How's Your Halo?
A/N: I know, I know. This from the girl with one neglected story and another that she's giving a break for a while…but I just can't stop writing.
This is AU. In most ways the basic plotlines stay true to the show, but the conditions surrounding them have changed, relationships have changed, dynamics have changed. I'm not going to give any background. I'm just going to let it all speak for itself, and hopefully it will end up making sense…there will be time jumps in each chapter, and eventually everything will fall into place. Read and review, please; let me know if you're interested.
It's been a long year
Since we last spoke
How's your halo?
Just between you and I
You and me and the satellites
I never believed you
I only wanted to
Before all this
What did I miss?
Do you ever get homesick?
I can't get used to it.
I can't get used to it.
I'll never get used to it.
I'll never get used to it.
I'm under that night
I'm under those same stars
We're in a red car
You asleep at my side
Going in and out of the headlights
Could I have saved you?
Would that have betrayed you?
I wanna burn this film
You alone with those pills
What you couldn't do, I will
I forgive you.
I'll forgive you.
I'll forgive you.
I forgive you.
For blue, blue skies…
-- Strays Don't Sleep, "For Blue Skies"
Prolgue: September 13th, 2011; St. Flora, North Carolina
Peyton opened her eyes when she felt someone join her on the porch swing, their weight causing it to sway back and forth. She'd been sitting there for nearly have an hour, just gazing out into the darkness and shivering in her thin dress. She was cold, but not quite cold enough to do anything about it. "Hey," she whispered. She didn't need to turn to the side to see who was sitting with her, she just knew.
"Hey back," Brooke said softly, her voice carried by the cool night air as she rested her hand on Peyton's bare knee. She smiled sadly, nodding toward the house behind them. The windows were bright with light, and even outside, the murmur of constant chatter could be heard. "That's quite the bash," she commented. "Your kind of party, huh?" she added sympathetically. "You've been to more than you ever should have had to."
Peyton nodded, tears gathering in her eyes. "Yeah."
She could feel the force of Brooke's eyes, searching her face for any signs of what she was feeling. "Can you talk to me?" the brunette requested quietly, worry lacing every one of her words.
Peyton said nothing, simply leaned into Brooke, letting her friend support her weight as she rested her head on Brooke's shoulder.
Brooke stroked her hair, pulling her closer. "It's going to be okay. Okay? You're going to be okay. We're going to get you through this. Haley and I will stay here with you tonight; the boys will have everything else under control."
"You don't have to do that," she protested. "I'll be fine on my own."
"We want to, honey. Let us look after you."
Peyton smiled slightly. She didn't have the strength to protest anymore than she already had. She'd let Brooke have her way for now.
"Hey…Peyt? I know this is the last thing you want to talk about but…"
Peyton knew what was coming before Brooke managed to ask.
"Did he call you?" she inquired hesitantly.
Her lips twisted into a bitter frown. "He isn't here, is he?"
"That's not what I asked you, honey."
"No. He didn't. Why would he? He has no obligation to me anymore."
"Bullshit," Brooke chided kindly. "He should've showed, at least called."
"After everything –"
Brooke cut her off. "After everything, he owes you a goddamn phone call, considering the circumstances."
Peyton bit down on her lower lip until she tasted blood. "He doesn't, though. I fucked everything up."
"No," Brooke soothed, her heart going out to her friend. "You both made your mistakes; you both have your regrets."
"I'm betting I have a hell of a lot more."
Her best friend stayed quiet, an acknowledgement of the truth in Peyotn's words. Peyton didn't take it as an insult – she had screwed up to a point of no return, and they both knew it.
"We'll get you through this," Brooke assured her.
"I know you will," Peyton replied confidently. Brooke had always made sure to take care of her. "But I don't know how to get through everything else."
"No, I…I really don't. I don't know how I got here. This isn't how I want to be, but I don't see a way back."
"There's always a way back, babe," Brooke told her confidently.
"I don't think there is," Peyton sighed into her shoulder. "And I am just so tired of it all."
Brooke's grip on her tightened instinctively. "Don't say that," she ordered, taking on a harsh tone for the first time since she'd shown up on Peyton's doorstep with piles of luggage and open arms. Fear clutched at her heart. "Don't ever say that. What did I tell you? I'm not going to let you give up. I won't."
Peyton sighed again. Her eyelids felt heavy, but she knew from the experience of the past few days that she wouldn't be getting much sleep. "Sometimes I wish you would," she murmured.
"Peyton," Brooke said sharply. "I never will, so stop thinking like that. There are people here for you today who love you and who need you, and you aren't going anywhere. Life is a bitch, P. Sawyer, I know that, but you've gotta fight back, okay? No matter what anyone else says, I need you to fight back."
Peyton could hear the tears in Brooke's voice and felt bad for ever having brought it up. She was just too tired to even think about moving on with her life sometimes. There were days when she felt like she'd had all the good moments that she'd ever have, and more than her fair share of bad ones. Considering how many people she loved were currently hanging out in heaven, death had ceased to be something scary and more of a comfort to her. "I know," she finally said. "I'm sorry."
Before Brooke could reply, a little girl ran out onto the porch, and for the billionth time Peyton marveled at how perfectly beautiful she was. Her bouncy blonde hair and sparkling eyes contrasted viciously with her somber black dress.
"Mommy!" she cried happily, but the gloomy atmosphere told her to keep her voice down, and she did.
"Hey, you," Brooke greeted her, brightening her voice as she opened her arms.
Peyton straightened up so that the four-year-old could clamber onto the swing and climb into Brooke's arms.
"What's up, honey bug?" Brooke asked, using her nickname that had developed inexplicably nearly two years ago and stuck.
The little girl ignored her question, studying Peyton's face worriedly. "You're sad," she observed mutedly, and Peyton watched how Brooke's arms tightened around the preschooler, trying to keep her safe from all the fear and pain in the world…all of the fear and pain in Peyton's world, at least.
"Yeah, a little," she agreed, attempting a smile.
She threw her long, skinny arms around Peyton's neck impulsively, offering up the only comfort she could provide in the form of a hug. Peyton hugged her back, warmly but not tightly, pressing a kiss to the shell of her ear. She could feel Brooke giving her one of those looks, the looks she always got when she interacted with the little girl. It was for that reason, amongst others, that she tended to keep her distance in front of her friends.
Haley stepped out of the door of the house at that moment, catching the hug, and her breath caught in her throat. Her eyes flew to Brooke, who she knew was thinking the same thoughts. She cleared her throat as Peyton released the little girl. "You guys look cozy," she commented quietly, offering a sympathetic smile. "You must be exhausted, Peyton. I caught you up at three this morning, so don't you dare tell me you've been getting sleep. I can get everyone out of here if you want to hit the sack."
"Thanks, Hales," she said, her voice raw and mournful. "For everything, for taking care of this evening for me."
"Of course, honey," Haley said instantly. She turned to the little girl, plastering a brighter smile on. "What do you say, Luce? You want to go back to the hotel for a sleepover?"
Lucy pouted. "Why can't I stay here?"
"Come on, sweetie, it'll be fun. I'm going to stay here with your mom and your aunt tonight, but you can go home and hang out with Jamie and Nathan. That sounds fun, right?"
"Yeah…I guess so."
"Come on," Haley repeated, extending a hand. "Say goodnight and let's get you all ready to go."
"Okay," Lucy agreed hesitantly.
"Go on, honey bug," Brooke told her, nuzzling their noses together and gently setting the four-year-old on the ground. "I love you."
"Love you, too," she replied sweetly, accepting Haley's hand and waving over her shoulder. "G'night, Aunt Peyton."
"Goodnight," Peyton replied hoarsely. The moment Haley led Lucy back inside, she stood up. "I guess I should go thank everyone for being here, too. And like Haley said…go to bed."
"P. Sawyer," Brooke said sadly, aching to talk about bigger things, but then she sighed and let it go. "Okay. Fine. We'll talk about it some other time. You've been through enough today."
"Thank you," Peyton sighed, and Brooke could only watch as she slipped back into the house.
She leaned back, using her feet to gently push herself back and forth on the swing, and thinking about how Peyton was right in some ways. Sometimes Brooke looked at her and wondered where the pretty eight-year-old with a shy smile had gone, how that little girl had morphed into someone so uncertain, so devastated, so close to giving up on it all.
Her cell phone was practically calling out to her fingers; she longed to grab it and access her speed dial list, to hear the voice of the person who could some to the rescue. And yet, another part of her was wary of that possibility, of all the time and the people and the distance that would make said person's reappearance difficult to cope with.
Nathan stepped out of the door, closing it quietly behind him and looking at her expectantly. "Well?" he demanded worriedly.
Brooke shrugged shakily. "She's not doing so good."
He walked over to the swing and joined her there; the strength in his legs was enough to push it for them both, so Brooke took a break for a while. Nathan had been acting as a pillar for their small group lately, and she wondered if it was taking a toll on him.
"She just buried her brother," Nathan said gruffly. "Of course she's not doing well."
"You know what I mean," Brooke insisted. "Nathan, I…I want to call him."
His eyes widened considerably. "No way in hell," he scoffed.
"Nathan…" she pleaded.
"And what good is that going to do, huh?"
"I don't know!" Brooke cried loudly, startling him. "I don't know if it's going to do any good at all! But Nathan, she's in this downward spiral and I don't…I don't know if I can pull her out anymore and it's scaring the hell out of me. I need help."
"I'm here. Haley's here," he reminded her.
"And she knows that you love her. But it's not the same thing."
Nathan ground his back teeth together. They'd promised one another, years ago, that they were going to make sure that those two lived very separate lives. Their convoluted relationship was literally killing Peyton, and putting stress on them all. They'd all wanted to remain neutral, to stay friends with both parties, but they'd all slowly begun to take Peyton's side. Nathan felt bad about that sometimes; they were one another's family, and he didn't ever want to abandon anyone, but Peyton got his concern and his support…he'd chosen her team, in the end, and he was the kind of person who stuck with his decisions, especially when he'd always been very firm in the reasons for making them.
"Nate?" Brooke asked, her voice cracking.
He sighed. "Brooke, I don't know. I don't know if it's the best –"
"Nathan," she cut him off. "What if it gets as bad as last time?"
He gulped. "You…you think that's where it's headed?"
"I feel like he's our last hope," she said plaintively.
"But…but he was the cause of everything that happened last time. How is his presence possibly going to improve this?"
"I don't know if it will…but what if we don't call, what if we don't ask, and what…what if we end up asking what if someday. What if we'd just asked him to come to her."
"Don't talk like that," Nathan protested. "This funeral is already fucking depressing."
Brooke brushed away the tears that managed to escape her eyes. "I can't lose her," she murmured.
"You won't," he snapped instantly, and she stared at him, eyes big and sad. Nathan didn't like to think about extreme circumstances or dire consequences – he would take denial any day…and Brooke knew that. "Fine," he huffed. "So we could call him. But what about –"
"Doesn't have to be an issue," she said smoothly, the businesslike aspect of her personality shining through.
"Well, what if he doesn't want to –"
"Please," she scoffed, classic Brooke Davis.
"Okay," Nathan tried again, "what if he wants to stay with –"
"Nathan," she interjected softly. "Are you listening to yourself? Things may have changed, and time's passed…but do you really believe any of the excuses you're making?"
"I guess not…" he grumbled. "I just don't want to make things worse."
"It's only uphill from here," she shrugged sadly. "You always say that Peyton's like a sister to you –"
"Brooke," he said, suddenly filled with the urge to laugh. "I have never once said that. That's creepy. I love Peyton, but you don't have a sexual history with your sister."
She leaned in close to him, lifting her eyebrows. "Stupid technicalities, okay? The point is that you love her." She fished her phone out of her purse without breaking eye contact and held it out to him. "So prove it. Do what's right for her."
Less than a minute later, a familiar voice said, Hello? into his ear, and he sighed heavily. Brooke nudged him, and he finally gave in, saying, "You'd better get your ass on a plane."
"Excuse me?" he spluttered, and then asked incredulously, "Nate?"
Nathan definitely wasn't in the mood for some sort of emotional conversation, so he didn't waste words. "Get on a plane," he repeated roughly. "She needs you."
There was silence and then, "Uh-huh. Right. I'm sorry, am I missing something? I believe you were the same guy who told me to stay the fuck out of her life, and that I only made her miserable and messed up her world. Have you forgotten about that?"
"Didn't you hear me?" Nathan all but growled. "She needs you."
In a softer, earnest way, "No, she doesn't. I'll only fuck things up again."
Brooke snatched the phone out of Nathan's hands. "Are you listening, you selfish jerk? She needs you."
"Brooke? But you told me –"
"I don't care what I told you," she said aggressively, arching an eyebrow threateningly even though he couldn't see her. "What time does your flight get in?"
After a pause, followed by the tapping of keys and a click, he finally said, "Noon tomorrow."
"Super," she said sarcastically. "I'll pick you up."
"I can take a cab," he said hurriedly, probably worried that her greeting would be the same as her parting words to him had been: accompanied by a slap.
"Fine," she huffed.
He chuckled lightly. "Is that how make all your business deals, Brooke Davis?"
The smallest of smiles tugged up her lips, and she turned away to avoid Nathan's surprise at the sign of happiness. "Yes, you bastard. And it works, thank you very much."
"Okay. Well. I guess…I guess I'll see you…tomorrow."
"Yeah," she agreed. "And…Lucas?" she asked before he could hang up, her voice shaking as her lips trembled a bit. She closed her eyes and sighed. "Thank you," she breathed into the phone, and she knew from his silence that he understood what she was trying to say.