A/N: The last chapter! Thanks for reading, everyone.

----

When the Ravens were knocked out in the second round of the playoffs, Lucas and Nathan were upset and disappointed, but not nearly as much as their father. He left before the final buzzer even sounded, when it was clear the team wasn't coming back to win the game. Haley and Peyton sat in the stands and watched Dan get up and walk out the door, and they knew that they'd have a lot to deal with after the game. The guys would be feeling the win, and now also feeling the sting of how their father was supportive only in the good times.

The hometown crowd gave an ovation to their losing team nonetheless, knowing that they had another year with the Scott brother's playing to take them to the finals. Nathan angrily threw his towel onto the bench and Lucas clapped his brother on the back as they walked to the locker room.

"You see him leave?" Nathan asked.

Lucas nodded. "Yeah."

"Not even a 'Good work, boys. You'll get it next year,'" Nathan mumbled. "Can't wait to get home and be called a disappointment."

"Nathan, don't listen to him," Lucas said seriously, leaning against his locker. "Why don't you stay at my place? Mom and Keith are a hell of a lot more supportive than Dan."

Nathan grabbed his towel from his locker, ready to take a shower, but then threw it back in and reached for his bag without even bothering to change out of his uniform. "Yeah. Let's just get out of here."

It was no surprise to Lucas that Nathan took the loss - and Dan's criticism, for that matter - harder. He always had, for one. And Nathan's entire life was basketball. There was, if you asked him, no other option for a future. It was basketball or bust, and he'd been working his ass off since he was 11 years old to make that dream come true. Losing was never acceptable, and a playoff loss was obviously that much worse. Lucas had other dreams he could chase, though of course he'd always wanted to play ball too. It was just never quite as intense for Lucas. He'd always hated how Dan's expectations within the game always seemed to be a little less for Lucas, but in the last year or so, he'd come to realize that was actually a really good thing.

When they walked back into the gym, Haley and Peyton were talking with Keith and Karen. Nathan relaxed a little bit just seeing Haley. Part of him wanted to hate how cheesy that was, but the other part loved that he had someone who could do that for him. She'd been doing it all along, really, with tutoring and even his practices, but this was different. That was the thing about dating (or whatever) cheerleaders. They were disappointed when the team lost, because that meant in some way that they'd lost. Haley just supported him no matter what.

"Well," Keith said, clapping both boys on the back. "You did your best. It was a good game."

Nathan had always wondered why Dan was the one with kids when it was so obvious that Keith was a better father.

"Thanks, Keith," Nathan said sincerely.

"Come on," Karen said. "We'll go celebrate."

"Celebrate? Mom, we lost," Lucas said. Peyton wrapped her arm around his waist, and he smiled as he draped his arm around her shoulder.

"But you also both had your best seasons yet," Karen pointed out. "And you've never gone this far into the playoffs. So yes. We're celebrating."

"Always with the silver lining," Lucas said, shaking his head. But he did already feel better, and looking at Nathan as he walked with Haley, he could tell his brother felt better too.

So they went to the café and ate chocolate cake while drinking sparkling apple cider. They talked about the game and reminisced about the best matches of their season. Nathan's season-high points total of 36 which tied a state record, a record he intended to break next season. Lucas had been fouled hard in the second half of the game, and Peyton asked if he was alright. He insisted he was, but when she lifted the bottom of his shirt, she saw an elbow-shaped bruise on his side just above his hip. She looked at him with a raised brow, but he rolled his eyes as if to remind her that he was tough enough to be able to deal with a little bruise.

It was midnight and the boys' spirits had lifted considerably by the time they all decided they'd better get some sleep. It was Peyton who suggested that Lucas, Nathan and Haley stay at her place for the night. Karen looked skeptical, but she trusted the kids. She had a talk with Lucas years ago, and more recently, when he started spending more and more time with Peyton, whose father Karen knew was away a lot, she had another conversation with him. He'd promptly assured her that he wasn't Dan. Of course she knew as much, but that didn't mean she couldn't, or shouldn't, worry. After all, she was living proof that 'things happen.'

"I'm so tired," Lucas claimed as soon as they walked into the house.

"Same." Nathan flopped down on a chair in the living room.

"Yeah, how's this whole sleeping arrangement going to work?" Haley asked. She'd been thinking about it since they left the café, but thought better of mentioning it until they got inside.

"You guys can take my dad's room," Peyton said, looking over at Nathan and Haley. Nathan looked skeptical, to say the least. "What?"

"Your dad's room? That's...creepy," he stated.

"Whatever! He sleeps in there like, two nights a month," Peyton reminded them. "Clean sheets and everything. Haley, you know my dad wouldn't care."

Peyton was right. Years ago, he'd told Haley that any time she wanted to stay over, she was welcome to take his room, which was essentially a spare anyway. The girls just always ended up crashing together in Peyton's bed, but the offer was there.

Haley and Nathan relented, Nathan more out of exhaustion than anything, and they all headed upstairs and closed their respective doors behind them after Haley grabbed the pajamas she always left in Peyton's bedroom for impromptu sleepovers. Nathan sat down tentatively at the edge of the bed, and Haley stepped out of the master bath with her pajamas on and she could tell he wasn't exactly comfortable. She smiled and leaned down to kiss him before laying down and pulling the covers over herself. She figured he'd follow her lead, and he did. She flicked off the light and Nathan pulled her against him, and she realized neither had said a word since they entered the room. She waited a couple more minutes, and it was unbearable.

"Okay, this is really weird," she admitted, making them both laugh.

"I thought you stayed in here before."

"No! I always crashed in Peyton's room," she told him. She switched the light back on and saw that he was smiling over at her. "I have an idea."

"Really?" he asked. She always had ideas. They were generally brilliant.

"We'll have to clean up in the morning, but...follow my lead," she said deviously, like she was breaking all sorts of rules. He watched as she got up and headed for the closet to grab another comforter from the top shelf. She dropped it on the floor, then unceremoniously yanked the sheets and duvet off the bed. "Grab the pillows."

He did as he was told and dropped two pillows on the floor behind where she was sitting, spreading out blankets.

"This is crazy, you know that?" he asked, smirking at her.

"Maybe. But it's fun." He turned the light off yet again and lay down on the floor with her, and she gravitated towards him. He had no idea how, but it was actually more comfortable, in a few ways, than the bed in the room. "Goodnight, Nathan."

"'Night, Haley," he whispered. She leaned up and kissed him, and he had to admit that just laying next to her was pretty amazing.

----

Lucas walked into the warehouse that was set to become the club, and he smiled at what he saw. The bar was all set up and there were two guys working around it, one unloading bottles onto the shelves, and one lining up stools in front of the bar. The overhead lights were all installed and working, and the floor was finished, albeit covered in a layer of dust. There were carpenters working on constructing a stage, and a team of people painting the walls. It looked amazing. Things had come together so quickly that it was almost hard to believe. But he knew his mom and Deb wouldn't waste time with the project, and he knew exactly how hard Peyton had been working. If she wasn't at school, she was at the club or she was sleeping.

He knew she had to be there, but he couldn't see her. He nodded to the workers as he passed, heading towards the office at the back of the room. He really didn't like what he saw when he entered. Peyton, sitting in a chair with her head in her hands and a clipboard perched on her knees. She was crying.

"Hey," he said worriedly, walking towards her. She looked over at him, wiping her eyes as though that would keep him from knowing she'd been crying. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing."

"Nothing doesn't make people cry," he told her. "What's going on?"

"I just can't do this. I'm trying so hard, but...We're a week late on like, everything, and our liquor license is being held up, and the suppliers..."

"Peyton," he interrupted, sliding his chair a little closer and resting his hands on her thighs. "It looks amazing out there. There's no way you're a week late."

"We're supposed to open next Friday and we don't even have a stage!" she cried.

"They're working on it right now," he reminded her. "Honey, you have to relax a little bit. It'll all work out." She almost smiled, then let him wipe her tears. She handed him the clipboard and the list of things she had to do, and as he was looking it over, she kissed him unexpectedly. "What's that for?"

"You called me honey," she said coyly. He laughed a little and tipped his head back. "And you calmed me down."

He kissed her gently and looked back to the list. "Okay," he said seriously. "We need to divide and conquer here."

"You're going to help me?" she asked with a smile.

"Of course I am," he said. "Otherwise you'll be here forever and I'll never get to make out with you again."

"Lucas!" she cried, snatching the list away from him.

"I say we go downtown. You can pick up all this electrical stuff at the music store and..."

"Say that again," she demanded.

"What?"

"Electric," she mumbled. "Come here!" She jumped up out of her chair and grabbed his hand. She pulled him into the main part of the club and to the back corner in the space next to the stage. "Look!"

"A rusty old sign. Awesome," he said sarcastically. He laughed when she rolled her eyes and dropped his hand. "What are you doing?"

She grabbed a thick electrical cord and plugged it into an outlet and only four letters of the sign lit up.

"Tric!" she cried happily.

"Yeah?" he drew out.

"I was just going to have them throw out the sign, but...I think we have a name," she said, almost in awe of that fact.

"Tric," he said quietly, pulling her towards him. "I like it."

"You like it, or you love it?" she asked. "Seriously. Because I need it to be awesome."

"It's awesome," he assured her. "Mom will love it." He looked at the list and grabbed the red Sharpie from the back pocket of her jeans. "And now you've crossed one task off your list."

"Only 25 to go!" she said excitedly. Lucas just shook his head as they made their way to the exit. It seemed he'd cheered her up in record time and her list didn't seem like such a big deal anymore. She turned to him just before they started down the stairs. "Thank you."

He shrugged his shoulder. "Any time."

"I love you."

"I love you too," he said laughingly. "Even when you're acting like a crazy person."

"Be nice to me or I won't let you help me," she said, very well aware that her words contradicted themselves.

Lucas just shook his head and followed her down the stairs and towards her car. He had no idea what their day was going to entail, but it didn't matter. He'd kind of missed just spending time with her doing things like this. She'd been so busy lately that he'd take whatever time with her he could get. Not that that was a much of a departure from how they'd always been.

----

Jake and Brooke were walking down the hall together the day after having 'the talk' about 'what they were'. It had been a short conversation. They wanted to be together, and they both said it at the same time, and that was it. They kissed for a while, then finished their homework, then they'd gone for a walk through her neighbourhood. Only now, at school, it seemed they should have had a longer conversation about how they were going to act together.

After a couple minutes of silence, she was sick of the awkwardness and took the plunge. She slipped her hand into Jake's, and when he looked over at her, they were both smiling.

Then Rachel showed up.

"You happy now?"

It was very, very hard for Brooke not to just answer 'yes'. She assumed Rachel wasn't asking the question seriously. Not when her hand was on her hip and there looked to be tears in her eyes.

"What's going on?" Brooke asked. She didn't bother to let go of Jake's hand, and he certainly loved that.

"Turner just expelled me," Rachel spat out. "You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"

Brooke noted that Rachel was still laying blame on everyone else rather than taking responsibility for her own actions. It wasn't like Brooke was an expert or anything, but she had at least started to see when she was wrong. And better late than never.

"He asked me some questions," Brooke admitted. "He didn't say why."

"And you didn't think to ask?" Rachel almost yelled.

"Right. I'm sure he would have told me exactly why," Brooke said sarcastically. She was right and she knew it.

"Are you even...Do you understand what this means?" Rachel asked. "My parents said that if I got kicked out of Tree Hill, they were sending me to boarding school."

"That was three years ago, Rachel," Brooke said rationally. "I'm sure they'll rethink that strategy."

"Because they're such great listeners?!"

Jake was completely out of place in this conversation. He didn't know what to say or do, so he said nothing and just stood next to his girlfriend.

"Rachel, I'm sorry," Brooke said sincerely.

"Sorry? You think that helps? You really are stupid."

"Hey," Jake intervened. "Take it easy."

"Oh, please," Rachel scoffed.

Brooke didn't even say another word. She just looked at Jake and took a deep breath before she walked right past Rachel and down the hall towards her class. She was done with the girl, and if she was being honest, boarding school was probably not the worst thing in the world for Rachel.

"You okay?" Jake asked quietly before they got to her first period english class.

"I'm fine," she said. He could tell she wasn't lying. "I don't need that right now. And...Whatever. I think I'm done with that friendship." Jake nodded, but she could tell he was still worried. "It's fine. Really."

"Alright," he said. "I'll see you at lunch."

"Bye." She kissed him quickly before she let go of his hand so he could walk away.

She was finally at a point where she could be truly happy with who she was. Not only was she doing well in school and had a supportive, very sweet boyfriend, but she felt happy about weeding out the unnecessary things in her life. Things like animosity and jealousy. And things like Rachel. It had become very, very apparent in the time since she and Rachel had stopped talking, that she didn't need the redhead's influence. She could do things on her own, and if not for cheerleading, she wouldn't have talked to Rachel at all.

The only thing was, she missed having a proper girlfriend. The closest thing she'd had to one lately was Haley during that one conversation in the tutor center. She actually liked Haley, but she knew that there was a whole lot of red tape that might have kept them from being real friends. They said hello to one another and Brooke talked to Nathan regularly enough, but as far as she and Haley actually spending time one on one, she just didn't see it happening any time soon.

But she still had a couple more apologies to make.

----

When Peyton ran into Jake, she was walking with Nathan on the quad. She had been talking to him more and more, since he was playing at Tric's opening night. She'd shown up at his place weeks ago, asking if he'd want to play, and he'd been pretty excited about it. She knew both he and Haley were practicing with Chris' band, and she'd even sat in on a couple rehearsals. In the last couple days, she'd seen he and Brooke together. Like, together, together. She actually thought they were a cute couple. Brooke was laughing a lot more when she was with him, and he was the picture of a perfect boyfriend, just like he'd been for most of his relationship with Peyton.

"Hey!" Peyton said happily. She was mid-laugh, since Nathan was being particularly, hilariously vulgar in a way he only ever really was with her.

"Hey." Jake laughed, simply because she was laughing. "What's up?"

"Not much. Ready for Friday?" she asked needlessly. She knew how hard he'd been working to prepare for his performance. Now that it was two days away, she wanted to make sure he was all set.

"Yeah. I just need to polish the guitar," he insisted.

"No way!" she cried. "Fingerprints are totally rock star. Makes it look like you have a guitar tech."

He laughed and shook his head. "Whatever you say," he managed. He looked over at Nathan and jutted his chin forward in a greeting. "Hey man."

"Hey." Nathan knew that Jake was actually an alright guy, as Haley and Peyton kept telling him.

"Actually, Peyton, could you give us a minute?" Jake asked nervously. He had something to say to Nathan, and he felt it best to do it without witnesses.

Peyton looked at Nathan and he seemed unfazed by Jake's request. "Sure," she said. "I'll see you guys later."

Jake waited until she walked away before turning his attention back to Nathan again. "So listen, I just wanted to apologize for..."

"For punching me in the face?" Nathan asked with a smirk.

"Yeah. That."

"Don't worry about it," Nathan said seriously. "I probably would have done the same thing in your situation."

"Yeah, but you still didn't deserve it," Jake argued.

"Well, no," Nathan said, and they both laughed. "But whatever. Water under the bridge or whatever they say. You're Haley's friend, and...I dunno. I can't really hold it against you. We should at least try to put it behind us."

"Right," Jake said. He shook his head in disbelief. "You really aren't an ass."

Nathan laughed. "And you really aren't a wuss."

"Glad I could surprise you, Nathan," Jake said with a smile.

Nathan held out his fist and Jake bumped his against it. And that was that. Loose ends all tied up. There were no hard feelings, not that there ever should have been. It was all resolved and put behind them. Both guys had to know that Haley and Peyton would be happy about that.

"I've gotta go find Haley, but I guess I'll talk to you later," Nathan said. Jake nodded and smiled, and Nathan walked away.

He was beginning to think that maybe what had been two groups only a few months ago, could maybe be turning in to one big group.

----

The news of Rachel's expulsion spread quickly, mostly because she went out in a fury of name-calling and insults. She sought out Nathan and demanded he tell her exactly what he told Principal Turner, to which Nathan merely laughed. He had no intentions of telling her anything at all. He was standing with Lucas and Peyton when she found him. He seriously thought Peyton was going to lose it more and more with every sentence Rachel spoke. She said something about boarding school in Utah, and as she walked away, Nathan called after her.

He told her to have a nice flight.

----

After school on Wednesday, Lucas and Peyton stopped by Tric to check on the bar stock and make sure the stage was (finally) completed. All that was left now was cleanup, and that was being taken care of the next day when the professional cleaning crew was coming in. Karen and Deb had taken care of staff orientation, and Peyton had made sure the dressing rooms were stocked with water and whatever else she thought her performers/friends might need. She'd had VIP backstage passes printed up for family and friends.

And only Lucas knew that Larry was coming in for the opening and was currently on a transport boat back to the coast. He was set to be in Tree Hill Friday afternoon, just in time to shower and head to the club. Lucas also knew how much that was going to mean to Peyton.

He really didn't expect her to be pressed up against him as soon as they had closed the front door of her house behind them.

"Peyton," he tried, though it was hard to even speak when she had him backed against the wall. Literally. It didn't help that it had been almost two weeks since they'd been together. With the club and school and everything else, they hadn't had a chance to find time alone. Not like this.

"Shut up," she mumbled against his lips.

So he did. He let her take control because A, she wanted it, and B, it was really sexy. He was halfway undressed before they were even up the stairs. She pushed him back onto her bed after he stepped out of his jeans, then smiled at him as she pulled her own shirt over her head and unbuttoned her jeans. She straddled his lap and leaned down to kiss him, and she could feel his smile against her lips.

"Love you," he mumbled. "So much."

She didn't think she'd ever get sick of hearing that. Or saying the words back to him.

----

Brooke stepped tentatively into Rachel's bedroom, where she saw suitcases packed and a few boxes on the bed. She heard noise coming from the closet. Well, noise wouldn't be an appropriate word. She heard things being thrown around. Rachel's parents weren't home, which wasn't really a surprise since they rarely ever spent time within the walls of their house. And when they were out, they were never together unless it was an official appearance.

"Rach?" There was no response, just more things being thrown around. She walked over to the spacious walk-in closet and saw Rachel sitting on the floor with her back to the door. "Rachel."

"What are you doing here?" Rachel asked without bothering to turn around.

"I came to talk," Brooke said. She walked around and sat down in front of Rachel. It was then that she noticed the tears. "Rach."

"What? You've never seen a crying girl before?"

"I don't think I've ever seen you cry before," Brooke said sympathetically.

"Yeah, well there's a first time for everything," Rachel said, flinging a shoe across the closet. "What did you want to talk about?"

"I wanted to make sure you're okay."

"You didn't seem to care the other day."

Brooke tilted her head to the side. "Yes I did. You were too mad to hear what I was saying," she said.

Rachel wiped her cheek angrily when another tear fell. "I really screwed up, Brooke," Rachel admitted for the first time. "A lot." Brooke didn't know what to say to that. She assumed agreeing wouldn't do either of them any good. "And the thing is, the only thing that really bothers me is that I messed up our friendship."

"I'm here, aren't I?" Brooke asked with a smile.

"Yeah, but..."

"I was mad at you," Brooke interrupted. "And...we both messed it up. I should have...I could have just talked about why I was so mad."

"Yeah. But it wasn't like I sought you out to have a heart to heart," Rachel said.

Brooke was starting to get the impression that Rachel was finally able to feel remorse and honestly see the error of her ways. Rachel wasn't having this conversation just to get something out of it, she was having it because she knew it was necessary. Even if Brooke was the one to seek her out, Rachel knew she was in the wrong.

"Neither of us is good at this stuff," Brooke insisted. "I freaked out and cut you out and you probably didn't deserve that."

"And now we're making up and I'm being shipped off to freaking Utah," Rachel said, laughing tearfully.

"But you'll be back in the summer," Brooke said. "Right?"

"Maybe."

"Don't maybe me. I want a promise, you bitch," Brooke said teasingly.

Rachel laughed and nodded her head. "I promise. But only if you help me pack my shoes."

"Done," Brooke said, standing and offering her hand to Rachel.

They hugged when they were standing in front of one another. They'd made their apologies and buried the hatchet. And then when they surveyed the piles of shoes in Rachel's closet, they both started laughing and decided that they should probably take a break before getting started.

----

It was absolutely pouring rain. Nathan and Haley were completely soaking wet just running from the car to the front door of his house, and when they got inside, Haley peeled off her wet jacket and brushed her hair back from her face. Nathan hung his jacket up next to hers. At least he was pretty sure that was what he did. He was a little busy checking out his ridiculously hot girlfriend doing ridiculously hot things that he was sure she didn't even know she was doing.

"It's so gross out," she said before turning to him. She noticed him staring. He spoke before she could.

"I love you."

She looked completely caught off guard. He knew he'd surprised her. He'd kind of surprised himself. And it wasn't that she looked so amazing (but God, did she look amazing). It was that she was perfect for him. She was unexpected, never had he thought he'd be dating someone as smart and funny and talented as she was. Granted, he'd only ever dated cheerleaders before. But this was so not the time for that particular trip down memory lane.

"What?" she asked, shaking her head slightly. Was she hearing him correctly?

"I...love you," he said, more quietly, more nervously.

"You love me," she stated in disbelief. He took a step toward her and nodded.

"Yes."

There was what seemed to be an hour of complete silence between them, then she smiled and threw her arms around his neck so she was pressed against him. He had to hold her up a little bit, and as far as reactions to those three words went, he was thinking hers was a good one.

"I love you too," she said softly, her lips just next to his ear.

She kissed him hard as he held her, and they were laughing together as he walked towards the stairs. They both knew there was no one else home. Deb was out at Tric with Karen meeting with a final building inspector and wouldn't be home until later in the evening, and Dan was in Detroit taking meetings with regards to the dealership. Haley had known all that when she agreed to come over. Part of the reason she loved Nathan so much was because he hadn't once pressured her into doing anything she wasn't ready for.

And the whole reason she was ready was because she loved him so much.

He sat down on his bed when they got into his room, and he was sure his eyes had never been wider than when she pulled her shirt over her head and dropped it next to her.

"Don't say anything," she said quietly, taking a step towards him.

"Haley." His hands fell to her hips as if on instinct, and she gathered the bottom of his shirt in her hands. He looked down, almost like he needed a visual confirmation, then back to her.

"I want to," she almost whispered. He didn't stop her from pulling his shirt off his body.

"We don't..."

"Nathan, I want to," she insisted, a little more firmly. He shook his head a little bit, but she placed her hands on his cheeks. "Just kiss me."

A command like that was one he couldn't ignore.

----

"So I was thinking that your mom is probably going to be crazy busy tonight, so we should grab a bite, then head to Tric right after school and see what help she needs."

"Okay, who are you and what have you done with my brother?" Lucas asked with a laugh, eyeing Nathan wearily.

"Nothing. Just Haley's got all this stuff to do, and Peyton's going straight to the club, so..." Nathan said, shrugging his shoulder.

Lucas nodded his head as they approached their lockers. "Yeah. That sounds good. Speaking of, have you seen my girlfriend yet today?"

"Nope. Wouldn't be surprised if she was running around here like a crazy person," Nathan said, looking around the hall for any sight of her.

He saw her. She was walking up behind Lucas, and she winked at Nathan. He merely shook his head as he turned to gather his books. She wrapped her arms around Lucas from behind, startling him but ultimately getting the desired effect when she whispered a good morning in his ear. And that effect was a deep breath and him placing his hand over hers.

"Hi," he managed.

"I'll see you guys later," Nathan said. The look Peyton gave him let him know that she'd talked to Haley. She'd never seen Nathan blush before, but he was blushing as he walked away.

"How are you?" Lucas asked as she moved so she was standing in front of him.

"I'm fine actually," she said. They were both surprised by that. "Really. Everything is ready to go for tonight. All we need is for people to show up, and we'll be doing okay."

"Everything?" he asked skeptically. "Everything is ready."

"Yeah. Me, your mom and Deb stayed late last night and there's nothing left to do," she said, shrugging her shoulder. They started down the hall towards the history class they shared, and Lucas took her hand in his. "So no stress for me." He looked at her with a raised eyebrow. "Okay, not no stress, but very little stress."

He was laughing and she was telling him to prepare himself for the best club opening in the county, and they saw Brooke rounding the corner. Lucas let out a quick breath and Peyton did the same thing she always did when she saw Brooke. She squeezed Lucas' hand a little bit, he wasn't even sure she knew she was doing it, and straightened her posture a little bit. They were prepared to walk right past Brooke, but she actually spoke to them this time.

"Peyton," Brooke said, almost pleadingly. Peyton and Lucas both stopped. Lucas checked the clock and saw that they had about 10 minutes until the start of class. "Can I talk to you for a sec?"

Lucas wrapped his arm around his girlfriend's waist in a blatantly protective move. Peyton looked up at him. "I'll meet you in class," she said. He just looked at her like she was insane.

"Whatever she has to say, she can say it in front of me," he insisted.

"Luke..."

"No, it's okay," Brooke interrupted. "I wouldn't trust me either." Peyton almost smiled. Lucas didn't. "I just want to tell you that I'm sorry. For what I said and how I acted."

"It's o..."

"It's not okay," Brooke insisted. Lucas thought that might have been the first time in months that he'd actually agreed with Brooke on anything. "I was...horrible. And you didn't deserve that."

"I kissed your boyfriend," Peyton said. Brooke went to speak, but Peyton cut her off. "But yeah, you were a total bitch."

Lucas was the only one surprised by Peyton's words. She was right, of course, but he didn't expect such honesty. He realized quickly that he should have.

"I know I was. And I'm sorry," Brooke said sincerely. "And honestly, he probably shouldn't have been my boyfriend, and...Whatever. That's a whole other issue. I just...thought I should apologize."

Peyton felt Lucas' thumb move over her back, since he was still holding her, and she honestly felt like they were, all three of them, crossing that hurdle. Brooke could forgive Lucas and Peyton their actions, and Peyton decided that maybe she could forgive Brooke hers. Brooke knew she was wrong, and Peyton had always been able to tell Brooke's lies from her truths. This was a truth. She wasn't apologizing to make herself look good, she was apologizing because she had made a mistake and wanted to fix it. Despite everything, Peyton thought that was kind of almost noble.

"Thank you," Peyton said. Brooke nodded and smiled tensely at the couple in front of her, then moved to walk past them. Peyton looked at Lucas, and he was wearing an expression that he was sure matched her own. Something like surprise, but also something like compassion. "Brooke," Peyton called over Lucas' shoulder. The brunette turned around again, and Peyton pulled herself away from Lucas a little bit. "You're coming tonight, right?"

"Oh, I thought I might come. Just to see Jake."

Peyton scoffed and smiled at her. "No. You can't just see one act. You have to see all three," Peyton explained. Her smile grew and Brooke laughed quietly and looked to her feet.

Brooke looked back up at Lucas, then focused her attention on Peyton again. "Well maybe I'll have to come see all three then," she said.

Peyton nodded. Lucas had no idea what was going on. It was like they were speaking girl and leaving him out of the conversation all together, what with all their little looks and subtext.

"Give your name at the front door and they'll give you a backstage pass," Peyton said. The bell rang just as Brooke was nodding, and they said their goodbyes and continued in their separate directions.

Lucas could tell Peyton wasn't going to say anything, and she could tell he wasn't going to let her get away with it.

"What the hell was that?" he asked, gesturing with his thumb in the direction Brooke was walking. Peyton smiled and kissed his cheek before entering their classroom.

"Forgiveness."

----

When Nathan found Haley, she was sitting on a chair in her dressing room with her iPod on, her eyes closed as she rocked back and forth. He could tell she was nervous. It didn't take a genius to recognize that. She also looked amazing. She was wearing a black cotton dress with a red belt at the waist, and her hair was straightened, with just the front pieces pulled back and held in place with a silver clip. She didn't notice him there, and he didn't want to scare her, but he wanted to talk to her. They'd been pulled in different directions all day at school, and when he'd gotten a chance to talk to her, it had only been when Lucas was around. He clearly couldn't talk to her about what he wanted to talk to her about.

And he couldn't stop thinking about the night before. He'd resigned himself to the fact that he and Haley were just not going to be sleeping together (marriage was not something a 17 year old boy even considered an option). He thought it was okay. She was absolutely the only girl he would have made the 'sacrifice' for, and he'd fallen completely in love with her and the last thing he'd ever want to do would be to hurt her. He wasn't sure how many times he asked her if she was sure she wanted to take that step, if she wanted to take it with him. And every single time, she had said yes.

When she finally noticed him there, she pulled her earbuds from her ears and smiled at him. "Hi."

"Hey," he said. he walked over and kissed her forehead before sitting down across from her. "How are you?"

"Trying really hard not to be nervous," she said. He smiled and looked to his hands. "But you don't mean that."

He laughed softly and shrugged one shoulder. "I meant that too."

"Nathan, I'm fine. I'm...more than fine," she insisted. "I'm kind of perfect, actually."

He smiled. "I think so too," he said quietly, reaching over to take both her hands in his.

"Okay, what's wrong?" she asked knowingly. She'd known him a while now, and she hadn't ever seen him this way. He looked worried and almost as nervous as she was.

"Nothing," he said, shaking his head. She merely raised her brow expectantly. "I just...don't want you to think that I only said that I love you because..."

"Nathan, I don't think that," she promised. "I don't."

"Because I do..."

"I love you," she said insistently, forcing him to look at her. "And I know you weren't just trying to..."

"I wasn't," he told her. "I love you too." They both smiled and he leaned forward to kiss her. "I'm going to go back out and find Luke. Don't be nervous. You're gonna be amazing."

"Thanks," she said as they stood. "I'll try."

He winked at her before walking out of the room again, and when she checked the clock, she saw that she had only 20 minutes before she had to go on stage. She could do this. She could. She'd done so many other things she didn't think she could. This would be easy.

Right.

----

Lucas and Nathan managed to convince Peyton to watch the show from the crowd instead of backstage. And their idea of 'convincing' her was to each grab one of her elbows and hold on as they left the sidestage area and walked her to the middle of the floor. The three of them (and everyone else) clapped and cheered like crazy for Haley, who killed her set in the best sense of the word. She ran out afterward, receiving congratulations from many, and stood in front of Nathan, the two of them speaking in hushed tones as he told her how proud of her he was.

"Is that Brooke?" Haley asked, pointing to a girl sitting at the bar. She was wearing just skinny jeans tucked into a pair of boots, a black sweater, and her hair was in a ponytail.

"Yeah," Lucas said. He watched his mother approach his ex-girlfriend and start a conversation.

"Be right back," Peyton said, pulling her hand from Lucas'. She was walking towards the bar before anyone could ask her what it was she was about to do. She smiled at Karen as she made her way to the bar, and the woman winked at her before walking away to attend to other patrons. Peyton slid into the empty space next to Brooke. "Hey."

"Oh. Hey." Brooke set her glass of club soda on the bar and smiled. "This is really amazing, Peyton."

"It's not so bad, right?" Peyton said, looking around the busy club as everyone danced to the songs the DJ was playing and waited for Jake to take the stage. "Come watch with us." Brooke opened her mouth and Peyton could tell she was about to argue. "It's not an option."

Brooke smiled and laughed a little bit. "So I don't have a choice?"

"Nope."

They both laughed again, and Brooke got off her stool and followed Peyton back to her (their?) group of friends. Lucas managed a small smile, and Brooke knew she would eventually have to have a conversation with him about things, but it was no longer a terrifying thing to think of. She and Peyton seemed to be burying the hatchet, and she thought that probably meant a lot to Lucas. Haley smiled and Brooke insisted that she loved the music, and Nathan casually threw his arm around Brooke's shoulder as he stood between he and Peyton. She kind of felt...good with these people. Haley was a sweet girl, and Nathan was Nathan. Peyton was being much nicer than she had to be, considering.

They managed to laugh and talk with one another until Jake took the stage, and they all cheered like crazy. By the time it was Chris' turn to play, Jake was mingling with the crowd and whispering in Brooke's ear that he was proud of her for reconciling with Peyton.

Lucas didn't notice that. He was too busy wrapping his arms around his girlfriend from behind and telling her for the thousandth time how amazing she was.

Chris started singing a song that none of them had ever heard before, and Jake, Haley and Peyton exchanged looks; they thought they'd heard all his material. But this one was different. It was a hit, and they suspected he knew it. It was the last song of his set, and Peyton thought it was basically a perfect way to end the night.

I believe in you.

----

Somehow, they all ended up leaving together and found themselves at the River Court at close to two in the morning. Jake, Chris and Haley traded notes on their sets, Peyton and Brooke listened in on the conversation, adding opinions here and there as Lucas and Nathan tossed the ball around, playing leisurely on the court.

"This is crazy," Nathan noted, looking over to the bleachers where everyone else sat. "Who would have known it would turn out like this."

"No one," Lucas laughed, spinning the ball in his hands. "But it's good, I think."

"Yeah," Nathan said. "Better than before."

"Hey!" Peyton shouted. Nathan looked over at her, and she had her hand on her hip. "You gonna play this game, or what? We came to see a showdown."

"Get your skinny ass out here, then," Nathan taunted her as he caught Lucas' rebound. Never one to back down from a challenge, Peyton stood and shook off her jacket. "Haley." She shook her head, and Nathan stared her down. "Come on. Two on two."

"Three on three," Lucas insisted.

Haley rolled her eyes, but stood up and made her way onto the court. "Who sits out?"

"Chris," Lucas and Nathan said at the same time. Everyone laughed but the guy being picked on.

"Hey now," he said, holding his hand out. "I am offended here."

"Oh, are you?" Jake asked. "Dude, you suck at basketball. Brooke's probably better than you."

"Brooke learned her moves from the Scotts," Nathan said, passing the ball to her.

They all continued to bicker and tease one another and throw around some harmless trash talk, and Peyton moved over to wrap her arms around Lucas as he stood a little bit away from the crowd. She kissed him, not caring who was there or who saw.

"You know how amazing you are?" he asked quietly. She rolled her eyes, but he wouldn't let her get away with that. "You are. And I love you."

"I love you too," she said with a smile. "And now I'm going to school your ass in basketball."

He laughed as she ran away from him and stole the ball from Nathan's idle hands.

"Oh you are, are you?" Lucas laughed. He watched as she thew the ball through the chains and he caught her rebound. "Alright. Me, Jake and Haley against you, Nathan and Brooke."

"And I'll coach," Chris said seriously from the sidelines.

Everyone laughed at him as he called out ridiculous motivational phrases. From the tip off, the girls tried to distract the guys, and the guys went easy on the girls. Peyton jumped on Lucas' back when he had the ball once, letting Brooke steal it easily and pass to Nathan so he could complete a monster dunk. When Haley had the ball, Nathan wrapped his arms around her from behind, holding her in place and restricting her use of her arms. Jake was getting ready to make a shot, and Brooke whispered something in his ear, presumably some type of threat, and he passed the ball straight to Peyton and held up his hands in apology. And Chris provided hilarious running commentary on all of it and acted as a referee when the 'players' called upon him.

The score wasn't kept, and there was more laughter than there were shots made. It wasn't much of a competition. Because everyone knew that no matter what, it wasn't about the game.

It wasn't about the game at all.

-Fin-