"The Search for Something More

Summary: AU set during S1. Nathan and Haley never publicly dated; however, behind closed doors, it's a different story. What happens when both confront their changing feelings but are too afraid to say anything?

Disclaimer: Not mine.

Warnings: Spoilers through S1. Sexual language and situations in future chapters.

Author's Notes: Thanks to J for the beta. All mistakes are mine.

She's not sure what they are exactly. They're not dating, not really, nor are they just friends. Their relationship seems to exist in a strange type of limbo, and it's all Haley can do not to ask Nathan to clarify what, if anything, they are. She doesn't want to push—he has enough of that dealing with his father, and she certainly doesn't want to be one of those girls that chase after him, desperate for any bit of attention. She has more self-respect than that, although some nights she wonders how true that is.

They flirt, they kiss, they do. . . other things, but beneath it all, there is the unspoken truth that no one else can ever know, especially Lucas. In public they are tutor and student, and slowly becoming semi-friends, a fact which she knows irritates Lucas to no end. In private they are something indefinable, and even Haley with her limited experience in dating knows that what they're doing can't be brushed off as nothing serious, as Nathan sometimes does.

It kills a tiny piece of her heart each time he tells her "it's just fun" or "we're just messing around," even though she knows he's lying. She hasn't known Nathan for very long, but in that short amount of time she's learned the signs that tell her he's lying—the way his gaze rests just above her head so as not to meet her eyes, the restless movements of his hands as if he doesn't know what to do with them, the nervous jiggle of his leg. It is a small comfort that those small movements give him away, and although she wants to confront him about it, she can't because she's just as guilty. She lies to Lucas every time he asks her what's going on with Nathan ("Nothing, Luke. I'm just tutoring him, that's all."), she lies to Peyton ("I'm merely tutoring him so he can stay on the team."), she lies to her parents ("I had to stay late at school to help a student with his assignments. Sorry I didn't call.").

More importantly, she lies to herself. When she pretends that Nathan basically ignoring her in the halls doesn't hurt, she lies. When she rationalizes the way her breathing becomes heavy and her skins flushes when he glances at her as an after-effect of P.E., she lies. When she tells herself that she's not falling for him, she lies.

She understands that they're playing a dangerous game—if word gets out, Lucas will never speak to her again, and she's not positive Nathan wouldn't do the same—but she can't help it. She is inexplicably drawn to Nathan Scott, and even though every instinct is screaming that this, whatever this is, isn't worth it, her heart is telling her that it is, that it could be something amazing if they just let it.

She's not sure what they are, but Haley James knows this: her relationship with Nathan is screwed up, it will more than likely blow up in her face, but it is quickly becoming everything to her and she hates herself for that.

"How about this: you finish up my trig homework for me, and I'll teach you how to make a free throw so you won't fail gym."

Haley shakes her head and grins at the puppy dog eyes Nathan is using to try to convince her that doing his homework for him would actually be more helpful than Nathan doing it himself. It is their nearly daily routine during tutoring: Nathan begs and pleads for Haley to do his work, Haley refuses, he complains about said refusal but eventually complies, muttering all the while that Whitey has nothing on Haley when it comes to getting him to follow orders.

"How about you do your own homework and teach me how to make a touchdown since you already promised you'd do that anyway," Haley says as she motions towards his open math book. "Nathan, you're almost finished, and you know how to do these problems. They're just like the ones we went over last week."

Nathan scowls at the school book, and Haley feels her heart clench at the sight. Even when he's irritated, he's still so handsome. Ever since they started whatever it is they're doing, she's finding it more and more difficult every day not to tell him that she's falling for him, at least she thinks she is, and to ask if he feels the same. That's not part of the game, however. She knows the rules as well as he does, even if they are hard to follow.

She twists her hands together underneath the table to stave off the urge to run her fingers through his hair. They're in the Tutoring Center and for now, they need to maintain the outward appearance that she is merely tutoring Nathan in order to keep him on the basketball team, nothing more. Their fellow students can't know that their roles are reversed at night when he sneaks into her room, or she steals away for a few hours and meets him at his house. She plays with fire each night she meets him, and although she knows she'll be burned sooner or later, she is unwilling to stop.

Her lips still tingle from the passionate kiss they shared during 4th period when Nathan pulled her into an empty classroom, and when Nathan meets her gaze, his blue eyes turning darker as he holds her stare, she knows he's remembering the same. Moments like this, when they are so focused on one another that everything else falls away, are everything to Haley, but the peace is disturbed when Steven Handler stumbles into the filing cabinets.

Nathan breaks the stare, his eyes darting around the room to make sure no one noticed before dropping guiltily back to his notebook, and Haley wants to scream. It's moments like this that break her heart and leave her questioning her decision to ever engage in anything more than tutoring with Nathan Scott.

"It's a free throw, Hales," he mutters as he picks up his pencil and resumes working on his homework. "Not a touchdown. I've told you that a hundred times."

His voice is missing the usual playful note it takes on when they talk about Haley's lack of knowledge concerning basketball, and the flat, almost annoyed tone leaves Haley blinking back tears. She's used to this easy change in Nathan's demeanor, the casual dismissal he gives when they are once again reminded that regardless of what goes on behind closed doors, to the outside world they are nothing more than a dedicated tutor and her semi-reluctant student, but it doesn't make it any easier.

"Yeah, okay," she whispers as she turns back to her own homework. Her voice catches, and as Nathan stiffens slightly, his fingers clenched tightly around his pencil, she knows he heard it.

Her first instinct is to apologize, to reassure him that she understands why he does things like that, why things are the way that they are, but she doesn't. She can't, not when her own emotions are so close to the surface. She's so tired of fighting her feelings, of hiding behind closed doors. She understands they keep everything hidden, why Nathan won't acknowledge her in the halls outside of a casual "hey," why she can't meet his heated gaze during the classes they share, why her heart breaks a little when he flirts with Theresa, why she can't talk to her best friend about this. The pain worsens with each hit, and yet she keeps coming back for more.

She hates herself for that, but in the end, she'd rather have this mockery of a relationship than nothing at all with Nathan. She wants something more from him, from both of them, but she doesn't press him on it. She's afraid he'll confirm her fear that she's read him wrong and this is just something fun for him, but more importantly, she's afraid of what will happen if he wants the same thing. Its one thing to fool around with Nathan in secret where no one knows anything about them; it's quite another to make their relationship public for their entire world to see. She wants something more, yes, but she's not sure she's ready for the reality of that something more.

Her heart tells her one thing, her head another, and she has never been more confused.

"Hales," he says softly, quietly, and she closes her eyes at the plea in his voice. She can't do this now, she won't do this now.

"Don't, Nathan," she responds, shaking her head and refusing to open her eyes. She doesn't care if she's acting childish, she just can't deal with another excuse.

"But I—"

"No, Nathan, not right now." She finally opens her eyes to find him studying her, unnamed emotions dancing in his eyes, and for a moment, her demeanor softens. Then he reaches across the table for her hand but pauses as he seems to remember where they are. Her heart breaks at his hesitation, and she quickly gathers her books together. She has to get out of here, she can't be around him for another moment, not right now.

"Hales, where are you going? We still have to go over my Fren—"

She shakes her head, willing herself not to cry. "I've gotta go, Nathan. I ca—I just remembered I have a shift at the café. Can't be late."

"But you don't work on Tuesdays."

She forces a smile, though she knows it is shaky. His scowl tells her he knows she's lying. "Last minute thing. We'll. . . why don't we meet early tomorrow morning?"

"Alright. Are you sure? I could come over to your house after your shift."

He doesn't mean for tutoring. Well, at least her version of tutoring, but she needs a break. As she stands up, adjusting the strap of her bag over her chest, she says, "Not tonight. We'll meet tomorrow morning, okay?"

Before he can argue, she's off like a shot, ducking into an empty room down the hall to compose herself. After a few minutes she heads for her house, making sure to take the long way home in order to avoid any chance of running into Nathan.

She's not sure what they are doing, but she's sure of one thing: falling for Nathan was never in the plan.

He's not sure what just happened. One minute Haley's almost crying and he moves to reassure her; the next, she's running out of the Tutoring Center with the feeble excuse of working at the café. He knows she's lying because he knows her schedule, and she never works on Tuesdays. He doesn't think about the fact that he has memorized Haley's schedule or the uncomfortable, lonely feeling that sweeps over him as she leaves.

Yet another thing he suppresses about his changing feelings toward his tutor. If there is one thing Nathan Scott is master of, aside from basketball, it is suppression. Growing up as the preferred son of Dan Scott, he is used to consciously ignoring certain thoughts and feelings as a way to make it through the day, and with Haley, it's no different.

No, there is a world of difference, he tells himself, because while he steadfastly ignores, or tries to ignore, his dad's words of "encouragement" as a way to get back at Dan, he doesn't think about his feelings towards Haley because he's trying to protect himself.

He knows he's a screw-up, his train wreck of a relationship with Peyton bore witness to that fact, and he doesn't want to hurt Haley. Truth be told, he's terrified that he still will, or that he is currently, but as they continue to hide their relationship, he can convince himself that he's not, that they're both playing the game exactly the way they want. When he avoids her in the hall so he doesn't walk up to her and kiss her in front of the entire school, he's sticking by the rules they established when this first started. When he flirts with Theresa because some punk is hitting on Haley, he's protecting himself from. . . Well, he's not sure from what exactly, but he knows whatever it is, he's afraid of it.

Nathan Scott doesn't do emotions. They make one weak, cloud one's judgment, according to his dad. He doesn't listen to his dad much anymore, but when it comes to Haley James, he knows Dan is right.

And it thrills him and terrifies him in equal measures. He's falling for Haley, and he doesn't know what to do about it.

To be continued. . .