A/N: I got carried away. For those of you who love the length - have at it. For those who don't - I'm sorry! This is the follow up to Won't You Meet Me.


| I see your face in my mind as I drive away
'Cause none of us thought it was gonna end that way |

Plans change.

They'd had it all worked out. Which school they'd go to and where they'd live and how they'd schedule all their classes at the same time so they could be together as much as possible.

They spent their entire senior year together and falling in love, with both of them realizing that the first time they said those words - at the end of that one summer - they hadn't even begun to scratch the surface of what they could, and would, feel for each other.

He came close to losing her once, and he never wanted to do it again. He couldn't even think about what would have happened if he hadn't followed his brother into the school. He couldn't remember his life before her, and he didn't want to think of a life after her. She was everything to him, and though everyone told them not to get in too deep, and that first love never lasts, they scoffed at the notion. They knew better.

They knew themselves and they knew each other, and they knew that the words they said to each other were true. True love always, and I'll love you forever, and No matter what, it's you and me.

They meant them. Every word and every hushed whisper no one else knew about, they meant.

But plans change.

Murder and loan sharks. Pregnancies and state championships. Car accidents and heart attacks and bedside vigils.

Peyton was enrolled at UNC, just like they had talked about since that summer, but when James Lucas Scott was born, and Nathan lost his dream of going to Duke, Lucas battled with another option. He could stick with the plan and go with Peyton to UNC, or he could be the assistant coach of Whitey's team while going to school only an hour and a half from where Peyton would be.

A lot of long conversations, and the most supportive and understanding girlfriend in the world, and he was calling his head coach to start the process of enrolling in classes late. Peyton smiled at him sweetly when he hung up the phone, and they went to the beach to kick off their last few months of being inseparable.

He told her he'd love her forever, that night, as she sat between his legs with her back to his chest and his arms around her. She believed him.

It wasn't the same as the summer before. There were more people around, and babies to tend to, and things to pack and apartments and houses to find and furnish. It was busy, but they still managed to find time to themselves. A lot of time.

More often than not, they'd just hold hands and walk. Along the pier, or on the beach. On the old trails through the park on the outskirts of town, or right down main street through the centre of town.

She'll never forget that. Walking through their sleepy little town, feeling alive and awake and lazy all the same. Kicking stones down the sidewalk and shoving each other when teasing tones were spoken. Stopping to kiss, or sending a smile that made the other's heart race.

He picked a flower one day.

Plucked it from the yard of a house in her neighbourhood. It was beautiful and perfect. Red petals and a green stem. He kissed her temple as he placed the peony in her palm, and whispered in her ear that now every time she saw a red peony, she'd think of him.

She hadn't lied when she told him that she didn't need flowers, or anything really, to think of him. He was just always there in her mind. It wasn't often a cognizant thought or that she was thinking of him. He was just present.

She knew that wasn't going away, and she didn't want it to. She just wanted all of him, in every way, forever.

So when she got home, she tucked that flower between the pages of an old book he'd left at her house. The cover read Salinger, but the inside was all Lucas. His name in the top right right hand corner on the first page, and his favourite passages underlined in shaky pencil.

She had been reading it one day when he came over. She was tucked into her bed and holding up the book while The Weepies played in the background, and he told her he'd never seen her look more beautiful than in that moment, with her hair pulled up haphazardly and wearing one of his old sweaters, reading his book.

He took the book in his hands before she could stop him, and when it fell open naturally to where that red flower was pressed, he smiled at her and her cheeks went pink. He told her that he loved her and he kissed her forehead as she said it back.

He'd grabbed a red pen from her desk, flipped to a page he obviously knew by heart, and underlined a particular sentence. In the margin, he wrote this always makes me think of you...

She read it and tears filled her eyes, and she felt like if she had been anything older than 18, she would have asked him to marry her then and there.

She wanted to.

She always had.

They'd talked about it. One night, early that summer, laying in the grass at the edge of the River Court, watching stars in silence. Her left hand was over his heart as her head rest on his shoulder and his arms were securely around her. He began running his thumb over the ring finger on her left hand, and she shivered in his arms at the gesture.

"Are you cold?" he asked worriedly, pulling her a little closer.

"No," she said with a little laugh. "Just..."


"What you were just doing," she said, hoping he'd understand without her having to elaborate.

"This?" he asked, resuming the movement of his thumb on her skin.

"Uh huh," she said softly.

"That's my spot," he insisted quietly.

Tears welled in her eyes, and she knew he wouldn't notice. She was kind of glad.

But that was his spot. Always.

"It's only for you," she said seriously, moving her leg a little further over his.

"Promise?" he requested.

She looked up at him and smiled a sweet little smile, and she nodded her head.

"I promise," she whispered.

His thumb over the place where a ring would someday sit, was almost worth more to her than a ring itself. It felt heavy and important, and even when he pulled his hand away to place it on her cheek when he kissed her, she could still feel the sensation of the calloused pad of his thumb moving over her own soft skin.

She never told him, but she always considered that their engagement. She would have been happy if it was. Perfect words and starlight and his warm arms and an invisible ring, promising that they'd be together forever without ever having to speak those words.

He could propose again - she knew someday he would - but in her mind, that night beneath the dark sky in their hometown would be the night she promised herself to him forever, and he'd promised himself right back.

Summer ended far too quickly, and he found himself cursing himself and his choice as he helped load her things into her car so she could drive off to his dream school alone. He kissed her at the curb and told her that he'd wait for her, and she didn't have to ask what that meant. It was a beautiful sentiment, and she loved him for speaking it.

He asked her for the hundredth time if she wanted him to go and help her unpack, but she insisted that she was fine, and they'd be fine, and that she loved him. She playfully told him to get the hell away from her car, and he laughed while she turned the key.

Watching her drive away was probably the hardest thing he ever had to do.

She wasn't mad at him for following his own dream - a new dream - but when she got to the small apartment she'd found for herself, she couldn't help but feel just...out of place. This was his school and his town, and it was his baby blue tee shirt tucked away in the bottom of her bag.

But they would be fine. They'd made promises, and they loved each other, and they would be fine.

| People are people and sometimes we change our minds |

It wasn't as bad as either had imagined it would be. It was hard, of course, to go from seeing each other every day, to seeing each other only on weekends when his schedule would allow. They'd meet halfway between their schools outside a little town, and sip coffee together at the all-night diner on the highway. They had their own booth they'd sit in every time, and they'd just talk.

Lucas would fill her in on whatever adorable things Jamie had done that week, and she'd talk to him about how busy being a double major was. He'd apologize for keeping her, and she'd tell him she'd flunk out if it meant spending another hour with him at that dingy little diner, drinking bad coffee from chipped mugs.

They were as good as they ever were, and they were each breathing sighs of relief knowing that their relationship hadn't been effected.

But plans change.

His team won the Division II title, and she and Haley sat in the stands with Jamie, more nervous than either Lucas or Nathan were, watching as the Scott boys clinched another championship. They hugged each other, then stormed the court and flew into the arms of the men they loved.

It was all familiar and perfect, and Peyton was so proud of Lucas for being there for Nathan and vice versa. Whitey told her that he'd rather she went to that school and led cheers for his team, and Lucas seconded that, wiggling his eyebrows just enough to be cute.

That night, and a lot of other nights, she wished the same thing.

But there was something weighing heavy on her mind that she just couldn't ignore, and something in the bottom of her purse that would require Lucas' support.

They were out late celebrating, and no one noticed when she didn't sip Champagne or accept the beer that was offered to her. Haley sent her a knowing glance at one point, but she shrugged it off and Lucas and Nathan returned with the trophy to keep Haley from asking questions.

It wasn't until 3:00 am, when they got back to Lucas' house, that he mentioned her behaviour.

A long conversation, and tears on her part, and reassuring words that he hoped she'd take to heart, and they were sitting side by side on the edge of the bathtub, waiting for the timer to chime to let them know what they needed to know.

Positive or Negative.

He didn't let go of her hand the entire time, and he squeezed it a little harder when they heard the chime and prepared themselves.

She reached for the test and held it in her hands, and closed her eyes upon seeing the results.

"Thank God," he sighed.

She turned to look at him slowly, her lips slightly parted and her eyes narrowed. She was about to break down again, but for a totally different reason.

"I...I can't believe you just said that," she said softly.


"What was all that stuff before?" she asked hotly, standing from her place and brushing past him into his bedroom. "Just words to keep me from freaking out so you didn't have to deal with my crazy?"

"Baby, they weren't just words," he insisted, stepping towards where she stood with her arms wrapped around herself. "And I love your crazy."

"Don't do that," she snapped. "Don't try to sweet talk your way out of this."


"Stop it! OK? Stop," she said angrily. "I can't believe that you'd say all those amazing things about us getting through anything, and having the perfect baby and being perfect parents. And the whole time, you were wishing for this."

"I just thought...You were so scared. And we're young, Peyton. I thought...I thought we were on the same page, here," he explained as delicately and as rationally as he could.

"Is the thought of having a baby with me really that bad?" she asked in a broken whisper.

He watched as a tear rolled down her cheek, and he didn't know what specific thing she was crying over, not that it really mattered.

"Don't put words in my mouth, OK?" he asked gently. He reached out to take her hand, and he was surprised she let him. "Our babies will be beautiful, alright? You know that."

The more he thought about it, the more he thought that he might have thanked God either way; whether they were pregnant or not.

"Lucas..." she whispered as she cried.

"I just want us to do this the right way," he clarified. "I want to have a ring on your finger and be living with you. I want your last name to be Scott."


"And those aren't just words," he insisted, smiling weakly.

"What if...? What if we were? If I was?" she asked, letting a few more tears fall as he pulled her against his chest and held her tightly.

"All those things I said before would still be true," he promised her. "I wouldn't walk away from you. And that baby - our baby - would get so much love."

She let out a little sob, and wrapped her arms around his waist as he kissed her forehead.

"What if I don't know how to be a mom?" she asked. "What if...?"

"Peyton, stop it, OK?" he said seriously, taking her hand and leading her to the bed. "You're going to be an amazing mom. Whenever that happens."

She moved away from him and laid down with her hands tucked up under her cheek, and he got a strong feeling that there was something she wasn't telling him.

"Are you...upset?" he asked delicately. "That you're not pregnant?"

"Lucas, don't be crazy," she scoffed.

But he knew her too well.

"Peyton," he said pleadingly, begging her with his eyes to tell him every single thing she was feeling.

"I know that you're right," she confessed softly. "We're too young, and it's stupid, but...I'm in love with you."

He could only smile at her and shake his head, because she was perfect, and honest, and sure, they were young, but her essentially saying that she wanted his baby was probably the most beautiful thing he'd ever heard.

"I'm in love with you, too," he whispered before kissing her cheek.

Their love was huge, and the thought of having a child was huge, and they each knew that whatever the future held for them was huge, too.

But they both tried to pretend that evening wasn't bigger than the both of them.

| But it's killing me to see you go after all this time |

The summer after they finished their first year of college was different. They both felt it. They'd both been out and seen a little bit of the world, and they didn't want to break up, of course they didn't, but they each knew something was different. Something had changed, and neither knew what it was, but it scared them.

Her father had sold their house, and was living in just a small one-bedroom condominium by the beach, and so Lucas and Karen insisted that she live with them, not that it took much convincing. She loved Karen, and she adored Lily, and sharing a bed with Lucas for months at a time sounded like just about the best thing she could think of.

But something was different. They'd argue over silly things. She'd stay at Brooke's house for a night and he'd think she was avoiding him - sometimes she was - or he'd go to Nathan and Haley's without telling her, and she'd feel snubbed that she didn't get an invite. Trivial little things that didn't even really matter, suddenly caused huge arguments, and neither knew why that was.

It was a Saturday, and they usually spent all day together, just relaxing and laying in bed, or each just enjoying their home with the other roaming around while Karen was at the café. Just living together and doing things they hadn't done during the week when life and their summer jobs got in the way.

This day, Skills called early in the afternoon to see if Lucas wanted to get in a last minute game at the River Court with the guys. He'd gone, of course, and she had no problem with that. She loved that he could still play from time to time and lose himself in the game. And she also loved to have a couple hours to herself.

However, a couple hours turned into 5 hours, and she'd eaten dinner alone and was sketching. She didn't want to be the kind of girl who questioned her boyfriend's whereabouts, but she wasn't exactly impressed that he hadn't bothered to call.

"Hey," she called from her place on the bed when she saw him walk through the door.

"Hi," he greeted, pulling off his sweat shirt, followed by his tee shirt, and tossing them in the hamper.

"You're back late," she observed, trying not to sound accusatory.

"I had dinner with the guys. They wanted to go watch the game, but I had to come home," he explained.

That explanation, however, made her even angrier than if he hadn't given one at all.

"Had to?" she asked softly.

"I knew you'd be in a bad mood if I went out," he said exasperatedly, pulling a clean shirt out of the drawer to wear.

"All you had to do was call. You don't need my permission," she pointed out as she sat up. She'd told him that before. She didn't need him to ask, she just liked to know so she could make other plans and keep herself from worrying.

"Don't I?!" he shouted. "God, I go out for an afternoon and you're all over me about it."

"Lucas, I just told you that it's not a big deal. I just don't really appreciate it when you make it sound like I'm someone you have to answer to," she explained.

"You are! You keep saying I don't need your permission, but you're in here acting like an overbearing wife," he spat.

She reared her head back like she'd been slapped. Never had that word sounded so vile to her.

"Well, you're coming pretty close to never having to worry about me being your wife," she said calmly, in that way that she knew drove him nuts.

Sometimes he just wanted her to scream, knowing that when she spoke softly when she was angry, it meant she was disappointed in him along with irate.

And he didn't like that threat. It was moments like those, when she'd say things like that, that made him realize that he couldn't lose her, no matter how infuriating she could be. He knew he'd picked the fight, and he really didn't know why. Should he have called? Probably. But he wasn't about to tell her that now. It'd just start a whole other argument that he didn't want to get into.

"Dammit, Peyton," he sighed, running a hand through his hair. "I can't deal with this right now."

"You know what? Fine. If I'm such a fucking burden to you, Lucas, I'll just go," she said angrily, standing and reaching for a few random items to toss in a bag.

He watched her as she frantically grabbed clothes out of the closet they shared. Three tops, a vest and a belt. He chuckled without thinking, which only served to make her mad. Well, more mad. He wished he could take back that sound. He always knew that if they were mid-argument, he should just walk away, but their arguments had become so frequent that he'd never see her at all if he took his own advice. And neither of them were prepared for that.

"Might want pants, babe," he said in response to the icy glare she was throwing him.

"Screw you," she spat coldly, reaching for the jeans she knew were his favourites.

"You know you won't go," he said smugly, resting his shoulder against the door frame of the bedroom. "You'll get to the end of the street and come right back."

"You think you know me so well," said, so softly that he wondered how that could possibly still express every feeling of anger or disappointment she felt.

"I do know you," he insisted, just as softly, but maintaining that cocky attitude as he stood with his arms crossed. They both knew it was true.

"Whatever you need to believe," she said, smiling her sweetest fake smile just to infuriate him.

She began throwing her makeup into her bag and reaching for jewelry, knowing he was watching her every move. She purposely left the necklace he gave her, knowing they'd both remember the promise she'd made not to go anywhere without it.

"Will you just slow down for a damn minute?" he pleaded after seeing her leave the silver chain behind. It was as though that action made him realize just how bad things were; how they'd gone from zero to sixty way too fast. "You're being impossible right now."

"Says the guy who won't admit when he's wrong," she pointed out with a raised brow. He didn't say anything in response to that, giving her the confirmation she needed that leaving was her only option. "Call me when you're ready to apologize for being a stubborn ass."

She was slinging her bag over her shoulder, and she had her hand on the doorknob when he spoke again, adapting her words to suit his own feelings.

"Says the girl who won't just admit she can't live without me."

One last glare, and a shake of her head, and she'd slammed the door behind her. She threw her bag into the passenger seat of the car as she slid behind the wheel. She let her hands fall to the places they always did, those spots on the wheel that were worn from years of driving. And then she cried. She absolutely broke down; sobbing, makeup running, struggling to breathe.

She wondered how it was so possible to love and hate one person so much. How those two emotions come full circle. Too much hate and it's all passion, too much love and it's all sacrifice and self-loathing.

But she loved him. She loved him so much that it hurt, and she'd felt it as soon as she slammed that door behind her. Guilt, sadness, need. And, though she absolutely loathed to admit it, worry. She was mad, and he was the cause of that anger, but there she was, crying in her car in the driveway, worried about him. Was he worried, too? Did he miss her already? Did she overreact and leave him sitting there at the end of his bed, miserable and hating himself for not doing enough to stop her? She didn't want to be the one to cause any of those emotions. Well, maybe the missing her. But she loved him so much that she never wanted to see him hurt, and knowing she was the cause of it was absolutely devastating.

So she did what she'd done so many times that they'd both lost count. She got out of the car and walked slowly back up the steps to the house. She pushed open the door to see him sitting on the bed, exactly where she'd imagined he'd be. And when he turned to her, the smile he gave wasn't smug or proud, it was one of relief, like he really thought she might leave this time.

He stood immediately and pulled her wordlessly into his arms, resting his hand on the back of her head to bring her as close to him as possible. And they both felt her melt into him.

"I'm sorry I was a stubborn ass," he said softly, making her laugh through her tears. "And I was wrong."

"I can't live without you," she admitted just as quietly, looking up into those beautiful blue eyes.

And then he kissed her and it was like fire. Coming home and leaving and that rush you feel when you finally get the thing you really wanted in the first place, all rolled into one. It was a frantic flurry of discarded clothes and shoes kicked off; belts flying and hands roaming. Hasty I love you's and apologies and frenzied thrusts and just that need to be together that they always felt after a fight.

They lay together, peacefully enjoying one another, with only the sheets over top of them. This was when they were tender. This was when they treated each other delicately and wondered how they'd ever let their tempers flare; how they could ever scream that they hated each other.

"It's not fair," she muttered quietly as her head lay on his chest.

"What's not?" he asked, letting his arm trail up and down her side as it had been doing for the past 20 minutes.

"That I love you," she specified, looking up just in time to see his brows furrow as he wondered exactly what she meant by that. "You make me so mad sometimes, but I love you so much."

"You only get mad because you love me so much," he pointed out. "If you didn't care, we wouldn't fight."

"If you weren't such an asshole, we wouldn't fight," she said teasingly, feeling the rumble of his laugh against her cheek.

"I love you, too, baby," he whispered, pressing a kiss to her hair. But then his tone turned desperate. "But you've gotta stop trying to leave me."

"Stop making me want to," she countered, sitting up and clutching the sheet to her chest. She looked down at him again, and he noticed the seriousness in her eyes.

"How do we do this?" he asked. "How do we stay together when we drive each other up the wall?"

"Are you just curious, or are you actually asking how we're going to make this work?" she inquired quietly, playing with a wrinkle in the fabric that was covering her.

"Maybe both," he admitted sadly.

And that dejected tone of his just about broke her heart. That's when she realized that, despite anything she might say in anger to the contrary, she really did love him more than anything.

"Maybe we just...keep doing what we're doing," she said, letting her hand trail down his chest as she sat next to him. "I mean, the making up's always good."

"Peyt..." he admonished, clearly not entirely amused with her attempted joke.

"I know," she said quietly. "I just...I don't want us to be this...volatile."

"Good word, baby," he said, nodding appreciatively and making her roll her eyes at him. There was the literature major in him coming out.

And see, this was why they worked. They could joke and play and tease each other in the middle of a serious conversation, usually without things turning disastrous. Just because these moments were few and far between lately, didn't mean they couldn't have them more often. It would just take work.

So they would work.

| Music starts playin' like the end of a sad movie
It's the kinda ending you don't really wanna see
'Cause it's tragedy and it'll only bring you down
Now I don't know what to be without you around |

Another three weeks, and only two to go before they each returned to school, and apparently they hadn't worked hard enough. Things were tense, at best, and after one particularly bad fight, Peyton made a choice.

Lucas had stormed out without a word about where he was going or when he'd be back. He hadn't expected to see her things packed in her car, and Peyton sitting on his bed, his room devoid of any of her things he'd come to accept as 'theirs'. CDs, and photos, and her sketchpad were all gone.

"What's this?" he asked, noting the bag sitting by the door.

She was perched on the edge of the bed, and he could tell she was battling with something. Her eyes were red and she was biting the inside of her bottom lip, and he knew that never meant anything good.

"I'm...going," she stated simply, finally looking up to meet his eyes. She wished she hadn't.

"Where?" he asked. He was in shock. Things had gotten out of hand, yes, but he hadn't expected this.

"Brooke's, I guess. I might just go back to Chapel Hill. I just need to get away," she explained cryptically.

"From me?" He sat next to her, willing himself not to pull her into his arms or fall to his knees and beg her to stay.

"From everything," she said, turning to look at him. He was playing with his hands, but he could feel her gaze on him. "I can't keep having the same fight with you."

"I said I was sorry!" he replied. He thought they'd smooth things over like they always did, and move forward. He had been wrong, apparently.

"I know you did, and I believe that you're sorry. But...we can't be like this, Luke. Not us," she said, wiping a tear from her cheek in a manner that she hoped was discreet.

"Like what? So we argue. We're a couple, Peyton. Couples argue," he said, reaching for her hand, which she let him take. She needed to feel his skin on hers, even if it was in such an innocent way. She wasn't sure she'd ever feel it again. She really wasn't.

"We argue all the time. About everything. And lately it's...it's all we can do to be in the same room as each other. I just...that's not how I want us to be," she said sadly, as his thumb moved back and forth over her knuckles.

"We can be better, though, can't we? We can fix it if we both want to," he pleaded. He knew he was just this side of begging, but he didn't care. If he knew only one thing in the world, it was that he needed her.

"Nothing works with us any more, Lucas," she said with conviction.

He knew deep down that it was true, as much as it killed him to admit that, even to himself. How had they gotten here? So far from where they started. They used to be perfect together. They used to care about each other and take care of each other and be protective and affectionate. Now they only fought about nothing and everything. He loved her, he did. But he was starting to wonder if maybe that just wasn't enough any more. What he really didn't want to face, was the fact that maybe she didn't love him.

"What are you saying?" he asked, already knowing the answer. He just needed to hear her say it.

"I'm saying," she paused, trying to keep her composure. "I'm saying that I can't...I can't do this any more."

"Peyton," he protested softly. She'd broken him, and she knew that, but she couldn't look him in the eye. Not now. "Please don't go."

"I have to," she whispered, pulling her hand away from his gently.

She took his face in her hands, and she pressed one last, gentle kiss to his lips, and he could taste the salt of her tears.

She stood and walked to the door, picking up the bag she'd packed and slinging it over her shoulder. She wanted to take one last look at him, just to memorize his face, but she knew that if she looked at him and he was crying, she wouldn't be able to leave him. She'd run back to him and cradle him in her arms and fix him. It was what she'd always done.

"Do you still love me?" he asked desperately.

He needed to know, one way or the other. Either way, he'd have a broken heart. If she said no, all hope was gone. But if she said yes, he'd have to face the fact that his love just wasn't enough for her.

"I'll always love you," she said softly, unable to keep herself from crying. "You know that."

And then she was gone.

| And we know it's never simple, never easy
Never a clean break, no one here to save me
You're the only thing I know like the back of my hand |

Peyton and Brooke went to Chapel Hill together. Peyton insisted she wanted to go alone, but Brooke wouldn't allow it. The blonde hadn't stopped crying for two days, and Brooke knew that everything in Tree Hill reminded her of Lucas, and she just couldn't handle it. So Brooke reluctantly got behind the wheel of Peyton's old car, and she drove her best friend out of the town because she couldn't drive herself.

She'd visited Peyton a couple times during the school year prior. She'd taken breaks from L.A. and then New York, and she'd come into that little college town like a whirlwind. Stepping into Peyton's apartment this time, however, everything felt a little off. Not only was her best friend heartbroken and hurting, but red bedrooms and walls of records and a loosely bound draft of Lucas' novel were all in plain sight, and all those things were reminders of that blonde boy, too.

Brooke gave Peyton time to mourn. She knew better than to just assume everything would be fine right away. Heartbreak - especially as a result of a love like Peyton and Lucas' - wasn't an easy fix.

But when she woke in the middle of the night to hear Damien Rice floating through the apartment, she knew something was going on that Peyton would need help with, even if the girl didn't want to - or couldn't - admit it yet. She didn't expect to walk into the bedroom to see the blonde dressed in shorts and a tank top, wielding a paint roller and brushing dark purple paint on the walls.

"Honey," Brooke said sadly, shaking her head as she stepped into the room a little further.

"I like purple," Peyton said nonchalantly. "It's a good colour, right? Purple? This is kind of like eggplant, I guess..."


"I think it works in here," she continued, ignoring Brooke's desperate pleas for an explanation.

"It's perfect," Brooke finally conceded, reaching for the extra brush that was sitting on the ladder in the center of the room.

She wanted to say more; to make Peyton stop and stand still and just breathe through what Brooke was certain was some sort of an anxiety attack. But she knew Peyton, and she knew that she used art to heal. This may not have been art, but it would help her, and Brooke knew that, on some level.

And then the lines of a song hit them both hard, for very different reasons. Brooke, because it was just a really sad song, and Peyton, because Accidental Babies just took her back to the night that might have been the beginning of everything changing.

She was hurting more than she thought she would, and perhaps it had been naive of her to believe that she wouldn't be absolutely devastated without him. But when she realized that she hadn't just lost her boyfriend, but her saviour, her best friend, and the man she thought would someday be the father of her children, she absolutely broke down.

When Peyton set down her paint roller and closed her eyes, letting the tears slip down her cheeks, Brooke set down her own brush and pulled her friend into her arms. Peyton pulled away after a while and moved to lay down on her bed, and Brooke followed her, cradling Peyton's head against her chest when she moved so she was tucked into Brooke's embrace once again. She let out harsh sobs that had them both crying big, ugly tears, but it didn't matter.

They were best friends, and that was what best friends were for.

"It's not supposed to be like this," Peyton said as she cried.

"I know," Brooke whispered. She stroked Peyton's hair in what she hoped was a comforting way.

"I just...can't do it, Brooke," she admitted quietly.

"I know," Brooke repeated.

"What am I supposed to do now?" Peyton asked, pulling away and shaking her head in defeat.

"Meaningless sex with hot strangers?" Brooke suggested jokingly, making Peyton let out an odd mix of a sob and a laugh. "No one expects you to get over him quickly."

And the only truth Peyton got from that statement, was that she didn't want to get over him.

At all.

| And I can't breathe
Without you, but I have to |

Lucas was a mess. There was no other word for him. He was just a disaster. Haley told him, because he begged her to, that Peyton had left Tree Hill and hadn't made any plans to return.

He stayed for two days after she left, but everything felt wrong. It didn't feel like his hometown without her there. So he left, too.

He threw what he needed into a few bags and tossed them into his car, and drove back to the house he lived in during the school year. And he cried like a baby. He worried about her, and he wanted her, and he wished she'd just call him and tell him that she still wanted him, too.

Her parting words made it harder, not easier. She'd always love him. If she'd said she didn't love him any more, which he'd dreaded at the time, at least he would have been able to let go a little. But if she loved him, he felt they could work it out. They could step back and talk things through and figure it out. Together. He wished he could have hated her, himself. But he couldn't hate her. He was too busy loving her.

He hadn't expected Haley to visit him the next day at the house they shared. She found him, at 2:00 in the afternoon, sitting on the sofa with a glass of scotch and the bottle on the table, listening to an album she knew was one of Peyton's favourites.

"Hey, buddy," she said softly, sitting down next to him.

He didn't respond. He didn't even look at her. He just raised the glass to his lips and managed to take a drink before she pulled it away from him and set it on the table.

"Lucas, please talk to me," she pleaded.

"About what?" he asked, speaking at a dangerously low level.


"She's gone, Haley," he insisted harshly. "And she's not coming back. Is she?"

"I...I don't know," she admitted. He finally turned his head to look at her, and she saw that his eyes were bloodshot and red-rimmed, and he looked absolutely devastated.

"What...? What now?" he asked desperately. She saw the tear dancing at the edge of his eye, and it broke her own heart.

"Oh, Lucas," she whispered, pulling him into her arms.

They both cried for the relationship they had thought was forever.

| Breathe
Without you, but I have to |

Peyton threw herself into her school work and the part-time job she got at a local record store, and she did her best to forget the blonde boy she had loved so much.

That she still loved so much.

She went out with friends every once in a while, and she talked to Brooke almost every day, and there was an unspoken rule that they wouldn't talk about Lucas. Brooke knew that Peyton couldn't, so she didn't push the issue. The same couldn't be said for Haley, but after a stern warning, she, too, stopped trying to push the two blondes back together. So they'd talk about Nathan, and they'd talk about Jamie, and they'd talk about school and Brooke. But they wouldn't talk about Lucas.

It was his birthday, and all she'd wanted to do all day was call him, just to say hi and wish him well. But she knew that if she picked up the phone and heard his voice on the line, she'd be back at square one, wondering why they weren't eating homemade pie at that roadside diner to celebrate his turning 20.

It had been two months since she'd seen or heard from him, and the wound hadn't healed. Not even a little bit. She still loved him, and she still thought he was her forever, but she still knew that it hadn't worked between them, and maybe it never would.

So she had her own 'celebration', in the form of shots of José Cuervo at the bar around the corner from her apartment.

She was in just a pair of jeans and a sweat shirt, and maybe she had on that old Tar Heels tee shirt of his, too, hidden beneath the black fabric of her hoodie. It connected her to him, and while that was probably self-destructive, she really didn't care.

"Hi," a masculine voice came from beside her as someone slid onto the stool next to hers.

"Hi," she said, deadpan, hoping the guy would get the hint.

"Can I get you a drink?" he asked.

She could tell he was faking nonchalance, so when she turned to him she had her biting remark already prepared. But it was lost when she saw the colour of his hair and the blue of his eyes. It was all just a little too familiar, but not familiar enough. His hair was too light, and his eyes were too dark, and he just...wasn't Lucas.

"Listen, what's your name?" she asked curtly.

"It's Nathan."

She let out a humourless laugh and closed her eyes. What was the universe doing to her?

"Are you kidding me?" she asked bitterly. She wasn't sure if she was talking to the guy, or to the gods, but it really didn't matter.

"Uh...no?" he said confusedly.

She looked at him with a blank expression on her face before pulling cash out of her pocket to settle her tab, and hopping off her barstool. She walked out of the bar and onto the street, and she wasn't sure if that was all a sign or not, but she pulled her phone out of her pocket and dialed a familiar number that she knew she wouldn't soon forget.

As she had expected, and maybe hoped, the call went straight to voicemail, and she thought seriously about hanging up. But his voice sounded so sweet to her, even in such a simple and standard greeting, and she had to leave a message, hoping that maybe he'd think the same thing when he heard her voice.

"Hey...It's me. I just thought I'd call you. Happy birthday. I um...I hope you're out celebrating. You don't have to call me back or anything, I just...didn't want you to think I forgot...or something. Happy birthday, Lucas."

When Lucas listened to the message the following morning, he felt almost relieved. She was OK. She sounded a little nervous, which actually made him smile, but she was fine. He knew, since Nathan insisted on telling him every time the two talked on the phone, that she was busy with school and working in some vintage vinyl store.

Hearing her voice was a whole different story.

He didn't call her back, and she didn't expect him to, but that one little phone message gave them each something to hang onto. Not that they needed it.

It made him wonder, even more than usual, why they were even apart.

| Never wanted this, never want to see you hurt
Every little bump in the road I tried to swerve
People are people and sometimes it doesn't work out
Nothing we say is gonna save us from the fall out |

Brooke convinced Peyton to return to Tree Hill for Christmas. She hadn't wanted to go, not really, but calls from Brooke, Nathan, and Haley had her rethinking her desire to stay away. When Karen called and all but begged, and then put Lily on to mumble her name into the phone, she knew she had to go. Brooke would be flying in from New York, and Peyton really did want to see everyone.

She knew, then, that she'd have to see him. It couldn't be avoided. She was a big girl, though, and surely she could handle a run in with her ex-boyfriend. Even if the thought of it had her stomach in knots, wondering what she'd say to him, or how he'd look at her, or if maybe he'd find those perfect words she wanted to hear and they'd fall back into each other.

He knew she'd be returning home, and he pretended - though not very well - that it didn't affect him at all. Everyone knew he was just putting on an act, and that he was scared and excited to see her, but no one said a word. They knew better than to assume things would be fine, but they also knew better than to assume that things would be hostile. You just never knew with Lucas and Peyton. The only thing they all knew was that the two blondes still loved each other; would always love each other.

He needed to talk to her anyway, and he'd been putting it off. He could have called or emailed, but maybe he didn't do those things because he just wanted to see her in person, and now he had a reason.

He didn't expect to see her on what he knew was her first day back, walking down the street towards him with Brooke by her side, and Haley by his.

Haley noticed him visibly tense, and she thought he might collapse then and there.

Brooke pulled her arm from where it was linked through Peyton's and she glanced at the blonde, hoping that the sight of that boy wasn't making her cry. She thought it just might.

"Peyton," Brooke started before they were close enough for Lucas or Haley to hear, "you don't have to do this."

"No. It's OK," Peyton said, trying to convince the both of them. "I need to. Right?"

"No, you don't," Brooke insisted. "But...I understand if you want to."

Peyton's head turned to look at her best friend, and Brooke could only shrug at the suggestion that maybe Peyton still wanted Lucas. They all knew it was true, but no one had spoken it for fear of getting yelled at. Brooke knew that Peyton wouldn't make a scene in the middle of the street, in front of that boy, so she knew it was the perfect time to mention it.

"Haley!" Brooke chirped happily when they were a few feet away. She flew forward and wrapped the girl in a hug while they both smiled.

Lucas watched Peyton tuck a curl behind her hair and look to her feet, just like she'd always done when she was nervous. He loved that he could still make her nervous, but he just hoped it was for the same reason his own stomach was doing backflips.

"Hey, have you seen Karen yet? I haven't. Let's go!" Brooke said quickly, shooting Lucas a look that Peyton couldn't see.

She grabbed Haley's arm and the two brunettes took off down the street, with Brooke dragging Haley behind her and Haley looking at Peyton apologetically over her shoulder.

"Hi," Peyton said quietly.

It would have been far easier to talk to him if he didn't look better than she'd ever seen him. She didn't know if it was just the time and distance that were making her appreciate the stubble on his jaw and the pink of his lips that much more, but whatever it was, she was cursing it.

"Hey, Peyton," he said with a weak smile. "How...um...how are you?"

"I'm...OK," she said, knowing he'd see through her words and decode that to mean what she wanted it to. He didn't have to ask if she missed him; it was right there in that simple statement.

"You look good," he insisted, watching as she let herself really smile for the first time since he had seen her walking towards him.

"So do you," she said softly, just a hint of a sparkle in her eye that he hoped to God he had put there.

"I uh...I actually wanted to talk to you about something."

"Yeah, me too," she told him, wrapping her arms around herself as though to protect her from whatever hurt he could potentially cause her.

She wondered what he had to say. Was he seeing someone and wanted her to hear it from him? Was he going to ask her to come back to him? Both those things just about made her want to cry.

"My novel got picked up by a publisher," he said, watching as her face lit up and she smiled widely.

"Lucas! That's amazing!" she said happily. "I'm so pr..." Her voice trailed and she lost the word she was going to say, just for a moment, before realizing that she wanted him to know. "I'm so proud of you."

His heart soared. She was proud of him. She was smiling, and she was standing in front of him in those jeans he loved, and she was beautiful, and she was proud of him.

"Thanks," he whispered, having lost his voice momentarily. "So I need written consent to use peoples' names. You know, so you can't sue me for libel or something."

"Uh oh," she laughed. "Did you change my character or something?"

"Never," he answered seriously. Then her eyes met his for a moment, and she really didn't want to admit that it made her feel incredible to have him looking at her that way again. "Anyway, I have the papers for you to sign at the house."

"Yeah, that's fine. I um...I was packing and I found a bunch of your stuff..."

"Packing?" he asked with a furrowed brow.

"Yeah," she mumbled. "I'm moving to New York to help Brooke with the company."

"What about school? What about her mom?" he asked urgently.

"Her mom isn't involved," she explained cryptically. She'd let Brooke tell him that she'd fired the woman. "And I'm transferring to NYU."

"That's...wow," he muttered, running his hand through his hair.

She couldn't leave the state, he thought. He didn't want her to be that far away from him. At least when she was living there, he could occasionally entertain the thought of just driving to see her and telling her their split was crazy and that he still wanted her and he still loved her.

"Yeah, so I have some of your stuff to give back," she repeated. "I'll...I'll just bring it to dinner on Sunday, OK?"

"Yeah. Yeah, that sounds...fine," he said, almost dejectedly, she noticed. "I'm meeting Nathan, so..."

"Oh. Yeah, go," she said with a smile, gesturing in the direction of the River Court. He smiled, knowing that she knew him well enough to know that was where he was going.

She watched him walk away, and when he turned around and flashed her a smile, her heart stopped in her chest. She asked herself for the millionth time if she was doing the right thing, and she told herself for the millionth time that she was. She loved him, but they tried and failed, and going back wouldn't change that.

| And we know it's never simple, never easy
Never a clean break, no one here to save me
You're the only thing I know like the back of my hand |

Walking up to the Roe home felt a lot like stepping into the lion's den. Everyone assured her, in the days prior, that everything would be fine, and that they'd had similar talks with Lucas, but that knowledge didn't help her at all. There was tension between the two of them in the brief conversation they'd had, and they'd somehow managed to avoid each other after that. But every time she heard his name, all she felt was hurt. She asked Haley if she was doing the right thing, and the brunette just said that whatever felt right, was the right thing.

Lucas felt right. Being with him felt right.

But it was too late for that, and she didn't care if everyone told her differently, or at least tried to. It had only been four months since their breakup, and she wasn't convinced anything would be different if she gave into what she wanted.

But when she placed her hand on the doorknob and was about to walk into his bedroom without knocking, that, too, felt right, though she knew it wasn't. So, for the first time in ages, she raised her hand and rapped on the glass with her knuckles, a box of his belongings tucked under her arm.

He was convinced she was trying to kill him. Or at least tease him. Her hair was left down and in unruly curls, just as he'd always loved, and she was wearing a burgundy long-sleeved wrap dress paired with black heels, and he unabashedly eyed her up and down. He didn't care. If she was going to wear something like that, she had to know that he'd be staring at her.

She felt her cheeks turning pink when he gazed at her legs a moment too long, and she couldn't say that wasn't her objective. Why, she didn't know. She just wanted, maybe needed, that confirmation that he still wanted her. It was childish and silly, and maybe a little self-centered, but that didn't matter to her.

"Hi," he said with a smile moving so she could walk past her and into his room.

It was unchanged since the last time she was there, and she didn't know if she expected that or not. All she knew was that it comforted her somehow, and she wanted to lock the doors and curl up with him on his bed in their clothes like they used to do.

"You look nice," she said, gesturing to his pressed black pants and blue button down shirt.

Her heart nearly stopped when she saw, tucked just below the collar of the undershirt he was wearing, her ring on that silver chain. He didn't notice her looking, and she didn't mention it, but she was doing her best to keep from crying, right there in his bedroom.

"You look amazing," he insisted seriously, making her blush even more. He smirked when he saw her reaction to the compliment, and reached for the papers on his desk that she needed to sign.

"Oh. Right," she said, taking the papers when he offered them.

He took the box from her and quickly went through its contents. A few CDs and a couple books, a bottle of his cologne; a pair of jeans and a sweater. He noticed a couple things missing, though. That faded blue Tar Heels tee shirt and that old Salinger hardcover. He smiled to himself knowing that she kept them both.

"I am just going to have to trust that I'm not signing my life away, here," she said with a chuckle. "I'm not quite up on my legal jargon."

"It's pretty standard," he laughed. "Everyone else signed the same thing, so if I take you down, I'm taking all of them down."

She laughed a little harder before signing her name on the appropriate line.

"There," she said, smiling as she handed the papers back to him. "It's really getting published?"

"I'm as surprised as you are," he said, shaking his head.

"I'm not surprised at all," she admitted softly.

Their eyes locked, and they both felt it. All that love, and all that passion, and all the good things that would never go away. All the hurt and pain and time and distance were erased in that one look.

But then he looked away, and it all came flooding back.

They got through dinner seamlessly, with great conversations, and great food, and great friends and family, and everyone felt like maybe they could get back to where things made sense. Back to Lucas and Peyton being together and happy.

No one wondered that more than Lucas and Peyton themselves.

| And I can't breathe
Without you, but I have to
Without you, but I have to |

He found her on the steps by his bedroom door after dinner. He saw her slip out of the room when Karen exempt her from dish duty, and she needed to just sit in silence. Maybe she knew he'd follow her.

Maybe she wanted him to.

He draped a blanket over her shoulders before sitting down next to her, and she smiled at him gratefully. It was far too cold to be sitting in just her cotton dress, but she hadn't really thought it through before stepping outside.

"You alright?" he asked after a few moments of comfortable silence. That silence felt like it used to. Perfect, with no need to fill it with anything other than the sound of their breathing and whatever intangible things always existed between the two of them.

"Yeah, I think so," she said, smiling at him just a little bit.

"You think so?" he teased, bumping her shoulder with his own. She let out a soft chuckle that was music to his ears. He could still make her laugh. That had to count for something.

"I kind of missed this," she admitted.

His heart was beating so hard that he was sure she'd hear it. He'd waited months for her to say that. She hadn't left it in that one message, or even really hinted at it. He'd expected it to be true, but he didn't want to say anything for fear that it wasn't and he'd be leaping again and falling down.

"Me too," he whispered.

She rest her head on his shoulder, and he wrapped his arm around her as they sat together for the first time in months.

He wondered if maybe it was all different now. Better. Maybe they just needed time apart and perspective, and to be without each other to realize that they really couldn't be without each other. He couldn't be without her, that much he knew. He had felt better in the three days prior, just knowing that she was roaming around in their town somewhere. And now, with her so perfectly tucked into his side, he felt like love was enough. Their love was enough.

After a while, she heard him let out a sigh, and she knew he was holding something in; not telling her something.

"What?" she asked softly.


"Luke, I know you," she reminded him, needlessly. As soon as she'd said it, she was rethinking everything again. She did know him. She wanted to know him. "You only sigh like that when you have something to say, but you aren't sure if you want to tell me."

"You do know me," he admitted quietly. His tone wasn't teasing in the least. It was all serious, as though he had needed the reminder, and she had needed the confirmation.

"So, tell me."

"I...I don't want you to go," he stated firmly.

She pulled away from him and closed her eyes, and she was this close to running inside and telling Brooke she wasn't going anywhere. But he couldn't just say that and make her stay, and she suspected they both knew that.


"No, this is crazy, Peyton," he said desperately, placing his hands on her upper arms when they turned to face each other. "It's one thing for you to leave for school, but you can't move to New York, OK? You just can't."

"Why not?" she asked meekly. She wouldn't look at him, or he'd see that look in her eyes, pleading for him to shower her with perfect words and phrases about how they were meant to be.

"Because I don't want you to," he repeated. "Because I love you, and you love me."

"God, Lucas, you say that like it's just...the easiest thing in the world," she said, trying to keep her emotions in check. She was failing.

"Why isn't it?" he asked. "When did we let it get difficult?"

"I don't know," she whispered, letting a tear fall. "But we did."

"Just...stay," he pleaded. "We can just start over. Talking and...we'll fix us, Peyton."

"Maybe we can't," she said, shaking her head. "Maybe what it was is all it'll ever be, and that's just...it."

"No," he insisted. "No. I don't accept that. I can't...We're supposed to be together, Peyton. You and me. It's the way the novel ends, and it's just...It's how it's supposed to be."

She thought back to those first days without him and her words to Brooke, and how eerily similar they were, and she wondered if maybe they should try again.

But their first try was still fresh in her mind, and she didn't think it was the right time. She was scared that they'd try again and it would only hurt more when they realized it wouldn't work, and she just couldn't hurt more. She'd lost him once and it almost killed her, and she wouldn't - couldn't - do it again. Hiding her heart was easier than giving it to him and having it broken.

"I have to go," she said, standing from her place and holding out the blanket for him to take.

Her statement had a double meaning, and he knew it, but he didn't want to believe it. When she walked away down the street, it became painfully clear that she was leaving.

And maybe they were really over.

| It's two a.m., feelin' like I just lost a friend
Hope you know it's not easy, easy for me |

She went to the River Court that night, all by herself, just to reminisce and to have some time alone with her thoughts and her heart. She loved her friends dearly, but they were driving her crazy with their constant questioning of how she was holding up.

The evening with Lucas and his family and her best friends had left her longing for what she didn't have; what she could have - and maybe should have - had. She wanted Lily in her lap again, laughing at face Lucas was making, with Karen chuckling at the lot of them. She wanted Nathan's teasing, and Haley's sarcasm. She wanted Jamie reaching out for her to hold him.

So she was sitting on the picnic table, looking out over the water, thinking about it all, until she heard the ball bouncing on the asphalt and spun around, hoping that it wasn't who she thought it was.

"Oh," she sighed, placing her hand on her heart. "It's just you."

"Just me? Thanks," Nathan said with a smirk, making her roll her eyes. "You left pretty quick tonight."


"No, hey, I wasn't judging," he said, defending his statement. He sat down next to her and they sat together in silence for a few moments. "So, New York, huh?"

"Yeah," she said softly.

"Seems kind of far," he pointed out, making her turn to him.

"I just...need a change," she said seriously.

"So you're running," he stated with confidence.

"Don't do that," she insisted, shaking her head. "Don't make this about him."

"Isn't it?" he asked hotly. He considered this girl his best friend, and he didn't want her to leave. He couldn't fathom what Lucas must have felt. "You two are just...so stupid."

"Thanks," she said angrily.

"Peyton, do you know how rare it is for anyone to find what you two have?" he asked seriously, turning his body to hers. "You two have it, and you're pissing it away!"

"You don't even know about it, Nathan," she seethed. "So don't try to pretend you do."

"You know what I know? You and I cried on each others' shoulders during senior year when they were in the hospital," he said. She didn't have to ask who 'they' were. "You're the one who told me that my name would be your first kid's middle name. You love him, Peyton! And now you're fucking running. I do know."

He watched her close her eyes, and he watched the tears roll down her cheeks, and only a small part of him felt badly for lashing out at her. He knew his words were true, and he knew that she was too damned stubborn to see it on her own, or with his wife's gentle hints. She needed to be slapped in the face with honesty, and he was going to be the one to do it.

"Nathan, can you please just tell me that I'm doing the right thing?" she pleaded tearfully.

He let out a frustrated sigh and looked skyward. "No. I can't," he said harshly.

"Why is everyone pushing so hard!?" she cried, throwing up her hands.

"Why aren't you!?" he countered. "The Peyton Sawyer I know wouldn't back down from a fight to keep what she wanted."

"Maybe I don't want..."

"Bullshit," he said, cutting her off. "That's bullshit and you know it."

"I can't...I can't be without him," she admitted, for the first time, really, to herself or to anyone. "But I can't be with him, either."

"You did it for two years," he muttered. "But I guess that doesn't count for anything."

"Is this how it's gonna be now?" she asked in desperation, more tears falling at the prospect of losing one of her best friends. "You and I at each others' throats about this."

"I've tried to understand, Peyton," he said, shaking his head in defeat. "I tried to just let you do your thing, because I thought you two would find your way back. But now...I just can't believe that you're walking away from him. God, how would you treat me if I walked away from Haley?"

"Don't guilt trip me, Nathan. This is hard enough," she warned sternly.

He laughed humorlessly and stood from the table, running a hand through his hair before turning to her again.

"Are you leaving, or am I?" he asked coldly.

She knew that was a loaded question. He was referring to the moment, where he was clutching a ball and itching to play, but also to the bigger picture.

She locked eyes with him as she started tearing up again, and then wiped at her cheeks hastily.

"I am."

And she did.

She left the court, and she drove back to Chapel Hill that night, and the next morning, she left for New York.

| It's two a.m., feelin' like I just lost a friend
Hope you know this ain't easy, easy for me |

Lucas found out from Nathan the following week that Peyton was already in New York. Nathan had called her to apologize, and she'd tearfully accepted, and they both made it clear that they still felt the same way about everything, but that they just didn't want to fight with each other about it. He told her that Lucas was a mess, and she apologized for that, but said that it wasn't in her control.

They both knew she was lying.

It was another month before Lucas got the nerve to call Brooke. He was angry with her for taking Peyton away, though he knew his girl - always his girl - wouldn't have done anything she didn't, on some level, want to do. But Brooke had been the enabler, and for that, he was mad at her.

"Hi, Lucas!" she chirped happily, answering the phone after seeing his name flash across her caller I.D.

"What the hell are you doing, Brooke?" he asked immediately.

"Excuse me?" she asked. She debated telling him that she was sipping a coffee in her office and trying to actually do her job, but his tone suggested she had better not play games.

"Why did you take her?" he inquired desperately. "She doesn't belong there."

"Lucas, she wanted to come, OK?" she said calmly. "And if you're insinuating that she belongs with you, you certainly haven't proven that."

"What the hell does that mean?"

"That means that you had months to fight for her, Lucas, and you did nothing," Brooke reminded him. "So she's moving on, and I'm sorry that it hurts you to know that, but..."

"It doesn't hurt me, Brooke," he corrected. "It kills me."

"Well then why didn't you tell her that!?" she cried.

"I did! She left anyway!"

"You know her, Luke. You can't just say you love her and expect everything to be OK," she reminded him as gently as she could. She felt horribly for him, but at the same time, she was just helping her best friend through the heartache, and she didn't really deserve his anger, if you asked her.

"What am I supposed to do? Tie her up and force her to stay with me?" he asked.

"You never know, Broody, she might like it," she said, a cheeky tone in her voice.

She heard him let out a little laugh on the other end of the line, and it softened her a little bit. She knew as well as anyone else did that Lucas and Peyton were meant to be together, but she couldn't force Peyton into anything, and everyone knew that, too.

"I just...felt her slipping away, and I let her go," he said dejectedly.

"Yeah, you did," Brooke agreed.

"What do I do?" he asked.

"I don't know, but I need her here, so she's staying," Brooke insisted.

Her voice was all business, and the thought for a moment that she must get a lot done, acting like that. Then he realized just what she'd said, and it just restored his anger.

"You don't even know what it's like to need her, Brooke," he spat. "You have no idea."

"OK, are you done implying that you are more important to her than I am? Because as far as I can tell, Luke, I'm the one who's been there for her this whole time, when you were doing nothing," she said angrily.

"This is wrong, Brooke, and you know it," he said quietly, convincing in his calm. "You better just hope that this doesn't screw everything up."

"You screwed everything up!" she reminded him. "You did. Not me. So save your threats."

He was about to say more, to argue his case, but she hung up on him, and in hindsight, he couldn't really blame her. He threw his cell angrily onto his bed and placed his hands on his hips as he paced his room.

He was angry. He was mad at Brooke, and at Peyton, and at himself. He was mad at Nathan for whatever had happened between he and Peyton at the River Court that night - the details of which Lucas still didn't know. He was just mad.

The worst thing was, he knew Brooke was right.

| And we know it's never simple, never easy
Never a clean break, no one here to save me |

It was another three weeks before Brooke called Lucas back and apologized. She had been harsh, and he had been harsh, and they'd both said things they hadn't really meant. They cleared the air and had a serious conversation, without the harsh tones, and when Brooke heard his voice crack on the other end of the line, she felt herself tearing up, too.

Peyton wasn't happy in New York, and Brooke had been blind to that before her initial conversation with Lucas. They were busy and the company was growing, and they just didn't have time to talk about the blonde boy who was sitting heartbroken in North Carolina.

It was time to stop letting Peyton hide behind her and the company. It was time to remind Peyton, in the harshest of ways, that there was a boy who was in love with her and there was nothing in the world bigger than that.

It was all confirmed when, two weeks after that second phone call with Lucas, Brooke walked into the apartment she and Peyton shared to see the blonde asleep on the sofa in that light blue tee shirt.

That was all the convincing she needed to take matters into her own hands. She called Peyton into her office the next day, knowing that it was time to get harsh.

Peyton flopped down in the chair across from Brooke, assuming this was their daily 10 minutes of venting time, as had become their afternoon ritual.

"Peyton," Brooke said seriously, "you're fired."

"Ha, ha," Peyton said, rolling her eyes.

"I'm not joking. Pack your things and security will see you out," Brooke said, playing with the pen in her hands.

"What are you talking about?" Peyton asked desperately, leaning forward in her chair.

"Honey, it was wrong of me to bring you here," Brooke said, shaking her head. "You aren't supposed to be here. We both know that."


"He loves you, Peyton," the brunette insisted harshly. "And I can't let you ignore that. I just...I can't. He's too important, and you're too important."

"Are you...? Tell me you're not serious."

Both of them knew that wasn't at all what she wanted, and Brooke smiled, knowing that Peyton would get her way without having to say it.

"I'm serious. Now get your stubborn ass out of my office. All your stuff has been cleared out of the apartment, and there's a plane ticket waiting for you at JFK," Brooke said, standing from her spot.

They locked eyes across the desk, and Peyton smiled as she began to cry, because they both knew that all she wanted to do was go home.

Brooke walked over to her and they wrapped their arms around each other in a hug that only best friends could share.

"How do I do this, Brooke?" Peyton asked softly as they pulled apart, keeping their hands on each others' arms.

"It's never over with you two," Brooke insisted, shaking her head gently. "It'll never be over."

"Easy as that?" Peyton laughed.

"What's easier than love?"

She didn't have an answer for that. She just hugged her best friend one more time, and she grabbed her things and got into the car that was waiting for her at the curb to take her to the airport.

| I can't breathe
Without you, but I have to
Without you, but I have to
Without you, but I have to |

Lucas didn't know why Brooke told him to go to Tree Hill for the weekend, but he was thankful that she had. He needed a break from Haley's constant worry, and Nathan's constant tough love, and a weekend with his mother and sister seemed like just about the best thing in the world.

He'd eaten dinner at the café with his little sister in his lap, hearing her regale him with tales of what she'd done in the weeks since she'd last seen him. He felt at home for the first time in a long time, and he didn't know why that was. His mother was smiling at him over the counter, and pouring him refills on his coffee, and his sister was giggling at the goofy things he said, and it felt right, for some reason.

That little town felt like it hadn't felt in a long time. He could pinpoint the day he last felt it.

As soon as Peyton stepped off the plane, she wondered why Brooke had sent her to Tree Hill and not to the city where Lucas lived. School was in session, and he was in the middle of his coaching season, and he wouldn't have been in Tree Hill.

But Brooke had set everything up, and there was a car waiting to take her to the house that Brooke owned, where she'd be staying until she figured out what to do, and if she could transfer back to UNC or...anywhere. She hadn't really thought that part through.

She stepped into the house she'd been in only once before, that Christmas, and she noticed a note on the counter in the kitchen. How Brooke had managed to orchestrate having a hand written note on the counter when she'd been in New York all along was beyond her, but she just laughed. Her best friend was capable of anything, she was convinced.

The note told her that Lucas was in town, and that he was easily found, not that Peyton needed that bit of information. There was an extra set of keys to Brooke's SUV sitting on the counter, and she grabbed them immediately and headed for the door once again. Her heart had started racing as soon as she read his name.

It had started to rain, and she didn't care that she was only in a knit sweater and a pair of jeans. It didn't matter. She kind of liked the rain, anyway. It always reminded her of him, somehow.

She knew she could have searched for him. She could have gone to his house, or to the café, but she would park herself somewhere and let him come to her. He would. She knew it.

She found herself at the River Court, standing in the middle of the court, soaking wet and loving the rain falling around her. It was an obvious place, maybe, but she didn't know why she had gone there in the rain. Her boy - always her boy - hated the rain.

She was there for a while, maybe 10 minutes, maybe an hour, she didn't really know. She just let the water fall on her, and she listened to it splash into the river and onto the court, and it felt perfect somehow. She felt lighter.

She felt happy.

He saw her before she saw him. He didn't know why he was walking in the rain - he hated the rain - but something had made him go outside and try to enjoy it. The rain reminded him of her. It always had. She'd always told him it was liberating. He could use a little liberation.

And there she was, standing in the middle of the old court that held so much of their history.

She had come home.

She had come to him.

This was their second chance.

"You remember the last time we were here in the rain?"

She didn't realize she wasn't alone until she heard his voice. That beautiful, gravelly tone of his that always seemed to sound a little bit like coming home, and a lot like everything she ever wanted.

And some things never change.

She spun around to face him, her wet hair sticking to her face and her wet clothes clinging to her frame. And she didn't give a damn about anything other than him.

"Not really," she said, though she knew exactly what he was talking about.

"Yes, you do," he insisted.

He knew her too well.

"That was a long time ago," she pointed out, almost sadly, he noticed.

"Yeah, it was," he said with a somber nod of his head. "But we're here now."



She smiled at his use of the word she remembered saying years ago. She wondered what other little details of their relationship he remembered.

"You remember, don't you?" he asked, reaching out and tucking her wet hair behind her ear.

"What?" she asked nervously.

His touch still affected her the same way as it used to. A simple, innocent touch, and all she wanted was more. More of him, and more of his hands, and more of his words. Maybe she still wanted everything he could give her, and that was terrifying.

And it was terrifying because he was so obviously offering it. He wouldn't have found her or started reminiscing, or stood in front of her so closely that she could feel the heat radiating off his body if he wasn't offering. He'd let her take whatever she wanted. He just hoped she wanted.

"Everything," he said with a smirk.

She closed her eyes slowly, trying to absorb all that that word held, and he couldn't stop himself. He placed his hand on her hip and pulled her toward him enough so his lips could meet hers without too much effort.

And that kiss felt every bit as good as the last one they shared in the rain, all those years ago.

But this time, he wouldn't let her run.

He gripped her hips tighter when they parted, and she couldn't move out of his grasp if she tried.

She had no intentions of trying.

"Why did you do that?" she asked softly, her eyes locking with his. She hadn't expected them to get back to this place so quickly. This place where they just kissed and healed each other, and that was enough until they were both ready to talk it out.

"You still don't get it," he said, shaking his head.

She was looking at him in confusion, and he watched the water drip down her face. He was starting to really, really love the rain. She was beautiful...always beautiful. But the rain somehow made her eyes shine a little brighter, and her hair clung to her shoulders, and all he wanted to do was peel those wet clothes off her and warm her up using any means necessary.

"I said forever, Peyton," he said simply, shrugging his shoulders as though that answer was the most obvious one he could have given.

She didn't say anything. Her voice wouldn't have worked if she could have found the words. She just wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him like she should have been kissing him all along.

They were both drenched and breathless when they finally parted, but she felt warmer and better and safer than she had since she was last in his arms, and when she saw his lips curl just a little bit, she couldn't help but kiss that smile of his that she'd always loved.

He chuckled at her, but he loved that she wanted to do the exact thing he wanted to do.

When her left hand came to rest on his cheek, he placed his hand over it and pulled it down in between them. He ran his thumb over the bare skin of her ring finger. She let out a sigh, and let her tears mix with the raindrops on her cheeks.

She reached up with her right hand and pulled that chain and that ring out from where it was tucked beneath his sweater, and they just locked eyes, each aware of exactly what those two simple actions meant to the other.

| I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry
I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry |

"What now?" she asked over the sound of the pouring rain around them.

"Apologies," he said with a sigh.

"Conversations," she added.

"Kisses," he said with a smile, making her laugh.

She took a deep breath and rest her head against his chest. She knew what was to come. She knew it wouldn't be easy. But they'd be together.

He still had her left hand in his, and she was still toying with the silver at his neck, and she wondered how they'd ever stayed apart for so long.

They left that night after a few more kisses, and a serious conversation and a promise to make it work, and maybe the only words they didn't actually speak were I love you. Those words were implied in big, meaningful ways, but not spoken.

They agreed to meet at the café for breakfast the next day, and walking up to the building, she saw him standing there, holding a single red peony, and she couldn't stop the lump from forming in her throat. She didn't want to.

They were good tears. Tears of I love you, and I missed you, and I can't believe you waited. And somewhere in there, maybe also tears of I can't believe you remembered.

She couldn't step closer to him, and he knew that, so he moved closer to her, and soon enough, he was standing in front of her on the sidewalk in the middle of their hometown. It was exactly where they started, and though they were away, it was exactly where they'd always been.

And she never wanted to leave.

He made it home. He made it comfortable and stable and familiar. Normal and predictable in all the best ways. She almost knew he'd be standing there.


But it was still a most perfect surprise.

So when he reached for her hand and closed her fingers around the stem of the flower, and they hadn't spoken any words yet, he could see the glimmer of unshed tears in her eyes. She was beautiful even when she was crying, and he wasn't sure she'd ever looked better to him.


"Don't," she demanded softly, still trying to smile, though he could see her chin quivering.

"I want to," he insisted.

"You don't have to," she whispered, looking into his eyes.

They both knew it was true. He didn't have to. They didn't have to. But he wanted to. So bad.

"Are you going to let me?" he asked teasingly, forcing her to let out a half-sob, half-chuckle. "I love you."

"I always loved you," she said quietly.

It was true. All of it was true, and he adored her for saying what they both knew she didn't need to. He wanted to hear those words from her perfect lips, and he was glad she managed them.

Because they made him feel that particular emotion even more.

| I'm sorry |

It didn't take them any time at all to fall back into their relationship. They had wanted to take things slow, but they both quickly realized that there was no such thing as slow with the two of them. They had serious conversations and apologized for their mistakes and the hurt they caused each other. They were Lucas and Peyton again, and nothing made any more sense than that.

And so it was no surprise that just a year and a half later, she was holding red flowers in her hands. Red flowers and a white dress, and a bare left hand that wouldn't be bare for long. It felt strange, after such a long time wearing a ring, to not be wearing it in the same place. She couldn't wait to feel something there again.

The doors opened, and she supposed she should have felt everyone's eyes on her, oo-ing and ah-ing, and holding back tears at the sight of her in that dress, clutching her father's arm.

But all she saw was him. The blonde boy she was walking towards - the one she had always been walking towards. All she could think was how beautiful he was. He wouldn't tell her what he was wearing, because she wouldn't tell him even the smallest detail about her dress, but he looked perfect in his black suit, black shirt, and white tie. Not a bow-tie, she noticed, and she almost laughed, recalling the conversation they'd had before their prom, with him explaining that he didn't understand them.

She watched as he reached up and touched his face, just below his eye, with his index finger, and that made her have to bite the inside of her lip to keep herself from breaking down. The sight of him, unabashedly crying in front of everyone they knew, made her heart race.

She was mesmerized by him when her father shook his hand and the two exchanged a few words. She didn't know how she was going to get through the day, when all she could see and hear was him. Everything else was a blur, and when Brooke took the red flowers from her hands, she saw her best friend's tears, and she had to let her own fall.

As she turned back to him, he gave her a lopsided smile, reaching up to wipe her cheeks before taking her hands in his and kissing the spot on her left one where, in only a few short minutes, he'd place his ring. Again.

She barely heard the words, and he didn't hear them at all. His eyes were fixed on her. She was incredible. She was perfect and stunning, and, though he knew it wasn't the time, he wondered why she chose him. Maybe that was why his hands were clutching hers so tightly. He didn't want to give her any reason to question it.

He had already told her he'd love her forever, and so the day was mere technicality. Promising it to her in front of everyone, so it'd be more real.

He said he would.

She said she would.

He placed the band on her finger, and she did the same for him, and they were married.

He kissed her, and they could taste the salt of each others' tears, but it wasn't upsetting because they were just happy.

He rest his forehead against hers, and she looked into his eyes, and though he couldn't see her lips, he could see it in her eyes that she was smiling. His hands gripped her waist and he didn't want to let her go just yet. So he didn't.

He was sure that people were waiting for them to move so they could all file out of the church, but it was their moment, and he didn't give a damn about anyone else. He'd stand there with her in that moment for as long as she'd let him.

She pulled her forehead away, but their eyes stayed locked, and she leaned forward again and kissed him once more, and he smiled against her lips.

Nathan cleared his throat loudly, and Peyton pulled away and shot him - now her brother-in-law - a smile, and he winked at her.

She intertwined her fingers with her husband's, and she took the red flowers from her best friend, and she leaned into Lucas' side as they made their way back down the aisle.

She saw his mother, and her father, and they were both crying at the couple before them.

She hoped every woman felt like that on their wedding day. She doubted it, though, since no other woman had ever married Lucas.

He was hers.

She was his.

That would never change.

They were supposed to pose for photos, but they needed a moment, and when they told Brooke that, she nodded knowingly and gestured towards the dressing room where Peyton had gotten ready, letting them know without words that she'd make sure they weren't bothered.

She reminded them, semi-teasingly, that they were in a church, and they all laughed as Lucas all but pushed Peyton through the door.

They were barely inside when he pulled her against him and crashed his lips onto hers. She moaned into his kiss and slipped her arms around him, and those two simple things made him wish they hadn't gotten married in a church.

"God, I love you," he whispered once they'd parted.

"Really?" she asked, scrunching her nose. "I just kind of like you."

He laughed, because she was probably the only woman in the world who could joke like that on her wedding day, and he loved her for that.

"You look..." he started, before realizing there wasn't a word good enough to describe her.

"So do you," she insisted, and he shook his head. She was always avoiding compliments, but even she had to know how amazing she looked.

He kissed her again, and pulled her as close to him as he could, and his hands were on the bare skin of her back, thanks to the low cut dress, and he was really, really wondering if they even had to go to the reception.

"We have to go," she said, as though she'd read his mind.

But then she pressed her lips to his again, and her actions weren't supporting her statement. His hand moved so it was grazing the side of her breast, and she moaned in protest and tried to pull away from him, but he was having none of it.

"I want you," he whispered breathlessly as he rest his forehead against hers. "So bad."

"Well," she drawled, fingering the silk of his tie in her left hand, admiring the new ring it held, "the beauty of being married, is that you have me."

He took both her hands in his before kissing her forehead gently. He slipped the engagement ring off her right hand and placed it back where it belonged; on her left one, next to the simple band that was now there.

"I'm glad you saved if for me," he said, running his thumb over her finger.

"I told you it was your spot," she said softly.

"You promise?" he asked, as though that day had confirmed it all.

"I promise."

She reached, once more, for her red flowers, and before she stepped out of the room, he kissed the back of her neck and placed his hands on her hips. He knew that the next few hours would be really, really hard to get through.

And then he remembered that he had the rest of his life. He had the rest of his life to make love to her, and to kiss her, and to remind her how much he loved her.

He had one day of her in a white dress, and he intended to study her every move. To listen to every word she said, and to etch the image of her into his mind.

They were posing for photos, and he spotted the familiar red flowers on the church lawn, growing wild. They were the same as the ones in her hands, but he knelt down to pick one anyway. She tilted her head at him and smiled, because she should have known he'd do it. And when he placed it in her hand, he told her that every time he saw a red peony, since that first day he gave her one, he'd picked one.

They always made him think of her.