W o w. You guys are so enthusiastic about this story, I can't help but feel that excitement. I really hope you all like where I'm going with this story. I'm really excited for it.

Last chapter I used Missy Higgin's Drowning, this chapter I'm using a personal favorite: Something Corporate's Only Ashes. Amazing, y'all. Check it out if you haven't, it's so powerful.

Piece by piece, and bit by bit
I'll break this down for you, real slow-
But I can't whisper all of this
and I can't seem to let this go

The weekend had passed relatively easy; Peyton had locked herself within the confines of her bedroom, claiming to Haley, Nathan and Brooke that she was fine. None of the three friends bought her claims, but knew she needed time alone. The one time Brooke came by, she found Peyton's front door locked. Knowing that this was not a regular occurrence, Brooke left well enough alone and decided to give her the weekend to comprehend things without any of their friend's influences.

Lucas had woken from his fitful slumber the night after the big incident to cold tile and his brother's even colder glare.

"For the first time in my life, I think I'm too angry to kick your ass," Nathan had commented, disappointment dripping from his voice.

In all honesty, that had scared Lucas even more than the prospect of having Nathan's fist in his face.

After he'd made it home - and to no surprise, his mother was still locked inside her room - he crawled into his bed, taking Saturday and Sunday to sleep his hangover - or was it guilt - off. Haley had stormed into his room on Sunday evening, no longer able to bite her tongue. She'd rattled off the list of reasons she no longer felt like she knew him and when his face crumpled without shedding tears, she laid next to him on the bed, holding his hand; not quite forgiving him, but not able to stand by while he suffered.

Right before she walked out the door, he turned to her with the bluest eyes she'd ever seen. "I love you Hales. And I'm so sorry."

Nodding, she stared right back. "I'm not the one who needs to hear that right now."

This particular Monday morning was looming in it's dark ominous state, mirroring Lucas's mood exactly. He'd made a spectacle at Jimmy's locker the last time he'd been in these halls, and then with Peyton and his friends later in the day. He knew that all eyes would be on him, and having to listen to the curious whispers was sure to send him into another frantic state.

The first sight he sees is that of his girlfriend and best friend. Both girls see him approaching, and Haley quickly leaves, knowing the couple are on thin ice and in need of talking. When he reaches her, he stand awkwardly, not knowing what to say.

Brooke speaks first, quietly and steady. "You know I love you right?"

He nods, grateful that this girl still feels anything for him after the way he'd behaved.

"But I love her more, Luke. And I can't just forgive you for what you did."

Once again, he nods - these two best friends have an unbreakable bond. He knows, once upon a time he'd been the one to fracture their friendship, but their love for one another allowed for it to mend, and he swore he'd never interfere again.

"I know, Brooke."

She sighs in relief and reaches up to kiss him softly, and for a moment he feels like everything's okay.

But then she pulls back, and he spots a flash of blonde behind her, and he realizes everything isn't okay.

"If you can't fix this," her voice trembles, "I'm not sure what kind of future there is for us."

He watches her walk away and can't bring himself to feel upset.

So I'll watch the matches, turn to ashes-
I'll watch the matches, turn to ashes.

Peyton eyes Brooke and Lucas out of the corner of her eye, not sure how she feels. Before the shooting, she'd never been jealous of their relationship. Maybe in a few dark moments, she'd wondered why it was Brooke Lucas had chosen and not her - but seeing them kiss had never made her squirm so much.

So on this day, it comes as a shock to her system that especially after the way he treated her, the feelings she'd once had for him come bubbling the surface, and the small insignificant peck the couple had just shared tore at her.

As Lucas approaches his locker, only 3 away from hers, her palms begin to sweat, and she feels as if she might be sick.

Trying to slip away without him seeing her, she piles too many books into one arm and they all end up falling to the ground between them. Shocked, Peyton looks up at him and his eyes meet hers.

At the same time, they both bend down to pick up her dropped materials, coming into seriously close contact.

"It's okay, I've got it," she snaps.

Lucas recoils, knowing he deserves any animosity she has toward him.

"Just forget it, Luke," she mumbles.

Once she's stood to her full height, she sees the hurt in his eyes and tries to ignore it. She knows he deserves every ounce of hurt for what he'd done, but it still tugged at her heartstrings.

"How are you?" He dares to ask.

Her eyes darken, but she answers: "Oh just swell."

Lucas slams his door shut and begins to walk away; feeling bad, she catches up to him. "That was rude. How are you?"

His eyes brighten when he speaks. "You know…. I've been better."

They stand awkwardly in the middle of the bustling crowd of teenagers, not knowing what to say. It bothers him more than he'd thought that the conversation that had once so easily flowed between them is gone. He thought by showing up at her house, he was giving himself what he wanted, but it had just the opposite effect.

"Listen, I have to get to class…" she trails off. She backs away with a slight wave, before scurrying down the hall.

Now, as he watches this girl walk down the hall, he vaguely recognizes that it stings a hell of a lot worse than it did when his girlfriend had done the same thing.

I can tell as you turn, I smell the sulfur so clear
and fire's a beautiful sound-
and the wings that you burn, turn to ashes my dear
and ashes just fall to the ground.
Yeah, we're only ashes.

The day had cleared up remarkably, and by the time lunch arrived, a blue sky with a semi bright sun was present.

Walking tiredly down the hall, Peyton stops to abandon her morning books and grab her lunch. She feels Brooke approach before she even sees her, and stops to smile.

"B. Davis," she greets.

"Hey P. Sawyer!" Brooke says, her voice perkier than Peyton's heard in days. "It's so nice today, so we're all eating outside."

Peyton's eyes flash with concern, and Brooke puts a hand on her shoulder. "I haven't seen him since this morning, so I wouldn't worry about it."

Laughing sadly, Peyton follows her to the table where Nathan and Haley are hovering over a textbook; Nathan looking smug, and Haley looking frustrated.

"Nathan, just because we're married doesn't mean I won't whip your ass into shape when it comes to school. You have to let me help you if you don't understand something," she insists.

Nathan leans back and rolls his eyes, spotting his two friends. "Brooke, Peyton - thank God."

Haley smacks him but smiles. Her smile turns into one of sympathy when she sees Peyton. "How you doing, girlie?"

Knowing Haley is only meaning well, she smiles tightly. "I'm fine."

"Really Sawyer?" Nathan asks.

Brooke looks curious as well, so she puts her hands flat on the table and breathes deep. "Okay, I know what happened was… really bad. And I was devastated. Lucas doesn't want me in his life anymore, and you're all right - I'm not the best right now, but it'll be okay. Now, can we have a nice lunch and talk about something non Lucas related?"

The other three all look to each other and nod in agreement. Haley begins rattling on about school, with Brooke interjecting every so often about her fashion line. Nathan has a comment or two about basketball, and Peyton just smiles, taking it all in. For a little while, it all feels normal - but they all can't help but feel the missing presence of Lucas.

"Lucas," Haley states, surprised.

Peyton sighs, "What did I just say Hales?"

"No," Nathan interrupts, "he's walking this way."

Peyton's eyes pop open and she begins to panic. They'd just talked this morning, and that was a painful event she didn't want to repeat. Gathering her backpack and her lunch, she begins to retreat just as Lucas reaches the table.

"Hey guys," he greets softly.

Brooke smiles at him, while Haley waves. Nathan nods, and Peyton backs away again. "I'll see you all later."

Brooke, Haley, and Nathan all call out to her, but Lucas sits not knowing what to do.

"Good going, bro," Nathan smartly says.

"Luke, you should've stopped her," Haley comments.

Brooke just shakes her head and pushes her food around. He reaches over to take her hand, but she moves it away quickly.

"You guys act like I killed her puppy!" He exclaims.

"Nope, just her heart," comes the snide remark from Nathan. "I've lost my appetite."

Haley sighs, torn between following her husband or staying with her best friend. "Are you just going to ignore her forever?"

"No!" He exclaims. "We… kind of talked this morning."

"Kind of?" His best friend questions.

"It's never going to be the same," he sadly admits.

Haley sighs and hugs him from behind. "Find a way, Luke."

She walks away leaving the not-so-happy couple to themselves, once again.

"I told you to make it better," Brooke murmurs.

"Well Brooke, what did you expect? I said some things that were really hurtful, do you expect it to be all better in a day?"

"No," she snaps. "I expected the boy I love to have never acted the way you did. The Lucas I fell in love with would never have spoken such hateful words to one of his friends. The girl that's my best friend. I feel like I don't even know who you are anymore, Lucas."

"Join the club," he snaps back.

"Who are you Luke? You don't answer my calls, or open the door when I come over. You barely bother to kiss me any more, and God forbid I try to initiate being intimate with you. You are not the same boy that promised to love me. And I don't know how much longer I can do this."

Feeling his final string snap, he slams his book down and leaps from the table. "You know what Brooke? If you're gonna keep threatening to break up with me, you might as well do it. Do us both a favor," he seethes.

Brooke tries to call out to him, but he's across the quad before her voice clears enough to speak.

Part by part and inch by inch,
You'll have your mile when its through.
Incinerate what's left of this
and torch the part of me that's you

Lucas pulls the door open after listening to the person on the other side knock for a full minute. He'd had hope that whoever it was would leave, but there was no such luck.

Luck was even further from his grasp when he opened the door to see Dan Scott on the other side. Looking at him without emotion, Lucas goes to shut the door on him, but Dan sneaks his foot in.

Not bothering to push him back out, Lucas walks into the kitchen, listening to Dan follow him.

"How are you son?"

Lucas shudders at the use of the word. Keith was the one who was supposed to be here, using that term. "I'm fine, Dan. Why are you here?"

Dan sighs, unsure of that himself. "I wanted to talk to your mother, how is she?"

"Well, not great, as you can expect. And I'm sure the brother of her dead fiancée showing up isn't going to help matters," Lucas sneers.

For a moment, Lucas thinks he sees the shell of a real man in Dan's eyes - regret and sadness. But he pushes that aside and powers on.

"She's been locked in her room since it happened, so I doubt you of all people will get her to come out."

Understanding Lucas's anger, Dan steps forward to put a hand to his firstborn son's shoulder, but Lucas backs away quickly, grabbing his jacket from the back of a kitchen chair, knocking it over in the process.

"Tell my mother I said hi if she comes out."

So I'll watch the matches, turn to ashes.

Lying with her back on the hard cement of the river court, Peyton stares into the sky, making out shapes in the clouds. A soft smile encompasses her features as she remembers the countless hours her and Brooke had spent in the grass in front of her house, laughing as they called out crocodiles, fire trucks, and boats. More and more recently, her wishes have been that of taking her back to her childhood and doing things all over again. To have that innocence back is something she craves more than anything.

It's up there with wishing that Lucas hadn't come back for her.

Just as the sixty seventh round of tears are beginning to flood her lids, she hears the crunching of gravel underneath shoes and quickly rises from her position.

And of course, just when she's down and out, none other than Lucas Scott is standing in front of her, looking like a deer caught in the headlights. If she weren't so forlorn she'd probably be laughing.

Sighing sadly to herself, because all in all right now it's hard not to recall the playful moments they'd spent on this very court laughing at the way she just couldn't - or wouldn't - learn how to play ball as he tried to teach her, she scrambles to her feet.

Without acknowledging his presence, she begins to walk toward her car when his voice softly calls out to her:

"You don't have to leave just because I'm here."

"Well, I'm not going to stay."

The scene is reminiscent of earlier in the day when she'd sprinted from the lunch table, and Lucas closes his eyes for a second.

They're standing only feet apart, but he swears the gap has never felt wider between them. Emotionally and in his heart. She feels a million miles away, and so far out of his grasp.

It's of his own doing and he's trying to ignore the different voices in his head.

"Peyton, I'm-" He begins to speak, but she cuts him off first with her hand and then with words.

"Don't," her voice is raw and gravelly, "Don't you dare say you're sorry."

There's a few tears tainting the porcelain of her cheek, and he remembers the same scene on the day of the shooting, and the same longing to wipe it away tugs at his heart.

He's momentarily surprised, but then again he's not.

Lucas may have verbalized that he wanted to quit saving her, but even he knows that actions speak louder than words.

He's just become damn good at ignoring his heart these past few days.

She's looking into his eyes as if trying to figure out why he's behaving this way. It's such a turn from the night he broke her down, and she doesn't know how to handle herself.

Stuffing his hands into his pockets, he shrugs in defeat. "I don't know what you want me to say."

Peyton scoffs and tucks a curl behind her ears. "To be honest, I'm not too sure what I want to hear from you myself."

"I don't want it to be like this," he admits.

When she looks into his eyes, he almost gasps at how bloodshot they are, and the fact that the green has faded into a dull grey.

She starts to use the phrase, 'You dug your own grave,' but figures that term at this time would be more than counterproductive, so she just rolls her eyes and crosses her arms. It may have been quite some time since she's had to use her defense mechanisms against this boy, but she finds that they come back to her all too easily.

"Peyton, I know you don't want to hear that I'm sorry," he begins.

She laughs mirthlessly, followed by a groan. His voice rises, and for a minute she stubbornly detects the truth in his tone. "But I am Peyton! I'm sorry - I should not have said those things the way I did. Getting drunk and saying those vile things… it wasn't the way I should've handled myself."

Breathing deep, she forces her heart to stop beating so erratically, and tries to calm herself. When she opens her eyes again, she's surprised at the vast amount of tears that are blurring her vision. "But you meant them?"

Lucas turns from her to look out at the river. As he gazes into the blue depth, he's transported back to that day. He might not have meant to be so cruel, but what he was feeling had some validation, and he thinks it might break his heart more than hers. This is the girl that had captured his affection before he even know what the concept of love was. Not holding her up to that pedestal was as damaging for him as it was for her. Possibly more so.

He turns back to her, and takes one of her hands in both of his, rubbing his thumb over hers. "I don't want to hurt you," he whispers, "but when I look at you, all I can see is Keith."

Peyton begins to sob, and he has to choke back a couple dry sobs of his own. He's never been able to take seeing her cry. And now with her soft flesh touching his own, and her scent lingering in the space between, she's positively breaking down his soul.

"And I don't know when I'm going to be able to look at you and not hurt. I don't want it to be this way, but…" stalling, not wanting to say what he has to say, he grips her hand tighter, "I think it would probably be best if we just didn't talk for a while."

Peyton bows her head and tries to pull away, but he pulls her right back, almost unable to let go, contradicting the words he'd just spoken. "No, Peyton, don't leave like this. I don't want it to be this way. Hurting you is like hurting myself, and I'm so sorry. God, I'm so sorry," and now he doesn't even bother to hide the ache in voice, and tears in his eyes.

"Just for a little while. It won't be forever."

There are a hundred different things she wants to say, but none of them seem suitable as their last words to each other for who knows how long?

For all she knows, they might never speak again. Somewhere she acknowledges that this notion is silly, but the pain is so raw and new, her thoughts are clouded.

So instead, she leans forward to first kiss his cheek and then leans back to look at the blue eyes she fell in love with not so long ago, trying to memorize the color. "Whatever you need to do, Luke - I want you to be happy. Be happy, I want that with all my heart."

Lucas leans down to kiss her knuckles before tugging away from her, not wanting her to see the way his heart is breaking.

It's not an easy decision, but he can't keep punishing her for something that she never meant to do.

And he hopes that this realization is just the beginning of many that will bring him back to her.

I can tell as you turn, I smell the sulfur so clear
and fire's a beautiful sound-
and the wings that you burn turn to ashes my dear
and ashes just fall to the ground.
Yeah, we're only ashes.

Let me know what you think! Don't worry guys, don't for one second think Peyton's forgiven him yet. Y'all know it's not that easy.