Author's Note: AU. No couples yet, although some may begin to show up in later chapters.


19:01, January 15: Tree Hill, North Carolina


The night seemed darker than usual, the inky black of night unpunctuated by streetlights – the bulbs had been taken out the week before and shattered in the center of town, to make it easier for agents to lurk in the shadows. No moon tonight and the stars were not enough to light the streets of Tree Hill.

She pulled her jacket more tightly to her and swore under her breath, followed by sending up a silent prayer that no one was close enough as to hear what she had said. Even being out this late was possibly the worst thing she could have done, although it couldn't be any later than eight or nine in the evening. That was the first lesson they learned the hard way – late one night, Peyton slipped out against the protests of everyone else, and she never returned.

The optimistic point of view, that some people were taking to delude themselves, was that she somehow managed to get to Charlotte; once in Charlotte, there was a more organized resistance movement, and then maybe she would be back one day to help rescue them all. Of course, the other option was that she had been taken out to the nearby countryside and executed for crimes against her country, but no one wanted to think about that. Not when the next Peyton could be any of them at any time for any reason at all.

After a good amount of walking, and doubling back and taking alternate routes on occasion to confuse anyone who may be watching or following her, she arrived at the safe house they had been using. She rapped three times on the drain pipe by the side door. "The sky is blue," a hoarse whisper from inside said.

"And the sheep are in the meadow," she said in a whisper, rolling her eyes. They'd really have to confer on a better set of code words, she mused to herself, as Lucas opened the door and let her in.

Haley looked up at her from the table, a sheaf of papers sitting around her. "I thought you weren't coming back, Brooke," she said, tapping her pen against one of the papers. "You were taking so long."

"I know," she said, pulling out a chair and sitting down, throwing her jacket on top of Haley's papers. "I got stopped by an agent. Delayed me."

"What did he say?" Nathan asked.

"He asked me 'what a pretty girl like me was doing out this time of night anyway?' and I said it was none of his business."

"Brooke!" a chorus of accusatory voices shouted at once.

"Eh," she said, shrugging her shoulders and allowing herself a small grin. "He told me to watch my sassy mouth and that next time, I might not be so lucky."

"Are you sure he didn't follow you back?" Haley asked.

"I took my time coming back. Took a different way than normal."

"Oh, and that's really going to help if he followed you," Haley said, her voice rising in pitch a little as she picked up Brooke's jacket and tossing it over to the couch. "T.R.I.C. is not going to succeed if we keep making mistakes like this."

"So you're accusing me of making a mistake."

"We don't want you to disappear, not like Peyton did," Lucas said, looking over at Brooke.

"It's always all about Peyton, isn't it?" she said with a sigh. "Anything change while I was out?"

Lucas shook his head. "Mouth has been trying to make radio contact with a splinter group in Woodminster but they haven't been responding."

"Are we sure they aren't double agents?" Nathan asked. "Maybe the Shadows infiltrated them."

"It's possible."

Lucas and Nathan continued to discuss the possibility of the Shadows infiltrating them as Brooke got up from the table. She walked through the curtained partition to the small communications bay they created. One laptop was set up to the internet through a series of wireless networks she didn't particularly care to understand, in order to better mask their location and yet attempt to reach out to the nearby splinter groups. It wasn't always reliable though; there had been scattered grainy radio reports of Shadow agents portraying themselves as newly formed resistance groups and luring other groups into revealing information, leading to their arrests. As well, there was a modified CB radio system positioned against the wall, which Mouth was hovering over.

"Hey," she said.

Mouth glanced up. "Hey there, Brooke," he said with a smile.

"Any updates?"

He shook his head. "I'm only getting static out of Woodminster and my correspondent in Fort Quay isn't responding tonight."

She nodded. "Nathan and Lucas are talking about whether or not we'll be infiltrated."

"Not if we're smart, we won't be."


00:43, January 16, Tree Hill, North Carolina


Later that night, as the candles lighting the safe house were extinguished – they didn't use electricity except as absolutely needed – and the five of them fell asleep on the rough cots in the sleeping area. Skills took the graveyard shift in the communications bay. He slipped the headphones over his ears and tuned in. There were familiar voices coming across – he recognized some of them from his previous shifts. He followed along in the chatter, chiming in as necessary and notating points for discussion and recap with Mouth in the morning.

A new voice, one he was unfamiliar with, came across the station shortly before one. "Woodminster's on fire!" it screamed. "It's all gone!"

The others fell eerily silent.

Finally, one brave person broke the silence. "Well, shit, then, what do we do now?"

He remembered meeting one of the Woodminster people once, at a secret rendezvous point in the woods. He had told her the code word if she ever ended up in Tree Hill and needed a safe place to stay.

A part of him thought about waking the others up, informing them of what he had found out, but the part of him that knew that their job would be even tougher now won out. They'd have to enjoy their sleep while they could get it.

Tomorrow would be another day, but they couldn't roll over now. First, Peyton disappears, taking with her a wealth of contacts that could have made their jobs easier; now, Woodminster was gone. He let out a sigh and turned back to his notepad and radio.

What do we do now indeed.

-to be continued-