A/N: Another long-ish oneshot. Totally AU. Pretty self explanatory!

----

As soon as her car pulls into the town, she starts to think she's crazy. Absolutely. She's lost her mind, and she's ended up in this sleepy little town, her entire life packed into boxes in her car.

She really, really wishes she'd thought this through.

But there's no going back, and maybe, she thinks, she still doesn't want to. Maybe she's crazy, but it's better than being stuck.

So she's here.

She spotted the place on a map, correlated it to a U2 song, and figured it was as good a place as any. She could have picked anywhere. There are other songs referring to places. Cities and states. But she chose this one.

It's not far from where she grew up, but she knows it's far enough. Far enough to get away from the things she needs to get away from, but close enough that it wouldn't change her life completely.

But she already knows that's not true.

She doesn't have a place to live. She doesn't have a job. She doesn't have a way to make money, or even if there's anything in this town that'll interest her in the least. And that is terrifying and exhilarating, and she thinks that maybe those are the two emotions she was most hoping to feel.

She wants that fear. It's a good fear. Fear that'll propel her forward and force her to make choices and motivate herself and create the life she wants, instead of the one she could easily fall into. It'll be hard, and maybe she'll hate it at first, but that fear is intense in all the best ways. It's exciting. She needs a little excitement.

She's doing something for herself for maybe, really, the first time in her life, and it's a big deal.

This town, she quickly realizes, is not a big deal. It's not big in any way, actually.

A few stop lights and a few stores with striped awnings and faded letters in the windows. There are no parking meters, and ample spots to chose from. She sees a book store, a record store, and a little boutique that she makes a mental note to return to. But right now, all she wants is a good cup of coffee and something to eat.

Stepping out onto the quiet street, she stretches her arms over her head and slings her bag over her shoulder. She's parked in front of a little café, and it looks as good a place as any to get her fix.

She's just closed the door when she sees a man step out of that café, and he sends her a smile that unnerves her. She doesn't know if it's just small town etiquette, or what, but it bothers her, for some reason, that he thinks she wants him to smile at her. She's not that girl, and she doesn't know him, and that kind of thing isn't what she's here for. And maybe she's being defensive, but she has good reason.

"Did you just lock your door?" he asks with a smirk.

"Yeah...?"

Why he's talking to her, she has no idea. She barely gave him a second glance and he's starting a conversation.

"You're not from here," he states.

It's not a question, and he's not wondering where she's from, he's simply telling her that he can see that she's an outsider. She immediately hates him for that, though she expected that she'd be looked at that way by the people who live in this little town for a while. The way he says it is different, for some reason, and she doesn't know why that is, but it annoys her. He annoys her.

But then she notices him. Really notices him. The woman in her can't help but find him attractive. He's all blue eyes and muscular body and summer tan, and she can see the way his hand delicately cradles his paper coffee cup that he's probably harmless. And yes, she can tell all that from just one glance.

She also noticed, for some reason - maybe habit - that there's no ring on that hand, either.

"No," she says, wrapping her arms around herself.

"It's just...it's a small town, and we don't really...No one locks their cars," he informs her.

"How nice for you," she mutters.

"I'd tell you my name, but I don't think you care," he says. She wonders why he's still smirking at her that way, and she has to wonder if it's just a permanent fixture on his lips.

"I'm just starving," she says, by way of apology. She doesn't know him well enough to actually say the words 'I'm sorry.' "This place any good?"

"The best," he insists with a smirk. "I'll leave you to it. Enjoy."

"Yeah," she mumbles absently. She's not used to men giving up so easily. Then she realizes it was silly to just assume that he wasn't just making conversation.

She's watching him walk away, and he's no more than ten feet from her when he turns around, flashes her a grin, and says, "Hey."

She looks at him expectantly, waiting for him to say whatever thing he's going to say. She's not entirely certain what kind of guy he is, but she wouldn't put it past him to say something deep and meaningful.

And maybe he does.

"Welcome to Tree Hill."

----

She's found herself a house, and her furniture has arrived from her old one, and once everything's moved in, she steps out onto her porch. It's a late summer evening, and it's warm and muggy out, just like she likes it. It's her favourite time of the evening at her favourite time of year, and she's in a pair of cotton shorts and a tank top, and she's still too hot. She loves that. Being that this town is so close to the ocean, she can smell a little salt in the air, and she smiles to herself. She takes a seat on her front porch steps, cradling her mug of tea in her hands as she watches nothing.

There are no cars on the road, and no people walking down the sidewalk. There are no sirens or people shouting or horns blaring. There's just silence.

She'd forgotten how much she loves silence.

And stars.

Looking up, she can see a whole sky full of them, and you just don't get a view like that in the city.

She's not sure how long she's sat there, connecting dots and making shapes out of the twinkling lights in the sky, but her tea has gone cold and she can't find it in herself to care. She's pulled from the reverie when she hears a consistent thud against the pavement, and she narrows her eyes to try to see through the darkness.

It's him. The only person in the town she's really spoken to, and he's wearing just a pair of loose shorts with a tee shirt tucked into the waistband at the back. It's clear he's been playing basketball somewhere, but she doesn't know where, and she's not sure why she cares.

He steps beneath the street lamp between their houses, and he stops in his tracks, looking across the street and locking eyes with her, even from such a distance.

He raises his hand to wave, subtly, and she does the same, her hand moving seemingly on its own. He jogs up the walkway and through the front door of his house, and that's when it really hits her.

She's going to be seeing a lot of that one man.

She doesn't know why that's a little terrifying and exhilarating, too.

----

She's been there not even a week, when her car breaks down. Fantastic. She was just driving, exploring a little bit and procrastinating looking for a real job, and the engine started sputtering and spewing smoke.

She doesn't know the number to any body shops, or tow companies, or really even where she is. But she's got a cell phone, and she's got 411, and she's forwarded to a shop that tells her they'll be there to tow her in 20 minutes. Apparently, there's only one road with a bend by a river in this town, and that's all the direction the driver needs.

She's perched stop the seats, looking out over the water and listening to nothing, when she hears the truck pulling up behind her.

She doesn't expect the driver to be the man that she's, regrettably, not been able to stop thinking about. She's seen him a few times, from afar. She'd look out her bedroom window at the exact moment he was pulling out of his driveway, or she'd see him leaving that little café as she was driving up.

She wonders if you just think you see something more when you're thinking about seeing it. Maybe she's seen other people as often as she's seen him, but just hasn't noticed.

Maybe she's been looking for him, and ignoring everyone else.

"Hey," he greets, jutting his chin forward and nodding at her.

She climbs out of the car and walks around to the front, where he's fiddling with hoses and wires with his head ducked beneath the hood.

"Looks like the rad," he informs her. "Probably an easy fix."

"Probably?" she asks skeptically.

"I won't know until I get it back to the shop," he calls over his shoulder as he walks to the tow truck. "What are you doing all the way out here?"

She stuffs her hands in her pockets and lets the wind blow her curls as she mulls over her answer. She really doesn't have an answer. She was just driving, and ended up there, for some reason.

"I...don't really know," she answered honestly. "I was just...stalling."

"Stalling?" he inquires with a smirk as he bends down to hook the car up to the tow truck.

"Facing the real world," she specifies. "I just...I've kind of been pretending."

"Pretending?"

This guy is infuriating. He's asking her questions that she doesn't have answers to, and it's really starting to bother her. The repeating thing isn't helping either.

"This is the real world, now. And I've been treating it like a vacation," she says cryptically, running her hands through her hair.

She feels like she's just admitted that to the both of them at the same time, and it bugs her that she hadn't realized it sooner. It annoys her that it took talking to him to make her see it.

"So you're running from something," he says absently as he hoists the car up and walks back to the cab of the truck to grab the clipboard.

"Excuse me?" she asks incredulously, taking the paperwork from him sharply and scribbling her name.

"People don't hide out in small towns unless they're running from something," he says with a shrug of his shoulders.

And now she's really pissed off. Who is this guy to make assumptions about her?

"You don't know me," she says hotly, passing the clipboard back to him, never breaking his gaze.

Even as she's said the words, she's wondering if they're a lie.

She's pretty sure they are.

"Where can I drop you?" he asks, seemingly unfazed by her comment. He opens the drivers side door and gestures for her to get in, but she walks around to the passenger side, and he rolls his eyes. He can already tell that this girl is just far too damn stubborn. He should have expected it. She hasn't exactly been a ray of sunshine.

"Home, I guess," she mumbles as they both climb into the truck.

"What are the odds you'd live across the street from me?" he asks, turning the key.

"I dunno. Like, 1 in 10 in this town," she says sarcastically. He laughs, and she smiles that she was able to make him laugh. It's a nice laugh, too. She kind of wants to hear more of it.

She really doesn't know how she can go from hating this guy, to smiling at him from the passenger seat so quickly.

They drive back towards the town in mostly silence, and she smiles to herself when he turns up the radio when one of her favourite songs comes on. She can tell by the way his fingers are tapping the steering wheel, that it's one of his favourites, too.

"So, how much do you think this is going to cost me?" she asks as they pull onto her - their - street.

"I have no idea. I'm not...This is just a summer job," he tells her.

"What are you, 16?" she asks, kinking a brow.

"No," he laughs. "I'm the coach of the high school basketball team."

"Oh," she says. That's actually kind of impressive.

"My uncle owns the shop, and I just help him out when I can," he says, shrugging his shoulders.

He pulls up to her house and puts the truck in park, and she grabs her bag from where it sits between them.

"Thanks," she says sincerely, reaching for the door handle.

"We'll call you when it's ready," he informs her, and she nods her head.

It's not until she hears him pulling away, that she realizes that she still doesn't know his name.

----

She's sitting at the counter in that little café, nursing her third cup of coffee of the day.

She likes it there. It's small and quaint, but the woman who owns it - Karen - is a sweetheart. The food is great, and the coffee is always fresh, and that's all she really looks for in a café. She's seen a few regulars come and go, and she quickly realizes that she's becoming one of them. She kind of likes that. The only thing different, as the owner points out, is that she never comes at the same time.

She's got her legs crossed, the flowing black fabric of her cotton summer dress draping over the stool. She's browsing through the job listings in the local paper, searching for anything that might allow her to apply her skills.

There's nothing.

She knows what she wants to do, there's just nothing listed in the paper, and she thinks it might just come down to cold calling.

She folds the paper again and raises her mug to her lips, ignoring the chime of the bell above the door.

And that man sidles up next to her.

The owner of the café makes small talk with him, asking him about his day in a way that Peyton finds just a little bit too...something. It's more than friendly, but she can't place it. Her back is to him, and he doesn't notice her until Karen fills her cup again. Then he's leaning on his elbow as his paper cup is filled, and he's smiling at her like he's happy to see her.

He's happy she didn't turn around in time to see him checking out her legs.

"They're just finishing up on your car," he tells her.

"Oh! That's actually great news," she says, pouring milk into her mug.

"Were you expecting something else?" he asks, raising his eyebrow at her like a challenge.

"I wasn't expecting anything," she retorts.

She can see Karen smiling at their interaction out of the corner of her eye. She has to wonder why everyone in this damn town is so happy all the time.

"Well, if you come by in an hour or so, it should be ready," he says, grabbing his to-go cup and heading for the door.

She watches with her jaw dropped before turning back to the woman behind the counter.

"What?!" she asks, in awe of his behaviour. "He didn't even pay you for the coffee! Who the hell does he think he is!?"

"He's my son," Karen says with a smile, doing her best not to laugh. She may not know this young woman well, but she knows her son, and she saw the way he looked at the young woman, and she is finding this all too funny.

"Oh," Peyton says softly. "I'm so sorry! I didn't know!"

"It's OK, dear," Karen laughs. "He's been eating here for free since he was born."

"You should start charging," Peyton says, finally letting herself smile.

"I've thought about it," Karen says. "He drinks almost as much coffee as you do."

Karen sends her a wink and then moves from behind the counter to tend to some other customers, and Peyton drops some bills on the counter to cover her coffee and breakfast, and she waves to the older woman as she makes her way out the door.

She makes her way slowly through the town, stopping into a few shops and a market for some groceries, before heading to the shop to get her car.

She's actually disappointed when she sees that he's not there.

The man behind the counter with grease on his hands explains that he owns the shop, and introduces himself as she signs off on the paperwork and hands him her credit card.

She knows she could have - maybe should have - asked the blonde man's name. She doesn't know why she didn't, but she thinks that she just wants to hear him say it, and not someone else.

She gets home and finds herself glancing to that house across the street, wondering why she just wants to talk to him.

----

She finds an old basketball court near the river, and she perches herself atop the picnic table there. She's got her sketchpad with her, and she's glad. She kind of likes how the little town looks from this perspective, and she gets the urge to draw it. Twinkling lights on brick buildings, and couples walking along a wooden path across the river.

She's kind of starting to like it here.

It's nearly 10:30 when she hears the ball bouncing behind her, startling her and making her spin around.

She shouldn't be surprised that it's him.

"You scared me," she breathes out, trying to regulate her heartbeat by placing her palm flat on her chest.

"Sorry," he says with a smirk, sitting next to her on top of the table. "Isn't it kind of late for you to be out?"

"Believe it or not, I don't have a curfew," she says sarcastically, and he laughs softly and shakes his head.

"I just meant that it's dark and...most women don't hang out in parks alone," he clarifies. He spins the ball in his hands and watches the black lines on it as they twist and turn.

"The lights are on," she says, gesturing to the floodlights on the court. "I guess I just scare easy."

She's not sure she's ever said anything so true in her life.

They sit for a few minutes in silence, and she's dying to ask him something. Anything. Just...anything. She feels like he reads everything about her, and she doesn't know a thing about him other than his job and who his mother is. But she can't find a question to ask that doesn't sound stupid, even to her, so she keeps her mouth shut and enjoys the silence, looking down to continue working on her drawing.

She notices him looking at the page in her hands, and when he opens his mouth to speak, she assumes it'll be something about what she's sketching.

She's wrong.

"Let me guess. Broken heart," he ventured knowingly.

She looks over at him quickly, and there are at least 10 different defensive statements swimming in her mind, just waiting to be used to put him in his place. But she can't speak them because he's put her in hers.

"That obvious?" she asks quietly, looking down at her hands as she closes her book.

"No," he assures her softly. "I'm just observant." She looks over at him again and narrows her eyes questioningly. "It was either that or like...witness protection. One was more believable than the other."

"Gotcha," she says with a laugh, brushing the hair back from her eyes.

"My mom said you cussed me out the other day," he says, smirking as he watches her face get flushed.

"I didn't...I thought you were...You didn't pay, and I thought...," she stutters. "I didn't know Karen is your mom."

"You should have chased after me," he says with a wink, standing from his place and jogging onto the court, leaving her stunned in silence.

She has no idea what that meant, but she wonders if maybe she's been chasing after him since the first day she saw him not even two weeks ago.

She wants to ask why he plays ball so late at night, or why he plays alone. She wants to learn about him. She almost wants him to ask her more questions and jump to more conclusions, just to see if he can keep up his streak of being right in his assumptions. She doesn't know how he's done it so far, and for some reason, she thinks she might like it either way; if he was right or wrong.

She stands and tucks her book back into her bag before slinging it over her shoulder and walking around the court.

"You leaving?" he asks. He kind of liked to see her watching him.

"Yeah. Curfew," she says teasingly, and he laughs that perfect laugh again.

"I'll be seein' ya," he says.

She's walking away, thinking she's never heard anyone promise anything better, but then she stops in her tracks and turns around again.

"Hey!" she calls. "What's...?"

"It's Lucas," he says, interrupting the question he knew she was asking.

"Peyton."

"Yeah. I know," he says with a smirk.

He knows.

----

It's her first day at her new job, and she's as nervous as she's ever been. Maybe more nervous than she's ever been.

Her heels clack against the polished linoleum as she glances down at the number written on the paper in her hand, and she's not looking where she's going, really. It's all a maze to her, and she can't tell one hallway from the next, and she's really wishing she had someone to show her around.

Then she bumps into someone and her things fall to the ground, and she's cursing herself, knowing she's just made a fool of herself in front of one of her new colleagues.

"I'm so sorry," she says before glancing up and seeing that familiar shade of blue. Those eyes that seem to make her heart stop.

"Peyton," he says simply. "What are you doing here?"

He's totally distracted by her clothes, however. A tight grey skirt and black heels and a emerald green silk top. She looks incredible, and he's trying to remind himself to look into her eyes and not at the rest of her.

"Trying to find my classroom," she answers, taking the stack of books that he's picked up for her from his hands. "145."

"Well, it's not here," he laughs as they both stand. "Considering this hall is part of the boys locker room."

"Shit," she hisses. "Are you serious?"

"Yeah," he says, starting down the hall.

"This is bad," she mutters. The last thing she needs on her first day in a new school is to be seen in the boys locker room.

"Could have been worse," he says with a shrug of his shoulders. "You could have bumped into someone else."

She can almost feel her cheeks turning pink, and she has no idea why. He makes her feel girly in all the craziest ways, and she doesn't know if that's good or bad. Then she looks at him again and he's smiling, and she knows it's definitely a good thing.

"So, Miss Sawyer," he starts, elbowing her slightly as his use of the name, "what exactly are you teaching?"

"Art and intro to business," she explains. "The last school I taught at was way smaller than this one."

"Smaller than this one?" he asks skeptically. "Is that possible?"

"It was a private school," she says with a shrug.

"Ah," he says simply. He points to the door with the correct number, and she peers inside as he speaks again. "I didn't know you were a teacher."

"Maybe you don't know me as well as you think you do," she says with a raised eyebrow.

She's flirting, and she's pretty sure they both know it, but she doesn't care. She steps into the room and drops her things on her desk as she takes a deep breath, as though to prepare herself for the day.

"Well, good luck," he says as he crosses his arms. She notices the whistle draped around his neck, and she smiles. It's the first day of school and they're both obviously taking everything seriously.

"See you around, Coach Scott," she says.

"How did you...?"

She'd talked to Karen and asked about him. Just the basics; his last name at the top of that list. She knew they were playing a game, whether he knew that or not, and she wanted the upper hand.

She says nothing, opting to shrug one shoulder instead.

He smiles at her before walking away, and all he knows is that this girl is going to get him into trouble. He's not sure what kind of trouble that might be, but it doesn't matter. He's pretty much hooked on her already.

----

Two weeks into the school year, she's cutting through the gym to get to the parking lot, having learned all the shortcuts in brief conversations with Lucas. But when she steps through the heavy metal door, she sees him throw a ball into the stands in frustration, and it rolls to her feet.

"I thought you were supposed to aim for the hoop," she calls out, picking up the ball and spinning it in her hands as she walks towards him.

And if there's anything that can salvage this day for him, it's the sight of her in her heels and black skirt. Her hair is pulled up like it usually is by the end of the day, no matter how it was in the morning, and she's wearing a black blazer over a red top. God, she's sexy.

"Sorry," he says after letting out a loud sigh. "Just...rough day."

"Tell me about it," she mutters, taking a seat on the bleachers. "Try teaching basic accounting principals to a bunch of tenth graders more interested in texting than text books."

"You know you can take their phones away," he says with a grin, taking the spot next to her.

"Yeah," she says with a shrug. "But I don't want to be a total bitch right away."

"You mean, not like you were to me?" he asks teasingly, laughing when her jaw dropped and she swatted his arm.

"I'm going to let that slide since you're in a bad mood," she warns, poking his thigh with her index finger. "Seriously, what's going on?"

"My best players are D students, and they can't play until they're at least C students," he explained. "And if I don't win within the first four games of the season, the AD has every right to hire someone else."

"They wouldn't, though, right?" she asks worriedly.

"They can," he says with a shrug. "It's in the contract."

"OK," she says firmly, standing from her spot. "So how are we going to win you some games?"

"We?"

"Yes. I am technically a Raven now, and I am your friend, and I used to be a cheerleader, so..."

"Wait, wait, wait," he says, standing up as he holds his hands out. "You were a cheerleader?"

"That hard to believe?" she asks with a raised brow.

"Uh...yes," he states.

"So," she says, breezing past that little exchange, "you can either teach the kids who have good grades to be better ball players, or you can teach the kids who have bad grades to be better students."

"And you think it's just that easy?" he asks, placing his hands on his hips.

"Well..." her voice trails and he can practically see the wheels turning. "Basketball is a team game, right? Why don't you have them help each other?"

"Meaning?"

"Meaning you hold a couple extra practices, and have like...tutoring sessions or something. Just...it's easier for kids to learn from each other if they trust and respect each other," she says with a shrug of her shoulder.

She can see that he's thinking it over, and he shakes his head as he smiles.

"You are kind of a genius," he states happily.

"I know," she says. She tosses the ball towards the net, releasing it with perfect form, and his eyebrows shoot sky high again. "I'm a lot of things, Coach."

"Yes, you certainly are," he says softly. Too softly for her to hear, he realizes.

"Come on," she says, grabbing her bag again. "Let's go to dinner."

It's a big step, and she knows it as soon as she's said the words. They've kept their conversations casual, mostly within the school walls or when they bump into each other in their town. Even though they live across the street from one another, she's resisted the temptation to walk across the street and talk to him. But it's been hard not to.

"Dinner?" he asks.

"Yes. It's a meal. People usually eat it right about...now," she says, checking an invisible watch just for dramatics.

"We...," He can't believe he's going to say it. "We can't."

She doesn't want to show him just how much those two words are killing her. She's been patient, and she's bitten her tongue a few times, keeping herself from saying things she wasn't sure he wanted to hear. But now, she's gone out on a limb, and he's turning her down.

She's afraid he'll say he has a girlfriend or a wife, and he's just never mentioned it before. After all, they don't know each other very well, and even the personal details they know about each other aren't that personal. She's....she's just afraid.

"Oh."

"Just...faculty members aren't...They're not supposed to date," he explains.

It's killing him to do it, but he knows he can't risk his job any more than it already is at risk, and he knows she can't do it either.

"Well, first of all, good job assuming I want to date you," she says with a raised eyebrow. He can see her temper flaring, and he kind of loves that fire. He just doesn't love when it's directed at him. "Second of all, two people can have a meal without the promise of anything else. But whatever."

She starts walking towards the door before he can say anything, and he's kicking himself for even saying anything. She's right, and he knows it, but they're both too proud to really apologize to each other for anything.

"Peyton!" he calls after her, just to be able to say he tried.

But she raises her hand in the air to wave him off. It's not a friendly gesture. She's not telling him she'll talk to him later, or that it's OK that he's said what he's said. She's telling him to back off and not follow her. And she's probably saying a few choice words.

All in that one wave.

----

She doesn't know what makes her do it - or she does, and doesn't want to admit it - but she buys a pint of her favourite ice cream, orders pizza, and opens a bottle of wine. She slips into a pair of tiny shorts and a long tee shirt, and parks herself on the sofa with whatever movie is on TBS. She's halfway through her ice cream, and on her third glass of wine when the doorbell rings.

She contemplates just leaving it, but then the persistent knocking begins, and she knows who it is, and she knows he's not going away. She doesn't know if she wants him to.

She gets up, still clutching her ice cream carton, with the spoon hanging out of her mouth, and pulls the door open. She walks back towards the sofa without saying a word to him, and he's not sure if it's an invite or not. She opened the door, but she's obviously still mad at him.

And his eyes are pretty much fixed on her legs anyway. He realizes quickly that he'll follow her wherever those legs take her.

"Quite the spread," he notes, seeing the pizza box, and bottle of wine on the coffee table, and the ice cream in her hands.

She pulls her legs up onto the sofa and crosses them, mindful to keep her tee shirt covering her, but she doesn't say a word.

"Can I apologize?" he asks, sitting next to her and shifting his body towards her. She won't look at him, and he hates that, and he's not really sure what to say or do next. "You were right. I jumped to conclusions."

"No, you didn't," she says, almost regrettably, shaking her head.

"What?" he inquires, furrowing his brow.

"You didn't. It was a date. It would have been a date," she explains.

She finally turns to look at him, and it's then that he notices that she's not wearing a bit of makeup. Her hair is in a big messy knot, and there are a couple little holes in her tee shirt. And she looks absolutely breathtaking.

Maybe he will lose some games and get fired if it means he can be with her.

"You are so..." he starts, but he can't find the right words to finish the sentence.

"Stupid?" she fills in, continuing before he can speak. "We're just...we've known each other barely a month, and I'm asking you on dates and...I was the one assuming that you'd want to."

"You are stupid," he says softly, smirking at her when she glares at him. Her features soften when she sees that he's smiling. "Of course I want to."

"What?"

"I've wanted to date you since the first time I saw you and you totally blew me off," he tells her, and she starts shaking her head.

"God, I was a bitch to you," she sighs, making him laugh again.

"You kinda were," he says, nodding his head. He's not sure how they can joke off the discomfort, but he's happy that they can.

"But...we...we can't date," she reiterates. She looks away from him to spoon some more ice cream into her mouth. "I need to put this down!"

He just chuckles as he watches her, because she's flustered, and she's so adorable in her little shirt and mouthful of chocolate ice cream.

She's right. They can't. But he wants to. Damn, he wants to.

"You're...so amazing, Peyton," he breathes out. "I barely know you, and I...want to."

"Sounds sexual," she states, turning her head slightly to look at him out of the corner of her eye.

This girl is trouble, and he knows it.

But he also likes it.

"You have no idea," he mumbles.

She barely hears him, but she does hear him, and she really wishes she was the kind of girl who could just throw caution to the wind and sleep with someone if she wanted to.

But Lucas, somehow, means more to her than that. She wants more than just a one night stand, and she's pretty sure he does too. They've only had a handful of honest, real conversations, but she can see that they could have something.

Maybe they already do have something.

"I'm gonna go," he says, standing from his place.

All he wanted was to apologize, and he's done that, and now he's just going to leave her to mull things over. They're in limbo and they should probably talk, but he knows that if he stays, he'll kiss her, and they just can't be kissing right now.

"Oh...OK," she drawls out in confusion.

He gives her one last tense smile, then he's out the door, and she has no idea what this means for them.

She's really, really scared that it means that they'll be nothing.

That they'll have nothing.

----

"...So if you look hard enough, you'll see 24 figures, hidden within the painting. No one really knows why they're there, but it just goes to show that part of the finished painting can be in the background. Nothing that steals the eye from the subject, but detail can add..."

She's in the middle of her lesson when there's a knock at the door, and she sees that grey polo short, and that messy blonde hair.

It's been two weeks since he showed up at her house, and things have been even more tense than she could have even imagined. Their conversations have been few and far between, and they've been avoiding each other, and she's sure he'd admit it if she asked him.

She's not sure why he's standing there or rapping on the glass, but she knows that she needs to answer the door.

"One second," she tells her class, holding up her hand. "Read on page 175 until I come back, then I'm quizzing you, so don't slack!"

Her students chuckle, because it's not the first time she's said those words, and she's thankful that she's won them over so quickly. High school kids can be tough, but she is the fun teacher, and she knows they like her. They laugh at her jokes and vice versa, and they've told her that she's 'cool'. She'll take that compliment.

She pulls the door open and steps out into the hall, closing it behind her.

"Coach Scott," she greets politely. She crosses her arms one over the other, and she knows it's a defensive move, but it feels right to do it.

She can't help but think that maybe she doesn't need to protect herself from him.

"Miss Sawyer," he says playfully.

"What can I do for you?" she asks, when she realizes that he's not going to offer up the reason why he's pulled her out of her class.

"I actually have a really important question to ask you that just couldn't wait," he says seriously, and he almost laughs when her face changes to one of worry. "Just how long are you planning on ignoring me for?"

"You took me out of class to ask me that?" she asks quietly. She knows her tone is still angry, just as she wants it to be. He's got some nerve.

"Considering you've mapped out escape routes for any time you come within 100 feet of me? Yeah," he says.

She lets out a humourless laugh and shakes her head, pushing him away from the window of the door so her students can't see him. So they can't see that she's getting really pissed off.

"Lucas, this...us...can't happen. You said it yourself," she starts. She can see that he's about to say something, but she won't let him get a word in. "So it's just easier to ignore...whatever this is, and not be around you. And you know what else? Don't you dare pretend like you don't avoid me either. You've got a freaking fridge in your office now so you don't have to go to the teachers' lounge!"

He knows she's right. Of course, she's right. But she looks so hot in her fitted jeans tucked into those boots he loves, and her hair's swept up off her back, and she's wearing the sweater she bought when they were still speaking, and she'd burst into the café when he happened to be there, talking about the little boutique she found.

He loves that he knows all those things. He loves that he knows that she probably put her hair up between classes because it was driving her crazy falling in her face, and that she's wearing the necklace she told him in passing was a gift from her father. He knows no one else knows any of that.

He needs to kiss her. It's not the right time or place, but he needs to kiss her, and he needs to do it now, whether that's right or wrong.

So he stands in front of her, and he steps towards her, and when she backs up to try to keep her distance, her back meets the wall.

"No," she says firmly, placing her hand on his chest. "Lucas. No."

He places his hand on the wall over her shoulder, but he hangs his head and lets out a sigh. He really wishes she wasn't right all the time.

"This is dangerous," he whispers. "Peyton, you're..."

She wants to scream at him. He's the one backing her against the wall. He's the one standing so close to her that she can smell his cologne. He's the one making it so damn hard for her not to grab his shirt in her hands and pull him even closer.

"Just...ignore me," she tells him, cutting him off.

"I can't do that," he insists.

"Try," she says, stepping away and walking back into her classroom.

He can't do it, and he doesn't want to, and he's almost certain - almost - that she doesn't want to either. But then she glares at him through the glass of the door and maybe that almost kiss just made it easier for her to ignore him.

----

She doesn't go to the first two games of his season, and the team loses both times. She really wishes she'd gone, feeling guilty for ignoring him that much, though that's what they've both needed.

So she enters the gym on game night, and it's abuzz with activity. Cheerleaders and proud parents, and players taking warmups. She hasn't seen Lucas yet, and she's sure he's got some strange pre-game rituals to go through.

She spots Karen in the stands, and the woman waves her over, and the two chat and catch up. They haven't seen each other in over a week, and Peyton doesn't lie when she says she's just been busy. She's been marking tests and making lesson plans, and she hasn't had a lot of time to sit in the café and sip coffee. She also couldn't risk running into him.

The Ravens win handily, and she and Karen cheer wildly, and Lucas catches Peyton's eye as his players pat him on the back and shake his hand. The wink she sends him makes his breath catch in his throat.

The romanticist in him wants to believe the win has everything to do with her being there, but the realist knows it might just be luck, or it might just be skill. He took her advice on having his players help each other, so he kind of has her to thank anyway.

He doesn't expect to see her leaning up against his car, all long legs and hair blowing in the breeze, when he steps into the parking lot.

"Nice game, Coach," she says when he's close enough to hear her.

"Nice...everything," he growls. He can just about see the pink rise to her cheeks, even in the darkness.

He looks so good standing there in his suit, with his tie loosened and the top button of his shirt undone. He's got one hand stuffed in the pockets of his pants, and the other hanging by his side.

"I can't do it," she says softly.

"What?" he asks in confusion.

"Ignore it."

He lets out a breath and steps closer to her, but he doesn't touch her. He won't touch her in the parking lot of their place of work when there are still a few people milling around. He won't kiss her, and he won't hold her hand, and he won't declare just how badly he wants her.

"I know," he whispers, a smug grin firmly in place. "So what now?"

"I actually was hoping you'd lose tonight," she says teasingly. "Because if you get fired, I can do whatever I want with you."

"Is that right?" he laughs. "Well, I'm sorry to disappoint."

"Make it up to me," she purrs, taking a step towards him. "Come over tonight."

She sends him a smile and comes dangerously close to him, almost brushing against him as she steps past him and towards her own car.

Trouble.

He's never wanted to get into trouble so much in his life.

----

He takes a deep breath as he's crossing the street. He didn't go into his house to change or shower or do anything. He just needs to get to her, because she told him to. He's not usually one to follow such demanding orders, but for her, he'll do it.

Especially when the demand implies what hers did.

He raps his knuckles against the door, and for some reason, he's calmer than he probably should be. His palms aren't sweating, and his hands aren't shaking, and he wonders if it's because he kind of can't believe it's all happening.

Or maybe because he knows that anything and everything that happens between them - save for them ignoring each other - is just natural.

"Hi," she says as she opens the door.

He steps inside, and he's barely three feet in the door when he puts his hands on her hips and pulls her closer to him before backing her up against the closed door. She's not sure she's surprised that he's making moves like that, but she definitely likes it.

"Hi," he says, making her smile.

That was one hell of a greeting.

"Good job assuming I wanted..."

She's trying to be witty, but he cuts her off when he leans forward and presses his lips to hers. It's the first kiss they've ever shared, and he's not even sure how that's possible. They've got such an undeniable attraction that he wonders how they've been able to stay apart for so long.

His hands tangle in her hair, and hers fall to the back of his neck, then she's pushing him into her house. They've wasted enough time, and she doesn't want to waste any more.

She needs him. Maybe just a little bit. But she definitely needs him.

She pushes his jacket off his shoulders and drapes it over a chair in the hallway of her home, and he lets out a groan when she tugs at his tie to make him follow her up the stairs. She didn't need to do it, and they both know that, but she did it anyway.

He doesn't see anything but her. Not her decor or the colour of her walls or the layout of her house. He just sees her. Sexy smile and skinny jeans and darkened eyes. She's the most perfectly gorgeous woman he's ever laid eyes on, and when they enter her bedroom and she kisses him again, something in him is telling him that she's the last woman he'll ever kiss.

That thought is big and scary, but it feels so real that he can't ignore it.

She's pulled her sweater over her head and stands before him in just jeans and a black camisole, and his hands are on her hips again as he looks into her eyes.

"Am I...Am I falling in love with you?" he asks quietly, his face showing skepticism, like he doesn't believe it himself.

"What?" No, no, no. He can't be saying that.

"It was...rhetorical. And kind of to me, and not to you," he explains. "But...God...You make me..."

"Stop it," she says, shaking her head. "This...No."

"Peyton..."

"This can't be that," she insists, stepping backwards.

"Why not? Why can't it?" he asks desperately, closing the distance between them again.

It already is that.

"Because! We're...it can't," she says softly, averting his gaze.

"I'm not going to hurt you," he promises, cradling her face delicately in his hands.

"You just did," she whispers, looking into those blue eyes.

He lets out a breath and shakes his head, stepping around her to walk back to the door. Her eyes are closed, and she knows she's making a mistake, but she knows that maybe it's a mistake that needs to be made.

It's not until he turns around and says her name that she realizes just how big a mistake it is.

"Peyton, one of these days, you're going to have to stop running," he says softly.

She doesn't know if she wants to scream at him, slap him, or run into his arms. No one has ever said something like that to her before, and she knows he's right, but she just can't give in.

She moves to the window just in time to see him cross the street and enter his house, and she misses him.

She already misses him.

----

It's another week before she actually admits to herself that just maybe she's falling in love with him too. And that just maybe him loving her is the best, not the worst, thing that could happen.

She's in her sweatpants and a college sweater, and she marches across the street. She knows he's home - she heard that loud, obnoxious car of his that she loves - and she fully intends on telling him, in no uncertain terms, that she wants to be with him, but they need to take it slow. They need to test the waters. She's had enough heartbreak, and she doesn't want any more.

She knocks sharply against the door, and puts her hands on her hips as she waits for him to answer, and he's totally surprised that she's there.

"Hi," he says timidly. "Come in."

She's never been inside his home before, and she asks herself how she can be falling in love with someone whose home she's never been in.

Then she looks at him, and his blue eyes are shining and his white tee shirt is clinging to him, and his jeans fit him perfectly, and all she wants to do is kiss him and tell him she wants all the same things he does.

"You're right," she states. "I was running. I run. I'm a runner."

"OK," he says with a smirk. She's all cute and flustered, and she just told him that he's right. What more could he ask for?

"And I shouldn't have because...God, Lucas, you have no idea what you do to me," she says. She closes her eyes when she realizes she's probably saying too much, but breezes past it when she remembers his little mid-makeout love confession. "And, yeah, I ran...but...You made me."

"I did not," he insists, putting his hands on his hips.

"Did too!" she cries, ignoring the smile that childish retort produces from him. "You did. You know I'm...a little crazy and maybe a little...damaged."

"What?" he asks quickly, looking at her with a furrowed brow. "That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard."

"Lucas, you..."

"You're not damaged," he says. "You've...lived a little. So you've had your heart broken. You've lived in a few different places. I don't care about that."

"But you're..."

"You scare the hell out of me, Peyton," he admits with a slight laugh at how their relationship has - or hasn't - progressed.

He steps towards her and takes her hands in his, and it's then that she realizes, maybe for the first time, that they're in his bedroom. She'd been too focused on what she'd wanted to say when she first walked through the door, that she didn't notice the bed and the soft lighting and the closet holding all her favourite shirts of his.

She's very aware of it now.

"But I want that fear," he continues before she can interrupt. "Because it means I have you."

She looks down at their hands, and she smiles a little bit because she knows he can't see. She knows he's looking at her, trying to gauge her reaction.

"Are you really falling for me?" she asks quietly, looking up at him only after she's finished speaking.

"If I tell you, are you going to run through that door?" he asks teasingly. Her jaw drops, and he laughs a little. "Yes, Peyton. I'm falling for you."

That's all she needs to hear before pressing her lips to his desperately. All she's wanted is to kiss him. All she's wanted was confirmation that he wasn't just saying words, but that he actually meant them. All she's wanted is him.

"You're not running," he says as she kisses his neck.

"No," she breathes out. She pulls away and looks into his eyes, and they're both smiling. "Not from you. Not from this."

She places her hand over his rapidly-beating heart, and he thinks that's just about the most perfect action she could have done.

"You're falling for me, too, aren't you?" he asks, pulling her a little closer.

She doesn't say anything back. She just smiles against his lips when she kisses him again.

He has his answer.

-Fin-