was it good?"

She rolled her eyes, but then shot her friend a shy smile. "What do you think?"

Brooke squealed. "Oh my God!" She tilted her head to the side and looked at Peyton quizzically. "Do you love him?" she asked quietly.

"What? No," she said instantly. She wasn't generally open to discussions of love – it wasn't exactly her strongest point. When things got too emotional, she tended to shut down rather than open up.

Brooke shrugged one of her shoulders. "But…you waited."

"So?"

"So…I thought you were waiting until you were in love, or something."

Peyton shook her head. She wasn't like Brooke, who was willing to hook up with three guys in the same week. She knew that her bitchy attitude could scream of self-confidence, but it really wasn't that difficult to realize that it was a front she put up to protect her heart. She was much to vulnerable to strip down in front of three good-looking athletes over the course of seven days only to pick up with teasing, meaningless flirtation the next time she saw them at school. She worried about that habit sometimes, about her friend, but it was something Brooke could handle.

Peyton definitely couldn't. She hadn't been waiting for love before she had sex, she'd been waiting for…comfort. Physical and emotional ease, and after nearly two months of steady dating, she'd achieved that with Nathan Scott. Sure, he could be a complete ass at times, and she knew she didn't always handle it well. There were moments when she fought back harder than he deserved, and times when she just didn't have the strength, and could only let him walk all over her. Sometimes he said things that hurt her more than she'd ever let him know, but even their small fights had fallen into a kind of pattern that made her feel safe.

If it had been all quarrelling and bitterness, than she never would have put up with it. She had more pride than that. But the way Nathan looked at her sometimes, especially when they'd gone a couple days without bickering and they were relaxed with each other, made her body heat up and her cheeks turn pink and her eyes water. Something about the way he looked at her sometimes almost broke her heart, because it reminded her for that moment, that to him, she was desirable and beautiful and not just a tragic mess with some sort of bipolar complex.

It gave her hope. It gave her security. Not just because of the way it made her feel, but because she could tell how he felt. There was a much better person inside of him, the kind who could give a girl the world, and it made her indescribably happy to see glimpses of the boy he could be.

"Okay, P. Sawyer, you've lost me. You don't love him?"

She didn't meet Brooke's eyes. "I care about him," she offered.

"But you don't love him," Brooke repeated, more of a statement of fact the second time over.

"No. I don't."

"Hey, P…I, um…I know I'm not really in any position to judge or anything but…do you ever wonder if it's worth it?"

She looked at her friend inquisitively.

"I mean, honey…do you think you ever could love Nathan?"

Peyton frowned. She'd never really thought of it, but she knew the answer in the back of her mind. "I don't think we're written in the stars or anything, B. Davis," she said slowly, softly. "But for now being with him is the best thing I've got going."

Brooke stared at her blankly, looking almost horrified in her confusion.

"What?" she demanded defensively. "Stop looking at me like that."

"I'll stop looking at you like this when you stop deserving it."

"What's that supposed to me?"

"It's supposed to mean…have you lost your mind?"

"Brooke!"

"Are you hearing yourself, Peyton?"

"Stop it!" she cried, pulling away from Brooke as though that would create a wall between them that would deflect the brunette's words.

"Okay, now I'm concerned about you."

"Would you just explain yourself already?"

"Being with him is the best thing you've got going? Peyton, that boy is a jerk! I'm sorry, I know you just slept together so you must be on some kind of blissful high, but he is not a good person! He checks out other girls all the time. He's even flirted with me, and I am your best friend."

"I know all of that," she whispered.

"Okay, well, then…? Peyton, I know you really like him, and I can only imagine how awesome it must be to have been picked out by the one guy who could literally have any girl, but it scares me to hear you saying that. I mean, you have other things. You have me, remember? I mean, I know we don't have sex, but you still love me, right?" she asked with a teasing pout.

Peyton rolled her eyes and shot her a smile. "Of course I do."

"Okay," Brooke said again with a happy nod. "P. Sawyer, there are probably one hundred guys in our grade alone who would be all too happy to have sex with you, and probably about thirty of those would also probably be all too happy to fall in love with her. You're a frickin' bombshell, Peyton. I know Nathan has other options, but you do, too."

She lifted her eyebrows. "He picked me over all those other options, Brooke."

"I know he did, and that made me happy for you, and I have to give him credit for having damn good taste. But I worry that he's just horny, and self-absorbed. And you're beautiful, and you'll stick by him. I know how to handle guys like that, it's what I do, but it's not you. He lucked out on your because you won't fight back."

Peyton stared at her incredulously. "Brooke, we fight all the time, and I'm not exactly easy on him either!"

Brooke shook her head. "That's not what I meant. I mean that…if Nathan goes off and sleeps with some skank, you're not going to do the same. You're better than him. You actually have some morals. He picked you because you're awesome in so many ways, but I don't think he realizes how good you actually are because you can't let him all the way in – emotionally, at the very least," she added in with a quick wink, "and because…he doesn't want to get that deep into something."

"You're forgetting that I picked him, too."

"I'm not. I'm just saying that you picked him for more reasons than he picked you."

Peyton rubbed her eyes wearily. "Can we let this go, please?"

"I just want you to be happy, you ungrateful bitch," Brooke commented lightly, gently nudging her.

"I know," Peyton told her quietly, her voice earnest. "I know."

She did. She understood completely where Brooke was coming from and appreciated the best friend you-break-her-heart-I-break-your-leg mentality, but as much as Peyton loved Brooke, her friend didn't understand. Brooke had much more depth than she let people know, but she couldn't understand the complexities of Peyton's relationship with Nathan simply because they didn't have the same life experiences.

She wasn't stupid. She'd know from the very beginning that one of the greatest reasons for Nathan's choosing her was because he thought she was hot. He was a guy, after all, and it wasn't like she didn't find him attractive either. When other guys saw her, they could look and drool a bit before Nathan got to disappoint and amaze them all by telling them in no uncertain terms that she was his and his alone. Some of it was just part of the game. And while she liked hearing those words from his mouth, she knew just how hypocritical they were. Nathan was a huge flirt, ever the playboy, even when they were in a committed relationship. It bother her, of course it did, but most of the time she was willing to put it to the side because, as bad as Nathan could be, he would never sleep with another girl while they were actually together, and she knew that.

There was nothing stopping her from turning him away when Nathan first made her his conquest. The first time he'd really looked at her, she'd actually been able to feel the pressure of his gaze as it traveled over her body, lingering very specifically on her legs, her breasts, then her lips, and lastly, his eyes found hers. Nathan's eyes were all stormy, heated blue, confidence and lust combined. She'd met those eyes with her carelessly cold, stony green orbs, but he hadn't looked away. He held her eyes until she couldn't resist a small smile that reached only her eyes and never her lips.

They kissed three days later and she found herself pleasantly intoxicated, but she still didn't know him that well. She cheered specifically for him at the following basketball game, admiring how he, a freshman, could put even the seniors to shame. She waited for him outside the gym afterward, earbuds in, so that he had to tap her on the shoulder to get her attention. She'd been admirably breezy when he gave her a cocky smirk and asked if she'd wanted to see him, telling him no, but since he was there and she was bored, they should go get some ice cream.

When asked, both of them would say that they'd been dating for two months, but the first month had really been a series of games that always came to a tie in the end. They kissed now and again, but she rarely granted his tongue access to her mouth. She was careful with the people she let enter her world – she wasn't about to give him any hope of having her if there was none.

It was a test. Nathan Scott, Mr. Hot and Popular. She wanted to know if he would fight for her. If he didn't really want her, then he was not going have her.

Brooke thought she was absolutely insane. "Nathan Scott wants in your bed, P. Sawyer," she kept saying with a disbelieving shake of her head. "Why the hell is he not there yet? Do you even realize how badly every girl in school wants to be you right now?"

Peyton didn't care who was jealous of her. It didn't mean a thing if Nathan lost interest in a week, and in all honestly, she thought she would. He seemed equally intoxicated, even faintly aroused, by the kisses she allowed him, but she knew that he could pick anyone else to live out his sexual fantasies with.

To her great surprise, he didn't disappear. He didn't shower her with gifts or poetry or make any kind of epically romantic gestures, but he was always there. Standing by her locker in the morning. Wandering over to kiss her on the quad at lunch. Hovering around outside his circle of friends after a game, waiting to see if she'd come over to him. Lurking by her car in the parking lot.

She liked it, she did. Any and every girl liked being sought after. But she wasn't going to be foolish about it. She prepared herself, steeled herself for an end, for the day he would not be standing by her locker with a confident, gentle smile on his face but pressing some girl up against another locker instead. And yet, that day never came.

After nearly of month of their back-and-forth flirtation, which grew more serious everyday, Nathan lost his first game since he'd taken a liking to her. Everyone had been raving all week about what an easy win it would be, so it was no shock that the loss took a toll on the Ravens, particularly Nathan, whose father looked ready to kill.

Peyton watched them as Brooke grumbled with the other cheerleaders about how they'd make sure to look particularly pretty for the post-game party that night, all with no reason considering that their school had lost. She ignored the rest of them with their pom-poms and expertly applied make-up and watched the interaction between Dan and Nathan, frowning deeply. Peyton missed having parental figures, but it seemed like having them didn't make Nathan's life much better. She looked on sadly, regarding Nathan's face as his father ranted and fumed. She felt the sudden desire to rescue him. He stubbornly kept on a brave, impartial face the entire time, but he still looked younger and sad and hurt. It hurt her to see him that way, and it was in that moment that she made up her mind.

The cheerleaders cleared out, and she didn't follow. She waited until Dan delivered whatever bitter parting comments she saw fit before slowly approaching Nathan. He didn't see her coming as he sat down on the bleachers, resting his head in his hands. Her heart went out to him.

She set her pom-poms down and gingerly sat down next to him without saying anything. When she didn't speak, Nathan looked up to see who it was, and looked relieved and happily surprised that it was her. "Hey, Sawyer," he said tiredly, looking puzzled by her presence.

"Hey," she said quietly back. "How're you doing?"

"Pretty crappy," he answered honestly.

"Yeah. I'm sorry you lost. And, about…" she gestured vaguely in the direction Dan had stormed off in, not sure if it was any of her business to comment.

He gave her a weak shadow of his usual grin. "Thanks."

She bit down on her lower lip and leaned in, draping her arms around him comfortingly. "You know what could make you feel better?" she said low in his ear. "Me."

His smile grew. "You mean that? For real?"

Peyton smiled back and nodded. "I mean that," she said, and kissed him without abandon for the first time. Almost instantly, his tongue entered her mouth, one hand slipped into her curly hair, and the other fell to caress the skin of her thigh. She didn't care where it went in that moment. She wanted him to feel better, and it had been a long time coming. And he just felt so good.

The next month was a pretty happy one, though the two of them argued on a constant basis. She'd naively thought that the bickering they'd kept up through their pre-relationship flirtation would cease when they got together exclusively, but of course, it didn't. Sometimes she laughed and spent all day with him, sometimes she just wanted to go home to her room and draw or cry or both. His apologies were always earnest, though, so they got through it. He knew that she didn't meant whatever spilled out of her mouth in anger, either.

They made out all the time, hardly able to keep their hands off each other. He'd trap her in private corners of the hallway between classes, they'd slip into the backseat of her car at lunch, and after school they had his house, her room, a blanket in the shade under a tree at the park, the beach…anywhere and everywhere. Gradually, day by day, things grew more intense. Kisses were deeper, touches more intimate, and clothes started flying, but they never went all the way. Her bra came unclasped and Nathan's hands made their way under her skirt or pushed her jeans off, but they didn't have sex. Not yet, she kept thinking. Not yet.

One day, after another brutal argument with his dad, she found Nathan lying in bed tossing a basketball up and down, and that feeling of needing to save him came back. She'd cooed her sympathies and kissed him senseless and it all went so far that she thought that was it, the end of her virginity. But to her great surprise, everything grew less frantic and their kisses got tenderer, lazier, and Nathan just held her. It occurred to her then that all her needed was to be held right back. She woke up the next morning before he did, nestled comfortably in his heavy blankets, and just watched him sleep.

To her great surprise and horror, Dan Scott marched in shortly after her eyes fluttered open. She considered diving under the covers in an effort to hide, but it was too late. She clutched the sheets up to her neck – she was still wearing her bra, but it wasn't as though she wanted Nathan's father to see anything – and stared at him as he snapped up the blinds and let the sunlight flood in, rudely awakening the boy she'd enjoyed watching in his slumber. Nathan muttered something to the effect of "Dammit, Dad" and Dan had said, "Up and at 'em, you need to go for a run. Good morning, Miss Sawyer."

Staring back at him with wide eyes, she whispered, her throat dry, "Good morning."

"Do you have any requests for breakfast?" Mr. Scott asked with raised eyebrows. He was just so intimidating that she shrank before him. "My wife's cooking."

"Um…anything's fine, thank you," she said in a small voice, shrugging. "I was actually going to leave before, um…"

He shrugged. "Up to you. Nathan, you, outside in half an hour." He paused in the doorway in his way out the room. "Nice work, son," he acknowledged, giving her a disturbing once-over, as though he had x-ray vision and could see through the blankets.

When he closed the door behind himself, she looked over at her boyfriend, her eyes demanding the explanation since she was at a complete loss for words. He could only shrug, and after that all they could do was laugh and kiss and laugh.

Nathan had been in a dark place emotionally that night, but that didn't mean he didn't realize that they'd almost had sex and that she'd almost let it happen. He pressured her into it two nights later, and she snapped at her. Then, the night before her conversation with Brooke, he showed up in her room with his sad puppy-dog, take-me-back-please eyes.

It was her turn to be in a bad place. She was sitting in front of the mirror, a too-big shirt draped over her skinny frame and tears gleaming in her eyes. He'd paused in shock when he noticed that she was crying. "Peyton?" he asked quietly.

"I really don't want to do this right now," she said dryly, wiping at her eyes.

"What's going on?" he asked, eyeing the boxes of clothes on the floor and her tragic expression.

"Nothing," she bit out.

"Peyton," he said, sitting across from her, on the edge of her bed.

She sighed, tears still threatening to spill. "I…my dad thinks we need to let go a little," she told him, struggling to smile. "It's my mom's stuff. He said I could keep anything that fit, but the rest we need to give to charity. But the thing is…there's nothing here that fits me," she said sadly, cracking her pitiful smile again, trying to laugh it off. "My mom was thin, but I'm just too…skinny. And I know that's a stupid thing to cry about, but I just really want to keep a piece of her, but the pants are too big and I don't have the boobs to fill out any of her shirts and my body's just…not right for her stuff and I…" She shook her head, looking down.

"C'mere," he said, his voice impeccably soft. He reached out to her, his eyes encouraging.

Reluctantly, she stood up and walked over to him, and he pulled her into his lap. His hands gently slipped under the shirt and removed it, pulling it carefully up over her head. He dipped his head to kiss her neck as his hands explored her skin, and she moaned lightly when he made his way down, planting kisses on her skin from her collarbone to the valley between her breasts. He brought his head back up to kiss her lips, and said huskily, "I think your body's perfect. You're so beautiful, Peyton."

And he gave her that look, the one that made her feel so valuable, and suddenly the last thing she wanted to be doing was wearing any clothes.

Nathan's reputation was there for a reason. She had to give him a hell of a lot of credit – he knew how to make her feel good. She gave him a beautiful smile when they laid there together afterward, their sweaty limbs tangled and his hands still running over her body languorously to make sure that he knew that, especially because there were still tears in her eyes. From pain, which he'd been very sweet about, making sure that she was okay. From ecstasy, because it had been too amazing for words. From the lingering sadness over her mother's clothes, over her mother's death, a sadness that she always carried with her. From the happiness his comforting words gave her. And from how good it felt that he was still looking at her as though she was the most desirable the in the world. It warmed her heart to know that she could elicit such emotion from someone.

"How are you?" he asked quietly, and the corners of her lips twitched back into that smile.

"Very good."

"Mm…that was very good."

She leaned in for single kiss. "Yeah?"

He smirked at her, almost adoringly. "You wanna do that again?" he asked gruffly, teasingly.

It made her giggle in such a girlish way that she was almost mortified. "Hell yeah," she laughed.

Her relationship with Nathan was physical and fantastic from that aspect, but it was also a lot deeper than that, though neither of them would ever willingly admit it. It was an avoidance of their demons. Both had them and understood them. Both of them suffered. They never really acknowledged the bitter truths of each others lives or took interest in them, but they were there, bonding them. It was for that reason that Peyton had complete faith that while they were together and agreed upon it, Nathan wouldn't cheat on her. If they broke up even for an hour, she would lose that faith, but when they were committed to each other they'd reached an understanding.

"Hey, Peyton. P. Sawyer! Where's your mind? Back in bed?" Brooke teased.

Peyton gave her a weak smile.

"I'm sorry, P., I didn't mean to…insult your thing with Nathan."

"It's okay, Brooke. I understand what you're saying, I really do."

"As long as you understand," she sighed.

"Yeah. I do. Nathan can be such a good person, B. Davis, I know he can. I'm just…waiting for him to realize it."

"And you think he will?" Brooke asked, doubt creeping into her voice.

She considered the question, tilting her head to the side. "Yeah," she finally replied. "He'll change. I don't think I'm enough to make him change…but I know that I can make him start," she smiled.

"There's the selfless bitchy blonde we all know and love!" Brooke cheered, laughing. "Come on, let's get to health class so I can watch you and Nathan have eye sex while we talk about STDs."

Peyton winced. "As great as that sounds…Nate and I kind of have other plans."

Brooke pouted incredulously. "Aw, c'mon, P. Sawyer, I never put sex before you!"

Peyton gave her a pointed look, waiting patiently.

"Okay, yeah, I have," she sighed, hopping out of the car with her pretty smile in place again. "Have fun," she said with a wink. "Do absolutely everything I wouldn't do." As she turned to walk away, they both saw Nathan approaching. "Hey, lover boy," Brooke greeted him with a quirk of her eyebrows before prancing off.

Nathan grinned at her as she climbed out of Brooke's car. "Hey."

"Hey back," she smiled, grabbing him by the collar of his shirt and pulling him in for a kiss. She didn't know how exactly to convince him to make changes in his life, but for now she was content with how the two of them were, with his lips caressing hers.

Somewhere in the distance, a tall, broody boy would frown at the sight of them making out, and his shorter, brown-haired counterpart would laugh lightly and tease him about his crush. Nathan and Peyton, wrapped up in each other, wouldn't even come to know those watching them were for nearly two years, and even then, would have no idea about the effect they'd have on their lives.

Peyton smiled at the man standing in front of her as she walked down the aisle, the cool fabric of her red dress swishing around her legs playfully. She could feel Brooke's eyes burning holes in her back, but even the knowledge of her best friend's anger couldn't stop the smile that lit up her face as she looked at the sheer happiness on his. "You had your chance," she told him quietly with a teasing shrug and a pointed look, and he grinned at her.

She lost herself in the wedding, stealing only one glance at Lucas, and keeping the rest of her attention focused on Nathan, whose face she could see. He looked so happy that her heart melted, and she had an uncontrollable smile on her lips. He'd become the person she'd always seen lurking inside of him, and she was just so proud. He was good to Haley; he deserved her.

The reception was worse than the wedding; she could actually feel the intensity of Brooke's animosity radiating off of the brunette as she clung protectively to Lucas, smiling sweetly at the newly-once-again married couple. She danced with Nathan's uncle Cooper because she was supposed to, and she appreciated his casual conversations and jokes. It wasn't long, however, until she escaped out into the garden to get some air.

It was there that she found the groom, looking around with a serene expression on his face. She walked over to him and punched his arm lightly. "Hey, what're you doing? Where's your bride?"

He chuckled. "Still inside, dancing with Luke. I just wanted to take a minute. Appreciate the day, you know?"

"That's very corny and very sweet," she said softly with a smile. "Congratulations, Nate. Again."

"Thanks." He studied her face. "Are you okay, Peyton?"

She sighed. She'd been hoping to keep her heartbreak to herself all day so as not to ruin the moment for her friends. "Yeah, I, um…it's just…you know, Jake and Brooke and…Luke…and you know, the world. Life." She shrugged. "It's just a little hard right now."

"Anything I can do?" he asked supportively.

"Mm…no, thanks. Not unless you have a time machine."

"Where would you go if I did?" he prodded kindly.

She shook her head sadly. "So many places. The day before my mom died. The day you and Lucas played that little competitive basketball game. The day I thought my dad was dead. The day I looked away from Jenny for two seconds and Nicki picked her up. The week before Ellie died. The day of the shooting. The day I proposed to Jake, and the night he said no. Yesterday, when I stupidly decided to tell Brooke that I'm still in love with her boyfriend, and this morning, when she slapped me."

Nathan's eyebrows shot up. "Whoa."

She sighed. "I really don't want to talk it. Any of it."

"It's my wedding day, so I'm going to be an ass for a second and not listen to you, okay? Why the hell would Jake say no to you? He loves you."

"Because I don't love him. Not as much as I want to. Weren't you listening?" she asked, raising her eyebrows.

"You proposed to Jake and then told him you loved Lucas?"

"By mistake. In my sleep."

Nathan laughed. "Oh, yeah! I forgot that you're a sleep talker. That was always so cute."

"Well, now it's not so much cute as something that fucked up my life."

"But if you don't love Jake…"

"But I want to, Nathan, I…oh, God, can we please just stop talking about this?"

"Sorry," he said sheepishly, placing his hand lightly on her back. "All of those places were really depressing, Sawyer. Is there a happier time you'd like to go back to?"

Peyton sighed again. There were a million things she could have said but only one true honest answer: "Freshman year, that night in your bedroom. Do you remember?"

"There were a lot of those."

She smacked him. "Before we started having sex, perv. You had a fight with Dan and I came over and found you. You looked so sad, and we started making out I was sure that we'd go all the way. But you slowed down and I realized just how good you truly were. Everything seemed to clear and simple to me that night," she marvelled wistfully. "If I could just hold you and make you feel better, than everything would be okay, because I knew then that you really cared about me, and that you needed me like I did you." She looked into his familiar blue eyes. "It was never just sex, Nate."

He smiled at her understandingly. "Yeah. I know."

She nodded. "And look at us now," she breathed. "I'm really glad for Haley in your life. She did with you what I never could, and you two are perfect for each other. You can feel that simplicity with her…but in a purer sense. You have the most real, beautiful thing there is."

"Thank you," he said seriously. "I want that for you, too, you know."

Tears pooled in her hazel-green eyes. "I'm just scared sometimes that I'm never going to find it," she choked out. "And now Brooke's not speaking to me and she won't let Lucas near me…and sometimes I just feel…alone."

Nathan pulled her into a hug and she buried herself in the comfort of his embrace. "It'll be okay. I love you, Sawyer, you know that. I mean, I know Luke's a little slower than me," he joked. "But I know what the two of you have, and someday he will too. Until then…I'm here for you, and so is Haley."

"Thank you," she whispered. "For being here and for believing in Luke for me, because there are times when I think I just can't anymore."

His hand ran soothing circles over her back as she rested her head on his shoulder. "You'll figure it out. I know things really suck for you, but you always get back in the game somehow. If you stop now I don't know you as well as I thought I did."

She pulled back, wiping at her eyes. "I won't," she promised him, thankful that he'd made her do so. "I'm so happy and…lucky…that you've become who you've become, Nate. This is who I always knew you could become, and this is the version of you that I truly need in my life." She returned his affectionate smile and turned to leave, knowing that he needed to get back to his bride and she needed to collect herself. Three steps away from him, she hesitated and turned back around.

"Hey,"she said softly, and told him the words that she'd never been able to make mean something between them until that moment: "I love you, too."

A/N: This is the point where I get really annoying and beg for a review…