A/N: So, I usually write LP fics, but NP is totally my guilty pleasure ship. I am one of the (maybe?) few who actually thinks that Peyton and Nathan as the people they are now would make a great couple. So this story is total NP love/angst/coupledom. If that's not your thing, well, I'm not gonna make you read.

Background: Lucas marries Lindsey. Haley and Nathan divorce. Nanny Carrie never kidnaps Jamie. I think that's all you really need to know.

----

She was sitting at her usual spot, at her usual bar, drinking her usual drink.

At first, she'd spend nights like this at Tric, but it offered too many memories and too many questions. When your roommate is dating the bar manager, it's hard to disappear from a watchful eye. People she knew would constantly come and talk to her, and all she wanted was to be left alone. She found the run down old watering hole on the outskirts of town to be a much better location to drown her sorrows anonymously. The bartender knew her name, only from reading it off her credit card. He didn't ask any other questions.

She used to drink vodka and cranberry juice. As a teenager, even, it had been her favourite drink. But after a while, she found that the liquor wasn't as potent as she thought it needed to be, and switched to straight whiskey.

She didn't do it every night. She worked hard and hated going to the office hung over. She'd learned that lesson the hard way, and one time was enough. Friday, and sometimes Saturday, nights she could be found on the battered old bar stool, knocking back Johnnie Walker Red and trying to erase that particular weeks' memories of him.

It had been almost a year since he was married. She'd refused to go to the wedding, only to receive harsh words from him, implying that she wasn't supportive and questioning her friendship. She had reminded them that they weren't friends. They were exes, and he shouldn't have even invited her in the first place. Since then, they'd only spoken to each other when necessary. And it was killing her.

----

Nathan never pictured himself divorced, let alone, 24 and divorced and only able to see his son every second weekend and a couple nights a week.

He had tried so hard to be everything his wife had wanted him to be. For nearly 6 years, they'd fought and battled and clung to each other through everything they encountered. He'd somehow let her down. He knew he'd been in the wrong, he just didn't see Haley not forgiving him. For a long time, he'd tried so hard to be the man Haley wanted him to be. He had wanted to be that man. Now, without her, part of him felt like he could breathe again. He wasn't reverting back to the lesser version of himself, he just wasn't walking on eggshells, waiting until the next time he saw that look in her eyes telling him he'd done something to disappoint her.

He still wasn't much of a drinker. It was hard to believe that at 24, those days would be behind him. But today was an exception. He'd found himself walking from his house and towards an old bar he used to go to as a teenager. He hadn't even been sure it was still there until he drove past the other day and noticed the fluorescent beer sign aglow in the window.

Walking through the door, he took a look around and had to smile to himself. It was everything he remembered it to be, and everything any passer by would think it would be. There was a table of regulars, talking loudly and nursing their beers, and a couple middle-aged men playing darts. Johnny Cash flowed from the vintage jukebox as he made his way towards the bar.

He chuckled to himself when he noticed a certain leggy blonde perched on a barstool, emptying the contents of her glass.

"Buy you a drink?"

She contemplated a biting remark to whoever was hitting on her, until she realized that she knew that voice. She then opted for her usual sarcasm. "Pull up a chair, Nate. What brings you to this fine establishment?"

"I was supposed to have Jamie for the weekend, but Haley 'traded'," he explained, using air quotes. Truth was, he hadn't had much choice in the matter. He signaled to the bartender to pour two more of whatever Peyton was drinking, knowing their tastes had always been similar. "What about you?"

"The supposed love of my life is married to someone who isn't me," she said, deadpan, holding her glass up slightly until it met the rim of his with a clink.

"We're two sorry losers, aren't we?" he asked, taking a sip of the amber liquid and enjoying the burn he felt in the back of his throat.

"Yup. Ain't life grand?" she asked, turning to face him for the first time. He wore his sleepless nights on his face, just like she suspected she did. "How'd you find out about this place?"

"Took a fake ID when we were in high school. Just seedy enough that no one I know would come here," he explained. "Well, except for you, I guess."

She could only laugh. She never would have thought that the two of them would have ended up together, drowning themselves in alcohol at a rundown bar frequented by almost no one.

"It's the only place I know far enough removed from prying eyes," she said, knowing he'd know exactly what she was referring to.

They sat quietly for a moment, listening as the jukebox changed from a sad old country tune, to a sad old Motown tune.

"Luke's my brother, but I still think he's a dick sometimes," he confessed. His eyes caught hers and he saw her smile for the first time since he'd shown up.

"Haley's one of my best friends, but I still think she could stand to cut you some slack sometimes," she said, still grinning.

She was glad he understood. No one else really had. They'd coddled her and treated her like a fragile girl for a couple months, then they all basically told her to get over it. At the time, Brooke was dealing with Angie, and Haley was dealing with her impending divorce. They all had other issues, and seemingly, Peyton's took the back burner after the arbitrarily alloted amount of grieving time.

"How are you, Peyton?" he asked sincerely. Of course they'd talked since the event that changed everything, but not one-on-one. Well, not one-on-one long enough to really delve in and get an honest answer.

"I'm fine," she said with a shrug. "Working on it. You?"

"Working on it," he echoed, bumping her shoulder with his own. He flashed her that grin when she looked his way, and it somehow put her at ease.

"I know I should be over it. Sometimes I wonder if I am over it and I'm just hanging onto the idea because I need something to hang onto, you know? Just...something," she said quickly.

He would have laughed at her rambling if it hadn't just made all the sense in the world.

"I know exactly what you mean," he said. Her head whipped around and her eyes met his.

"Yeah?" she asked, unable to hide the hope in her voice.

"Yup. It was hard to let go of Haley. But it was what she wanted, so I couldn't really argue. I'm kind of over it now, and I feel worse about that than I did about the divorce in the first place. Like letting go of it that quickly was worse than being forced to let it go at all," he explained. Both their glasses were empty again and he signaled for two more.

"Exactly," she nodded, narrowing her eyes at him. She wondered why they hadn't been talking like this all along.

A Journey ballad started flowing through the bar, and Peyton felt Nathan's hand take hers as he stood from his stool.

"Come on," he said, tugging her towards the 'dance floor' - essentially a 20 x 20 square at the back of the room.

"Nathan..." She tried to protest, but he was too strong, and his hand did not leave hers.

Nathan had never been much of a dancer. In fact, he may have been the worst dancer she knew. The first time they'd danced together had been at a homecoming dance, and he'd wrapped his arms around her and simply swayed to the music. They were doing the same thing now.

"Really? Journey?" she asked as her head rested against him gently.

"Come on. You know you love it," he said, pulling back just in time to see her rolling her eyes the way she always had when she was conceding defeat.

Neither of them spoke until the song ended. They just existed in the music and in the knowledge that each of them understood what the other was going through. The song came to an end and he squeezed her ever-so-slightly. It was meant as a silent reminder that she was going to be OK. That, and her body felt really nice pressed against his.

He followed her back to the bar, unable to ignore how her dress swayed as she walked, or how the boots she wore showed just enough of her legs to be a perfect balance of sexy and classy. He'd only had one drink, so he couldn't even blame the attraction on alcohol. He had to stop that thinking. He had to. Didn't he?

"Nathan? Where'd you go?" she asked with a laugh, trying to get his attention after they were sitting again.

He could play this one of two ways. He could be brash and brazen, or he could be a friend, like he'd been for the past several years. He was Nathan Scott. Brash and brazen was the way he'd always done things.

He leaned closer to her to whisper in her ear. "I was just distracted by how damn sexy you look right now."

She froze. She couldn't believe her friend - one of her best friends - had just said those words. What was he doing? She wanted to say that his breath on the shell of her ear hadn't sent a shiver down her spine. She couldn't.

He noticed her blush and smile, the way she used to when he'd talk to her like that, and that was all the confirmation he needed. He watched her sip her drink. How had he forgotten all these little things that he was suddenly noticing again now? The way her pinky bent slightly as she held her glass. The way she fiddled with the coaster to keep her other hand occupied. The way she subtly licked her lips after taking a sip of alcohol.

"So, how's the new house?" she asked, desperate for some conversation that wouldn't involve a burning sensation in her cheeks.

He smiled at the subject change. His house wasn't exactly new; he'd been living there for nearly a full year. "It's big and quiet. You've seen it."

"Yeah, I've seen it. But only a few times when everyone else was there. It did, if I remember correctly, have lots of places to hide from Lucas and his wife," she said with a grin. She wasn't totally joking, but she didn't want to seem that bitter.

"You can't even say her name, can you?" he asked, smirking in that way that made his eyes light up.

"It's more of a refusal than anything," she informed him. She raised her glass again as he laughed.

"Lucas is an idiot," he said beneath his breath, shaking his head.

"What?" she laughed, turning to face him. Her knee inadvertently brushed against his, but neither made any effort to move.

"He's an idiot. Letting you get away," he said softly, looking into her eyes. It had been so long since he looked at her that way, that he'd almost forgotten how captivating she could be.

"You let me get away, too," she teased, making him roll his eyes.

"Maybe so," he said, gesturing to the bartender for another round. "But I'm the one here with you right now, aren't I?"

She wished the smile he gave her hadn't made her stomach flutter. She really had no idea what was going on between them, but it felt like something. And something was better than whatever she'd been feeling - or not feeling - for the year prior.

They laughed and chatted and caught up over a couple more drinks. She told him she was proud of him for starting to chase his basketball dreams again, and he told her he was proud of her for starting her label and staying in Tree Hill, even after everything that had happened. He realized then just how strong a woman she was, to be able to stay in the same town as the man who'd broken her heart so many times, and watch him build his life with the woman he chose over her.

He laughed when she sang along with the Otis Redding song that came on, and that seemed to only spur her on. He couldn't say he wasn't enjoying the way her hands felt as she caressed his arm while she sang. The bartender just chuckled at the two of them, by far the youngest people in the bar, and the ones having the most fun.

She was staring at him as they waited for their glasses to be refilled, and he couldn't read the expression on her face.

"What?" he finally asked when her staring began to make him uneasy.

"You look different than I remember," she said.

"What does that mean?" he asked with a laugh.

"I just never really looked at you. Not since high school. Not really. You were always Haley's husband, so I never really paid attention. Now you're Nathan Scott again," she rambled. She had one hand resting on his thigh, and her other arm around his shoulder. She began to play with the fabric of his shirt at the back of his neck as she spoke. "And you are totally hot."

"You drunk, Sawyer?" he teased, watching as she pulled her hands off him and smirked as she shifted so she was facing the bar again.

"No drunker than you are," she pointed out with a raised eyebrow.

He was overcome with the urge to kiss her. He wasn't quite sure where it came from, but he leaned forward, took her face in his hands, and pressed his lips to hers gently. He was about to pull away when he felt her hand move back to his thigh. She was kissing him back. One of his closest friends. His ex-girlfriend. His brother's former muse. Peyton. She was kissing him back.

When they finally parted for air, he rested his forehead against hers. He noticed that she still kept her eyes closed after a good kiss. And that kiss? Was really fucking good.

When he finally saw her eyelids flutter open, he noticed her smile, too. He took a deep breath.

"Tell me that wasn't a drunken mistake," she said softly. She couldn't - wouldn't - have another man kiss her, then run off to someone else.

"Definitely not," he whispered, pressing his lips to hers once more.

She pulled away and they both finished their drinks quickly, before he leaned toward her and placed his hand on the small of her back.

"Your place?" he asked, grazing her earlobe with his lips.

"Uh uhn," she muttered, pulling back and seeing the flash of disappointment in his eyes. She had to smile at that. "My place has a Brooke."

He laughed at his own ignorance and nodded. "Let's go."

He payed their tab, despite her argument that they should split it. They'd both walked to the bar that night, knowing that after a few drinks, neither would be fit to drive. They strolled through the back streets of town towards his house, playing and joking with each other. He lifted her over a particularly large puddle when she'd complained about ruining her boots, making her squeal with laughter when he refused to set her down. Instead, he hoisted her over his shoulder, placing his hand over the back of her thigh to keep her in place. He set her down when he got too distracted by the smoothness of her skin. She slapped him on the chest and he grabbed her hand, placing a kiss to her palm before intertwining their fingers.

He unlocked the door, and as soon as they were inside his lips were on hers. She brought her hands to the back of his neck as they stood in the foyer of his big, quiet home, with only the sounds of their breathing and their kisses filling the silence. He pulled away quickly and she whimpered at the loss of contact, making him smile before pecking her on the lips again.

He tugged her hand towards the stairs and they somehow managed to make it to his bedroom. She wondered how she'd done it, given how weak in the knees he was making her. There was always something about Nathan. The way he'd look at her right before he kissed her, or how his eyes turned sapphire when his hands were on her hips. She knew he'd changed a lot over the years since they'd last kissed, but tonight, she saw the shadows of the boy she used to know; the one she had so desperately wanted to fix.

Tangled in an embrace once again, she slipped her hands beneath the fabric of his shirt, feeling him tense under her touch. He broke away from her lips to explain that her hands were cold, and she took the opportunity to tug the material over his head.

"Impatient, much?" he teased, nipping at her neck.

"You sure you want to tease me right now?" she asked with a raised eyebrow, arching her back slightly to pull away from him, inadvertently pressing her hips to his, eliciting a throaty moan.

"There are a few things I want to do to you right now," he said, his voice low and husky. He pulled her close to him again before walking her backwards toward the bed.

She couldn't help but notice the way his body had changed over the years. His muscles were more defined and his arms stronger. Years of basketball and life had left his hands weathered and calloused. She was amazed that they still felt as good on her skin as they did when they were teenagers.

She shouldn't have felt such a need to be with him. She shouldn't have needed to feel his weight on her body. He was one of her best friends. There was a time when she'd convinced herself that he'd be her brother-in-law one day. But right now, they were just Nathan and Peyton, two former lovers, both single and consenting. And at that point, she was too far gone to stop any of their actions, and frankly, she didn't want to. All the baggage and weight they'd both been carrying around had flown out the window when he'd kissed her at the bar.

Peyton had always been skinny. She was all legs and arms and a tiny waist. But the years had changed her body in a way he hadn't been prepared for. He noticed when he slipped her dress over her head that her hips were wider and her frame had filled out perfectly. Years on the west coast had given her skin a warm glow, and he couldn't stop himself from touching every bit of bare skin he could. Her body was incredible, and she was gorgeous, and she was all his.

At least for the night.

----

She lay in Nathan's bed, in his arms, for the first time since she was 17. And it didn't feel strange. A little surreal, perhaps, but not strange. Her fingertips moved in gentle circles on his chest, a habit of hers that he hadn't forgotten from their days together.

"What just happened?" she asked, still a little shocked at the evening's turn of events.

"Didn't think I'd have to explain it to you, Sawyer," he teased, pulling her naked body closer to his. She draped one of those long legs of hers over his a little further and he had to smile at how that felt.

"I just meant..."

"I know what you meant," he interrupted. "Honestly, I don't know how we got here, but that was amazing. This is the first time in a long time I've felt much of anything."

"Me too," she whispered, leaning up to kiss him again.

"Using me to numb the pain?" he asked as she lay her head on his chest again.

"Jerk!" she cried, pointlessly shoving him. "Are you?" Her voice had gone timid, and he knew that it was a valid concern. The last thing he wanted was for her to feel like this was nothing more than a one night stand.

"I'm not using you, Peyton," he assured her, running his hand up and down her side. "Tonight, you made me feel like me again."

They lay in silence for a while longer, just listening to each other breathe and each enjoying the heat radiating off the other.

"I should go," she said, sitting up and pulling away from him. "Brooke's going to..."

"Stay," he interrupted. He grabbed her hand, sat up, and smiled at her. That damn smile that she was sure she wouldn't be able to say no to. The more she saw it, the more she was beginning to realize that he knew exactly how to use it to get his way.

"Nathan..."

"Stay with me tonight," he muttered, kissing her neck again as he pulled her back down on top of him.

"If I stay, you're not going to stop doing that," she said coyly.

"Is that such a bad thing?" he whispered, letting his mouth linger near her earlobe.

"Nathan, what about Haley? And Lucas?" she asked. He stopped kissing her and looked her in the eyes. She immediately regretted mentioning their names, and craved his lips on her skin again.

"Haley and Lucas haven't thought about either of us the way we wanted them to in a long time." He said it with conviction, hoping he'd convince her of what they both already knew.

His and Haley's marriage was over. Lucas' was very much not. They were doing nothing sinful. They were not cheating. They were adults. They weren't strangers. They were two people seeking comfort, and finding it with someone they trusted.

She kissed him again without saying another word, and he knew she understood what he was saying. They stayed silent for the rest of the evening, save for satisfied sounds and whispers of each others' names.

----

She woke up to the blinding sunlight filling the room, and an empty bed. Sitting up, she clutched the sheet to her chest and smiled when she saw Nathan pulling a tee shirt over his head.

"Morning," she said sleepily, leaning forward and stretching as discretely as she could without exposing herself. She couldn't explain the shyness.

"Hey," he smiled back. "I was just going to make you something to eat."

"What time is it?" she asked, laying back down as he came to sit at the edge of the bed. If she was being honest, she didn't want to leave his bed at all.

"Almost 10:30," he informed her. He caressed her arm before intertwining their fingers. He noticed how much bigger his hand was than hers, but how they somehow fit together perfectly.

She relished the simple and seemingly innocent act, and stared at their hands as they rest next to her. She caught those blue eyes of his and memories of the night before flooded her mind. She didn't regret a thing.

"So, what are you making me?" she asked demurely.

"I was thinking of brunch. Eggs, toast, bacon, coffee," he said with a smile. "I was actually kind of surprised you were still here when I woke up."

"Mmm. Sounds good." Wait a second. Surprised? "You really thought I was going to leave?"

"I might have been a little worried I'd wake up to an empty bed, yeah," he explained nervously.

She sat up again, not caring whether or not she was covered, and put her arms around him. She noticed the grin on his face as she pulled away. He wasn't sure why she'd done it, but he didn't really care. He wondered if this connection had always been there and they'd just ignored it, or if it was something new that never existed between the two before.

"Want something to wear?" he asked, laughing as she gathered the sheet around her body again.

"Please. All you own are sleeveless tee shirts and basketball shorts, though," she teased.

He scoffed and walked to his closet, pulling a black button down shirt off a hanger and tossing it towards her.

"I'll be in the kitchen," he said with a smirk.

She lay for a few minutes after he left, wondering how this could all feel so perfect to her. She realized now that he was the perfect combination of the guy she used to know, and the guy he'd been for Haley. He was kind and considerate and caring, but he still had that edge that made him sexy as hell. Just the right amount of attitude and confidence mixed in with his kindness.

She pulled the fabric of his shirt over her arms and buttoned it. She tried to remember the last time she wore a man's clothes, and couldn't. She laughed slightly at how depressing that was. She walked to the bathroom and splashed water on her face and made sure her appearance wasn't a complete disaster. She obviously hadn't planned for something like this to happen. The one thing about having Brooke Davis as a roommate is that you pick up tricks. For instance, you always carry a tube of mascara and some good lip gloss in your purse. Because, according to the brunette, 'you never know'. She was thankful for that advice now. She ran her fingers through her hair as she made her way downstairs.

He heard her enter the room, and smirked when he took in the sight of her. He'd be lying if he said he didn't love the sex hair she'd been sporting earlier, but seeing her all put together and wearing his shirt was quite a picture.

"You look hot," he noted, unabashedly checking her out as she poured herself a cup of coffee. She rolled her eyes as he wrapped his arm around her shoulder, pulling her into his side and pressing a kiss to her temple.

Neither of them felt uncomfortable. She stood, admiring the view of the ocean out his kitchen window, and he stood, admiring how gorgeous she was as she sipped coffee with her back to him.

He called her to the table and she took the seat beside him, smiling at the breakfast he'd made. He explained that he'd never been a bachelor in his life, so he'd started watching the Food Network to save himself from starving.

"You're pretty quiet," he said after a while of eating in silence.

"Sorry," she said with a laugh. "I'm just trying to figure out what to tell Brooke. She's going to ask me a million questions when she realizes I didn't come home last night."

"The Peyton Sawyer I know wouldn't be worried about that kind of thing," he said. He took a sip of his coffee and rested his elbows on the table.

"Maybe you don't know me as well you think you do," she said with a raised eyebrow.

"Maybe I want to know you better." He gave her that smile again, then muttered under his breath, "Even better than I did last night."

"Had to ruin the moment, huh?" she teased. His bare foot nestled up against hers and she just smiled at him. She felt like a 16 year old girl again, craving even the simplest contact from the boy she liked.

"You love it," he insisted, sitting back in his chair and watching her take another bite of her food.

A few more minutes passed with them stealing glances at each other and their legs tangling beneath the table, but neither of them saying a word.

"OK, this is a little weird, right?" she asked, finally putting down her fork and clasping her hands on the table in front of her.

"It's only weird because it doesn't feel weird," he said with a smile. "If that makes any sense."

"I guess I'm just trying to figure out what this is. And I know that probably freaks you out because it was just one night and we'd both been drinking and whatever and..."

"Peyton," he interrupted, laughing as he said her name. Damn, her rambling was adorable. "I meant what I said. I want to know you better. I'm actually glad this happened."

"Me too," she admitted quietly.

She stood from her chair and settled herself onto his lap. He hadn't been expecting it, but it was definitely a nice surprise. She draped her arms around his neck and his hands clasped around her waist. She leaned forward and kissed him, nibbling his bottom lip gently like she knew he'd always loved.

"Nathan?" she spoke between the kisses she was pressing to his lips.

"Hmm?" he asked, too caught up in her to really pay attention.

"Why don't you take me upstairs again before we go out and face the real world?" she asked in a sultry voice.

She didn't have to ask him twice.