Disclaimer: Don't own the characters, etc. those belong to the CW and Mark Schwann, who effectively ruined them!

A/N: Thanks again to all of you who have been here from the beginning. You along with the newbies have reinvigorated my push to get this story out, and I can't thank you enough for that. Here is the first of what will probably turn out to be a 3-part epilogue - post reunion. I hope you continue to enjoy the crazy path that our beloved characters live. As always, please review. It really is like heroin or candy for us writers!


Crown of Love - Epilogue Part One

They say, "it fades if you let it,"

love was made to forget it.

I carved your name across my eyelids

you pray for rain, I pray for blindness...

Having known the pair from the beginning, Millie was thrilled when Brooke finally set the date and asked her to be maid of honor. She truly couldn't have been any happier for the two of them, especially Julian. He had stuck by Brooke's side through thick and thin, accepted her pain as his own and loved her despite it all. As far as she was concerned, there wasn't another man more deserving of Brooke's hand, and heart, than Julian.

"It's beautiful, Brooke." Millie gasped, watching her friend gracefully twirl around as she modeled her latest and most momentous piece to date - her wedding gown. They were entering the final stretch here; in a week's time she'd walk down the aisle and become Mrs. Julian Baker.

"Something is off. Maybe if I add an extra layer of chiffon to the train?" Brooke was musing aloud when the door sprung open and a certain fiery red head walked in.

"You look good, slut." She greeted, nonchalantly, plopping down on the tiny settee and opening up a bag of McDonald's.

Brooke laughed as she made her way over to her friend's side. "You don't look too bad yourself, whore, which is surprising given your meal of choice these days."

"Bitch, I was just on an airplane for the last four hours sitting next to a screaming baby and a bald, smelly, fat man. Why? Because my spoiled little brat of a friend had to push up her dress fitting to go on a surprise, pre-honeymoon trip to Sundance with her fiancé? Yea, I think I'm entitled to splurge after that. Besides, I'm not the one squeezing my ass into a couture wedding gown, now am I?"

"Oh no you didn't just say that!" Brooke cried out as the two sprang forward into a faux fight of sorts. "Take it back or else!"

Rachel let out a hearty chuckle at that one. "Okay, okay...you win," Rachel conceded, despite knowing full well that Brooke never really had a chance. For a girl that'd never had a brother, Rachel sure knew how to throw down, and in real fight to the death, Brooke would be no match. "You know you look perfect as always."

"That's better." The perky brunette replied with her nose turned up in dramatic fashion. "Now shut up, wash that grease off your hands and go try on your dress!"

That was Brooke and Rachel for ya, Millie thought. Never a dull moment between the two of them. To be honest, she'd never really understood their friendship, much less personally cared for the girl, but Brooke had insisted Rachel be included in the wedding. All in all, it really hadn't been that bad. Rachel stayed in New York most of the time anyways, running the store there, and Millie was busy running the store in LA. Having those 2,000 plus miles in between them was definitely good for morale.

"So...what do you think, Millie?" Brooke whined, pacing around the room somewhat hysterically. "Should I add an extra layer of ruffles? Maybe lower the back a bit? More rhinestones, less rhinestones? I don't know what to do! I really thought this was going to be it..."

"Hunny, hunny...sit down." Millie cooed, as she grabbed her friend and helped her over to the couch. "You're starting to scare me a little bit, so just sit tight and try to relax. I'm gonna go grab you a glass of ice water, okay? I'll be right back."

...

For the past few months Lucas had been traveling the country with Lindsey promoting his latest novel, "The Red Door." All the long hours had started to take a toll on the two blondes, so Luke insisted they take a day off to just enjoy themselves.

Since embarking on the tour, Lucas and Lindsey's relationship had shifted from strictly business to being pretty good friends. They'd shared quite a bit with each other, though in Luke's case it kind of came with the territory, given his first story was somewhat autobiographical. So it was really when Lindsey opened up about her dad's losing battle with cancer and her mom's subsequent depression that they'd truly become friends.

...If you still want me, please forgive me

the crown of love has fallen from me...

On this particular day they happened to be in Los Angeles; a mere block away from Brooke's store. It was a gorgeous day, not uncommon for the area, with the sun shining brightly and not a cloud in sight. Still, for Lucas, being there was bittersweet. Everywhere he looked there seemed to be news of the pending nuptials between Brooke and her hotshot, music producer fiancé, Julian Baker. I mean what kind of name is Julian anyway? Lucas thought. It sounds like a bad Antonio Banderas character.

"Can I ask you something?" Lindsey broke him out of his silent reverie. Lucas nodded. "And be honest. If Brooke had decided to stay in Tree Hill after the reunion, after you'd found out about the whole situation with her daughter, would you honestly have been able to forgive her for that? I mean, she slept with your brother of all people."

Lucas thought about that for a moment; he had never considered what he would have done in that situation before, because he never had to. Brooke didn't stay.

"Ya, I guess I would have." He finally said, confidently. "Thing is, I'd already forgiven her for that - albeit unknowingly - before we'd gotten back together in New York. My forgiveness wasn't conditional back then, and neither was how I felt about her." Lucas sighed, remembering the horrible weeks after Dante went ballistic at the championship game and he'd gone on a rampage trying to uncover the truth.

Foolish as it may have been, at the time it was like he had been possessed, trying to fix things...wanting to turn back time and bring Keith back to his mom, Nathan back to Haley and hope back to him. He'd later found out that it was Dan's gambling that'd gotten them into the whole mess in the first place - he'd ordered Nathan to throw the game and he probably would have if not for Haley walking in at that very moment - but none of that mattered now.

"I wasn't myself after that night." Lucas muttered, half to himself, half to Lindsey. "I was so consumed with guilt...I was lost, and I was even more lost when she left, but I don't blame her for leaving or from keeping that part of her life from me. She was right; I never let her all the way in, and I didn't stop her from leaving when I had the chance. I wanted to, believe me I did, I just could never find the right way to do it. And then, it was too late."

Lindsey sat up straighter, shocked at his last statement. "It's never too late." She reminded him of his own words, while picking up his novel and opening it to the page she wanted. After a quick glance, she'd found the particular excerpt she wanted and started reading.

"It was more than just a red door because of what it brought to his life: direction, beauty, meaning. There are many who couldn't understand, and sometimes he walked among them. But even in his darkest hours, he knew in his heart that someday it would return to him, and his world would be whole again... And his belief in God and love and art would be re-awakened in his heart."

"What happened to this guy, Luke? She asked, closing the book and looking directly at him. "You should go to see her."

"Linds, it's just a story." Lucas grunted, as he downed another glass of Pinot Noir. "She made her choice, and now I have to let her go. I mean, my mom always said that people who are meant to be together always find their way back in the end, but maybe we just aren't meant to be together like I've always thought."

"I'm sorry, Luke. I really am." Lindsey grabbed her purse to leave, sensing he needed to be alone.

After brooding for few moments, Lucas snapped out of it and walked up to his editor, who was standing with her hand on the doorknob, ready to leave. "Hey, why don't you hang out and have a few drinks with me?" He suggested. "You know, take my mind off of it."

Lindsey started to tease him that he'd probably already had enough to drink but thought better of it once she saw the pain in his eyes. "Sure. I'll grab another bottle of wine," she said before slipping out of the room.

Once back in the room, Lindsey poured the two of them fresh glasses before sitting down next to Lucas. "For the record," she told him, "I think she made the wrong choice."

...

As much as Millie loved, looked up to and at times even envied Brooke, she couldn't ignore the fact that maybe something else was going on here...something outside of the designer's usual neurotic behavior, something beyond simple pre-wedding jitters. Maybe it wasn't the dress that was the problem at all; maybe it was her.

...If you still want me, please forgive me

Because the spark is not within me

I snuffed it out before my mom walked in my bedroom...

"Are you feeling any better?" Millie asked as she handed over the ice water.

"A little." Brooke replied meekly. "I just don't know what I'm doing wrong. I mean, I know they always say that the bride doesn't know what she wants until she finds it, and that more often than not the dress they end up choosing is something completely different than the one they had in mind. It's just, I thought I'd be different, you know? I've had my dream dress, this dress, designed for as long as I can remember. It never changed. No matter how many times I pictured myself walking down the aisle, it never changed. And now, looking at myself in the mirror, something's off, and I don't know what it is."

By then Rachel had returned from the other room and joined the two women in front of the mirror.

"Brooke," Millie spoke softly, not wanting to upset her friend. "I know you don't want to hear this now, but have you ever thought that maybe it's not the dress that's off? Could it be that this is your heart's way of saying, "don't go through with this?"

"Why would it be telling me not to go through with it? I love Julian." Brooke stated back, matter of factly.

"And, I don't doubt that."

"So what are you saying then?"

"She's saying you're an idiot!" Rachel blurted out.

"I never said that!" Millie protested.

"Oh, please. Save it, Miley"

"For the one-thousandth time...it's Millie!"

"Whatever." Rachel dismissed her friend's loyal, yet naive, assistant and turned her attention back to Brooke. "Listen up, skank, I'm only saying this once. You can't marry Julian."

"What the hell is wrong with you two?" Brooke shouted back. "I'm about to walk down the aisle in less than a week and now you're coming at me with this? What's the point? Do you not want me to be happy?"

"Of course we want you to be happy." Millie and Rachel responded in unison, both eyeing each other suspiciously.

"Let me take care of this." Rachel declared, with such unwavering confidence that Millie didn't question it. "Brooke, do you remember what you said when I asked you who you wanted standing next to you when all your dreams came true?" Rachel paused briefly to allow her hypothetical question to sink in. "Lucas. You said Lucas, and I don't doubt that you've imagined yourself walking down the aisle a million times in the exact same dress you're wearing now. The only difference is that it's not Julian waiting for you at the altar now is it? It's Lucas. It's always been Lucas. You have to talk to him Brooke."

"No, I don't." Brooke finally responded, but the strain in her voice betrayed the tough exterior she'd been putting up. "What I have to do is go. Julian is picking me up for the airport at 7:30, and I'm nowhere near packed. The two of you are supposed to be here to support me. So support me!"

"Fine, I won't say another word, but do me a favor," Rachel held out her arm to stop Brooke from leaving. After fishing through her purse she pulled out a book and handed it to Brooke with one last request. "Before you go off and make the biggest mistake of your life...read this."

...

Brooke sat on her red velvet couch waiting for Julian to come get her. He was running a tad late, so she'd begrudgingly decided to take Rachel's advice and read Lucas's latest novel. The title alone was enough to hold her back from reading any further. Instead she tossed the book onto her suitcase and headed for the bathroom.

...The only thing that you keep changing

Is your name, my love keeps growing

Still the same, just like a cancer

And you won't give me a straight answer...

When she got back, Julian was standing in her living room, one hand clutching Lucas's book, the other barely touching her suitcase.

"Well, I think I found the problem…" He greeted her, abruptly, holding the book out at her as if it were evidence.

"What do you mean?" She grabbed it from him and instinctively tucked it against her body. "I thought I'd bring it on the plane to read. Is that a crime?"

"What? For the thousandth time?"

"This is a new one. I haven't read it yet." Brooke explained, not yet understanding why Julian was so upset.

"Great." He rolled his eyes, talking in his high pitched sarcastic voice. "Now there are two of them."

"It's not a big deal…"

"No. It is a big deal, Brooke."

"They're just books!"

"Exactly. And, you don't even like reading!" Julian moved toward the bedroom. Knowing exactly what he was looking for, it didn't take him long to find it. "So why do you continue to buy copies of this thing...every damn time you see it?" He picked up Lucas's first book and tossed it in her direction. "It sits on the nightstand half the time, our nightstand for god's sake. You think it's lost on me that it's written by your ex-boyfriend?"

"Julian, it's not like that. It's just important to me."

"No. You know what, I'm tired of this," he said, grabbing Lucas's second book out of Brooke's arms. "Here," he started reading from the back of the book: "the boy saw the red door and he felt as though his life had meaning."

"Ok."

"The boy saw the red door and he felt as though his life had meaning. And when the door was taken away from him, he spent his entire life searching, hoping, waiting for it to come back to him." Julian paused and looked up for a moment. There was a sadness in his eyes that Brooke had never seen before. "There won't ever come a day when I'm not sharing you with Lucas Scott, will there?" He asked, dejectedly, praying that the woman he loved would say something, do something, to prove him wrong. But, she didn't, and it was in that moment that he experienced the worst kind of epiphany. "I think I just got my answer."

"Wait!" Brooke called after him. "Where are you going?"

"I'm going to Sundance. Alone. That is unless you wanna go with the book? Because if that's the case, be my guest. Get a nice suite, go skiing, cozy up by the fire, and talk about your future together. I really hope both of you are very happy."

"Julian this is crazy! You're acting like a child. I love you!"

"I love you too, Brooke, I do and I always will. But the man has written two books, two novels about his love for you! I can't compete with that, and I don't want to. No matter what I do, it's always gonna be there: "you and him" not "you and me." I think I've always known it, deep down, I just never wanted to believe it."

"They're just stories, Julian."

"No, it's your story, and it's obviously not finished. Don't you get that? I can't keep waiting around for our story to begin when in your heart you're still holding onto him. Goodbye, Brooke." He whispered, as he gently kissed her forehead.

Brooke stood motionless as Julian walked out of her apartment and out of her life. He was right. As much as she didn't want to admit it, she had been lying to herself and that wasn't fair to either of them. She felt sick to her stomach, and a little too much like Reese Witherspoon's character in Sweet Home Alabama. All she'd ever wanted was to be able to recreate the happiness and love she'd shared with Lucas. But that was the problem. It didn't matter how great Julian was - he had done everything right, just like Andrew - or how much they loved each other. He wasn't Lucas. Plain and simple.

Feeling more vulnerable than she'd ever felt before, Brooke wept for all the loss she'd been burying inside. After the last tear had fallen, she picked up the book once more. This time reading it in its entirety. It was a beautiful story, one that she desperately wanted to believe in. She couldn't help but think back to the time when she'd been in his world; a time when she'd been his world and never happier. Even with all her success, she hadn't been truly happy, or fulfilled, since she'd left Tree Hill.

Maybe it's time I went back, she thought. This time…for good.

Back in Tree Hill, Haley sat by the piano and plugged away at a new melody. Ever since Brooke came to town back in May she'd been slowly trying to get back into the swing of things. It felt good to get back in the saddle, but there was still that huge part missing…Nathan.

If you still want me, please forgive me

The crown of love has fallen from me

If you still want me, please forgive me

Because your hands are not upon me

I shrugged them off before my mom walked in my bedroom…

It'd been hard juggling her full time job at the hospital, taking care of Jamie and now adding music on top of that. Fewer and fewer nights, she'd managed to sneak in to see Nathan, and it broke her heart to acknowledge that. It was just like in high school. To have one felt like she had to give up on the other.

Just as she'd put the sheet paper down and started to play, the phone rang from the kitchen. It was weird to hear the actual phone ring. Lucas and Karen always called her cell, the hospital would page her and Jamie's school, well they don't exactly know that he's her son, so they don't call period. Besides the occasional telemarketer, no one really called on that line. It wasn't until she heard "cellular caller" coming from the I.D. that she'd even considered not letting it go to voicemail.

Having picked up on the last ring, she answered a bit breathlessly. "Hello? Can I help you?"

"Haley, it's Brooke. How are you?"

"Oh, Brooke, hey…sorry, you caught me off guard. I feel like hardly anyone calls me at this number anymore." She explained, laughing nervously. They hadn't really talked much since she'd last been in Tree Hill.

"Yea, I'd meant to get your new cell number the last time I was in town, but it slipped my mind with everything else going on. I hope it's not a problem me calling. It must be pretty late there. I didn't think about the time difference."

"No, it's fine, Brooke. What is it that you needed to talk to me about?"

"Well, the hospital's been calling me a lot lately. Millie, my assistant, has been able to hold them off for a while, telling them I'm traveling, but I'm going to have to call them back sooner or later. I have a pretty good idea what they want to discuss."

"They want to know when they can pull the plug on Nathan." Haley interjected, knowingly. She'd overheard one of the doctors talking about it the other day. Apparently, just prior to the accident, Nathan had given Brooke power of attorney rights in the event that he was not able to decide himself. Knowing the situation, it made sense. At the time, his mother was still in and out of rehab, his father was a complete jerk-wad and she'd regrettably been away on tour. In the end, that decision probably saved his life. No one else would have had the means to keep him on life support for so long or the resources to stand up to Dan Scott in court when he'd petitioned for his rights. So, as much as it burned her up inside, knowing that she didn't have that control, she was also incredibly grateful.

"Look, Haley, I know this isn't something we need to decide right now, but I could really use your help with this one." Brooke swallowed hard. "You know a lot more about his condition and what we're dealing with than I do. I'd like you to be there when I talk to the doctor."

"Brooke, I'm not sure if…"

"Please, Haley."

"Okay. I'll be there. When is the meeting?"

"Well, I haven't exactly set up an appointment yet, but I was thinking maybe Thursday?"

"Thursday, as in this Thursday, five days from now?"

"Is that too soon for you?"

"No, that's fine with me. It's just, aren't you getting married next weekend?"

"Oh, yea about that." Brooke sighed. "Wedding's off."

Haley spit out the water she was drinking. "What? I'm so sorry, Brooke."

"I'm okay. It was for the best really, we just weren't meant to be." Brooke held back a tiny, yet hopeful, smile.

"So what are you gonna do now?"

"Funny that you ask. I thought I'd take on a new market with Clothes Over Bros; one with less drama and scandal than Los Angeles. You know, like Tree Hill." They both laughed at the irony.

"So, you're coming home then?"

"Yea, we're coming home." Brooke repeated before they said their goodbyes.

Home, she thought to herself. I like the sound of that.


A/N: We're getting there. Slowly but surely! Part Two picks up with Brooke's return to Tree Hill. Finally! XOXO