A/N: Just one thing to clear up - everything from seasons 1-4 happened, with the exception that Lily doesn't exist. This will be a short-ish story (under 10 chapters). This is the first one. Let me know what you think.
"Where's Luke?" Haley asked desperately as she took the seat next to her husband, wiping her tears with the back of her finger. Nathan wrapped her in his arms. He couldn't stand to see her like this - hurting and heartbroken. There was nothing he could do to change how she was feeling, but be damned if he wasn't going to try anyway.
"I don't know," Brooke managed to choke out. This was hardly the time to be thinking it, but she wished she had a Nathan. Well, a boyfriend, anyway. She wanted nothing more than to crumble into a warm, strong pair of arms.
"What do you mean you don't know?" Haley asked.
"He took off. I tried to follow him but he said he just wanted to be alone. I'm worried," Brooke explained.
"Come on," Nathan said, standing and pulling Haley up with him. "Let's get out of here. We all need to get some rest."
"I don't think I can sleep right now," Haley said, sniffling as she wrapped her arms around Nathan's waist a little tighter. "Not with everything and not without knowing where Lucas is."
"Hales, you know he's like this. We'll talk to him tomorrow," Nathan assured her. "Brooke, you're coming with us."
"It's OK. I'm just gonna go home," she said weakly.
"No, you're not. You're staying with us tonight," Haley insisted. Brooke just nodded silently, knowing there was no use in arguing, and the three left the building and started towards the car.
Tree Hill Memorial Hospital was a place they'd all spent too much time in the past few days, not to mention the past ten or so years. Countless car accidents, a drug-induced collapse, a shooting, surgeries, a heart attack or two...They may as well have had a designated waiting area just for themselves. This time, however, was different. This time, someone was gone, and they all knew that everything was about to change. It already had.
Karen Roe had been many things over the years. A cheerleader. A broken hearted teenager. A single mom. The owner of two successful businesses. A widow. A mother figure to her son's friends. A world traveler. And now, she was a memory. Never again would anyone be able to go to her for her seemingly endless supply of advice. She was gone. And everyone who knew her was worse off because of it.
After sending home the neighbour who'd watched Jamie for them, the three friends sat in Nathan and Haley's living room in silence for what seemed like ages.
"OK," Haley said finally. "I can't just sit here without knowing where Lucas is. He's been like a zombie this whole time and I don't think it's hit him yet."
"It hasn't," Brooke said, shaking her head. "I'm worried about him."
"We all are," Nathan added quietly. The room was quiet again for a few moments as they thought about the tragedy they were all dealing with, and how it must have felt a million times worse for the woman's son. "You know who we need to call."
"No," Haley said quickly. "No way."
"Haley, he's right," Brooke insisted. "She needs to know. And you know there's only one person who can get through to him."
"The person who tore his heart out? No. Do not call her," Haley said with finality, standing from her seat and making her way up the stairs.
Nathan and Brooke exchanged a look. After the breakup, the friends had not been told to choose sides, but Haley had done it anyway. Her and Peyton's relationship had always been up and down, but this had been the final straw, and the two had stopped speaking because of it. Lucas had insisted that Haley hadn't had to end the friendship, but she'd told him she simply couldn't forgive Peyton for what had happened. Nathan and Brooke had kept in touch with the blonde and were kept up to date with the life she lived in L.A., but neither filled Lucas or Haley in. Lucas couldn't bare to hear all the details, and Haley didn't want to so much as hear her name.
"We have to call her," Brooke repeated.
"I know we do," Nathan nodded. "Just do it quietly, and be as vague as possible. You know where the spare bedroom is. Make yourself at home." He stood to follow his wife but Brooke's desperate voice stopped him.
"Nathan," she pleaded. "What about...?"
"I don't know. He needs her though," he said sadly.
Brooke nodded and grabbed her phone from her purse as she made her way to her room for the night. She knew none of them were going to be getting any sleep anyway, but she needed to lay down. The queen sized bed was a welcome change to the plastic chairs of the hospital she'd been in for the better part of three days.
"Peyton? It's me," she spoke into the phone, knowing she wouldn't be able to disguise the pain and tears in her voice.
"Today has been amazing," he mumbled into her hair. Peyton just took in a deep breath and burrowed into his side a little closer. "What are you thinking about, baby?"
"You. Us. This." She tilted her head up to smile at him and she pressed a kiss to his lips.
She wondered if she'd ever been happier. She wondered if ever in her life, there'd been a time when she felt more content and balanced than she did right now. She'd been in L.A. for 6 years. She finally had the job she wanted, an incredible beach side house, and a man who loved her more than he loved anything. She had everything she ever wanted. Aside from the traffic on her way to and from work, she wouldn't change a thing.
She stood from the bed and wrapped her navy blue silk robe around her body as she made her way to the kitchen, explaining that she was just going to get some water.
She pulled two glasses from the cupboard and hear an unfamiliar clink when her left hand collided with the glass. She held her hand in front of her and quickly relived her day.
Laying in bed that morning, her alarm went off and she moved to stop the incessant beeping. The last thing she wanted to do was go to work, especially when he'd been relentless the night before, teasing her about his having the day off while she would be stuck in her office. She had always hated Mondays, and he knew as much.
She made the move to set her feet on the ground, but was stopped by a strong arm as he mumbled something incoherent. She was forced to lay back down before she could protest.
"Stay," he managed before his eyes were even open.
"I can't. I have to work," she insisted.
"Stay," he repeated.
"I really can't," she whispered, draping her leg over his and leaning in to kiss him.
"Then don't start something you can't finish," he teased, finally looking at her. She was stunning, even when her hair was a mess and she had circles under her eyes from lack of sleep. She was in one of his old tee shirts and the smile she threw him at his last statement made his heart race.
"I could call in sick," she said with a smile, trailing her index finger down his chest and over his stomach.
"Do it," he said quickly, making her laugh. That laugh sealed the deal. He sat for a moment, thinking of her and staring at her. The thing he'd been considering for the last few weeks was now a given. "Let's get married."
She bolted upright and looked down at him with her brows furrowed. "What?"
"Let's get married, Peyton. I love you," he said urgently. "You're the first woman I've ever loved, and I don't want to love anyone else. Ever. I want to be with you and hold onto you for as long as you'll let me. Marry me."
She contemplated it for a moment. It was something she'd tried not to let herself think about - marrying him. But now, they were stable. Their relationship had never been better and they were both fulfilled by their work. They had bought a house together, for crying out loud. She loved him, and upon his declaration, she knew that there was nothing else she wanted.
"Today," she said, looking into those chocolate brown eyes of his. She noticed the confusion on his face. "Let's get married today."
"What?" he laughed. "5 minutes ago you were insisting you had to go to work! Where do you expect to get married on such short notice, baby? Vegas?"
"City Hall. And don't joke. If you want to marry me, put your money where your mouth is," she teased, raising her brow at the challenge.
He just laughed at the challenge and grabbed her waist to pull her on top of him.
"City Hall. Go get ready," he mumbled against her lips.
He was going to ask why she was insistent on doing it so urgently. He was going to ask if she wanted her friends or her father present. He was going to ask if she wanted an engagement ring and a big celebration and the perfect white dress and champagne and cake. But all he wanted to do was marry her. Today, tomorrow, 6 months from now. If today was what she wanted, today was what she was going to get.
They showered separately and he pulled on his new custom tailored grey Italian suit and a black tie. He checked himself in the mirror one last time before heading downstairs to wait for his fiancé. Could he even call her that? In a few short hours, she'd be his wife. He couldn't wipe the smile off his face thinking about it.
He heard the clicking of her heels as she made her way down the stairs. He took a deep breath when he saw her, knowing this was a moment he wouldn't forget for the rest of his life.
She had on a fitted black satin strapless dress with a tasteful and very fashionable bow at the bust. Her hair was down and styled just the way he'd always told her he loved it, and her make up was flawless. Her black heels completed the ensemble. She looked incredible.
"You're going to wear a black dress on your wedding day?" he asked, a teasing tone in his voice as he hooked his arm around her waist and pulled her into him.
"You love this dress," she said, kissing him passionately.
"I do love this dress," he growled, running his hands over the satin material on her hip. "Now you'll never be able to wear it again though."
"Well, at least it'll have a great memory attached to it," she said with a laugh.
"Come on," he said, tugging her hand towards the door.
They drove to a nearby jewelry store and purchased two simple platinum bands. Next was the florist, where he bought her a bundle of three calla lilies with a black ribbon around them. They stopped for a bottle of champagne and a specialty cake from their favourite bakery, called a photographer friend to snap a few pictures, then went on to City Hall.
By noon, Peyton Elizabeth Sawyer was married. Married. There was no going back now, and she didn't want to.
They spent the rest of their day talking and making love and drinking champagne. They made dinner together like they always did, then headed back to the bedroom. It was perfect.
She smiled to herself again and began pouring the liquid into the glasses when the phone rang. She heard him shout from upstairs to leave it, but something made her pick up the phone.
"Hello?" she answered cheerily.
"Peyton. It's me," Brooke's voice came through the line.
"Brooke! Hi!" All day long, she'd wondered how she was going to tell her best friend that she'd gotten married without her there. Not only that, but she'd deprived her designer friend the opportunity to create a one-of-a-kind dress.
"I have to tell you something," Brooke managed, choking back another sob. She knew that saying what she had to say was going to make it even more real.
"Brooke, what's wrong?" Peyton asked worriedly.
"It's Karen," Brooke sobbed. "She died, Peyton."
She dropped the glass that had been in her hand and it shattered against the counter. A stray piece must have hit her leg on its way to the floor, because she felt the warm blood trickling down her leg before she even looked.
"What?" she asked, not caring that she was bleeding. Her heart was breaking and the tears had already started pooling in her eyes.
"She had a stroke. She hung on for three days, but her body just shut down," Brooke explained through her tears. She didn't hear a response on the other end of the line, just a few sniffles and gasps for air. Peyton had pressed a towel to her leg in an attempt to stop herself from bleeding, but she was numb to the pain.
"Peyton?" Brooke rasped.
"I'll be there by the morning," she whispered. The two hung up without saying another word, but Peyton heard the sigh of relief on the other end of the line.
It took her another moment before she realized that going home meant seeing him for the first time in years. He would need her, and it was going to be hard, especially now, to be near him. But Lucas had always been there for her, and she would be there for him if and when he needed her, no matter how awkward it may be for her to reach out to him.
He had come down the stairs upon hearing the breaking glass and was now standing in front of her with a terrified look on his face. He looked down at her leg and went pale - he'd never been able to handle the sight of blood.
"Peyton," he muttered.
"Karen died," she sobbed. That was all it took for him to gather her in his arms. He'd heard about the woman over the years, and knew exactly how important the she was to Peyton. Even after the whole mess with Lucas, Karen and Peyton had traded occasional emails keeping each other up to date with their lives.
"Baby, you're bleeding," he reminded her after a few moments. Her tears had fallen onto his bare chest, but neither of them cared. He picked her up and carried her away from the broken glass, setting her down on one of their kitchen chairs.
"I need to pack. I need to get to the airport. I need to..."
"You're leaving?" It was a selfish question and he knew as soon as it had left his mouth. This woman was like a mother to his wife and she had just passed away. Of course she was leaving. "I'm sorry," he said, shaking his head. "I'll come with you."
"No," she said firmly, shaking her head at him. "You have so much work to do here. I don't know how long I'll be gone."
"Are you going to see him?" he asked quietly. He wanted to look down, but he knew there was blood there, and he wasn't fond of passing out, which he knew would happen if he glanced in the direction of her leg.
"She's his mother. Of course I am," she said, a fresh batch of tears falling down her already damp cheeks. He didn't say anything for a moment. He just ran his thumb over her gleaming wedding ring. "You trust me?"
"You know I do," he insisted softly, gazing into those irresistible green eyes of hers.
"You have nothing to worry about," she said, placing her hands on either side of his face and pressing her lips to his gently.
Two hours later, he was saying goodbye to her at security and joking that this wasn't exactly how he wanted to spend his wedding night. He kissed her in a way that he hoped would stay with her until she returned to him. To their home. She let go of his hand and made her way to the metal detector.
"Julian!" she called out, grabbing his attention again. "I love you."
"I love you, too. Mrs. Baker." She rolled her eyes at the cheesy and clichéd wedding day statement.
She watched him walking away, knowing that he wouldn't be able to watch her leave. She knew that facing what was waiting for her on the other end of the plane ride was going to be damn near impossible. She didn't know how she was going to do it.
She found her first class seat and sat down, running her fingers through her hair. She looked at the ring on her hand for a moment before slipping it off and dropping it into her purse.
She couldn't explain it. She couldn't rationalize it. She just hid it.
Just for a little while.