By Alaricnomad

Tree Hill High, Mr. Miller's English Class:

"Early in his career, Hemingway was…frustrated. He was a good writer, who wanted to be great." The teacher casually strolled through the rows of desks, going through his lesson, "And eventually, he discovered that less was more."

His eyes fell on the eldest Scott brother. "Lucas, describe Peyton in one word."

A head of spiky blonde hair turned her way, those piercing eyes settling on her. Their gazes met and Peyton felt a shiver run down her spine. She had almost forgotten how haunting Lucas's eyes could be until she found herself confronted with them all over again. He seemed lost in thought for a long moment as he studied her, giving his answer, "Lonely."

The low timbre of his voice coursed through her, from her mind to her heart to the tips of her toes. She ignored the excited chatter around them at the intimacy of his comment, oblivious to anything but the boy ensnaring her with nothing more than the power of his eyes, tearing down the walls to see into the very center of her.

Lucas Scott unnerved her. That was no secret. It had always seemed as if he could see right through the façade she put on for the rest of the world, saw behind the fake smiles and sarcastic candor. Vulnerability was never something she was comfortable with, but the way his gaze exposed her summoned up warring emotions inside her. Part of her feared- was so, so scared- of how much he understood, while the rest of her was soothed by that same quiet understanding. Telling her it was okay. That everything was going to be okay.

If she let herself admit it, she would know how desperately she wanted to believe him.

"Peyton, care to respond, and describe Lucas?"

She wanted to reply with something sarcastic or insulting, even just something witty, as she knew the entire class was waiting with baited breath for her response. But faced with those eyes, she was capable of giving nothing but the truth, as it spilled from her lips, however involuntary.

"Gentle," she finally breathed out, and the damage was done.

The people around them once more broke out in whispers, but all she could see was the way Lucas's eyes widened at her words. The surprise in those blue eyes, however, faded fairly quickly, replaced with a softness that spoke volumes. He gave her a smile and she found herself returning it, the corners of her lips upturning shyly.

Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw Nathan tense at their exchange, raising his hand. Mr. Miller, seemingly oblivious to the tension around him, called on him. "Yes, Nathan?"

"I can describe Lucas in one word," the smugness was heavy in his voice, his next statement spat out like it was something disgusting, "Bastard."

As he was still turned toward her, Peyton could see the hurt, and then the anger, that flittered across Lucas's face. His jaw tightened, his hand clenching into fists, and she could nearly feel the raw, insulted rage radiating from him. She knew he, more than anyone else, had a right to be upset with all the crap Nathan had been giving him, was more than justified to retaliate, but she always know he was better than that. Not to mention, she would hate to see Lucas get into trouble.

He was beginning to move as she thought, halfway out of his chair as she reacted without thinking. She rushed to her feet just as quickly, if not faster. One hand closed around his forearm and he instantly froze. Not giving herself time to rationalize, she slid the guilty hand up to his bicep, delicately resting her other against his back. She placed her lips near his ear, whispering as soothingly as she could, "Don't, Lucas. He's not worth it."

She spoke softly to him, Lucas's eyes closing as he took in slow, deep breaths, obviously trying to calm himself down. Around them, their classmates were torn between disappointments over the fight that never happened, or gossip over the moment Lucas and Peyton were sharing. Wrapped up in each other, they gave little notice to much else until a sudden shout of, "Peyton! What the hell?" had their eyes swinging upward, just in time to see the fist swinging toward Lucas.

Lucky for all of them, Nathan must have been more bluffing than serious, for Lucas had time to duck out of the way, though the younger's knuckles did collide with his cheek hard enough they knew it would bruise and probably swell later on. Luke fell back, grabbing his face and instinctively throwing out an arm to shield Peyton. With anyone else, she would have thought the move rather Neanderthal, but with Lucas, it touched her, seeming more protective than smothering.

Mr. Miller- finally- intervened. "That's enough of that. Nathan, hall, now!" after the irate dark-haired teen had grudgingly obeyed, stomping out and slamming the door behind him, he addressed the other Scott, "Lucas, are you alright? Do you need to go to the nurse?"

Lucas touched a hand to his cheek, wincing as he tasted blood against his tongue but she shook his head. "No. I'm fine."

"Alright then. Lucas, Peyton, please take your seats."

The aforementioned pair looked at their desks and back of each other. Despite herself, Peyton was reluctant to leave him, and by the intensity with which Lucas was looking at her, she knew he felt the same. And to their complete, and utter, surprise, the girl that had been sitting behind Lucas rose to her feet, gave them a smile and grabbed her stuff, moving to seat in the desk Peyton had vacated. Peyton and Lucas exchanged startled looks but Peyton gave the girl a grateful nod, she and Lucas sat down.

Peyton was inwardly anxious, just barely resisting the urge to squirm in her chair in both want to talk to Lucas about what was happening, and knowing he would want the same- fearing what he had to say. Through the last twenty minutes of class, they sat as close as they could, leaning toward each other without knocking themselves out of their desks. Peyton barely paid attention to Miller's lecture, drowned out as she kept her eyes on the blackboard, but slowly rubbed circles against his lower back. Just as she'd hoped, it seemed to relax him, the knotted muscles beneath her fingers slackening and loosening their tension.

The bell rang and Peyton hesitantly bit her lips as she noticed he was lingering as well, waiting for a majority of the students to mill out of the classroom. He turned toward her, quietly watching her, offering her another soft smile. A throat cleared behind him and Mr. Miller commented, "I'd like to thank you, Lucas, for the way you handled this afternoon. It was very mature of you."

Lucas shrugged. "No problem," he looked back at her, "It wasn't worth it." They shared another smile.

"Alright then. You two have a good afternoon."

Side by side, they began to make their way toward the door. A hand around his wrist stopped Lucas in his place, looking back at her curiously over her shoulder. She shifted nervously and quietly told him, "Nathan's supposed to come over later. I'm gonna end things with him then."

Lucas nodded and though he gave no words, she could see the glow of delight in his eyes.

Behind them, Mr. Miller had heard the comment. He leaned back, crossed his arms across his chest and grinned with satisfaction. It was about time. There was only so much a man could do to set things into motion.

The couple proceeded to turn to leave once more. As they went out into the hall, Lucas caught her hand, grazing his fingers against hers. Peyton responded, giving his a squeeze to let him know it was welcome. She hid a smile as he entwined their hands, nothing but silence between them as they made their way to lunch.

And his touch was gentle. So very gentle.