A/N: Mostly AU. Should be pretty self-explanatory in the first little bit. I have no idea where this came from, but once I started writing it, I couldn't stop.


This is the stupidest, most ridiculous thing she's ever agreed to do. Ever. And that's saying a lot, because in the last few years, she's done a lot of stupid and probably ridiculous things. Nothing that illegal or that dangerous, but still.

It's been years. Nine, to be exact. Nine years of living without her mother, and nine years of being really angry about it. Nine years, and all of a sudden everyone takes notice and thinks it's an issue. Of course it's an issue. Frankly, it pisses her off that no one cared (that's an exaggeration, but she'll go with it) until she had a minor nervous breakdown. Well, it wasn't so much a breakdown as it was a chain of really awful events that just served to remind her how much life can suck sometimes. And it really does suck sometimes.

Firstly, she broke up with her boyfriend. Yeah, yeah, it happens, and it's high school, and it all feels a lot more dramatic than it really is, but it was still hard. They were together for only a few months, but she thought she loved him and maybe she did. He had a baby girl from a previous relationship, and so when she lost him, she lost more than just him. Then a couple new students came to the school and everything got even more messed up. Brooke started dating this Felix guy, and Anna started becoming Peyton's friend. She got pressured into doing a line of coke, and it scared her how much she actually liked the feeling, so she never did it again, but she certainly had the option (still does) and she kind of wanted to. She went to semi-formal wearing her mom's dress, and it was ruined by some drunk kid who bumped into her and spilled red wine on her. And then there was a stupid rumour that Peyton is gay, which she's not. Someone tagged her locker with a horrible and hateful word, and that's when she kind of lost it.

So now she's serving a suspension for taking off her shirt in the middle of the hallway at school (yeah, she kind of regrets that one, but certainly not the reason for which she did it) and she was forced to see the guidance counselor, who handed her a bunch of stupid reading material on 'sexual revelations' and 'healthy sexuality' and 'being proud of what you are'.

She cried on her way home when she realized that she's not really proud of who she is, not that it has anything to do with her sexuality. That's probably the one thing she's absolutely certain about, actually, and it's kind of ironic that allegations of the opposite are what has her here in the first place.

And where's 'here'? Here is in her car on the way to a 'grief counseling group', upon her father's insistence.

She's really not happy about it.

He thinks she's still working through her mother's death, and they both know he's right. She is still dealing with it, and she's essentially dealt with it alone, and maybe she needs the help, but a grief group sounds like just about the worst way to do it. Sitting in a circle with a bunch of sad, crying people isn't going to help her. But she loves her dad, and he means well and he's scared for her, so she agreed to it on one condition, that she be the one to pick where she goes.

She picked this little town because it's two hours away from where she lives so she won't see anyone she knows. And also, she likes the idea of driving along the road next to the ocean to get there.

And really, the fact that it shares it's name with a U2 song was the selling point.

She takes a deep breath as she pulls into the church parking lot. The last time she was in a church it was on a dare (she's not exactly religious), and she ended up crying during a confession. It actually felt good to just talk, but she's already decided she's not going to do it tonight. She's just going to sit there and try to gauge how lame this is, maybe pay attention, and then get a milkshake to drink on her way home as she listens to her music far too loudly.

Sounds like a good plan to her.


He's been coming here for three weeks (this is the fourth), and maybe it's helping. Or maybe it's not, and he just wants to get out of the house so he doesn't have to hear his mother pretending not to cry (she's never been very good at pretending). His best friend and his brother are both trying to help him through it, but they're working on their own problems, too, and he won't be their burden. He knows they would never think of him that way, but in his mind, he's the one holding everyone back.

And there's something oddly comforting about this 'grief counseling group', and he hadn't expected there to be. He'd expected a lot of crying people and hand holding and prayers or something (it is, after all, in a church). But really, it's people who are as angry and hurt as he is, and what he's learned in the three sessions he's taken part in, is that no matter where the group members are in the grieving process, they all seem to understand what everyone else is going through. He isn't really getting that anywhere else. Haley tries, and she's the closet one to it, since she knew Keith so well. Nathan takes his mind of everything with games at the River Court, and Lucas knows that's the way Nathan deals with everything. That helps too.

And being a mostly anonymous figure in this church basement is almost the best part. They only know his first name, as dictated by the rules, and though everyone knows his story (though he hasn't shared it), they let him have his silence and his privacy. After all, everyone in the country probably knows about that school shooting and the murder that took place there. But the people in this group know that it's all a part of the process, and forcing anyone who's grieving into talking about it would probably hinder, not help, that process.

Everyone was shocked, though maybe they shouldn't have been, when just days after Keith's death, Dan turned himself in and wrote his confession out formally on a yellow legal pad.

As if Lucas wasn't already mad enough at the man who was never his father.

The only thing he hates are the looks he gets. Sympathetic stares from everyone, because he's the youngest member in the group and he hasn't even shared his story, but they all know it anyway. And he gets those looks everywhere. He honestly considered, after that first session, traveling out of town so that people wouldn't know the story as soon as they saw his face. But he won't run from it. He needs to face this all head on and somehow come to accept the fact that Dan killed his own brother, the only man Lucas ever knew to be a father.

He's nursing a cup of bad hot chocolate as he sits, waiting for the group leader to get things underway, and he swears his heart stops when the most beautiful girl he's ever seen in his life walks timidly into the room. She's blonde (he's always loved blondes), and she's wearing a Travis tee shirt with a black leather jacket over top, and her hair is a mess of curls that he immediately finds sexy. Her jeans have holes in them, and he can tell she didn't buy them that way, that they're just worn, and he thinks she's intriguing. Her sad eyes survey the room, and when they fall on him, he pretends he wasn't just checking her out.

The scuffed Converse on her feet squeak on the linoleum and everyone turns to look at her. Deanna, the group leader in her orange knit sweater, walks over with a smile and places her hand on Peyton's shoulder in what should be a comforting gesture. Peyton isn't in love with the idea of random people touching her, but she knows the woman means well.

"Peyton?" the woman asks. Peyton nods mutely. "Welcome. Why don't you grab a drink and have a seat, and we'll get started."

"Okay," Peyton says. She smiles politely and Deanna walks away. Peyton reaches for a bottle of room-temperature water and takes a long swill before she sits down. Her mouth and throat are dry and she hates that she's nervous.

She's easily the youngest person there. Or at least one of the youngest. There's a guy that she caught blatantly checking her out when she walked in, and he looks about her age. He's sitting now with his elbows resting on his knees and a paper cup of something in his hands, looking at the liquid as he sloshes it around in the cup. She takes a moment to look at him and notice that he's actually...hot. He's got a nice body and she can tell he's an athlete (she's only ever dated athletes, so she knows the type). His hair is blonde and messy, and his pale blue button down and jeans are definitely a good look on him. She noticed his face when she noticed him looking at her. Not bad. (Okay, really good.)

His eyes are as sad as hers are.

Maybe this group won't be so bad.

But then she's singled out, and she hates it again.

"We have a new face tonight," Deanna states with a smile. Everyone looks at Peyton and she is visibly uncomfortable, but it seems they're all nice enough. "This is Peyton." There are a murmur of hellos and welcomes, and Peyton offers a tense wave. Blonde Boy has sat up in his seat again, but his arms are crossed and she can't read him. "Tell us something about yourself."

Oh God, she thinks. She doesn't want to do this, the lame introduction. She wishes she had a joke that wouldn't be inappropriate or off-colour. She has nothing, and she doesn't want to just jump in with, 'Hi, my mom died when I was eight and I'm still fucked up over it'. And besides, she can't swear in a church anyway.

"I'm 17," she starts, because she figures that's safe. "I'm a senior in high school, and...I really hate talking about myself."

Everyone laughs except Blonde Boy, but he cracks a grin and she sees it before it disappears.

"Well, you don't have to say anything if you don't want to," Deanna assures her. Peyton nods her thanks, because that actually really puts her at ease.

Almost as much as Blonde Boy's smile did.

They go around in a circle and everyone says their name and a quick introduction so that Peyton knows their stories; who they've lost and in some cases, how. She learns that some people have been coming to this group for years, and some of them just attend now to help new members. She thinks that's sweet, actually. She thinks it says a lot about people when they extend to help for people who need it. She wishes she were that brave and...nice. It's not that she's not nice, it just takes a while for her to trust anyone well enough to show that part of her. What's the point in wasting politeness if someone's just going to leave?

"I believe last week we left off with Lucas," Deanna says gently, looking at Blonde Boy (who was last in the circle to give his name, so Peyton didn't know it until Deanna said it), and he nods his head, like it's okay and he's ready to talk about it. Deanna smiles and everyone looks at him expectantly.

Peyton finds herself wanting to hear his story.

"My uncle Keith was like...a father to me," he starts. He knows everyone knows all these details, but he thinks it will make him feel better to talk about it. That's the whole idea of this group, right? "He's the one who taught me to ride a bike and shoot a free throw and tie a tie."

"Lucas, maybe you could tell us what happened to Keith?" Deanna says, and he nods again.

"Dan, my biological...father - Keith's own brother - he...shot him," Lucas says.

Peyton's heart falls and her throat gets tight, and if it wouldn't draw everyone's attention to her, she'd gasp and cover her mouth with her hand. She knows who this is. She's heard all about it on the news, obviously. She never even considered all that when she chose this town.

Lucas hangs his head and wipes his hands on his jeans after setting his empty paper cup on the ground beside his chair. "Dan just...takes everything from everyone."

"Try not to be accusatory," Deanna suggests. Both Peyton's and Lucas' heads snap towards the woman, but they're both too busy being infuriated to notice they've both had the same reaction to her words.

"He's a murderer!" Lucas says passionately. A tense quiet comes over the group, and Peyton is pretty sure this is the most insane experience she's ever had. This is supposed to make her feel better, not remind her of how cruel and awful the world can be. "I'm sorry," Lucas says moments later, closing his eyes remorsefully. "I just...I always wondered if I should hate him, you know? He was a deadbeat and he treated me like I didn't exist. Then he was...I thought he was changing. We all did. But he's still the same manipulative guy he always was. And now I do hate him. I hate him."

Peyton doesn't know what to do or where to look, but everyone else is looking at Lucas, so that's who she looks at, too. He's broken and hurting, and she knows it's only been a month since the shooting. She also knows that whatever Lucas is feeling, he definitely has a right to feel it.

But then his eyes meet hers, almost like he could feel her gaze, and the look he gives her pisses her off somehow. It's like he's silently reminding her that whatever she's going through, he's got it worse, and she thinks that's pretty fucking self-absorbed, if you ask her. It's not a competition, and frankly, she's never taken it well when anyone tries to downplay her grief. Death sucks no matter what, and you don't just 'get over it'.

"What's the hardest part, aside from the obvious?" one of the other members, and older woman named Jeanette asks, her tone caring and maternal.

Lucas takes a deep breath. "I guess I just want to know...why, you know?" he says seriously.

Peyton scoffs. She can't stop herself. Then all eyes are on her and she wishes she'd been able to keep it in. Lucas is glaring at her, and the group leader looks shocked at her 'outburst' (if they only knew how explosive her temper can be).

He knows the etiquette of the group, and he knows that you don't just interrupt someone's turn to talk, and you certainly don't make light of it or oppose anything they're saying. Honest emotions are being talked about, and even if you don't share those emotions or even agree with them, you don't laugh it off or be a bitch about it. This girl may be hot (ridiculously hot), but he's not sure he likes her. At all.

"Something you'd like to add, Peyton?" Deanna asks.

Peyton's head rolls back, regretting her inability to just get through this stupid session without saying anything. "We all want to know why," she says bitterly. "We all do, and most of us will never get that answer." Everyone seems to understand what she's saying. They nod gently or exchange glances, and Peyton thinks she sees Deanna smile. "The difference is that you can ask." She looks at Lucas, and he looks offended or annoyed or something. "At least you can ask the guy why he did it."

It's Lucas' turn to be annoyed, and he doesn't hide it at all. She is being a bitch.


To make matters worse, she's right. He hates it. And he knows that her ice cold exterior is a defense mechanism and she's really just scared and sad and hurting, and he can relate to that, because he's been there too, albeit not to the same extreme. He doesn't think.

"So you're saying I'm lucky that my uncle was murdered?" he asks indignantly.

"No!" Peyton is quick to insist. "No. I'm saying that you at least have the option of getting a bit of closure."

"He'll still be dead."

His tone is icy and it makes her tear up a little bit, because she can't lie, a part of her was really hoping that he, this beautiful blonde boy with the sad eyes, would understand her. It's very clear he doesn't.

"Yeah, but..." She sniffles and wipes angrily at the tear that's falling down her cheek. "But it's been nine years, and I'm still trying to figure out why. My mom's dead, and I...I don't get to ask why. You do. She ran one red light, and..."

She bites her lip and more tears fall, and she thought she was so much stronger than this. It's very clear she's not. She stands and reaches for her bag, and she vaguely hears Deanna calling after her, but she makes her way up the steps and outside, and it's not until she's a block away from that church that she feels like she can breathe again.

She can't go home yet, because her dad's there (it's rare), and he knows the group was supposed to be two hours long. She lasted all of about 15 minutes.

Good work, Peyton, she thinks as she rolls her eyes.

This town is really small, so she starts walking, because it's not quite dark out yet and she figures it'll kill some time. She starts walking towards what she believes to be the main part of the town, just a few blocks away from the church, and basically everything's closed. She's not surprised, really. It's not like she lives in a sprawling metropolis, but things are usually open until 8:00 anyway. The only storefront that has lights on and people inside is a little café, and so she figures maybe she'll skip the milkshake and grab something sweet here before she goes on her way.

And maybe it's weird - she definitely thinks it is - but she doesn't hate Tree Hill. She's not crazy about the thing that brought her here, that stupid group, and that stupid guy ruined all of it back at that church. (He didn't, and she knows that, but she'll blame him because, well, denial is easier than admitting that she's really emotionally fucked up.) She'll probably never come back here ever again, but there's something strangely...familiar about this place.

She steps into the café, and the bell above the door chimes, and the girl behind the counter smiles and tells her to sit anywhere. Peyton finds an empty table and sits down, and before she's even looked at the menu, she knows she's having a slice of the pie that's sitting in the case on the counter.

"Hi," the waitress greets her, notepad in hand and a smile on her face. "What can I get you?"

"I'll just take a piece of that lemon meringue pie and a glass of water, please," Peyton says politely, reaching for her book out of her bag.

"Sure thing."

Peyton opens her novel and smiles at the waitress when her water arrives, and when the bells above the door chime as she's waiting for her pie, she looks up to see an absurdly attractive guy with dark hair and blue eyes. But he doesn't notice Peyton. He's looking at the girl behind the counter. Peyton finds herself smiling. That's a cute couple (and it's so obvious they're a couple, just by the way the guy is looking at the girl).

"Aren't you supposed to be studying, mister?" the girl scolds playfully.

"I got bored," he says with a shrug. Peyton laughs to herself at how nonchalant he is, lazily leaning against the counter and toying with a coaster. "Besides, I'm married to my tutor, so I think I'll pass."

Peyton chokes on the sip of water she'd just taken, and she knows they'll know she was eavesdropping. She can't even cover it, and when the guy looks over at her, he's smiling.

"Sorry," she offers sheepishly.

"It's okay," he says, walking over to where she sits. "I'm Nathan. You're...not from here."

"No, I'm from Pontiac," she explains, extending her hand for him to shake. "Peyton."

The waitress steps in front of Nathan and sets Peyton's pie on the table, and there's a scoop of vanilla ice cream there that Peyton didn't order, but certainly isn't going to complain about. The girl shoots her a kind smile, then turns to her boyfriend (husband?) and puts her hands on her hips.

"No flirting," she teases.

"I was being nice!" Nathan says with a laugh. Peyton chuckles as she takes her first bite. "This is my wife, Haley."

Peyton sets down her fork and says it's nice to meet them both, and the couple goes back to the counter and carries on a conversation while Peyton eats her dessert and flips through Catch-22 for the fourth time. There's a shockingly good mix of music playing, and she smiles to herself. This little café is pretty cool. And this pie is really, really good.

She's so wrapped up in her book that she doesn't even hear the bells above the door chiming, and she's just turned her page when someone sits down across from her.

Blonde Boy.

"What are you doing here?" he asks coldly. He can see Nathan and Haley watching on in confusion (he didn't even greet them), but he doesn't care. He's more interested in getting this chick to leave.

Or to have her do something that lets him think it's okay that he wants her to stay.

"Eating pie," she says, though her plate is empty and sitting at the edge of the table. "Is that a problem?"

She closes her book and he notices that it's one of his favourites, and when she crosses her arms over her chest, he's a little scared of her. But she's right (again). He's the one being a jerk. Maybe. Maybe they're both being jerks? Either way, she probably doesn't deserve him sitting there and trying to run her out of town.

Kind of like he didn't deserve her little outburst at group. Not that he's bitter about it.

He gets up without another word and goes over to where Nathan and Haley are, and she vaguely hears him call Nathan his brother. This really is a small town. She doesn't want to stay there and be ignored and feel the hostility that's radiating off him, so she pulls a $20 from her wallet and tucks it beneath the plate on the table, then gets up, smiles at Haley, and walks out the door.

"What was that all about?" Nathan asks as soon as the door has closed behind the girl.

"She's like...evil," Lucas says, glancing at Peyton as she walks down the street. He can still see her through the window. She might be evil, but she's really hot, too, and he's confused, because he doesn't like her at all, but he likes her. "She was at my session tonight," he explains. "She told me that I should ask Dan why he did it."

Haley's eyes go wide, and Nathan takes a deep breath. "Oh," Haley says quietly.

"What?" Lucas asks.

"Well...maybe you should," she suggests delicately. "Maybe that would help you get...closure or something."

"That's what the girl said," Lucas mumbles. "She said that her mom died and she'll never get answers."

"So maybe she's right," Nathan adds.

"And I'm sure that it's really hard for her, not having a mom," Haley says. Lucas isn't sure if they're trying to make him feel guilty, but that's what they're doing. "So maybe you should cut her some slack."

Lucas rolls his eyes and sighs, because they're right. (What's with everyone being right today?)

"And besides," Nathan says with a smirk, "she's totally hot."

"She was pretty hot," Haley agrees, making Nathan laugh and Lucas scowl at them both.

"I'll see you guys," he mumbles before heading for the door.

Because he knows that if he doesn't go after her, he'll feel awful. Not because she's hot (well, not just because she's hot), but because he overreacted, and she probably doesn't feel too good right about now, and he's not the kind of guy to just let someone carry on feeling awful.

He sees her a few blocks down the street walking towards an old car parked near the church, and so he takes off running after her.

She hears footsteps, and her heart races because it's definitely dark now, and you never know who's out and about, and she's not really familiar with this town at all. She's a little scared. When she hears her name then feels someone's hand on her elbow, she jerks her arm away and turns around to see him there. It's silly, maybe, that she pulled herself from his grip, since she knew it was him (she's memorized his tone of voice already).

"What?" she asks quietly. She didn't mean for it to be quiet, but the way he's looking at her is kind of making her feel weird, and his eyes are too blue, and she can still feel the spot on her arm where he touched her.

Her heart is racing, and it's not the fear.

"I think I should apologize," he says timidly.

"You think you should?" she asks, one eyebrow kinked and one hand on her hip. "Or you're going to."

He scoffs and shakes his head. Here he is trying to be a nice guy, and she's totally busting his balls. "Are you always this much of a bitch?"

"Are you always this much of an asshole?" she throws back.

Any reason he was going to be nice to her has flown out the window, and he gives up. "Look, I don't know what your problem is, but I'm kind of going through a lot here," he says defensively, squinting at her in a ridiculous way that almost makes her laugh.

She lets out a bitter breath and turns to walk away, and he hears her say "you're not alone in that" as she leaves, and he wants her to stay and say it again.


None of Peyton's friends know about that day, that one day, she went to Tree Hill and had it out with a boy she can't stop thinking about and feels bad about calling an asshole. Because even if he is, she didn't/doesn't know him well enough to call him one.

Not to mention, she hasn't seen a boy since him that is even remotely as attractive. She's gone to parties and kissed random ball players (but done nothing more than kiss), and she's talked to Jake on the phone. She's thrown herself into schoolwork and cheerleading and picking colleges she's not even sure she wants to go to.

She sees a blonde boy once at the mall, and she does a double take, and when her heart returns to its regular beating pattern, Brooke asks her; "What was that all about?"

"Nothing," Peyton lies. It's easier than explaining at all.

But really, she's thinking that she owes someone an apology.


If he didn't have basketball, even just 15 minutes a game, he'd go insane. He needs it, and it (well, the team at least) needs him back. He wears his 'dad's' initials on his chest, and Skills joins the team, and between the two of them and Nathan, it's probably the best Ravens team that's ever been put together. They win their playoff games, and before he knows it they're slated to play in the state championship game.

Against Pontiac. Where Peyton goes. (Nathan told him so.)

It's crazy, absolutely ridiculous, but he can't get that girl off his mind. Mostly because she's the only person who, that soon after Keith's death, dared to talk to him like that and treat him like that. Normally. He was being an asshole, so she called him an asshole, and really, he's convinced that she was 100% right. He deserved the way she treated him.

She didn't deserve the way he treated her back.

Because after all, it was her words, her suggestion, that made him visit Dan and get the answers he wanted (needed) to get. And she was right. It did give him a little bit of closure.

He wishes he could thank her.


Pontiac makes a push late in the season and dominates the playoffs, and they make it to the state championship. Peyton's heart sinks when she hears who they'll be playing.

Tree Hill High, led by Nathan and Lucas Scott.

She almost fakes sick to get out of cheering at the game, but she can't do that to the guys on the team, and she can't do that to the squad. So when the time comes, she curls her hair and dons the uniform, and they all pile into Theresa's SUV to go to the game. They get all sentimental about this being the last game they'll ever cheer, and Peyton tries to pretend she doesn't care, but she really does, because cheering always reminds her of her mom. She'll miss the excitement, too. Laughing during practices and dealing with Brooke's insane cheer-crazy persona when they go to competitions.

They walk into the gym and the crowd is already going crazy. The teams are warming up, and that's when she sees him.

Blonde Boy.

He looks really, really hot in his warmup suit, and his hair is a little different (good different) and she has to bite her lip because she's thinking really, really dirty things (give her a break; it's been a while), and she wonders if anyone would care if she cheered for him instead of her own team.

"No way," Nathan says with a laugh, grabbing a bottle of Gatorade and taking a sip. "Look who it is, Luke."

"What?" Lucas asks, peeling off his warmup shirt.

Nathan nods in the direction of the opposing team's cheerleaders, and Lucas' eyes fall on her immediately. Legs and hair and a little skirt that's the wrong colours but right in every other way. Her hair is a different style, shorter, less blonde and softer curls, but there's something else that's different.

She's smiling.

She's gorgeous.

Nathan pats him on the back, and Lucas gives his head a shake and takes his place on the court, and does his best, which is surprisingly good, to ignore the fact that she's even there. Apparently his focus isn't the problem at all. Nathan's playing like complete garbage, and Lucas is immediately suspicious. Actually, suspicious isn't the right word at all. He's downright pissed off. Nathan made a promise and he's been breaking it all night, and Lucas doesn't like it one bit. There's only so much he and Skills can do, and if you ask him, Nathan needs to get his shit together. It's probably the anger that helps him avoid thoughts of Peyton.

Because he really doesn't want to lose this game, and the idea that they might is completely taking over his mind.

Peyton is happy for her own team, but there's something in her (she ignores that annoying voice telling her it's something to do with her heart) that feels really bad for those two boys she met only once, months ago. She runs into Haley in the girls' locker room bathroom during after the half, and they share a smile, and say hellos.

"How are you?" Peyton asks politely.

"Good! Pregnant," Haley explains. Peyton's eyebrows shoot skyward and Haley laughs. "I know. It's crazy."

"I think getting married in high school was the crazy part," Peyton says jokingly, and Haley just nods her head. "Congratulations, though."

"Thanks. But I gotta tell ya, cheering is not so fun when you have to pee every 20 minutes," Haley says, and they both chuckle at that. "Well, I have to go talk to my husband and see what's got him playing so badly."

"Right," Peyton says. "Well...good luck."

"Yeah. You too," Haley says sincerely.

They share a smile and then Haley's gone, and Peyton's wondering if, in another life, the two of them could have been friends.

She watches Lucas as they get ready for the second half, and he's all sexy and determined and focused, and if this were any other game or any other night, she'd march right over there and kiss him. Okay, so she wouldn't, but she can't stop thinking about it, about how his lips would feel and taste and...what they would do. To any part of her. Good God, she needs to focus.

Brooke yells at her to pay attention to the game and what's with her anyway, and Peyton just shrugs her shoulder, rustles her pom poms and shouts the name of one of the boys on the court, hoping that'll be enough, and then her eyes drift back over towards her blonde boy.

He doesn't play much and she wonders why, because when he's on the court, he's amazing. He moves effortlessly and sees the court insanely well. He's not selfish, and he knows his teammates. Suddenly his anger and animosity from the times they spoke isn't quite so irritating anymore. She sees it as passion, fire, and she thinks it is sexy as hell.

Pontiac loses the game in a heartbreaker, and no one notices that Peyton's the only one smiling as she watches that blonde boy celebrate his win.

And then she sees him with a redheaded cheerleader in his arms, spinning her around and letting her kiss him. Peyton's heart falls, and when Brooke slips her hand into Peyton's, she decides that Lucas isn't anything special (she somehow knows he is, but she's gotten really good at fooling herself). They walk to the locker room, then to the car, then they go home. She can't forget about him, but she starts kissing more boys (and now she does just a little more than kiss them) and she tries to tell herself that his lips wouldn't taste better.


Rachel breaks up with him because he refuses to sleep with her until she stops sleeping with other people. Apparently that's too much to ask.

Well, that's not true. They sleep together once. It's a couple weeks after the championship game, and they're drinking at a party, and when she kisses him and runs her hand over the front of his jeans, he isn't in any frame of mind to say he doesn't want to. He does want to. The whiskey and her suggestion that she show him what he's been missing out on have him giving in. It doesn't taken much convincing. It's sloppy and passionate (in an awkward ohmygodIneedyounow kind of way) only because they're both so desperate for it. He decides somewhere between him on top of her and her on top of him, that they both just want sex, they don't necessarily want each other. She isn't what (who) he wants, but he realizes it too late. She's naked and moving (amazingly, he'll admit) on top of him, saying things that would make him blush if he ever heard them when he was sober. It feels too fucking good (physically speaking) to not just let himself get what he needs.

But all he can think about when he closes his eyes are that other girl's sad green ones and short blonde curls and natural breasts (he could tell, though he'd never admit to looking) and long legs and sweet kisses. He's convinced Peyton would be an amazing kisser. She has to be.

Rachel finishes (loudly), then doesn't even kiss him after, and she's dressed almost immediately and heading downstairs, back to the party for more drinks and the wrong kind of attention from the wrong kind of boys.

He's too comfortable in his discomfort (no, it doesn't really make sense, but it feels right to him) to break up with her, so he tells her that it's him and no one else, or it's not him at all, and he thinks that he could be the boy to change her. And maybe she's not so crazy after all. Or maybe he just knows that giving her the ultimatum will make her break it off with him and let him off the hook.

She tells him that no one turns her down, and she insults his abilities (though they both know she enjoyed herself, and the girls he was with before her did, too) and she storms out of his room and that's that.

He's relieved.


Brooke gets a(nother) new boyfriend, and this one's a good one. His name is Chase, and he's sweet and he takes care of her and makes her feel like she's more than just a body (because he's not touching that body in any really impure ways), and he moves away just in time for Brooke to realize that she might be falling in love with him.

He moves to Tree Hill.

Brooke goes there to see him, but she doesn't really meet any of his friends, and she doesn't care to.

And then Bevin starts dating a boy from there as well. Her parents have a beach house there where they stayed over March break, and she ran into that guy Skills from the Ravens' team that beat them in the state finals, and she falls hard for him.

Peyton doesn't meet him. She's not interested in being linked to that town at all.

It's all a lie. A horrible, big one, but she needs to stay away, solely because she's afraid of what'd happen if she let herself go there. She'd see him and his girlfriend, and she'd be annoyed and angry, and it's stupid, because she's only ever met him once, and they essentially yelled at each other the whole time. But there's something in his eyes that she wants to decode. She wants to know everything about him, and that has never, ever happened to her before.

She goes to see Jake, because he's the boy she should be desperate to know, and it's awkward until it's not awkward anymore. He sings a song for her, and he kisses her when she almost cries, and then she's laying on his bed, and he's on top of her, all that amazing pressure in her stomach and between her legs, and the weight of him makes her feel things and she loves him.

She falls asleep and they wake up tangled together, and she spends the day with Jenny, and then she doesn't even know what she's thinking, but she says she wants to get married. Like, now. He says it's crazy, and then he smiles and says yes to her absurd proposal, and it's amazing, and she's happy, and she thinks she'll like living in Savannah.

Then she says someone else's name (Lucas) in her sleep and it all crashes and burns. He doesn't even take her to the airport, and she knows his heart is breaking more than hers is.


She hates this. She's saying no because she refuses to go to that town, and no one understands that because she hasn't explained it; hasn't bothered to try and doesn't want to. Two of her closest friends have boys there, and she has nothing there.

She tries to make herself believe that.

They're pleading with her to come to a party with them. It's the party of the year, they say, and she doesn't care, and she doesn't want to go. And then when Brooke pouts and clings to Peyton's arm and goes on and on and on about needing to see Chase and wear her cutest outfit, and how Peyton doesn't even have to be designated driver, since they'll crash at Bevin's beach house...well, Peyton can't say no.

"Fine," she finally relents, making her friends squeal in delight. "But don't expect me to have any fun. At all."

"Oh, of course. We wouldn't ask that much of you," Brooke teases. Bevin gets up to answer her cell, and Brooke can tell Peyton still isn't exactly thrilled. "Remember how hot those ball players were?"

"What!?" Peyton asks defensively. It's too defensive, even to her.

"Hot. Ball players. Your favourite," Brooke says, only half-joking. It's a well-known fact that Peyton loves ball players. Almost exclusively.

The truth is, she's being defensive because there's one ball player she thinks about (entirely exclusively). He's beautiful, and she can remember every detail of his face and what she saw of his body, and she wants to see more, and part of her is afraid that if she sees him, she'll either yell at him or throw herself at him. Either of those would make her feel horrible and amazing all at once. She's never wanted someone so much. She's never disliked someone so much. She's never really felt that much of anything for someone. It scares the hell out of her, but if she's being completely honest with herself, it also excites her, because it's just nice to feel things again.

She feels that same familiarity again when they pull into Tree Hill, and she knows it's not because she's been there before. It was like this the last time, too. It's almost like she...belongs there or something. She knows that's crazy.

They moment she arrives at the party, she sees a very pregnant, very gorgeous and happy-looking Haley. Brooke and Bevin area already off in search of their boyfriends, so Peyton walks over and notices Haley's face light up when she recognizes her.

"Hey!" Haley says happily, speaking over the music. "What are you doing here?"

Peyton almost laughs. Those are some familiar words. "My friends' boyfriends go to Tree Hill."

"Right! Skills and Bevin!" Haley says. "I have that whole pregnant brain thing."

They both laugh and Peyton points to where Brooke and Chase are kissing and laughing already. "Brooke. My best friend."

"Oh yeah. I haven't met her. Chase doesn't exactly hang out with the jocks."

"Yeah, he's not a jock kind of guy," Peyton insists.

"Nathan and Lucas are around here somewhere," Haley says. She looks away, searching for her husband in the crowd, and she misses the way Peyton swallows then takes a deep breath. "There's Lucas."

Peyton follows Haley's gaze, and her eyes lock with those blue ones across the room. He sips from his plastic cup, never breaking eye contact, and when she turns away, Haley's gone and she's left standing there alone. Lucas is walking towards her, and her hands are shaking, and she bites the inside of her lip to keep from screaming. She's tempted to walk away.

Really tempted.

So that's what she does. She knows she didn't let him see that she noticed he was coming towards her, and it's fine. She needs a drink before any kind of interaction. Something strong. Whiskey will do nicely. Skills fills her cup and Bevin talks about going to find his best friend to say hi. His best friend, Lucas.

Peyton escapes to the back porch of the house, the late spring heat sticking to her skin, and she pretends she didn't see a little bit of a smile on his face when he noticed that she was there.

He can't believe she's here. He's talking to Bevin (well, she's talking at him) and he doesn't hear a word. He thinks he hears her say something about bringing friends, and he doesn't know her all that well, but he knows she goes to school with Peyton. He didn't think they'd be friends, for some reason. Bevin is bubbly and ditzy and...happy. Peyton is...not. He's still trying to get used to the idea of her ever having been a cheerleader. It just doesn't really fit with what he knows about her. Not that he knows that much about her. He wants to, though.

He sees her come into the house to get her second cup of whiskey, and he watches her talk to Nathan as he pours the liquid into her cup. Lucas moves out to where he knows she was standing (one of the few things he actually caught Bevin saying). He's on the back porch of the house alone, and without seeing her, he feels it when she walks outside. He doesn't know how or why that is, other than she's basically the only girl he's ever felt this connected to. It's crazy, but it's true.

"Your girlfriend is in there dancing on tables," she says as she stands next to him, leaning forward against the railing.

She's got those jeans on (the ones with the holes) and a black tank top with a bright green bra underneath, and maybe it's the whiskey he's drinking, but he finds himself wondering if her underwear matches. It's not a natural thought, but he says it is. He's a teenager. That's what they do, right?


"Redhead?" she reminds him, laughing a little. It's not until that moment that she realizes it's been a lot of months, six or something, since she last saw him, and there's a chance he's not seeing the girl anymore.

"Oh," he laughs. "No. She's not...No."

"Oh," is all she can say, because her heart races and she thinks that there's nothing standing in the way if she did decide to throw herself at him.



He shakes his head, and she turns to him, and holy shit she's beautiful. He wants to kiss her and hear her say his name, and it's crazy, but he wants her to fall asleep next to him, then wake up and kiss him again.

But he's been wanting to do this for a really long time, and he's not going to mess it up. "My apology. It's long overdue."


"For being an asshole," he says with a smirk. "I was just..."

"No, I understand," she cuts him off. "I wasn't exactly pleasant or...you know...sensitive."

"Is that an apology?" He teases her lightly, because she's actually as adorable as she is sexy. She nods her head and smiles at him. His heart swells. "How are you?"

"About a half a cup of whiskey away from having a good time," she says. He laughs and nods his head, and he watches her in complete appreciation when she drains her cup. His eyebrows go up and he smirks at her, turning to lean one elbow against the railing of the deck. "Yup. I'm good now."

"You want another?"

"No," she answers quickly. "No, I won't have anything else to drink." He nods, and she wonders how she's comfortable with him.

Maybe because she feels like those couple conversations she had with him actually gave her a lot of insight into who he is. And watching him play basketball and interact with his teammates only showed her more. And maybe because there were a few nights (she won't admit this to anyone else) when she felt so terribly alone and awful that she hugged her pillow and pretended, just a little bit, that it was his body she was holding close. And maybe because the last few boys she kissed were all blonde basketball players from Pontiac or wherever they were from, and she couldn't even pretend she didn't know the reason for that.

That last thought (and probably how fast she drank those two cups of alcohol) has her turning to him and kissing him before he knows she's going to do it. There's no long, drawn out, we'reabouttokiss moment. She doesn't stare into his eyes, and he doesn't glance down at her lips. She just presses her lips to his and his free hand falls clumsily to her waist, then his drink is abandoned and he's pulling her against him and wondering if one of the bedrooms in this house is free. Or a bathroom or a broom closet or a freaking...crawl space. Whatever. Any place that has a door that closes and maybe locks, though that last part, he isn't really concerned with, to tell you the truth.

This isn't him. He doesn't just kiss girls and slip his hand beneath their shirts and let them press their hips to his. He doesn't do this. But this girl is so different, and he's known it since she walked into that church basement. He likes her. A lot. He likes the way she kisses, and how she somehow doesn't taste like alcohol, but like lime lip balm instead. He likes how smooth her skin is, and how her chest feels pressed up against his, and all those little noises she's letting out.

She pulls away and she doesn't apologize like he thinks she will. Her cheeks are flushed and her chest is heaving. The strap of that green bra has slipped down off her shoulder, and he delicately puts it back in place, though really all he wants to do is take every stitch of clothing off her. He's honestly never, ever in his life had such strong urges towards a girl. Ever. It's like he's absolutely drawn to her, and he doesn't know how he went so long, so many months, without this. Without her hands holding his shirt at his sides and her thighs brushing up against his.

Without just her.

He knows nothing about her, really, but it all seems trivial, all those details (like, say, her last name or her birthday or her favourite colour). The only thing, the most important thing anyway, that matters is this ridiculous sexual tension that seems to have grown out of nothing and into something huge.

That sounds like an innuendo, and when he tries to think of something different, she presses her hips to his and his mind is a haze of lust and green eyes and the sound of her breathing.

"Whose house is this?" she asks breathlessly.


She smiles bigger than he's ever seen her smile, like that was the answer she was hoping he'd give, and his heart jumps into his throat when she slips her hand into his, pulling him into the house. She doesn't care that there are people looking at them, no doubt wondering who the hell she is and why the hell she's dragging him towards the stairs. Lucas, in his periphery, notices Nathan smiling and bumping his fist against Skills', but then Peyton starts walking up the stairs, and all he sees is her jeans and her hips and the sliver of skin that shows at the small of her back, and the little cluster of freckles on the back of her right shoulder.

They find a room and close the door, locking it behind them, and she's never had sex with a stranger before. She's never had sex with anyone she wasn't dating before. She feels like she knows this boy, and the way he kisses her and touches her and handles her, she certainly feels like he knows her.

And it's not like she's got an insane amount of experience, she hasn't been with many guys, but this is the best she's ever had. The best. It's like someone gave him a map of her body and he's following it to the letter. She's pretty sure he kisses every single inch of her, and she's not embarrassed to be naked with him, because he's looking at her with such a ridiculous amount of adoration.

He's convinced she's not of this earth. She can't be. She's too perfect. Too shy and bold, too sexy and adorable, too grown up and childish. She's just too much, but somehow, she's exactly what he needs. She knows what she's doing, and she's doing everything to him, and it's crazy that he'll take it all. He's a giver, not a taker, but she's getting as much out of it as he is, and he's not just saying that to make him feel better. He tells her he needs her at the same moment she tells him she needs him, and they share a smile, and then he's inside her and she's breathing out some form of his name and he cuts her off with a kiss.

They fall asleep together, her tucked securely against his side with his heart beating beneath her cheek, and she's never been more comfortable. She's never been a cuddly sleeper, but she can't - doesn't want to and won't - move away from him.

When she wakes up in the morning, he's still sleeping, and she thinks her heart is going to jump out of her chest when she sees the adorable little smile on his lips. He just looks...satisfied...and she's pretty proud of that, actually.

Then her phone buzzes in her jeans, wherever they are in the room, and she jumps out of bed to reach for her phone. It's Brooke, and she's not surprised. She doesn't ever disappear, and Brooke and Bevin are no doubt worried. She sees that she's missed 17 calls, so she texts Brooke quickly to say that she's fine, and that she'll make her way to Bevin's beach house soon. She looks back to Lucas as she pulls on her clothes, and he's just so goddamn beautiful that she wants to stay locked away in this house, in this bedroom, with this man and all his...talents. Her body feels so good and so relaxed and she thinks she could wake up next to him all the time, every morning.

She finds a pen and a stack of Post-its, and she writes her name and number there, and the note looks too plain, so she does a little doodle of two people standing on a porch. She messes it up, so she grabs it and stuffs it into her pocket and starts over. It takes her three tries, but she gets it right, and she folds his clothes for him (she doesn't know why) then places the Post-it atop his tee shirt.

She brushes a kiss to the apple of his cheek, and then she slips out the door and doesn't hear from him again, and she pretends she doesn't doesn't care, because he's just a boy and it was just one night. She tells her friends that she just fell asleep alone that night at that party, and they believe her, because she doesn't have one night stands.

And she hadn't intended that one to be, either. Apparently that boy didn't (doesn't) feel the same.


He can't believe she just left. She just left. After that amazing night (and it was amazing, and he knows she thought so too) she just left without so much as a word. She didn't wake him up or program her number into his phone (which isn't really her fault, since he'd left it in his car). Not so much as a note.

He graduates and becomes an uncle and a big brother, and it's huge and scary. He's going to be a coach, well, an assistant coach, and his life is changing.

And all he can think about is that night and that girl and he hates her for leaving.

Because he thinks he loves her, and it's not fair that she doesn't love him back.


The girls have a slumber party to celebrate Brooke's birthday, and it's incredibly juvenile, but they actually have a lot of fun. Brooke doesn't want to grow up, or so she says, so they eat s'mores and drink rootbeer floats. They listen to popular music and dance around in their pajamas, and it's so silly and unnecessary, but it makes them feel really good to just goof around one last time.

Sometime in the middle of the night, Peyton wakes up and Brooke is sitting there, eating from a tub of rich chocolate ice cream, and she hands Peyton a spoon.

"You still talk in your sleep," Brooke says quietly, so not to wake up the other girls, sprawled out and sleeping around Brooke's living room. They both know Peyton always used to do that. Brooke would always tease Peyton about the ridiculous things she'd say.

"Oh. Yeah."

"Who's Lucas?" Brooke asks.

"What?" Peyton breathes out.

"You said the name Lucas."

Peyton smiles nervously and shrugs her shoulders. "I dunno. Weird."

She really needs to stop that little habit.


The end of the summer comes, and Peyton is off to a little school only a couple hours from home. She packs her things into her car a few days after she sees Brooke off to L.A., and when she gets to her little apartment, she smiles. Everything's changing, and she likes it. It's exhilarating and she feels a little like a new person, and when a tall boy with dark hair smiles at her in the foyer of her apartment building, she almost gets butterflies.

But she's certain all her butterflies are reserved for someone who couldn't care less, and that's just the way it is.


Lucas is a the River Court one night after spending the day with his brother and his nephew. They're leaving for Gilmore in a couple days. He's tired, but he knows that if he goes home, his colicky sister will keep him up, and playing a little ball seems like the better option. He regrets it as soon as he sees Rachel's SUV drive up, the front tires edging onto the court like she knows he hates, and she jumps out, wearing just a pair of insanely short shorts and a little tank top.

"Hi," he says, because he's not one to be rude, no matter what history there is between them.

"I'm leaving in a couple days," she says. She's never really been one for subtleties (as if the flaming red hair, barely-there clothing and fake breasts didn't give that away).

"Right." He hasn't been talking to her. He hasn't missed her. He doesn't want her to be here now.

"I got a modeling contract in New York," she says, though she knows he must have heard, because everyone's heard. She's made sure of it.

"Good for you, Rachel," he says, not interested whatsoever.

"So look, I'm thinking that...Since you and I haven't seen each other lately, and we probably won't see each other ever again..." She says it enticingly and walks towards him, and when she runs her index finger down the middle of his chest, he doesn't stop her. "I think we should have some fun tonight."

He laughs humourlessly (or maybe not so much, because he does think it's pretty funny that she's under the impression that every man in the world wants to fuck her). He places his hands on her shoulders and pushes her away. "No, we shouldn't."

He shoots the ball again, and he can kind of see her walking back to her truck, but he doesn't really care what she does. Then she's coming at him with a little yellow piece of paper in her hand, and she shoves it against his chest, and it startles him.

"So you wouldn't just be with me, my way, but you'll hook up with some random girl at a party?" Rachel asks hotly, putting her hand on her hip. "And people call me the slut."

She walks away again and he has no idea why she's bringing this up now, but the only legitimate thought in his mind is that Peyton isn't some random girl.

Rachel peels out of the park, and he looks at that Post-it, and he throws the ball as hard as he can into the river. Fucking Rachel. She's so manipulative, and he hates her. Absolutely hates her. He's really glad she's leaving, and he thinks she's lucky. If he thought it would do any good, he'd yell at her until he was red in the face, then he'd take a breath and yell some more.

He pulls his phone out of his pocket and it's only 11:30, and he almost frantically dials the number on the paper.

It's disconnected. No longer in service.

His phone is the next thing that gets tossed in the river.


She's walking across campus one day in November, and it's cold. She's wearing jeans and suede books and a wool jacket with a dark green scarf, and her bag slung over her shoulder. She stops for a coffee at her favourite coffee cart, though it's a bit of a walk to the building where her class is, and she freezes in her place when she sees two people she never thought she'd see again.

Nathan smiles at her and waves her over, and it's very clear that Lucas is uncomfortable, and if she was more of a bitch, she'd just walk the other way, but she can't.

And Lucas looks really fucking good in his jeans and leather jacket, and she hates him for that. Doesn't he know that he has to look worse than her the first time they see one another? Because as much as she wants to say she thought she'd never see him again, she never really believed that.

Nathan hugs her, for some reason, and she hugs him back. Lucas looks away, and she can tell he's ashamed or something, and she's glad, because he should be. He just never called her, and she's still pretty pissed about it, though it's been months and months.

It's then that she realizes that it's been just over a year since she first saw him. He's been on her mind the entire time, and he's a complete stranger, save for the details she knows about his body. She can feel her cheeks go red at the thought, and after a little small talk where she learns their basketball team is playing her school's, Nathan's phone rings. He excuses himself, explains that it's Haley, and walks over to a nearby bench, then it's just Lucas standing in front of Peyton, and he has no idea what he should say. He knows somehow that she won't believe the true story, and he hates that she's probably doubting that he wants her (he does, so bad).

"You look great," he says, because it's the truth and it's almost neutral ground.

He hates neutral ground. He wants to tell her everything, and he's never hated Skills more for ending his relationship with Bevin. Because after Lucas found that the number Peyton left on the note Rachel stole didn't work anymore, he frantically asked his friend if he still kept in touch with Bevin, but they'd already broken up. Apparently she moved on to some Pontiac bench player or something, not that Lucas cared at all. All he cared about was that Skills deleted her number from his phone and hadn't ever memorized it. And he didn't know that Chase guy well, but he was desperate, and when he went to look for him, Lucas learned that Chase had moved to L.A.

So he was fucked, basically, and now he's standing in front of her with a million apologies that he can tell by the way she's standing, she doesn't want to hear.

"I have a class," she says, gesturing towards the building before them. She turns to walk away but he grasps her elbow, and it's so familiar to their first meeting that she almost thinks she's going to cry.

"I'm sorry."

She scoffs (that sound he hates, but she always seems to do around him) and pulls her arm from his grasp. "For not calling, or for it ever happening?" she asks bitterly. He catches up to her when she walks away again, and she crosses her arms when he stands directly in front of her. "What?!"

"Come to the game tonight," he pleads. "We can talk after."

She sighs and shakes her head, and he doesn't understand her like she told herself for so long that he did. "I don't want to talk," she almost whispers.

He lets her walk away, simply because the look on her face was breaking his heart and he couldn't bear it any longer.


He's walking through a mall in Raleigh while he's on Christmas break, and spending time with his baby sister as she sits in her stroller with a little grin on her face seems like just about the best thing in the world. He's got bags of gifts dangling from his arm, a coffee in the stroller's cupholder, and he's very well aware of the way women are looking at him. That whole thing about babies making women flock to men is actually true, and the fact that he isn't wearing a wedding ring certainly doesn't hurt.

It's not like he's using Lily. He's not at all. Because let's face it, the guy doesn't really need help getting girls to notice him, and in the last month or so, he hasn't been turning them away like he used to. There's only one girl he really wants, and she hates him, and as much as he is pissed off at her for it, he can't really blame her either. She's no doubt hurt, and he wants to stop that, but she's...

Fuck. She's walking right towards him.

She stops in her tracks when she sees him, and the fact that he's pushing a baby in a stroller certainly explains a lot to her. It also makes her feel sick to her stomach, and she's not sure if that's because (after doing quick math in her head) he was already almost a daddy when they slept together, or because there's a voice that she can't ignore that is telling her that she wants him to only ever be pushing her babies in strollers.

She's losing her damn mind. Ever since she blew him off when she saw him on campus at her school that day, she's wondered if she made a mistake. Now she's glad she never really made any effort to find him, because he's got a freaking kid, and the cynic in her thinks, 'of course'.

"Hi," he says quietly.


"How...how are you?" Why are his palms sweating? Why is his heart palpitating in his chest? Why does he want to kiss her senseless and grab her hand and never let her go?

"Fine," she says, because it's close to the truth (she is fine and rarely ever any better). "Cute baby."

He beams and looks down at Lily, and she squeals in delight when he tickles her tummy quickly. "Yeah. She's pretty special. At first I thought it'd be weird to have a sibling at 18, but..."

"Sibling?" Peyton asks. There's undisguised hope in her voice, and she wants to hate it, but she can't.

"Yeah," he says in confusion. Then the light bulb goes on. "My sister. Lily."

"Oh." She lets herself smile, and when she looks down at the little girl, she sees very little resemblance to Lucas, and she's really relieved.

"You thought..."

"Yeah, I mean...It's not like I really know anything about you," she says. When their eyes lock, he sees all kinds of hurt in those green ones, and he hates that he's the one who put it there. She doesn't regret her words. It's spiteful and probably not really necessary, but that doesn't mean it's not true.

"Can we talk?" he asks almost desperately. "Can I buy you a coffee and can we actually have a conversation?"

She thinks about it for a moment. She sighs and looks away, and then her gaze falls on a baby that's smiling up at her, and she nods her head. "Okay."

They're quiet as they walk towards the little coffee shop he's just come from, and when Lily starts swinging her arms and giggling at absolutely nothing, Peyton laughs and reaches down to take the little girl's hand in her own. Lucas' heart melts, because something about her laughing makes his body tingle, and something about seeing her with a baby makes him shiver.

And he still doesn't know her last name.

They find a table and he goes off to get her coffee, but her voice stops him. "Can I hold her?"

He smiles and nods. "Of course."

He watches her, and she can feel his gaze as she picks up the smiling little girl and starts talking to her as though she'll understand. Peyton is still babbling in the most adorable baby talk he's ever heard when he comes back to the table and sets a cup in front of her.

"Thank you," she says politely. She has Lily sitting on her lap, her hand on the girl's stomach. He has no idea how she's so good with babies, but she looks like a pro.

"So...can I explain?" he asks quietly, and she takes a deep breath and nods her head.

He tells her everything. From Rachel's interference to his desperate attempts to find her or get in touch with her through the people they both kind of know. Her heart swells and she feels amazing because he didn't reject her, he just didn't know she wasn't rejecting him. He admits he was mad at her for just leaving (angry as hell are his exact words) and then his ex gave him that little yellow note and he felt miserable. He also, very quietly, tells her that was the best night of his life on a whole lot of levels, and she almost feels like she's going to cry, because she feels exactly the same way. No matter how mad she was at him, that night was still the best for her.

Lily starts crying and Lucas reaches for a bottle from one of the bags stowed away on the stroller, and Peyton takes the bottle from him without even asking. She feeds his baby sister while they make small talk, and he thinks that maybe they have an honest shot at something here.

"So...can I get your number again?" he asks quietly.

She smiles, but she shouldn't, because after that day last month when she saw him, she did everything she could to forget him, and that included meeting a boy she's been spending a lot of time with. They aren't officially a couple, and she doesn't know if she wants them to be. Actually, now that she knows (and believes) the whole story of what happened after that amazing night with Lucas, she's sure she doesn't want to be this other guy's girlfriend. She thinks she's wanted to be Lucas' girlfriend since he yelled at her over a year ago in a room full of people.

And it's for that reason that she can't lie.

"I'm kind of...seeing someone," she admits. His expression is blank. "It's not serious or anything, but I just don't...I want to be honest."

"Okay," he says, nodding gently. He reaches for her phone as it sits on the table, and she grins a little bit as he starts keying something in. "I'll tell you what. You call me when you break it off."

Her jaw drops. She grins a little bit, though. "You just assume I'll break it off."


"Why?" she asks, kinking her brow as she rests Lily against her shoulder and pats the girl's back gently.

"Because I know that if you felt even half of what I felt...what I still feel...then you wouldn't be fucking around with anyone else." Her eyes go wide not only because he's so confident, but because he just swore in front of a baby.

And maybe because he's right.


He doesn't know about the car accident she gets into (someone runs a red light, and no, the significance of that is not lost on her). Her phone is thrown from the car and shattered, and her car is basically destroyed, but she walks away from it no worse for wear. Save for her shaking hands and shot nerves, she's fine.

She actually laughs. Now she can't call him at all. She starts to think that maybe they just aren't meant to be.

He doesn't understand it. Doesn't she see it? Can't she feel it? When she kissed his cheek that day at the mall before she walked away, he felt as though his flesh had been burned, and that can't be one sided. It can't be. There's no way he feels so much and she feels nothing. He hates himself for not fighting harder. He hates her more for not fighting at all.


She drives to Tree Hill (well, through Tree Hill, though it's out of her way and she has no business being there) the summer after her first year at college. She doesn't know if she'll see him, but it's worth a shot, right? It's her turn to explain, and she wants her chance.

But when she drives past that café where they had that silly argument, there's brown paper over the windows. It's clear the place has closed down. She drives around for a while, wondering if she'll see anyone she recognizes. Skills or Nathan or Haley or hell, Lucas himself.

She sees no one.

She keeps driving and she doesn't look back.


He stops thinking about her somewhere around the start of his second year of college. He's got too much going on to worry about the girl who plays him hot and cold. Smiles and makes him fall and fall and fall, then disappears. Steals his heart and makes his body tremble, then runs away.

He's got a team to coach and a major to finish, and now she's nothing more than a girl he had a one-night stand with once upon a time, and he won't think of her as anything else.


She's 22 and in a bar in New York City visiting her best friend and Brooke's boyfriend of the moment. After she and Chase split, Brooke went on a bit of a...boy spree...and she hasn't quite decided to settle down yet. This one's name is Tyrone or Tim or Tom or...something. Peyton doesn't really care. She just knows that the bartender at this place makes the best gin martinis she's ever had, and she's on her fourth, and she feels pretty damn good. Brooke and her guy (Troy? whatever) are whispering and sitting close, their knees touching and his hand trailing down her arm, and Peyton rolls her eyes.

She's had her share of short, stupid, doomed-from-the-start relationships in the past few years. In truth, she was just trying to erase the memory of someone. His taste and his smell and how he felt all over her and inside her, and sometimes, she'd get close. The closest was a boy with black hair and green eyes work the same cologne as Lucas and played sports and treated her like she was some kind of goddess. But it was all wrong afterward when she couldn't get to sleep, she almost cried when she realized that what she missed most about that blonde boy was the way he held her right before they drifted off. She bit back tears and did the walk of shame while he snored, and she didn't take his calls and never spoke to that guy again.

She stopped trying after that.

She's just ordered her fifth martini when Brooke and Terry (or whatever) start making out next to her, and she just wants to get the fuck out of this place. Or tell them to get the fuck out of this place. And then as she's eating the olives from the little metal spear in her glass, Brooke drops her keys onto the bar in front of Peyton and says she'll be home tomorrow. Peyton shakes her head, but smiles and says goodbye. She's staying at Brooke's place while she's in town, and she's really, really glad that the couple is going to Trent's (maybe that's his name?) place so she won't have to listen to whatever they get up to.

When Lucas walks into the busy bar, he can't believe his eyes and his luck and his life. There's no way that girl is sitting at the bar, twirling the stem of her martini glass between her thumb and index finger. There's no way she's even more gorgeous (he hates that he thinks it) than ever. He stands there by the door and watches her for a moment, and there's no doubt that it's her. He could tell from behind somehow. Her hair has changed, but he knows her like the back of his hand. He knows that body, he's worshiped that body, and he wants nothing more than to have her. In the primal way that he's already craving her. (Maybe has always been craving her.)

He smiles to himself when he sees her give some guy in a sharp suit the brush off. Then he realizes he got a different version of that brush off from her first, and he clenches his jaw and decides it's now or never. He walks over and sits next to her at the bar, and when she sees him, she looks genuinely shocked. He asks the bartender for a beer before he even greets her.

He doesn't look at her as he speaks; "It's a good thing I didn't hold my breath waiting for your call."

"Lucas," she breathes out. He lets himself think it's sexy, but he doesn't even cast a glance her way as he takes a sip of his beer. "My phone, it..."

"Save it, Peyton," he says coldly. "It was years ago."

"But I..."

"It's fine," he says, and when he looks at her, her eyes are soft and her skin is perfect, and there's a lock of hair he's aching to reach out and brush away from her forehead. "It was what it was."

Before she can stop herself, she says, "it was more than that."

He doesn't know what to say, because her words totally caught him off-guard. He sips his beer to preoccupy himself and try to buy some time, and then she throws a $50 bill on the bar top, drains her drink and hops off her stool. She presses a lingering kiss to his cheek, her hand resting on his shoulder, and he feels like he's alive again.

She leaves, and he just can't let her go. He heads after her without paying for his drink, and he doesn't feel bad about it for a second, because he needs this girl, and nothing is more important than that.

"Peyton!" he calls when he steps outside. She's almost a block away, but she stops walking and throws her head back, and all he sees are her legs and the heels and the short skirt she's wearing. He approaches her, walking briskly, and she wraps her arms around herself and looks to the ground. "It was more than that?" he asks indignantly. "What the hell does that mean?" She shakes her head, and he reaches out to cup her elbow, and she looks up at him, wondering if he realizes how many times he's done that. "Tell me."

"I..." She takes a deep breath and closes her eyes like she's preparing herself for rejection. "I shouldn't have to explain it to you, Lucas. If you didn't feel it too, then it's nothing."

He lets out strange noise, something like a laugh, and he shakes his head, and when she opens her eyes, he looks angry. "It's not nothing!"

"Don't shout at me!"

"You think it's nothing?" he asks. He knows she doesn't, obviously, but he's mad that she can't see how much she means to him. Granted, he said some things in the bar that he didn't really mean, but that was before she got all cute and remorseful; before her lips were on his skin. "We've been playing this game for years, and I have no idea why. I'm chasing you, and you're running away, and I don't know anything about you. You're playing me, but I...fucking...God, you make me crazy."

"I'm not playing you," she says defensively.

"Oh? What would you call it then? You...we had a chance. You've had my number, and I didn't change it because I thought you'd call. You never did."

"Would you let me explain!?" she shouts, pulling her arm from his grasp. They're drawing stares from people for fighting in the middle of the sidewalk at midnight in New York, but she doesn't care. "I was in an accident and my phone was...I wanted to call you."

He's sure he's the biggest asshole in the world, that her initial label for him should stick. He's accusing her of things she's not guilty of, and he hates himself for it. But...

"I'm not hard to find."

"I tried," she whispers.

He doesn't know what she did, but maybe he's not as easy to find as he thought. He might have been a coach, but his office number was private and you couldn't just call him and get through. His team never played her school's team again, and he stopped spending so much time in Tree Hill after his mom and sister left. So he doesn't have a response to her words.

He just kisses her.

He grabs her arms and pulls her towards him, and his lips are on hers and she's moaning her surprise. Then she's kissing him back and holding onto the collar of his shirt, and they slip down the little side street where there are fewer people. He presses her against the brick wall, and she laughs into his mouth, and he smiles and pulls away. When he looks into her eyes, there's something there he's never seen before, and even as he thinks it, he knows it's crazy. He's only ever seen her a handful of times; it's not like he really knows her.

"What's your last name?" he asks as she runs her hands through his hair and he kisses her neck.

"Sawyer," she breathes out. "It's Sawyer." His hands are bracing him against the wall, and when he pulls away from her a little bit, she searches his face for any readable expression. "Kiss me."

It's a whispered demand that she doesn't need to repeat, then he's got one arm hooked around her waist and pressing her into him, and the other palming her breast through her shirt. She mewls when he presses his hips to hers, and she needs to get him behind closed doors. Like, now. He pushes up her skirt a little bit, and when she tries to say his name to tell him they can't do this here, he's pressing his hand against her through her underwear, and she lets out a noise so sexy that he has to stop what he's doing.

This can't be real.

She moves away from him, straightens out her skirt, and before she walks away, she reaches for his hand. They're quiet for the entire five block walk back to Brooke's apartment, because Peyton's afraid if she says anything, the words will come out 'I love you'. Lucas is afraid that this is a one-time thing (for the second time), but he still needs it, needs her, and so he keeps his mouth shut and vows to enjoy it.

And enjoy it he does.

He's gone when she wakes up in the morning, and her heart breaks, thinking he's just exacting some kind of cruel revenge, but then she looks over to check the time and there's a note sitting on the bedside table. Her body aches in the most amazing way when she goes to move, and she smiles when she reads the note.

Peyton (Sawyer),
I had a flight to catch and didn't want to wake you.
Let's try it this way, shall we?
No excuses of broken phones or crazy exes.
P.S. You were right. It's a lot more...

She doesn't really know what he means by 'let's try it this way', but when she looks over to the table again, she sees that he's keyed his email address into a new message in her phone, all ready for her to send him something. She smiles and types in that she misses him, all before she's even gotten out of bed.


They email each other every day, and they play a little game. She'll ask him five questions, and he'll answer them and then ask her five questions, and the crazy part is that he can anticipate her answers before he even gets them. She learns his life story (one that he's working on getting published; that's why he was in New York) and he learns hers. They don't talk on the phone, keeping up the joke that their relationship hasn't bode well that way. She's desperate to hear his voice, and he's desperate to have her say his name. When he writes that in an email, her cheeks go red and she thinks a series of ridiculously sexy things. She figures two can play this game, so she tells him the reaction and train of thought his words invoked, and his next email makes her laugh. (That was just mean.)

He knows she lives in Raleigh, but he doesn't have her address. He honestly doesn't know if she knows he still lives in Tree Hill. She's traveling quite a bit as the 'Regional V.P.' of Clothes Over Bros. Basically what that means is that she oversees operations of the office in Raleigh, travels back and forth between there and New York, and occasionally helps with design ideas (sketches and colours and all that stuff). She's got an M. Ba, and she uses it well. She lives in a nice house and has nice things and a new car (well, that wasn't so much a choice).

But she misses him.


He actually laughs when he sees her. This is just too funny, too them. Of course they'd see each other after a few months in a random airport in a country they don't even live in. He didn't even know she was traveling. Wait, why doesn't he know that? But then he realizes that he didn't tell her he was traveling, and it's been a couple days since they last wrote one another. He's missed her.

She's sitting there with her feet propped up on her carry on bag, her iPod playing in her ears, a copy of Vibe magazine closed on her lap, and her eyes closed.

So perfect it hurts him. It physically hurts him.

He's in Toronto because Nathan's played the Raptors the night before, and it was the first game Nathan was in the starting line-up, so he flew Lucas, Haley and Jamie up to watch. Haley and Jamie are staying a couple extra days, joining Nathan on the road. Lucas actually switched his flight so he could get home early.

And now he sees her, and he's thinking that's the best decision he ever made.

He walks over and takes the seat next to her, and she doesn't move or open her eyes. He doesn't know if she's asleep, and he knows that she'll hate him for this (but only for a moment). He leans over and kisses her cheek, and her eyes fly open. She looks horrified to have been randomly kissed, then she sees who it is and she throws her arms around him almost immediately. Her magazine falls to the floor and people are staring at her, and Lucas is laughing.

"You're so creepy," she says, then presses her lips to his and he tries not to laugh harder at her reaction. "What are you doing here?"

"Nathan played here last night," he explains. "What are you doing here?"

"Fashion week. Millie's really sick so I had to come help with the show," she says. He smiles and laughs like he doesn't quite believe it, and she kisses him again and makes it more real. "This is crazy."

"This would only happen to us," he says.

He weaves his fingers together with hers and listens to her tell him all about the show, and he tells her all about the game. She says she wishes she'd known, because she would have gone to watch Nathan, and when he asks what she did the night before, she blushes and he furrows his brow. She says she wrote him a ridiculously long email, and before he can as her why that's got her blushing, their flight is called. They get the attendant at the gate to seat them together, and they hold hands and talk the entire duration of the flight.

All he can think about is kissing her again, and if he was less considerate of the people around him, that's all he'd do. But he doesn't. His hand falls to the inside of her thigh, and she whispers his name and she's biting her lip, and good God, what is she trying to do to him? But at the same time as he's thinking that, she's wondering what the hell he's trying to do to her. She starts thinking of the last time they were together, and she looks out the window to try to hide the colour on her cheeks, but Lucas leans over and kisses her temple, and she knows she's been caught.

They land, and they're both relieved that neither of them has a checked bag, and before he gets the chance ask if he can buy her dinner, she looks at him, grinning seductively and says, "you're coming home with me."


He doesn't really know if she means to say it, because it's three in the morning and he's inside her again and it's really damn good, if he says so himself, but she says I love you. Her hands are on his bare skin, and they haven't left her bed in hours. (Not after she told him that her last email to him was basically an outline of what she'd do if they were in the same place at the same time.) She's already told him that no one (ever on earth, she said) is as good at this as he is, so he wonders if she's just talking crazy. Pheromones or endorphins or whatever. But she says it, then she kisses him, and he doesn't say it back because he's afraid that when she's laying next to him again, she'll tell him it was a mistake or something, and his heart can't handle it.

She can tell he's not sure. She doesn't know if he'll say it back - he doesn't have to, she thinks - but she wants him to know how she feels. Granted, she may not have chosen the best moment to say those three words, but she couldn't help herself. She's felt it since months ago and years ago and since she was 17, and she's sick of holding it in.

She's very unladylike in the way she uses the corner of the pillow to wipe the sweat from her brow after he's collapsed next to her, and then his hand is on her stomach and she feels like if this is all they ever did, she'd almost be okay with that. (She says almost, because she wants so much more with/from him, too.)

"So...so...amazing," he says, pressing kisses to her upper arm, because that's the part of her he's closest to.

"I meant it." She says it so quickly that her words run together a little bit, and when she looks over at him, he's smiling lazily, like he's dazed from an entire evening together and sex and the knowledge that she loves him. "I love you, and if you don't feel it yet, it's..."

"I love you," he whispers.

"Yeah?" she asks, rolling onto her side so she's looking at him as he lays there on his stomach.

"Since...a long time."

She runs her hand through his hair. "I've loved you since you had the nerve to call me a bitch." He laughs and rolls onto his back, pulling her into his arms in the process. "It's true."

"Since I first saw you," he almost whispers.

He starts drifting off a few minutes later, and she can't really blame him, because they've been traveling and well, they've tired themselves out, and it's practically daybreak. But she doesn't want him to go to sleep just yet, and when she whispers his name and shakes him gently, he mumbles something incoherent.

"Luke," she repeats.

"Peyton, you're killing me."

She laughs off his assumption that she just wants him again (she does, but she needs sleep too). "I want us to live together," she says.

He laughs softly and kisses the top of her head. "Okay."

He suspects he'll move in with her, not the other way around, and he almost tries to talk her out of it. Not because he doesn't want her to live with him in his house (in fact, that sounds like pretty much the best thing ever), but because he doesn't want her to have to give up so much. But she just tells him that she's always loved Tree Hill, and she wants to live there. With him.

She tacks a forever onto the end of that, and he's wondering if it's too soon to propose.


He gets home late in the night after a three day book tour that took him to New England, and when he walks through the door and sees her sleeping in their bed, he actually sighs his relief. This is the fourth time he's had to leave her, and it never gets easier. He hates leaving her, and he hates every second of being away from her, and when she teases him for saying it, he just tells her that he spent way too much time missing her, and he doesn't feel like he should have to do it anymore. And she always inevitably kisses him, throws a little smile, and doesn't mention it again until the next time he starts complaining.

He can tell she was trying to stay awake to greet him. She's got a stack of designs she's looking over for Brooke sitting on the bed next to her, and there's a half-drunk mug of tea sitting on the bedside table. The light is still on, and her left hand is resting on her stomach. There's still not a ring there, but he's certain it's only a matter of time.

She says his name in her sleep sometimes. She told him once that she used to do that, back before they were even together, and that there was another boy who didn't like that so much. Lucas happens to think it's pretty amazing.

He reaches over and gathers the loose papers, setting them on the desk in the room. He can see that she's taken it over since he's been away, and he laughs, because she always does that. He sits next to her and brushes the hair from her face until she wakes up with a lazy little smile on her lips. She tells him to come to bed, as if that wasn't exactly what he was planning to do. They can talk about his trip in the morning. He just pulls his shirt up over his head and steps out of his jeans, and as soon as he's beneath the covers, she's got her leg slung over his and her head on his chest, and that's exactly where she belongs.

They've laughed about it before, that they really have no business being together. All the time and space between them for all those years, and all the misunderstandings. And yet neither of them was in a serious relationship from the time they met until the time they finally got it together. They met up at random and thought about one another constantly. They fell in love with each other between those moments when they were actually face to face. They were brought together by grief, basketball, coincidental connections between their friends, chance encounters and business trips. Something like fate was behind it all.

They've stopped questioning it and resigned themselves to the fact that they were just always meant to be. It was always her for him, and it was always him for her. Right from the start.