A/N: Sorry for the delay! I hope that you all enjoy this chapter - let me know what you think. Thanks for reading!

CHAPTER THREE

The next morning, Nathan got to school early. Oh, he'd told Brooke that they wouldn't get to see the fireworks of the Lucas/Haley confrontation because she rode to school with him in, but he was still hoping. As many of the moments that lead up to Lucas's doom and ruination that he can witness, he'll find a way.

Getting to school early was not something he did. Ever. So if this didn't pay off, he was going to be pissed, and he'd make Lucas pay during practice in the afternoon. Or maybe he'd find a way to humiliate him in the hallway between classes. Shouldn't be too hard, he figured – it had to pretty humiliating to be that dumb bastard anyway.

When he spies Haley at her locker, her movements jerky and angry, he thinks he might be in luck and his unprecedented early arrival might have paid off. Especially seeing that Lucas is not there, in his typical spot, beside her. He can't help but grin at this development.

He takes a post across and slightly down the hall for her, just waiting for the dreaded half-brother to make his appearance. And he didn't have to bide time for long – Lucas appeared not a minute later, looking all the worse for his little tutorial in jock partying of the night before. Nathan's smile widened when he saw Haley's eyes widen in surprise at Lucas's appearance and then narrow in disgust as she turns her attention to shoving more books into her locker.

Nathan moved closer to them, for once happy not to be the center of someone's attention. It made it so much easier to get close enough to eavesdrop that way.

"Look, Luke, there's nothing to say right now," Haley snaps at Lucas, grinning with pleasure when he jumps at the sound of her locker slamming shut, "Oh, I'm so sorry! Did that add to the pain of your hangover?"

Nathan has to bite his lip to hold the snicker in. This Haley girl can bring the pain. Maybe she won't suck so much to hang out with. And maybe he'll get more than just bagging a virgin and an improved English grade out of it.

"Hales, come on!" Luke protests, pinching the bridge of his nose between his fingers and thumb, "Don't be like this!"

"Don't be like what, Luke?" she asks, looking down at the ground. Even Nathan, who is sure he lacks the ability to feel anything himself, can see that Luke's actions last night hurt her. Well, he decides he can feel the emotion of 'happiness', since he's pretty sure that's what he's feeling now. "Don't be mad that you couldn't bother to do more than leave a message? I waited for you, you jerk, and you just let me. So that you could go get drunk with people you say you don't even like. What the hell does that make you?"

"Sorry, okay!" he bursts out, grimacing when that just causes more pain to shoot through his head, "I'm sorry. It was stupid, and I wasn't thinking."

She glares at him, and Nathan is sure she'll shoot him down again, but then she sighs. "Yeah, I know. I just don't get why you couldn't have called? Would that have been so hard?" she mutters, smacking him upside the head and giggling when he groans, looking green.

"Hales, trust me, you don't want to do that," Lucas warns her.

"Gonna puke?" she taunts, and Nathan is disappointed that she's forgiven him so quickly for this. The only person who'd do that for him is Tim, and he didn't count.

"Maybe," Luke grumbles, smiling at her gratefully when she links her arm through his. "I really am sorry. Believe me, it wasn't even worth missing a night with the insane James clan."

"Oh, but what is?" Haley quips, dragging him down the hall out of Nathan's hearing range.

Nathan glowers at this turn of events, beginning to realize just how close those two hopeless idiots were. They really are friends, which is something that he can't help but marvel at. How his idiot bastard of a half-brother can be such good friends with so many people, the best of which being a girl of all things, and he had no one in his life like that was beyond comprehension to him.

"Shit," he mutters under his breath. This was going to be harder than he thought. He guessed that all he could do now was convince her to tutor him and hope that Brooke was successful in keeping Lucas occupied and away from Haley.

"And you said there wouldn't be anything to see," Brooke whispers in his ear from behind. He almost jumps in surprise, but stops himself just in time.

He turns around, smirking at her. "I was just on my way to see Mr. Bradley, actually," he attempts to cover.

"Right," Brooke grins, not buying it for a second, "And after school, I'm going to pick flowers to take the old farts at the nursing home."

"You're almost a real live girl, aren't you, Brooke?" he mutters condescendingly, trying to hurt her. Not the brightest move, pissing off his only ally, but she's such a bitch that he can't help himself. Has to get the better of everyone.

She stares for a minute, trying to comprehend that he actually had the nerve to say that to her. She is the closest thing to a counterpart that he has in this school, after all. "Screw you, Nathan. And besides, in this case, it really does take one to know one, right? Everyone knows you have no feelings at all."

He rolls his eyes at her and turns, moving down the hall. This time he acknowledges his classmates, allowing them to fawn over him like they always do. It is a routine for them, but one for him, too. He does as he told Brooke, and heads for Mr. Bradley's classroom, rolling his eyes when he passes a now laughing Haley and Lucas.

When he enters, Mr. Bradley looks up, blinking in surprise. "Why Mr. Nathan Scott, if I were any older, the surprise of you appearing in my classroom before school might just give me a heart attack."

Nathan suppresses the urges to roll his eyes or walk out. Instead, he grabs the chair next to Mr. Bradley's desk and sits down.

"Mr. Bradley, I need help."

The teacher stares at him for a moment and then bursts out laughing. Getting up from his desk, he claps Nathan on the shoulder as he passes him. "Good one, son, you almost had me going for a minute there."

"What?" Nathan asks, "I'm serious, I'm worried about my grade in your class."

Mr. Bradley stops in his walk toward the back of the classroom and turns back to Nathan slowly. "You're serious, aren't you?" He looks at him closer. "Why? I've been telling you all year that you're so close to doing really great, and you've brushed me off countless times. Why the sudden interest now?"

Nathan fights to keep the deer in headlights look off his face as he mulls over the possible reasons he could give. "I, uh, see, my mom is coming to town this weekend, and she'll, uh, ask how I'm doing in school. And when she finds out I'm not doing so great in English, she'll, um, want to know what I'm doing to improve."

Mr. Bradley doesn't really believe him, something Nathan is well aware of, but they both know he can't really contradict him, either. "So, what are you suggesting, Nathan?"

"That's the thing," Nathan shrugs, wanting the teacher to think it was all his idea, "I'm not sure what my options are. Extra credit, I don't know?"

"Now, you know that I don't offer extra credit, Mr. Scott," his teacher reminds him. And of course, Nathan does know this. He also knows that Mr. Bradley is an advisor to the tutoring program, and thinks that being tutored is the answer to everything.

"Oh, right, I forgot," Nathan mumbles, hoping he doesn't look too pleased with himself.

"Might I suggest tutoring?" Mr. Bradley recommends, right on schedule. Nathan couldn't help but think that it was just too easy.

"T-tutoring, sir?" Nathan pretends to look confused, "I'm not sure if that's something that is really for me."

"Oh, now, tutoring is for everyone!" the teacher enthuses, "In fact, I can't think of a better option for you, Nathan!"

"Really?" he asks, feigning surprise.

"Yes, of course, in fact, I'll meet you in the tutoring center after school." Nathan opens his mouth to remind him he has basketball, but Mr. Bradley waves him. "Yes, yes, I know, basketball. It will only take a moment. In fact, I know the perfect tutor for you. She's a genius. Did you know that one of the captains of the football team was failing three classes? She's got him earning A's now!"

"She, uh, sounds terrific," Nathan mumbles, thinking that the teacher has to have someone other than Haley in mind. Sure, the girl was clearly a big dork, but she didn't seem to be the bespectacled, pocket protector geek that some of the other offerings the school made.

"Oh, yes, she's wonderful. All the tutees just love her."

"Great," Nathan grounds out through clenched teeth. He could kick himself for coming to the teacher like this. He should've just popped into the tutoring center one day and demanded Haley tutor him, not taking 'no' for an answer.

"So, right after last bell, be there, and we'll get you introduced. And don't worry about basketball, Haley works in the afternoons anyway. She'll find time to get you in," Mr. Bradley smiles confidently, turning away.

Nathan stays seated as Mr. Bradley goes about straightening the rows of desks, and then stands up, letting a smirk play over his lips as he stretches his big body. He can't believe he'd doubted that things would go his way; after all, they always did.

And that's why his mood has vastly improved by the time lunch rolls around. Even his bitch of an ex, Peyton Sawyer, can't change that today.

"God, Nathan, don't you have somewhere else to sit?" she snaps, apparently having grown something of a backbone since they broke up, Nathan notes. Of course, seeing as she broke up with him, perhaps she grew it while they were together.

"Peyton," he bites back in the same tone, just with more condescension thrown in, "This is my table. You're not a natural blonde – which, guys, I know for a fact – so why you have to act like one, I'll never know."

The other guys at the table laugh at his insinuations like it was the funniest thing they've ever heard. Even Brooke, who is sitting next to Peyton, has a hard time keeping the smile off her face.

"Nice," Peyton mutters softly, giving Brooke a hurt look, "Thanks a lot."

And with that, she jumps up, grabbing her bag, marching out of the cafeteria. Nathan and Brooke both watch her go, Brooke feeling bad, Nathan just glad she's gone. He isn't so glad when he sees her plop down at the table that Lucas and Haley are sitting at, along with the rest of Lucas's river rat buddies.

Nathan's gaze swings immediately to Brooke, who looks equally stressed about this new development. All she can do is shrug at him, however, as she is also clueless as to why Peyton would feel comfortable sitting there at that table. Although Nathan is pleased to see that Haley doesn't necessarily look thrilled by the addition to her group.

Nathan's cell phone vibrates in his pocket, and he pulls it out to find that Brooke sent him a message while he was watching Haley. She's ordered him to meet her out by her car in ten minutes so they can discuss this turn of events. He nods at her, wrenching his attention half away from Haley – and Lucas – and starts to rag on Tim.

Nathan barely notices when Brooke gets up and leaves the table. So, why, he wonders, does he so readily notice the second Haley, who he has never said a word to, starts to thaw to Peyton's presence? From across the crowded, loud cafeteria, he sees that, and wonders when he crossed a line that gave him a window, albeit a small one, into the inner workings of Haley James?

When the minutes pass that Brooke specified he waited, he gets up and heads out of the cafeteria and then out of the school, straight for her car. He again ignores everyone in his path, much more interested in finding out Brooke's thoughts on Peyton's defection to Lucas's table, and just what that meant for the plan.

When he climbs in the passenger seat of her car, she glares his way. "Can you believe the nerve of that bitch?" she bites out, and Nathan suppresses a smirk – interesting to find out that even Brooke's friendship with Peyton is pretty much worthless. At least to Brooke, if it comes down to Peyton getting something Brooke wanted.

He just shakes his head, though, knowing he's pissed her off enough for the day. "What the hell is going on there?" he asks finally, "Is Peyton going after Luke?"

She shrugs, a look of panic flitting across her face. "I hadn't thought so, but now I'm not so sure. I mean, God, what if she is? That really complicates things."

Nathan's eyes narrow as he responds to her, "In what way? Would you go chicken shit on me and not follow through with the plan?"

"No way," she scoffs, "Peyton will just be a civilian casualty in your war against Lucas. Kind of like Tutor Girl, only, she's probably more innocent than Peyton." Brooke rolls her eyes when Nathan grins. "Not like that, pervy, I meant that Peyton probably is interested in Lucas, and Tutor Girl is just his friend."

"Yeah, okay,' Nathan mutters, "Whatever. How is this going to affect our plans here? That's what I'm worried about."

"Well, of course it is," Brooke glares, "As if you'd ever be bothered to worry about anything besides yourself and your little whims."

"Hey, this little whim is affording you the opportunity of nailing bastard boy, which is what we both know you really want," Nathan shouts, his voice loud in the small car.

"And you want it more!" she counters, "Not in the same way, I suppose, although that could be pretty hot."

"Brooke," he grounds out, glaring hotly at her.

"Right, sorry. Gross. Anyway, this is what both of us want, not just you," she reminds him, "And it doesn't matter that the goals are slightly different, to accomplish them, we have the same objective. Shouldn't be too hard."

Nathan just rolls his eyes at her, knowing she's nervous about the Peyton development. Brooke tries not to glare at him in response. She knows that he's prickly, and she knows that if he's dropping it now, she should let it lie.

"How does this affect things?" he asks her, knowing that Peyton will most likely be more of an obstacle for her than him. He doesn't care about her now – he's not sure if he ever did.

She shrugs, her brow furrowing as she thinks about it. "I really don't know, Nathan. Sorry," she sighs when he mutters something unintelligible under his breath, "I wish I did. I'm not giving up – you know I want him for myself – but this is just one more obstacle I'll have to remove. This is turning into a lot of work."

"And if anyone's cut out for it, it's us," Nathan supplies, "Can you think of anyone we know that is more likely to get what they want than one of us?"

"Well, good point," she beams in response, full enough of herself that she'll take a compliment like that, even from Nathan Scott.

"Next move?" he questions.

"You get Tutor Girl to tutor you. I'll get Peyton away from the both of them," she shudders, obviously more concerned about why Peyton sat at their table than she'd care to let on. And she's let on a lot, Nathan knows, so it makes him a little nervous that she's trying to hide it now.

"Okay," he agrees, "Not a problem."

She raises her eyebrows at his cocky demeanor. "You're so sure you've got her tutoring you in the bag? You might want to think again," she cautions him, "You hate Luke and so your friends do, too, so does it not stand to reason that Tutor Girl and the rest of his friends hate you, too."

Sometimes, Nathan thinks, Brooke is irritatingly smart. Or intuitive. Whatever. It doesn't matter, he knows that in the end, she knows nothing. At least not compared to what he does. So her flashes of intelligence are just that, flashes.

"I'm sure it won't be easy," he concedes, "But come on, how bad could it be? It isn't like I've done anything to her."

She just stares at him, surprised by his lack of awareness on how things like this work. "Honestly, you have never had a friend, have you?"

"I have friends," he mutters defensively, the lie hollow to his own ears.

"No," she muses, "You have groupies, you have followers, you have hanger ons, you have fanatics, you have stalkers, you have a posse, but you don't have friends. There's a difference."

"What does it matter?" he snaps, "It isn't like you have much more than I do."

"No," she shrugs, "I really don't. And after this, I'm probably going to have exactly what you do – nothing. But since I don't have much now, it isn't like it will matter if I lose the rest of it, right?"

He thinks it is sort of pathetic that her view on life and what she has is so pessimistic, but he has no words of encouragement to offer. Hell, he isn't even so sure that she's wrong, anyway. "Whatever, Brooke, just do your magic and keep Lucas away from Haley."

He opens the door to get out. She stops him by laying a hand on his arm. "You better damn well do your part, too," she threatens, "If you don't find a way to get your little Tutor Girl away from him or get her into you, then this won't work."

"I get that, Brooke," he snaps, having had enough of her, "I know my part in this, and I'm definitely going to do this. I'm just worried you're going to get sappy and soft over Peyton. But don't worry, she makes everyone soft after awhile."

"You're sick," Brooke retorts, "Get out of my car. But just keep in mind, you spew that perverted shit to Tutor Girl, and you'll never get anywhere."

He rolls his eyes and gets out of the car without another word to her. To his surprise – and perhaps delight – he sees Lucas walking through the parking lot with Peyton. Haley isn't with them, which Nathan can only figure is a good thing. If he knows how girls work at all, and he's pretty sure he does, he knows that there is no way Haley is happy about Peyton horning in on her territory, even if her territory is as lame as Lucas.

He considers looking for Haley and approaching her now, but when he sees her, still sitting at the table with the rest of the river rats, he knows that won't fly. He could kick the asses of all the guys there individually, and most in pairs, but he can't take on all of them, and he knows they're loyal to the bastard. He can't even try. But he just has to sit through two more periods before he will meet with Mr. Bradley and Haley in the tutoring center. Not that she knows that, but he does, and he looks forward to it.

The rest of the afternoon passes like molasses to him, but finally, the final bell rings for the day, and he heads straight for the tutoring center, ignoring Tim and a few other guys on his way. Not that he ever really paid attention to them anyway. But it's more of a deliberate ignoring today.

He takes a seat along the wall so that his back is to the window that faces the hallway. He's not embarrassed to be getting help with classes. He doesn't even care about that. But he knows that his presence here would open him up to a ton of questions from people who might actually be smart enough to figure out his motives. Peyton, maybe.

Haley comes in next, before Mr. Bradley. She doesn't notice him right away, and so he gets to watch as she removes her slightly worn denim jacket and hang it up along with her backpack. He's pleased to see that under the jacket, she's actually got a figure that he could get behind. Or under, or even better, on top of.

It only takes a second more before she notices him. She's opening some notebook on the desk and flipping through it as he catches her eye. He can barely contain the smirk when her mouth falls open and an angry look crosses over her face. He looks away, knowing that he'll bust out laughing if he keeps staring at the shocked expression on her face.

He can feel the heat of her gaze on him, but it doesn't bother him. Quite the opposite, actually, which surprises him. In the rare times he can be bothered to be honest with himself, he'll admit that sometimes the attention and stares he receives is daunting. He doesn't really like it, although a part of him needs it.

But with her, feeling her staring at him isn't such a big deal. It's kind of a turn-on, actually, especially since he knows that all she's directing his way is anger and confusion. She's a challenge, and he likes a good challenge. God knows he doesn't get many of them in his life, especially when it comes to girls. Most are only too willing to drop trou for him, not that he thinks that is a bad thing. He knows it isn't, and he knows he's lucky in that regard.

Sometimes, though, it's nice to know that not everyone falls head over heels for him. He almost laughs out loud when he thinks about what the guys would say if they heard him say that. They'd think he was crazy – hell, Tim might be dumb enough to call a doctor for him so he could get his head checked out.

They just didn't understand that being Nathan placed a lot of demands on him, and sometimes it was nice when a girl didn't expect he'd sleep with them. It wasn't like he was a blow-up doll, ready on command for any old girl who wanted to be serviced by him. Funny how he feels cheap over that sometimes.

He doesn't think that he should – none of the guys he knows would, but then again, they don't have this problem. Not that he thinks it is a problem. Well, all of the time. But it is enough of a problem that he'd rather participate in the chase with Haley James for a change than be the one chased, the one pursued.

Oh, he knows it would be easier to get to Lucas if she fell at his feet like the rest of them. But it isn't disappointing that he won't. So, it'll take longer this way, but he's beginning to think it might be quite worth the extra time, he decides, as he glances up to catch her still angry gaze on him. The confusion has left the building, but the anger is still there, simmering just below the surface.

At that point, Mr. Bradley walks in, nodding hello to Nathan as he walks over to the desk that Haley is now sitting at.

"Ms. James, my favorite tutor, I have a request for you," he tells her, glancing over his shoulder at Nathan. Nathan isn't looking at him, though; his attention is solely focused on Haley. He wants to see the exact expression on his face when Haley hears what the request is.

"And what is that?" she asks, mustering a smile for her teacher and adviser, "You know I'm always happy to help out a new student, Mr. Bradley."

As soon as she says that, she blanches, and Nathan knows that she's realized why he's there. It takes a lot to keep the smirk off his face, but he thinks he manages it. Still, the expression on her face is priceless, and she looks like her mind is racing a million miles a minute trying to figure out a way out of this.

"Excellent!" Mr. Bradley beams, "Then you and Mr. Scott here should get along just fine. He's a good student, but we want to make him into a great student. And you're the only one who can do it, Ms. James!"

"Oh, um, but Mr. Bradley," she blurts out, flustered, "I don't know. I've got a full load right now, and I'm not sure who I could switch out. Plus, um, doesn't he play football? I don't know when we'd meet?"

Nathan grins inwardly, liking the flush of her cheeks and the way she pretends she doesn't know what sport he plays. It's sort of cute, actually. And then he wonders where that thought came from. Nathan Scott doesn't do cute.

"It's basketball, Ms. James, which you should know. You said hi to me and my wife at the last game, remember? You were there for Luke. And you work when he practices anyway. Can't you work him into your morning schedule?" he asks, oblivious to the reactions of both Haley and Nathan when he mentions Lucas, the other Scott.

"Oh, yeah, of course," Haley murmurs, "Silly me. I'm not good with sports."

"No, you're good with English, and that's why you're here," Mr. Bradley laughs, "So, you get to help Nathan take his scholastic abilities to the next level. You're the only one I think can do it, Hales. I wouldn't ask you if it wasn't important."

She blinks at him for a moment, and Nathan knows she's still wondering how to get out of it. "I – yeah, of course, Mr. Bradley. I'll, uh, see what I can do."

"Great, I knew I could count on you!" he grins, turning his smile on Nathan. "And you, just figure out when you can meet, and I can't wait to see your grade shoot up!"

"Thanks, Mr. Bradley, I'm going to do you proud," Nathan responds to him, not embarrassed to brown nose a little in front of Haley the Tutor. She probably knows a thing or two about brown nosing herself.

He watches Mr. Bradley leave the tutoring center, turning to move closer to Haley as other students pile into the room around him, most taking seats at tables or desks and pulling out homework.

"Why are you doing this?" Haley blurts out in a low whisper, "It doesn't even sound like you need a tutor."

"You don't know what I need," Nathan returns, his hands resting on the table so he can lean in closer to her, "But I'll be glad to tell you. I need a tutor, for English. I want to get my grade up. I'm not failing, but I can do better. Is that a crime?"

"For the vapid and self-involved? Probably," she informs him, fire in her eyes, "Do us both a favor and if you're so set on having a tutor, ask Mr. Bradley to find someone new."

"He said you're the best." He smiles when she blushes. She obviously knows she's the best, but she's not jaded enough that compliments don't faze her. He sort of likes that about her. "And I want the best. I've never had anything but the best, and I don't intend to start now."

"And therein lies the problem," she sighs, leaning away from him, "You think you have some right to something, that you deserve things handed to you. Well, guess what? I'm not stupid, I'm not one of your groupies who will fall in line with your wishes, and you can go to Hell! Or find a new tutor, your choice!"

"Mr. Bradley assigned me to you, and since I don't know you, Helen, I don't see what the problem is." He purposely calls her by the wrong name just to bother her. Her eyes flash angrily, and he knows he succeeded.

"Who cares?" she mutters, "Mr. Bradley might not know what kind of low, scummy ass you are, but I do, and I'm not willing to associate with trash like you on any level."

His fists form angry balls, but that is the only outward sign that her words affect him. "Look, I don't know what your problem is – like I said, we don't know each other. Where the big deal is in all this, I don't know. It's tutoring, not sex. Although, maybe to someone like you, they're one and the same."

To his huge surprise, hurt flits over her features before she puts the mask of stony anger back on. He actually feels guilty for a second over it before he reminds himself she brought his harsh remarks on herself. Couldn't she be a tiny bit gracious about being chosen to tutor him? Mr. Bradley had practically crawled up her ass he was so effusive in his praise of her tutoring abilities. Nathan thought girls lived for that shit.

"And this is why I don't want to tutor you," she whispers, "You're just a self-absorbed jerk. I don't know why you're here, but I don't buy for a single second you care about your English grade enough to go to tutoring when you don't have to."

"It's for my mom," he says after debating for a minute. He doesn't want to give her too much info now, but he knows she's seriously unwilling to help him at this time, and he can't afford to miss out on this opportunity. If she doesn't tutor him, then he knows he has no other chance of using her to get to Lucas. "She, uh, isn't around much, and she doesn't really care about how good I am at basketball. But she really loves reading and stuff." Reading and stuff? God, he can't believe how stupid he sounds. "So I want to get my grade up before she gets back to town."

"Nathan," she begins, her eyes softening slightly at the reason he gave her, "I don't care. It doesn't even matter. Just find someone else. It'll be better for both of us."

"Better for you, you mean," he corrects, "Because if you're the best tutor there is, then I don't see how finding a different one will do me any good. Besides, what the hell is your problem with me, anyway?"

She rolls her eyes at him. "Don't play dumb, it doesn't suit you. I'm Lucas's best friend, and I know you've seen me with him."

"A little full of yourself, aren't you?" he smirks, glad to know for sure she's noticed him. Even if it was just when he was watching her.

"No, I'm not," she states bluntly, "And I don't care if you were the dumbest person on earth and you genuinely needed to tutoring, I wouldn't give it to you."

"But Mr. Bradley said – "

"It doesn't matter. I refuse to associate in any way with someone who torments my best friend. Some of us aren't that big of hypocrites."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Nathan asks crossly.

"It means that it is sort of pathetic that you're asking the best friend of your mortal enemy for help. Not that I understand why you hate him so much. He's never done anything to you. Anyway, you're a pathetic hypocrite. That was my point."

"What if I said I'd stop?" Nathan asks, surprising them both, "Stop harassing Lucas, I mean."

Haley gapes at him for a minute, and then bursts out laughing loud enough to draw a bit of attention from other people in the room. When she notices, she immediately quiets down and leans toward him. "I almost fell for that for a second. But I'm not stupid."

"I mean it," he mutters quietly, and he finds that he does. If it means getting in good with Haley, he'll leave the torturing of Lucas to his teammates and Brooke.

"You mean you'd leave it to your idiot buddies to do. Well, screw that, I'm not putting up with anyone as cruel as you."

"I can get them to back off," he assures her, put off when she rolls her eyes, "I mean it. Or I can get them to come on stronger."

Her eyes widen in shock and disgust. "You're blackmailing me into tutoring you? You're even more of an ass than I thought, and let me tell you, the dimensions on my original thinking were pretty colossal."

"Hey, I didn't want it to come to that, but you're refusing to tutor me. What else am I supposed to do?"

"Find someone who wouldn't mind spending an hour a day with you," she practically growls, "Because I do. I do mind. In fact, spending the past few minutes with you has been damn near unbearable. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go to work."

She grabs her jacket and backpack off the hook, and he moves back a few steps to block the doorway as she approaches. He holds his arms out so she can't pass without touching him.

"Don't go, Haley," he pleads, his tone low and sexy. Low and sexy enough that she notices, and is affected by it.

"Why are you doing this?" she asks, sounding nervous as she hugs her arms to her body. He can't help but notice her breasts thrust up towards him when she crosses her arms under them. He can't help that he stares long enough that she catches him. And she can't help but shiver when she notices him noticing her.

"I told you, for my mom. Look, she – I just want to impress her, like I said. She doesn't care much about me, about what I do, and maybe this will be something that will make her proud. Don't you ever want to make your parents proud?"

"Yeah, I do, but I don't turn to my best friend's worst enemy for help doing it," she rationalizes, but he can see her softening.

"Well, have at it now, anyway I can help you make your parents proud, I'm at your command," he smiles, leaning down to talk into her ear. She fights the urge to shiver again at the feel of his hot breath on her ear and neck.

"It would never work. I don't like you, I'm sure you don't like me, and when I tutor people, I'd rather have a decent relationship with them."

"Come on, Hales," he whispers her nickname, thinking it would sway her towards his side.

"Don't call me that!" she snaps, jerking away from him.

He blinks, confused. "What? Why not? Mr. Bradley did, so what's the big deal? You'd rather have a teacher give you a nickname than a peer? I have to tell you, that's kind of weird."

"It isn't Mr. Bradley's nickname," she snaps, "It's what Lucas and his mom, my boss and friend, call me. And you – you treat him so horribly that you will never use it again. Do you hear me? If you do, I'll – I'll – I'll make you sorry."

He lets her pass then, knowing that he won't get anywhere else with her this afternoon. In fact, he's pretty sure he blew his only chance to get anywhere with her, until she glances back over her shoulder at him. Three times. The third time convinces him that there is absolutely no reason why he should give up. She'll come around.

He's about to leave the tutoring center, when he notices the notebook she'd been looking in is lying open on the desk still. Grabbing it, he realizes that it is her tutoring schedule and notes and the students she tutors. There are only a few kids she's tutoring at this time, which irritates him more that she was so unwilling to schedule him in. But she takes all the advanced classes and she's tutoring before school and during lunch now, as well as after her shifts at the café, so he can sort of see where she wouldn't want more of a tutoring load.

Not that he cares. Her schedule means nothing to him, except that he now knows where he'll meet her next. Her notes are so detailed that he now knows that Alan Thompson, her morning tutee, always arrives early. So all he has to do is intercept Alan and make sure he doesn't show up to their session so that Nathan can show up in his place.

"This is too easy," Nathan smiles to himself as he walks towards the gym for practice, "I am the master."

He realizes now that maybe he underestimated Haley a little. She's even more protective of stupid Lucas than he'd figured, and she doesn't seem too likely to budge on that. Which is where Brooke, and perhaps an inadvertent Peyton, comes in. Anything that separates Haley from Luke is what Nathan needs to see happening right now.

The next morning, Nathan got to school early. Oh, he'd told Brooke that they wouldn't get to see the fireworks of the Lucas/Haley confrontation because she rode to school with him in, but he was still hoping. As many of the moments that lead up to Lucas's doom and ruination that he can witness, he'll find a way.

Getting to school early was not something he did. Ever. So if this didn't pay off, he was going to be pissed, and he'd make Lucas pay during practice in the afternoon. Or maybe he'd find a way to humiliate him in the hallway between classes. Shouldn't be too hard, he figured – it had to pretty humiliating to be that dumb bastard anyway.

When he spies Haley at her locker, her movements jerky and angry, he thinks he might be in luck and his unprecedented early arrival might have paid off. Especially seeing that Lucas is not there, in his typical spot, beside her. He can't help but grin at this development.

He takes a post across and slightly down the hall for her, just waiting for the dreaded half-brother to make his appearance. And he didn't have to bide time for long – Lucas appeared not a minute later, looking all the worse for his little tutorial in jock partying of the night before. Nathan's smile widened when he saw Haley's eyes widen in surprise at Lucas's appearance and then narrow in disgust as she turns her attention to shoving more books into her locker.

Nathan moved closer to them, for once happy not to be the center of someone's attention. It made it so much easier to get close enough to eavesdrop that way.

"Look, Luke, there's nothing to say right now," Haley snaps at Lucas, grinning with pleasure when he jumps at the sound of her locker slamming shut, "Oh, I'm so sorry! Did that add to the pain of your hangover?"

Nathan has to bite his lip to hold the snicker in. This Haley girl can bring the pain. Maybe she won't suck so much to hang out with. And maybe he'll get more than just bagging a virgin and an improved English grade out of it.

"Hales, come on!" Luke protests, pinching the bridge of his nose between his fingers and thumb, "Don't be like this!"

"Don't be like what, Luke?" she asks, looking down at the ground. Even Nathan, who is sure he lacks the ability to feel anything himself, can see that Luke's actions last night hurt her. Well, he decides he can feel the emotion of 'happiness', since he's pretty sure that's what he's feeling now. "Don't be mad that you couldn't bother to do more than leave a message? I waited for you, you jerk, and you just let me. So that you could go get drunk with people you say you don't even like. What the hell does that make you?"

"Sorry, okay!" he bursts out, grimacing when that just causes more pain to shoot through his head, "I'm sorry. It was stupid, and I wasn't thinking."

She glares at him, and Nathan is sure she'll shoot him down again, but then she sighs. "Yeah, I know. I just don't get why you couldn't have called? Would that have been so hard?" she mutters, smacking him upside the head and giggling when he groans, looking green.

"Hales, trust me, you don't want to do that," Lucas warns her.

"Gonna puke?" she taunts, and Nathan is disappointed that she's forgiven him so quickly for this. The only person who'd do that for him is Tim, and he didn't count.

"Maybe," Luke grumbles, smiling at her gratefully when she links her arm through his. "I really am sorry. Believe me, it wasn't even worth missing a night with the insane James clan."

"Oh, but what is?" Haley quips, dragging him down the hall out of Nathan's hearing range.

Nathan glowers at this turn of events, beginning to realize just how close those two hopeless idiots were. They really are friends, which is something that he can't help but marvel at. How his idiot bastard of a half-brother can be such good friends with so many people, the best of which being a girl of all things, and he had no one in his life like that was beyond comprehension to him.

"Shit," he mutters under his breath. This was going to be harder than he thought. He guessed that all he could do now was convince her to tutor him and hope that Brooke was successful in keeping Lucas occupied and away from Haley.

"And you said there wouldn't be anything to see," Brooke whispers in his ear from behind. He almost jumps in surprise, but stops himself just in time.

He turns around, smirking at her. "I was just on my way to see Mr. Bradley, actually," he attempts to cover.

"Right," Brooke grins, not buying it for a second, "And after school, I'm going to pick flowers to take the old farts at the nursing home."

"You're almost a real live girl, aren't you, Brooke?" he mutters condescendingly, trying to hurt her. Not the brightest move, pissing off his only ally, but she's such a bitch that he can't help himself. Has to get the better of everyone.

She stares for a minute, trying to comprehend that he actually had the nerve to say that to her. She is the closest thing to a counterpart that he has in this school, after all. "Screw you, Nathan. And besides, in this case, it really does take one to know one, right? Everyone knows you have no feelings at all."

He rolls his eyes at her and turns, moving down the hall. This time he acknowledges his classmates, allowing them to fawn over him like they always do. It is a routine for them, but one for him, too. He does as he told Brooke, and heads for Mr. Bradley's classroom, rolling his eyes when he passes a now laughing Haley and Lucas.

When he enters, Mr. Bradley looks up, blinking in surprise. "Why Mr. Nathan Scott, if I were any older, the surprise of you appearing in my classroom before school might just give me a heart attack."

Nathan suppresses the urges to roll his eyes or walk out. Instead, he grabs the chair next to Mr. Bradley's desk and sits down.

"Mr. Bradley, I need help."

The teacher stares at him for a moment and then bursts out laughing. Getting up from his desk, he claps Nathan on the shoulder as he passes him. "Good one, son, you almost had me going for a minute there."

"What?" Nathan asks, "I'm serious, I'm worried about my grade in your class."

Mr. Bradley stops in his walk toward the back of the classroom and turns back to Nathan slowly. "You're serious, aren't you?" He looks at him closer. "Why? I've been telling you all year that you're so close to doing really great, and you've brushed me off countless times. Why the sudden interest now?"

Nathan fights to keep the deer in headlights look off his face as he mulls over the possible reasons he could give. "I, uh, see, my mom is coming to town this weekend, and she'll, uh, ask how I'm doing in school. And when she finds out I'm not doing so great in English, she'll, um, want to know what I'm doing to improve."

Mr. Bradley doesn't really believe him, something Nathan is well aware of, but they both know he can't really contradict him, either. "So, what are you suggesting, Nathan?"

"That's the thing," Nathan shrugs, wanting the teacher to think it was all his idea, "I'm not sure what my options are. Extra credit, I don't know?"

"Now, you know that I don't offer extra credit, Mr. Scott," his teacher reminds him. And of course, Nathan does know this. He also knows that Mr. Bradley is an advisor to the tutoring program, and thinks that being tutored is the answer to everything.

"Oh, right, I forgot," Nathan mumbles, hoping he doesn't look too pleased with himself.

"Might I suggest tutoring?" Mr. Bradley recommends, right on schedule. Nathan couldn't help but think that it was just too easy.

"T-tutoring, sir?" Nathan pretends to look confused, "I'm not sure if that's something that is really for me."

"Oh, now, tutoring is for everyone!" the teacher enthuses, "In fact, I can't think of a better option for you, Nathan!"

"Really?" he asks, feigning surprise.

"Yes, of course, in fact, I'll meet you in the tutoring center after school." Nathan opens his mouth to remind him he has basketball, but Mr. Bradley waves him. "Yes, yes, I know, basketball. It will only take a moment. In fact, I know the perfect tutor for you. She's a genius. Did you know that one of the captains of the football team was failing three classes? She's got him earning A's now!"

"She, uh, sounds terrific," Nathan mumbles, thinking that the teacher has to have someone other than Haley in mind. Sure, the girl was clearly a big dork, but she didn't seem to be the bespectacled, pocket protector geek that some of the other offerings the school made.

"Oh, yes, she's wonderful. All the tutees just love her."

"Great," Nathan grounds out through clenched teeth. He could kick himself for coming to the teacher like this. He should've just popped into the tutoring center one day and demanded Haley tutor him, not taking 'no' for an answer.

"So, right after last bell, be there, and we'll get you introduced. And don't worry about basketball, Haley works in the afternoons anyway. She'll find time to get you in," Mr. Bradley smiles confidently, turning away.

Nathan stays seated as Mr. Bradley goes about straightening the rows of desks, and then stands up, letting a smirk play over his lips as he stretches his big body. He can't believe he'd doubted that things would go his way; after all, they always did.

And that's why his mood has vastly improved by the time lunch rolls around. Even his bitch of an ex, Peyton Sawyer, can't change that today.

"God, Nathan, don't you have somewhere else to sit?" she snaps, apparently having grown something of a backbone since they broke up, Nathan notes. Of course, seeing as she broke up with him, perhaps she grew it while they were together.

"Peyton," he bites back in the same tone, just with more condescension thrown in, "This is my table. You're not a natural blonde – which, guys, I know for a fact – so why you have to act like one, I'll never know."

The other guys at the table laugh at his insinuations like it was the funniest thing they've ever heard. Even Brooke, who is sitting next to Peyton, has a hard time keeping the smile off her face.

"Nice," Peyton mutters softly, giving Brooke a hurt look, "Thanks a lot."

And with that, she jumps up, grabbing her bag, marching out of the cafeteria. Nathan and Brooke both watch her go, Brooke feeling bad, Nathan just glad she's gone. He isn't so glad when he sees her plop down at the table that Lucas and Haley are sitting at, along with the rest of Lucas's river rat buddies.

Nathan's gaze swings immediately to Brooke, who looks equally stressed about this new development. All she can do is shrug at him, however, as she is also clueless as to why Peyton would feel comfortable sitting there at that table. Although Nathan is pleased to see that Haley doesn't necessarily look thrilled by the addition to her group.

Nathan's cell phone vibrates in his pocket, and he pulls it out to find that Brooke sent him a message while he was watching Haley. She's ordered him to meet her out by her car in ten minutes so they can discuss this turn of events. He nods at her, wrenching his attention half away from Haley – and Lucas – and starts to rag on Tim.

Nathan barely notices when Brooke gets up and leaves the table. So, why, he wonders, does he so readily notice the second Haley, who he has never said a word to, starts to thaw to Peyton's presence? From across the crowded, loud cafeteria, he sees that, and wonders when he crossed a line that gave him a window, albeit a small one, into the inner workings of Haley James?

When the minutes pass that Brooke specified he waited, he gets up and heads out of the cafeteria and then out of the school, straight for her car. He again ignores everyone in his path, much more interested in finding out Brooke's thoughts on Peyton's defection to Lucas's table, and just what that meant for the plan.

When he climbs in the passenger seat of her car, she glares his way. "Can you believe the nerve of that bitch?" she bites out, and Nathan suppresses a smirk – interesting to find out that even Brooke's friendship with Peyton is pretty much worthless. At least to Brooke, if it comes down to Peyton getting something Brooke wanted.

He just shakes his head, though, knowing he's pissed her off enough for the day. "What the hell is going on there?" he asks finally, "Is Peyton going after Luke?"

She shrugs, a look of panic flitting across her face. "I hadn't thought so, but now I'm not so sure. I mean, God, what if she is? That really complicates things."

Nathan's eyes narrow as he responds to her, "In what way? Would you go chicken shit on me and not follow through with the plan?"

"No way," she scoffs, "Peyton will just be a civilian casualty in your war against Lucas. Kind of like Tutor Girl, only, she's probably more innocent than Peyton." Brooke rolls her eyes when Nathan grins. "Not like that, pervy, I meant that Peyton probably is interested in Lucas, and Tutor Girl is just his friend."

"Yeah, okay,' Nathan mutters, "Whatever. How is this going to affect our plans here? That's what I'm worried about."

"Well, of course it is," Brooke glares, "As if you'd ever be bothered to worry about anything besides yourself and your little whims."

"Hey, this little whim is affording you the opportunity of nailing bastard boy, which is what we both know you really want," Nathan shouts, his voice loud in the small car.

"And you want it more!" she counters, "Not in the same way, I suppose, although that could be pretty hot."

"Brooke," he grounds out, glaring hotly at her.

"Right, sorry. Gross. Anyway, this is what both of us want, not just you," she reminds him, "And it doesn't matter that the goals are slightly different, to accomplish them, we have the same objective. Shouldn't be too hard."

Nathan just rolls his eyes at her, knowing she's nervous about the Peyton development. Brooke tries not to glare at him in response. She knows that he's prickly, and she knows that if he's dropping it now, she should let it lie.

"How does this affect things?" he asks her, knowing that Peyton will most likely be more of an obstacle for her than him. He doesn't care about her now – he's not sure if he ever did.

She shrugs, her brow furrowing as she thinks about it. "I really don't know, Nathan. Sorry," she sighs when he mutters something unintelligible under his breath, "I wish I did. I'm not giving up – you know I want him for myself – but this is just one more obstacle I'll have to remove. This is turning into a lot of work."

"And if anyone's cut out for it, it's us," Nathan supplies, "Can you think of anyone we know that is more likely to get what they want than one of us?"

"Well, good point," she beams in response, full enough of herself that she'll take a compliment like that, even from Nathan Scott.

"Next move?" he questions.

"You get Tutor Girl to tutor you. I'll get Peyton away from the both of them," she shudders, obviously more concerned about why Peyton sat at their table than she'd care to let on. And she's let on a lot, Nathan knows, so it makes him a little nervous that she's trying to hide it now.

"Okay," he agrees, "Not a problem."

She raises her eyebrows at his cocky demeanor. "You're so sure you've got her tutoring you in the bag? You might want to think again," she cautions him, "You hate Luke and so your friends do, too, so does it not stand to reason that Tutor Girl and the rest of his friends hate you, too."

Sometimes, Nathan thinks, Brooke is irritatingly smart. Or intuitive. Whatever. It doesn't matter, he knows that in the end, she knows nothing. At least not compared to what he does. So her flashes of intelligence are just that, flashes.

"I'm sure it won't be easy," he concedes, "But come on, how bad could it be? It isn't like I've done anything to her."

She just stares at him, surprised by his lack of awareness on how things like this work. "Honestly, you have never had a friend, have you?"

"I have friends," he mutters defensively, the lie hollow to his own ears.

"No," she muses, "You have groupies, you have followers, you have hanger ons, you have fanatics, you have stalkers, you have a posse, but you don't have friends. There's a difference."

"What does it matter?" he snaps, "It isn't like you have much more than I do."

"No," she shrugs, "I really don't. And after this, I'm probably going to have exactly what you do – nothing. But since I don't have much now, it isn't like it will matter if I lose the rest of it, right?"

He thinks it is sort of pathetic that her view on life and what she has is so pessimistic, but he has no words of encouragement to offer. Hell, he isn't even so sure that she's wrong, anyway. "Whatever, Brooke, just do your magic and keep Lucas away from Haley."

He opens the door to get out. She stops him by laying a hand on his arm. "You better damn well do your part, too," she threatens, "If you don't find a way to get your little Tutor Girl away from him or get her into you, then this won't work."

"I get that, Brooke," he snaps, having had enough of her, "I know my part in this, and I'm definitely going to do this. I'm just worried you're going to get sappy and soft over Peyton. But don't worry, she makes everyone soft after awhile."

"You're sick," Brooke retorts, "Get out of my car. But just keep in mind, you spew that perverted shit to Tutor Girl, and you'll never get anywhere."

He rolls his eyes and gets out of the car without another word to her. To his surprise – and perhaps delight – he sees Lucas walking through the parking lot with Peyton. Haley isn't with them, which Nathan can only figure is a good thing. If he knows how girls work at all, and he's pretty sure he does, he knows that there is no way Haley is happy about Peyton horning in on her territory, even if her territory is as lame as Lucas.

He considers looking for Haley and approaching her now, but when he sees her, still sitting at the table with the rest of the river rats, he knows that won't fly. He could kick the asses of all the guys there individually, and most in pairs, but he can't take on all of them, and he knows they're loyal to the bastard. He can't even try. But he just has to sit through two more periods before he will meet with Mr. Bradley and Haley in the tutoring center. Not that she knows that, but he does, and he looks forward to it.

The rest of the afternoon passes like molasses to him, but finally, the final bell rings for the day, and he heads straight for the tutoring center, ignoring Tim and a few other guys on his way. Not that he ever really paid attention to them anyway. But it's more of a deliberate ignoring today.

He takes a seat along the wall so that his back is to the window that faces the hallway. He's not embarrassed to be getting help with classes. He doesn't even care about that. But he knows that his presence here would open him up to a ton of questions from people who might actually be smart enough to figure out his motives. Peyton, maybe.

Haley comes in next, before Mr. Bradley. She doesn't notice him right away, and so he gets to watch as she removes her slightly worn denim jacket and hang it up along with her backpack. He's pleased to see that under the jacket, she's actually got a figure that he could get behind. Or under, or even better, on top of.

It only takes a second more before she notices him. She's opening some notebook on the desk and flipping through it as he catches her eye. He can barely contain the smirk when her mouth falls open and an angry look crosses over her face. He looks away, knowing that he'll bust out laughing if he keeps staring at the shocked expression on her face.

He can feel the heat of her gaze on him, but it doesn't bother him. Quite the opposite, actually, which surprises him. In the rare times he can be bothered to be honest with himself, he'll admit that sometimes the attention and stares he receives is daunting. He doesn't really like it, although a part of him needs it.

But with her, feeling her staring at him isn't such a big deal. It's kind of a turn-on, actually, especially since he knows that all she's directing his way is anger and confusion. She's a challenge, and he likes a good challenge. God knows he doesn't get many of them in his life, especially when it comes to girls. Most are only too willing to drop trou for him, not that he thinks that is a bad thing. He knows it isn't, and he knows he's lucky in that regard.

Sometimes, though, it's nice to know that not everyone falls head over heels for him. He almost laughs out loud when he thinks about what the guys would say if they heard him say that. They'd think he was crazy – hell, Tim might be dumb enough to call a doctor for him so he could get his head checked out.

They just didn't understand that being Nathan placed a lot of demands on him, and sometimes it was nice when a girl didn't expect he'd sleep with them. It wasn't like he was a blow-up doll, ready on command for any old girl who wanted to be serviced by him. Funny how he feels cheap over that sometimes.

He doesn't think that he should – none of the guys he knows would, but then again, they don't have this problem. Not that he thinks it is a problem. Well, all of the time. But it is enough of a problem that he'd rather participate in the chase with Haley James for a change than be the one chased, the one pursued.

Oh, he knows it would be easier to get to Lucas if she fell at his feet like the rest of them. But it isn't disappointing that he won't. So, it'll take longer this way, but he's beginning to think it might be quite worth the extra time, he decides, as he glances up to catch her still angry gaze on him. The confusion has left the building, but the anger is still there, simmering just below the surface.

At that point, Mr. Bradley walks in, nodding hello to Nathan as he walks over to the desk that Haley is now sitting at.

"Ms. James, my favorite tutor, I have a request for you," he tells her, glancing over his shoulder at Nathan. Nathan isn't looking at him, though; his attention is solely focused on Haley. He wants to see the exact expression on his face when Haley hears what the request is.

"And what is that?" she asks, mustering a smile for her teacher and adviser, "You know I'm always happy to help out a new student, Mr. Bradley."

As soon as she says that, she blanches, and Nathan knows that she's realized why he's there. It takes a lot to keep the smirk off his face, but he thinks he manages it. Still, the expression on her face is priceless, and she looks like her mind is racing a million miles a minute trying to figure out a way out of this.

"Excellent!" Mr. Bradley beams, "Then you and Mr. Scott here should get along just fine. He's a good student, but we want to make him into a great student. And you're the only one who can do it, Ms. James!"

"Oh, um, but Mr. Bradley," she blurts out, flustered, "I don't know. I've got a full load right now, and I'm not sure who I could switch out. Plus, um, doesn't he play football? I don't know when we'd meet?"

Nathan grins inwardly, liking the flush of her cheeks and the way she pretends she doesn't know what sport he plays. It's sort of cute, actually. And then he wonders where that thought came from. Nathan Scott doesn't do cute.

"It's basketball, Ms. James, which you should know. You said hi to me and my wife at the last game, remember? You were there for Luke. And you work when he practices anyway. Can't you work him into your morning schedule?" he asks, oblivious to the reactions of both Haley and Nathan when he mentions Lucas, the other Scott.

"Oh, yeah, of course," Haley murmurs, "Silly me. I'm not good with sports."

"No, you're good with English, and that's why you're here," Mr. Bradley laughs, "So, you get to help Nathan take his scholastic abilities to the next level. You're the only one I think can do it, Hales. I wouldn't ask you if it wasn't important."

She blinks at him for a moment, and Nathan knows she's still wondering how to get out of it. "I – yeah, of course, Mr. Bradley. I'll, uh, see what I can do."

"Great, I knew I could count on you!" he grins, turning his smile on Nathan. "And you, just figure out when you can meet, and I can't wait to see your grade shoot up!"

"Thanks, Mr. Bradley, I'm going to do you proud," Nathan responds to him, not embarrassed to brown nose a little in front of Haley the Tutor. She probably knows a thing or two about brown nosing herself.

He watches Mr. Bradley leave the tutoring center, turning to move closer to Haley as other students pile into the room around him, most taking seats at tables or desks and pulling out homework.

"Why are you doing this?" Haley blurts out in a low whisper, "It doesn't even sound like you need a tutor."

"You don't know what I need," Nathan returns, his hands resting on the table so he can lean in closer to her, "But I'll be glad to tell you. I need a tutor, for English. I want to get my grade up. I'm not failing, but I can do better. Is that a crime?"

"For the vapid and self-involved? Probably," she informs him, fire in her eyes, "Do us both a favor and if you're so set on having a tutor, ask Mr. Bradley to find someone new."

"He said you're the best." He smiles when she blushes. She obviously knows she's the best, but she's not jaded enough that compliments don't faze her. He sort of likes that about her. "And I want the best. I've never had anything but the best, and I don't intend to start now."

"And therein lies the problem," she sighs, leaning away from him, "You think you have some right to something, that you deserve things handed to you. Well, guess what? I'm not stupid, I'm not one of your groupies who will fall in line with your wishes, and you can go to Hell! Or find a new tutor, your choice!"

"Mr. Bradley assigned me to you, and since I don't know you, Helen, I don't see what the problem is." He purposely calls her by the wrong name just to bother her. Her eyes flash angrily, and he knows he succeeded.

"Who cares?" she mutters, "Mr. Bradley might not know what kind of low, scummy ass you are, but I do, and I'm not willing to associate with trash like you on any level."

His fists form angry balls, but that is the only outward sign that her words affect him. "Look, I don't know what your problem is – like I said, we don't know each other. Where the big deal is in all this, I don't know. It's tutoring, not sex. Although, maybe to someone like you, they're one and the same."

To his huge surprise, hurt flits over her features before she puts the mask of stony anger back on. He actually feels guilty for a second over it before he reminds himself she brought his harsh remarks on herself. Couldn't she be a tiny bit gracious about being chosen to tutor him? Mr. Bradley had practically crawled up her ass he was so effusive in his praise of her tutoring abilities. Nathan thought girls lived for that shit.

"And this is why I don't want to tutor you," she whispers, "You're just a self-absorbed jerk. I don't know why you're here, but I don't buy for a single second you care about your English grade enough to go to tutoring when you don't have to."

"It's for my mom," he says after debating for a minute. He doesn't want to give her too much info now, but he knows she's seriously unwilling to help him at this time, and he can't afford to miss out on this opportunity. If she doesn't tutor him, then he knows he has no other chance of using her to get to Lucas. "She, uh, isn't around much, and she doesn't really care about how good I am at basketball. But she really loves reading and stuff." Reading and stuff? God, he can't believe how stupid he sounds. "So I want to get my grade up before she gets back to town."

"Nathan," she begins, her eyes softening slightly at the reason he gave her, "I don't care. It doesn't even matter. Just find someone else. It'll be better for both of us."

"Better for you, you mean," he corrects, "Because if you're the best tutor there is, then I don't see how finding a different one will do me any good. Besides, what the hell is your problem with me, anyway?"

She rolls her eyes at him. "Don't play dumb, it doesn't suit you. I'm Lucas's best friend, and I know you've seen me with him."

"A little full of yourself, aren't you?" he smirks, glad to know for sure she's noticed him. Even if it was just when he was watching her.

"No, I'm not," she states bluntly, "And I don't care if you were the dumbest person on earth and you genuinely needed to tutoring, I wouldn't give it to you."

"But Mr. Bradley said – "

"It doesn't matter. I refuse to associate in any way with someone who torments my best friend. Some of us aren't that big of hypocrites."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Nathan asks crossly.

"It means that it is sort of pathetic that you're asking the best friend of your mortal enemy for help. Not that I understand why you hate him so much. He's never done anything to you. Anyway, you're a pathetic hypocrite. That was my point."

"What if I said I'd stop?" Nathan asks, surprising them both, "Stop harassing Lucas, I mean."

Haley gapes at him for a minute, and then bursts out laughing loud enough to draw a bit of attention from other people in the room. When she notices, she immediately quiets down and leans toward him. "I almost fell for that for a second. But I'm not stupid."

"I mean it," he mutters quietly, and he finds that he does. If it means getting in good with Haley, he'll leave the torturing of Lucas to his teammates and Brooke.

"You mean you'd leave it to your idiot buddies to do. Well, screw that, I'm not putting up with anyone as cruel as you."

"I can get them to back off," he assures her, put off when she rolls her eyes, "I mean it. Or I can get them to come on stronger."

Her eyes widen in shock and disgust. "You're blackmailing me into tutoring you? You're even more of an ass than I thought, and let me tell you, the dimensions on my original thinking were pretty colossal."

"Hey, I didn't want it to come to that, but you're refusing to tutor me. What else am I supposed to do?"

"Find someone who wouldn't mind spending an hour a day with you," she practically growls, "Because I do. I do mind. In fact, spending the past few minutes with you has been damn near unbearable. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go to work."

She grabs her jacket and backpack off the hook, and he moves back a few steps to block the doorway as she approaches. He holds his arms out so she can't pass without touching him.

"Don't go, Haley," he pleads, his tone low and sexy. Low and sexy enough that she notices, and is affected by it.

"Why are you doing this?" she asks, sounding nervous as she hugs her arms to her body. He can't help but notice her breasts thrust up towards him when she crosses her arms under them. He can't help that he stares long enough that she catches him. And she can't help but shiver when she notices him noticing her.

"I told you, for my mom. Look, she – I just want to impress her, like I said. She doesn't care much about me, about what I do, and maybe this will be something that will make her proud. Don't you ever want to make your parents proud?"

"Yeah, I do, but I don't turn to my best friend's worst enemy for help doing it," she rationalizes, but he can see her softening.

"Well, have at it now, anyway I can help you make your parents proud, I'm at your command," he smiles, leaning down to talk into her ear. She fights the urge to shiver again at the feel of his hot breath on her ear and neck.

"It would never work. I don't like you, I'm sure you don't like me, and when I tutor people, I'd rather have a decent relationship with them."

"Come on, Hales," he whispers her nickname, thinking it would sway her towards his side.

"Don't call me that!" she snaps, jerking away from him.

He blinks, confused. "What? Why not? Mr. Bradley did, so what's the big deal? You'd rather have a teacher give you a nickname than a peer? I have to tell you, that's kind of weird."

"It isn't Mr. Bradley's nickname," she snaps, "It's what Lucas and his mom, my boss and friend, call me. And you – you treat him so horribly that you will never use it again. Do you hear me? If you do, I'll – I'll – I'll make you sorry."

He lets her pass then, knowing that he won't get anywhere else with her this afternoon. In fact, he's pretty sure he blew his only chance to get anywhere with her, until she glances back over her shoulder at him. Three times. The third time convinces him that there is absolutely no reason why he should give up. She'll come around.

He's about to leave the tutoring center, when he notices the notebook she'd been looking in is lying open on the desk still. Grabbing it, he realizes that it is her tutoring schedule and notes and the students she tutors. There are only a few kids she's tutoring at this time, which irritates him more that she was so unwilling to schedule him in. But she takes all the advanced classes and she's tutoring before school and during lunch now, as well as after her shifts at the café, so he can sort of see where she wouldn't want more of a tutoring load.

Not that he cares. Her schedule means nothing to him, except that he now knows where he'll meet her next. Her notes are so detailed that he now knows that Alan Thompson, her morning tutee, always arrives early. So all he has to do is intercept Alan and make sure he doesn't show up to their session so that Nathan can show up in his place.

"This is too easy," Nathan smiles to himself as he walks towards the gym for practice, "I am the master."

He realizes now that maybe he underestimated Haley a little. She's even more protective of stupid Lucas than he'd figured, and she doesn't seem too likely to budge on that. Which is where Brooke, and perhaps an inadvertent Peyton, comes in. Anything that separates Haley from Luke is what Nathan needs to see happening right now.