A/N: Totally AU Oneshot. Yes, it's long. I could have broken it up into chapters, but it didn't feel right to do so. If you take the time to read, please take the time to review.

----

She leads a quiet life. It's simple and uncomplicated and she likes it that way. She doesn't want drama or confusion or anything else other than what she has. She lives in a beautiful home - the one she grew up in, which she now owns - and she works her job and goes about her business. She takes care of herself and, well, just about anyone else who needs to be taken care of, if need be.

She grew up in this little town. She didn't have an easy life. Her mother died when Peyton was a little girl, and she essentially grew up without any parental guidance. Her father worked because he loved his job. Or so he'd say. Peyton always just suspected that it was too hard for him to be in that house he refused to sell. It was too full of memories. He wouldn't live anywhere else, but he couldn't be there full time. The ultimate catch-22. So Peyton lived there alone and guided herself through her life.

Her teenaged years were the hardest. She learned she was adopted, and she learned she had a brother. The death of another mother shook her faith and had her questioning it all, but developing a relationship with her brother restored her faith in family. It was hard. Those four years, especially the last two, took their toll on her.

She had a boyfriend. She loved him like you're supposed to love your first love, but they both knew it wasn't exactly right, and when his family moved to Savannah right before their senior year of high school, the two of them stopped dating. She cried and told him she'd miss him, and she did miss him. They tried to keep in contact, but after about a year they just drifted apart, as tends to happen.

She has a best friend. A very good best friend who she's known for what seems like forever. Haley James was always the quiet girl in the class, and Peyton was always the opinionated one, but somehow, when Haley moved to Tree Hill in the third grade, the two girls became friends immediately. It was Haley who was there for Peyton through death and rumors and dealing with that first boyfriend and living without her dad. Haley came from a big family and always seemed to get lost in the shuffle, so the girls banded together and became their own support system. Haley is the sister Peyton never had, and Peyton is the sister Haley always wanted.

And she has another friend, perhaps even more unlikely than Haley. He's a big, hulking ex-college ball player. He's also Haley's husband, and the three of them have known each other since they were kids. Nathan Scott. The son of the town's most prominent business-man. Dan Scott has also been the mayor for close to 10 years. Nathan played Division II ball at a local college while Haley got her credentials to teach high school, then they moved back to their little hometown and got married after graduation. They both work at Tree Hill High, where Nathan took over as head coach of the basketball team and Haley teaches music and english.

It was Haley's clear-cut path and explanation of why she wanted to be a teacher that made Peyton consider, and follow, the same career goals. Only she didn't want to teach adolescents. She specialized in early childhood education and got her job as the kindergarten teacher at the local elementary school right after she graduated college.

She stayed close to home for school for a few reasons. One of them being that she simply couldn't see herself living anywhere else. She doesn't think she ever will.

She enjoys her quiet little life. She's never ventured out in search of anything more.

She definitely didn't consider that something else may have been searching for her.

----

He's led a pretty charmed existence. He was born and raised in Portland. That is what he considers home.

Well, that's what he's told is home. It's always been missing something, but he can't explain that feeling, so he keeps it to himself.

He grew up with his mother and a man he thought, until just recently, was his father. Well, Keith is his father in all the ways that count. He was raised by the man, and he was adopted by Keith almost immediately after birth; Keith and Karen were married shortly after.

Lucas isn't really mad about this at all. He loves his parents, and he wouldn't trade them for anything. They had never planned to tell him, but when they were all talking one day, Karen simply couldn't keep the secret anymore. He had laughed at the expression on her face. She looked terrified to tell him. But in his books, having Keith was a lot more important than knowing that his biological father was a deadbeat who walked out on his mom when she was pregnant. Really, what did Lucas have to complain about?

Karen started a chain of coffee shops after her first one was a success. She had a stranglehold on the Portland coffee shop scene by the time Lucas was 10, and her business only grew from there. Keith was a successful businessman himself, with three car dealerships in the city. Lucas never went without a thing.

Actually, he was pretty spoiled. He tried not to let himself get caught up in that, in getting everything he ever wanted, but it was hard not to. In high school, he was the star basketball player and the boy all the girls wanted to date. He was the guy all the younger boys looked up to, based on, well, not much of anything. Sure, he was smart enough (though if he had put in effort he could have had a 3.8 GPA at least) and good with a basketball, but he didn't really care to set much of an example. If he's being honest, all he really cared about was finishing school and getting into a college where he could have a good time and not answer to anyone.

He's got a few close friends he's had since high school. Mouth, probably the coolest nerd ever, who's now a local Portland sports radio personality, and Skills, who was just drafted thirteenth overall by the Utah Jazz.

And he's got his girlfriend. The girl he's known since high school and has been been dating since his sophomore year of college. The girl who has lived in L.A. for four years, trying to make her way as a fashion designer. She keeps telling him she'll come home eventually, but he stopped really believing that about a year and a half ago. Lately, he's been asking himself if he really cares anymore.

He majored in English at San Francisco State University. He graduated with honours. After spending most of his first year partying, he pulled up his socks and decided that if he was going to be in school, he might as well make it worth while. The parties got old and the people he was friends with got banal and kind of annoying.

Now he has no idea what he wants to do with his life.

He's almost 23, he's 'working' as a manager at one of Keith's dealerships (though he doesn't really care about the job itself, he's good at it without having to put in too much effort), and he's living in an apartment in Portland, a city that he loves, but can't see himself staying in.

And he can't help but question exactly why that is.

Or where he should go.

----

Dan Scott is not the same person he was as a high school senior. He was selfish and stupid, and if he had it all to do again, he'd do it differently. He wouldn't have married Karen - Deb is without a doubt the love of his life - but he'd have helped the girl. He would have been a father to his child. All Dan knows is that the baby was a boy. He doesn't know the child's name, or where he lives, or if he knows who his father is. He doesn't know the colour of his son's eyes (he can assume blue, since that's what Nathan inherited from him). He doesn't know if the boy graduated college or, hell, even high school.

He doesn't know a thing about the son he abandoned.

He lives with that regret every single day.

His wife knows about the child he fathered before they met, but no one else does. They'd always thought that maybe someday Karen would come back to town - back from wherever she fled to - but in 23 years, they haven't heard a word from her.

Dan knows that she's made it so hard to find herself simply because she doesn't want him anywhere near her son. Their son. He wishes he could tell her that he's changed.

After a freak and unfortunate injury, he'd quit basketball and moved back to Tree Hill with his pregnant fiancée. Karen was already gone by that point, leaving shortly after he did, before anyone in their town even knew she was pregnant. But that was where he made his roots. His son, Nathan, was born while both he and his (by that point) wife took business and entrepreneurial classes at the local community college. Deb had her parents' money to help them through, and they were grateful for every penny they were given. A little bit of life thrown at him, and Dan Scott was actually transformed into a human being, capable of learning from his mistakes and understanding that it wasn't all about him. Usually, it wasn't about him at all.

He and his wife opened a restaurant. A high-end, but homey place with linen napkins and stainless steel cutlery and a near-gourmet menu. The place is right on the water. They called it Thirty-Three. Dan was a bit of a local hero, and it was in interesting name; it had 'intrigue', people said. They have 33 beers on tap, 33 items on the menu, 33 cocktails, and each staff member wears a black tie with a royal blue 33 printed on the silk.

When Nathan started playing basketball and chose the number 23, Deb and Dan opened another restaurant, this one more of a sports bar. They called it Twenty-Three.

Dan always wondered if his other son might have played the game. He wondered if there was another jersey number that should have been the namesake of one of his establishments.

He doesn't think he'll ever get his answer.

----

"Hey, Mr. S," Peyton greets, walking into the mostly-empty bar. Nathan told her to meet him there, and she's running late. It appears he's running later.

"You know, you can call me Dan," the older man says from behind the bar.

Peyton's a spitfire. She's got attitude to spare, and it's generally the good kind. Dan knows, however, that you don't want to be on the receiving end of her sharp tongue and quick temper. It's rarely seen these days, but every once in a while you'll see a little bit of that fire, leftover from her youth.

He and Deb had always thought that Nathan would end up with one of those two girls. Deb insists she knew it was Haley all along, but Dan always thought it would have been Peyton. He can see that, when they were younger, had they chosen to date, their relationship would have self-destructed. Nathan was a little selfish, and Peyton was too independent. But now, he sees them as best friends, and though he knows that's all they'll ever be, he can't help but think they make a good team.

"I know." She shrugs one shoulder and leans her elbows on the bar. "But this just sounds more young and hip. Gotta target that younger demographic," she teases, referring to his upcoming bid for re-election.

"Maybe you're right," he says with a laugh. "Club soda?"

"You know me too well, sir," she says dramatically, thickening her accent.

"You're certainly in a good mood," he chuckles. "Anything you want to share?"

"God!" she cries, glaring at him. "You and Deb are the same, you know that? Just because a girl's smiling, doesn't mean she's got a boyfriend!"

"I didn't say anything about a boyfriend. It could be just a one-time..."

"Stop right there!" she interrupts, closing her eyes and holding up her hand. "Please, don't finish that statement."

"Moving on, then," he says, laughing as he hands her the drink he's poured her. "How's your dad?"

"He's good. I paid him a little visit this morning. He was telling me stories," she says, making them both smile.

"That might explain your good mood, then," Dan says sincerely, and she nods.

"Well, well," Peyton says as she catches Nathan walking across the room. "Look who decides to show up 25 minutes late."

"Sorry," he says eagerly. "Practice ran long."

"Ugh. I don't get why you practice on Saturdays," Peyton says, her nose scrunching in disgust.

"Because I want to win games," Nathan answers evenly, like it's obvious and she should already know it.

Nathan hasn't lost that competitive edge, and Peyton kind of loves that about him. He was always a little bit more stubborn. He had that bit of an 'I'm better than you' attitude when he played, and the thing was, he usually was better than his opponents. He's learned from good coaches, and he wants to be a good coach himself. So far, he's off to an alright start. The Ravens are 2 and 1 this year. They won only 7 games all last season, so it's widely-thought that Nathan is going to do an alright job; that he's already doing an alright job.

"So what exactly do you need my help with?" Peyton asks, sipping on her club soda.

"You know what tomorrow is?"

"Sunday?" Peyton offers. Dan chuckles behind the bar as he does inventory, and he hears Nathan mumble 'smart ass'.

"It's the six year anniversary of me and Haley's first date," he explains.

"That's...well, lame, but...six years is a long time," Peyton says. Nathan rolls his eyes and sighs. He's always telling her she's exhausting. This is exactly why, and she's very aware of it.

"Yeah, it is," Nathan says. "And I remembered it all on my own, so save your jokes."

"I had some good ones," she tells him. He laughs because they just know each other so well, as they should after 15 years of friendship. "So what do you need me for?"

"A gift idea."

"Is she getting you anything?" Peyton asks.

"I don't know," he says. "But either way, I need to get her something."

"Why either way?" Dan asks.

"Because if I get her something and she doesn't get me something, she'll owe me, and it'll be awesome," Nathan says with a smirk.

"Wow. You're such a catch," Peyton mumbles. "Alright. I have an idea. Let's go."

"Are you going to tell me what this idea is?" he asks as they step down off their stools.

"Not yet. Later Mr. S!" she calls over her shoulder on her way to the door.

"Just call him Dan, you freak," Nathan says, shaking his head.

They walk through their little town together, talking about his practice and her students, though calling the group of five-year-olds she teaches 'students' feels weird. Nathan and Haley's neighbour's son Noah is in Peyton's class, and he's always talking about Miss Sawyer and how she's the nicest 'lady' in the world.

They pick up a simple silver necklace with a little butterfly pendant that Haley had been looking at in the window of the town's jewelry store. It's the perfect gift, and Nathan knows he can get away with passing it off as his idea. Truthfully, he'd looked at the necklace earlier and considered buying it, but wasn't certain about it. Peyton, of course, doesn't believe him when he tells her that.

"So how are you?" Nathan asks as they walk down the sidewalk.

"I'm fine. Why?" Peyton insists.

"Because you're all...happy."

"So that means something's wrong?" She laughs and shakes her head. "Happiness is a good thing, Nate."

"Not for you. You only get like this when you're all overwhelmed and don't know what to think," he points out.

She's quiet because he's right and they both know it. He drapes his arm around her shoulder, but he doesn't say anything either. That's not what their friendship has ever been like. He'll either let her vent and yell and curse until she's red in the face, or he'll just sit with her in silence.

Either way, he knows she's feeling a lot of things, she just doesn't know how to properly express all those emotions.

She loves that he'll just let her do it her way, and she tells him so. Besides, Peyton knows he'll tell Haley, and her best friend will knock on her door later so they can talk. She kind of loves that too.

----

Lucas sits in his office at the dealership looking at the calendar. He's got two weeks of vacation time coming up, and he doesn't know what to do with it. It was just assumed that he'd go see Brooke in L.A., but quite frankly, he doesn't want to. He's been to see her four times in a row, and he doesn't want to resent her for not really making an effort. He knows she's busy, but so is he.

And the thought of spending two weeks in L.A. is not appealing to him at all. For a guy who grew up in a city, he really feels like he's a small town guy. Any 'vacation' he's ever really taken has been a low key one. Camping with his dad or with friends, or heading up to B.C. to watch one of his buddies compete in a rodeo in a middle-of-nowhere town.

He has dinner with his mom and dad (he refuses to call Keith anything but) that night, and midway through their meal, Karen suspects something is wrong.

"What's on your mind?" she asks knowingly. "And don't say nothing."

He thinks for a moment, his brow furrowing like it has since he was a kid and he was lost in thought, then he turns towards his mom a little bit.

"Where'd you grow up?" he inquires.

"North Carolina."

"No. I know that. But where in North Carolina?"

Karen shoots Keith a look and he shrugs his shoulder. None of this goes unnoticed by Lucas, and he's really starting to wonder what the big secret is. Sure, he knows that wherever they grew up, his biological father grew up too, but he's curious.

"Tree Hill," she finally says, doing her best to remain calm. It's not a place she necessarily wants him to go. "It's a very small town along the coast."

"How small?" he asks.

"Very," Keith laughs. "About 7,000 people."

"That's pretty small," Lucas concedes.

"Why do you want to know?" Keith asks gently.

"I don't know," Lucas says, shrugging one shoulder. "I don't really feel...I don't think I fit in here anymore."

"Honey, you always fit in here," Karen says, shaking her head a little bit.

"No. I know I fit in with you guys, I'm...I guess I just mean that...something's missing for me."

"So what does that have to do with where we grew up?" Karen asks, though she's almost certain she already knows the answer.

"I think I want to see it," Lucas says with confidence.

"Why?" Keith asks, shaking his head. He and Karen haven't been back since they left. They'd be just fine with Lucas never going to that town.

"I just need...perspective," Lucas says quietly. "I need something."

"And you think it's in Tree Hill?" Karen inquires.

"I don't know. Maybe."

"You want to meet him, don't you?" Karen sets down her fork and looks at her son with a serious expression. He doesn't say anything before she continues. "Lucas, he's not a good person. He's...There's a reason we left that town."

"And I think there's a reason that I need to go there," Lucas argues gently.

"Son, You know we won't tell you what to do," Keith says. "But Tree Hill is just a nothing town with a lot of...bad memories."

"Not for me, though," Lucas insists.

"I just think you're setting yourself up for disappointment," Karen says. There is a little fear in her voice; almost like she's begging Lucas not to go, without really saying the words or discouraging him. "But if you want to go, I can't stop you."

"And if you really don't want me to go, I won't go," Lucas says, shrugging his shoulder like it's no big deal.

They don't talk about it anymore that night. Lucas still wants to take that trip, though he's getting more and more unnerved about what he's going to find there if he goes. There's a bigger part of him that's worried about what he'll miss out on if he doesn't go.

Karen walks into his apartment a few days later with a plane ticket to Tree Hill. She tells him that she doesn't understand why he needs to go, but that she supports him no matter what. The way she tells him that she and Keith will always be there for him makes him believe that she really thinks he's going to need them even more after he returns home.

Either way, he thinks, he's going to North Carolina in two days.

----

"My favourite shape is a triangle," one of Peyton's students claims proudly.

She's sitting in her classroom in a big circle, surrounded by five year olds, all sitting indian style. They're talking about shapes, and somehow, all the kids have started naming their favourites, which isn't really the point at all, but they seem to be actually learning, so she can't complain about it.

"Why's that, Jillian?" Peyton asks.

"Because they're more fun that circles," the girl states. And Peyton has to keep herself from laughing, as she has to do often, because in the girl's five year old mind, that probably seems like the most logic and obvious answer.

"What about you, Evan?" Peyton says, turning to the boy on her right.

"I like circles," he says. Before his teacher can asks, he explains his reasons. "My mommy says they never end."

Peyton smiles at Evan and nods her head. Her dad used to say the same thing. She asked him once about his wedding ring. It was a couple years after her mom died, and he was still wearing his (he still does) and she asked him what the point was. He told her that true love never ends, just like a circle never ends.

She has never forgotten that.

----

Lucas steps off the plane in Tree Hill and it's like someone flips a switch inside him. He doesn't know if maybe that's all in his head.

He can't really explain it.

He feels calmer, and quieter. He feels like there's a life in him that was never there before. For the first time, after stepping on a plane, the first thing he does isn't turn on his cell phone. He knows he should call his mom, and he will, but he doesn't want to hear all those annoying beeps, telling him he's missed texts from Brooke.

He doesn't want to hear all those annoying beeps, because Keith told him about the quiet of Tree Hill, and Lucas almost feels like he'd be ruining it by even looking at his phone.

He gets a cab from the airport to the house at the beach that he's rented for the two weeks he plans to be in town, and he sits on the back porch looking out at the ocean. He watches families pass by, children laughing and teenagers telling stories.

He watches a group of three people about his age. One tall man with dark hair and broad shoulders holding the hand of a petite brunette, and another woman with long, wavy blonde hair.

He sees her but she doesn't see him. She runs her hand through her hair when the wind whips it around, and he literally leans forward in his seat, captivated by this woman. She smiles and looks down, and the couple she's with kisses quickly when she isn't looking. Lucas barely sees it.

He thinks he might like Tree Hill.

----

She wishes she was having a better day when she runs into this stranger.

Because when she literally runs into him, she's so frustrated and annoyed that she can barely find it in herself to even speak any words, let alone to be polite.

She's walking down the sidewalk, juggling her bag and her cellphone as she reaches for her keys, and she walks directly into a hard body. She stumbles a bit, but feels a pair of arms around her loosely - just loose enough not to be creepy - as her bag falls to the ground.

"I'm so sorry," he says. He kneels down to help her with the things she's already gathering. "I wasn't paying attention."

"Clearly," she mumbles, though she knows, and she suspects he knows, that she's guilty of the same thing. He reaches for her iPod, and she feels herself tense. "Don't," she says.

"I was just going to help you out," he says, somewhat defensively.

"I'm sorry," she sighs, closing her eyes. Just because she's having a bad day and this guy is in the wrong place a the wrong time, doesn't mean she should be so rude. "It's just...that's my iPod."

"I can see that," he says sarcastically as they both stand.

"It's kind of my lifeline," she explains gently, softening her tone upon seeing that he's actually just kind of a genuine guy.

An attractive genuine guy.

"Well, uh...I'll leave you and your lifeline alone," he mumbles, turning on his heel.

"I'm sorry," she repeats, making him turn back to her. "I just...I'm not good at this."

"At...what...exactly?" he asks curiously. He's wondering what the hell is up with this girl, and why he's still talking to her when she's given him every reason to run the other way.

Oh, right. Because he's been thinking about her since he saw her the yesterday on the beach, and because she's almost too beautiful.

"Talking," she answers. "To boys, I mean."

"Well," he says, quirking his brow, "I'm not really a boy. I'd like to think I'm more of a man."

That might be the sexiest thing she's ever heard anyone say.

"Well look," she says, her tone businesslike for some reason, "I have to go. I'm sorry I ran into you."

He's a little taken aback, because he thought they had a bit of a moment there, and now, before he can even say goodbye or apologize himself, she's rushing off down the street again.

His phone beeps in his pocket - he's stupidly turned the thing on - and he's reminded that he shouldn't be having moments with beautiful women. He shouldn't be watching beautiful women's hips sway as they walk, or notice the brand of her jeans because it's printed there on a tag on the back pocket, where his eyes are fixed.

He's got a girlfriend. For the millionth time, when he listens to Brooke's whiny voicemail, he wonders why.

----

"What's with you?" Haley asks with a laugh as Peyton storms into the Scott house and flops down on the sofa dramatically.

"I just saw...No. I can't tell you," Peyton says.

She doesn't want to admit to finding someone attractive, because with Nathan and Haley, it always turns into them either trying to set her up, or teasing her relentlessly. Sometimes both. And one or both of them will tell Dan and Deb, and she doesn't want to deal with any of it.

But damn, that guy was gorgeous. Bright blue eyes and stubble on his jaw and a white tee shirt that looked suspiciously clean. She liked it, though. And she swears she can still smell his cologne from those brief few seconds when she was pressed up against him.

"You can tell me anything," Haley says as she swirls her tea bag around in her mug.

Peyton sighs dramatically and rolls her eyes, and she knows that if she doesn't just explain what happened, Haley will badger her until she spills.

"I ran into a guy."

"Who?" Haley asks.

Peyton almost laughs. It's a small town and they literally know everyone. They certainly know everyone their age. Hence, why Peyton's still single. To Haley, this 'guy' has to be someone they already know. Peyton knows otherwise.

"I don't know. He's...I've never seen him before," Peyton explains.

"What's he like?"

"I don't know! I literally bumped into him, was a bitch for two seconds, got embarrassed because he's so hot, and walked away," Peyton says quickly. Haley laughs again, and Peyton rolls her eyes, more at herself than anything.

"Okay. So what does he look like?" Haley asks.

"Blonde, blue eyes, tall-ish. Just...it was all good," Peyton says. She blushes immediately. It's been so long since she did this - talked about boys - that she feels like a teenager again.

"Well, did you get his name?"

"No!" Peyton almost yells.

"Why not?" Haley inquires, putting her hand on her hip. "Peyton, you need to meet people!"

"You're my people. You and Nate, and Junk and Fergie. My dad and Dan and Deb. Those are all the people I need."

"That's so ridiculous. You need a man," Haley says, immediately laughing at how absurd it is. Really, no one needs a man.

"I most certainly do not," Peyton says indignantly.

Haley knows - knows - that Peyton wants one. She also knows that Peyton could have almost any man she wanted. The problem is that she hasn't wanted in a really long time. Since Jake, really, and it saddens Haley to know that was in high school. Sure, Peyton has had a few (very) short-lived relationships, nothing lasting over a month, since Jake, but as far as a real relationship goes, there's been nothing. She's not naive enough to think this mystery guy will change that. She just doesn't want Peyton to close the door on the opportunity to find out.

They're quiet for a moment, because they're both thinking about how it'd be to go through life without ever having certain things. Someone to curl up with in bed. Someone to be father to your children. Someone to kill spiders and check mousetraps and steal the remote control. Someone to insist on getting a bigger television just because it's bigger.

Sex.

"How hot?" Haley asks, breaking the silence.

"So hot," Peyton admits, and they both burst into a fit of giggles.

And she can't lie. She really does like this whole girl talk thing. She likes it even better when it's not all about Nathan.

She wishes she knew the blonde guy's name. She lets herself believe it's probably something nice.

----

He really doesn't know why he's here at this specific place.

He didn't do any 'research' before he came. He didn't want to cloud his judgment with rumors or...anything, really. He managed to stay away from search engines and whatever results and news stories they might have produced. But finding out that Dan Scott is the mayor of this little town? That was a bit of a shock. He certainly hadn't expected that. He doesn't really know what he expected. He tried not to expect much.

But now he's standing in front of City Hall, knowing that if he walks up those steps and into the offices, he could come face to face with his father.

He's frozen in his place, it seems.

He wants to meet his father - his biological father - but he doesn't think he wants to do it this way. He doesn't want to just walk into a building, give his name at the desk, and meet the man. And what would he say? 'Hello, Mr. Mayor, I'm the son you never wanted'? No. The more he thinks of that first meeting, the more he wonders if there shouldn't be one.

He's got a father. A great man who raised him and, save for a few slip ups (on Lucas' part, not Keith's) taught him how to be a man. Maybe he doesn't need to meet this other man. He can't help but want to, though.

His phone rings, and he's close to throwing the damn thing in the trash can on the sidewalk. But he hasn't been taking Brooke's calls, and he really should.

"Hello," he answers, his voice monotone.

"Finally!" she says. He can tell she's probably sitting in her office, seething over being ignored. She is, after all, the girl who once actually spoke the words, No one ignores Brooke Davis.

Why is he with her again?

"Hi," he says lamely, sitting himself down on the steps of City Hall.

"Where have you been? I mean, I know you've got time off, but what..." He kind of tunes her out a bit. He's actually trying to remember whether or not he told her he was going to North Carolina. He's pretty sure he didn't. "Luke?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I'm here," he says. "I actually uh...took a little trip."

"You...what?" she asks, clearly offended. "You said you didn't want to go anywhere."

"I didn't. It was last minute."

"Where are you, then?"

"Tree Hill," he says, knowing that won't mean anything to her.

"Tree...Where the hell is that?" she asks, her voice raising in tone and pitch.

"North Carolina. Where mom and Keith grew up," he explains.

"Oh. So you'll go to some hick town across the country, but you won't go to the next state to visit your girlfriend?" she asks. "Nice, Lucas."

"It's not like that," he says.

But he can't explain more, because he sees that women - the one he ran into - walking towards him along the sidewalk. She's got a few books in her hands, and her hair is swept up into a messy bun type thing, and she's wearing tailored grey pants and a navy blue top. He most definitely should not be checking out another woman while he's talking to his girlfriend.

"What's it like, Lucas?" Brooke asks sullenly. The woman recognizes him and gives him a hint of a smile, and he raises his hand to wave. "Okay, you know what? Call me when you're not lost in space, Lucas."

"Brooke. Brooke!" But she's hung up the phone, and he curses beneath his breath as he stands and tucks his phone back into his pocket.

The woman passes him, continuing down the sidewalk, and for some reason, he just can't let her walk away from him this time. Before he knows it, his feet are carrying him in her direction. He really doesn't know why. He doesn't know what he'll say or why he wants to say anything.

"Hey," he says, cupping her elbow. She turns and looks at him like he's crazy, and she pulls her arm away. "Sorry. I didn't mean to scare you."

"You didn't," she insists.

He wants to ask why she reacted like that, but it feels like too personal a question. He doesn't know how he missed it before, but her eyes are so green that he can't stop looking at them. That beautiful kind of olive green with black and gold flecks and...

"What?" she asks unnervingly.

"What?" Her voice snapped him from his revery, and he's suddenly very aware that he has no idea why he's talking to her. Again. What is it about this girl?

"You're...Are you alright?" she inquires, furrowing her brow. "You look...rattled or something."

"No," he says, far too quickly. "No. I'm fine."

"Looked like a rough phone call," she says.

"Not really." He shrugs his shoulder lazily, and she looks at him in confusion, like she's trying to figure him out. "What?"

"Who are you?" she asks, shaking her head.

"Excuse me?"

"You aren't from here, or I'd know you. Tourist season is over. No one visits Tree Hill in November."

She puts one hand on her hip, and while he finds that both amusing and attractive, there's an unspoken accusation in her words that he doesn't appreciate. She's making it sound like the locals don't want anyone new in their town. He's certainly getting an icy reception, if you can call it a reception at all.

"Okay, clearly you can't answer a simple question," she says after a few moments.

"I...Honestly, I'm not sure why I'm here," he says, like it's as bewildering to him as it is to her.

"Well...have fun trying to figure it out," she says, though he can tell she doesn't really mean it.

She walks away before he can say anything else, and the whole time, she's wondering why she's being so cold to him. He just keeps catching her on bad days.

And she knows that the kind of attraction she has to him, physically at least, is the kind of thing that has the potential to lead to heartbreak, and she really doesn't want to deal with that.

She's not anti-love; she's anti-pain. In her defense, she's never really had one without the other.

----

She and Haley are sitting at Thirty-Three, sipping glasses of white wine and picking at a plate of calamari as they wait for their mains. They do this every Tuesday after work. Nathan's practice always runs late, and he and Whitey usually watch some game together, so it's their girl's night. Sometimes they'll go to a show or a movie or shopping, but more often than not, they just sit at 'their' table (the one that Dan keeps open for them each Tuesday) and talk about whatever they want to talk about.

Of course, they're talking about the stranger Peyton saw again the day before.

"So why are you being such a bitch?" Haley asks.

"Wow. Thank you for that," Peyton says, and they both laugh when Haley shrugs her shoulders. "It's just weird. I mean, he comes here and he's all charming or whatever, then he just like, thinks..."

"You've talked to him twice. How do you know what he's thinking?" Haley points out rationally. "Do you even know his name?"

"No. But who cares?"

"Um, you do?" Haley suggests. "Peyton, you've been talking about him since Sunday."

"So?"

"So? So? That's your response?" Haley laughs. "Maybe a little fling is what you need."

"No, it's not," Peyton says firmly. She casts her eyes on the door as it opens, and she sees the one person she really wants to see. Or doesn't want to see. Or says she doesn't want to see, but has secretly been looking for. "Fuck."

"Peyton!" Haley hisses. She isn't so much a fan of those curse words.

"That's him," Peyton says. "Don't look!"

"Don't be ridiculous."

"Haley, don't..." But it's too late. Haley turns in her chair and gets a look at the guy who her best friend won't admit she wants.

"Well, he is good looking," Haley insists once she's facing Peyton again. "Go talk to him."

"I am not," Peyton says, pouting at how Haley is so obviously not on her side.

Their food arrives and Peyton is thankful for something that'll divert Haley's attention from the conversation they were having. They start chatting idly about their meals or their students, a few of the goings on in their little town, and the trip they think they should take to New York, just the two of them, in the spring.

But the entire time, that gorgeous blonde man seems to be staring at Peyton, and when he's not staring at her, it looks like he doesn't want to be caught staring at her.

"What is his problem?" Peyton asks after their plates are cleared.

"He may not have one," Haley says, smiling giddily. "He might just like you."

"Well...can he do it in a way that doesn't make him look like a stalker?"

"Peyton," Haley laughs. Peyton looks at him and he's staring again, and she drops her napkin on the table angrily. "What are you doing?"

"I'm going over there."

Haley can't stop Peyton before she stands. She strides over to his table where he's been nursing a beer for the last 40 minutes, and there's something in her stomach. Something like butterflies. Well, those butterflies need to die, she thinks, because she does not have a crush on this staring, creepy weirdo. No matter how hot he is.

"Can I help you with something?" she asks hotly, putting a hand on her hip.

"I'm sorry?" Lucas asks in confusion. Sure, he'd noticed her there, but given their track record with conversations, he thought better than to say hello.

"You've been staring for a half hour. If there's a problem, just tell me."

"No. No. I'm sorry. I wasn't looking at you," he explains.

"Right," she scoffs.

"Well aren't we high on ourselves," he says, sitting back in his chair and crossing his arms.

"That's not what I meant," she insists firmly. He doesn't budge. "Whatever. If you need something to stare at, try to find something away from my general direction."

She turns on her heel to walk back to her table, but he can't let her. He doesn't know why he loves arguing with her so much.

"Wait," he says sincerely. She turns back around and he gestures to the chair across from him. She rolls her eyes, but he smiles at her until she sits down. He points to Dan standing behind the bar. "You see that man?"

He has no idea why he's been staring at the man, really, other than he seems like everyone in town knows him, and he shakes everyone's hand and makes jokes and is just nice.

"Um...yeah," she says. Okay, so he wasn't looking at her, he was looking past her. She really doesn't know why he's been staring at Dan. "Dan Scott."

"Dan...That's...That's him?" he asks. He doesn't even notice the confused look on her face. She notices, however, that the colour has drained from his.

"Yeah. What's...?"

She grows even more confused when he takes a crumpled bill out of his pocket, drops it on the table, stands, and walks away. She stands from her seat and walks back to she and Haley's table, and both women watch the guy walk out the door.

"What just happened?" Haley inquires.

Peyton, still with a bewildered look on her face, says, "I have no idea."

----

She's driving home from dropping Haley off after dinner, and she decides to take a little detour at the beach. She needs to walk for a bit, clear her head and try to figure out what she's really feeling.

And why she's actually concerned for this perfect stranger. Sure, his behaviour was startlingly odd, and she really shouldn't care, but she does. And it's not just that he's attractive and has a voice that makes her hands tremble. There's something in his eyes.

Something that tells her that maybe he's as lost as she feels sometimes.

She takes a seat at her spot, the one she's had since she was barely old enough to be out by herself, and she pulls her knees up to her chest. It's a little chilly, given that it's the middle of November, but she kind of likes it like this. She likes the sting of the cold on her cheeks and the way her toes get just a little numb in her shoes. She likes that cold chill that runs through her body every so often. It makes her feel alive somehow.

"I know it's a small town, but this is getting crazy," a masculine voice says.

She looks up at him and almost smiles. She doesn't know why she can't. She doesn't know why she wants to.

"Are you alright?" she asks, because she's a caring person; as much as she hates that she's been worried about him, she has been.

He sits down next to her and sifts some sand through his fingers. "Maybe."

"Maybe? What does that mean?"

"I think I owe you an apology," he says quietly.

"Maybe several," she mumbles. "I might owe you a few, too."

"Don't worry about it," he insists, shaking his head. "So far, I've bumped into you, violated your personal space, and walked out on you in the middle of a conversation."

"And I've been a total bitch," she says, and he lets out a laugh that warms her blood. "So...I'm sorry."

"You really don't need to apologize."

"Just accept it," she demands, looking at him with a raised brow and a little grin.

"Alright, alright," he concedes dramatically. "I'm Lucas, by the way."

"I'm Peyton," she says after a moment.

"Why did you hesitate?" he asks, looking at her out of the corner of his eye.

"I didn't!"

"You did."

"Did not."

"Okay, this could go on all night," he says.

She takes a deep breath. That actually doesn't sound half bad.

"I'd ask you why you're here again, but I doubt you have an answer."

"It's kind of a long story," he says quietly, looking to his shoes. Peyton knows that phrase means that he doesn't want to tell it. "I'm here for two weeks."

He doesn't know why he tells her that, but he feels like he just wants her to know. Like maybe if he tells her he'll be around, she'll say that she wants to see him again. He certainly wants to see her again.

Especially after he and Brooke broke up the day before.

She'd called him just after midnight - apparently she forgot the time difference - and asked him what was going on with him. When he started to explain, she didn't understand why he was going out in search of a father he had never needed, when he had Keith at home who loved him unconditionally. He didn't have an argument, other than to say that it felt like something he had to do. Somehow, that morphed into her bringing up his not going to see her, and that turned into an accusation that he was a bad boyfriend, and then she was crying and asking him if he still loved her. Apparently, it took him too long to answer. They finally agreed that maybe it was time for them to part ways. According to Brooke, he agreed to that all too quickly.

After that conversation, he merely turned off his phone, set it on the bedside table, turned out the light and went to sleep. He woke up feeling guilty over not mourning the loss of a four and a half year relationship, but he knew, as he suspected Brooke did too, that maybe their relationship was already lost.

He'd never admit it, but one of his first thoughts that day was that maybe this woman - who he now knows is named Peyton - is single.

"Well, I'm sure I'll be seeing you," she says softly, toying with the button at the cuff of her sleeve. "So why were you watching Dan earlier?"

"I wasn't watching him the whole time," he admits, locking eyes with her. She blushes a little bit, and he sees her nibbling the inside of her bottom lip. That's definitely cute. "If I had known you were going to yell at me about it..."

"I'm sorry!" she cries laughingly. He chuckles beside her and leans over, bumping her shoulder with his.

"To answer your question," he starts, "well, that's part of the long story."

"You don't have to..."

"I'm his son."

Peyton is stunned into silence. She's known Dan Scott very close to all her life. He's been like a second father to her. She's not crazy enough to think he is her father. And Dan and Deb only have one son. And this guy is her age, which means he's Nathan's age. Which means...well, she really has no idea what that means.

That long story is getting more and more interesting.

"My mom grew up here," he adds.

"That's...impossible," she says, shaking her head.

"Nope."

"I'm sorry. I'm sure you're...confused about all this, but...There's no way Dan Scott is your father," she argues gently. "I'm best friends with Nathan, and..."

"Nathan?" Lucas inquires, squinting at her.

"Dan's son," she says seriously, her brow furrowed.

"I have...I have a brother?" Lucas asks breathlessly.

"Nathan is not your brother, okay?" she says, standing as she grows more and more agitated. "Dan Scott is not your father."

"Look, you don't know the story," he insists, standing up and facing her. "This is...it's true. My mother wouldn't lie. And I have a dad, alright? I'm not just making this up to..."

"To what? You found out Dan is the mayor and has some connections and...What do you want from him? And why do you even believe this?" She's practically yelling at him, but in a very real way, the Scotts have become her family and she's going to protect them.

"Because it's the truth!" he shouts back at her. "I have...there are so many things that I don't understand. I just want some answers."

"Like what!?"

"Like...Did I get my blue eyes from him?" he asks seriously. "My mom and dad both have brown eyes. And this dimple." He touches a spot on his cheek, but she doesn't need him to. She's practically memorized that dimple. "And if he plays basketball. Because my dad? Well, he likes to play, but he sucks, and I was all-state. And where did I get my love of literature? My mom doesn't read anything but cook-books and cheesy romance novels."

She stands there in silence, because when he puts it like that, she can see why he'd come to town. And she can see why he really believes that Dan is his father. And he's right; why would a mother lie to her son about that if he already had a dad in his life.

"Can you...Just say something. Please," he begs her, hanging his head.

"His eyes are blue," she manages, because it's the first thing that comes to mind. He looks up at her quickly. "And he has dimples. He played college ball until he got injured, and he reads all the time."

They're both quiet again, because he's wondering what this means for him, and she's wondering what this means for everyone else. The only thing that she knows for certain is that even in light of this revelation - this crazy piece of news that she still isn't sure she quite believes - she is drawn to this guy in a way she's never been drawn to anyone. She doesn't want that to be true, but it is.

Her phone rings, and she quickly takes it out of her pocket.

"I have to go," she says after checking the number.

"Peyton..."

"I have to go!"

She's halfway down the beach when he realizes that he didn't ask that she keep this to herself until he figures out what he's going to do.

But there was something in her eyes that told him he could trust her.

----

She's running early the next morning - she couldn't sleep, so she decided to just get up and get ready for her day - and so she decides to stop at the coffee shop for breakfast before heading to school.

She doesn't expect Lucas to be standing there as she walks to the door.

She still really doesn't know what to think. She was up all night wondering about everything. Had Dan cheated on Deb? How old was Lucas? Where had he grown up? Why now? Why not years ago? Was he smart? What did he do for a living? Did Nathan know about him?

And so on and so forth.

"Hi," Lucas says sheepishly. "You couldn't sleep either, huh?"

"Is that your way of telling me I look like shit?" she asks with a little laugh. He closes his eyes and grimaces. That's not what he meant.

"No. I just..." She kinks her brow in amusement, and he stops trying to explain. "Can I buy you a coffee?"

"How'd you know I'd be here?"

"I didn't. I was just hoping." he admits. She nods her head, and he holds the door open for her.

He watches as she walks past him, and he smells the sweet notes of her perfume. He finds himself trying to figure out what it is. It's a mixture of things, he can tell, but he can't pinpoint what those things are. He assumes she likes it that way. He wonders how many men have tried to do the very same thing.

She's got on a flowing black skirt that's tight in the hips, but nowhere else. She's wearing black kitten heels and her black blazer, and when she takes off her jacket, she's got a purple top with silver buttons down the side. He's never seen a shirt quite like that before. He doesn't think anyone could wear it like she does.

She places her order and he follows suit, and they sit at an empty table in the quiet little shop.

"What do you do?" he asks, his brow furrowed in curiosity. "I can't figure it out."

"Guess."

"I can't."

"Yes you can," she counters encouragingly. "Just guess."

"I'm bad at this game. Just tell me," he pleads. She smiles bigger than he's seen from her before, and he swears his heart stops. She raises her brow, and he knows she's not going to tell him. "I don't know. Do you work at the bank?"

"No," she laughs. "I'm awful with big numbers."

"Um...Do you own...anything?" She laughs a little harder and shakes her head. "See! I'm bad at this."

"I'll give you a hint," she says, leaning across the table like it's some big secret. "I have a Dr. Seuss book in my bag." He shakes his head as he smirks. "I teach kindergarten at the elementary school." He smiles, then laughs a little. "What?"

"Nothing! Just...my friend Skills and I have this theory about elementary school teachers."

"I don't want to know," she says, holding up her hands.

"No, it's nothing bad. It's just...they're always the nicest women," he says shrugging his shoulder.

"Well, I think I've shot your theory to hell." She laughs as she stirs milk into her coffee, and he wonders if she's always this self-deprecating.

"No you haven't," he says quietly. She looks across the table at him, and there's that blush and that lip biting thing again. God, he loves that. "So...I thought we could talk."

"We are talking."

"You're a little sarcastic, aren't you?" he asks.

"Little bit," she says, holding up her thumb and index finger as indication. "I'm sorry about last night. I...freaked out a little."

"It's..."

"It's not okay," she cuts him off. He wonders how she knew he was going to say that. "You just have to understand...That family is like my family. I've known Nathan forever. He's married to my best friend in the world..."

"He's married?"

"You know the girl I was with last night?" she asks, and he nods. "That's Haley. They've been together since high school, and they got married in the spring."

"That's...wow."

"And Dan and Deb," she starts, "Deb is Dan's wife, by the way. They've been...Ever since my mom died, they've been there for me way more than they needed to be."

"When did your mom...?"

"I was eight," she explains, and he smiles sadly. "I guess what I'm getting at is...It's not just your life or Dan's life, here. Lucas, if you..."

"What do you mean if?" he asks. "Dan is my father, and I want to meet him."

"I understand that. Trust me," she says. The way she says it has him wondering how she seems to know so much about his situation. "Just be careful."

"Because Dan's a bad guy?" he asks quietly, leaning towards her a bit across the table. The shock on her face frightens him a little. It's clear he's said the wrong thing.

"Dan is one of the nicest, most generous men I have ever met," she says firmly.

"Try telling my mom that," he mutters into his coffee cup.

"Maybe you shouldn't be so goddamn judgmental," she snaps. She grabs her to-go cup and stands from her place, stuffing her arms into the sleeves of her jacket. "Don't you dare act like you know anyone in this town, because it's very clear that you don't."

"Peyton, I didn't..."

"Thanks for the coffee," she interrupts. She turns to walk to the door, and she's already outside while he's just beginning to process what's happening.

Alright, so he made a bit of a stupid comment, but he's just going on hearsay. That, he realizes, is the problem. She wouldn't be so adamant about Dan being a good man if it wasn't true. Why would she lie to him? And why would she tell him about her mother and how Dan had been there for her if it wasn't true? What would she get out of that?

He shoots up out of his seat and runs out the door and onto the sidewalk, then takes off in her direction.

"Peyton," he says when he catches up to her.

"What?" she asks, sounding completely exhausted.

"I'm sorry. You're right. I shouldn't judge. Hell, I don't even know the guy." Her eyes soften just a little bit, and he sighs. "I should definitely trust your word right now instead of my mom's version of him from 24 years ago."

"Yes, you should."

"So...I'm sorry," he repeats.

"Thank you," she says softly. He smiles at her tone of voice. For the first time, she sounds like a kindergarten teacher. "I have to get to work."

"Can I see you later?" he asks. He's nervous and she can tell. She thinks that's kind of sweet.

"I have plans after work, but I should be available around 7:00," she says. She's nervous too. She wonders if he finds it sweet. "Meet me at the beach."

"Okay," he says.

He surprises them both. He rests his hand gently on her hip and leans forward, brushing his lips across her cheek. He has no idea why he did it, but it felt right. It felt amazing actually. He could smell that perfume, or whatever it is that she smells like, and his hand seems like it was made to rest on her body like that. He has to remind himself to let go.

"Bye," she whispers.

He watches her walk away. He wants to be walking with her.

----

That night as they walk along the water, she tells him that she can talk to Dan and introduce them when Lucas is ready. She honestly doesn't know how she's going to broach the subject with Dan, but she knows she'll be able to. After hearing the entire story, learning that Dan knows Lucas exists, she's not quite as nervous. At least it won't be as much of a surprise.

But her phone rings after only an hour together, and once again she's telling him she has to go. She doesn't explain. She just walks away from him again.

He knows he shouldn't be, but he's getting sick of her always doing that.

----

She shows up at the house he's staying at on Saturday morning around 10:30. He'd shown her the house the other night as they walked along the beach, and she decided that morning that she wanted to see him, so she was going over there to...well, she hadn't thought that far ahead.

She hasn't told Haley, and she certainly hasn't told Nathan, anything more about this guy. She won't say anything until Lucas is ready, and she tells herself that she's not betraying her friends, since it's not really her family and it's definitely not her secret to tell.

Lucas comes to the door wearing only a pair of jeans with the fly undone. His hair is a mess and there is a line running down his cheek, she assumed from the pillow case. All that, coupled with the fact that it had taken him so long to answer the door, lets her know that she's woken him.

"Hi," he says, surprised that she's standing there.

"Hey," she manages. She's really trying not to stare at his body. "I was going to take you to brunch."

"Going to?" he asks. He steps aside to let her in, and she smiles shyly as she passes.

"What?"

"You were going to? You aren't anymore?" he asks in amusement.

All she can think about are Haley's words. Maybe she really could use a fling. She likes Lucas. She trusts him. And with him standing there looking sexy as hell, she honestly can't remember why she'd ever wanted to go anywhere else.

"I'm gonna kiss you," she says, getting a rare burst of ridiculous, probably insane, courage.

"Uh..."

He doesn't get a chance to question it, because she takes his face in her hands and presses her lips to his. He moans in surprise, even though she told him she was going to do it, and he just kisses her back. His hands fall to her waist and he pulls her closer to him, and her arms twine around his neck as he deepens the kiss.

And damn he's a good kisser. Granted, she hasn't kissed anyone in a while, but part of her wonders if she's just been waiting to have this kiss with this man. Fate or destiny or something like that.

Either way, when he's walking her back towards the sofa, she doesn't protest, and she takes a deep, really sexy breath when he lays them down with him on top of her.

He doesn't know how long they lay like that, just kissing, but he knows that he's not stopping until and unless she tells him to. When he slips his hand beneath her shirt as he kisses her neck, and she lets out a soft moan right next to his ear, he starts to get the idea that she won't be telling him to stop.

"Bedroom," she says breathlessly into his ear.

He doesn't argue. They kiss their way down the hall and he pulls her shirt up over her head, and she pushes at his jeans, and she doesn't stop to really think about who he is in relation to the most important people in her life.

Even though she's only been around him a few times, he's somehow becoming one of those people.

And no one has ever made her feel the way he's making her feel with his hands and lips on her bare skin. It's a rush of physical pleasure and she hates that she has to describe it like that, but when her hands run down his back, toned and strong and slick with a little sweat, she really can't think of anything different.

He kisses her gently when they're trying to catch their breath, and he wants to tell her that he's never done this kind of thing before. He's been with a handful of women, but sex has never been like that. Freeing and intense and pretty much their own little world that consisted of being naked, appreciating one another, and both ending up satisfied beyond anything they could have imagined.

"Wow," she breathes out.

"Yeah," he says from his place next to her. "What was that?"

"Sex," she answers, laughing at her own silly (but so obviously true) answer. She rolls onto her side, pressing herself against him as he lays on his back, and she kisses his neck as she speaks. "Really...really...good...sex."

"Mmm." He kisses the top of her head and places his hand over hers on his stomach. "We should definitely do that again."

"After brunch?" she suggests.

"It's noon."

"Lunch?" she amends. He laughs and tips her chin up to kiss her.

They get dressed and head towards the centre of the town in her old car, and she parks in a spot that's reserved for her at the restaurant he saw her in the other night. She's told him all about it - that Dan owns it - but seeing her name there on the reserved parking space just reminds him how close she is with the family he doesn't know at all.

They don't eat at that restaurant because she insists there's someplace better. He knows she's just making it up so that he won't have to do anything or meet anyone before he's ready.

They're walking down the street towards her car after their lazy lunch at the little diner. Lucas laughs about how his morning went - not complaining, he insists. He gets another reminder that Peyton is a well-loved figure in this little town, in the form of an adorable little brunette with her hair in braided pigtails.

"Miss Sawyer!" a little voice shouts. "My mommy said I could come out and talk to you."

Peyton sees the older woman through the window and offers a wave. Mrs. MacDonald smiles gratefully in return, knowing Peyton will watch the child for a few minutes without really being asked. That's why all the parents love her so much; she's reliable and the kids adore her.

"Well hello, Sierra," Peyton says with a smile, kneeling down in front of the girl. "How are you?"

"Good. Mommy's buying underwear," Sierra announces. Peyton laughs and Lucas smiles.

"I think that's a bit of a secret," Peyton whispers.

"Why?" Sierra asks with a shrug of her little shoulders. "Everyone needs underwears."

"I suppose you're right," Peyton concedes.

"Who's that man?" the girl asks, pointing at Lucas.

"Don't point, please," Peyton requests, winking at Sierra. After all, she does need to keep teaching them lessons, even when they aren't in class. "That's...my friend."

"What's his name?"

"His name is Lucas," Peyton says. She looks over at a smiling Lucas, and Sierra gives him a little wave. He waves back.

"I'm Sierra MacDonald, and I'm five."

"I'm Lucas Scott, and I'm 23," Lucas says.

"You're old," Sierra says, scrunching her cute little nose up.

"Sierra!" Peyton laughs. Lucas doesn't seem offended. "I'm the same age as Lucas. Am I old?"

"No," Sierra says with wide eyes, shaking her head emphatically. "Because you're a lot prettier than him."

Lucas laughs again and notices the redness in Peyton's cheeks. He definitely likes that. He really likes that she called him her 'friend'. And for some reason, he finds himself liking that she's obviously so good with kids.

"I think you're right," Lucas chimes in.

Peyton's blushing even more now, and she's desperate to change the subject. She feels she's forever indebted to Mrs. MacDonald when she steps out of the store.

"Miss Sawyer. Thank you," the woman says. She immediately smiles when she sees Lucas. Peyton wonders if he's just 'irresistible' to every woman. "She said she just had to say hello."

"Well, I'm glad she did," Peyton says, running her hand over the little girl's hair. "I'll see you on Monday, okay, Sierra?"

"Okay," she says happily. "Bye!"

Peyton waves and Lucas smiles as mother and daughter walk away, and all Lucas wants to do is kiss the woman at his side. He won't, though, since everyone seems to know her and he doesn't want to make her uncomfortable.

He doesn't expect that he'll be the uncomfortable one. But as soon as they round the corner, they see Dan Scott walking towards him, smiling at the girl he knows so well.

There's a big part of Peyton that wants to take Lucas' hand or touch him or...anything. She notices him tense next to her and she mumbles something that sounds a little bit like 'it'll be okay', but even she doesn't know if that's true.

Dan's still about 30 feet away, so she steps in front of Lucas so her back is to the older man. "Lucas, what do you want to do?" she asks, concerned.

"I'm...Now or never?"

"No," she insists firmly. "It's not."

"Can you...introduce us?" he asks quietly. He looks like a little boy, and it startles her, because he's been very sure of himself - almost to a fault - to this point.

"If you're sure," she says. He loves that she's giving him an out. He nods gently just as they hear Dan speak.

"Peyton."

"Hey, Mr. S," she says, though it's not as chipper as she would have liked. Lucas smirks at her a little at the name she calls his...father. "Um...Dan, do you have some time?"

"You never call me Dan," he notes, furrowing his brow. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine," she says with a laugh. "Can we...you and I, then all of us, go somewhere to talk?" She gestures to Lucas, and Dan grows even more confused.

"Sure," he says. They're right outside his restaurant, so he gestures to the door and follows behind the young couple. There's something about this young man that is...strange to Dan. Not strange, perhaps, but...There's just something.

Dan points to a table - his table - and Lucas takes a seat. He's visibly nervous as he watches Dan walk behind the bar to get them a few glasses of water.

"Just...hang on, okay?" Peyton says quietly, locking eyes with Lucas. "I'll talk to him, then..."

"Play mediator?" Lucas suggests, smirking at her. She lets out a soft laugh and squeezes his shoulder, and that one simple little action makes him feel at ease.

Peyton walks to the bar and sits down across from Dan, and he smiles knowingly.

"Who's the boy?" he asks, just begging her to say it's her boyfriend or something. Well, she doesn't really know who he is in relation to her.

So she dives right in.

"Dan, do you know a Karen Roe?" she asks quietly, her eyes meeting his. His face goes blank, and she has her answer. Yes, he does.

"I..." He glances over at the young man sitting at the table in the restaurant, and his heart swells and aches and wrenches in his chest and he really doesn't know what to think.

"Dan, that's Lucas," Peyton explains. "He says he's your son."

Dan, still looking at the blond across the room, lets out a quick breath and whispers, "he is."

He realizes that what he thought was 'strange', wasn't strange at all. It was familiarity. Those eyes and that posture. That is his son.

"You knew?" Peyton breathes out. Sure, Lucas told her that Dan knew he was born, but this all makes it seem like Dan has known all along who Lucas is and what he looks like.

"Yes." He stops himself and looks back at her. "No. I mean, I knew his mother was pregnant, but...I never met him. I wasn't...I was a selfish kid."

He's never been so thankful that Peyton is a forgiving and understanding young woman. She smiles a little bit and nods at him, but she doesn't comment. The way she turns and looks at Lucas leads Dan to believe that perhaps she's got something more invested in this young man, too.

"Do you want to meet him?" she asks with a smile.

"You are one of a kind, Peyton," he says as he walks out from behind the bar. He suspects, given her own history, that accepting new family is something she's pretty good at.

Peyton winks at Lucas as she and Dan make their way to the table, and Lucas stands up. He's not sure why. It just feels right. A show of respect or something.

He really doesn't expect his father to pull him into a hug, and he's so caught off guard that it takes him a moment to reciprocate. He glances at Peyton over Dan's shoulder, and her smile makes his throat a little tight. This moment is huge and for some reason, he's really glad she's there for it.

Dan wants to say a million things. Make a million apologies and give a million explanations. He's just not sure it's the time. He doesn't want to be that guy. Truthfully, he wishes he didn't have to even think of saying such things, but that's just not the case. And he never thought he'd be sitting in front of the son he let go of all those years ago. Now that he is, well, he really doesn't know what to do.

"Well...Do I need to actually introduce you, or..." Peyton asks, her voice trailing when both men laugh. "Dan, Lucas grew up in Portland with his mom."

"And Keith," Lucas adds, speaking with a calm confidence that makes him appear far more at ease than he is.

"He was always the more noble one," Dan says quietly. Peyton looks at him like he's insane. Of course, she's never witnessed anything that would lead her to believe he's lacking in nobility.

"Mom owns a chain of coffee shops, and dad owns a few car dealerships," Lucas explains. He realizes what he's just said, and he quickly adds, "he adopted me after they got married."

Dan smiles. Keith always did have a little thing for Karen. "Good for them," he says sincerely.

Dan tells Lucas that he's married and has another son, both things that Lucas already knows. Dan thanks Peyton when she insists that she hasn't said anything to Nathan, no matter how hard it has been. Lucas continues to talk about his life, with Dan asking questions and nodding and just generally being interested. When Lucas is 'thinking out loud' and says that this meeting isn't as awkward as he thought it was going to be, Dan agrees, saying it's going far better than he ever imagined.

Lucas is just about to explain how he and Peyton met, when her cell goes off. Of course. He doesn't miss the knowing look Dan shoots her, and she smiles weakly back at the older man.

"I have to..."

"Go," Lucas supplies. "Right."

He's seriously wondering if she has a boyfriend or something. He wants to know who she's always rushing off to.

"I'm sorry," she says sincerely. "I'll...talk to you later."

He doesn't really know what that means. Will she come see him? They haven't even exchanged numbers. It's insane, he thinks. They've slept together, but he doesn't know her phone number. He doesn't know where she lives. All he knows is her full name and what she does for a living. He wants to know whatever she'll tell him.

"Bye," Lucas says, smiling a little bit.

"Later, Mr. S," she says with a wink. Dan laughs and nods at her. The look in his eyes is a thank you for helping him get to know his son.

Which is what he spends the next two hours doing. He and Lucas talk candidly. Dan makes those apologies, and Lucas appreciates them. He wasn't sure what he wanted out of this meeting, but now that this man - the man who walked away all those years ago - is showing remorse over his actions, Lucas thinks that maybe this was what he was waiting for. Dan says that as long as Lucas had a comfortable, happy upbringing, he can't say he'd take the choice back, as much as he'd love to be able to. Lucas thinks that's fairly admirable. For all the things Karen and Keith told him, Lucas decides that Dan Scott is definitely not the man they made him out to be; the man he used to be.

"Can I ask you a question?" Lucas asks. He and Dan have decided to have a scotch together, and it's kind of a quiet moment.

"Of course," Dan insists.

"I don't know Peyton very well, but...she always seems to be running off like that," Lucas says. He notices that Dan purses his lips, like he's battling with telling a story that may not be his to tell.

"She's a busy girl," Dan says, hoping his answer isn't too cryptic. "She's kind of an amazing young woman."

"I've come to realize that," Lucas says before he can stop himself. He closes his eyes when he's realized what he just said, and Dan laughs and pats Lucas' back.

"Doesn't take much with that one," Dan admits. He reaches for a pen and a cocktail napkin, and he writes down an address. "Go see her this evening."

Lucas reluctantly takes the napkin Dan hands him and stares at what's written on it. "Are you sure? She doesn't seem to want to let me in too much," he says, though the morning they had might refute that claim.

"The fact that she's even talking to you says more than you think," Dan explains. "Peyton is...well she's not like most women. And if you can embrace that, then you'll be alright."

"I'm only here for another week," Lucas says, regrettably, he notices. He's not sure where that regret came from. He knows he likes her, and he's getting along with his father, and he wants to meet his brother and Deb, but...What he really wants is to see more of Peyton.

"We'll see," Dan says softly. There's a smirk on his lips that Lucas squints in response to. He doesn't really know what that means.

He does love how well this meeting has gone. Dan clinks his glass against Lucas' and starts talking about his basketball playing days, and Lucas has to remind himself to pay attention.

He can't stop thinking about this woman that he can't even imagine never having met.

----

Lucas is sitting on her porch when she returns home after a long, tiring, emotional day. It's just barely 6:00, and all she wants to do is lay in bed with some music and maybe a book. Now that Lucas is at her house, she thinks maybe she wants to lay in bed with him, too.

"How'd it go?" she asks, taking a seat next to him on the front step.

He immediately wonders why she isn't inviting him in. He knows it's presumptuous to think she would. And he adores that she's so concerned about his messed up situation, given that she really doesn't know him at all. She's definitely a sweet girl. The whole town loves her. He doesn't think, however, that she's just being nice to him because it's in her nature.

"Better than I thought it would," he admits. "Thank you for today."

He thinks he might hear her say 'you too', but he can't be sure.

"Dan gave you my address, didn't he?" she asks. Lucas shrugs his shoulders and she shakes her head. "Unbelievable."

"Is that a problem?" He turns towards her a little bit and her hand, resting on the step between them, brushes his thigh. He doesn't move. "If you want me to go..."

"No," she answers quickly. "It's fine. Just...When we were younger, before Nathan and Haley got together, Dan kept saying he wanted Nathan and I to date."

"Oh."

"Now that you're here, I guess..." He was looking at her with an amused smile on his lips, and she seriously wondered why she was telling him this. "Whatever. Anyway. Um...what's up?" she stutters. He laughs at her a little bit and she rolls her eyes when he isn't looking. She doesn't know what it is about him that always seems to make her act so insane. "You want to come inside? It's cold."

"Sure," he says quietly.

He can't help himself, and when she's unlocking the door, he rests his hand lightly on her hip. She takes a breath and turns her head, but the look she gives him isn't asking him to back off. It's almost like a childish amusement at how he's acting and what's happened between them.

"I don't...this morning...I don't do that. This. I don't...just meet men and...Well, I don't really meet men at all," she rambles. The door is just barely closed and they're standing in the foyer to her home, and Lucas is struggling to keep up.

"So why me?" he asks after a moment.

That's certainly not what she expected.

"What?"

"Why me?" he repeats, shrugging his shoulder.

"Because...Just because," she says with finality. "Anyway, I just didn't want you to think that I'm...that kind of girl."

"I didn't. I don't."

"Okay." She smiles weakly and gestures to the living room. "Can you give me, like...five minutes? I just want to change and stuff."

"Yeah, of course," he says. "I'm the one barging in."

"You're not barging." He smiles, but all he wants to do is kiss her. "I'll be right back. Make yourself at home."

She steps backwards out of the room and heads upstairs to her bedroom, and the entire time, she's thinking two things. One, she's really glad to see him. And two, what the hell is she going to change into? She doesn't have...sexy things. And even if she did, she isn't sure she'd want to wear them. She really hates that she's putting so much thought into it, but she can't help it. She can't help the attraction she has to him. She's just pulled her plain white long sleeved tee shirt over her head, and she's blushing when she looks at herself in the mirror, thinking of how she acted that morning and how she basically threw herself at him. God, what was she thinking? She's embarrassed now, though she's sure he'd tell her not to be. She slips on her black and white plaid flannel pajama pants and pulls her hair up, and she decides that none of it matters, since he's leaving in a week anyway.

She stops at the top of the stairs when she very briefly lets herself think that she might not want him to leave.

"Hey," she says, stepping into the living room again, where he's admiring some artwork on the wall. He turns around and looks her up and down, and he smirks in amusement. "Don't make fun of me."

"No! No. I'm not," he says quickly, shaking his head. "You actually look really...sexy."

"You think flannel pants are sexy," she states more than asks.

"On you they are."

She does that lip biting thing, and he has to keep himself from laughing. He wonders how this woman doesn't know she's as gorgeous as she so obviously is. He seriously doesn't understand how she doesn't have a boyfriend or, hell, a husband. He's definitely thankful that she doesn't.

"You want anything?" she asks, pointing to the kitchen. "A drink?"

"I'm okay."

"Well, I'm getting a beer, so you're having one," she says. There's no room for argument, and he smiles at her.

She steps through the kitchen door and heads for the fridge, and she hears him call to her.

"Is this your mom?"

"What?"

"This picture on the mantle," he says when she comes back into the room. She smiles and nods her head. "Wow. She was beautiful."

"Yeah, she was," Peyton says quietly, handing him one of the bottles. "So you seem oddly...normal, after today."

He supposes he can understand her reluctance to talk about her mother, but he wonders why she always seems so quick to change the subject back to him. He doesn't want to talk about him. He wants to talk about her.

"Like I said, it went better than I thought it would."

"Still, though. It's...big."

"I know," he concedes, nodding his head. "But he knows I'm not really expecting anything, and he apologized and stuff, so...Honestly, I've kind of gotten what I came for. Anything else is a bonus."

You're a bonus, he wants to say.

"Well...good," she says quietly.

"Where'd you have to run off to anyway?" he asks. He figures he can be bold. They've seen each other naked; he thinks he can just jump in and ask.

She looks confused for a moment, her eyes meeting his. "Dan didn't tell you?"

"Tell me what, Peyton?"

"I thought he would have told you," she says, more to herself than to him. He's about to ask again when she speaks. "Sorry. It's just...kind of a long, sad story."

"I've got time," he says. She takes a deep breath, as though she's contemplating telling him, and he wonders if he's pushed her. "You don't have to..."

"No," she interrupts. "It's alright. I mean, I know your life story." She smiles and he lets out a little laugh. "My dad used to captain a drudging boat. My junior year of high school, his boat got caught in a hurricane and he suffered a massive head injury."

"Oh my God," Lucas mutters. "That's...Whoa."

"He was in a coma for about two weeks, but he was alright when he came out of it. A little...he had to re-learn a lot of things," she explains. Lucas is clearly surprised. "He got this big insurance settlement and everything, but he wasn't ever really the same."

"Peyton," he says, shaking his head. "I'm sorry."

"Well, it was okay for a while. I would help him out and stuff, and it was fine. Nothing crazy. He was just forgetful and stuff. He wasn't allowed to drive, which drove him crazy," she says with a laugh. "But two years ago, he had a stroke." She pauses, but continues speaking before Lucas can say anything. "I had to...he's in the nursing home across town."

"I'm...you didn't have to tell me that," he insists.

"No. I wanted to," she says, smiling at him. He nods gently. He knows that feeling. "Anyway, he's paralyzed from the waist down, and he can't remember a lot from the past few years. Sometimes he doesn't realize I don't live with him anymore, and he gets really agitated and upset if he can't find me."

Inwardly, he's feeling guilty that he ever had a selfish thought about her blowing him off. She's dealing with so much that he couldn't have even imagined, and she's a stronger person than he is, that's for sure.

"So when your phone rings, you go and see him, no matter what?" he asks.

"Yeah. If I'm not at work," she says, shrugging her shoulders. They're both quiet for a few moments, then Peyton takes a sip of her beer. "Okay, so this is seriously bringing down the mood."

"The mood?" he asks, cocking his brow. She blushes and looks down at her lap. "You're seriously adorable, you know that?" She rolls her eyes and shakes her head. "You are. You're...God, look at you. You have no idea how gorgeous you are, do you?"

"Lucas," she whispers, her face reddening even more.

"I'm not trying to embarrass you." He reaches for her hand and gently curls his fingers around hers, and she looks up at him again. He's not sure if she's nervous or scared or just shy, but he wonders where that burst of confidence came from that morning.

"I know. Just...the last few years, my priorities have been...well, not on finding a boyfriend," she says. She immediately realizes her mistake. He's not her boyfriend, and he's not going to be her boyfriend, and she's surprised he hasn't already run out the door. "So, I'm awful at this."

"You really aren't. Trust me." His eyes are shining when they meet hers, and she really just wants to kiss him. "But we both know the situation, and if you don't want to...I mean, if this morning was just...this morning. That's okay," he says. "Well, it's not okay, but it's not...Basically, whatever you want is fine with me. Whatever you're...you know, comfortable with."

"Are you always this long-winded?" she asks teasingly.

"Only when I feel the need to make an ass of myself." She laughs and looks at their joined hands. "If you want me to go..."

"No," she says quickly, looking up at him again. "I want you to stay."

She really hates that she means that on more than the one level.

Sure, at first she thought she was just going to have that 'fling' with him, and he'd leave, and that would be that. But the more time she spends with him, the more she starts thinking that he's the nicest man she's met in ages, and that he kind of understands her. Any guy she's dated in the past few years hasn't understood her situation at all, and they'd get offended when she'd run out on a date. Lucas just takes it as it is, seeing how hard it is for her and not making it about him. She doesn't think he knows how much that means to her.

"And this morning wasn't just this morning," Peyton says with a little smile that makes his heart race.

"No?" he asks, though it seems his voice won't work with her looking at him like that, her green eyes darkened and her lips perfect and pink. He finds that he loves that her confidence comes and goes like this.

"Maybe it could be right now, too," she says softly, leaning towards him a little.

"Maybe? Or it can?" he asks, smirking at her as he notices her looking at his lips. "Because the signals..."

He doesn't get to finish his thought, because she kisses him before he can say another word.

----

Sunday morning, Lucas has plans with Dan. Well, Dan, Deb, Nathan and Haley. Only Nathan and Haley don't know about him yet.

He's not immediately nervous. He wakes up with a beautiful girl all curled up against his side and he's reminded again that Tree Hill has already given him so much more than he ever thought. He really can't see himself leaving in only a matter of days; not when he's getting to know this amazing woman.

They were up most of the night talking. Well, talking, among other things. They lay all tangled up in her sheets in her bed, soft music playing and a few candles burning. It was romantic in setting, but they were joking and teasing each other. He told her he loved her smile and that she should use it more often. She, in response, told him to stop being cheesy.

The way he sees it, he has six days to teach her how to take a compliment.

She sees him off, kissing him and telling him to relax, that everything will go well, and wishes him good luck. Then, after the door is closed, she makes herself some coffee and she realizes very quickly that she can't wipe the smile off her face.

She decides she needs something to do, so she spends the rest of her morning and into the afternoon researching new projects for her class and for the art club she runs Thursdays after school. She and Lucas are meeting for dinner at his place later, and she knows she's just biding her time until she needs to start getting ready.

When the front door opens, her heart races, thinking he's come over. She rolls her eyes at herself. She doesn't want her heart to race over him. It's clearly too late for that.

"Hey Nate," she says happily when he walks into the living room.

"How could you not tell me?" he asks, his anger showing in his voice and the way he's standing there with his hands on his hips.

"Nathan..."

"I can't believe you didn't tell me. This is...This is huge, and you didn't tell me," Nathan says, shaking his head.

"It wasn't my secret to tell," she says as calmly as she can. She can't say she loves the accusation he's making. "Lucas wasn't ready, and I hadn't talked to Dan."

"What about after?!" he asks, sitting next to her on the sofa.

"First of all, it's been like, a day," she says defensively. "Second of all, I talked to your dad, and he wanted to tell you himself. So don't be pissed at me."

"I already am, Peyton. This sucks."

"Why?"

"Because I have a fucking brother!?" he suggests angrily. "This is so fucked up."

"You know, Lucas is actually a really good guy. You guys are a little alike." He looks at her like she's crazy, and she rolls her eyes. "You should give him a chance."

Something in her voice is telling Nathan that there's more here than there should be. Sure, Peyton is like his family, and Dan has been kind of a surrogate father to her, but it's not about that. It's the way she says Lucas' name and the way she's defending him. Her tone is soft and almost reverent.

Nathan's pretty sure that only means one thing when it comes to Peyton. He knows her well.

"Are you sleeping with him?"

"Nathan!" Peyton gasps.

"You are." He shakes his head and blows out his breath bitterly. "What are you thinking?"

"I like him," she says quietly, shrugging one shoulder.

"He's leaving. Don't you think you've suffered enough?" Nathan asks. His tone has softened and she realizes that he isn't judging her, he's just concerned for her.

"He...I don't think about that when I'm with him."

"Most people don't think during sex," Nathan says, smirking at her.

"Nathan." She blushes and closes her eyes. "It's not like that." He purses his lips, but he doesn't say anything more. "What? Look, you have an opinion, and I want it. No jokes, no moody Nathan Scott whining. What is it?"

He actually smiles. She's a bad ass.

"You always feel like you need to save everyone, Peyton," he says. "You do it all the time."

"That's not true."

"Your dad, Haley, me, Ellie, even Derek. Your friend Jennifer from college," he lists off.

"She had a miscarriage. She needed me," Peyton says.

"I know. And you're always there when everyone needs you," Nathan agrees. "What about what you need?"

"I don't need anything."

"Yes, you do," he says with a little laugh. "And you're with him because you know he can't turn into anything serious."

"Who are you right now?" She laughs and he rolls his eyes. "Seriously. You sound like a shrink."

"I just worry about you."

"I know, Nathan, and I love you for it. But I just...I'm playing it by ear with him. For once I'm doing something without planning it all out."

"And you're sure that's not just a novelty?" he asks, wincing because he's really not sure how she'll talk it.

"Even if it is," she shrugs, "he's gone in a week."

"And then what? You just go back to teaching and taking care of everyone?"

"Okay, why are you making that sound like such a bad thing?" she inquires, fire in her eyes and anger in her tone. "I don't hear you complaining when I'm driving your drunk ass around after a night out."

"I'm just saying, Peyton, I don't want you to get hurt."

"I won't," she says with a shrug. But she can't even convince herself. He stands from his place and stretches a little. "Are you still pissed at me."

"No," he admits quietly. "I get why you didn't tell me it's just..."

"A surprise," she says, nodding gently as she stands up and follows him to the door. "Try being me, being attracted to him, and having him say that he's Dan's son."

"You freaked out, didn't you?" he asks knowingly.

"It was scary."

He laughs and then sighs deeply. "He's kind of a cool guy."

"I know," she says, smiling at him.

"If he hurts you, I'll fucking kill him," Nathan insists, though they're both smiling. He's said that about every guy who has even talked to her in the past four years.

She loves that she has Nathan to look out for her. She smiles and hugs him when he says that he loves that he has her to look out for him, too.

----

Peyton shows up at Lucas' beach house wearing her favourite plum-coloured long sleeved cotton dress. It's the most comfortable, best looking item of clothing she has. She needs comfort. She's not sure how Lucas is viewing the encounter he had in the afternoon, and if she needs to comfort him, she's going to need to feel like...

She's making excuses. She's nervous. He makes her nervous, and he has since that first day they ran into one another. She loves and hates that. She's gone so long without feeling much of anything, and now she's feeling so much for this one person, and it's scaring her. Her feelings shouldn't be this intense for a total stranger. As much as it scares her, she kind of likes it even more. Lucas is making her feel like...like a woman. It's cliché and stupid, and she doesn't want to even think it, but it's true.

And when he pulls the door open and smirks and his eyebrows fly up a little bit upon seeing her in that dress, she's reminded of it again.

"Hey," he says softly. "You look sexy."

"Thanks," she whispers.

Truthfully, the blue polo shirt he's wearing is bringing out his eyes and making his skin look tanned (even though it's November), and she wasn't expecting him to look so good. She probably should have, though.

"I might kiss you," he says. She's not even inside yet and her heart is racing and she feels like she might do something crazy.

"You might?" She slips past him and into the house, and he closes the door behind her.

He reaches for her wrist, pulling her back to him so she's pressed up against him, and he kisses her hard on the lips, like he's hated that he's had to wait all day to do it.

"I wish you had been there today," he says once they've parted. Her eyes are still closed, and she's breathless, and she rests her forehead against his. "I think Nathan hates me."

Her eyes open, and he sees worry there. "He doesn't."

"You sure?"

"I talked to him after," she assures him. "He was just caught off guard." She kisses him quickly, then moves to sit on the sofa, where he's set two glasses of wine and has some candles lit. "This is nice."

"It's not much."

"You're a romantic, aren't you?" she asks in amusement, like that's something he might be embarrassed to admit.

"When I have better resources," he says. She laughs a little and picks up her glass. "Is it too much?"

"No!" she answers quickly, resting her hand on his forearm. "No. I'm just not used to...romance."

"Well then I guess you're lucky I'm around," he tells her, clinking his glass against hers.

She thinks she is. She knows he's leaving.

"So really, how'd it go?" she asks. He smiles at her blatant subject change.

"Deb's crazy," he says candidly. Peyton laughs and nods her head. "She's sweet, though. She wasn't freaked out at all, which was kind of surprising."

"She's really great," Peyton confirms.

"And Haley...she and I have a lot in common."

"She's my best friend," Peyton says needlessly.

"I can see why," he says. She smiles again, and he swears his heart stops; he loves that smile. "Nathan didn't say a lot. He asked questions. More to try to figure out where the hell I came from than anything else, I think."

"Yeah. That's Nathan," Peyton says softly. "But he doesn't hate you. He admitted that you're nice."

"Well, that's something."

"With Nathan? That's something big," she confirmed.

"Well...good, then," he says. There's a beat of silence, and she doesn't know what to say. He can tell that the quiet makes her uncomfortable for some reason. "So what do you feel like for dinner?"

"You didn't plan it out?" she asks, raising her brow.

"I don't know you well enough," he explains. "I don't know what you like or don't like. Or if you're allergic to anything."

"Well, that's kind of thoughtful."

"I thought so," he says. "So? What are you craving?"

"Pizza," she answers honestly.

"Pizza," he states incredulously.

"Uh huh."

"Alright," he says with a laugh. "Pizza it is."

He disappears into the kitchen and returns with a takeout menu in one hand and his cell in the other, calling to place their order. Peyton looks a little more at ease, he notices. He wants to ask her about it, but he assumes that she's just always listening to either music, or a classroom of five year olds talking over one another. He wonders if he could ever get her to enjoy the quiet as much as he does.

He sighs to himself when he realizes that he won't have enough time.

They talk a little bit more about his meeting with his 'family' and he asks what she did for the rest of her day after he left her. She says it wasn't that exciting, but he smiles when she explains the project she's going to get her students to do. He tells her he loves the passion she has for her job, and she blushes.

He gets up to answer the door when their dinner arrives, and she's sitting in the living room alone when the land line rings. The machine picks it up, but Peyton isn't prepared for what she hears.

"Luke, it's Brooke. I...Your mom gave me this number. I just...I miss you. I think we made a mistake. I know you love me, and I put you on the spot the other night. We were fighting and...I just love you, Lucas, and I have for a long time. I don't want us to break up. Just...call me, okay? I miss you."

Peyton is already standing and getting ready to leave. It's very clear to her that this...whatever it is with Lucas is even more temporary than she'd thought. He has a girlfriend. The saddest thing is, she's not really surprised. Guys who look like Lucas and act like Lucas and treat girls the way Lucas does don't stay single. It just doesn't happen. She should have known.

When she turns around to walk out of the room, Lucas is standing there looking remorseful. He's obviously heard the message this Brooke woman left.

"It's not what you think," he insists.

"Right," she scoffs. "You don't have a girlfriend?"

"No! We broke up."

"When?"

"Like...a couple days after I got here," he admits.

"What!? A couple...so this is like, what? A few days ago?" She grabs her bag and slings it over her shoulder. "Nathan was right. You're just...And to think, I was sad that you had to leave."

"Peyton..."

"I'm won't be your...your rebound," she says bitterly, heading past him and towards the door.

"You aren't!" he shouts. "You aren't." He reaches for her wrist, and she doesn't pull it away like maybe she should. "I didn't expect this. I wasn't...looking for this."

"What?" she asks, jerking her hand from his grasp. "A girl to fool around with for a little while, then leave behind?"

"No!"

"Whatever. You know what? Forget my number."

"Peyton."

"Fuck off, Lucas," she says, her eyes meeting his.

She's out the door, thankful that he's not following her when the tears slip down her cheeks. On one hand, she's really glad he's not seeing her crying over him.

On the other hand, she kind of wishes he'd fight for her.

----

"What the hell's wrong with you?" Nathan asks when Peyton shows up at his door looking pissed off, hurt, and downright scary.

"Nothing. We're getting drunk."

"Um. Okay. But tell me what's going on," he demands as he follows her into the house.

"Nothing. I just want to drink," she says, shrugging her shoulder. She sits down next to Haley on the sofa, and the brunette looks at her knowingly, that sympathetic look on her face. "I don't want to talk about it."

"Peyton," Haley says, draping her arm around Peyton's shoulder.

"He's leaving. It's fine," Peyton insists before Nathan can come back and get angry that Lucas has got her crying.

Haley doesn't say anything more, knowing that Peyton doesn't want her to, and Nathan'll do something stupid if he hears whatever story Peyton isn't telling. They just sip beers and talk about whatever they can that doesn't include that guy they all (apparently) hardly know. Peyton says she'll walk herself home, and Nathan tells her to just crash, but she needs her own bed, and she tells him so. He seems to understand, but he insists she call when she gets home. She smiles and tells him she will. She almost cries, though, when she notices that his eyes are almost the same as Lucas.

She really hates that she's crying over this guy who has somehow hurt her so much in so little time.

As she's walking home, she realizes that, even though she doesn't believe in anything like love at first sight, she believes in two people having a connection. She and Lucas had it. Or at least she thought they did. Now she's not so sure. Maybe he's just a player who led her to believe they had that connection. Maybe he doesn't love her eyes or the way that one curl always falls over her shoulder. Maybe he doesn't think it's admirable that she cares for every student she teaches. Maybe he doesn't love that painting on the wall in her living room.

Maybe he didn't really like her at all.

But all that's not the worst part. The worst part is, what if he did mean all those things he said? What if he meant every word and she's pushing him away? What if he's the only one who's ever really known her, and she won't get to explore that any further?

She's not sure whether she should scream or smile when she sees him sitting on her front porch steps.

"We never exchanged numbers," he says, standing from his place. "You told me to forget it, but you never gave it to me."

"You really are a stalker." She pulls out her keys, but she doesn't know if she wants to go inside alone and slam the door in his face, or invite him inside. She sits on the porch swing instead. "How long have you been here."

"Few hours," he says with a shrug, sitting down next to her. "I was worried."

"Worried," she scoffs. "That I'd get hurt or something? Too late."

She hates that she's just admitted that. She's also not crazy about the fact that her buzz isn't wearing off at all. If anything, it's just making his eyes bluer and his cologne stronger, and she kind of wants to pull him inside now and just tell him that she doesn't care about any of his history. It'd be a lie, but she's drunk, so it seems like a pretty viable option.

"I'm not getting back together with her," Lucas insists. "And I'm sorry that I didn't tell you, but...That relationship has been over for a while. We just made it official."

"That doesn't help much." It's a lie. She thinks he doesn't know that, but the little bit of a smirk on his lips tells her that he does.

"I haven't even seen her in...God, six months."

"Boyfriend of the year?" she mumbles.

"Not exactly. But she wasn't girlfriend of the year, either," he says. "And this...you and me...God, I already feel like you know me better than she ever did."

She'd like to tell him that she feels the same way, but she'd like even more to not give him the satisfaction of knowing it. She really doesn't understand her desire to tell him everything about herself. She's never wanted that with anyone.

"So yeah, the timing sucks, and I don't live here, and...this whole situation is messed up," he continues. "But I like you, Peyton. Quite a lot, actually."

"You're alright, I guess," she says, not bothering to look at him.

"So I'm sorry. I mean, in case you didn't get that part."

She laughs a little and turns to him. "Got it."

"Does it...matter?" he asks quietly.

"It matters," she admits, nodding gently. "You want to come in?"

"If you want me to."

He can't hide his smile. He feels like he's effectively resolved this argument. Even this, with Brooke, would have been a nightmare. They'd fight all the time, and it'd take groveling and gifts, more often than not, to get her on his side again. With Peyton, all he had to do was explain, apologize, and be honest.

Why couldn't she be from Portland? Or why couldn't he have grown up in Tree Hill?

"I want you to," she says. She unlocks the door and he follows her inside. "I'm also starving."

But the way he kisses her before she can get too far into the house has her forgetting all about her food craving.

----

She wakes up to the sound of her alarm beeping next to the bed, and she's reminded that it's Monday and she has to go to work. When she reaches over to turn off the alarm, she rolls onto her side and bumps into a hard body. He's already awake, and it looks like he has been for a while. He switches off the incessant beeping and she buries her face in the pillow. She doesn't want to get up, and she doesn't want to see Lucas' blue eyes, or she'll have her reason to call in 'sick'.

But then he leans over, pressing his chest to her back, and he kisses her shoulder and murmurs "good morning" in her ear. Her response is a petulant groan and to cover her face with the pillow.

"You're not a morning person," he observes.

"Not when I was up all night..." Her voice trails and he lets out a breathy laugh, kissing her shoulder once before moving away.

"Sorry I kept you up."

"I didn't complain, did I?" she asks. She rolls onto her back and their eyes meet across the pillow.

"Not that I recall," he admits, smirking at her. He takes a second just to look at her. Her hair's a mess, and there are circles under her eyes. She's completely naked next to him, and he can feel her bare hip pressed up against his.

"What?" she asks, almost laughing.

"You're just...God, you're beautiful."

"Shut up."

"No."

"I have to shower," she announces. She tries to get out of bed, but he wraps his arm around her waist and pulls her close to him, moving them so he's laying on top of her. "Lucas."

"I don't understand how you're so bashful."

"Bashful?" she asks, giggling at his choice of word.

"You're amazing." He kisses her gently and her hand comes up to rest on his bicep. "You're the sexiest woman I've ever seen."

"Lucas," she whispers.

"I'm going to keep saying it until you believe me," he states.

"At least until Saturday, right?" she says.

He doesn't say anything in response; he doesn't know what he should say. He just kisses her. He doesn't want to dwell on any of that, and he doesn't want her to either. He just wants to enjoy the time he has with her, and then go from there.

She gets a little caught up. He's kissing her, and she likes it, and his naked body is on top of hers, deliciously heavy and perfectly aligning with hers. His hand moves down her body and along her thigh, encouraging her to bend her leg and let him get even closer to her, but she pushes him away reluctantly.

She tells him she has to shower, and she won't let him join her. Her face goes red when she notices him staring at her as she walks across the room.

When he says he doesn't know what he's going to do all day without her, she tells him to go to the River Court after lunch. She doesn't tell him why. She does, however, call Nathan on her way to work and tell him to expect Lucas. To her surprise, or maybe not, Nathan doesn't complain about that.

----

Peyton accompanies Lucas to dinner at the Scott house on Tuesday.

There are three distinct couples, and Dan notes that it's the first time that has ever happened. He says it only to Peyton when the two of them are in the kitchen preparing dessert. She tells him to stop trying to lure her into his family. He laughs and tells her to do what's right for her.

Lucas feels right for her. She doesn't say it.

----

Peyton takes Friday off work. She hasn't taken a day off all year. Actually, she hasn't asked for anything at all. Her boss is quick to grant her the time off. Lucas says he feels privileged that she's used a vacation day to spend time with him, despite the fact that that's pretty much all they've been doing.

He's spent time alone with Dan and with Nathan, and the rest of his 'new' family in groups. He and Peyton met with Haley for coffee, and Deb had him to the house to show him photos from Nathan's childhood and Dan's younger years.

He and Peyton have spent the rest of their time together. She's gotten called away a couple times, but he's been completely understanding and very sweet about it. She wants to introduce him to her dad, but she doesn't know how well that'd go over. She knows they're on a timeline, and her dad tends to hang onto ideas once he has them. Any new people he meets, he expects to stick around.

Truthfully, Peyton's been feeling the same way.

They're laying in his bed on Friday morning after sleeping in. She's on her side with her back pressed to his chest, and he's weaving and unweaving their fingers, and they both seem mesmerized by that action.

"What are we gonna do?" she asks.

"Hmm. This," he suggests, kissing her shoulder. "Maybe this." He disentangles their hands and slips his beneath the tank top she has on.

"That's all...very nice, Lucas," she says, trying not to get caught up, as difficult as that is. "I kind of meant what are we going to do about...us."

She rolls onto her back and his hand moves so it's covering her stomach. He smirks and says, "I thought I just explained all that."

"I'm serious."

"I know," he says quietly. "I just don't really have an answer."

"Well, what do you want?" she asks. She wouldn't even ask if she didn't already know that he wanted something.

"I want...a lot of things," he admits. "Like to either not be so crazy about you, or for us to be from the same place."

"You're crazy about me?" She smiles and turns onto her side so she's facing him.

"I haven't been making that clear?"

"Well, yeah, but...you haven't said it," she tells him. He kisses her, and she leans against him a little more, draping her arm over his stomach.

"I don't want to leave you," he says quietly. He almost regrets it, thinking it's too heavy a confession, given that they've only been doing this, whatever it is, for a week.

"I don't want you to go," she says, almost pouting. "But you'll come back to visit, right?"

"Of course."

"I'm sensing a but." She runs her hand along his stomach, just above the waist band of his boxers, and he's almost telling her he'll move.

"I've done the long distance thing," he reminds her. "It...sucks. And I honestly don't think I can have you just...some of the time."

"So it's all or nothing?" she asks, pulling away from him a bit and sitting up.

"Peyton, you don't want that either," he says, shaking his head. "You've got...there's so much going on here for you. I don't want to be something you need to worry about."

"Don't...Don't do that. Don't tell me what I need, and don't try to say that you're some sort of burden." She shoves at his chest for no reason, and he actually smiles. She's one of a kind. He adores her quick temper. "And...what are you smiling about?"

"You're sexy when you're pissed at me, you know that?" He reaches for her hand and brings it to his lips.

"Well, get used to it," she mumbles.

"I'd love to, Peyton," he says somberly. That actually sounds perfect. Getting used to anything that has to do with her sounds pretty damn amazing. "But...my life is in Portland."

"Is it?" she asks, trying to keep her voice steady. "Or are you just afraid that it might not be?"

She can't believe she's said something so bold; so obviously huge that carries so much weight. She might as well have told him that she's in love with him or something. She might as well have told him she was going to keep him hostage, or that she'd help him look for real estate. She basically just said that his life might be with her. She'd take it back if she didn't actually feel that way.

She has no idea how or why she feels so much for him. Since she's known him, he's practically all she can think about. She feels calm around him, and she feels like he brings out all those parts of her that she hasn't had in so long. She's generally nice to everyone - she's a kindergarten teacher, after all - and she rarely complains about anything. With Lucas, she has no problem speaking her mind and telling him exactly how she feels. That's a good thing, she knows. It's also, however, the thing that's making her so crazy about him, and the thing that's making her think that maybe this is the man she's meant to be with.

And it's only been a week.

"I'm sorry," he says softly, shaking his head a little bit.

That wasn't the answer she wanted. She knows they have only today and tomorrow morning together, and she doesn't want to waste it. She won't be mad at him - after all, it's not his fault she let herself get so involved in him. She really did know better. Or at least she should have. And yet, she knows she wouldn't take back this week if she could.

"Okay, look. We have another...28 hours before you have to leave," she announces, checking the clock. "Can we just not get all depressed?"

"Well," he draws out, reaching for her hand to pull her back towards him, "what do you want to do?"

"I love that you say that like you don't know the answer." She kisses him and he pulls her on top of him.

They both know that this isn't going to solve their problem. They know they haven't decided what they're going to do. They're using this to avoid the issue. They're both perfectly fine with that.

----

He tells her not to come to the airport to see him off. Saturday morning, they have brunch with Dan and Deb, Nathan and Haley, and then Lucas has to go to his rental and pack his things. Peyton goes with him, successfully distracting him from the task at hand. She stretches and arches her back, or she simply wraps her arms around him and tells him for the hundredth time that she's going to miss him. He tells her that unless she stops, he's going to miss his flight, and she smiles as though she's accomplished exactly what she wanted to.

He very seriously tells her that she has to go, or he won't. She'd smile if she didn't know there was no way he was going to stay in Tree Hill. There is a big part of her that hates that she isn't enough to make him stay. The other part of her knows that he'd stay if he could.

She kisses him hard, wrapping her arms around him and letting him wrap his arms around her. He says goodbye, and she tells him to keep in touch. He promises he will. She doesn't know if she should believe him or not.

She leaves him there at that little rental house on the beach, knowing he's getting Nathan and Dan to take him to the airport, but two hours later, when she knows he's probably just left his place, she can't take it. She gets in her car and drives as fast as she can.

Nathan sees her first. He smiles and shakes his head. He knew she couldn't stay away. He puts his hand on Lucas' shoulder, and the blonde turns around to see her rushing through the crowd towards him. She throws her arms around him and he laughs into her hair.

"You're a jerk for telling me not to come," she claims, making him laugh.

"I wanted you to," he insists. "I didn't want to admit it."

"Shut up. Kiss me."

He does as he's told. His flight is called just as she pulls away a little bit, and she closes her eyes again. She's thinking the second goodbye might not have been the best call. It's even harder now.

"I'm crazy about you, too," she says quietly. He laughs and kisses her gently. She never did say it back to him the day before.

"We'll figure it out, Peyton. I promise," he says, looking into her eyes. "You're the best thing I got from this trip."

"Charmer." She kisses him again, just because she wants to and she's not sure when - if - she'll get to again. "You'll call me?" He nods his head, though it's resting against hers. "Okay. Just go."

He doesn't say anything more before he releases her and shakes hands with Nathan and Dan again. She doesn't say anything more before he's grabbing his bag and heading for the security gate. Nathan drapes his arm around Peyton's shoulder and pulls her into his side, and they stand there with Dan and wait until they can't see Lucas anymore.

"Aww," Nathan says, looking down at the girl at his side. "Our little Peyton fell in love."

"I did not!" she insists seriously, pulling away from him. Dan and Nathan laugh. That quick of a denial from hers is always a confirmation of the truth.

And okay, she's not in love. She knows that. But she's definitely falling. Definitely.

----

He calls her when he lands, and he calls her every day after that. Or she calls him. Sometimes her phone is off, and he understands that if she's with her father, she doesn't leave her phone on. Sometimes he's at the dealership and he can't talk. Brooke never understood that. She'd whine and get all huffy and complain that he never made time for her. Peyton just tells him to go sell some cars and buy her something nice with the commission. She's totally joking, and he loves that.

He thinks he might love her.

And Portland seems too small these days. Tree Hill is probably the smallest town he's ever been in, but he feels like it's bigger than anything else. Portland is a great city, and he's enjoyed it. He loved growing up there, so close to nature and getting the opportunity to do so much with his family. He has two loving parents (maybe four, but he's talking about the ones who raised him) and a lot of great friends

Tree Hill has Peyton. It's really no question where he wants to be.

----

Peyton goes back to her life like it was before Lucas ever came to town. She goes to work and spends time with her dad and she hangs out with Nathan and Haley and Dan and Deb. She starts painting and sketching a little more, not only because it keeps her busy, but because Lucas told her she shouldn't give up on her passion.

She smiles a lot more, no matter how hard it is to be without him, and Nathan jokes that her happiness isn't just a cover for her other emotions anymore. She tries to tell them all that she and Lucas aren't together; that they aren't in a relationship. Even she doesn't believe that. Sure, it's what they agreed to, to not take it so seriously and that they didn't want to do the long distance thing, but they so obviously are a couple.

Tree Hill somehow seems strange now without him there. Given that he only spent two weeks there, it's definitely weird that she feels like he belongs there. But then again, she's pretty sure she's in love with him, and so it's natural for her to feel like she just wants him to be wherever she is.

----

His friends tell him it's irrational, but he doesn't care. He really doesn't think it is. His mother just smiles and shakes her head and tells him that he has to do what feels right for him. Keith pats him on the back and tells him to go get the girl. Dan laughs and says that he knew Lucas would be back and he's surprised it took six full weeks to decide to move. Nathan helps Lucas find a place to live in Tree Hill, searching for homes with the realtor he recommended.

He makes everyone promise not to tell Peyton. He wants it to be a surprise.

He has no idea what he'll say to her when he sees her. He doesn't think it'll really matter.

----

The bell rings at the end of the school day, and though they've only been back a couple weeks after their holiday break, the kids are all happy to get out of class. Peyton helps with heavy coats and mittens, and straightens knit hats. She laughs as she sees the kids giggling and laughing as they file out of the school in front of her.

"Miss Sawyer! There's your friend!" Sierra shouts, pointing across the school yard.

Peyton's heart stops in her chest. Yes, there's her friend Lucas, standing there on the sidewalk in front of the school with his hands in his pockets, looking nervous and very, very sexy.

"Yeah," Peyton whispers.

The kids shout their goodbyes, but Peyton doesn't really hear anything. She's walking towards him, and he smiles when he sees her. It's all she can do not to just run over and throw her arms around him and kiss him in ways that are far too inappropriate for school grounds.

She looks amazing. She's wearing tailored black pants and a black wool coat with a red knit scarf. She's got black leather gloves on and she's clutching her briefcase - the one she insisted that she rarely needs, but caries anyway. Her hair is down and...Well, he realizes that she could have been wearing anything and looked amazing.

"Hi," she says softly once she's close enough for him to hear.

He almost laughs. He flies across the country after not seeing her for two months, and she can only say 'hi'. He's certainly surprised her.

"Hi."

"Why didn't you tell me you were coming?" she asks. It sounds accusatory, but she's smiling at him, and he reaches out and takes her hands, locking their fingers together.

"I wanted the deal on the house to close first," he says. Her eyes go wide and he laughs.

"You're...you moved here?" She feels like she might cry. She's been biting her tongue, keeping herself from asking him to do that very thing.

"I missed you," he says simply. He doesn't say anything more before she throws her arms around him and kisses him. It's just an innocent enough looking kiss, but it's full of a whole lot of meaning.

"Can I come over?" she asks toying with the zipper of his jacket.

"Any time you want." She hands him her car keys, but before she can move away from him, he pulls her towards him a little more. "I'm in love with you."

She smiles and rests her forehead against his, closing her eyes as she tries not to cry at the weight of those words that she's convinced no one has ever meant as much as he means them right now.

"I love you too," she whispers.

It's certainly not the way she thought it would all turn out. She didn't think she'd fall in love, and certainly not with someone like Lucas; the 'secret' child of her best friend's father. What she's realized in the time since she met him is that it really doesn't matter who he is in relation to anyone else, it only matters who he is in relation to her.

To her, he's the man who somehow got her to let go of all those reasons she'd convinced herself not to fall for someone. He convinced her that she's deserving of her own happiness, and there's nothing wrong with doing something for herself.

He convinced her that love doesn't have to hurt, and maybe not everyone is going to break her heart.

When they get to his house, before he even shows her around, he pulls a simple silver ring from his pocket. He slips it onto the ring finger of her right hand, and she looks at him questioningly. He tells her that circles are his favourite shape. She smiles and shakes her head; she'd told him about that day in her class and that story her father told her.

It's not an engagement, but it's a promise nonetheless, and she loves that he hasn't forgotten that same anecdote that she never forgot;

True love never ends.

-Fin-