a/n: I've only seen up to 2x02 now, so please forgive any errors or discrepancies. Catching up to the most recent episode is my task for the next couple of days.
if you were
you gotta make a decision,
you leave tonight or live and die this way.
- Fast Car, Tracy Chapman
He still thinks about her some days, and he doesn't mean to. It's just little things, tiny aspects of her that seep past his defences and literally stop him in his tracks for want of her. The shine of her hair, maybe, or the colour of her eyes in bright sunlight. Certainly she was a thing of beauty, and we all know how he appreciates that.
He stands at the window of his apartment for a few minutes a day, watching the sun set over the city, and he remembers her. The feel of her skin under his fingertips, the sighs she made when he kneaded her sore muscles with his hands, the shadows her hair cast on her shoulder when she tilted her head and let him work all the tension out of her.
He dreams about her too. She's everywhere, for him. In his thoughts and subconscious and every waking hour and doesn't he just wish he'd never have left. It's always been his problem, running away from things that matter when they get too tricky. A psychiatrist would put it down to his parents' divorce or how he was bullied at school (British boarding schools are not good to pretty boys with kind temperaments), but he thinks it's just who he is. It's something he'd like to change but how do you alter the very nature of a person?
He's needed love and something bigger than himself his whole life. He thought Oxford would be enough, until it wasn't. And then America – oh, America, the land of hopes and dreams. He almost had them, too. He met a beautiful girl called Melissa and when he asked her to marry him she said yes and there it was, right in front of him. He's not sure the word still holds true but (love).
We all know the rest of the story, though. He was on his way to a happy ever after; and then he met a girl call Spencer and everything turned upside down. He saw her through a haze of cigarette smoke wearing a purple top and with jeans covering those longlong legs, and it was like he was looking at the world with brand new eyes. Eyes that drifted without meaning to towards this girl with long dark hair and a way of carrying herself like she's just barely holding the weight of the world on her shoulders.
And then he made the mistake of a kiss and his whole world fell apart.
He's trying to get into the habit of not thinking about her these days. He was stupid about it in the beginning – so ferociously trying to block thoughts of her that all he did was think of her more. But these days he's been practising going hours without thinking of her, disciplining himself to a few short minutes a day for remembering her smile and the scent of her skin.
He walks rainy city streets for endless hours in the evenings, a cigarette dangling from his lips, the glowing tip casting shadows onto his weary face. He could be an advertisement for the dangers of smoking these days – gaunt structure, haggard expression, new lines around his mouth and an emptiness that lingers in the back of his eyes. He turns his collar up against the rain and ignores the outside world on these walks. It's easier this way – if he's not thinking at all, he can't be thinking of her.
It's on one of these aimless walks that he encounters someone that makes his brows turn downwards in recognition, an ache somewhere near his heart that means she must have had something to do with –
"Wren," the girl says, eyebrows flying upwards, "What are you doing here?"
"I live on the next road over," he explains, frowning with the effort of remembering her name, "You?"
"Getting a birthday present for my boyfriend," she replies with a sudden smile, her whole face lighting up, "It's his birthday on Thursday."
He's gathered by now that this must have been one of the friends that Spencer was always hanging out with. Not the blonde – Anna? – so one of the other two. If only he could remember their names…
"So have you spoken to Melissa recently?" the girl asks, pushing dark hair back over her shoulder, and then tacks, "Or Spencer?" on as an afterthought.
"No," he half-lies, and sees the flicker of distrust in her expression (is he really that bad a liar?), "I mean, I heard Melissa got married. She wrote to tell me."
"Did she tell you her husband tried to kill Spencer?" the girl demands caustically, face suddenly severe, "Or did she conveniently leave that part out when she was asking for your help?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," he tells her firmly, moving to brush past her. He's not good at lying and if she questions him much more he'll crack. Her gaze is too direct, her body language too sympathetic for him to hold out against it for long. A hand on his arm stops him, and when he turns hazel eyes bore into his with an almost terrifying directness.
"However Melissa talked you into helping Ian, I suggest you talk yourself out of it pretty quickly," she tells him with more of that bluntness, and then adds (like it will help her persuade him), "Spencer will never forgive you if you don't."
He laughs then, shortly and bitterly, just as her name comes back to him, "Spencer will never forgive me anyway, Aria."
Aria considers this, lips pursed as she mulls the statement over, and then looks at him with something akin to pity in her expression, "She might have done. Before Toby. But I think you've missed your shot now."
"What a surprise," he retorts, fumbling for a cigarette just as it starts to rain very gently.
"I still think you'd be good for her," Aria offers as he starts to walk away again. He turns to look back at her, and she's gazing after him with a torn expression on her face. So he just waves, because this is too difficult and yeah, maybe he wishes he still had a shot with Spencer, but he doesn't and so he'll carry on as before, just trying to forget about her.
He walks for longer than usual that night, and when he gets back to his apartment it's pitch black outside and there's an email waiting on his laptop. He lights another cigarette, letting smoke curl from his nostrils as he collapses into his desk chair, tapping at his mouse pad to open the email up. He almost swallows his cigarette when he realises that the email is from Spencer, and he doesn't breathe as he reads it.
Aria said she ran into you today. She said I was the only one who could talk you out of helping Ian. He tried to kill me, Wren. Doesn't that mean anything to you at all?
I'm sorry we never had a chance of working out. But please don't help Ian. I'll do anything.
He gazes at it for a long time, cigarette held between two fingers as he considers the screen absently, eyes narrowed and brow furrowed. When he finally sends a reply, it's one word long and it holds infinite potential.
He gets a reply within fifteen minutes, and as the night drags on he makes more cups of coffee and thinks of her and replies to her emails until the sun comes up. When the sun comes up and she's agreed to meet him for coffee, he suddenly has hope again.