Guess who's back! Okay so it's not that hard to guess knowing you already clicked the link and are now on the first page (internet context) of my new fanfic! I have so many things to say, and I guess I'll just have to start them off here!

First of all, I'm deeply sorry that I deleted my last Troyella fanfic: After The Show. The guilt trip definitely took its toll, especially when I received an e-mail that told me my fic was nominated! I was like, youch.

So I guess now I have to explain myself. Admittedly, when I started writing the fic I had no idea in hell what the plot was going to be. In all honesty, I just wanted to write fluff, fluff, and guess what, more fluff! Apparently, my perceptions changed shortly after my first chapter. And I tried to make up for it. Only, I realized I really had made a mess of the first part of my story, in my point of view at least. And when I was finally able to devise a plot for ATS, I found that it didn't fit perfectly well into the first part of my story. Hence, OCD compelled me to click that delete button. I tell you I was possessed.

So here I am now, hoping to make it up to you. Some of you might notice similarities between this new fic and my old one, and yes there are. I will be reusing a lot of the themes and hopefully I won't charge myself with copyright infringement. I'm happy to note that I've got the whole plot sorted out already! (pulls out half a dozen party poppers and makes a mess in the room). I'm a bit rusty though so bear with me. I think I regressed in writing over the last few months. Hopefully I get back into the correct mindset.

To my faithful reviewers, I am indebted. Your reviews shan't be in vain! And after that long opening message, I am pleased to announce the arrival of my new fic: Burning.

Chapter 1: After The Show

It was silent in the small room. A young brunette was packing the rest of her clothes into her red and white duffle bag, the faint smiled placed on her lips showing but a fraction of the elation she felt from that night. She continued packing, absently humming the tunes she sang to not long before.

Gabriella was still in her own little world when a series of knocks startled her, the young starlet jumping at the sound.

"Gabi, can I borrow your make-up remover?" A muffled voice came from behind Gabriella Montez's dressing room door, bringing a smile to the brunette's face.

"Sure," she called out, bending over to get her make-up bag from beneath the dresser. "You can come in, Troy," Gabriella said, hauling the bag onto the table, "I'm done dressing." The door creaked open a moment later as Troy stepped into her supposedly intimate space.

"Do you realize how gay you sound when you ask that?" Gabriella mused, going through the contents of her bag. Not that anyone would ever think that of Troy. Only Gabriella had the backbone to make fun of the basketball captain.

"Well it fits the job description doesn't it?" Troy commented with a wide grin, "Thespian, gay, they're almost synonymous." Troy nodded dramatically, feigning an insightful air.

"Ha-ha-ha," Gabriella finished sarcastically, tossing him her make-up remover. "What ever happened to the basketball captain's manly libido?"

"That?" Troy asked, a mischievous smirk set on his face. "I think it was whisked away when you came along. If all girls were like you, I think I'd be safer if I stuck to men."

Gabriella shook her head, admittedly amused by his antics. Nevertheless she reeled her hand and smacked him at the back his shoulder, feeling as if she owed him that much.

"See, see!" He laughed, holding the spot she hit and backing away from her.

"Yeah, yeah, Bolton," she droned, pushing him out the door.

Troy turned around to face her just as she was about to close the door. Gabriella looked up as he did, her hazel eyes meeting his cobalt ones. Everything became still in a silent moment, their eyes vivid in emotion. Troy's composure soon cracked, and his eyes darted to the side.

"I'll meet you here in ten minutes?" he asked, panning the area and making brief instances of eye contact.

"Sure," she smiled, closing the door and disappearing from his view. Troy breathed in deeply, unsettled by the effect she had on him. It was like he was suddenly unsure of how things were and what he was supposed to do. Inside he was subjected to the pressures of figuring out where she stood in his life because something told him she could be something more than just a great friend.

Troy contemplated his situation in silence as he walked back to his dressing room. The smile he was wearing faded and the expression on his face turned blank, the mere implications of his thoughts bringing uncertainty and doubt to the picture. Moments later, he entered his dressing room. And with a mind only partially aware of what he was doing, Troy fixed himself up, dressed himself in more casual clothes, and packed his stuff. Closing the lights after making sure he didn't leave anything behind, Troy exited the room and locked the door behind him. He stood in the hallway for a while, his hands fingering something in his bag. Restlessly, he brought out a little black box, his eyes hovering over its velvet exterior. It was a gift he had for Gabriella. One he hoped she wouldn't take the wrong way. Taking a deep breath, he put it bag inside his bag's pocket and made his way back to Gabriella's dressing room.

In truth, he wasn't really sure of why he bought it. He knew that he only had her happiness in mind when he bought it, but he wasn't certain of what he wanted to say by giving it to her. Most of him argued that it was just a token of their friendship, something to express how much he treasured their relationship. But a small part of him felt like he was trying to say something more profound, something beyond the boundaries of simply being friends. He denied all notions of the sort, and dismissed them as random and meaningless thoughts.

But every time he was around her, those thoughts would recur, skewing his perception of how things were supposed to be.

Today, though, he told himself that his simple gift was purely an expression of his gratitude, nothing more. At least he tried to enforce that idea.

After a while, Troy found himself back outside Gabriella's dressing room. Gabriella was already outside, waiting for him.

"What took you so long?" Gabriella questioned as she looked up, a bit of amusement laced in her tone.

"Just fixing up," Troy said, sending her a quick smile. He walked to her side and leaned against the wall, Gabriella watching his every move.

Something piqued Gabriella's senses as Troy moved closer. Not long after, she identified the peculiarity. "Is that…" Gabriella paused, getting a good whiff of his scent, "Woodspice?"

"Yeah," Troy replied with a slight flush, "I found it lying around in my bathroom back at home." Troy smiled sheepishly, feeling quite unnerved being under Gabriella's observation.

Gabriella smiled. The musky scent was vaguely familiar to her, and she had to admit it did smell rather good. Edgy, she thought, familiarizing herself with the fragrance

"Gabriella," Troy spoke up, bringing Gabriella out of her contemplations.

"Hm?" she murmured, half in thought.

"I…" Troy brought his eyes up to hers, only to look away when they connected, "I want you to have this." It's just a friendly gift, Troy reassured himself, bringing out the black box from his bag. Slowly, he handed it over to Gabriella.

"What's this?" Gabriella's eyebrows furrowed, a shaky smile forming on her lips. Hesitantly, she took the small box and opened it, her mouth going slightly agape as the contents of the box came into view.

"Troy, I," Gabriella started, slowly shaking her head, "I don't think I can take this." She carefully took out the box's contents and placed it on her palm.

"Why not?" Troy shrugged, acting unfazed.

"It's just…" Gabriella eyed Troy's little gift: a silver chain with a crystal pendant in the shape of a star. She held the pendant up to the light, the colors coming off it beautifully as it rotated gently in the air. "It's so beautiful."

Troy smiled. "I'm glad you like it."

Gabriella turned back to Troy, a seemingly worried glint in her eyes. "But it's too nice," she replied, "I mean, why?"

Troy raised his shoulders against the wall, he himself unsure of what it was that made him think of giving her such a gift. "I just thought it would be nice." He reassured her with a smile. It was the smile that she rarely saw, never with anybody else. It almost felt like he reserved that smile for her. It was a very natural one, the type that wasn't forced in any way. "Now you can't not accept it," Troy told her. "It's not like I can return it or give it to someone else. Silver might be welcome in Chad's wardrobe but I don't think the star would suit him."

Gabriella laughed a bit, taken by his humor. "Well, if you insist…"

"May I?" Troy asked impulsively, regretting his words moments after. Gabriella nodded stiffly, giving him the necklace. Slowly, she turned around and pulled her long black hair to her front. It was nerve-wracking for Troy and Gabriella, both finding the moment more than a bit awkward considering they only saw themselves as friends.

Why did I have to ask? Troy mental slapped himself.

Troy swallowed hard, his heart beating faster as he undid the clasp of the necklace. Cautiously, he brought the necklace over her head and gently let it down, the pendant resting at the top of her chest. He brought the ends together at the back of her neck, his cold fingers brushing against her soft skin. Troy's breaths grew shorter, his hands growing increasingly stiff as he fumbled with the clasp. Finally, he managed to fasten the ends together after a few tries.

Troy backed away, catching his breath as Gabriella turned around. As the necklace came into view, its elegance poised against her tanned skin, Troy found himself praising his taste in jewelry.

"It's… nice," Troy commented, rather awed.

"Thanks," Gabriella flushed. "I mean for the gift too."

"You're welcome," Troy said, unable to hold back the smile on his face. "Well, shall we?" Troy asked, motioning for them to get going. Gabriella nodded, following Troy as they left the dressing rooms behind the East High Theatre. They exited through the backdoor and soon were out in the open air, a gust of cool air brushing past them as they headed towards the school's parking lot.

"So," Gabriella spoke after a while, "how about that for our last showing of Twinkle Towne."

"Yeah, it was pretty cool," Troy admitted, "exhilarating even. The whole experience was a nice break from the world I'm used to. And I'm kind of sad to see it end."

"Me too. I never thought I'd say it but I'll miss the practices." Gabriella fell silent in reminisce.

"I won't," Troy chuckled, "I swear, Darbus is a slave driver."

"That is one part I'd rather forget," Gabriella added, smiling. They both fell into a moment of silence, memories running through their minds.

"So… what's next for us?" Gabriella suddenly asked.

"Well…" Troy paused in thought. "I'm going back to basketball. The regional playoffs are in a few weeks and my dad's been bugging me day and night to get back into my A game. Which reminds me," Troy hesitated, lowering his head from view, "I won't be able to go to the celebratory bash later."

"Huh?" Gabriella asked, a mixture of shock and disappointment in her tone, "Why not?"

"We have basketball practice tomorrow," Troy sighed, "Early morning. Dad wants to make the most out of the time we have left. He didn't even trust me when I said I'd leave early."

"He just doesn't want to take a chance. After all, you are the captain of the basketball team," Gabriella emphasized, giving him a nudge back to reality. Gabriella fully comprehended Troy's situation, and sometimes was more practical about it than he was. "It won't be the same without you though," she had to admit.

"Yeah, I know," Troy mumbled, ignoring how egotistic his words sounded. "Send my apologies?"

"Sure," she said, giving him a warm smile.

"Anyway, what about you?" Troy asked, trying to change the subject.

"What about me?" Gabriella asked, perplexed.

"What are your plans for the next few months?" Troy elaborated.

"Well," Gabriella paused in thought. "The New Mexico Science Fair is coming up," she informed him, though she tried not to sound like it was such a big deal.

"You're thinking of entering?" Troy asked, somewhat in admiration. "That's big! Something I'd never try," he chuckled, "I can't even understand the project titles of the entries!"

"I just thought I'd give it a shot." Gabriella shrugged, "Taylor and I are probably going to do a joint venture."

"Good for you," Troy said, his tone sincere. Gabriella saw that he was genuinely happy for her, and somehow she felt good knowing that. They continued walking in silence until they reached the parking lot, Troy spotting Chad waiting for him on the bench.

"Are you sure you won't be able to make it to the party later?" Gabriella asked hopefully.

"Don't count on it," Troy replied, chuckling. "I guess I'll see you on Monday then."

"Yeah," Gabriella breathed out, slightly disappointed. "See you then."

Troy watched as Gabriella disappeared behind one of the corners. Sighing to himself, Troy walked towards Chad, preparing himself for the onset of Chad's questions.

"Hey, what took you so long?" Chad asked, half in irritation.

Now where did I hear that before? Troy thought, keeping his amusement to himself. "Stuff."

"Riiiiight," Chad lulled his words sarcastically. "So, did you give her the necklace."

Troy nodded warily as he took a seat beside Chad, his cheeks slightly reddening. Lucky for him it was too dark to notice.

"Figures. What was it for anyway?" Chad asked, masking his interest. Chad would never admit it, but for once he wanted to see Troy have girl problems. Not too serious though, just enough for kicks.

Troy shrugged, trying to act passive about the whole thing. "Just a gift."

"For what?" Chad pressed on, weaseling through Troy's defenses.

"For being a great friend," Troy stressed out, catching Chad's line of thought.

"Nothing more?"

Troy rolled his eyes, finding Chad's nosiness more than unwarranted. "Nothing more," he said in exasperation, desperately hoping that Chad would give up. "What more could there be?" he reasoned, begging for supposed enlightenment.

"As in, maybe it's a will-you-be-my-girlfriend type of gift?" Chad spoke cautiously, careful not to tick Troy off in the wrong way, not that he wasn't already.

Lucky for Chad, Troy managed to contain his annoyance. Defensive was something he did not want to appear as, knowing Chad would blow things out of proportion.

"Of course not," Troy stifled a nervous chuckle, trying to emphasize the absurdity of Chad's hunches.

Chad let out a breath of frustration, obviously not getting the answer he desired. To him it was evident that Troy and Gabriella had a special connection, the type that everybody looks for and some never find. And it only worsened his temperament knowing Troy was wasting precious time trying to deny it, even to himself.

"Troy, face it, you like Gabriella," Chad stressed, trying to get a point across.

"Yeah, she's a great friend and–"

"No you dolt," his irritation clear from his tone. "You like her more than that."

"Me?" Troy laughed uneasily, "No way! I mean… she's more like my little sister."

"Of course," Chad spoke mockingly, sarcasm once again evident in his tone. "Now since you claim you two aren't together or anything," Chad articulated, hatching his own scheme, "you wouldn't mind if asked her out, would you?"

Troy almost lost it at that, not really knowing why. The words vexed him at all the wrong spots, and it became very difficult to keep his head from blowing off. Troy pressed his eyes shut, sorting his emotions out.

"You already have Taylor," Troy managed to say, trying to point their conversation in a different direction.

"That," Chad winced, his tone dropping from the memory, "didn't go too well." He exhaled deeply before continuing. "Too many conflicting interests," he explained, the complications rising off his tone. "Gabriella on the other hand…"

"Don't you dare…" Troy blurted out before he could stop himself. His voice was dangerously low, threatening in a way Chad had never heard. The African-American cringed, but soon felt a gratifying sense of victory.

"Oooh," Chad teased, his expression turning annoyingly perky, "so you do like Gabriella that way."

"No," Troy reiterated, adamant in his stand. He had the conviction, but was a bit lacking on the excuses part. "I'm just being her protective older brother."

Chad snorted, fending off the laughter for a more appropriate time. "Okay, Troy," he said, shaking his head in disbelief. "Hey, any chance you might be her incestuous protective older brother?"

"Chad," Troy looked at his friend with a raised brow, finding the comment leaning towards the distasteful side, "that's just gross." Chad just chuckled, unaffected by Troy's words. The blue-eyed teen rolled his eyes and got up, stretching his arms, "Anyway, I've got to get home. Dad probably thinks I've gone off to the after-party."

"I wouldn't be surprised" Chad agreed, standing up to make his leave. "See you tomorrow cap," he said as Troy started walking to his car.

"You too," Troy called out, waving a hand.

"Oh, and Troy…" Troy stopped and turned around, half expecting some ill comment. Thankfully, Chad had had enough. Instead, he gave the captain two thumbs up and hooted.

"Nice moves on stage!"

Yikes. Yeah I know that probably sucked. Be honest people. I did my best, but I guess my best wasn't good enough… and now I should stop singing before the windows shatter. Thanks at least for reading. I hope I got people interested enough to read the next chapters, even though this one was uneventful to say the very least. I'm still keeping my fingers crossed though. Reviews please?

Just a note, yes that's no typo, the chapter really is named after my last Troyella fic. Hopefully people don't take it as some fluke of creativity. I guess I'm also dedicating this chapter to all those who read "After The Show".

I do accept constructive criticism. Hopefully I won't have to accept flames though (crosses another set of fingers). I would like to thank all those people who reviewed for my previous fics… simply because I still feel the need to express gratitude. Sorry for those who spent time reviewing "After The Show". I'll do my best to make it up to you.