Gaia was in New York again. Part of her loved the city still with all its possibilities and the good food that you couldn't find anywhere else, but there was another part – maybe a bigger part – that associated the city with that year. The year that changed everything. She couldn't help but want to go back to her haunts; she couldn't help but want to relive those things she actually missed. But reliving those would inevitably make her relive those things she wanted to forgot, to think of those people she wanted to pretend she'd never met because being without them hurt.
It was strange how the faces and names of people that Gaia had known were now blurs in her memory. They weren't important. She hadn't seen them in years; she didn't think of them anymore. At least those that hadn't meant anything. They were never really a part of her life even when she was here.
There were only two people she thought of now.
There were only two people she missed.
One would never come back. One was ripped away from life as she held him.
The other she had left. She had had to leave. She couldn't bear to see the same fate for him that the other had faced. She couldn't. He deserved more. She was never any good for him anyway.
She couldn't help it. All her time away had done nothing to hinder her feelings for the one she left, though. She had tried to push him out of her mind – his scruffy brown hair, his cargo pants, his laugh, and his skateboard – but nothing changed what all that meant to her. So insignificant. But it all still meant the world to her.
Nothing could change what memories the city held either – the sad ones or the good ones. The people the city had stolen from her. The days she'd spent loitering in the park and playing chess.
Gaia pushed over the door of Grey's Papaya's. She'd missed these hotdogs. Immediately she noticed the price had gone up, but she didn't care. She just wanted to taste them. She wanted to relive them. The place did look the same. The smell was certainly the same, too.
She had barely gotten in line for those delicious things she craved when she spotted him.
He was in line.
Ed Fargo was standing just a few feet away from her.
He wasn't hundreds of miles away anymore.
He was touchable. He was real. He was solid.
He was dressed in jeans and t-shirt. A day off? Or did he not do what he ought to have? Did he not get the life she left for him to have? Her final goodbye to him just before she got on the bus flashed in her mind's eye. The tears they hadn't shared together… the tears they had.
iShit. Oh shit,/i Gaia thought, trying to decide if she should make a break for the door and wait around the corner until she saw him leave. She'd put distance between them for a reason – not because she didn't want him, crave him, love him – because she wasn't good for him.
She had seen what she did to people she cared about. One had died in her arms. She couldn't let him have the same fate, so she left. She left him.
She scanned the people around him quickly, looking for someone he could be with. But there was no one. No one but her was staring at him, and he was looking at the menu like he didn't know what he wanted. Of course he knew what he wanted; he wanted the same thing she did: a Grey's Papaya's hotdog.
Somehow she couldn't turn away now. She had seen him. He was at the counter, and she wasn't even in line anymore. People had moved forward around her, cutting in front of her in perfect New York fashion. She didn't argue. She didn't care. She didn't notice them really since she was staring at him like she was a stalker or she'd seen a ghost.
To her, he was a ghost.
And he haunted her in her dreams.
He turned away from the counter, bag in hand, and stopped. His eyes locked with Gaia's. They had a staring contest for about a minute, both daring the other to look away first. Gaia couldn't look away. Something about those brown eyes pulled her in and kept her there.
In that minute she remembered how he had kissed her, how he had felt, how he had sounded, how he had made her laugh, how his laugh sounded… She remembered everything. It was a shock to her system. She wasn't used to be so weak, to being on display like she always had been with him.
She wasn't used to him anymore and he, like before, took her by surprise.
iI still love you,/i she wanted to scream, but her mouth stayed closed.
iThat's not her,/i Ed thought furiously, trying to look away. But those blue eyes were unmistakable. That swagger. That blond hair in a messy ponytail. The beauty that she always tried to hide, and obviously she was still trying to hide it. But she couldn't hide it. No one with eyes could miss how beautiful she truly was.
He couldn't believe it. Part of him didn't believe it was her. He was afraid she'd disappear if he looked away. She had been a memory for so long, for years. Yet there she was a few feet away from him.
He blinked, breaking the eye contact. It happened in an instant. One moment she was there and the next all he saw was the back of her head as she tried to escape out the door again.
iTypical Gaia,/i he thought to himself as he dropped his bag and took after her.
He didn't care that he had just left his lunch on the floor or that people stared and gawked. All he cared about was reaching her. She was there; she was real again. She wasn't just a memory that haunted him. He raced down the street after her. She was fast. She had always been fast.
It was part of who Gaia was – unbelievable fast and had the stamina of someone twice her size.
He kept running, though.
He wasn't going to let her disappear again without talking to her, without touching her, without proving to himself she was real.
She turned into the park. He followed.
He knew he shouldn't. He should let her go. Like she obviously wanted, but he couldn't. He had barely made it into the park when he saw she had stopped. He skidded to a halt, still a few feet away from her.
The demi-goddess that he still thought of. Years, fights, secrets, and betrayal couldn't tarnish what they had had. He knew that the night she said goodbye. The night he thought she'd left his life forever. It didn't take him long to find out what happened, to find out that Jake had died. It was a story at school, how Jake had died and Gaia had been there. He never doubted it was true, and he doubted even less that wasn't the reason she had left. He didn't question how people knew what happened. People at school always found ways to find out things that they shouldn't know. Her boyfriend had died in her arms. But he hadn't known. He had let her go.
Now she was back.
He had no idea what happened after she left New York.
Or why she was back.
But she was, and that's all that mattered.
He stepped forward, wanting to touch her, but not wanting to destroy the moment.
There were itears/i in her eyes.
But she wasn't afraid. He could see it. She still wasn't afraid. She, unlike him, was incapable that most basic emotion. He was afraid. He was afraid she'd leave. He was afraid he'd loose her all over again.
He was glad he'd never succumbed to hallucinating her and he didn't have to question his sanity as he stared at her. She was real. She was there. He had to say something before she ran again. In the park, she'd escape.
He was too afraid to let her go again, but his mouth just wouldn't work.
Gaia couldn't believe he was standing there when she turned around. She thought she'd lost him. But no, he was there. He had been following her.
His bag of food was gone, but he was there. The same as he had been in the restaurant. She hated herself for not being scared. She could see the fear in his eyes. She could see that he was terrified of her. Maybe he had a right to be. Maybe she should do something to make him afraid, to make him run, but she couldn't.
She couldn't move. She stood there in the cold having another staring contest with him.
iDamn it, Ed. GO!/i she tried to tell him without speaking. iJust go. I'm no good for you./i
Ed took a step forward and then other. A moment later he was standing in front of her. He was so close he could feel her body heat radiating off her in the bitter New York cold.
His hand drifted up, and then dropped again.
He couldn't bring himself to touch her. He couldn't bring himself to do something that might make her go away again.
Clearing his throat awkwardly, he stated, "You're back in New York."
The words cut deep. They weren't particularly articulate, but they were said. He said them. To her. His voice. His familiar voice, deep and resonating. The words touched her.
Gaia shook her head. "Assignment," she answered quickly, rudely.
"Oh," he whispered.
She watched his hand. It kept coming up as if to touch her, but never did. She realized he couldn't bring himself to touch her. But she knew what he was going through. Despite the fact she wasn't afraid, she couldn't bring herself to touch him either.
He was her memory. Making him real again would only make it harder to leave. Again.
"Assignment?" he echoed her after his momentary pause.
"My job," she stated plainly.
She was being cold, but he knew it was to protect herself. Gaia was always like to this. She didn't allow people in. Even him.
iGaia, talk to me!/i he wanted to demand, but he couldn't even touch her.
She was a fragile memory. Something that could shatter at the softest touch.
"The hotdogs are more expensive."
Gaia couldn't believe she just said that. She hadn't seen him in years, and that was her choice of conversation. It just proved to her how she wasn't ready yet. She shouldn't be here.
This was too hard.
She didn't know if she could push him away again. Not after all it took to do the first time.
Ed blinked at her.
Without deciding it was time, he reached out and touched her arm. She was wearing a hoodie and jeans. It didn't scream work attire to him, but he had never been into fashion anyway. Neither had she.
The moment his fingers gingerly brushed over the fabric of her hoodie, she backed up like she'd been burned. Her eyes widened, her breath quickened as it appeared in the air before them.
"Gaia…" he whispered, barely breathing the words.
"No." Her word was sharp, cutting into him. "I can't. I just can't." She started to turn away, intent on loosing him in the trees, but his hand grabbed her arm, stopping her.
Ed was solid. He was real. Ed's hand was on her arm, stopping her.
iShit. Shit. Shit./i
Gaia couldn't take it. She had to get away. She couldn't go back.
"No, Ed," she said, uttering his name like it was a name of some deity.
The name on her mouth felt right. It felt perfect. But it wasn't. It couldn't be. She was no good for him. It was that simple.
Ed kept a hold of her arm, and to his surprise, she didn't pull away. She stayed there, pleading with him with those blue eyes to just let her go. He couldn't do it. He had let her go once, and that was all he could do.
He pulled her toward him, not quite gentle, but not hard. She stepped forward and her body touched his. It felt familiar. She felt familiar, like she hadn't been gone. Even her scent was familiar.
Sliding his arms around her waist, he pulled her to him and held him there.
God, she felt right. And she didn't move away.
She didn't move away.
Ed felt so afraid she'd leave, that she'd be just a memory again. He couldn't let her. His fear just compelled him to pull her too him tighter, to hold her there… forever if he could.
Gaia couldn't move. She felt paralyzed, but she wasn't afraid. She closed her eyes, leaning against Ed. She couldn't stop herself. He was too warm, too tempting, too… Ed.
He pulled her tighter. She could feel his heartbeat. She could hear his breath, feel it on her face.
God, how she had missed this. How she had missed him.
She couldn't move away. She couldn't even request him to let her go. She opened her eyes.
Ed breathed her in. He relived the memories. The bed, the night, the shivers, the kissing, the teasing, the jokes…
She didn't pull away.
The realization confused him, but it made it all the more real that it was Gaia.
"Ed, let me…" Gaia tried to request him to let go her, but she couldn't. The sentence wouldn't finish, but she really didn't want him to.
Ed pulled away, but it was only long enough to lean down and kiss her.
iHe still feels the same!/i Gaia's mind screamed at her, trying to get her to respond. But she was stubborn. She couldn't, wouldn't give in. She would enjoy the way he was perfect and… the way he was iEd/i without responding.
Ed kissed her fiercely, proving to himself and to her, that this moment was real. She didn't kiss him back, but her hands reached out to grab a hold of his shirt, pulling him closer.
A moment later, she was pressing her body to his, kissing him back hungrily.
II never stopped loving her,/i he realized. iAnd she never stopped loving me./i
Gaia closed her eyes, her hands gripping his shirt like she was afraid he'd leave. A few moments later, their bodies still pressed together and his arms still wrapped around her, they broke apart.
"Ed…" she murmured, unable to think.
iOh, shit. This isn't fucking right. I can't let this happen./I
"Gaia, don't. Don't ruin this," he practically begged her.
He wanted to joke, like old times, but he couldn't. This moment was too serious, too real, to say something joking even if it was in his nature.
iCrap, Ed. Be smooth. Be something. Do something./i
Gaia buried her face in his shirt. "Gaia…" he inquired after a moment.
"Don't talk, Ed," Gaia requested, her words muffled in his shirt. "Just don't talk, please."
Her mind was working furiously. She was trying to figure out what to say, what to do, what to feel. Nothing made sense. She wanted him badly, but she couldn't allow herself to give in anymore. She didn't live here anymore. She had a job. She had a life.
And he wasn't part of it.
She wanted him to be part of it. She really wished he could be a part of her life again.
But he wasn't.
Her mind finally deciding, she pushed away from him.
"I have to go," she said as she turned away.
Ed quickly clung to her again, wanting to stop her. "No. Gaia. Don't. Do. This."
iShit. Don't leave, Gaia./i
"We have lives. Without each other," Gaia replied coldly, pulling away. She easily broke through his grasp.
"Gaia. Don't," Ed said. His voice was almost threatening. He wasn't trying to be mean, but his fear was consuming. He couldn't loose her again. He couldn't let her run from him.
Gaia shook her head, but she didn't run into the trees like she should. She couldn't. Not now.
"Ed, we have—"
"Screw that," he spat angrily.
Gaia swung back to look at him, surprised. "What"
"Screw that," he repeated, just as angrily as before. Ed couldn't help it. She had showed back up in New York. She had found him at Grey Papaya's. She had started this. She couldn't do this.
She couldn't leave him again.
Gaia Moore was there. She was real.
He had kissed her again.
He wasn't going to let her go. Not now. Not again. Not ever.
He grabbed her arm again, a bit harder this time than before and pulled her back to him. She was confused and surprised and stumbled back, falling against him. "Don't leave now. I won't let you."
Gaia didn't look at him. But she knew the amusement was clear in her voice. "You won't 'let' me?" she questioned, almost teasing. "I don't see how you can stop me."
But she hoped he did. She hoped that he stopped her and kept her there for awhile. Until she didn't have the strength or stubbornness to go. Until she allowed herself… to love him again.
"Gaia, I let you go once. But you're back. You came back. You're back for a fucking reason," he whispered, swearing aloud for the first time. For a moment he felt like he was a teenager again, wide-eyed and watching her be amazing from the sidelines. But he wasn't. He wouldn't be on the sidelines anymore. He wouldn't let her go.
"I'm not letting go. You'll have to kick me ass first," he told her, tightening his grip on her.
"I could hit your ass, you know," Gaia told him plainly. iBut I won't. I don't want to./i She turned in his arms so she could wind her arms around his neck and pull him down to kiss him.
She kissed him greedily, not wanting to let the moment end. Not wanting to face the repercussions of her job and her life now. She wanted this. She wanted him.
II love you, Ed,/i she thought to herself, but she knew she wasn't ready to admit to him. They had to see if it worked, to see if they could do it again – without the bad things, hopefully. She couldn't admit she loved him until he had proven himself to her… again.
She wanted him to make corny jokes again, to make a milkshake while he was on the phone with her so she could complain, to meet on her in the park where she played chess, to… to be Ed again.
iI love you, Gaia,/i Ed thought as he kissed her back, his hand pressing on the small of her back.
He would never let go her go now. He couldn't.
iShit. I'm gonna be mixed up in the fucking train wreck that is her life again,/i he thought, but he couldn't even sound unhappy about it in this thoughts. He wanted to be back in her life. Her train wreck of a life… As long as she was there, he wanted to be too.
They stayed in the park for awhile, kissing, touching, just staring at each other on occasion… It was perfect for them. Perfect for them to get to know each other again, to disregard the years that had passed and be who they always had been together.
Gaia Moore was no longer just a memory; she was real. She was his.