A/N: The only thing that is different in this story is that Peyton and Lucas rebuild their friendship in season 2, and she never accuses him of being a crappy friend. The Pete Wentz thing never happens. Lucas never does the 'It's You' speech at the state championship game. Everything else should be fairly self-explanatory.

There will be two chapters to this (maybe three, but I haven't thought that far ahead!) so...if you want to read the second part, you'll want to hit that little 'alert' button.

The song in the first chapter is Melt My Heart To Stone by Adele. The title of this fic comes from her song Right As Rain.

----

| Right under my feet there's air made of bricks
Pulls me down turns me weak for you |

Sure, she broke up with Nathan because he was a jerk and she was tired of it, but there's also something else.

Someone else.

Lucas.

It's amazing to her that he was nowhere and no one, and now he's everywhere and the only one.

He makes her heart beat a little faster when she sees him, and everything just seems thicker, somehow. The air around her gets harder to breathe, and her feet seem to stick to the pavement. Her arms feel like they're weighed down so she won't just reach out and grab him.

She really doesn't want to listen to that voice in the back of her head that's telling her that's what love feels like.

She can't love him. She barely knows him. She was with Nathan for the better part of a year and they never spoke those words. She's had a few conversations with Lucas, and he's doing things to her heart and her head that she really can't explain.

And Friday night was almost unbearable.

The car ride was tense in so many ways. Brooke wanted Lucas. Peyton wanted Lucas. Lucas wanted Peyton. Nathan wanted Peyton. Haley was just there, and uncomfortable, and it was all just bad. Peyton was nervous, and her hand was clutching the wheel so tightly that her knuckles were white, as they all tried to pretend that the silence wasn't unbearable.

Now they're back at school and everything's back to 'normal'. Well, the normal they've been living in for the past few weeks, anyway.

"Hey," Lucas says with a smile as he starts walking beside her. "Some Friday night, huh?"

"I don't know what was weirder. You and Nathan together in the middle of nowhere and him wearing your clothes," she says, making him laugh. "Or Brooke passed out in the back of her car with her ass in the air and Haley and I walking through the fog to a seedy gas station."

"Twilight zone," he states softly. They walk a few paces in silence, both acting like they're not itching to talk or touch or just...do something. "Hey, that CD was awesome."

"You liked it?" she asks excitedly. "I thought you would. I mean, sometimes people make mixes that are totally self indulgent, but I was..."

"What?" he asks when her voice trails. He loves the way she rambles a little when she talks about music.

The bell rings and they both look towards the building they should already be inside, and she flashes a little grin as she runs a hand through her unruly curls.

"I was just thinking of you when I made it."

She turns and walks away before he can respond, and she already hates herself. She doesn't know if she should, though. Maybe putting herself out there like that will help speed things along. She's been under the impression that he's totally nervous around her, too, and it's flattering, but she kind of wants him to just make a move already. Maybe he's just giving her time to 'get over' Nathan. The truth is, though, she doesn't need it.

She sees him in the library at lunch that day, and she's listening to her iPod, but she smiles at him and pushes out the chair next to her with her foot, signaling for him to sit down.

He smirks as he sits next to her and pulls out a tattered novel, and he reads while she sketches.

She doesn't know if she should be that comfortable in the silence he brings.

| I find myself repeating like a broken tune
And I'm forever excusing your intentions |

She's had a really shitty week.

Actually, she's had a really shitty year.

Somehow, in the span of only a few months, she's managed to lose Nathan, Jake and Lucas; the latter several times.

And he's the only one she really wishes she could have held onto.

But she said no. She said 'this isn't supposed to be that'. She walked away, and he walked to Brooke, and when he came back to her, she wasn't strong enough to say no again. They got caught up in one another and she betrayed her best friend, and while she'd really like to be able to say that it wasn't worth it, she can't.

He was her first love.

Maybe he still is her first love.

But, as they say, the hits just keep on coming, and just as she thought they might get another chance, she learns that he's slept with someone else. That it was Nikki? Well, that only makes matters worse.

While she'd really like to say that she was throwing punches for Jake and Jenny the other night, she knows every last raised fist was selfish. She doesn't like Nikki, and now she just has another reason.

And as mad as she is at Lucas for his actions, she still loves him. Dammit.

He apologized, and she believed him, but she won't show that. He doesn't deserve to think that she's forgiven him this time. She's forgiven him everything else, and she's tired of this game.

She's tired of always being the one to get hurt and the one to be left behind. She's lost too much for him and not gotten anything back.

And now he's leaving.

He's leaving and he might not come back, and he told her he's going to change and he wanted her to know. He made that sound like some sort of promise. He made it sound like just maybe he's changing for her.

But what good is that change if he isn't around for her to see it?

She wants to tell him that he can't go anywhere because they aren't over yet, and maybe they'll never be over and she doesn't know how she knows that, but she does. She wants to tell him that she'll help him change.

But instead, she spat angry words at him and likened him to his brother, when his brother was the bad guy.

She knows, on some level, that it's his journey to take, and that if he feels like he needs to leave, he should leave.

But she wants him to stay.

She just can't tell him that.

So she says nothing.

| And I give in to my pretendings
Which forgive you each time |

The last thing she expects, when she walks into the record store that early in the morning, is to catch attitude from the scrawny guy stocking records. She almost would have rather his suggestion of her taking off her top be serious than have him insulting her taste in music. She supposes that says a lot about her passion.

She takes a moment to watch him after he tells her he never went to sleep and runs his hand through his messy hair.

She finds herself wondering what kept him up all night, until she notices the guitar case peeking out from behind the counter. She knows Max doesn't play, so it must be this guy's. She takes another look at him, and he was blatantly staring at her ass as she walked out the door, and she has to remind herself not to smile.

Something stops her from letting herself think he's cute. That something has blonde hair and blue eyes, and though she hasn't really talked to him in a while, it hits her like a freight train that no one will ever measure up to him.

But she's pretty sure Lucas is into some 'mystery girl', as Nathan called her. He's moved on, and Peyton should, too, but she won't move on with that guy. And it's not just because he obviously doesn't share her taste in music.

She's sitting at a quiet table on the quad by herself at lunch when Lucas sits down beside her and rests his elbows back on the table.

"So you're really doing it, huh?" he asks with a smile.

That damn smile.

"What?" she asks absently, trying to focus on the spreadsheets in front of her. She thinks she's crazy; what other high school student takes on worrying about staffing a club on their lunch break?

"The all ages thing," he specifies, his tone suggesting that it's the most obvious thing in the world that he'd be talking to her about it.

"Yeah," she says, finally looking over at him.

He's wearing that sweater. The sweater. The one he wore the night she almost ran him over, and the one he's worn a lot of nights since then. Some of her best memories involve him in that sweater. Actually, her best memory of that sweater was the night he showed up at her house wearing it, and she shivered. Instead of crawling beneath her covers or grabbing one of her own shirts, he took off his and she slipped it over her head. She can still remember that smell it carried...

"I think it's awesome, Peyton," he says sincerely. "I know my mom really appreciates all the work you're doing, too. You know? With the café and college, she's pretty busy."

"Yeah, well, I figure it's good experience, right?" she says before noticing that a girl with long brown hair, a short skirt, and a revealing halter top has stolen his attention.

But she used to be the one who stole his attention.

"Right," he says softly.

It hits her again that she's lost him, and neither of them says goodbye when he gets up and walks away.

| Without me knowing
They melt my heart to stone |

Never before have three little letters rocked their circle of friends as much as these three letters.

HCM.

It's scary, they all learn. It's degenerative, and it's hereditary, and the chances are one in two that it's been passed onto one of the Scott brothers.

The already know that Nathan hasn't got it.

Peyton doesn't tell anyone, but she sheds a few tears at the thought of anything being wrong with the boy she still somehow thinks is pretty close to perfect. But if he has this flaw, she thinks it'll hurt her heart as much as it'll hurt his.

Karen tracked her down and the two of them sat on Peyton's sofa and talked about the possibilities and the very real fear that Lucas is too stubborn to accept that he did inherit something from Dan. Both of them know that Lucas' refusal to take the test has everything to do with his issues with his father, but they both agree that it isn't about Dan anymore. It's about Lucas, and how they just want him to be safe.

She does an internet search that night that terrifies her even more. Things like 'leading cause of mortality among young athletes', and 'sudden unexpected cardiac death' jump off the page and have her wiping her eyes again and grabbing her jacket and keys.

She finds herself at the River Court, where she sees Junk, Fergie and Skills sitting on the bleachers, as Karen told her they'd been doing, and Lucas sending up shots alone on the court. They won't play with him, but they won't leave him there alone, either, and she loves that he has friends who care that much.

He's a little scared when she gets out and slams the car door and starts stomping towards him. He's seen her like this before, and it's never been favourable for him. He knows she's not there to see any of the other guys.

"We need to talk," she states, putting her hand on her hip. Lucas looks to his friends for help, but they're as terrified as he is. "Don't do that. They aren't going to bail you out."

"Let me guess. My mom talked to you," he says dryly.

"Yo, Luke, we're gonna go," Skills calls out, shooting Peyton a smile before they leave the court. He knows that if anyone can get through Lucas' thick skull, just maybe this girl can.

"Yes, she talked to me," she says, her voice softer now that it's just the two of them. "And I'm a little hurt that you didn't talk to me."

"I was..."

"In denial," she fills in. No one has put it like that, and he both loves and hates that she understands.

"Something like that," he mutters, kicking a weed that's growing through a crack in the pavement with the toe of his sneaker.

"Denial or not, you need to take the test and deal with the results as they come," she says, stepping closer to him.

"Nathan doesn't have it, Peyton," he says seriously, locking eyes with her.

"I know."

"Which means that I probably do," he continues.

"I know," she says, nodding her head. Why he doesn't realize that's exactly why he needs to take the test, she has no clue.

"Which means that basketball is over for me," he says softly, looking to the ground again before raising his eyes. "Basketball is the only dream I've ever really had."

"You can't live your dream..."

"If you're not alive," he says, rolling his eyes. Everyone keeps saying that.

"Don't do that," she warns sternly, wagging her index finger at him. "Don't scoff and roll your eyes and make it sound like you can just pretend this isn't happening!"

"Peyton..."

"No, Lucas!" she cries. She can feel the tears forming in her eyes again, and she doesn't care if he sees them. Maybe he needs to, to realize how important he is to everyone. To her. "There are other dreams for you to chase." She pauses to take his hands in hers. "There's only one you."

He pulls her into his arms because he just can't let her cry without comforting her, and he's never been able to. He feels her tears seep through his shirt, and he closes his eyes as he breathes in the scent of her shampoo. He doesn't realize how much he's missed that smell until this very moment.

The thought of never smelling that scent that's so uniquely her, or holding her in his arms again, has him rethinking everything.

She pulls away from him and lets go completely so she can wipe her eyes.

"Lucas, if you have this, you need to find out, OK?" she says almost pleadingly. "I'm not...I'm not ready to be without you yet."

He's about to question what that means, but she's already walking away, and he can't find it in himself to call after her.

He takes the test. Maybe Keith gives him the final push and they go together, but he knows, and maybe she knows too, that Peyton was the one who made him really reconsider.

| And I hear your words that I made up
You say my name like there could be an us |

It's just the two of them for the summer, and that's more exciting to her than it should be. She knows he's still hopelessly infatuated with Brooke (she won't admit to herself that he's in love with Brooke), and she's still getting over Jake, but it's kind of nice to just be two kids together for the summer. The more she thinks about it, the more she realizes that there's no one else she'd rather spend two months in Tree Hill with, just the two of them.

They stroll along the boardwalk with their arms linked as they eat ice cream, and she pretends she doesn't see him staring at her in her black bikini. They spend evenings at each others' houses, since no one else is around to tell them it's a bad idea, and she'll wake up with his heavy arm draped over her stomach. And that's somehow the most comforting thing she's ever felt. Nathan used to do the same thing, but it felt restricting. It felt like he was holding her down.

With Lucas, it just feels like he's holding onto her. She loves that.

She has another encounter with her birth mom, and he goes with her to the salon when she insists that she's cutting her hair. He pleads with her not to, telling her that he loves her curls, and she almost reconsiders. But she doesn't want to be the girl who'll style her hair to please a guy, so she cuts it anyway. She realizes, as she runs her fingers through her now short, straight hair, that she didn't only cut it to separate herself from Ellie, she cut it to separate herself from Lucas, too.

If only it were that easy.

He stands in front of her and buries both hands in her blonde locks, and he smiles at her when he tells her he likes it.

She's glad he doesn't notice the shiver that runs down her spine.

They find a bottle of Jack Daniels at her house, and they decide that they might as well drink it. It's a silly, adolescents-in-summer thing to do, but they don't care. They go to his house and she grabs two shot glasses while he changes into his sweats, and they play name that tune, with each of them singing (badly) the guitar strains of songs, or belting obscure lyrics as they sit on his bed.

The bottle's nearly gone, but they'd changed the rules so that if you were right you had to drink, because Peyton still hadn't had a drink after four rounds of the game.

They lay down when they see that it's 3:00 in the morning. They stopped drinking hours ago, but she still had a bit more than him and she's smaller than he is, and he's learned quickly that she can't handle her alcohol.

She snuggles close to him like she always does when they share a bed, and his hand falls to the contour of her waist, clumsily pulling her closer, though even in his foggy state, he knows that's probably a bad idea.

He's been meaning to ask her how she's really been dealing with everything they haven't really talked about in a week or so. Jake and Jenny and Ellie and her dad. The two of them have just been having fun, and he's loved every second of it, but he's still worried about her. He's caught off guard and distracted by her words when he tries to broach the subject.

"Peyton..."

"Mmm. I like that," she mumbles, cutting him off.

"What?" He almost laughs at the sleepy expression on her face. She's just so damn cute, even after several shots and when her hair's a mess.

"How you say my name," she continues.

"OK, boozy...," he says, shaking his head.

But the girl certainly knows how to make his heart race.

"No I mean it," she says, smiling over at him. "Sometimes you say it like..."

"Like what?" he asks when her voice trails.

"Like...not a friend," she finishes.

Her eyes close and she falls asleep before he can say anything in response, and he brushes the stray locks of hair away from her face as he thinks about what those words mean.

He knows she didn't mean that he says it like they aren't friends. He knows she means that he says it like they're more than friends.

| I best tidy up my head I'm the only one in love
I'm the only one in love |

"What are you gonna tell her?" she asks, holding her paintbrush still in her hand.

"Nothing," he says with a shrug of his shoulders.

"You're not gonna tell her that you and I spent every day together this summer, or that you have HCM, or that you saved Dan from the dealership fire?" she asks disbelievingly.

"I don't need to tell her," he says, flopping back on her bed as she shakes her head.

All she can think is that he and Brooke aren't even in a relationship yet, and he's already doing the two things that tore them apart the last time. He's keeping things to himself, and he's failing to mention his relationship with Peyton. She knows this is all bad news.

"And why not?" she asks.

"Because I've got you," he says with a smirk, making her roll her eyes.

Inside, she's swooning.

She knows he means that he's got her to talk to about the big things that he doesn't want anyone else to know, but he certainly did a bang up job of making it sound like more than that.

She turns back to her wall, and she hears him getting up off the bed, and she kind of doesn't want him to leave. It hits her that everyone is home now, and that means less time for just the two of them. That bothers her more than it probably should.

"Alright, I've gotta go," he says, stretching his arms over his head in that way that always makes her heart race. "I guess I should go talk to her. Figure out if somehow the captain of the cheerleading squad will give a loser like me a second chance." He walks toward her and hugs her again, smiling when he pulls away.

"Bye," she says softly.

"Seeya, Peyt," he calls over his shoulder when he's already halfway out the door.

There's a beach party, and she doesn't want to go, because she knows that it'll mean seeing Brooke and Lucas together, but she pushes that thought aside. She doesn't want Lucas. She can't want Lucas. Lucas and Brooke are dating, and non-exclusive or not, she won't get in the way of that. Again.

She's drinking her second beer when he comes over and makes a comment about the music, and when he sees that there's no one else around, he reminds her of the last time they drank together, and they woke up at 1:00 in the afternoon with him in just his boxers and her in just her underwear and tank top. She blushes and he laughs, and she swears out loud that she's never drinking Jack Daniels again. He winks at her before he walks away, and she hangs her head.

She really doesn't need this.

She watches as Brooke toys with him for weeks. She tricks him into dressing up like Tommy Lee for halloween - which Peyton has to admit was at least a little sexy. Brooke insists he go on dates with other girls, then gets mad when he does. She creates a manipulative scheme that backfires and doesn't pick him in the boy draft.

Peyton sits back and watches it all, and her heart aches for the hell he's going through to be with a girl that Peyton's pretty sure might not even really want Lucas. Brooke's always enjoyed the chase, and Peyton just really hopes that Lucas won't be hurt. She knows, on some level that he will be.

But she keeps her mouth closed, because as much as she'd like to ask him if it's worth it, she knows he needs to figure it out on his own; it's not her place to meddle. And she wants to believe that her best friend isn't just chasing him because he's letting her.

Her heart breaks for him when she hears that Brooke's slept with Chris Keller.

She thinks back to when she first met Chris, and how thoughts of Lucas stopped her from even giving the guy a second glance, and she has to wonder how Brooke, whose supposedly dating Lucas, didn't even think twice about his feelings.

She comforts Brooke, but the whole time, her mind keeps wandering to that blonde boy, and she's almost thrilled when Brooke begs her to go talk to him for her. 'You're good with words and pain and Lucas.'

If Brooke only knew...

She walks to Lucas' house, and the entire distance, she's wondering what she should say. She comes up empty.

When she sees him with a can of black paint and a brush in his hand, she comes up with a biting remark, and he makes one right back. She loves that he can hold his own with her, even when he's visibly upset.

She tries to explain that Brooke's sorry and she feels terrible, but he won't hear it.

"Luke, Brooke made a mistake, OK? Kinda like we did. And she forgave us," she says objectively. She can't say that anything she's really done with Lucas has been a mistake, but she knows she should feel that way, so she says the words anyway.

"Yeah, well, she has a really funny way of showing it. But, you know what? She made it perfectly clear that we were non-exclusive. I made the mistake of thinking we were meant to be with each other," he turns back to the door and splashes more paint on the surface. "I won't make that mistake again."

She can't help but feel just a little bit happy, thinking that maybe he and Brooke are done for good, and she knows how selfish that is.

She ignores the voice in her head that's telling her that even if he is done with Brooke, that doesn't mean he'll want her.

| Each and every time I turn around to leave
I feel my heart begin to burst and bleed |

There's too much going on for any of them to really process. They're too young for this, though she knows that even if they were older, they wouldn't understand it any better.

Death and disaster and pain and grief. It never gets easier, and maybe it shouldn't. If it did, that'd mean that people just felt less, and that would be a greater tragedy.

Even so, two people have died, and Peyton was shot, and it's all just a lot to handle. Too much.

The thing that scares her most is that she finally admitted aloud the words that she now wishes she could take back.

She's at a party she's pretty sure is a terrible idea, but Brooke begged her to go, so she showed up. She finds herself in the library in the dark, and she feels a lump form in her throat for a moment when she sees Lucas walking towards her.

She knows this library will never be the same.

And neither of them will ever be the same.

He teases her about her love confession and the ensuing kiss, and it breaks her heart enough to make her cry. She knows he doesn't mean to, but he's downplaying her emotions and assuming she didn't mean it the way she did. He expresses his love for Brooke, and she has to smile. He loves Brooke. She won't get in the way of that. Again.

He tells her not to kiss anyone outside, and she closes her eyes as she shakes her head.

But she needs to kiss someone. She needs to kiss someone and be done with Lucas, because he's so obviously done with her, and maybe her feelings are only there because there's no one else.

And the image of Jake flashes in her mind, and she lets herself really think of him for the first time in a long time.

She wonders how he's doing and if he's seeing anyone, and what Jenny looks like. She wonders if he misses her. She wonders if just maybe, if she could just see him, they'd fall back into each other again and they could be together. They never really got a chance, and as she lays on her bed that night, she thinks that they deserve one.

So she follows her heart, and it takes her to Savannah. And as soon as she gets off the plane, she feels like her heart is full again. There's a little girl toddling towards her, and there's a perfect man standing in front of her when she scoops that little girl up into her arms.

It's not easy. The first night, she wakes up alone and he's making excuses. He's not a great liar, but she'll go along with it because she doesn't want to start anything. She realizes that just maybe she was crazy coming here, thinking he'd just be waiting and she could just be his again.

They spend the day together and they flirt, but it's not like it used to be, and she's a little scared.

But then he sings a song that he doesn't need to tell her was written for her, and she's in as far or deeper than she ever was. They sleep together that night, and she feels like maybe all the pain she's had to deal with since he left is going away, just being with him again.

And then she proposes.

It's impulsive and crazy and probably not the smartest thing she's ever done, but she does it.

And he says yes.

But who knew three simple words would make her world fall apart?

Well, four not-so-simple words.

She leaves Savannah with tears in her eyes, a twice broken heart, and the knowledge that not only did she maybe never really love Jake, but that she maybe only ever really loved Lucas.

| So desperately I try to link it with my head
But instead I fall back to my knees |

It's all a disaster when she comes back to town. Her car breaks down, and she's terrified of how she feels, and she knows Lucas is hurting since because isn't on the team anymore. She finds herself worrying about him more than she's worrying about herself, and she realizes that's just the way it's always been.

She's awkward around Brooke now, as they set up for the evening and Nathan and Haley's rehearsal dinner. She's afraid that something will happen and their friendship will suffer again, and she really doesn't want to lose Brooke again.

But what she realized junior year still rings true.

Lucas Scott is the one boy who's worth whatever she has to lose.

And then she gets paired up with him for a scene in the skit Brooke's prepared.

And they have to be in bed.

And he has to tell her he loves her.

This is bad.

As soon as he says the words, her heart starts beating in her chest and she feels like she can't breathe the air around her. He's never said them to her before, not really except that night in the library right before he told her he was in love with Brooke.

And their entire relationship flashes before her eyes. Their first meeting, and their first kiss, and his hands on her hips and his lips on her stomach, and the way he looked at her that day in the library. She realizes quickly that he's made it really easy to fall in love with him, even if he wasn't trying.

"Hey," he says worriedly. "I love you, you know that?"

She turns to him because he isn't just prompting her line again. He's telling her, without having to tell her, that he knows something's wrong, and that he's there for him if she needs him.

And she does need him.

The tears start falling before she can stop them, and maybe she doesn't want to stop them. She closes her eyes before she looks at him again, and he's staring at her like it's killing him to not know what's bothering her.

"I love you, too."

| As you tear your way right through me
I forgive you once again |

She tries not to think it's selfish that Brooke breaks up with him on what may be one of the scariest days of his life to date.

It should have been happy. It was a wedding. Two people coming together and promising forever. But Peyton and Brooke weren't speaking, and Rachel was a disaster. A car accident, a couple comas, and Nathan's brief hospital stay capped off the day.

And Brooke chose that day, of all days, to break his heart.

He shows up at Peyton's house and they immediately embrace, because they can each see that they need it.

She doesn't want to be mad at Brooke, but the more Lucas talks to her and recalls the things Brooke had said to him, the more Peyton is starting to believe that the brunette just doesn't get it; that she doesn't get him.

Peyton tells him all about the letter and the prospect that she has a half-brother. He makes a joke, wondering what's in the water in North Carolina, that everyone has half-siblings. She lays down on the bed next to him, and they're both on their backs with their hands clasped on their stomachs.

"Sometimes I wonder, you know?" he says vaguely.

She laughs spiritedly and turns her head to look at him.

"Any more detail you wanna share?" she teases, and he rolls his eyes.

"I just mean...Brooke and I have been through so much," he says pensively. "And I'm...I mean, I want to be with her, I do. I wonder if...if maybe all these things keep happening because maybe we're not supposed to be together."

Her heart beats against her ribcage so fast that she's sure he'll hear it. But she's heard words like that before from him, and she won't let herself believe that he genuinely means them. Not again.

"Well...if you want to be with her..."

"That's what I'm saying, though," he says, turning to her. "Maybe I just want it. Just because you want something, that doesn't mean that it's meant to be."

His words hit her harder than she can let on, because she's worried that's how she feels about him. Maybe she feels about him the way he's feeling about Brooke. Maybe the want is there, but that's all it is, and those feelings will never really be justified or explored like she wants them to be.

"Well...I think that you can't...You can't just ignore what you want, either," she says, though it's killing her to do it. She wants him to be happy, even if that's not with her.

She's so damn in love with him that it still surprises her sometimes.

"You ever think sometimes that..." he starts, before his voice trails.

"What?"

"I just keep thinking about the things that happened that didn't need to happen," he muses, turning to look at her again.

"Well...What do you mean?" she asks, rolling onto her side to look down at him.

"Like...with the Halloween party and the Rachel disaster and that stupid boy draft thing," he lists. "Not to mention her having sex with Chris Keller."

And there it is. All the things she'd been thinking since the beginning. All those signs that he and Brooke shouldn't be together, he has finally realized.

"But...you want to get back together with her," Peyton states almost disbelievingly.

"Look, I know you probably don't understand this, Peyton, but...I love her. You can't just turn that off, you know?"

Part of her wants to tell him to leave. She doesn't understand? She understands him better than anyone, and she understands the concept of loving someone though all explanation and rational thought tells you that you shouldn't. She understands it. Probably even more than he does.

"What?" he asks when she doesn't respond.

"Nothing," she says softly.

"Peyton," he says pleadingly.

"It's nothing, Luke." Her tone suggests finality, and he knows her better than to push the issue.

But he does it anyway.

"Why are you all moody and distant all of a sudden?" he asks with a cheeky grin as he nudges her arm. She smiles again and he sees her roll her eyes. "Sorry. I know I'm being a total girl about this Brooke stuff."

"It's OK."

She can't even pretend it's not a lie anymore.

| Without me knowing
You've burnt my heart to stone |

She wonders, bitterly, if Tree Hill is the epicenter of the universe's drama.

She's laying in Lucas Scott's bed and wearing his sweatshirt, but not because he necessarily wants her there.

She's there because she's absolutely terrified to be anywhere else.

She's thankful he gave her a key during the summer, and yet she still felt it was silly and inappropriate to use it. He assures her that it wasn't, and he smiles a sleepy smile as he takes her hand in his. Just the gentle feel of his skin on hers in such an innocent way already has her feeling better.

He really does always save her.

"You ready to talk to me yet?" he asks softly.

He's the only one she really has been talking to, but that isn't saying much. She doesn't want to relive it all, and she doesn't want to cry in front of him anymore. But every time she thinks of that psycho's face inches from hers, and his rough hands on her skin, she feels like she can't breathe, and she can't stop the tears.

And they're welling in her eyes now as she lays with Lucas, because she's in awe that he takes such good care of her without her ever really having to ask.

"Hey," he says worriedly, moving closer to her once he sees the tears.

"Sorry."

"Don't apologize," he demands gently, placing his hand on her upper arm soothingly.

"I just...can't even close my eyes without seeing..."

"Don't," he cuts her off, maybe a little too harshly.

He realizes quickly that despite the fact that he's just told her to open up to him, he doesn't want to hear about the guy who almost...did whatever he was going to do to her. He knows she needs to talk, but he still doesn't really want to hear it. He can't.

He'll never really understand his need to protect her so fiercely.

"I'm scared," she whispers brokenly.

"Me too," he admits.

She lets out a breath and closes her eyes briefly, letting the tears fall. She doesn't know what he's scared of, but there's something about him admitting it that makes her fall a little more in love with him.

"Yeah?" she asks.

"People keep trying to take you from me," he says, smiling weakly as she looks at him from across the pillow. "Come on. Get some sleep."

She doesn't know how he can say those perfect things, then change the subject so quickly and remind her that he doesn't love her the way she loves him. He makes it sound like he can't live without her, then he brushes it off like it's nothing. She really wishes she could hate him for that.

"I don't want to," she says softly. "I can't."

"Yeah, you can," he insists.

She smiles at his faith in her, even in something so simple. He really does believe she can do anything.

He opens his arms to her, and she moves to settle into his embrace, and he holds her in that way he always does. Secure and tight, but still comforting and so very perfect. No one else holds a woman like Lucas Scott holds a woman. She really wants to believe that Lucas Scott doesn't hold any other woman like he holds her, but she doesn't know if that's the case.

"Just close your eyes, baby," he coos, brushing his fingers through her hair. "I'm right here."

She's asleep within minutes.

| And I hear your words that I made up
You say my name like there could be an us |

Derek - the real one - is gone, and Peyton feels alone again. The only thing different now is that being alone somehow isn't quite so scary. She's got five locks on every door, and double paned windows that lock from the inside, and the security company is coming next week to install the alarm system.

But she can't stop another kind of fear. Brooke and Lucas went to the banquet together, and Peyton couldn't help but feel a little - OK, a lot - of jealousy when she saw his arm draped over the back of her former best friend's chair. They looked cozy. They looked like they used to.

And Peyton had no one.

Sure, Derek was there, but it wasn't the same and everyone knew it. Nathan nudged her knee under the table at one point when he saw her hold her gaze on Lucas just a little bit too long, and the younger Scott brother smirked at her when she looked at him. He knew, and she could tell, but she just closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Nathan wouldn't say anything to anyone. Besides, he had his own things to worry about, what with the championship game the next day and a child on the way.

She stands in her bedroom and she hears the front door open and close, but it doesn't make her breathing erratic or her heart race. Well, not out of fear anyway. Only Lucas has keys to her house now, so she knows it's him and he's come to...She doesn't know what he's come for.

She's got her back to her bedroom door when he comes in, and she smiles to herself when he applauds and tells her he likes the new decor. The red bedroom always did kind of define her.

He tells her that he and Brooke realized they were over, and that he left her on her front porch before driving over to see Peyton.

She doesn't know what that means, but she knows what she wants it to mean.

Maybe he realized that he and Brooke are over, because he and Peyton will never be over.

"So, I just wanted to come see how you were doing," he says as she wraps her arms around herself.

The words are right there on the tip of her tongue. I love you. I'm in love with you.

But on the tip of her tongue is where they stay.

"I know Derek leaving can't be easy," he continues.

"Yeah," she says quietly. "Seems like everyone I need always leaves."

He wants to roll his eyes at her oft-used sentiment, but he stops himself when he realizes that it's almost true.

Almost.

"Not me," he counters with a smirk.

She can't bring herself to tell him that she knows someday he'll leave, too. She just knows it. No one ever stays with her.

"What's wrong?" he asks when she doesn't respond.

"Nothing," she says with a shrug of her shoulders.

Nothing is wrong, and that's the problem. It's the same as it always was. Her wanting him, and him wanting something - anything - else.

"Peyton, I know you," he reminds her.

"Don't do that," she says softly, shaking her head.

"What?" he asks confusedly. The girl is known to be a closed book, but not with him. Never with him.

"Don't..." She pauses and lets out a heavy sigh, then lets her eyes meet his. "Don't say my name like you mean it."

He's brought back to that night during the summer and the words she said, and it hits him hard that maybe she meant those words that night even more than he'd thought. These words, so similar, but so different, are scaring him. During the summer, it was whimsical and sweet, though sure, there was alcohol involved. This is dejected and desperate and almost whispered.

He wonders how long she's been in love with him.

"I'm gonna go," he says.

He knows it's stupid. She's Peyton Sawyer, and he's a fool if he runs. But he has to run. He can't be here with her right now, and he doesn't know why, but he can't. He knows he's just told her he won't leave, and now he's doing that very thing, but he hopes they both know he'll be back.

She shakes her head as he walks out of her bedroom, and in her mind, she's replaying all the words she never said.

| I best tidy up my head I'm the only one in love
I'm the only one in love |

There's a moment - a split second, really - after the game, when she thinks of talking to him. She hasn't yet, and she wants to congratulate him. She wants to let him know that it's OK. Whatever is or isn't happening between them, it's OK.

But then Brooke intervenes.

Peyton has to laugh. She actually laughs out loud. Hasn't that been how her entire relationship with Lucas has gone? They come close to...something...and Brooke shows up.

So she walks away without saying a word to him and catches a ride with one of the other cheerleaders back to Tree Hill.

She doesn't think she's ever hated herself more than she does when Brooke comes into her room and tells her that something's wrong with that boy.

The last thing she said to him was sad and probably hurtful and maybe selfish, and on their way to the hospital, she faces the very real possibility that she'll never get to talk to him again.

And she absolutely breaks down.

Brooke lays a comforting hand on her former friend's back as she tries to focus on the road. Peyton offers a broken smile. Only Brooke and Nathan know how Peyton feels about Lucas, and she has to wonder if maybe she and Brooke can eventually restore their friendship. If Brooke can comfort her right now, then maybe they'll get there.

Karen's at home for a bit of sleep, so Peyton takes the spot next to his bed, and everyone who knows the two of them, knows that she's not moving until Karen comes back and she has to.

"Lucas, please," she says.

She wants to say more, she really does, but the words won't come. They get caught in her throat when the tears start to fall, so she just reaches for his hand with both of hers and hangs onto him like somehow that simple action will wake him up and bring him back.

"Please," she manages once more.

It's probably her imagination, but she thinks she feels him squeeze her hand, and when she looks up at the monitors that she shouldn't understand as well as she does, she sees that nothing's changed. His heart and brain function are steady, and nothing's spiking, and he probably didn't squeeze her hand.

But she squeezes his on the off-chance that maybe he can feel it.

| Why do you steal my hand
Whenever I'm standing my own ground
You build me up, then leave me dead |

They're supposed to go to prom together. Just two friends in formal-wear.

But Brooke just had to sleep with Nathan two years ago, and they just had to tape it, and that tape just had to be found the night before prom.

So she insists she's not going. She stupidly kicks Lucas out of her house for visiting Brooke first, though she has no real reason to be mad about that, and he had no real reason not to visit the brunette before the blonde.

The brunette has always come before the blonde, she thinks bitterly.

When Nathan shows up, she really wishes she could hate him. She really wishes she could. But he apologizes, though he probably doesn't really need to. This is all ancient history anyway, but it's still nice to hear the words.

She tells him she's not going to prom, and his face falls like she's just told him the worst news he's ever heard. As one of two people in the world, well, three if you count Derek, who knows about her feelings for Lucas, he of course has to say the one thing that'll make her reconsider.

Don't take it out on Lucas.

She's decided to go before he's even out the door.

She'd question, later that night when her stalker returns, why everything bad always seems to happen to her, but she's too busy trying to convince herself she's not going to die at the hands of this psycho. And, stupid girl that she is, she really wishes Lucas were here, and she's almost wondering why he isn't saving her.

Between she and Brooke, they manage to fight off their attacker, and as they sit on the front steps of the house, wrapped in a blanket, bloodied and bruised, dresses torn and hair a mess, that's where they regain their friendship. It's the very place that, earlier that day, Peyton had proclaimed she was done. She knows on some level, that no one would have been there for her like Brooke had been that night.

That they both start sleeping in Lucas' bed is a little odd, but the three of them joke about it and the tension dissipates. The girls need each other, and Peyton needs Lucas, so that's where they end up.

It's not lost on any of them that he only holds one girl's hand beneath the covers.

Brooke goes back to school, but Peyton isn't ready yet, and no one questions it. She lays in Lucas' bed and watches as he pulls his tee shirt over his head. The day's newspaper is tossed onto the porch outside, and when she hears it 'thud' against the wood, Peyton flinches and her breathing speeds up.

"I'm not leaving you here alone," Lucas states with finality.

He sits on the edge of the bed and she closes her eyes and shakes her head. He really can't keep making sacrifices for her, and she can't let him.

"I'll be OK," she insists, though it's a weak attempt and her hands are still shaking.

"Yeah," he says with a smile. "Because I'm staying."

"You can't just skip classes," she tells him. "Just go to school."

"Peyt, I'm a senior and we're in our last few weeks of school. I've already gotten into college, and there aren't even any assignments to do," he explains. "I'm staying here with you."

She rolls her eyes when he lays down facing her and takes her hand in his, and she falls back to sleep shortly afterward. She can only sleep when he's holding her, and as he watches the rise and fall of her chest and listens to the incoherent ramblings she speaks in her sleep, he smiles to himself.

But why does he smile to himself?

She wakes up an hour later, and they drink coffee and watch The Price is Right, shouting their bids at the screen and laughing at how silly they're being.

"Know what's crazy?" he asks after a while, when her legs are draped over his and her bottom pressed up against his thigh. One of his arms lays across her thighs, and the other is on her calf with his hand on her knee. He's oddly comfortable with her laying like that.

"Hmm?" she asks after taking a sip of her tea.

"We didn't even really know each other until a year and a half ago," he states. It's common knowledge, but the way he says it makes it sound like it's the most profound information he's ever spoken.

"You were just a loser driving around in a tow truck with a book in your back pocket," she teases, and he squints at her. "Now you're just a loser driving around in a Mustang with a book in your back pocket."

"Oh, you are so mean to me," he says, glaring at her as she laughs.

"See? I'm still the same bitch I always was," she says, punching his arm playfully.

"No you're not." He shakes his head and his tone is soft, and he lets her see that dimple on his cheek when he smiles. "You never were."

Her heart flutters in her chest, and she's reminded once again that no one ever saw her the way Lucas did. The way he does.

"Try telling Nathan that. Or Brooke," she mutters. He looks at her questioningly. The girl still doesn't get it.

"No one thinks that about you," he tells her. "We all know who you are, Peyton."

She smiles at him and turns her attention back to the television, and he lets out a breathy laugh at her inability to take a compliment.

"You're a great friend," he says softly.

Her heart shatters in her chest and she doesn't say anything in response.

She tries to sleep that night without his skin on hers, but he senses her restlessness and places his hand on her hip. Brooke's asleep next to her, and when Peyton looks at Lucas through the darkness and says thank you, he smiles at her and says a word that heals her heart again.

"Always."

| Well I hear your words you made up
So I say your name like there could be an us |

The road trip they take to Texas is therapeutic, though sharing a bed with Lucas in a motel room in that sleepy little town makes it really difficult. Or maybe not that difficult at all. They aren't supposed to sleep in the same room, but Skills and Brooke have a little 'after party' in the girls' room, and Skills winds up passed out on Peyton's bed. She just laughs at him as she grabs her things, and sees Mouth and Brooke sleeping atop the covers on Brooke's bed.

She supposes she could sleep in the other bed in Lucas' room, but when she tries, he looks at her like a sad little boy, disappointed that she isn't laying down with him. For the first time since the summer before, they hold onto each other completely. They meld together in the middle of the bed, and they wake up with numb limbs, but it's worth it.

But she still moves in with Brooke and starts sleeping in her own bed, without Lucas. She needs to start pulling away from him, and they all know that.

She's leaving soon, and it came as a surprise to everyone, Lucas especially. He told her he was a little hurt that she didn't tell him she applied for the internship, and after an all-too-brief conversation, he left without really saying how he felt. The fact that he just walked out told her everything she needed to hear.

So she's on his doorstep, and she intends to maybe yell at him a bit and ask him what the hell his problem is.

When she walks in, he's reading a book she's seen him read at least three times before, and he's listening to an album she lent him a few days earlier.

There will be no yelling.

"Hey," she says, closing the door behind her.

"Hi," he greets, closing his book and setting it next to him. "Sorry about before. I was a jerk and you don't deserve that."

"No, it's OK," she says, shaking her head as she sits down on the edge of the bed.

"Not really," he sighs, trying - and failing - to smile at her. "I just...everything's changing."

"You're leaving, too, Lucas," she points out. "Everyone's going places, and you can't expect me to just...stay here and wait for you all to come back."

"I know that," he says softly, nodding his head. "But...you're going to L.A., Peyton."

"So is Brooke."

"Brooke's not you," he replies quickly.

She closes her eyes and shakes her head. She's heard that before.

"I just...I need to do this," she says, breezing past his comment when he doesn't apologize for speaking it.

"I know," he says, nodding his head.

"Do you?" she asks gently. "Because it seems like you really aren't being very supportive right now."

She's right and he knows it, but it's not that he doesn't support her. She's become his best friend, and while he'll have Nathan and Haley with him for the upcoming year, he won't have her. He hadn't realized how hard that was going to be until she told him she was leaving.

"I..." He pauses and runs his hand through his hair while he tries to think of the right words to say. "Look, you remember that night at the River Court?"

"Luke," she laughs, "need specifics. We've had a lot of nights at the River Court."

He smiles because he loves that they've had a lot of nights at the River Court.

"Last year. You yelled at me about the HCM test," he explains. She smiles weakly and nods her head. "You remember what you said?"

"Not really," she says with a furrowed brow. All she remembers his him holding her as she cried.

"You said you weren't ready to be without me yet," he says quietly, locking eyes with her for a moment before she looks away. "That's kind of what I'm dealing with right now."

"Well, the difference is that going to L.A. isn't going to kill me, and you not getting medication for a heart condition was going to kill you," she reminds him.

"OK, that is so not the point!" he says almost angrily as he sits up a little straighter. "The point is that you're...You're my Peyton, OK? And...I honestly don't know what I'll do without you."

His Peyton. His Peyton? She resists the urge to laugh bitterly. He's really clueless. He doesn't realize how many chances he's had for her to really be his Peyton.

She's about to respond when he weaves his fingers through hers and smiles a perfect smile at her.

She looks down at their hands, and she bites the inside of her lip to keep from crying. He still doesn't get it, and he's just making it a lot easier to leave, if she's being honest.

"I don't want you to go," he finally admits.

She looks up at him again, just to make sure that he's being absolutely serious, and she sees that he is.

She also sees that look in his eyes that used to be there.

That look that used to tell her that he wanted her. That look that told her that they weren't merely friends. It's been a long, long time since she's seen it, but it's still the same. His eyes shine just a little bit, and they turn up at the sides because he's smiling, and the dimple on his cheek has her weak in the knees.

"Lucas," she says softly, letting herself smile at him.

She doesn't say anything else. There are a thousand words on the tip of her tongue. Some of them are angry, and some of them are sad. Some of them say that she'll stay if he thinks they could be something. Some of them tell him that he's too late.

But she doesn't speak any of them. She just pulls her hand from his and leaves his room because she has to.

And he finally knows what she was saying when she told him not to say her name like he meant it.

But he means it now, and it's all too late.

| I best tidy up my head I'm the only one in love
I'm the only one in love |

He finishes his novel the night before she leaves for L.A.

It's not until he's written the last paragraph that he realizes it's a love story.

It's their love story.

It's the love story he didn't even really know he was a part of until he saw it there before him in black and white. All the turning points they never had, and all the chances they missed to tell their feelings. Looking back now, he wonders how he could have possibly not realized it before. He's known she's felt something deeper. He's known it since that day in the library when she was fading fast and he was willing to do everything he could to keep her safe. Why he's ignored it, he'll never know. He'll never forgive himself for it, either.

It's the reason why he's having such a hard time wrapping his head (and heart) around her leaving, and the reason she said his name that way the other day.

It's three in the morning, and he should be sleeping. They went to a party, and they went to the River Court, and he was acutely aware that it was maybe the last time they'd all be together that way. No matter how much they all nodded and agreed that they'd be back there after they were done with school and traveling and internships, he knows, on some level, that they won't.

He wakes up after a restless night of barely sleeping, and he feels like his whole world is changing and he has no control over any of it. She told him yesterday not to come to the airport, and he knows why. They said their goodbyes last night when they left the River Court, but there's no way he's not going to see her one last time. There's no way.

Haley and Nathan and Jamie are there, and he catches Peyton's eye before anyone else sees him. He sees tears in her eyes and they hurt his heart as he walks towards her. Nathan pats his back and purses his lips.

None of them really believed he wouldn't show up.

He takes her by the hand and pulls her away from their group of friends, and he just looks at her for a few moments, as though just looking at her will somehow make him OK again.

"I'm sorry," he says. He knows she'll hear what he's sorry for without needing to really say all the words.

"Luke," she breathes out.

"No," he says firmly. "I'm sorry."

Sh gives him a broken smile and weaves her fingers through his.

"Me too," she whispers.

He pulls her into his arms and they stand like that for a while, just embracing and feeling each other one last time. He kisses her temple before they pull apart, and they almost laugh when her flight is called immediately after.

"I have to go," she says softly, and with far more meaning than anyone else would assume.

He doesn't say anything, he just nods his head. He won't say it's OK, because it's not. He won't say 'yeah', because that'll confirm it. He won't say 'let's go', because he isn't going.

He won't tell her to stay, because he knows she doesn't want to.

They walk back to their friends and everyone hugs her one last time, and she wraps her arms around him again, just because she needs to, and she can see that he needs it, too.

"I'm scared," she admits, loud enough for only him to hear.

He lets out a weak laugh at the familiarity of those words as he cradles the back of her head against him.

"Me too," he says. It's the only response he can think to give, and it's the most honest.

She kisses him on the cheek and she locks her eyes with his. She's not crying. There aren't tears in her eyes, and her chin isn't trembling, and she's not even biting her bottom lip like she always does when she's trying to keep herself from tearing up. She's just looking at him like they both now realize what they never had; what they could have had.

But she leaves.

And he can see it in her eyes that she's not coming back.

In his mind, he's replaying all the words he never said.

----

To be continued...