Conviction

Disclaimer: Don't own anything…unfortunately. Lyrics by David Cook.

Rating: M

Spoiler: Season 4.

Pairings: Lucas/Brooke/Julian, Nathan/Haley

A/N: Thank you for everyone's reviews. I appreciate them more than you know. I'm sorry about the wait, I have no excuse. I hope you enjoy this chapter. There is a time jump after this, so be ready for it.

Warning: Character death.

***

Chapter 4: Bring On the Storm

***

"…And you don't know how bad it feels
To leave the only one that I have ever believed in…"

Strong arms encircle her waist from behind and she leans into the embrace, knowing there's only one man who can hold her like this.

"How're you holding up?" She asks quietly, watching Lilly and Jamie by the buffet table debating between oatmeal raisin and chocolate chip cookies before deciding on both.

Nathan sighs against her and buries his nose in her hair, inhaling the sweet scent that washes calm over him.

"Been better," He murmurs uncharacteristically, his voice betraying the aloofness he's tried to maintain since they came back from LA.

Haley twists in his arms, so her back is pressed against counter and runs her hand across her husband's cheek.

She knows how hard it is for him. It's her pain magnified by a thousand more memories, a thousand more moments, and a thousand more laughs exchanged between two lovers turned best friends and she can't even fathom how she would feel, if it were her best friend…

She shuts her eyes, unable to continue the thought, and Nathan tracks her inner battle almost instinctually. That's how connected they are, two very different people but so deeply in sync sometimes it scares the living crap out of her.

Haley's always been a fighter, a silent one, but strong willed and it scares her shitless that she's found what most people look a life time for and she's barely legal enough to drink.

However, looking at her husband, no matter how composed he wants to appear, she knows she has to be the fighter yet again and remain strong for Nathan, for Jamie, and everyone else Peyton Sawyer left behind.

Nathan watches ten different emotions flash through his wife's face and pulls her into a hug, finding the only solace he can amidst the chaos, and when she speaks, his heart aches even more,

"I don't know what to say Nathan, I wish I did."

It's always been hard for Haley to admit defeat, to find out that life's worst questions didn't have logical answers, so her statement makes Nathan hold her closer. Her choice to be vulnerable and honest at such a crucial moment brings tears to his eyes. It makes him think its okay to cry and be upset and angry and even throw things if necessary.

But he doesn't.

Because about ten feet away stands a small, blond boy who doesn't understand what's happening, but he will know if daddy is sad or angry.

So as much as Nathan wants to hurl some furniture around, to help him deal with his rage and hurt, he won't, because someone else depends on him, for answers, guidance, and values, and he refuses to be his own father and be a horrible parent.

"I don't know how to make you feel better." Haley adds, playing with the lapels on his suit and it jerks Nathan out of his reprieve.

In this moment, he desperately wants to show her how much in fact her mere presence and acceptance gives him all the comfort he needs, so he reaches down and places a soft, chaste kiss on the corner of her mouth and runs his hands through her hair, murmuring,

"You're making me feel better just by being here."

Haley smiles against his chest, but Nathan knows she doesn't believe him. Yes, her touch and her presence can soothe him like no other, but nothing can alleviate the hurt, the guilt, and the grief he feels.

Nothing can bring back the curly haired girl that used to infuriate him like no other and he almost wants to shake Haley out of her pleasant state, tell her he's not okay and that he knows she doesn't believe him.

But out of the corner of his eye, he spots his brother, alone, staring out the window, looking like he's lost a part of himself, so Nathan knows he can't take his frustrations out on the beautiful woman in his arms, because he's beyond lucky that she even gave him a second glance in high school, even in her ugly poncho.

The memory makes him smile slightly and he detaches himself from Haley, about to tell her what he was thinking, when Lucas walks up to them, his eyes darting across the room like he's trying to find someone.

And when Lucas asks them if they've seen Brooke, Nathan thinks that he's lucky for an entirely different reason.

Unlike his brother, he doesn't have to search for his other half.

***

They're both really drunk, but they're not laughing or joking or even talking to each other.

Instead the atmosphere at the back of the cab is silent, but not uncomfortable.

They're each staring out the window, a considerable amount of space between them.

Brooke notices that it's nearing dusk already, which means they spent a good three hours in a secluded booth in the bar passing a full bottle of whiskey between them.

She checks her Blackberry once more and notices that there are several messages from Lucas, Nathan, and even Karen, but she doesn't reply to any of them.

The only one she called is Larry, because she figures he would worry if she didn't eventually show up at the apartment, and considering that Julian mumbled the address of his hotel to the cab driver when they first climbed in, Brooke guesses she probably won't be coming home at the moment.

She throws her phone into her bag and leans against the seat, closing her eyes when Julian suddenly speaks,

"You totally remind me of Holly Golightly right now."

Brooke turns her head, looking at him incredulously,

"What?"

"You know Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's?" He clarifies; looking at her like it's the most obvious thing in the world.

"I know who Holly Golightly is." Brooke rolls her eyes; her fingers slowly drop from the pearl necklace around her neck to the front of her black dress, "Why do I remind you of her?"

"I don't know." Julian shrugs, "I guess the outfit."

For the first time Brooke acknowledges just how inebriated the movie producer is. His eyes are bleary and red, his shirt is untucked, and his short brown hair is disheveled, reminding her of a certain blond boy she knows.

Guilt immediately overwhelms her as thoughts of Lucas rush past her mind. She shouldn't have left like that, in the middle of the wake, especially when they silently promised to support each other through this ordeal.

However, thinking and doing seem worlds apart right now, because although she wants to call him, ask him how he's doing, she's not making any moves to do so.

In fact, she's suddenly preoccupied with understanding why a man that barely knows her tells her she reminds him of one of the most subtly tortured literary characters she knows.

"It's not the outfit, Julian. What is it?" she asks, staring at him as mixed emotions flash across his face.

"Nothing," He mumbles, "It was stupid, forget I said anything."

But she refuses to.

"Just tell me. I can handle criticism. I'm in the fashion industry after all."

She's prepared for him to tell her it's because she seems as shallow and frivolous as the fictional character or that she resembles the dream Holly Golightly aspired to throughout the novel; however, as with many events recently, Julian surprises her.

"No, it's not like that." He says softly, his eyes flicking between the scenery and her.

He hesitates for a moment, before turning his body towards her and clearing his throat,

"I just remember this one part when the narrator first meets her, when she seems to brighten his day. She fascinates him from the very beginning, because she's unconventional and she takes his mind away from harsh realities."

Brooke waits for an interpretation, but Julian turns back to look out the window, his eyes getting lost in the greenery that he seldom sees in LA. He is kind of mad at himself for blurting out such a random comment about one of his favorite books, but he couldn't help himself.

He barely knows Brooke, but she has a youthful, kind spirit about her that reminds him of one of his favorite heroines. She's a good distraction for him at a time like this and just like Holly Golightly, she hides her pain well.

He knows she's waiting for him to continue but he doesn't. He sneaks glances at her periodically, but she's gone back to staring out the window, no doubt wondering how she ended up with a lunatic like him, getting drunk at her best friend's wake, and coming back to his hotel room.

But then Julian doesn't really know Brooke Davis too well, because the brunette isn't thinking that at all.

In fact, as they near the hotel and the cab stops, a small smile appears on her face.

They share a look as they walk up to his room and Julian smiles, because he knows she's figured it out, and maybe she thinks he's not that much of a crazy guy after all.

***

As soon as they step inside the hotel room, Julian excuses himself to the bathroom, shedding his suit jacket on the way.

He gives her a half smirk on his way out and Brooke decides to blame the alcohol for the tiniest of flutters she feels in her stomach. When the door shuts behind him, the brunette takes the opportunity to look around, momentarily intrigued by her surroundings, hoping she can learn something about this stranger from his bedroom.

Her inebriation makes her forget that this isn't actually where Julian lives, but before she remembers, Brooke catches sight of the paperback novel sitting open on the nightstand and her heartbeat quickens as she approaches it and runs her fingers over the title.

An Unkindness of Ravens

She wants to believe that it doesn't hurt anymore to see the book that's so obviously a love letter to her best friend, but it does, it hurts so badly.

And as she sits down on the bed and places the book gingerly in her lap, her vision blurs as it hits her yet again for the millionth time that she's never going to be able to tease Peyton about Lucas' words or read certain passages to her over the phone to remind her that her art changed someone's life.

It's only when she hears water running that she quickly wipes away her tears and places the book back.

When Julian comes out of the bathroom, having splashed some water on his face, he isn't sure what he expects to see, but the brunette sitting on his bed, her shoulders shaking as she tries to remain composed is an unwelcomed sight.

He walks over unsurely, not really knowing how to comfort someone who's suffered such a deep loss, but before he can sit down besides her, she looks at him, wiping her cheeks with the back of her hand,

"You really love her don't you?" She asks, gesturing towards the book.

For a moment, his throat closes tightly as he thinks his secret, his whole reason for trying to contact his ex-girlfriend has been figured out, but Brooke doesn't say anything after. She makes no notice of the markings in the margins or the certain circled words.

Instead she looks at him unexpectedly and he has to figure out if he wants to run the risk of her finding out exactly why he's here or lying to her.

Because he doesn't love Peyton anymore, but he doesn't want to lose Brooke's acquaintance, so he decides to lie or at least bend the truth,

"I used to, and I think I'm going to miss her very much." He says as he slides down besides her and takes the book from her lap.

The second part is not a lie. He will miss the curly blonde, miss all the little idiosyncrasies that made up her incredible personality, but in retrospect, Julian isn't sure if he ever really loved her; perhaps, he just thought he did.

Anyway, as he looks at the brunette besides him, reality crashes down on him and rids his mind of any cloudiness it might have had, because it doesn't matter anymore.

Because Peyton is gone, and whatever reason he had for calling her or buying four or five copies of Lucas Scott's novel are now irrelevant.

"I'm going to miss her too." Brooke admits tearfully, her fingers twisting in her lap as she shudders.

Julian doesn't know what to do. He's not a writer like Lucas, whom although he never met, is sure would have the right things to say; instead, Julian is a man of action, or at least he'd like to think so, so while he doesn't have words, he has something else.

Brooke gasps when he slides his arms around her and pulls her entire body against his in a hug.

At first she's rigid, but when he rubs her back soothingly, she relaxes into his touch and for the first time, she notices that his unshaved cheek is surprisingly soft against her forehead and that he smells faintly of cologne that immediately soothes her.

But the reprieve doesn't last long, because suddenly images of Peyton run through her mind, starting from when she was a tiny little nine year old crying on her father's lap after finding out that her mother had died to the smiling, confident young woman who boarded a plane to LA with her to chase their dreams.

And the guilt Brooke feels, stabs her so deeply into her heart that she physically recoils from Julian's touch.

She shouldn't be here, she thinks, as she brushes a speck of dust from her black dress and stands up.

It doesn't matter that Julian and Peyton are in the past or that there is nothing going on between her and the movie producer now, because Brooke still feels like she's somehow betraying her best friend and it all becomes too much.

It's too overwhelming for her to be here and seek comfort from a person who shared something with Peyton, so despite feeling sorry for pulling away from him, Brooke builds as much distance as possible between them.

"I'm sorry, but I have to go." She says briskly, picking up her clutch and in the process knocking over the novel.

She bends down to pick it up, but Julian is right besides her, "I got it."

His voice is colder now, and when she locks eyes with him, Brooke knows it's crossed his mind what she was thinking too, and why shouldn't it?

He probably still cares for Peyton.

They stare at each other for far too long, both kneeling down with their hands on the book, but after a moment, Julian breaks the silence,

"Do you need to call a cab?"

Everything about him softens now and Brooke can't help but smile slightly, shaking her head,

"No, thank you though."

Brooke stands up, smoothes down her dress, and heads for the door.

Julian follows her, and they both hesitate but halfway out of the room, Brooke pulls Julian into a final hug, figuring she probably won't see him before he leaves.

There doesn't seem a reason for her to.

Julian releases her and smiles, "It was nice meeting you, Brooke Davis."

"You too, Julian Baker," She nods one last time and walks away. Half way down the stairs, she stops again and turns around, not surprised that he's leaning against the door watching her,

"If you're ever in New York, look me up"

He nods, and Brooke finally walks away.

She doesn't look back again, instead takes a deep breath as she walks out into the street, because she needs all the strength she can get to go back to reality, to face this void in her heart that will never heal again.

Julian was a good distraction, Brooke reasons as she shivers in the evening air, but he can't take away the pain of knowing that Peyton is gone, she isn't coming back, and that Brooke invariably feels responsible for it.

The brunette tries to push it out of her head as she walks farther from the hotel, but she can't and when she catches a whiff of cologne different from the one Julian was wearing, her breath hitches in her throat and she pauses mid step.

She isn't sure how it's possible that after all these years and so little contact up until a tragedy of epic proportion brought them together, Brooke can still remember his scent and feel his presence without even thinking.

She turns around and sure enough, Lucas is standing a distance away from her, but close enough that she can see his suit jacket draped over his shoulder, his black tie loosened, and his white button down untucked with sleeves rolled up.

He looks so relaxed and almost ethereal against the moonlight, but she can see his hardened expression and can almost predict what he is going to say.

"So, this is where you went?" He nods towards the two-story motel, a look of disgust and hurt evident on his face.

"Lucas"

"And to think," He scoffs, but moves towards her, "I was worried about you."

"Luke, it's not like that."

She almost wants to roll her eyes at him, because despite it being a tragic day for all of them, Lucas somehow manages to make it about himself.

"How is it then, Brooke? Because it looks to me like you skipped out on your best friend's wake to meet some guy in a cheap motel room."

This time she does roll her eyes, because he's being immature,

"I don't know if you've noticed, but this is the only hotel in Tree Hill." She points out, but Lucas just shakes his head,

"Whatever, Brooke"

He starts to walk away, and even thought five minutes ago, she would have been glad that he got off her ass, the way he says her name it's as if he's disappointed and she can't bear it.

Probably, because she's just as upset at herself, so she stalks after him and turns him around,

"What the hell is it, Lucas? What is your problem?" She exclaims.

"I don't have a problem, Brooke."

He says her name again and she cringes, stepping away from him as he takes a step closer,

"It's just strange to me that you would leave Peyton's wake, for god's sakes to meet up with some guy."

He says it so accusingly, her fists curl.

"It's not fucking like that. He was just a friend who was in town." Brooke explains, but even as she says it, it comes out all wrong, and all she wants to do is cry.

She's reached her breaking point and Lucas doesn't even care.

"Hah, so you couldn't wait to socialize until we could at least bury your best friend." He scoffs and when he sees the expression on her face, he's reminded of the day in LA when he'd crossed the line with her, and it seems like this time she'll be less forgiving.

All color drains from Brooke's face when he says this; guilt, embarrassment, and hurt swirl inside her as she realizes how unfair this all is.

Doesn't he know she's protecting him?

Doesn't he realize what it would do to him if he ever found out that Peyton had been in a relationship while Lucas couldn't let anyone near him with a ten foot pole besides occasionally his editor?

No, he doesn't and Brooke doesn't expect him to, but his smug expression, only slightly marred by grief irks her to no end.

Even after all these years, Lucas Scott is still the only man who can simultaneously enrage and enthrall her, and right now he's doing the former so easily, Brooke almost doesn't regret replying,

"I wouldn't have a best friend to bury if you hadn't been such a coward."

Almost.

***

She can't fall asleep.

Her mind is everywhere and nowhere all at once.

Thoughts of Peyton keep her awake, but the exhaustion of crying everything she has left in her lulls her to unconsciousness and this tug-o-war makes her aware and disoriented all at once.

If she's being honest with herself, she knows a major part of why she can't relax is because she can't get Lucas out of her mind.

The last conversation she had with him plays over and over in her head, shocking her every time she mulls over what she said to him.

Seeing how hurt and surprised he was at her bold accusation breaks Brooke's heart all over again, but she can't help but feel angry at Lucas as well.

He has no right to intrude on her whereabouts after three years of not speaking to her.

She refuses to feel bad for consoling Julian.

But, Brooke also knows that she wouldn't have reacted so passionately to Lucas' accusations if she hadn't felt like they were partially true.

Guilt was gnawing at her the whole time she was with Julian, that's why she drank.

She couldn't get Peyton out of her mind, that's why she drank.

And now, she can't get away from Lucas' distraught expression, except this time she can't drink.

Brooke slips out of bed and walks into the kitchen. She decides a cup of tea might help her fall asleep, but before she can turn the kettle on, a faint sound that's really similar to a sob catches her ear and she turns around.

The sight breaks her heart more than anything else in the world can.

The only father she's ever known is sitting on the sofa bed, his hands on his knees as his shoulders shake violently.

She doesn't need more incentive to walk towards him and place a comforting hand on his shoulder.

Brooke doesn't know what to say, even as her own throat tightens and a few tears fight their way out.

She's shed so much, she isn't sure she has any left.

"Larry," Brooke's raspy voice breaks through the silence and the blonde man besides her shifts slightly.

He's still not looking at her; his gaze is fixed on the open book on the table.

It's the sketchpad Brooke concealed from Lucas in LA and seeing the affect it had on the other important man in P. Sawyer's life, Brooke thinks it was a good idea.

"She was so talented." He murmurs, discreetly trying to wipe away at his cheeks, and Brooke pretends not to notice.

"Yeah, she was." Brooke echoes and has to look away from the picture displayed.

It's the three of them, shooting at a flaming heart, and Brooke can't help but think that it's entirely too symbolic of everything that's happened to her over the years, and as she pulls Larry closer to her, offering the bit of comfort she can, she realizes she needs to get out of his god forsaken town.

If only to save the little sanity she has left.

***

Morning comes entirely too soon for the blond author.

He spent the night tossing and turning, not exactly sleeping and not exactly being awake.

He just couldn't get Brooke's words out of his head.

He still can't.

Does she really blame him for everything that happened? Does she really think he is responsible for Peyton's actions?

Because if she does, she's right and it kills him that she could hold it against him so easily.

He's not sure why he's so angry at her, considering the accusations he threw at her, knowing full well that she probably had a legitimate reason for leaving the wake.

But he's still angry.

He's actually incredibly pissed off, because he thought they had an understanding.

He thought they silently agreed to help each other through this and what does she do?

She leaves him all fucking alone, to deal with this.

Rolling over, Lucas stares out the window, and cringes at the sun peeking in through the open curtain.

He knows his mom must have come in at some point and pushed back the blinds to wake him up like she used to do on weekends when he would sleep in to avoid his chores.

His mind unwillingly travels to thoughts of Peyton as he remembers the nights spent in his room after Psycho Derek's attack. How he held her and promised to always save her.

And when he remembers walking out on her that morning in that hotel room, without so much as a good bye, Lucas understands that Brooke is right.

Despite the many years that passed since he last saw her, Lucas knows deep in his heart that if he hadn't left that morning, if he had only tried to make things different between them, that there would be no way Peyton would be gone right now.

The thought chills him to the bone.

He promised to save her and he never did.

He wasn't there when she needed him most and for that Lucas doesn't think he'll ever forgive himself.

***

They're all supposed to meet at Nathan and Haley's this morning, so with her single bag packed, Brooke whispers good bye to a sleeping Larry, whom she's reluctant to wake up after the sleepless night he had.

She still feels awful for how she spoke to Lucas the night before, but figures she'll apologize to him at lunch.

However, when she gets there and finds that Lucas is the only one missing from their small group of friends, Brooke is disappointed.

Everyone eats in silence, forks clink against plates and Brooke pushes her food around, too nervous to eat.

When they clear the table, she pulls Haley aside and asks her where Lucas is.

"I'm not sure," Haley shrugs, "Karen said he was still sleeping when she left and that she thought he'd be here by now, why?"

"No reason," The brunette replies, but she's trying to distract herself way too much with dirty plates for Haley to believe her.

The musician turns off the water and dries her hands on the towel before turning her attention towards one of her dearest friends.

"I know you're leaving, Brooke. I saw you try to hide the duffle bag in the hall closet when you came in."

Brooke looks up, genuinely surprised that the young mother is so perceptive, but then she reasons, Haley has always been able to spot things others couldn't.

"Do you hate me?" Brooke whispers, chocking on her words.

Despite knowing that this is the best thing for her to do right now, the fashion designer is still very much afraid of disappointing those closest to her.

She feels like she isn't being a supportive friend and although she reasons that she is allowed to be selfish right now, Brooke can't help but feel like maybe what she's doing is wrong.

"Oh honey," Haley's voice trails off as she pulls Brooke into a one armed hug, "I don't hate you. Everyone grieves differently," She adds reassuringly, but even then her words are strained and exhausted.

For the first time, Brooke steps away from her own feelings to witness Haley James Scott grieve for the blonde who shared her passion for music.

The first thought that comes to mind is that Haley looks tired. She has bags under her eyes and her hair is pulled back messily, and more importantly, her eyes aren't their usual vibrant chocolate hue.

Instead, the orbs are dark and empty, trying to conceal the ache Haley feels.

And Brooke realizes that no matter what she tries to say, Haley won't ever display how she truly feels, even if she is angry at Brooke for leaving.

"I hope that's true, but even if it's not, I, God…" she breathes out.

On unsteady legs, she braces herself shakily against the sink, trying to remain composed, even though it's so damn difficult.

Peyton is never far from her mind now, and Brooke isn't sure she ever will be.

"Its okay, Brooke," Haley soothingly rubs her back, an action that reminds Brooke of Julian and she shudders involuntarily. The movie producer solidifies her decision to go back to New York.

"I promise I'll visit more." Brooke finally manages to speak and turns to look at Haley, not really missing the flash of hurt that crosses her friend's face.

She knows what she's doing is extremely selfish, abandoning her friends when they need her most, but unlike Karen, Brooke doesn't have a gem like Lilly to remind her of all the good times she and Peyton had.

All she has is boxes full of sketches, old cheerleading uniforms, and that damn spot under the bridge where they used to go all the time and those empty mementos are not enough to keep her in Tree Hill, even if she's potentially risking the friendships that changed her.

So when Nathan walks up to them, she doesn't hesitate in telling him that she's going.

Nathan doesn't look at all surprised and shares a look with his wife that tells Brooke that he was expecting this from her and she isn't sure if she should be angry or grateful that he knows her so well and accepts it.

She kisses both Jamie and Lilly on the cheeks, promising lots of very pretty gifts for the two. She makes Karen promise her that she'll look after Larry, feeling the most guilt for leaving the only father figure she's ever known behind.

And when she hugs Haley one last time, she completely disregards the look of sadness in her friend's face, knowing that her last bit of courage must be saved for her last stop in Tree Hill.

***

Her day started out poorly and doesn't seem to be improving.

The call from Tree Hill pulled her out of a hugely important meeting that now needs to be postponed, but the rescheduling isn't what put her in a sour mood.

The news shocked and terrified her, making her sit for a half hour in her office with the lights off, trying to understand exactly how to deal with this bit of information.

Her first thoughts went out to Lucas, wondering how he was dealing with this, but when she was able to fully comprehend the tragedy, she felt an odd sense of guilt, like somehow her involvement in the blond author's life had contributed to the ending of another.

It was a hugely irrational thought but one that did not go away.

It stayed with her as she listened to Lucas ask her to come to Tree Hill.

It stayed with her while she booked a flight and grabbed a cab to the airport and it had followed her all the way through the sleepy town she'd learned to both love and hate through her numerous trips here.

Now as she sits at the back of the cab, not even irked anymore by the large coffee stain she'd obtained when someone bumped into her at baggage claim, she stares at the scenery of the suburb fly by and tries to blink back tears, feeling a little ashamed for even shedding them.

For years Peyton Sawyer was an ethereal being to her, someone to measure up to, because she always knew that Lucas held a special torch for her so a normal, healthy relationship with the brooding author was impossible, and now why is she crying for this?

She didn't know the curly blond at all, not outside the pages of Lucas' meticulously crafted novel and she has no place now to spill tears.

She doesn't want to be one of those people who infringes on other people's grief, people who knew and cared for Peyton. For those people, and from what she has surmised there are plenty of them, the loss of the blond must be grave and she has no right to be here.

Yet, one call from Lucas and here she is.

Lindsay Strauss pays the cab driver and walks towards the steps of the house she spent many months some time ago helping Lucas edit his autobiography.

She remembers nights they spent over wine and take out, just the two of them, pouring over pages and pages of his novel, trying to make it into something incredible.

Lindsay believes they've accomplished that and somewhere along the way, she found that she admired Lucas for qualities other than his writing and for a while she thought he enjoyed her company beyond a professional relationship.

However, Peyton was never far from her mind then and she isn't now, not even two months after Lucas and she have called it quits.

She hadn't heard from Lucas in about a week when he called her this morning and now thoughts of Peyton facilitate a different emotion.

Since they broke up, Lindsay wondered everyday if Lucas had finally gone back to his high school sweetheart, somehow not believing that he was over her.

Yet, now as she hesitates knocking on his bedroom door, guilt consumes and overwhelms her, because she's thought about the two blondes just last night, wondering if Lucas was on his way to reconcile with Peyton after lying to himself for about two years, and now Peyton is gone and Lindsay's here and she has the biggest urge to vomit.

She didn't even know the woman but she has intense survivor's guilt and this terrible aching in her heart that tells her that even if Peyton is gone, Lucas and she are not going to get back on track.

Even if he did call her and ask her to come down to Tree Hill, his broken, defeated voice doesn't fool her.

Lucas didn't call her because he loves her.

He calls her because he needs her.

So without hesitation, Lindsay twists the doorknob and decides right then and there that for Lucas she'll be ready for anything.

***

At first, she's put off by the darkness of the bedroom.

It's a stark contrast to the early afternoon sun that illuminates the quiet streets of this neighborhood.

However, upon further rumination, Lindsay realizes she truly did not prepare herself for anything, so she ignores the initial shock of entering the stuffy room and sets her bag delicately on the floor next to the bed.

From this angle, she can't see Lucas' face, because he's sleeping on his side, but when she walks to the other side, the unmistakable stench of stale alcohol forces her to recoil.

She steps back, observing his sleeping form.

His face looks peaceful and yet conflicted, as if he isn't sure if he has something to worry about in his sleep.

Lindsay can suddenly relate, as memories of her own father's death travel through her mind and she shuts her eyes, willing to keep the tears at bay.

Her eyes drift down to the half empty bottle of gin on the nightstand and then down to her own shirt.

The room is rather messy, so she decides that in order to help Lucas through this, she can at least tidy up the place while he sleeps; maybe make him something to eat.

It doesn't really occur to her that Karen might be in town, because she's never met the woman, so she decides on doing these basic tasks around the house.

Her eyes fall on the laundry basket and then she glances at her dirty shirt and in a split second decides to unbutton it, throw it in the hamper, and pick up something else to wear.

But then there's a knock on the door and she's in her bra, so she grabs one of Lucas' t-shirts from the folded pile and rushes to the door, hoping whoever it is doesn't wake Lucas up, because from the looks of his previous activities he's in no shape to be hospitable.

She opens the door and slips outside so quickly that she doesn't even realize who it is that's knocking.

When she does look up, she's met with a confused, hazel stare and an uncertain tight lipped smile.

"Hi, is Lucas home?"

The brunette in the tight jeans and a white wife beater asks.

Lindsay can't help but look her up and down and when her eyes settle on a small necklace that has a C/B logo on it, it dawns on her who she's talking to and she actually steps back slightly.

She recognizes suddenly that she's in the presence of one of the hottest fashion designers in the country and she's dressed in black workpants and a gray t-shirt with a Ravens logo on it.

It's obvious the brunette in front of her finds her outfit just as comical, because she gives her the once over too.

"You're Brooke Davis?" Lindsay asks quietly, her voice sounding a bit awestruck.

Brooke gives her an uncertain, tense smile and nods, "Yeah, I'm just an old friend, is he okay?"

Lindsay bites the inside of her cheek and looks down, "I'm not sure, I'm Lindsay by the way, Lucas' editor. He's sleeping right now."

And abruptly Brooke's cordial façade drops just a little bit, because the pieces all fall into place.

Lindsay wearing Lucas' shirt, him sleeping, his absence from lunch, and the awestruck expression Lindsay wears.

She obviously interrupted something just now and Lucas probably sent Lindsay out to talk to her, because he doesn't want to see her after their hurtful exchange last night.

It doesn't even cross the brunette's mind that if he's mad at her, he's a hypocrite, because he's drowning his sorrows over losing Peyton in another woman while accusing her of doing the same last night. She doesn't even think about any other reasons for why Lindsay is standing outside of Lucas' house.

So Brooke backs slightly away from the porch, stepping back uncertainly. The cab that she asked to wait gives her the perfect excuse to cut this greeting short.

"Well, just let him know I stopped by…or don't. It's all right." She fumbles, losing all the well trained confidence she'd acquired after being in the public eye.

Now she would welcome the million flashing bulbs of paparazzi cameras if only to get away from Lindsay, Lucas' t-shirt, and the images it generates in her mind.

She needs to get out of this fucking town.

"Brooke, are you alright?" Lindsay asks, genuinely concerned.

"Yeah, I am. I'm going back to New York and wanted to stop by to say good bye to Lucas, but it looks like he's unavailable, so I'll go. Bye Lindsay."

She runs down the lawn, heels clicking against the pavement, and when Lindsay blinks, her cab is already turning the corner.

The editor thinks she's imagined the whole thing.

Her mind is reeling, trying to deal with this new information, when she hears a voice from inside.

"Linds, is that you?" Lucas rises from the bed, squinting painfully at the massive amount of sun pouring in from the door and Lindsay quickly forgets about Brooke Davis.

Staring into the eyes of the man who has consumed her world both personally and professionally for the last two years, Lindsay, a usually level headed woman, forgets everything but him.

So it's no surprise that when Lucas asks what she's doing outside, she doesn't mention Brooke coming by, not because she doesn't want to or feels jealous but because seeing Lucas again so vulnerable and hurt, and having him open up to her like this, is so overwhelming that it takes precedence over everything else.

Lucas never learns that Brooke came to say good bye and he lets Lindsay hold him as he mourns Peyton.

Not knowing that a few blocks away, Brooke is trying to compose herself for the last time, as she determines that she'll never shed another tear in this town.

That she will mourn her best friend in her own home on her own time, without anyone from her past, because as far as she's concerned besides Larry, and the James-Scott family who will be traveling a lot anyway, there's nothing for her here.

She buried the last traces of home with her P. Sawyer and there's no reason for her to dwell on what could have been.

***