When Haley was younger, one of her favorite hobbies was to re-enact the fairy tales she collected. She imagined taking great journeys and creating the most elaborate adventures her mind could hold. And in these revised tales, it was Haley who wore shiny armor, with her hair carefully tucked beneath her helmet to hide her identity.
Every other weekend she usually coerced her best friend Lucas into playing the damsel - so long as she promised not to tell a soul that he was playing "the girl's part." Haley would swoop in on her white horse (or horses, if she were feeling particularly daring that day) as the rightful hero. After, the damsel always thanked the hero with candy, or they exchanged books. Kissing was not allowed.
Eventually, Lucas would escape her imaginary world for his own reality of basketball games at the Rivercourt, while Haley sat on a nearby bench, deeply immersed in someone else's story, planning her next performance.
It occurred to Haley as she grew older that, other than Lucas, she'd never had to rescue anyone other than herself. Sometimes, she wondered if she were doing things wrong, that nobody seemed to need her to ride in on her white horse to save the day.
Then there was Nathan, and everything after had happened so quickly.
He'd always needed her for something, from the moment they'd met. He'd needed her skills as a tutor, and her position as Luke's best friend for the purpose of manipulating his own brother. And as their relationship changed, so did her importance in his life. She was no longer just his tutor but also his girlfriend, the one person who often knew Nathan better than he knew himself.
Nathan had once told her that she made him want to be better than he was; that she inspired him to be greater, to want to be that person who was good enough to be with her. His confession had overwhelmed Haley then, seized her in a grip of irrational fear that she'd never live up to his expectations. But they were in love, and living their own modern fairy tale. If Nathan needed her to be his savior then she would wear whatever mask was needed; play whatever role was required, and he would do the same. Wasn't that the way the stories went, she'd asked herself.
No answer came, and she thought, maybe she was still going about things the wrong way.
(She'd wonder the same thing later, when it sometimes felt as if she'd already done too much.)
There were no white horses, but she'd worn a white dress to their wedding.
At 17, she'd added Nathan's name to her identity and taken him into herself completely because he'd needed to make their family permanent, and she'd wanted to believe that they'd get their happily ever after.
Still, Haley continued to ask herself, who could live up to those words? What would happen to their relationship when she inevitably fell from that pedestal he'd put her on? She lacked coordination so it was bound to happen at some point.
Haley's first performance after leaving Tree Hill (Nathan) to go on tour confirmed a few things of which she'd had her doubts: that she was meant to be a musician, and that boarding Chris' tour bus hadn't been a mistake.
She'd also hoped that Nathan wouldn't see her decision as making a choice between him and her music, with him coming out on the losing end. Leaving for the tour had always been about finding herself, deciding on the person she wanted to be, aside from his wife (in addition to a high school student, a daughter, sister and best friend).
She'd always envied Nathan's confidence and unwavering certainty about his dreams. Dan may have been a strong influence on his choices, but it was still so obvious how much Nathan loved basketball.
Music filled that presence in her life, the first thing she'd ever felt passionate about that didn't begin or end with her husband. Leaving was like a search and rescue mission, not an escape. But Nathan hadn't understood.
Haley didn't know how to be an everywoman when she hadn't yet figured out how to simply be herself.
Not knowing, she'd discovered, wasn't enough.
During the plane ride back to Tree Hill, Haley envisioned different scenarios of her first conversation in months with Nathan. She'd begin the same way with: "I wanna come home, Nathan."
More often than not, he'd stare at her for a long moment before the stubborn line of his mouth gave way to a smirk of acceptance. She'd kiss him then, eager to feel his mouth as if she hadn't tasted him in years instead of months.
Haley knew it was naively optimistic to even consider such an outcome, though she hoped all the same. But she also knew the reality of their reunion wouldn't be as kind as what her subconscious provided.
She was right, of course. It was unrealistic to expect Nathan to welcome her with open arms, but the wall he'd erected the moment they were face-to-face re-opened wounds she thought long ago healed over. She felt the pain of his ultimatum, of his doubts and mistrust, as clearly now as she did then. They always could hurt each other best.
If the Scott house reminded her of a gilded cage, then Dan was the watchful dragon and Nathan was the trapped princess. Haley bit her lip but a snort of laughter escaped at the thought. It's what she's wanted since she was a little girl; to be the hero, to not be left behind. She didn't think she could handle being so important to Nathan when they'd first married, but she was up to the challenge now.
Haley opened the door, remembering Nathan's instructions, and stepped inside the castle. "Here there be dragons," she whispered, once inside. But she had her armor and horse, and she'd help Nathan escape.