A/N: So, pretty much everyone wanted to see a second part to this, so here it is. There are parts I love, and parts I'm less than thrilled with, but I certainly hope you enjoy it.
Lucas returned to Tree Hill feeling something he hadn't felt in years (8 years, and yes, he was counting).
He was hopeful that he could get through it, and that Peyton could, too. He felt like he'd helped her; he knew she'd helped him. He was hopeful that he'd find his inspiration to write again. Really write, not just flesh out half-hearted ideas. He was hopeful that no matter what happened, he and Peyton would, someday down the line, be together again.
And perhaps it was naive to feel that - to hang onto that. But he had to.
He didn't tell anyone about his encounter with Peyton. Not his brother or his best friend. Brooke never mentioned anything, so he suspected that Peyton hadn't told anyone either. It was as though that day only existed within the two of them, and they both wanted to keep it that way. It was sacred and treasured and meant more than either of them could express.
His wife noticed a change in him immediately. He was writing more and smiling more and generally just happier. She'd questioned him about it, and he'd told her that he just had a great idea for a book, and that he was just thrilled to be able to be invested in his work again. She'd smiled and told him that was great, all the while wondering when he hadn't been invested; completely clueless to the fact that he had ever been anything less.
She was on a business trip for a week. An entire week without her. He ventured to the attic for the first time in years, and sat amongst dusty boxes and long-forgotten furniture, and sifted through the contents of that box he'd hid away from everyone. He re-read letters, and smiled knowing Peyton's hands had been on the same pages. He could remember her as a teenager in love, scared of how he made her feel, but completely trusting and more open with herself and with him than she'd ever been with anyone. He smiled again over their chance meeting and those few short hours they'd spent together months before.
He opened that little black box to look at that perfect ring that he'd only ever think of as hers, and wondered when the day would come when he'd actually be able to slip it on her finger. He had to believe that day would come.
Lindsey returned from New York a week later and the two of them sat down together while she rattled on about fertility treatments and injections and the costs involved, and he just sat there, wondering how to tell her that he didn't want to do any of it. He explained, as delicately as he could, that perhaps their inability to get pregnant was a sign that they weren't meant to bring a baby into things.
And that was the conversation that destroyed their marriage.
Well, ended their marriage.
She yelled and cried and went on about how her own husband didn't want children, and how she'd been so blind to it all. She asked how long he'd felt that way, and he could only be honest, so he told her he'd felt it all along. She cried more and packed a bag and stayed at Nathan and Haley's that night. The next day, she came home and explained that she'd felt them drifting apart for the past year, and that maybe it was time to admit that they couldn't do it anymore. She couldn't do it anymore.
He'd never been able to.
The divorce went through quickly. She didn't want anything of his, and he didn't have much to give. Theirs had always been an equal partnership, so they both left with what was their own and nothing more. She moved back to New York, and he was divorced, alone in his home among the things they'd bought together. Expensive furniture, and fancy dishes and wall colours that reminded him just how out of touch she was with his tastes.
Haley questioned him relentlessly over what really happened, but there was nothing more to say. Nothing more he wanted to say. It had happened, it was over, he was moving on. She wondered how he could be so nonchalant about it all, and he simply shrugged his shoulders. She knew exactly what that meant. Lindsey was his number two.
He'd left his number one in L.A.
Peyton returned to her life, absolutely and completely devastated that it was, in fact, her life. If she was miserable before, she wasn't sure what word she should use to describe her life after her run-in with Lucas. That day had just proven how much she hated herself and her husband and everything about the situation she had gotten herself into.
And how much she loved Lucas.
The only thing that kept her even remotely happy was the memory of his lips on hers, or the way she felt when she was tucked into his embrace on that hotel bed during those stolen few moments where he wasn't married to someone else and she wasn't married to someone else, and they were just them again; together and alone and falling back into a love they'd never fallen out of.
It was all a downward spiral. The first few months were like they always were. Dinner parties and gatherings and wifely duties. A series of meaningless conversations that she forgot about as soon as they'd happened, and raised eyebrows from her husband as he stood across the room, silently telling her to stand tall and look pretty and not ruin things for him.
Something inside her snapped and she began to draw and paint again, though no one ever saw what she was creating. She'd go home to her room after an evening of horribly tedious pomp and pressure to be the picture of a perfect wife, and cry as quietly as she could because this was her life. This was her life, and she really didn't know if she could leave it. But she had to leave it. She wasn't even 30, and the thought of living this life, for the rest of her life, broke her heart in a way that she hadn't ever really felt before.
Five months after that day with the love of her life, Julian insisted she accompany him to New York for meetings. She refused. She told him she wouldn't be paraded around and then ignored while he talked numbers, and whatever middle aged woman she was supposed to be keeping company while the men smoked cigars and sipped bourbon would have to be alone. He was furious, wondering what she didn't understand about their 'agreement'. To him, it was no longer a marriage. It was just another business deal that would help him get ahead, and if you asked him, his 'business partner' wasn't carrying her weight. He went on that trip alone, and though she didn't think it possible, the two of them spoke even less after that.
The only one who noticed a change in her demeanor was her mother-in-law. The two of them had always gotten along, and one day the woman came over for lunch while their husbands were away. She warned Peyton that this was no life to be stuck in. Her words shocked the younger woman. She explained that her son had let Hollywood change him, just as she'd see it do to her husband, and that Peyton should get out while she was still young enough to have some life left. It was a verbal confirmation of what she already knew, coming from someone who had made the same mistakes and sacrifices, only to find out later that none of it had been worth it.
She didn't know what to say to any of that, so she'd just nodded. Her mother-in-law noticed a few paintings behind an open door, and 'ooo-ed' and 'aaah-ed' over them, going on and on about how much talent she had, and how she shouldn't hide it from the world. She bought three pieces, and made Peyton promise to do more work. She saw, but didn't comment, on the bookshelf with rows of one author's work; she just smiled knowingly and her daughter-in-law bowed her head to hide the blush on her cheeks. Peyton knew that any inspiration she had to pick up a brush was drawn from the man whose name graced those books' covers.
So she painted and drew, and her mother-in-law found buyers, and they did it all without either of their husbands' input or knowledge. The only time she wasn't completely, palpably unhappy, was when she was working on her art. She was doing something for herself, after so many years of doing things for other people. She felt, somehow, that it tied her to that blue eyed boy who'd told her that it mattered. That his art - his words - helped her to create her art. The most startling discovery of what she'd probably, deep down, known all along, was that she needed him. All she had were tattered copies of the sentiments he'd written. She needed him.
Another party she refused to attend, and Julian was livid. He cursed and slammed doors, but he never threatened to divorce her, and she knew exactly why. He couldn't risk his image. He was seen as the young phenom with the beautiful wife and the perfect home. She knew he wouldn't end it.
Lucky for her, though it was hard to believe that it made her lucky, she walked into her home one afternoon to find a half-naked woman in her kitchen. When he saw his wife standing at the door, she just shook her head and let out a chuckle, and told him their marriage was over.
Proceedings took what felt like forever. Four months and thirteen days. The pre-nup that he was insisting was iron-clad, actually contained a clause about adultery that he'd clearly forgotten about, and so Peyton ended up with a settlement far bigger than either of them expected, not that she really cared. As long as he signed his name on the line to make the divorce official, she would have left with only the clothes on her back. But, she was paid a sum for each year of their marriage, plus a dollar amount for 'emotional distress' as a result of his affair. Her lawyer tried to push her to fight for their apartment, but she didn't want it. She didn't need it.
She was going home.
It was over a year after that day she'd spent with Lucas. Despite wanting to call him a million times, she had no idea what he was up to. If he was still married. He could have had a child by that point. She had no clue.
But something inside her told her that he was waiting for her. She didn't know what it was or if that was possible, but she felt it.
Armed with only her personal belongings, a tan line on her left hand where her wedding ring used to be, a few kind words from her former mother-in-law, and a slowly returning sense of self, she went home.
She'd bought a house, sight unseen, at the beach, and when she pulled up to it, it was early morning. She'd rented a car after her red eye flight, and driven through the quiet streets of the town she'd always considered home. Walking up the steps to her house, she noticed an envelope with her name on it in Brooke's writing taped to the door. She'd told only her best friend of her divorce, and asked that she keep it to herself until she returned to town.
She had to laugh when she flipped over the envelope and the words 'Do not burn!' were underlined on the back. The letter was filled with encouraging words and promises that it would all be OK, and that it was good to have her back, and that they'd catch up soon. The PS told her that he still lived in the same house. She didn't know how Brooke knew that she'd need that information, but it didn't matter.
She dropped her bags in the house, and noticed, as the letter had said, that Brooke had let the movers in and her things had arrived from L.A. The house was furnished, and though it could use some of her own touches, it was perfect for her. She took a short tour and spent a little while on the back porch looking out at her 'new' ocean, but there was somewhere else she needed to go.
She stopped at his house, but he wasn't there, much to her dismay. She really didn't want to have to check the entire town to find him, but if that's what it took, that's what she'd do.
She checked the River Court, but it was empty. She shouldn't have been surprised, given that it was a Wednesday morning. Then it dawned on her. The only place he could be at this time on a week day.
Tree Hill High's parking lot was just as she remembered it, and she smiled when she saw the spot next to his car available. Of course, she parked next to that old Mustang, stepped out of her car, and began making her way across the quad.
The halls were quiet, and she was sure that she was breaking all sorts of rules by even being there, but she didn't care. Classes were in session and no one saw her as she slipped through the boys' locker room and towards his office. She saw his name plastered on the door; Coach Lucas Scott, emblazoned on the glass in that familiar blue cursive.
His head was down and he was writing notes on something or another as he sat back in his chair with his right ankle resting on his left knee, a cup of coffee on his desk. Her heart felt like it was beating out of her chest, and she wondered briefly how she'd gone without that feeling for so long. She knocked on the door tentatively, unsure of how else to approach him.
"Yeah," he said quickly, still not looking up from his page.
"Just wondering if you wanted to talk, Coach," she said softly.
She knew exactly why she was nervous, but when he looked up at her, all she could do was smile. She realized she had nothing to be nervous about. It was just Lucas. Just the boy, now man, who'd always held her heart in the palm of his hands and treated it with as much care as he knew how.
He heard that voice, that beautiful soft voice, and his head snapped up as though he had to see her to believe that she was really there. Then the smile graced her lips and he felt as though the wind had been knocked out of him.
"I'm actually pretty busy, but if you wanted to come back later..." he said teasingly after a few moments of just staring, knowing she'd recognize it as a joke.
She stepped into his office further and he stood from his chair, walking towards her and pulling her into an embrace, much like she'd done in L.A. over a year ago.
"Hi," she whispered into his shoulder.
"Hi," he laughed. It was like the best kind of deja vu he'd ever experienced. "I don't really know what to say to you right now."
"That's my line," she said with a smile, brushing her hair out of her face as she pulled away from him.
"What are you doing here?" he asked in complete wonderment.
He took that moment to take in her appearance. She had on a simple pair of jeans and a plain black tee shirt, with little black shoes and a black bag. Her hair was shorter than it was when he saw her last and some of that beautiful curl was back. She looked stunning, even in something so simple. But what he noticed above everything else, was that she looked lighter somehow; the heavy weight she'd been carrying around when he last saw her had disappeared.
"I'm um...I'm back," she confessed, holding up her bare left hand. She waited with baited breath, hoping he'd do the same. Part of her felt horrible for smiling when he did. The other part felt like crying, thinking maybe this was their second chance. Or third chance. Or whatever chance they were on.
"Back," he muttered. "Wow."
"You left him," he stated, waiting for a verbal confirmation of what he already knew.
"Caught him with his father's secretary," she informed him.
"Such a cliché," he scoffed, smiling because he knew, somehow, that she'd be able to joke about it.
"Lindsey?" she asked.
"Didn't appreciate when I admitted I didn't think we should have kids," he explained with a shrug.
"Subtle," she teased, making him roll his eyes.
They each wondered how they could joke so openly and comfortably about these issues, but she figured they just didn't have secrets, and he knew that even if they did, the other would find out soon enough.
"Brooke didn't tell you?" he asked. "I mean, she's been here through everything."
"No. I had no idea," she said, moving to sit in the chair across from his desk.
He grabbed her by the arm before she could sit, and pulled her back to him so she was only about a foot away. He looked down at her and smiled, making her cheeks turn pink beneath his gaze. He loved that he could still make her blush like that just by looking at her a certain way.
"Kiss me," he demanded.
"Luke," she laughed, turning her head away. His hand came up to her cheek and their eyes met again.
"Peyton. Kiss me," he repeated softly.
She stepped forward and licked her lips subtly before pressing them to his. It was meant to be a simple touch of lip to lip - she was aware they were in a high school - but it quickly became much more than that. He hooked an arm around her waist and pressed her body to his. She let out a whimper when they parted and her eyes stayed closed as he rested his forehead against hers.
"Uh...Coach?" a voice came from behind them, making Peyton step away from Lucas and keep her back to the door.
"Yeah," Lucas said eagerly, indicating his surprise, watching as the boys' lips bent into a smile.
"I just wanted to let you know that the doc cleared me to play tonight," he explained. "So I'll see you there?"
"Yeah. Be here at 6:00," Lucas said, as professionally as he could, knowing he'd just been caught making out in his office by one of his players.
"Sounds good," the boy said. "And Coach? Nice work."
"Get out of here, Robbie," Lucas laughed, making the boy chuckle as he turned back down the hall. "Sorry."
"It's OK," Peyton said sheepishly, turning back to him. "I guess it's not so good for faculty to make out during school hours."
"Not so much," he admitted with a laugh. "But I don't really care."
He rest his hands on her hips again and looked down at that beautiful face; the one he hadn't been sure he'd ever see again, but knew he'd never forget.
"We need to talk, don't we?" she said after a few moments.
"Yeah, we do," he agreed, nodding. "Come on. Gym's free."
"What's wrong with your office?" she asked, furrowing her brow.
"You never know when students are going to walk in," he said, laughing. "They aren't allowed in the gym if there's no scheduled classes."
He didn't risk taking her hand, considering he was technically on the job, but God knows he wanted to. This meeting felt somehow the same, and yet entirely different than their last. They were both single. That sparkle was back in her eye; those little flecks of gold that had been so uniquely and undeniably Peyton. They were both home. There were no tears or confessions of secrets they'd each been holding in and hadn't been able to tell anyone else. But still, it was a little awkward and a little tentative and neither of them was really sure what was going to happen next.
He unlocked the door to the gym and she stepped through, looking around and noticing that nothing had changed at all. She noticed the banners hanging from the ceiling and the retired jerseys of the Scott brothers on the wall. Brooke had told her all about that ceremony, and now she suddenly felt like she'd missed out on something big. Something that she should have been there for.
"Wow," she whispered. "It's like a time warp in here."
"Lots of memories," he confirmed, taking her by the hand and leading her to the old wooden bleachers.
"I don't know where to start, Luke," she admitted quickly, tucking her leg beneath her so she was facing his profile. He bowed his head and clasped his hands as his elbows rested on his knees.
"Me neither, really," he said quietly. "Where are you living?"
"I bought a house at the beach. I've been painting and drawing a lot, and I have some buyers lined up," she told him, watching the smile grow on his face.
"That's amazing," he said, nodding.
He loved that she still had her art, and he wondered what her work looked like. He could picture her sitting next to an open window, an ocean breeze coming through as she sat in an old button-down shirt with her hair piled haphazardly on her head. He could see himself bringing her coffee, or having his office right across the hall so they could shout funny things to each other or steal glances as they worked. But he knew he was getting ahead of himself.
"I'm just totally starting over," she said, fear and trepidation evident in her voice. "I have to find me again and...I think I'm going to need help."
"Well, you're going to get it," he insisted, watching her as she looked down and shook her head. "Peyton, we're all here for you. That's the beauty of being home."
She felt the tears coming, because she was home. This gym. This man. This town and these friends and this feeling of safe. And of course she'd known it was home as soon as she'd stepped off the plane, but somehow when Lucas said it, it became all the more real.
"What about you?" she asked tentatively. She didn't know how he was dealing with his marriage ending, or even how long it had been over.
"I'm just fine," he said with a smile. "I've had everyone here all along. I've just been waiting for you to come back to me."
"Luke..." She was shaking her head in that self-deprecating way that he loved because it was so modest, but hated because she'd never been able to just take a compliment.
"It's true, Peyton. That day...you changed everything for me," he said quietly. "I felt like I was the Lucas Scott I used to want to be. You know? Like when I was 19 and thinking about where I wanted to be and who I wanted to be...You made me feel like that man, and I never really had." He took her hand in his and held it tightly as he heard her sniffle, letting him know that she was crying. "That day just gave me something to hang onto."
She launched herself forward and wrapped her arms around his chest, resting her head against his shoulder as his arms made their way around her. He felt a few of her tears seep through the fabric of his shirt. But this time, her tears didn't sting his soul like they had before. This time, he knew they were tears of at least almost happiness. Hope and promise and comfort. And maybe love.
"He said I changed," she said after pulling away, while he wiped her cheeks with his thumb. "He said I wasn't the same woman he married. But I was never the woman he married, because he had this idea of who he needed his wife to be, and I was never that. I just did a really good job of pretending." She let out a breath and shook her head at how much she'd hurt herself for such a long time. "I stopped pretending and that's when everything fell apart. I mean, not that it was ever really together. But after I ran into you...you reminded me that it didn't have to be that way. I didn't have to pretend."
"You don't," he insisted in a whisper, smirking that smirk that had always been her weakness.
He ran his thumb over her knuckles like he always used to do when he held her hand, and the two of them sat together in the silence of the empty gym. He was making a promise to himself that he'd never make her pretend, and she was telling herself to do whatever she could to help him be the man he wanted to be.
"I love you," she said after a few moments.
She didn't want to say it; hadn't planned on saying it. But she had to, because it was true and she knew he would have know it even if she hadn't said the words. Speaking it was more for her own heart than it was for his. It had been far too long since she'd spoken of love that honestly. Three little words that somehow seemed to heal her fragile heart as soon as they had been spoken. She needed that truth, that rush she'd always felt when she said them, and that look in his eyes right before he said them back.
"I love you, too," he admitted softly.
Neither of them knew what any of it meant, but neither of the wanted to waste time to figure it out. They each clearly wanted the other, and they were still in love, and they were finally able to be together, and that was enough for now. The rest they could work on. The rest they would work on. It was an unspoken agreement that was so obvious a notion that neither of them needed to mention it.
And none of it mattered. Their respective marriages and problems and the lives they'd led and the people they'd tricked themselves into being. None of that mattered now because it was gone, and all that was left were the two people that had fallen in love once upon a time and never let that go.
This was their road back.
"Game night, huh?" she asked after a while.
"Yeah," he confirmed. He looked down to where her head was laying so naturally on his shoulder, and he smiled. He couldn't help it. "Come."
"Come," he insisted, looking into her eyes as she pulled away. "Everyone'll be here. And the team's actually good this year, so we might even win."
She let out a sigh and took a look around the gym as she thought about it. Her eyes lingered on those two blue numbers on the wall, 22 and 23, and she knew there was nothing she wanted more than to be there watching him again. Laughing among friends and stealing glances and smiles across a packed gym, and congratulatory hugs after everyone else had left.
"OK," she agreed, smiling when his face lit up. "I'll be here. I suppose I should leave you to it, then."
"You don't have to go," he said quickly.
"Coach, you're not getting paid to hang out in the gym with pretty girls," she teased, standing and straightening out her top.
"What about beautiful girls who I happen to be in love with?" he asked with a cheeky smile as he stood in front of her.
She just tilted her head and rolled her eyes. She had missed that. That dorky side of him that could always make her grin, though they both knew that anyone else would have groaned at whatever sentiment he'd spoken. But she loved it and he loved it, and he loved to see her roll her eyes that way.
She kissed him once more, quickly, before heading towards the door.
"Hey," he called before she left. "What do we do now?"
"I don't know," she answered honestly, with a single shrug of her shoulder. "I guess we start over."
She picked up the ball that had been sitting on the floor near the end of the bleachers, and tossed it to him. She caught him off guard and when he fumbled the ball and it fell to the floor, she could only laugh that spirited laugh that he so loved to hear.
And she could only laugh, because she just had to say it...
He tilted his head back and she could see the smile he was wearing.
We start over. Nothing had ever sounded so perfect.
He looked back at her as she stood with a hand on her hip and wearing what might have been the sweetest smile he'd ever seen, and he knew that this was it. She was it. And they'd get there.