Disclaimer: Not mine, not mine.
'Ship: Nathan/Haley (theirloveissotortured!)
Spoilers/Timeline: Takes place some time after "Are You True?"
Author's note: I told myself I wouldn't get sucked into OTH fic because of Chad. The funny thing is, it turns out I'm fascinated by Nathan, rather than Lucas. Go figure. Anyway, this is my first one in the fandom. Be kind. ;) Feedback is much, much appreciated.

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by inmyeyes

For once, her instincts had proved her wrong.

As Haley pulled her jacket closer to her body, she let out a sigh. She was in over her head, she knew that. What she didn't know was how to make sure everything wouldn't blow up in her face.

She had no one to blame but herself really; she was the one who had irrevocably set off the chain of events by agreeing to tutor him. Blast her good intentions! It had been easy to convince herself that she was doing the right thing, the good thing. She could help both Nathan and Lucas, and it seemed like a small sacrifice to pay.

But now, she had everything to lose.

The wind was picking up and, not for the first time, she cursed his lack of punctuality. It was cold, her stomach was rumbling and she wanted to see him too much, or else she would have just left. Damn him. Feeling restless, she got off the bench, walked over to the railing and stared out into the calm waters.

It had been simple in the beginning; she found that by blocking out his identity, tutoring him was like tutoring any other person. And easily (too easily, she thought), a job had turned into friendship… and friendship was quickly spiraling into something else that was entirely too dangerous.

Against her will, she acknowledged that he wasn't at all like she imagined. Oh sure, he still had his moments when he would be a complete and utter asshole… but now, she knew that that was only one facet of his personality.

They were similar in ways that had never occurred to her. Both perfectionists, both over-achievers in their own ways. He hid behind his anger, and she behind her carefree persona. But she had Lucas and Karen… and Nathan, he had no one. And she found that she wanted to be that somebody for him; someone he wouldn't have to pretend with, someone he could laugh freely with, someone who would know all the unspoken thoughts that ran through his mind.

He appealed to the one chink in her armor: her desire to be needed.

A touch on her shoulder jolted her out of her thoughts. She was ready to chastise him for his lateness (it had become almost a ritual, really) but when she turned around, he had a cup of coffee on one hand, a bagel in the other and a wide smile on his face.

"You're late," she said, her small smile taking away the sting of her words.

Nathan's smile broadened as he shrugged nonchalantly. "I got you breakfast."

Taking the offered cup, she raised it in a salute. "Bribery. You've learnt well."

"I have a good tutor."

Haley rolled her eyes good-naturedly and didn't protest when his free hand found hers.

"I'm sorry I'm late," he whispered, his lips softening into that smile that seemed reserved only for her.

She returned his smile, giving in to the urge to touch his cheek. "You're forgiven, but only because it's your birthday."

Surprise lit up his eyes. "How did you find out?"

"Nathan, your birthday is practically a public holiday in Tree Hill. Everyone in school has been talking about your party."

His grip on her hand tightened. "You'll be there, right?"

Smoothly evading the question, she dragged him over to the table where a small box was lying. "I wanted to give you this." The coffee and bagel lay forgotten on the table as their attention shifted. Holding out the box wrapped in basketball-themed wrapping paper with a small blue bow, she gave a nervous smile as she waited for him to accept the gift.

Moments later, he looked at her in stunned silence.

"I hope you like it," she said meekly. "I wasn't really sure if you-"

"You really didn't have to, Hales," he answered, glancing at the watch that was nestled in the box.

"Maybe now you'll actually be on time," she quipped. "Unless you don't know how to read the time. You see, that little hand actually-"

Laughing, he reached out to envelop her in a hug. "Thank you."

She wanted to hold onto him tighter, and that was why she had to end the embrace. Her bright smile matched his. "Happy birthday, Nathan."

"You will be at the party, right?"

She hated his persistence sometimes. "I don't know," she hedged, "I think I have to work tonight."

His eyes narrowed reproachfully. "Haley-"

Shaking her head, she took a step backward. "I can't be there, Nathan."

"Why not? We're friends, aren't we?"

"Are we?" She raised a brow at him.

"Damnit, Haley." He closed the gap between them, reaching for her hand. "You know we are. You know we're more than-"

An indignant sound escaped her throat and she struggled to free her hand from his grasp. "Don't you dare say that, Nathan! You have no right to say that."

Nathan moved towards her, forcing her to retreat until her back hit the railing. "And you," he said, in a low, hard voice, "can't keep on ignoring the fact that there is something between us. How long are you gonna pretend it doesn't exist?"

"How long are you gonna stay with Peyton?" she countered, pressing her hands against his chest to push him away. He didn't budge.

Instead, his hands came up to cup hers and suddenly all the fight in her evaporated. Feeling inexplicably exhausted, she leaned her head against him.

"We can't keep doing this, Nathan," came her soft whisper. "I can't keep doing this."

"What do you want me to do?" was his quiet plea.

"I want you to go back to being Nathan Scott, the jerk who makes life difficult for Luke."

"You mean I'm not still that Nathan Scott?" he joked.

Unamused, she hit his shoulder. "Move, Nathan."

"Hey hey," he tipped her chin up so that their eyes would meet. "I know how difficult this whole situation is."

Her anger at his presumption (however well-meaning) finally made her forceful enough to push him away. "No, Nathan, you have absolutely no idea how difficult this is. You're not the one who's caught between two brothers who, for all intents and purposes, hate each others' guts."

"Do you think I wanted this to happen?" he asked, his voice harsh with frustration. "You want to know the truth? The reason I sought you out at first was to get back at him. You're his weakness, Haley, and I had fully intended to exploit that."

Haley was rendered speechless, her anger ebbing away to be replaced by a hollowness in her chest. Swallowing the lump in her throat, she turned her back on him, eyes unfocused on the brightening horizon.

The echo of footsteps signaled his coming closer to her and when he next spoke, his breath tickled the skin at her nape. "But you… you turned out to be this unexpected part of the equation."

Her hands curled around the railing, looking for something to anchor her. His strong hands covered hers and the sight of their hands linked together made her eyes sting with unshed tears.

"And now, Haley," he whispered, "you're my weakness."

At his words, her breath hitched. "You have a glib tongue, Nathan Scott," she remarked, trying to sound insouciant. The catch in her voice gave away her real feelings though.

Nathan took hold of her arm, gently but insistently turning her around. "Say you'll come, Haley. I want you there."

She leveled a disbelieving look at him before sidestepping away from him. "You want me there, but you'll spend the entire evening pretending I don't exist." She sounded weary but resigned.

"You know that we can't-"

"I know we can't, Nathan. That's my point." Her smile was full of bitter acceptance. "We just can't. You can't shake up your ordered world, and I can't betray Lucas."

They looked at each other in silence, but their eyes spoke volumes.

"So, what now?"

She lifted her fingers to his cheek in a soft caress. "You'll drive to school, I'll walk. We'll pass in the halls and pretend we don't know each other… and tomorrow," she gave a small smile, "tomorrow, I'll see you here at 7."

"That's it?"

She withdrew her hand and shrugged. "That's it."

For a second, she thought he would protest, had almost expected it in fact. Nathan Scott wasn't one to give up on something he wanted. And she, Haley James, was someone he wanted; she didn't know whether to cry at that thought or shout her happiness. He gave her a long, measured look before running impatient hands through his hair and letting out a sigh. Unclenching her fists, she ignored the sliver of pain stabbing her chest.

He shot her a wan smile and the look of defeat in his eyes, something that she had never before seen in him, made her lean up and place a light kiss on his cheek. His eyes brightened slightly and when he held out his hand to her, she curtsied and laughingly accepted it.

They sat in a comfortable silence at the table that had come to be their own, hands lightly clasped and eyes trained on the slowly rising sun. She was the one who broke the serenity when she got up to gather her stuff. They had to get to school.

When she was to ready to go, he stopped her with a hand on her arm and for a moment, Haley was sure that he would kiss her, almost wanted him to, in fact. But although his touch lingered, the anticipated kiss never came.

Reluctantly pulling away, she forced a smile on her face and chirped, "Time for the daily grind."

He directed that million dollar Nathan-Scott-star-player-most-popular-guy-at-school smile at her. "I really can't convince you to come to the party?"

Glad that the mood had lightened somehow, she asked, half-serious, "Can I bring Luke?"

"You drive a hard bargain, Haley James."

She just grinned. "See you tomorrow, Nathan."

As she walked away, she gave in to the urge to look back. The sight of Nathan smiling as he put on the watch she had given him warmed her heart.

It was enough, she told herself; it had to be.

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