A/N: This is a oneshot I've had written for a while, but have been nervous about posting for some reason. Let me know what you think.
Each night, he wondered he'd ended up like this. In a one-sided marriage that he'd all but checked out of. The last few years were a blur of obligations. Things he got himself too far into to back out of. He convinced himself that the only one he was hurting was himself, but he knew, deep down inside him, that that was a lie. He didn't pull her into his side any more after he lay down. He didn't crave her contact. They just slept, with her thinking everything was fine, and him just counting the minutes until he could leave the confines of of their marital bed. It all felt like a lie.
Each night, he'd pull back the rich navy blue duvet that covered their bed, and he'd take his place next to her. A place he knew he didn't deserve. A place she was clueless as to how much he resented. The last thing he wanted was to break her heart, but he knew that it was inevitable. As soon as she realized that she didn't have his whole heart, he knew hers would forever be wounded.
Each night, he contemplated just telling her he couldn't do it any more. He couldn't fake a smile every time she kissed him. He couldn't tell her he loved her when he knew it wasn't the truth. He couldn't pretend to be interested in all the things she tried to talk to him about. He couldn't fake the connection that he knew wasn't there.
He knew he was trapped. He knew he was less of a man for staying with her and leading her to believe that he was happy - that they were happy. He dreaded any conversation more intense than idle chat. He cringed at the thought or mention of children. He didn't know how to tell her that he didn't her children. He knew he should have just cut ties and told her the truth. But he couldn't. Because he took vows, and though it hurt his heart to honour them, he couldn't break them either. He believed in the vows he had taken and what they stand for.
He just wished he hadn't been a coward. He wished he'd had the sense to say them to the right woman.
"I love you," she whispered through the darkness. She'd lay on her back, as though inviting him to touch her. Just touch her. Just place one calloused hand on her somewhere. Anywhere.
"Love you, too," he said. Maybe it was true. Maybe on some level he did love her. He cared for her, and he knew that she would do anything for him. But that didn't add up to love. It was comfort and security. But it wasn't love. Not for him.
Each night, he'd lay awake until she fell asleep, inwardly hating himself for what he was doing to the both of them.
But he'd lay there.
He looked over at her face, and he could remember the first time he'd seen her. He'd been heartbroken and lonely, and she was beautiful and kind. He needed that. The more time went on, the more he convinced himself that he needed her. The truth was, he didn't need her. He would have been just fine without her. But too much time had passed before he realized that, and he just couldn't let her go. He was worried about her heart more than his own; he knew his heart would never heal. He didn't wish that fate on anyone.
Maybe she knew. Maybe she always knew. Maybe she just held onto him because she needed something to hold onto. He wondered if maybe she had started to resent him like he did her. He hated himself for that; for resenting the perfectly wonderful woman who lay down with him each night.
He didn't look at her like he used to. He used to look at her in awe, wondering how this beautiful woman could love someone as flawed as he. He used to think she was brilliant and intelligent and wonderful. Now he just wondered how someone so smart could be so blind to what was right in front of her. How could she not have seen it? It was on his face every time they made love. It was there in his touch when he'd place his hand on hers in a crowd.
He loved another more than he loved her.
He would have loved to love her. He would have loved for his heart to have not betrayed him. His life would have been so much simpler if his own heart had just let him be happy. It was as though he was paying for his past mistakes. All the things he'd said and done to lie to himself and everyone else. The biggest lie of them all came in the form of the gold band on his hand. Only he knew that, though. He hid that particular truth from everyone but himself. And it was slowly eating him alive.
He was a coward. He hadn't always been, but he certainly was each time he'd walk through the door of their home. It was all a lie, and one that he could not easily get out of. He, after all, had been the one to make the choice. The choice. That was his first mistake - believing he had a choice. But he'd made that commitment that day. He'd stood, looking into her eyes, and promised to cherish her and honour her. He may have been a coward, but he was a man of his word. He'd made that promise in front of their entire world.
And that was another lie. His entire world was held by one person. She hadn't been there.
He wondered if one day, somewhere down the line, his wife would let him go. Maybe she'd be kind and understanding. Maybe she'd be furious and her temper would flare. Whatever happened, he knew that she'd have to be the one to sever the ties. Perhaps it was because he was too loyal. Too faithful. Too reliable. Perhaps it was because he was terrified of his feelings. He was terrified that his love won't be enough for the one he wanted to give it to. He was terrified that it would be, too. There were too many variables. Too many reasons for him to stay. Too many reasons for him to leave. He was conflicted to his very core.
So each night, he'd roll onto his side, and away from the woman he knew he never should have married. His eyes closed and all he could see were the green ones he'd fallen in love with years ago. He didn't know how or when, but he knew that someday, he'd fall asleep with her in his arms. He just knew. Or at least he tried to convince himself of that. He needed to believe it to make it through another night.
She should have been over him. That's what everyone said. She should have fallen out of love with him when he said "I do" to someone else. They just didn't understand. She had always been in love with him, and would always be in love with him, no matter what time or space or circumstance separated him.
He was with another. He shared his life with a woman other than her. He'd made his choice and left her behind for the love of a woman who would never leave his side. But she could not begrudge him his happiness. That in itself was the one thing she wanted more than him. She loved him enough to want for him what she couldn't find for herself.
Sometimes she pretended he was still hers to love. She'd pull out a framed photograph of them both. They were happy in that moment, frozen in time forever for her to reminisce over. If nothing else, she had the memories. There was a shirt he'd left in her house on purpose hanging in the back of her closet, hidden from the view of any visitors. She'd pull the faded cotton over her head most nights, just to feel close to him. It was all she had, and though its short sleeves were stained from drying her eyes as she cried for the thousandth time over losing him, the shirt was still a piece of him. A piece he'd wanted her to have. That provided her a comfort like no other. Maybe, just maybe, he wanted her to think of him that way. Maybe his leaving things behind was his subtle way of telling her not to give up on him. On them.
She'd wanted him to stay. To tell her that there wasn't anyone else who could make him feel like she did. She still suspected it to be true, but his actions had told her and everyone else otherwise. There was a time when they were inseparable. She desperately wanted that back, but she knew it couldn't be. So she stayed quiet, and lived her life of solitude.
Maybe she should have called out to him as he walked away. Maybe if she'd articulated her feelings one last time, he would have chosen her. Loved her. She knew it was too much to ask that he leave the perfect woman who had proven her love, for the flawed one who'd made so many mistakes.
So even though he wasn't really hers, she had to believe that on some level, a piece of his heart belonged to her. She knew that he was aware of her feelings, and maybe he wanted her to feel them. She needed to hang onto the hope that he still cared enough about her to want her to love him.
She'd tried to let go; to love another. But any man she met was not enough. Their touches were not his touch. Their kisses were not his kiss. Their words were not his words. She had prepared excuses for those who asked why she was still single. She wasn't ready for a relationship, or she was focusing on work, or she just needed the time to figure herself out. She knew herself. She was a woman who loved him. She knew that was her identity. It was a part of her, and she wouldn't let that go.
Every word he'd ever written to her or about her still touched her soul like they had the first time she read them. Letters and notes and books ranging in length from a few simple sentences to hundreds of pages. She cherished them all equally. Proclamations of feelings long held. Quickly scribbled I love you's. Inside jokes and private languages only the two of them knew.
She kept her mementos and her feelings hidden from prying eyes, knowing there would be concern if anyone knew how tightly she was still holding on. She guessed that, on some level, they must have known, but they never commented. They knew it would hurt her to hear his name and openly relive that love. They didn't know that she relived it on her own every day.
He'd sent her an invitation. It wasn't to pour salt on the wound, she knew. Every other one of their friends would be there, and he had to invite her. She'd wondered at the time how his fiancé had felt about that invitation, or if the relief showed on her face or in her voice when they'd found out she wouldn't be attending. She wondered if the woman was threatened.
She'd driven past the church by accident on the morning of his wedding, only to see his name and a congratulations posted on the sign on the church lawn. Her heart broke a little more each second until the light changed and she sped away.
She'd only seen him twice since his hand wore that golden band. Once, when all their friends had gotten together and she'd been told he wouldn't be there. The way he looked at her had told her he was sorry. They both knew no one else would recognize that. The second time had come when she literally bumped into him in the city where he lived, hours away from their hometown, where she still lived. She wondered briefly what the odds were, before getting lost in his familiar eyes. She simply asked him if he was happy, and when he smiled and nodded, she placed a chaste kiss to his cheek before walking in the opposite direction. There was something in his smile that she didn't recognize. He'd never been able to hide things from her, and she got the sense that he didn't want to. She wondered if that mystery emotion was a silent plea, asking her to just hang on a little longer. Just wait for him a little more.
Maybe someday he'd leave his wife. He'd promised not to make her the other woman again, and for that she was grateful. But still, there was a part of her that would have taken anything he could give - regardless of a gold band or a vow he'd made. There were times when she craved him so badly that she would have taken a stolen kiss or a heated moment between them, just for something to believe in again. God, she missed him more and more every day.
So she'd fall asleep in that faded tee shirt. Maybe she'd sneak a spray of his cologne to replicate his familiar scent, though she knew she'd never be able to get it quite right. She'd tell herself it was alright because it helped her hang on. All she wanted to do was hang on. Maybe it was unhealthy - certainly that was what she was told - but it felt right to love him. She knew she'd never stop. He was everything she wanted.
She wondered if he still knew that.
Almost two years to the day after getting married, his wife caught on to what was going on in his heart. To say she didn't understand would be an understatement. She was furious to find a photo of his ex-girlfriend tucked away in the glove compartment of his car. Even more furious when he didn't offer an excuse. When asked why he had it, he could only shrug his shoulders and shake his head, as if to tell her that she already knew the answer.
Lucas Scott was now, and would always be, in love with Peyton Sawyer.
She was livid with him, and herself. She had told him that though he hadn't cheated on her, he still hadn't been faithful. That there was another woman in his heart, broke hers. She couldn't believe how oblivious she'd been. She didn't even know her own husband well enough to notice that he'd been absent for their entire marriage. She cried, and he'd tried, because it was in his nature, to soothe her. She could tell he was simply waiting for her to say the word.
The papers went through on a Thursday. Friday, he packed his things. Saturday, he was on the road back home.
He raised his hand to tap the door of the house she lived in. It had taken coercing, but he finally convinced his brother to give him the address. Nathan had sensed the desperation in his brother's tone, and with the warning not to mess it up again, had scrawled the street name and house number on a Post-It hastily.
He wasn't sure how many emotions were coursing through him as he stood on the porch of her home. He was nervous and ashamed and terrified and in love. He took a deep breath, hoped for the best, and his knuckles connected with the hard wood.
He waited about a minute before wondering if she wasn't home, or if she knew it was him and was refusing to answer. He was about to try his luck by knocking again when the door swung open. Her hair was disheveled and he noted the absence of makeup. He'd woken her.
Green eyes met blue and it warmed his soul in a way he wasn't prepared to feel.
He couldn't break her gaze. He knew that in that one look, she'd see what he had come for. His marriage was over and he was there, hoping she had another chance left to give
A smile broke on her lips after the initial shock wore off, and the smirk he gave in return made her stomach flutter.
"Nice porch," he said, implying that she might want to invite him inside.
"Sorry! Come in!" she said, breaking herself from her trance. He was really there.
Somehow, he'd managed to only see her face, until she moved to let him into the house. Then he noticed the green cotton covering her. Well, most of her. She wore only a faded tee shirt with yellow block letters spelling out the word Cobras. He had to smile. His shirt, with her legs stemming out beneath it. Tanned from the summer sun and seeming endless to him, like they always had.
"I need coffee," she stated, walking past him into the kitchen. She was still in a daze, partly from sleep, and partly from this impromptu visit. She didn't even know that he knew where she lived.
He followed her to the kitchen and noticed that she was seemingly unfazed by her own state of undress. Of course, he'd seen her in less, but not recently. And he had no one to blame for that but himself, he knew. He watched her fuss and fumble with her coffee maker, as he could picture her doing each morning; he knew she was dead to the world until that first sip of caffeine.
"This place is great," he said, just needing to say something. She turned to him and smiled. That smile still made his heart race.
"Thanks," she said softly. "I bought it last year."
"Suits you," he offered sincerely. The two story brick house was similar enough to the one she'd grown up in. It was undeniably Peyton, with her art on the walls, it's tasteful furniture, dark cabinets and countertops.
Before she could ask as a formality why he was there, she noticed his hands folded on her counter top. There was an unmistakable tan line where his wedding ring used to be. Her eyes met his again and she tilted her head, asking without words what went wrong.
"No one told you?" he asked tentatively. She shook her head in the negative. "It's over."
"I'm sorry," she offered, leaning on the kitchen's island that was separating them.
"I'm not," he said without thinking. But he wasn't sorry. "That sounds terrible."
"If you're telling the truth, it's not terrible," she said softly. She wanted so badly to pull him into an embrace. To hold his head against her chest and feather her fingers through his hair, telling him it would all work out.
The coffee stopped dripping and she, without a second thought, poured him a cup just like he'd always taken it - black, one sugar. It had taken his wife 6 months to commit that to memory. He smiled at Peyton as she placed the mug in front of him.
"So you're back." She said it like a statement, not a question. She couldn't see him staying in Charlotte if he wasn't forced to.
"For good," he said with finality, his eyes meeting hers again, as if silently promising her everything she'd ever wanted. He knew he had a lot to prove to her. He knew that he'd broken her heart beyond repair with his own stupidity. But he would stay and try to fix it all.
Silence befell them. Each of them wondered what the other was thinking. She wanted to tell him that she would take whatever he could offer. She missed him. His friendship and his companionship. She would take it if that's all he could give. She missed her friend. He wondered how she could be so good to him after all this time and all his mistakes. He'd made too many to count. Too many to forgive.
She leaned back against the counter behind her and crossed her legs in front of her while she sipped her coffee. He couldn't help but look her up and down again, and he honestly didn't care if she noticed.
"You look good in my shirt," he said with a grin before raising his mug to his lips.
She raised an eyebrow and tilted her head, hoping that the burning sensation in her cheeks wouldn't be visible. It was.
"I pull it out sometimes when I want to remember," she said with a smile.
"Remember what?" He asked the question, but he wasn't prepared for her one-word reply.
They had migrated to the living room and sat on opposite ends of the couch. She had tucked one leg beneath her and pulled a cushion onto her lap as he sat with his head resting comfortably against the back of the sofa, slouching and smiling contentedly. It was as though just being in her home and being with her was calming his nerves.
He knew she was going to ask about the divorce, so he beat her to the punch. He wanted to be honest with her, but he didn't want her to feel guilty over the demise of his marriage. He knew it was no one's fault but his own.
"She found a picture of you," he said, staring forward and not at her. "She told me it was the same as cheating." He paused, afraid of saying too much. "I should have been upset or angry or sad or...something. But I'm not. I was kind of..."
"Relieved?" she offered, hoping to God that was the word he was searching for and that she hadn't jumped to conclusions.
"Yeah," he said, finally looking at her. "I hate that."
"Why?" she asked, with a slight laugh.
"I didn't want to be that guy. You know? The guy who is totally unaffected by something like that." He played with the buttons of his shirt instead of watching her face. "I just couldn't let it go."
She shook her head and took a breath. She knew what 'it' was. Them. "You let it go enough to marry someone else," she said softly. She wasn't angry. She was done being angry.
"I know," he admitted shamefully. "I'm sorry."
"You've said that you're sorry. I'm not looking for an apology," she said sweetly.
"What are you looking for?" he asked hesitantly, straightening his posture and turning his body towards hers.
"I'll take what I can get, Lucas," she said with a smile and a slight shrug of her shoulders. She'd resigned herself to the fact that she loved him - that she'd never stop loving him.
"How can you say that?" he asked in amazement. How could she still want anything to do with him?
"I can't help it. You've always been it for me," she said softly, moving closer to him.
"But so much has happened, Peyt. I've made so many mistakes..."
"And I've waited for you to realize that for a long time. Why do you think I sleep in your tee shirt? Why do you think I still keep photos of us in frames? I love you, Luke. You know that." She took his hand in hers innocently enough and he ran his thumb over her knuckles.
"You're amazing. You know that?" he asked with a smirk.
She leaned forward and pressed a chaste kiss to his lips. It was the first time she'd kissed him in so long, yet it felt so familiar. He still tasted the same. His lips still fit hers better than anyone's. The moment she kissed him, he wondered how he'd gone without that feeling for so long.
"You still love me," she whispered almost in awe. Her breath was warm against his skin as her forehead rested against his.
"I never stopped," he said, pulling her towards him with his hand on the back of her neck.
The next kiss was unlike the first in almost every way. It was urgent and pleading. Feverish and full of everything they hadn't gotten to share in the years prior. Her body pressed against his in a way he'd never forgotten, and had longed for too many times to count.
"Peyton," he said, breaking their kiss and mumbling against her skin.
"Hmm?" she muttered between the kisses she was trailing along his stubbled jaw line.
"I can't wait any longer to be with you."
He felt her smile against his skin before she stood and reached for his hand. She was wearing a devilish grin and biting her lip seductively.
God, he loved her.
They lay together in her bed, and he was overwhelmed by the feeling that he never wanted to leave it. Her skin gleamed from the sunlight pouring through the windows and a thin layer of perspiration. She was curled into his side with her fingers grazing over his chest idly. He had both arms around her, holding her as close as he possibly could and savoring finally having her there.
"You think we got it right this time?" he asked, moving his thumb in circles on her upper arm.
Her response was a light kiss to his lips. It told him everything he needed to hear.
"I can't believe you waited for me," he said, almost in a whisper.
"I told you I would," she said softly.
He didn't know how he got so lucky to have the love of this breathtaking woman. She had suffered through years of anguish because she knew that he'd come back to her. And if he didn't, she knew she'd never be happy with another. Unlike him, she hadn't bothered to try.
He smiled down at her and kissed her sweetly.
He could have chosen from a number of the phrases he'd said over the years. Words he knew she'd remember hearing for the first time. Sentimental moments that had been etched on both of their hearts.
But he owed it to her to give her something more. He pulled her close and whispered new words that brought tears to her eyes. They were going to make new memories.