A/N: For those of you who like to wallow in angst. Written entirely by Friday, but blame Brinney for the plot bunny.
It's Still You
And every time she looks at you and every time she smiles, don't forget I love you more.
– Wings of the Dove
If he loved you with all the power of his soul for a whole lifetime, he couldn't love you as much as I do in a single day.
– Wuthering Heights
Somehow, he'd made it through the whole ceremony without forgetting his lines or bolting for the door. The urge to run had been strong but where did he have to go? The only place he wants to be is in Alex's arms and he knows that's never going to happen now.
He's married. A husband to a woman he doesn't really love.
Daisy had looked beautiful and so very happy. When they danced – their very first dance as a married couple – Matt had told her how lovely she looked and she had smiled hugely up at him. He'd tried not to think of someone else's smile. Tried not to wish he were holding someone else in his arms. He would never hold her again.
The reception had lasted for hours and there was a continuous line of friends and family to congratulate them. Matt had downed champagne like water just to get through it. Arthur had shaken his hand before he left for the night, and the look on his face had been a strange mix of disappointment and understanding. For a long time after Arthur had left, Matt had tasted bile in the back of his throat.
Now, he and Daisy are in their lavish honeymoon suite in Paris. The flight had been endless to him, with Daisy holding his hand and resting her head on his shoulder. He had tried to return her affection but it felt forced, so he'd stopped trying. He just wants to be alone. He wants to curl up somewhere private and wonder what had happened to his life.
The moment he said his vows, Matt had known he'd made a mistake. Running nowhere would have been better than spending the rest of his life with someone he didn't care about. And now he's resigned himself and Daisy to a sham of a marriage. He wonders how long it will take her to figure out his heart isn't in it, and it probably never has been.
At the moment, Daisy is in the loo preparing herself – whatever that means. Matt opens the doors to the balcony and steps outside, breathing in the night air and forcing himself to remain calm.
What has he done?
Tears sting his eyes as he looks out into the Parisian night and he thinks of Alex, wondering what she's doing now and if Salome is taking good care of her. He knows she is.
The door to the loo opens and Matt turns slowly to look. Daisy stands there in high heels and a barely there negligee, her hair piled high on her head. "What do you think?" She asks, beaming.
She looks beautiful but Matt wants to lean over the balcony and empty his stomach of wedding cake and champagne. Instead, he forces himself to smile and walk toward her. "You look very sexy, love."
Daisy wraps her arms around his waist and leans up for a kiss. She divests him of his clothes and pushes him down on the bed with a giggle. Matt closes his eyes and thinks of Alex because otherwise, he isn't going to be able to satisfy his bride tonight. He pictures Alex's hands on him, her lips against his throat and her soft whimpers in his ear. Matt makes love to his new wife that night while thinking of someone else and tears blur his vision the whole time.
With her eyes shut and her legs around his waist, Daisy is too lost in newly-wedded bliss to notice.
The popsicle log cabin is harder to put together than she thought it would be and Marie abandons them halfway through their endeavor to go home. By the time Alex and Salome finish their project, it's way past Salome's bedtime. Alex snaps a quick picture of the cabin on her phone and sends it to Salome's teacher in America before tucking her daughter in for the night.
The kitchen is a wreck – the counter sticky with glue and leftover popsicle sticks scattered everywhere. Alex is too tired and emotionally drained to bother cleaning it and instead, she heads straight to her bedroom and shuts the door behind her. She's been longing to be by herself all day. It's exhausting, pretending to be perfectly all right for such a long time.
Pulling her mobile out of her pocket, Alex leans against her bedroom door and scrolls through her messages. Karen had sent her a text with an attachment earlier and knowing she was at the wedding, Alex hadn't opened it. She couldn't afford to fall apart in front of Salome. Now, with Salome in bed and the door shut firmly behind her, Alex has no reason not to look.
With shaking hands, she selects the attachment and watches with trepidation as it loads. When it does, hot tears fill her eyes and Alex bites back a sob. It's a picture of Matt and Daisy at the reception, arms around each other on the dance floor. She can't see Matt's face but Daisy is beaming. Underneath the picture, Karen had texted, 'Aren't they adorable?'
Dropping her phone to the floor, Alex crosses the room and curls up on her bed without bothering to change first. She doesn't even have the strength to pull back the covers. Instead, she lies atop sheets and blankets, curled into a ball and sobbing into her mattress.
Oh god. It hurts.
He'd married her, just like Alex had wanted. Matt is someone's husband now and Alex had been the one to tell him to do it. A husband. It feels so strange, thinking of Matt in that capacity. He'll be happier with Daisy. She knows that. But knowing doesn't make the ache in her chest go away – this wide and gaping hole that feels like it will never close again. She'll walk around for the rest of her life missing a large part of herself.
Squeezing her eyes shut, tears streaming down her face, Alex wonders if things might have been different if she had gone to the wedding, if she'd begged Matt not to get married. If she'd never pushed him away to begin with. But she had, and dwelling on what might have been will only hurt her in the end.
How is she supposed to face him at work on Monday? There is no way she'll be able to look him in the eye without showing him everything she's feeling. Matt has always been so good at seeing right through her. Whether he's married now or not, she still loves him desperately and the second she makes eye contact, he's going to know.
That night, alone and curled up in the middle of her too big bed, Alex cries herself to sleep.
On Monday morning, Alex opens her eyes to sunlight streaming into her bedroom window and she immediately wants to shut them again. It's been a long and miserable weekend and she hasn't once gone to bed without tears in her eyes or streaming down her face. She can't remember the last time she cried so much and she hates herself for it but she can't seem to stop.
Today, she has to go into work and face Matt. He's going to come onto the set with that honeymoon glow about him, looking blissfully wedded. He's going to be wearing a ring. Thankfully, he'll have to take it off to play the Doctor. Alex will just have to very carefully avoid looking at his hand until he does so. If she's really lucky, she'll only have to look him in the eye when they're filming, and maybe he'll mistake the love in her eyes for River's.
She's just beginning to talk herself into getting out of bed when the sound of the doorbell forces her up and stumbling sleepily into the hall. She hurries to answer the door before whoever is on the other side wakes Salome. Scrubbing a hand over her face, Alex pulls open the door to find Arthur standing on her doorstep, holding two coffee cups and smiling awkwardly.
"Hello," he says. "Thought we could carpool today."
Alex takes the coffee cup he offers her, wrapping her hands around its warmth. "What for?"
Arthur shrugs, looking away. "Dunno. Just thought it might be nice."
When he looks up at her again – a quick, nervous glance – she realizes with a sinking heart that he knows. He knows everything. Heart pounding a frantic rhythm against her ribcage, Alex swallows past the sudden lump in her throat and watches Arthur continue to avoid her eyes. "Who told you?" She asks, voice barely a whisper.
"No one," Arthur says quietly, finally looking at her again. "I just knew."
There is no judgment in his gaze – merely sympathy and the fondness for her she always sees. Face crumpling, Alex begins to cry and Arthur's arms are around her instantly, guiding her back inside and shutting the door behind them. He leads her to the sofa in her living room and sets their coffee cups on the table. Alex pulls away from him and attempts to gather herself, wiping hurriedly at her eyes. "I'm sorry," she says. "I just - "
"Don't," Arthur says, hand on her back. "Don't apologize to me."
Nodding, Alex bites her lip and stares at him with tears in her eyes. Someone else knows. It feels like a little bit of the burden has been lifted from around her shoulders. It has been exhausting, carrying her heartache around with her and trying to hide it from everyone. It feels good, in a painful sort of way, knowing that someone else knows she's hurting.
Arthur puts an arm around her, pulling her into his chest. She buries her face in his horrible jumper and clings to him, letting him comfort her. "I'm sorry, Alex. I didn't think he would really do it."
She shakes her head but doesn't lift her face from his jumper. "It's alright," she says, voice watery. "I told him to."
"What?" Arthur pulls her away forcibly and looks her in the eye. "Why would you do that?"
Alex glances down at her hands in her lap. "Because I could never have made him happy. Not for long."
Arthur doesn't say anything; he just pulls her back to him and holds her while she tries to get her emotions under control. He doesn't seem to be in a hurry, so Alex lets herself enjoy the embrace of a friend who knows what she's going through and isn't judging her for it. For a while, they sit together in silence, their coffee cooling on the table in front of them. Alex has made a wet patch on Arthur's jumper with her tears but he doesn't seem to mind. Sniffling, she lets out a quiet breath and says, "I still love him."
Arthur's lips brush against the top of her head and he sighs. "I know you do."
When Monday comes, Matt has never been so happy to get up at five in the morning in his life. His and Daisy's three-day long honeymoon had been emotionally exhausting. While Matt did everything he could to distract Daisy with shopping and sightseeing during the day, the nights were draining. Thinking of Alex had been the only way he got through it but it hurt, keeping her so close to the forefront of his mind. He should be trying to forget her and move on the best way he can but he clings to his memories of her because they're all he has left. All he'll ever have now.
Walking onto set that day, Matt feels a wave of relief wash over him. This place is more like home than his own house, especially now, and he's so grateful to be back again, among his family.
Speaking of which, Karen runs up to him the moment she spots him, skidding a little in her fuzzy slippers as she bounds up to him with a smile on her face. "Hey!" She says, throwing her arms around him. He catches her easily and wraps her in his arms, smiling. "How was Paris? Romantic?"
Over her shoulder, he sees Alex standing with Arthur and even in a shadowy corner with a robe thrown over her outfit and her hair pulled back she looks lovely. "Beautiful," he answers Karen, unable to take his eyes off the curly-haired woman across the room. It almost brings tears to his eyes, seeing her now. She's all he thought about all weekend and he just wants to run to her. When Karen pulls away to take his hand, Matt remembers once again why he can't – the ring on his finger. It feels more like a shackle, his very own self-imposed exile.
Arthur turns to look in his direction, though Alex has yet to take her eyes off the floor. He nods toward Matt but doesn't move to greet him, shuffling slightly closer to Alex and blocking her from Matt's view.
"Come on," Karen begins to tug him in the direction of their friends. "Alex missed your wedding. I'm sure she'll want to congratulate you."
Matt very much doubts it. Alex could deny loving him all she wanted but he knows differently. He knows deep down that Alex had been just as in love with him as he still is with her. But what could he do? Wait around his whole life until she was ready to admit it?
Arthur looks up as they approach and Matt can't help but notice how close he stands to Alex, who still hasn't looked up. Does she know that Arthur knows about them? He wonders if Arthur told her.
"Look who's here," Karen says, shoving Matt forward playfully.
"Hey mate," Arthur nods toward him again and Matt reaches out to clap him on the back. "Good trip?"
Eyes on Alex now, Matt nods but says nothing.
For a moment, they stand in stilted, awkward silence. When they're together like this, there usually isn't a quiet moment to be found and now it's like they don't know what to say to one another. Matt catches Karen looking between the three of them in confusion, as if she can't understand the subtle shift in the atmosphere.
Even so, Matt can't pull his eyes away from Alex. He tries to, but his gaze keeps wandering back to her without his permission. He just wants to drink her in - it feels like an eternity since he saw her last. He wonders if the longing he feels is palpable or if he just feels it too strongly. He wants things to be the way they were before, when he could just sneak off to his trailer with Alex and press heated kisses into her skin but those days are in the past. He just can't seem to let go.
Finally, Alex looks up and Matt's breath catches in his throat at the sight of her. She's beautiful, just like she always is but she looks tired. Totally shattered. He can see the exhaustion around her eyes. Right then, he wants nothing more than to take her in his arms and take care of her but he knows he can't. It isn't his job anymore. Maybe it never was.
And there. He almost stops breathing because just beneath the exhaustion, Matt can see the same longing in his eyes reflected back at him in hers. He feels his heart leap into his throat.
She still loves him.
He wants to drop to his knees in gratitude because he doesn't think he could have gone on if she hated him now. The only time his life makes sense is when Alex looks at him like that. He wonders if she knows a simple ceremony hasn't stopped him loving her either. He'll never stop, and no marriage certificate will ever change that.
She meets his eyes for only a second before her gaze drifts somewhere around his collar, like she can't bring herself to look directly at him for long. "Congratulations," she says and Matt can hear the false note of cheer in her voice, even if no one else does. It makes his chest ache. "I heard it was beautiful."
Matt nods because if he spoke he thinks his voice might crack.
"And Paris?" Alex asks. "How was it?"
Matt can only marvel at her strength. He's the only one who knows her well enough to know she's just barely managing to keep the note of tears out of her voice. "It was good," he says, and if his own voice wavers, no one mentions it. He can feel Arthur's eyes boring into the side of his head, though. "Lovely."
Alex nods and glances away, biting her lip.
Matt wishes he could tell her it had been her he made love to in Paris. It had been her in that honeymoon suite every night. Her perfume he smelled, her hair he touched, her lips he kissed and her image in his mind's eye. But he won't say any of those things and instead, they stand in a circle with their friends and avoid eye contact because if they look at one another, it might not be so easy to hide.
After a while, Karen is called to shoot a scene and without the need to cover the awkwardness in front of her, Arthur leads Alex away without a word. Matt watches them go and it feels like every step Alex takes away from him, it tears the hole his chest further until he thinks he'll be turned inside out by the vacuous, gaping fissure.
As they disappear out of sight, Matt takes in a deep breath and isn't surprised when it burns. Daisy may have his name now but his heart will never belong to her. Whatever is left of it – ravaged and broken though it may be – is in Alex's small hands.
After two months of marriage, the arguing begins. Frankly, Matt thinks the only reason they lasted so long without fighting is because he had been so complacent about everything. He just didn't care. Daisy could go out and buy thousands of pounds worth of clothes and shoes every day and he wouldn't have said a word because nothing bothered him anymore. He'd already lost the love of his life; there isn't much left to ruffle his feathers.
It isn't until one evening, three days after their two-month anniversary, that things begin to change. When Matt comes home from work, he's already grumpy and not in the mood to deal with Daisy – he'd kissed Alex today. As the Doctor, of course but it had still left him reeling.
He'd been dreading it all day and he knew Alex had to be as well. He wanted more than anything to kiss her again but not as the Doctor. It's torture, playing a man who's in love with her while he tries all day to pretend that he isn't. When the time came and the Doctor pulled River into him to kiss her goodbye for now, Alex had looked up at him with real tears shining in her eyes. Heart pounding and blood rushing in his ears, he'd brushed his thumb across her cheek and leaned in, pressing his lips to hers. Alex had gasped beneath him, hands stiff and unmoving on his shoulders even as she opened her mouth to let him in.
Matt can't remember if the script had called for it but he hadn't been able to stop himself from wrapping an arm around her waist and pulling her closer. Having her in his arms again felt like nothing else on earth. Like home. If this was all he had left of her, then he'd take it. Alex had whimpered into his mouth and he'd known he was hurting her, opening up still healing wounds and making them bleed anew.
When the director called for a break, he'd gripped Alex's wrist to keep her from immediately running off, and whispered, "I'm sorry."
Looking away from him, Alex had pulled her hand from his grip and wiped at her eyes. "So am I."
She'd walked away without glancing back.
Now, emotionally drained and lips still tingling from the touch of hers even hours later, Matt wants nothing more than to fall into bed and be oblivious for a long time. Instead, Daisy meets him at the door with an enthusiastic kiss that he doesn't have the energy to return.
Pulling away, she takes one look at his face and then pats his cheek affectionately. "Tired, baby?"
He nods wordlessly and shuffles past her into the house.
"I got takeout," Daisy says, following behind him. "Yours is keeping warm in the microwave."
Matt gets out a plate and retrieves his dinner, sitting down at the kitchen table with a heavy sigh. Daisy sits across from him, propping her chin up in her hand and watching him like he's the most fascinating thing she's seen all day. Matt bristles a little under her gaze but says nothing.
"So I've been thinking," she says. "Wouldn't it be brilliant to have our friends over for a dinner party this weekend? You know, our first as a married couple? We could make it a monthly thing."
"Friends?" Matt asks and he wonders if he sounds as disinterested as he feels.
"Uh huh." Daisy nods. "Y'know, like, Scott and Jill, Preston and Natasha. And maybe Karen and her boyfriend. Arthur…even Alex, if you want." She says Alex's name with a touch of distaste and it makes Matt clench his fist under the table.
Isn't that just exactly what Alex needs? To come here to the place he now shares with his wife and watch them give a dinner party like they're from a bloody 1950's American sitcom? Yes, I know I claimed to be in love with you but look at the dinnerware, Alex! He can picture it now, Daisy hanging all over him while Alex tries not to watch from across the table. He won't subject either of them to that kind of torture. He's hurt her enough.
"No," he says, scooping some rice onto his fork. "I don't think so."
Daisy frowns. "Why not?"
Instead of taking a bite of his rice, he begins to push it around his plate in irritation. "Why the hell would I invite someone I know you can't stand? So she can sit here and feel awkward while you pretend to like her? Alex isn't stupid Daisy, she's well aware of your feelings toward her."
Mouth agape, Daisy stares at him. "What are you talking about? I like Alex!"
Matt scoffs. "You're a crap liar, Daze. Don't bother."
"What the hell is your problem?"
Looking up from his untouched food, Matt fixes his glare on her and Daisy leans back in her chair at the sight of it. "My problem is that you want to hold a dinner party for the people you like and then grudgingly invite my friends along just to appease me. My friends don't need your pity. Or your damn dinner party."
Shoving his plate away, Matt rises from the table and slams his chair back into place. It rattles the whole table and nearly sends his plate crashing into the floor. Daisy jumps at the sound but Matt doesn't turn to look, stalking from the kitchen and down the hall to their bedroom, slamming the door behind him.
Daisy sleeps on the sofa that night and in the morning, Matt apologizes and brings her flowers. She accepts but things are never the same again after that.
They start to row all the time. About everything. Sometimes it's over finances and how much Daisy spends when she shops, or over stupid things like the laundry or not cleaning the kitchen. If Matt stays out too late, Daisy won't speak to him for days. If he doesn't call when he's supposed to, she yells at him for hours. Sometimes it feels like that's all they do, like a vicious cycle. Scream, cry, throw things, slam doors. Repeat.
Eventually, Matt does the only thing he can think of. He spends more time on set than he does at home. Even if he's not filming, he still sticks around to watch his friends do their scenes, help out the costume department (he usually just ends up trying things on in the wardrobe), and hanging out with the Alien of the Week, watching with fascination as their masks and makeup are applied. He'll use any excuse to stay out of the house and away from his wife.
It's been four months and already his marriage is falling apart.
Occasionally, someone - usually Steven – will tell him to go home but Matt always ignores him. Sometimes, he calls and tells Daisy they ended up filming later than he thought they would and he would be sleeping in his trailer that night.
He's been lying to her for so long that the deception comes easily now.
While he's busy hiding from his life, Matt begins to notice things. It's difficult not to notice when he spends all of his spare time on set. He notices that Tim the sound guy seems to be there just as much as he does and Matt wonders if he might like to go for a pint and talk about their miserable married lives together. He also notices that Jillian from the makeup department usually ends up pilfering a few shirts from the costume department once a week and Matt would have said something but she always brings them back. She must be wearing them on the weekend when she goes out with her boyfriend. Matt thinks she probably doesn't have much money, being a girl who puts on Karen Gillan's mascara for a living.
However, what interests Matt the most is how much time Arthur and Alex seem to be spending together now. It's nearly a task of monumental proportions to find them anywhere on set separately unless they're filming a scene. They've become best mates, it seems. Matt tries not to feel jealous when he sees Arthur take Alex's hand or when Alex leans into Arthur when they're filming out in the cold, her cheeks flushed and her smile warm. It doesn't work and he usually ends up clenching his fists at his sides and looking away with a tight jaw.
He doesn't say anything though, and for a few weeks, they continue in this same fashion. Matt watches them grow closer and pretends he doesn't see it, goofing around with Kaz as usual and acting like everything within his once tight circle of friends hasn't completely fallen apart. He knows the sudden distance between them all confuses Karen and he wishes he could tell her why things are the way they are but he can't. The less people who know about him and Alex, the better. He doesn't want Karen to know what a wanker he's been. She's the only one who doesn't either avoid his gaze completely or look at him like he's made the biggest mistake of his life.
One day, during a small break while Steven consults with the director about a shot needed for the episode, Matt steps outside to get some air. Being in the same room with Alex for too long still makes him tense and weak with desire. He wonders if it will ever get easier, being without her but still being near her.
Leaning on the railing outside the studio and breathing in the cool morning air, Matt closes his eyes and tries not to think about how lonely and singular his life has become. Isn't getting married supposed to make everything better?
Maybe, says the small voice in his head, if you marry the right person.
The back door to the studio opens with a creak and Matt turns to see Arthur in the doorway, looking at him uncomfortably. "Hey," he says, and Matt knows that if he'd been aware of his presence out here, Arthur would never have opened that door.
They don't talk much anymore, him and Arthur.
"Hey," Matt says, turning to look back out over the parking lot.
After a moment, Arthur walks over to stand next to him, hands on the railing and eyes ahead of him. "So…how are things?"
Despite himself, Matt feels the corner of his mouth lift in amusement. Arthur has always been rubbish at small talk. "Fucking terrific," he sighs, watching his breath cloud in the morning air. Arthur huffs out a laugh and they stand there for a while longer in silence. Matt knows he shouldn't say anything. He knows he shouldn't. But the jealousy has been mounting for weeks like a ferocious monster in his chest and now that he's alone with Arthur, he can't keep the words from spilling out of his mouth. "So I didn't take you for the older woman type."
Arthur turns to look at him sharply. "What?"
"You know, whatever you have going on with Alex," Matt says stiffly. "Didn't take you for the type. Especially since you know she was mine first."
Arthur looks like he might punch him and Matt wouldn't blame him in the slightest. He welcomes it, closing his eyes and waiting for the blow he knows is coming because he deserves it and maybe the pain in his jaw will distract him from the way he hurts everywhere else. But Arthur doesn't punch him. Instead, he uses his words and it's almost the same thing.
"Who the hell do you think you are?" He asks, voice harsher than Matt has ever heard it. "You have no right. Not anymore."
Matt says nothing, opening his eyes to stare at his friend warily.
Gaze furious, Arthur says, "She's a friend, Matt. A friend. God knows she needs one right now after what she's been through with you. Do you have any idea - " Arthur stops, wiping a hand over his mouth and looking frustrated. "When you married Daisy, I held her while she sobbed her heart out because she loves a married man and I've been there every day since when she falls apart after being on set with you all day so don't you dare try and sully what small comfort she gets from me."
Tears blur Matt's vision and he reaches out to grasp the railing and steady himself. His Alex. He doesn't want her hurting like that. Not ever. He wonders if she knows he's hurting too, that he lies awake at night and begs whoever is listening that he'll wake up completely over her.
"You made your choice," Arthur says, suddenly quiet but just as intense as before. "Bloody well live with it."
For a long time, they continue to stand there at the railing, not looking at each other. Matt wants to say something but he doesn't trust his voice. After several minutes, he finally speaks and the words come out hoarse. "You're right. I'm sorry, mate. I know you're not…that you'd never…" He clears his throat. "I'm sorry."
Arthur shrugs, calmer now. "Whatever. I just think it's best that we don't talk about her. If we're going to stay friends, I mean. Seems safer."
"Right." Matt nods despite the pang he feels at having his one last connection to Alex severed. "Okay. No talking about Alex. Just…" He swallows around the lump in his throat. "You'll take care of her?"
"Alex doesn't need anyone to take care of her." Then, taking one look at his destroyed expression, Arthur nods grimly. "I'm going to be the best friend she's ever had."
Matt flexes his fingers against the railing and lets out a shaky sigh. "Thank you."
Over the four months since Matt's wedding, Arthur has become an invaluable confidant for Alex. He's one of her closest friends now and she'll never be able to repay him for his friendship or make him understand what it means to her. He had been there when no one else was and picked up the pieces of her life when she was too weak to gather them up herself.
In return, Alex tries to be the best friend to him that she can, though she knows nothing she does will ever be enough. At the moment, she's treating him to lunch at his favorite little-known café just outside of London. They're ensconced in a far corner of the small place, nursing mint cappuccinos and mocking the tiny sandwiches. It's been a lovely afternoon but Alex can tell something is bothering Arthur. He's been unusually quiet.
"Alright," she says after cracking a joke about their snooty teenage waiter and getting no response. "Are you going to tell me what's bothering you now or am I going to have to pester you for hours first?"
Arthur doesn't answer, frowning into his cappuccino.
"Dad," Alex sing-songs playfully. "Daddy Pooond."
Arthur glances up at her with a tired smile. "It's not important. I promise I'll stop thinking about it if we can just move on. No more brooding, I swear."
"Not good enough," Alex says, nudging his leg under the table. "We always talk about my problems. I want to hear about yours."
When Arthur says nothing and looks very interested in the pattern of their tablecloth, Alex knows.
"Ah," she breathes quietly, glancing away. "It's my problem you're brooding about, isn't it?"
Arthur lets out a frustrated huff of air and pushes his drink away. "I talked to Matt yesterday. About you."
Looking up sharply, Alex watches him with narrowed eyes. "What for?"
Arthur swallows and she can read in his eyes that he's mentally editing whatever conversation he had with Matt before he relays it to her. She wants to call him on it but she knows that there are some things she's better off not knowing. "He's just concerned about you. And I shouldn't say this but he misses you."
Her breath catches. That's the last thing she had expected to hear. Alex thinks of Matt asking after her and she wants to hate herself for the warmth that fills her chest. She shouldn't feel that little flicker of hope. It doesn't matter anymore. But…he misses her. Not that it's going to do either one of them any good, but it makes her feel a little less alone, knowing she isn't the only one feeling like she's walking around missing a part of herself.
She looks at her drink, biting down hard on her lip. "And what did you say?"
"I told him you can take care of yourself and to bugger off," Arthur says, and she lets out a quiet laugh.
"You said no such thing."
"I did," Arthur says, laughing now too. "Well, almost. It was close to that."
"It's not his fault, you know," Alex says, struggling to keep her voice from wavering like it does every time she talks about Matt. "I told him to do it."
Arthur nods. "I know you did. But he didn't have to listen to you."
"I pushed him away," she says, and there are definitely tears in her voice and her eyes now. "I pushed him right to her."
Arthur's hand is over hers in an instant and he's making soothing shushing noises. Mortified at her own weakness, Alex has never been so grateful for the privacy of the back table. "It's alright," he says, voice soft. "I know, Alex. I know you had a hand in this as well but you didn't force him into marrying her. He did that on his own."
Alex nods, pulling herself together quickly. Wiping under her eyes, she looks down at her drink with a steadily flushing face. "I'm sorry. I'm obviously still not fit to be out in public."
Laughing softly, Arthur pulls his hand back and picks up his drink. "You're doing fine."
For a few quiet moments, they peruse their menus, looking for dessert. After Arthur has decided on a large biscuit and Alex has ordered the chocolate cheesecake to drown her sorrows in – promising herself she'll work it off later – Arthur sets his menu aside and looks at her very seriously.
"How are you?" He asks. "Honestly. Aside from a few minutes ago, I mean."
"Fine," Alex nods, placing her menu over his and pointedly avoiding his gaze. "Haven't cried at all this week."
Arthur sighs. "Let me set you up with someone. I know a great guy who would be a perfect rebound. Nothing serious." He tosses a folded napkin at her when she refuses to look at him. Alex picks it up and glances at him with a small smile. "Come on, please? It's time you started dating again."
The thought of seeing anyone else is so horribly wrong. Matt may be married now but he still holds her heart in his clumsy hands. She isn't ready to take it back yet. "I can't," she says, shaking her head. "Not yet."
Sighing again, Arthur takes in her tearful expression and nods. "Alright. But let me know, okay? It could be good for you."
Alex doubts it but she says nothing.