A/N: Slightly AU. Basically, Lucas moved to Charleston but never came back. Until now. Got inspiration from John Legend on this one. He's wonderful, in case you don't already know that.

----

He's an athlete. He probably should be more graceful or something. Or at least have better reflexes or be paying more attention. But evidently, as he walks down the sidewalk of his hometown for the first time in years, he's lost all that his athletic training has taught him. His shoulder bumps into someone else's harshly, sending his phone and her day planner falling to the ground.

But that isn't even what catches his attention. What catches his attention is that unique scent that he'd almost forgotten about. Almost.

But there are a lot of things about this little town that he'd never been able to forget. Maybe not surprisingly, most of those things have to do with her, in one way or another.

The way she'd hold her pencil as she drew, or how she'd use the back of her hand to brush the curls from her face, or the private little smile she only ever showed him. And oh, how he'd missed all those things. He pretended he didn't, or that those things didn't mean much, or that he remembered little things about everyone else, too. But she's the one he really regrets leaving, above all else.

After all, she was one of the last people he talked to before he left town during their junior year. She was one of the first people he told; even telling her before he told Haley. He supposes that should say a lot.

What went unsaid that day was that he'd be back someday. That maybe he'd be back for her someday. Now, at 25, he knows how selfish and childish and maybe naive that was. He didn't even know she still lives in this little town.

He kneels down to pick up his phone and her day planner, and their eyes lock, the same as they did nearly ten years ago, and he doesn't know what he sees there, but he seriously wonders if she doesn't recognize him.

"I'm sorry," he says sincerely.

She just stands up and walks away.

He almost smiles as he watches her go. That moment was so reminiscent of a lot of those first ones. Her cold and bitter, and him always wanting more.

The only difference now is that he has a lot of things to make up for - or at least he could if she'd let him - and even talking to her again is probably going to be a chore. Or rather, getting her to talk to him again will be a chore.

----

He sees her again once, after that first day he bumped into her, and she gives him the cold shoulder once more.

That's the moment it really hits him - really hits him - how badly he probably hurt her when he left, no matter how mad at him she was at the time.

After all, people always leave. Or so she said.

He hates that all he is to her is another person who helped her prove that twisted theory.

----

She's the only girl he ever loved, and he walked away from her. And sure, he thought he was doing them both a favour, and maybe he was, but it still hurt them both. It hurt him and it hurt her and he questioned it a lot in those first few months of being away, but Charleston was good to him. He played on a winning team, at least until a heart condition was brought to light, and made good grades, and had great friends. He had Keith, and his mom visited often before marrying Andy, Lucas' step-father, and going off to travel the world.

But he missed that girl. He'd wonder what she was doing or who she was with or if she missed him like he missed her. He thought of calling her or going to visit, but that would have meant seeing Brooke or Nathan or both, and he didn't want to. Haley would come visit him, sensitive to his feelings of her husband (a term Lucas grew to accept over the years, just as he grew to accept Nathan and build a relationship with his brother). Lucas never really returned to Tree Hill.

Until now.

And what he learned in the months before moving 'home', was just that. This is his home. Maybe he never should have left. He probably didn't need to.

And he certainly should have come back more often.

Say, at all.

"What's your deal?"

"Excuse me?" he asks, looking over at her. He's at the River Court. He certainly isn't hiding, nor does he think he should have to. She knows where to find him if she wanted.

She wanted, apparently.

"Why are you back?" she inquires. Her hands are on her hips, and she looks downright pissed off. "Nine years? Nine years you were gone, and now you come back here, and...What? You just expect to be like...Tree Hill's lost son?!"

"It's good to see you, too, Peyton," he says with a smirk, tossing up one more shot before walking towards her. "I'm not expecting anything."

"Right," she scoffs, laughing bitterly.

"Okay, you don't have to believe me..."

"I don't believe you."

"That's fine," he says, shrugging his shoulder. "Mom just asked if I wanted the house. I wanted to get out of Charleston, and..."

"Really? Because you were sure in a hell of a hurry to get there," she mutters.

There's a big part of him that wonders why she's still so upset. Sure, she was mad at him before he left, and she said some things that may not have been so nice (though they actually helped him), but that was years ago.

Then it dawns on him;

People always leave. She doesn't know how to act when they come back.

"Look, I don't know what's been going on here in the last few years..."

"Exactly," she says coldly, crossing her arms over her chest. "You haven't been here. Don't act like you can just slip into my life."

"Peyton."

"Whatever," she mumbles. "Just...stop walking around here like...like you belong here or something."

Even as she's saying it, she knows that he does belong here, and that he always did, and that she's wanted for so long for him to come back. She wants to open her arms to him - literally and figuratively - and welcome him back and let him in again.

But he's the one who walked away and didn't stay in touch. He's the one who made her life such a mess, then left just when she was going to ask him to help her clean it up.

So no, she's not going to just let all that go.

He doesn't say anything as she's walking away, because he doesn't know what words to use. There's something about the way she's acting around him that leads him to believe that she's still hurting from what happened all those years ago.

Well, so is he.

He wants to fix it. Maybe that's why he's back.

----

She's not sure why she's being so rude to him.

Actually, she is sure. He left, and he didn't contact her for nine years. She doesn't want to just ignore everything and focus on the two of them as LucasandPeyton. She did that once before (well, sort of) and she's not going to do it again. She ended up hurt and lonely and left with a disaster between she and her best friend that he caused. He got to just leave, and she had to stay, and she's still mad at him for it, because she really wished, at the time, that he wouldn't have run away. So she's not going to forgive him, not easily.

He's hell bent on making her.

She wakes up one morning and steps onto the porch of her home at the beach, and there's a note taped to her door. This time, it's only her name written on the front. (She doesn't know why she bothers to take note of that fact.)

She has no idea how he knows where she lives.

She seriously considers burning that letter. She's got a book of matches on the mantle in the living room, and it would just be so poetic if she could. But just like years ago, even though she lied about it at the time, she opens it and reads it before she does anything else.

Peyton,
Meet me at the gym at 5:00.
-Lucas

She doesn't know what he's up to. If this is some weird nostalgic trip down memory lane, she's not sure she's up for it. That really doesn't explain why she checks the time every 10 minutes for the rest of the day. And it doesn't explain why she's actually disappointed that the letter isn't longer.

She hasn't exactly had the easiest time since he left. High school was a mess, with her relationship with Jake, her rocky friendship with Brooke, and all of them navigating around the fact that Nathan and Haley were married (and in senior year, pregnant). She moved to L.A. after high school and stayed for a year. Not even. She hated it and came home to Tree Hill after only nine months away. It just wasn't for her. And that's what makes her so curious about him. How in the world could someone who was so closely tied to that town stay away so long?

But maybe she didn't know him as well as she thought she did. And she certainly doesn't know him any more. She hates that she wants to. It's so, so easy to be mad at him, probably easier than trusting him and being nice to him. She's shut almost everyone out for the last few years, and it's worked well, as far as self-preservation goes. But then she thinks she did the same thing as a teenager, and he was the one she opened up to, and she can still remember how kind of...nice it felt to have someone to confide in.

She's still not sure that's what she really wants from him, if she wants anything from him.

But she finds herself at the high school at 5:13 (just because he's been M.I.A. for 9 years and she figures she can be a few minutes late). She notices only one car in the parking lot and she assumes it's his, though she hasn't seen him driving it. It seems like the kind of car he'd own, a classic muscle car in pristine condition. She hates that it makes her smile to think that there may still be parts of him that she knows.

She steps into the gym and it's empty, and she's really pissed off now. He asked her to come here and now he's standing her up? Not the best move. But then he walks in with two cups of coffee in his hand and smiles at her, and she's like a teenager again, forgiving him when he doesn't even need to make an apology, when she probably doesn't need one.

"Hey," he says, extending one of the cups to her. "You were...I just thought I'd grab you one."

Though she appreciates that he caught himself before telling her she was late, she's still tentative when she takes the cup, but manages a smile and moves to sit on the bleachers.

He really, really wishes she wasn't wearing shorts. Short shorts. Like the kind that only a girl with her figure and her legs can get away with. She looks so gorgeous that he's totally distracted. She's grown up so well, and he'd tell her as much if he didn't think it'd sound lascivious and inappropriate. She sips from her cup and doesn't say anything, and he's nervous around her, the kind of nervous he was the first time they spoke and the first time they kissed and...any time they kissed.

"So I was thinking...I don't want you to be mad at me," he says when the silence becomes unbearable. She scoffs. He hates that. "I know you...you think you have a right to be."

"I think I do?" she says angrily, turning towards him. "You came to me with that whole speech about making changes in your life, and you made it sound like...like you were changing for...whatever. And you left me a note. A fucking note, Lucas," she says. He cringes at the memory. "And I had to lie to my best friend, again, because of you, again, because I...I needed to know what you had to say."

"What do you mean you lied?"

"I told her I didn't read it," she says, far quieter than her previous rant. "And she said she didn't want to know what you said, and...we burned it."

He smiles and laughs a little bit. That just sounds like her. "You...You burned my letter."

"I was 16 and pissed at you. Wasn't that hard."

"And now you're 25 and pissed at me for all the same reasons," he points out. She takes it like an accusation, and he should have known she would.

"Screw you, Lucas!" she cries as she stands. He tries to say something, but she plants her hand on her hip and stares him down. "You might think I have no reason to be pissed at you, but you know what? I have no reason not to be pissed at you either."

She sets off towards the door, her flip flops rhythmically hitting the floor, and he has no idea what he's going to say to her when he calls out her name, and he almost wishes she wouldn't stop. But she does, of course. She doesn't turn to face him.

"I'm sorry, okay?" he says, sounding like he might actually mean that on a bunch of levels that she doesn't really want to address.

"That's it?"

"No," he admits. "But it's a start."

She says nothing, just walks out, but he's almost certain he sees a smile on her face when she glances at him over her shoulder.

----

She has to laugh when she talks to Nathan on the phone from New Orleans where he's playing pro ball and he goes off on a tangent and tells her how awesome it is that she's giving Lucas such a hard time. She knows that Lucas and Haley are still best friends, and that they talk or email once a week, but they haven't talked about him in years, because Peyton hasn't wanted to know.

Nathan thinks it's wildly funny that Peyton can hold a grudge as long as she can. He's highly amused.

"Okay, it's not that funny," she tells him, though she's laughing too now, because he's really having a field day.

"It's hilarious! You haven't been this much of a bitch since you dated me," he says. He hears her let out a breath. "And why, exactly, are you so mad at him again?"

"Because I wanna be," she says. She's very well aware that she's being difficult for basically no reason.

"I swear to God, I'm 16 again," he mumbles. "Cut the guy some slack."

She pauses, contemplates what he's just said, then laughs bitterly. "This coming from you? You, the guy who ignored him for over half his life?"

"So did you!"

"I wasn't related to him!"

"No, you just wanted to have his babies," Nathan says laughingly. He can tell she's not happy with that by the breath she takes. "Look, the reason you were so mad at him was because you were in love with him and he left. So the question is, why are you so mad at him now?"

She absolutely fucking hates the thought that she might still, on some level, love Lucas. She has tried not to think about him at all (though she failed in that). But now he shows up and he's all...sexy. And sweet. And kind of funny. And he takes her verbal jabs and doesn't really fight back, and all that makes her wonder how in the world he still seems to know her. Hasn't she changed? Hasn't he? She nearly chokes on her coffee when she realizes that maybe the people they were and the people they are and any people they may ever be will still be connected somehow. Like he always has and always will know her, whether she likes it or not.

And she likes it.

"I gotta go," she says. She can practically hear Nathan's smirk.

"Later, Sawyer," he says. It's like he has some big secret, or like he knows one of hers.

She hangs up and ignores the knock that comes to her door, because she doesn't know what to do if it's Lucas, and she thinks she'll be disappointed if it's not.

----

He walks into Tric after a long day of writing, cooped up in his house, and he's desperate for some human interaction.

It's decidedly weird in Tree Hill. The only person he even knows here anymore, hates him. Or wants to hate him. Either way, it's not like they're having tea parties or anything. He's been out to Whitey's place and the two shared a lemonade on the front porch and took a short walk, but other than that, he hasn't really talked to anyone since a week ago when he and Peyton talked (fought) in the gym. Brooke's in New York, Haley, Nathan and Jamie are in New Orleans, Skills and Mouth both moved to Charlotte, Junk and Fergie are playing on minor league teams in Raleigh and Wilmington, respectively. Keith is still in Charleston, and Lucas pretty much doesn't know anyone else.

So when he orders a beer and sees a cute brunette smiling at him from across the bar, he smiles back. He's not the kind of guy who'll just randomly pick up a girl, but a nice conversation with a nice girl seems kind of perfect.

"Her name's Tess. She's got a boyfriend." He turns towards the voice, and she's gesturing to the bartender with one hand and looking far too smug. "But she'd probably still go home with you if you said the right words."

He's just annoyed enough at her jumping to conclusions that he decides to play along. "And what words might those be?"

"'Hello' usually does it," Peyton says, and they both actually laugh.

At the same time.

For the same reason.

He thinks they might be making progress.

"Doesn't really seem like my type," he says with a laugh.

She raises her brow and glances over at him. "You sure?"

Or maybe they aren't making progress.

He assumes she's referring to Nikki, which was like, a million years ago and shouldn't even be a relevant point. So he takes a sip of his beer and looks straight ahead so she won't see that he's kind of pissed.

"Pretty sure." The bartender sets her drink in front of her (Lucas doesn't even remember her ordering one, but she must come her often enough that her drink is known) and she hops off her stool. "Hey."

She sighs and turns to him. "Yeah?"

"It is possible for a guy to come to a bar for reasons other than to hook up with someone," he tells her. His heart is racing and he can't believe he's talking to her like this. He's not used to it, at all, and he just wants her to...well, he has no idea what he wants her to do. He's fairly certain this won't accomplish it.

"I know that," she says. She kinks her brow and grins at him. "Guys can. You can't."

She tries walking away, but he reaches for her elbow and she turns around to look at him. "You wanna give me a break here?" he asks angrily. "I'm not 16 anymore. And you know what? Neither are you."

"What does that mean?" She knows the answer already. She almost wants to hear him say it.

"It means stop being such a...So mean to me." He inwardly cringes. What is he, five? But at least he didn't call her a bitch. "You can't be mad at me for all the same shit that happened then."

"Lucas..."

"And if you are, then...then maybe we should just not talk," he says firmly. He sets his half-empty bottle on the bar and pulls away from her.

He's right and she knows it, and she fucking hates that she has to admit it. Hates it. And it might be the three mojitos she's had, but it's actually kind of...hot. Or maybe it could just be that he's hot. Always. No matter what he says or does. She's admittedly loving (no, just really liking, she tells herself) this kind of firm, self-protecting side of him.

He's walking towards the door and she finds herself calling his name, and when he stops, she walks over to him with his beer in her hand.

"I'm sorry," she says sincerely. "You're right. I'll try not to be mean to you."

He smiles when she starts laughing, and she covers her mouth with her hand. "Oh, that's just..."

"I'm sorry!" she laughs. He grins at her and chuckles to himself. "I'm sorry. God, I keep just saying I'm sorry to you. How many times is that now, three?"

"Make it four, and I'll stay," he says. She rolls her eyes and mumbles the words, and he smirks smugly because it's still pretty fun to get a rise out of her.

"Come on. You can meet my friends."

"Friends?" he asks, his brow furrowed.

She turns to him and puts her hand on her hip. "I do have friends, Lucas."

"No! I didn't...of course you do, I just..." He stops talking when she smiles at him, because he's sure she understands. "Lead the way."

He can't help but watch her walk, because she's right in front of him and she looks crazy-good in her skinny jeans and tank top. Her hips sway and he notices the gold bracelet at her wrist as she swings her arm, and her hair, longer and a bit less curly than it was when he knew her, falls down to her shoulder blades. He hasn't even finished one drink, so he can't blame the fact that he wants to wrap his arms around her on the alcohol. He sees a group of people who all smile at her as they approach, and he's suddenly nervous. He doesn't recognize any of these people, and he doesn't know how that is. He finds it hard to believe that any young people would actually move to Tree Hill. There's a redheaded guy with a glass of red wine in his hand, a laughing petite brunette girl, a pretty blonde with intense blue eyes, and a guy talking on his phone who smiles pretty widely when he sees Peyton.

"Guys, this is Lucas," she announces. They all look at him like they're skeptical of his presence, and Lucas can't blame them. He's sure men talk to Peyton all the time, whether she wants them to or not. "We went to high school together. For a while."

"Hey," he manages, nodding in greeting.

"Luke, this is Matt, Jessica, Alexa, and Simon," Peyton says, pointing to everyone from left to right. Matt shakes his hand, and Jessica and Alexa wave, and all Simon does is nod curtly and then turn away. Lucas notices that Peyton rolls her eyes.

Lucas sits back and listens as Peyton talks to Alexa about the DJ's choices, and he watches Matt say something in Jessica's ear that makes her kiss his cheek and slip his arm through his. Cute couple. And Simon stares Lucas down like he's trying to figure out exactly where the new guy came from and how well he knows Peyton.

The thing is, Lucas can tell Peyton's oblivious to this other guy's interest in her. Simon hangs up his phone and sets it on the table, he reaches over, places his hand on her forearm to get her attention, and leans forward to say something to her. She laughs and shakes her head and goes back to her conversation.

Lucas is completely content just watching all this happen (well, content might not be the best word, since he really doesn't like watching Simon ogling her). And then he realizes it's a little weird for him to just sit there and not say anything. When he finishes his beer, he sets the empty bottle on the table and when Peyton smiles at him, he leans close to talk to her over the music. He can practically feel Simon's contempt.

"I'm gonna take off," he says.

"No!" she cries, a little too quickly for her own liking. "Stay. One more drink?"

He shakes his head. "No, I really should go."

She bites her lip and glances at her friends, then back to Lucas. The words are out of her mouth before she has a chance to think about it. "Mind if I come with you?"

He can only nod, because he's kind of surprised that she's offered. He watches as she hugs her friends, and he says the obligatory nice to meet you's, and then he follows her out of the bar, and the whole time, he's thinking that it probably looks to some people like they're a couple. He notices that she blushes a little bit when he opens the door and winks at her as she walks through. She stuffs her hands into the back pockets of her jeans, and he knows she's nervous. It's adorable, really. Maybe she's had just enough to drink to let herself not hate him.

Or maybe she's honestly just realized that she doesn't want to hate him. Either way, right now, he'll take it.

She doesn't know why she's so shy around him suddenly. Maybe because she owes him big apologies or something. Or maybe she doesn't. She hasn't really done anything wrong. Has she? Okay, so she was a little hard on him when he came back, but he was hard on her before he left. So maybe they're even. She doesn't even think it makes any sense. It's hot out, and she's sweating a bit. She's just tipsy enough that her head is kind of floating, and she knows she sounds like a teenager when she suggests they go for a walk on the beach. She also kind of doesn't care, and she doesn't think the alcohol has anything to do with that.

She decides she likes just walking next to him.

"Your friends seem nice," he says, breaking about five minutes of silence. He wasn't awkward in the quiet, he actually kind of liked it, but he can tell she's anxious and he wants to placate her.

"Yeah," she says with a smile. "Yeah they're great. When I opened the studio, they were..."

"What?" he asks in confusion.

"Oh. Right," she says. She's just now realizing that she hasn't told him about any of that, what she does or anything. Given that he knows where she lives (she'll find out how later) she kind of assumed he would have asked around or something. "I opened a recording studio in town after college. Well, after...dropping out of college."

"That's awesome," he tells her sincerely. She looks at him like he's crazy, because that's not exactly the reaction she's used to. "I mean, not necessarily the dropping out thing, but...the studio. That's amazing."

"It's kinda cool," she admits. She smiles when he shakes his head. "Anyway, Alexa's my...not my partner, but she deals with some of the finances and stuff, but she also works at the insurance place in town. Matt is a realtor, and he actually helped me find my house."

"What about Jessica?" he asks.

"She and Matt have been together since they were like, two apparently. When he moved here, she got a job as the high school's guidance counsellor."

"That sounds...tough," he says.

He's too busy wondering why she hasn't mentioned Simon to come up with a better response. The way he sees it, she's either somehow involved with the guy and doesn't want to tell Lucas, or she's not involved with him at all, and it's not even dawned on her to say anything.

She looks at him for a moment, letting herself really see him for the first time. She hates that she's so obviously (obviously) attracted to him. He's...sexy. He's manly and just a little bit rugged. She doesn't know how he does it, really, because she can still see the boyish qualities about him too, the dimple and the crazy-blue eyes. But he apparently doesn't shave every day (she likes that) and his shirt is untucked and the top button is undone. He's gorgeous, and it's been a long, long time since she was attracted to someone this way. She's thankful when he talks and pulls her from those thoughts.

(It's the alcohol, just the alcohol, she tells herself.)

"So what's the deal with Simon?" he asks bluntly. He figures that honesty is the way to go with her and that if he doesn't just ask, she'll know there's something bothering him and be annoyed that he hasn't mentioned it.

"Oh, he's a guitarist. He does session work at the studio," she explains. "He's like, this intense artist type who survives on coffee and wheat thins. He actually kinda reminds me of you sometimes."

There's a laugh in her voice that he has to smile at, despite the fact that he's almost insulted by being compared to that other guy. And maybe he's also smiling over the fact that she seemingly has no interest in the guy other than being friends.

"And he's infatuated with you," he says, leaving no room for argument, though he knows she'll try.

"What!?" she asks laughingly, stopping in her tracks. He merely tiles his head at her. "So he really is like you!"

"I wasn't...!" he shouts before lowering his voice. There may be no one else around, but still... "I wasn't infatuated with you."

Oh, but he so was.

She gives him the sexiest damn smirk known to man (he's sure of it) and raises one eyebrow. "That's not what Haley says."

"Well Haley's...misinformed."

"She's your best friend!" she laughs. He rolls his eyes and she laughs harder. He wonders how many drinks she had before he showed up. It appears she's past hating him. "And it's not like I didn't know."

"You didn't even know I existed!" he cries. "You wouldn't have, either, if you hadn't run me over."

"I didn't run you over. I...almost ran you over," she says. She bites her lip until they both start laughing. "And after that, I totally knew."

"Who I was or that I was infatuated with you?"

She gasps and he closes his eyes, realizing what he's said. "So you admit it!"

He sighs and looks at her, and she's expectantly waiting for his response. "I admit it," he says softly. The energy of their conversation shifts upon his words. It's not playful, it's heavy now. But he's not about to let to let her get away with brushing it off. "How could I not have been?"

"Lucas," she whispers.

She realizes they aren't walking anymore, that she's standing in front of him and he's standing in front of her, and it's almost too romantic, considering she doesn't know what the hell she wants from him or anyone else, if she even wants anything. But he's right here, and he's saying all this stuff, and maybe Nathan was right or something? Maybe when he implied that she was in lo...

No. She's not in love with Lucas.

But she can still want to kiss him, right?

"Come on," he says. "I'll walk you home."

They catch up a little more on the walk, and she learns what he's been up to for the past however many years, that he went to university and majored in literature and has been 'sort of writing a book'. She asks about his mom and his face lights up, and she still keeps in touch with Karen pretty regularly, so she knows all the stories he tells her, but she listens anyway, because if nothing else, the guy's a good storyteller.

She's missed him way more than she thought. Or wanted to admit.

She doesn't even realize they're in front of her house until Lucas grins at her in a certain way, like he's wondering if she's going to go inside or stand on the porch all night.

She thanks him for walking her home and he tells her it was no problem, and he really, really wants her to invite him in, though he knows she won't. She pushes the door open, and for a moment, he wonders if this is like, a date or something, if maybe he should go for the kiss. But then he remembers how their evening started, with an argument and accusations and some harsh tones, and he really doesn't want to push his luck. So he simply says good night and waits until the door clicks closed before heading back down the porch steps.

She's just gotten into bed when she realizes that she's really not mad at him anymore and that maybe she misses him already.

----

He's still reeling from their evening together. He wakes up the next morning and turns over in his bed, grinning like an idiot, all because there's a girl who he might be a little crazy about who's finally giving him the time of day. He doesn't care if that makes him a total dork, he loves it. He doesn't know what it means. After all, it was just one night, an hour or so of conversation, but he knows her well enough to know that it definitely means something. If Peyton Sawyer's pissed at you, you know it. When she talks to you without the bark, it's definitely a good sign.

And there were a few points the night before when he saw a certain smile on her lips, or she'd tuck her hair behind her ear like she used to do when they were alone together and she was being flirty. She probably doesn't have all the same quirks that she had as a teenager, but some things never change. He wants to know all her tells again. He might be on his way.

When he finally gets out of bed, he decides on heading downtown to run some errands. He's always hated these stupid tasks, going to five stores for ten different things, but it needs to be done, and he figures he might as well do it when he's in a good mood. And the thought runs through his mind that he might actually run into Peyton.

He's such a damn fool for that girl.

He's got a coffee in his hand and he's at the book store (an unscheduled stop) when he notices someone staring at him from outside.

Simon.

He looks away, but doesn't leave his place when he sees that Lucas has noticed him, so Lucas abandons the shelf full of classics and heads back out onto the street, assuming that this guy wants to have a conversation or something.

"Hey," he says, jutting his chin forward.

"Hi," Simon answers curtly.

The first thing Lucas notices is that this guy is actually huge, and that if this comes to blows, which, judging by the look on Simon's face, it could, Lucas is going to get his ass handed to him. He's not so much into that happening; it'd ruin his good mood for sure.

"What's up?" Lucas asks as casually as he can.

"You think you know her, huh?"

"I...What?" He's a little taken aback that Simon is so obviously possessive over her, and he knows that if she was aware this conversation was happening, she'd be pissed.

So maybe he does think he knows her.

"You think that just because you knew her when you guys were younger, that you can come back here and..."

"Whoa, man," Lucas says, holding his hand out. "I don't think anything. She's an old friend and we're...talking."

"Talking?" Simon says incredulously. "Guys don't just talk to her."

"Look, I think you've got the wrong idea," Lucas insists. But Simon doesn't really have the wrong idea at all. Sure, he and Peyton may be just talking, but if he does this right (like he so wants to) they won't be just talking for long. "We're just friends."

Simon sighs and shakes his head. Lucas gets the feeling the guy has heard those words before or something. "Just don't fuck with her."

"I don't plan on it," Lucas says sincerely.

Simon doesn't say anything more, just nods his head, purses his lips and walks away.

After the initial shock and anger has worn off (who the hell does this guy think he is?) Lucas actually finds himself smiling. He kind of likes that Peyton has people looking out for her.

But he still wants to be the most important one.

----

When she sees him at the River Court two days after their...whatever it was after Tric...it's totally unintentional. Really, it is. And she knows he's going to think that she's looking for him or something, and that doesn't really annoy her as much as it probably should.

And actually, for the first time since he moved home, she really does want to see him.

But the fact that he's sweaty and shirtless is probably not going to help to calm her nerves. He's wearing a chain around his neck with some kind of pendant or charm or...whatever it is that guys wear, and she wonders if it's symbolic or something. But her attention inevitably wanders to his abs and chest and back as he tosses up shot after shot and she approaches him.

"Hey," she calls out, stepping onto the court.

He's surprised to see her. Happy, but surprised. Their relationship, if it can even be called that right now, has been kind of touch and go. At best. What with her yelling at him, insulting him, walking away from him, then then spending an evening walking along the beach and talking...He honestly doesn't ever know what to expect when he sees her.

It's kind of exciting that way. He thinks she's bringing things into his life that he's been looking for. Things like spontaneity and sarcasm and the kind of insults that actually make him laugh. And beauty. There's a beauty about her, not even just physically, that he can't get enough of. She's got a spirit about her, gives off some sort of energy that he's missed so much that it makes him hate himself for not keeping in touch.

"Hi."

"What...um...What's up?" she asks. She laughs, though, because it's clear what he's doing. He smiles at her and doesn't answer. "I'm just on my way to the studio."

"Want some company?"

"Want to cover yourself?" she shoots back, and he laughs and catches his tee shirt when she tosses it towards him. "How are you?"

He pins the ball between his knees and pulls the shirt over his head. "Good," he says as they start walking. "You?"

"I'm okay. Slow day today, so I got to sleep in, which was amazing," she says, and he laughs. She likes that sound. "How have you been?"

She knows that a, it's crazy for her to make it sound like she hasn't seen him in weeks and b, her even asking him such a thing is kind of a huge step.

"Pretty good," he says. "Except being basically threatened into being nice to you."

"What?" she asks seriously, her eyes snapping over to look at him as he dribbles the ball lazily. "What are you talking about?"

"I bumped into Simon the other day," he explains.

"You aren't serious."

"Oh, I am." She closes her eyes and tips her head back and he laughs. She glares at him. "Told ya," he says smugly. "He's infatuated with you."

"Whatever," she mumbles. "Are you okay? I mean...Of course, you're okay, but..."

"It's fine," he insists. "He just told me not to fuck with you."

"Oh," she whispers. She turns to look at him as they turn onto the street where her studio is located. "Well don't, alright?"

His eyes lock with hers as he says, "I won't," and she can't help but believe him.

He walks her to the door, and she says that she'd invite him in, but Simon is inside, and she doesn't want to have to referee a brawl. Lucas laughs and nods his head, tells her that he'll see her later, and when she steps inside, she's still smiling.

She doesn't say anything to Simon, mostly because she has the distinct feeling that he doesn't have anything to worry about anyway.

----

She seeks him out next. She can't help herself. (Not really a big change from how it used to be, actually.) It's been a full week, seven days, since their walk or...whatever that was, and she's hated that she doesn't have the courage to just call him and talk to him. And that's all she wants, just to talk. Well, that's not entirely true (she hates that, too) but she knows it was definitely nice to just have a conversation with him, and maybe that was aided by the fact that one time, she'd had a few drinks, and the other time, she randomly bumped into him. She just needed to let her guard down long enough to see that he's still a good guy.

And now, just like years ago, her guard is down and she, for some reason, wants to share everything with him. She has no idea how everything has changed so quickly, but that's kind of the way things work with them. He's patient and she's bitchy and she eventually gets worn down by his annoying habit of consistently understanding her. But even as she thinks it, she's making it sound like they've known each other forever. Really, they only 'knew' each other for a few months, and then he left town.

So why in the world does she think that if he'd stayed, something big would have happened between them? Something like I love yous and marriage and babies. Her biological clock might be starting to tick away, but it's not like she has any reason to have all these 'what ifs'. But there really aren't a lot of them. There's just one big one.

What if he'd stayed?

She hears from Jessica that Lucas has been hired as Tree Hill's newest gym teacher and varsity coach, and she wonders why he hasn't told her that.

So she shows up on his porch close to 11:00 one night with all that in mind. She walks up and down the steps three times before she gets the nerve to knock, because she's insane to do this, no matter how many times he walked into her bedroom without even knocking on the front door. But that was years ago when they were whatever they were. Now they're nothing.

Not nothing. Just something she can't label.

He opens the door quickly, wearing just a pair of jeans and a wrinkled tee shirt. His hair is a mess and it looks like he hasn't seen the outside world in days. But it actually kind of works on him. She's starting to think that anything (everything) would.

Oh God. She's staring.

"Hey," she says quickly.

"Hi." He stands there for a minute just looking at her. He can't help it, really. She's wearing a pair of dangerously short denim shorts and a black camisole and it looks like she's wearing a bikini top underneath. Sexy. "Oh! Sorry. Come in."

She'd almost forgotten (no, not really) that this is the door to his bedroom. It's so very different, obviously, than it was years ago.

"So I was just..." Her voice trails because she has no fucking clue what she's actually doing showing up on his doorstep. "Jessica told me that you're a coach. I mean, you're coaching. You're going to be."

"Um, yeah," he says as he watches her look around his room. "I actually ran into her at the school the other day."

"Wednesday."

"Was it Wednesday?" he asks with a laugh. She's actually kind of cute, all out of sorts like this.

She turns to look at him and she smiles. "How long have you been in here?"

"Since...Wednesday," he says sheepishly. "I was writing, and...got carried away, I guess."

"Hope it's something good," she says. He laughs and shrugs his shoulders, but she's sure it's brilliant.

"So um..." He rubs the back of his neck and she has to bow her head to hide her smile. "What are you doing here?" he asks. God, that's a harsh question to ask. "I mean...what brings you by."

"Good cover," she says and he smiles nervously. "I was just...It's been a while."

"And you were in the neighbourhood at 11:00 on a Sunday night?"

She fakes a glare and he laughs. "Something like that." A beat passes and she realizes that her just showing up was absolutely ridiculous and she never should have come over. "I'm sorry. I'm just gonna..."

"You want a drink or something?" he asks. There's no way he can let her leave. She nods and he smiles and she follows him into the kitchen, not even bothering to act like he isn't checking him out along the way.

He pulls two beers from the fridge and knocks the caps off, tossing them into the trash can like they're little tiny basketballs, and she laughs (Nathan always did the same thing) as she clinks the neck of her bottle against his.

His house is remarkably clean, considering, well, that he's a guy. Her other guy friends' places are disasters, littered with empty bottles, dirty dishes and mens' magazines in little piles all over. Lucas' place is kept in order, everything in its place. If she didn't know any better, she'd think he had a girlfriend or a wife or something.

She hops up onto the counter, crossing her legs at the ankle, and smiles at him smiling at her.

"I always loved this house," she admits.

"Yeah?"

She nods and takes a sip of her drink. "It's homey."

He can't decide whether or not the silence that comes next is comfortable. They just kind of hang out there in his kitchen, her atop the counter, and they sip their beers. She looks so good that it's hard for him to think of anything other than where this night (okay, or maybe another night) will go. He's not crazy enough to think that she came over for that reason, but there's something, an energy or a vibe of some sort, that tells him that maybe they'll get there eventually.

He can only hope.

"20 questions," she announces.

He starts laughing immediately. "What?"

"Come on! I hardly know you anymore. 20 questions."

He glances at her from where he's leaning against the counter, and she raises her brow, like he'll be in trouble or something if he doesn't play along. "Alright," he concedes. "You go first."

"Girlfriends?"

"Not wasting any time, are you?" he asks with a laugh. She shrugs her shoulder as her smile grows. "A few. One serious one."

"How serious?" she asks.

"A few years in college," he says. "She was a year ahead of me. A dance major."

"You can major in dance?" she asks skeptically. He laughs softly. "Sorry. I didn't mean to be...insulting or whatever."

"It's okay. She cheated on me with her choreographer, so..."

"Oh," she says, her face falling. "That...sucks."

He shrugs his shoulder this time. It's kind of ancient history at this point. "You? Boyfriends?"

"That's two questions," she says.

"One question, paraphrased," he insists. She rolls her eyes and laughs.

"A few. One serious one." He nods, because he can believe it. Actually, he expected more. If he's being honest, he'd expected her to be married or something. "Jake and I were together for a while after you left, but...that kind of crashed and burned."

"Oh?"

"He had to move away at the end of junior year," she explains. There's a look of guilt on his face that, she won't lie, she's actually enjoying. "Then there was this guy I met in L.A. He actually moved here after I came back."

"Really?" Lucas asks. He doesn't know how he hasn't heard about this.

"Yeah, but...it just didn't work out. We wanted different things," she says. "You know? I wanted to stay here, and he wanted to travel the world and shoot movies."

"So that was it?"

"You're using up a lot of your questions here," she says teasingly. He shrugs and sips his beer. "That was it. Neither of us was willing to compromise."

He nods his head, because that actually makes a lot of sense, and it's the reason his last relationship ended, too. The girl wanted to get married and have a baby right now, and Lucas wasn't exactly ready to jump into all that. (Not with her, anyway.) "You miss him?"

"No," she laughs. He looks a little confused. "He's marrying Brooke."

His eyes go so wide that she nearly spits out her beer when she laughs. "What!?"

"The met up one night in New York and...the rest is history. He proposed in the spring."

"You two just love sharing guys, don't you?" he asks, shaking his head. Her jaw drops, but she's still laughing.

"You weren't here for the whole Nathan and Brooke sex tape revelation," she says.

"Oh, I heard all about it."

They're quiet again and she finishes her beer. As nice as this has been (really, really nice), she still feels like a bit of a crazy person for just showing up so late at night, unannounced, no agenda. He doesn't seem to mind. Actually, the way he's looking at her, she thinks that maybe he wants her like she wants him. She saw his eyes lingering on her lower half. She noticed the way he smiled when she said she doesn't miss Julian. She sees the way he's kind of grinning at her like they have some secret that only the two of them know.

She has to smile too, because that was always kind of the way they were. They didn't need all sorts of words (they used them anyway, but in hindsight, they probably caused more harm than good). He always seemed to just get her, and she always seemed to just get him, and they didn't have to ask a whole lot of questions.

But maybe they should have. Maybe then, they would have worked out.

She's almost gathered enough courage to ask him if he'll kiss her (20 questions, she figures it'll be cute), when he sets his empty beer bottle on the counter and walks towards her. He takes her face in his hands and presses his lips to hers with an urgency she isn't really prepared for. It takes her a second to kiss him back, but when she does, she kisses him back with her whole body. She moves towards him, her legs wrapping around his waist, and her arms are around his neck. Her chest is pressed up against his, and her back is arched just a little bit. It's safe to say no one has ever kissed him like that before. Not even her.

His fingers dip below the waist band of her shorts at the small of her back, and she can't stop the moan that leaves her throat. It's been a long time since anyone touched her (or kissed her) like this. He pulls away a little bit, breathing ragged, and he rests his forehead against hers.

"Sorry," he says quietly. She shakes her head and she's smiling at him.

"Don't. I was...When I came over here, I wasn't expecting...anything."

"Right," he says, and she pulls away from him. Well played, Lucas. He laughs softly when he sees that she's picked up on the fact that he's turned that whole conversation from weeks ago around on her.

"But I should probably go," she admits regrettably.

He shakes his head, brushing his nose against hers, and kisses her softly, his hands gripping her hips. "You don't have to."

"Luke," she whispers. "This is crazy."

"Not really."

She knows what he's saying, that their being together was never crazy, even when it really should have been.

But just because they're old enough to actually make this move, take this step (this chance), that doesn't mean she wants to rush anything. If they're going to do this, which she hopes to God they are, she doesn't want them to just have this short conversation, kiss, end up in his bedroom, and not talk about anything. She hasn't had the best track record with relationships, and she can't let herself just throw caution to the wind and act like a teenager. She's not sure she'll be able to handle it if they do this and it doesn't work out.

"I have to go," she tells him after a couple more kisses. He nods and pulls away. "Will you come over for dinner tomorrow?" He smiles at her and she shrugs. "You don't have to or anything, but..."

"I'll be there." He doesn't move, and his hands don't leave her body, and when she raises her brow, he gets all cute and flustered. "Sorry."

He steps away from the counter and she hops down so she's standing just a few feet from him. He has to smile at her, because her cheeks are all pink and it's just so cute. But the tension is thick, because he can tell that she doesn't want to leave. Almost as much as he wants her to stay.

She walks towards him and her hand falls to his chest as she kisses his cheek, and then she turns and heads for the door. As soon as she's got her hand on the doorknob, she thinks it's insane that she's leaving. She's a grown woman. If she wants to sleep with (really, there's no if, here) then she should. She knows it's different with Lucas, that it's not just sex, that a whole lot of other things come with the territory.

But she wants all those things.

So she's walking back towards him, and when she presses herself against him, it's like he was expecting her to do this very thing, because he wraps his arms around her instantly as she kisses him.

"Lucas," she says breathlessly. "This time..."

He brushes the hair from her face and absolutely cannot believe that she's in his arms. He doesn't want her to run. "What?"

"This time I want...I want it all," she tells him. The smile on his face sends her heart racing. "Before, with us, it was just...We did everything wrong."

"Not everything," he argues boyishly. She laughs and shoves him a little bit.

"No, not everything," she admits. "But we weren't...It could have been different, and then...when you left..." She sighs, frustrated at her own inability to articulate all the things she wants to say.

"Peyton," he says. He can tell this is hard for her, but he isn't going to let her get away with brushing this off. "Talk to me."

It's such a sweet request that she smiles and kisses him gently. He's really a sweet man. She loves that he hasn't really changed too much, not in the important ways.

"You left, and Jake left, and Brooke got this awful boyfriend, and...I hated you for leaving."

"You hated me before I even moved to Charleston," he reminds her.

She looks like he's slapped her or something. "You...That's what you think?"

"Given the things you said when I came back here? Yeah."

"I didn't hate you, Lucas," she insists quietly. She shakes her head and lets out a little laugh. "I didn't hate you. I...I loved you."

They don't talk much after that, because he kisses her hard and starts walking them towards his bedroom. He'd always suspected (knew) she had some deep feelings for him, given some of the things she said to him before he moved away. But love? She loved him? God, that just about makes his life. Almost as much as her saying that she wants it all with him. He thinks he's been waiting something like ten years (okay, maybe more) to hear her say that, and he'd thought his window had closed.

He never expected this when he came back to Tree Hill. It's better than he could have hoped. He'll be happy forever if he can keep this girl this time. And he'll do everything he can to make sure he does.

He pulls her top over her head and she does the same for him, and then he lays her down on his bed like she's the most delicate thing in the world, and there are butterflies in her stomach, because not only has it been a while, but no one has ever looked at her the way he's looking at her. He gently brushes the hair from her face and it almost looks like he's in awe or her or something, so she kisses him before he can say something to that effect. She doesn't think she can handle that right now. She'd end up tearing up or something.

She arches her back and holds him close, and he's kissing her neck when he unzips her shorts, moving his hand slowly, his thumb grazing the space below her navel. It makes her breathe out his name, and she doesn't even realize she's done it until he stops kissing her and pulls away. She's about to ask him what's wrong, but he speaks before she can.

"I loved you too," he tells her.

She smiles and he kisses her, and they both know they'll eventually work their way towards saying that in the present tense.

-Fin-