Title: Once a Mistake, Twice a Habit
Summary: A one-on-one counseling session during school with an unexpected source of wisdom opens Aria's eyes up to some painful truths.
Characters: Aria Montgomery, Jason DiLaurentis, Vice Principal Tamborelli (with mentions of Spencer Hastings, Hanna Marin, Emily Fields, Noel Kahn, Ezra Fitz, Aria's Parents, Alison DiLaurentis, Mike Montgomery, A, Wren Kim, Toby Cavanaugh, Melissa Hastings, Holden Strauss, and Sean Ackard)
Genre: Romance, Comedy
Once Is a Mistake, Twice a Habit
A Jason and Aria One Shot
Someone really should just rename Trig 'Aria Introspection 101' already, because the last thing on her mind as she sat in Mr. Oronsky's sixth period math class was sine, cosine, or any other actual trig term, though tangents... as in the detours her mind took while she was supposed to be paying attention to the lesson... those were applicable to her study of triangles and the relationships between their sides and the angles between their sides.
Okay, so maybe her thoughts weren't that far off the mark, because Aria definitely thought about relationships – a lot, mainly hers but sometimes Spencer's, Hanna's, and Emily's, too. And triangles weren't a foreign concept within their small group. First, there had been Spencer, Wren, and Melissa, then Spencer, Toby, and Wren... well, sort of – at least in Toby's eyes, and of course she couldn't forget about Hanna, Sean, and god. Plus, there were her own triangles...
Aria quickly, forcefully shut the door on that line of thinking, attempting – in vain – to refocus her attention upon the lecturing teacher and the overhead projector he was using to instruct that day. Didn't teachers realize that turning off the lights and actually expecting students to still pay attention was a fool's errand... especially in trigonometry? For students, it was really an invitation to take a forty minute nap. Too bad Aria's mind refused to settle down long enough for sleep to claim her. Even waking up to a not-so-glamorous pile of drool would have been preferable to obsessing over her love life... or, more precisely, a lack thereof.
Oh, she still had a boyfriend – not that an outside observing would be able to tell considering just how often she actually got to spend time with said boyfriend. Either she couldn't get away from her suddenly Stalin-esque parents who, apparently, had decided it was a good idea to make up for sixteen years of lackadaisical parenting during her junior year of high school, or Ezra was too busy. And then of course there was A, because manipulative, blackmailing bitches never took vacations, and her friends, too – they took up a lot of her time as well. Not that she minded hanging out with Spencer, Emily, and Hanna, but, combined with everything else, they didn't leave much opportunity for romance. Plus, there was Holden to consider as well. Not that he was a traditional third party member of a relationship triangle, but since when had her life ever been traditional?
"Excuse me, Mr. Oronsky," an intruding voice interrupted from the classroom doorway. It was the vice-principal, Mr. Tamborelli. Aria perked up, suddenly curious. Not only would the vice-principal be a welcome distraction for once – after all, anything was better than learning Euler's formula, but usually the vice-principal didn't come into a class unless someone was getting in trouble. She hoped it was that slimy Noel Kahn who was... obliviously making his own pile of drool on top of his desk in the back corner of the room. "But I need Aria Montgomery to please come with me."
Okay, scratch that. Groaning silently to herself as she stood up and gathered her things, Aria amended her previous statement. Almost anything was better than learning Euler's formula, and she should have known better than to think someone was going to get in trouble and it not be her or one of her friends, and, seeing as how Spencer, Emily, and Hanna all had different sixth period classes, if Mr. Tamborelli was coming into her sixth period, of course he was looking for her.
She waited until they were out in the hallway, the door closed firmly behind them, before she asked, "okay, so what'd I do this time?" She should have kept her mouth shut, she should have just waited patiently and bided her time until Tamborelli voluntarily brought up her latest mistake, but Aria was just... tired – tired of not knowing, of always being in the dark; tired of always dreading the worst; and tired of taking one step forward in her life only to stumble half a dozen back.
She was astonished, though, when the vice-principal actually chuckled in response to her question. "Nothing as far as I know, but are you planning on confessing to something, Miss Montgomery?"
She flushed, bit her lip, and looked away, mortified. "No, sir. I just..." Looking up at the middle aged man, she shrugged, deciding honesty was the best policy at the moment, especially considering that she actually wasn't in trouble. "I guess I've just gotten used to having the rug pulled out from under me this year. My motto now is to always expect the worst... even if I have no idea what that worst might be."
"And that's exactly why I think this exercise today is going to be good for you."
Ineptly, she responded, "huh?"
Tamborelli laughed again, making Aria facetiously toss around the idea of trying her hand at stand-up comedy. Of course, the thought was a silent one, her inner monologue doing her absolutely no favors that afternoon.
Instead of answering her inarticulate question though, the vice-principal merely gestured for Aria to proceed him down the hall. "We've decided that, after everything you've been through this year, it might be a good idea for you to talk to someone." Aria moved to ask just who exactly the 'we' Tamborelli was referring to included, but, before she could, he held up a placating hand and continued, "and I know that you and your friends already tried group counseling, and I also know that... well, that the situation ended badly for all of you." She wanted to snort in derision and roll her eyes. Talk about understatement! "But this is going to be much different," Mr. Tamborelli told her, the sickeningly positive tone of his voice making Aria want to gag. She hated fake sympathy, and pity made her want to break out in hives. "It'll be less formal, and it'll be one on one. You won't have to worry about saying something that could offend or injure your friends, and you won't have to censor yourself or your thoughts either."
She wondered if Spencer, Hanna, and Emily were going to be forced to talk to someone as well, or maybe one of them already had. After all, she hadn't seen any of her friends since lunch, and fifth period had come and gone already. Plus, there were still two more periods after sixth, meaning that the four afternoon periods would be just the right amount for all four of their group to get their head's shrunk privately and, of course – she couldn't forget, less formally as well. Aria's fingers were fairly itching to reach into her purse and check her phone to see if one of her friends had tried to warn her about her surprise therapy session with the school's guidance counselor, Mrs. Erkline – a nice enough woman but one who tended to make mountains out of molehills. 'Oh, you wore your hair up today, so, obviously, you must be suicidal; it couldn't just be because you overslept and didn't have time to blow dry.' Most kids at Rosewood avoided her like Hanna avoided bargain department stores. How a woman could ever become so...
"Here we are," Tamborelli's announcement broke into her thoughts, causing them to sputter to a close.
"Uh, this isn't the guidance office?"
"No, it is not," he unnecessarily confirmed for her.
"It's the gym."
"And, as I told you, your counseling session today is an informal one."
Okay, she understood that, but Erkline would never take a girl to the gym to talk. In her world of constant overreaction, a girl liking gym meant that she had body image issues, was probably bulimic or anorexic, and a counseling session near so much weigh-loss equipment would surely push her over the edge into Tracey Gold territory. When Aria had turned thirteen, her mom had made her watch some made-for-TV movie about the 80's actress. All she could really remember was the horrible hair and...
"Miss Montgomery," the vice-principal said her name slightly louder than necessary. Discreetly, she shook her head to rid herself of her rambling thoughts. "This exercise will work better if you actually go into the gym."
"Yeah, but what about Mrs. Erkline?"
He smiled then – she assumed the gesture was intended to reassure her, but it only made Aria feel that much more on edge – before backing up several paces. "You're not meeting with Mrs. Erkline, Aria."
As soon as the words left his mouth, she detected the sound of a basketball dribbling coming from inside of the gym. Immediately, her mind flashed back to the day when she had gone to the park looking for Mike but, instead, found a shirtless Jason DiLaurentis who just so happened to also be wearing a ridiculously cute and flirtatious smile. Oh, and did she mention that he had also informed her that he missed her pink hair? Speaking of those triangles from earlier...
"Okay, then, so who am I meeting..." Her words trailed off as she realized that Tamborelli was nowhere in sight. The little worm must have slithered off when she had been eye lash deep into her recollections of a half-naked Jason. Shrugging, she opened the gym doors, heading inside to face her fate. Whatever it was, whoever it was, at least she wasn't in trouble, and, if it was getting her out of trig, then it couldn't be thatbad, right?
Her name said by that voicemade her stop dead in her tracks, the sudden halt in her forward momentum making Aria rock back dangerously on her four inch heels. Before she could even attempt to right herself, though, he was across the room with one of his arms – one of his bare arms, tanned arms, strong arms – wrapped around her waist to steady her. "Whoa, you okay there? I didn't mean to startle you. I mean, it wasn't like I wasn't making any noise, and you knew you were meeting someone – not me, obviously, because I also didn't know that I'd be talking with you today, but..."
His words died away, and Aria realized just how closely they were standing together. Little could fit between their almost touching bodies, let alone the basketball he had dropped moments before in his rush to help her. It was slowly rolling towards the opposite end of the gym, and she found herself dazedly watching its idle progress. Anything to avoid looking up into his face, anything to avoid the horribly awkward situation she presently found herself in, anything to prolong the moment and keep his oh-so-unbelievably warm body next to hers.
Before she could contemplate just what that last thought meant, he hesitantly said her name again. "Aria?"
With no way to avoid him now, she slowly lifted her face – first her chin, then her blush-tinted cheeks, and then finally her long lashes. What she found was concern – genuine concern, slight confusion, and even a tinge of delight. Could he actually be happy to see her, despite the situation, despite how uncomfortable things had been between them the last time they were alone together, despite how she had turned him down? Grinning nervously – just the right corner of her mouth lifting crookedly, Aria greeted him, "hey, Jason."
Still, he didn't move away from her.
"Yeah." This time, it was his turn to smile anxiously. "This is... unexpected."
Aria laughed. "You could say that again."
Jason quirked his head over his shoulder in the general direction of the now-still basketball. "I'm guessing you're not going to want to shoot hoops while we talk? Usually, I only work with guys. In fact, you're the first girl Tamborelli has had me meet with."
"Hey, I'll have you know that I'm not completely incompetent when it comes to sports. I can..."
He looked down at her feet, interrupting her. "Barely manage to walk in your shoes let alone keep up with me." The last part was said with a smug smirk taking over his gorgeous face.
"Ha," she returned, laughing and enjoying their bantering. "You just think you're so good, don't you?"
He watched her closely, biting his lip slowly, almost seductively for a moment before releasing the tortured flesh and answering, "I've been given a few compliments over the years."
Immediately, Aria flushed a bright red – from her hairline all the way down to the scoop neck of her dress. He was so not talking about basketball anymore. Clearing her throat, she attempted to re-steer the direction of their conversation. "So, maybe we should go to your office instead? I mean, you do have an office, don't you?"
"I do. I think it's an old janitor's closet, actually."
"Oh. So then no couch were we could..." – She blushed even more... if that was possible. "... I mean where I could lay down and you could make all my troubles go away... you know, while sitting in a chair on the opposite side of the room."
Jason chuckled, apparently enjoying her foot-in-mouth disorder. "I'm not that kind of counselor, Aria. I'm not formally trained; I'm not licensed. I just... as you know, I've been through a lot of stuff, and, somehow, I've managed to come out of it on the other side not completely messed up. If people find it more comfortable to talk to me than their parents, or their teachers, then I'll listen, and, maybe, I'll even be able to give them some advice that only half sucks."
"If you ever decide to open up a practice, I think you just wrote the copy for your first commercial," she teased him.
"Oh, I'm sure you'd be able to come up with something much better than that," Jason returned. "But anyway," he changed the subject, looking around them. "I guess you're probably just going to head back to class then? I'll tell Tamborelli... something for you."
"Nah, it's cool. I'll stay."
Jason pierced her with a pointed glance. "Just what exactly are you using me to avoid, Montgomery?"
Leaning forward, she placed her hand on his shoulder, giving him a teasing shove. "It's not like that. We're... friends. Maybe I just want to hang out with you for a little while. You can amazing me with your hoop skills, oh awesome one." He raised an eyebrow, obviously not buying her explanation. "Okay, fine. Trig. I'm avoiding Trig."
Jason laughed. "Hey, I don't blame you there," he said, and, without discussion, they both started to walk towards the mats which were piled in the far corner for the cheerleaders to use during practice everyday after school. "So, why exactly did the vice-principal think it was a good idea for you to meet with me," he asked her curiously. Pausing both of their movements, he turned to her, his right hand finding her left one as if to hold her near and not allow her to walk away when he asked his next question. "Nothing's happened to you, right?"
With wide, honest, innocent eyes, Aria answered, "I have no idea. I mean, yeah, I'm fine... you know, other than half the town believing that I'm a liar and the other half believing that I'm something worse than a liar. Sure, there's the whole thing with my parents freaking over my relationship with Ezra, but I don't think that my mom would tell Mr. Tamborelli about that, do you?"
"No, probably not."
They started walking again, this time in silence – Aria feeling like an idiot for bringing up Ezra in front of Jason and Jason... well, she wasn't sure what was on his mind. She was curious, though – curious about what he was thinking; wondering if she had hurt him by bringing up the reason why she wasn't available to try with him; curious about why he had been gone from Rosewood for a month, why he was back now, and just in general how he was doing. By the time they reached the mats several seconds later, the silence stretching between them should have been awkward – after all, she was never good at the whole just being with someone without talking or... not talking, but it wasn't – awkward, that is, and that was just another thing that made Aria curious: why she could just be with Jason but had never quite reached that comfort level with Ezra, her own boyfriend?
Again without discussion, they both settled down onto the mats, laying down so that their legs were dangling over the edge of the pile and their faces could stare up at the high ceiling above them. Although they weren't touching, the position of their bodies still felt... intimate. Aria flushed once more and even questioned if her actions were right both in regards to Ezra and towards Jason, but, still, she didn't move away. Her internal debate came to a screeching halt when Jason posed his next inquiry. "So, your parents found out about you and the teacher, huh? Does that mean that the two of you...?"
"Broke up," she supplied for him. Aria smirked, though Jason couldn't see her expression. "As far as my mom and dad are concerned, we did."
"But we're back to sneaking around or, at least, attempting to."
It should have felt weird to be talking to Jason – a guy who had admitted he had feeling for her and a guy she had yet to admit out loud that she was attracted to – about her relationship with Ezra, but it didn't; it just felt... right. Whereas everyone else in her life – even her friends – already had their opinions about her boyfriend set in stone, Jason's perspective was fresh, and Aria just knew that he would be the last person to judge her.
"That doesn't sound... productive?"
She giggled at his choice of words. "Oh, trust me, it's not." She could have left it there, she could have stopped explaining herself and changed the subject – perhaps even asked him something that would have shed some light on all the questions she had about his life, but, instead, Aria almost desperately snatched up the opportunity to actually put her thoughts – thoughts about Ezra, her parents, Holden, everything – into words.
"So, I have this friend who just moved back to town, and my parents approve of him, because, well, because we're actually the same age, and we've been hanging out a lot recently... or, at least, that's what we're leading our parents to believe. While I go and meet Ezra, he has his own secret – some kind of martial arts competitions. Sounds innocent enough, right, only he has this really serious heart condition, and his parents would totally flip if they knew what he was doing. I don't want to say anything, because who wants a nark for a friend, and I can even see his point – that the can't just sit back and not live his life out of fear of dying, because that basically defeats the purpose, you know, but, at the same time, if something were to happen to him and I knew about all of this and he ended up hurt or – worse – even dying, and I didn't do anything to prevent it, then I'd feel awful. Plus, there's Ezra. He has risked so much to be with me – his reputation, his career, his freedom. I'd feel guilty if I didn't make as much of an effort to be with him, but everything is just so complicated, and it's getting harder and harder to sneak around. We almost just got caught, too. My dad was waiting in the restaurant where I was meeting him. If I hadn't of stayed at my friend's match instead... well, I'd probably be on my way to a nunnery as we speak."
"Yeah, okay, whatever you say, Ophelia," Jason returned, his amusement apparent in his tone.
"No, seriously, you have not seen how my dad has been acting lately. He's like... the professor version of the Hulk, minus the green skin and ripping clothes, thankfully."
"You're his little girl, Aria." When she went to protest, he continued talking. "And, no matter how old you get, you'll always be his little girl. Dad's are supposed to be overly protective of their daughters – at least good dads are."
"I know," she admitted softly. Regaining some of her volume, she argued, "but Ezra's not a bad guy, and my dad used to like him before he found out about us."
"The teacher might not be a bad guy, but, in your dad's eyes, he did a really bad thing, and the two of you together has put your father in this... impossible situation."
"I think some of it is guilt," Aria confessed thoughtfully, for the first time making the connection herself. "Before we moved to Iceland, my dad was having an affair with one of his grad students. Actually, your sister was with me when I saw the two of them together. Ali kept trying to get me to tell my mom, but I was scared. I didn't want my family to fall apart, but it nearly did anyway when my mom found out about the affair earlier this year. Maybe my dad sees himself in Ezra, and that makes everything just that much worse for him."
"That makes sense," Jason agreed with her.
"But that still doesn't tell me what to do about the whole Holden thing."
"Karate friend with the heart condition," Aria clarified.
"Well," Jason responded, drawing out that one word as he obviously thought about what to say. "I think you have to look at it this way: would you rather have Holden alive and mad at you, or would you rather keep his confidence and risk him dying? I mean, Ali and I did not get along. You know that better than anyone, but no matter how much I hated her sometimes, how much I resented her, I never wanted her to be killed. It's a completely different situation, but do you get what I'm saying?"
"Yeah, it's kind of like the lesser of two evils... or two guilts... idea."
"As for the teacher," Jason switched topics, sitting up so that he was resting on his elbow and leaning over her. Without blinking, Aria stared up into his equally unwavering gaze. "Do you realize that the whole time you were talking about him with me, you never once said that you loved him, that you missed him, that you needed to be with him? Everything, instead, was connected to some... duty you seem to feel you owe him, and, Aria, you have to know that obligation is never a reason to stay in a relationship."
"No, no," she argued, shaking her head slightly, but, still, she also didn't look away from Jason and his intense, penetrating green gaze – a gaze that seemed to burn straight through her, pinning her to the mats beneath them. "It's not like that. I do care about Ezra, Jason."
"Just who are you trying to convince – me or yourself?"
"Excuse me, what?"
"Care," Jason repeated her previous choice of words. "Care is what you say either when you're too afraid of saying what you really feel, when you're afraid you might scare someone off..." Oh boy! Aria's eyes widened as she realized just what Jason was referring to. 'The truth is I do care about your brother, but I also care about you, and I wanted to tell you in the off chance that you might feel the same way.'Before she could process one thought, Jason was already saying something else. "... or what you say when you can't say those other words because you don't mean them."
"I, uh, I..."
"You what, Aria," he asked her softly, his words once more gentle, concerned. They made her feel like there was a cocoon around them, keeping her safe and keeping the rest of the world at bay. Then, to further make her want to melt into the mats, Jason brought his right hand to her face, softly pushing some thick strands of her hair behind her ear. His touch lingered on her cheek, her jaw, her neck for several seconds, his fingers a whisper against her skin, before his palm settled flat against the mat to the side of her shoulder, trapping her there with his body. "Tell me what you're thinking right now. No, tell me what you're feeling."
Thinking? Right now, that was impossible, but feeling? Oh, she was definitely feeling a lot in that moment. She was feeling confusion and desire, her adrenaline spiking. She felt wicked, wonderful, and weak. She felt the ghost of Jason's lips upon her own, and she felt an intense yearning to experience his kiss again right then, right there, the consequences be damned. And there would be consequences – not only because she was unavailable but also because, in that moment, Jason wasn't Ali's brother, or her friend, or the guy who wanted to maybe date her, but he was her counselor, her school counselor. He was totally and completely out of bounds. Forbidden.
In that moment, he was Mr. Fitz all over again.
"Oh my god," Aria exclaimed. When the bell sounded signaling the end of the sixth period immediately following her outburst, she started to scramble away from a disappointed and amused – damn him! – Jason. She stood shakily, once more wobbly on her feet, rambling as she straightened her wrinkled clothes and mussed up hair. "I, uh, I have to go. The bell. And seventh period. I have... study hall. But I also have a ton of homework to do... and, and a meeting to attend for some club... a club I'm in."
She said the first thing that came to her mind, "virginity club," and then immediately slapped a hand over her mortifyingly uncontrollable mouth.
Jason, now standing as well, though he looked no less delicious – no, not delicious; he looked no less put together than he had when she had walked into the gym earlier, smirked and then had the audacity to chuckle at her discomfort, at her inability to just keep her mouth shut for once.
Finally, Aria just squeaked nervously, grabbed her things and half ran/half hobbled out into the hallway. Once she was alone... at least not with Jason any longer, she leaned against one of the gym's double doors, took a deep, cleaning breath, and sighed – multiple times – in a useless attempt to get her heart rate back to a semi-normal rhythm. Dozens of oblivious students rushed by her, intent upon getting to their next class, but Aria wasn't ready for seventh period yet. Hell, she wasn't sure if she'd ever be ready for seventh period again, not after the revelations her conversation with Jason had brought up.
First, she obviously had a thing for authority figures – something that was both humiliating and traumatizing to realize. She wasn't a psychologist, but she knew that Freud would have had a thing or two to say about her choice in men, and that was never a good thing. Secondly, there was now no denying the fact that she had feelings for Jason DiLaurentis. For a while, Aria had been able to excuse her attraction towards him as residual from her crush years ago back when Ali was still alive and she had still had her pink her, but what she felt for Jason was more than just lust. And it had nothing to do with feeling flattered that he would like her in that way, or her problems with Ezra, or her gratitude that Jason had attempted to help her wayward brother. No, what she felt for Jason was very real, very powerful, and it was going to be very hard to ignore from now on. But that just led her to her third and final revelation: what if she didn't want to ignore how she felt about him, because what if Jason's insights into her feelings... or, more precisely, lack there of... for Ezra weren't as off-base as she had tried to excuse and argue with him just minutes ago.
The door beside the one she was leaning against opened, and Jason walked out into the hallway. The late bell had long since sounded, meaning she was tardy and, consequently, in trouble. "After detention, meet me out in the staff parking lot."
"What, why? Are you going to give me a ride home or something?"
"Or something," Jason answered, grinning. "We're friends. We talk about our lives, our feelings, our secrets with one another. We've already kissed. Now, I think it's time we go out on our first date together. After all, you're more available than you led me to believe, Aria Montgomery."
She should have said no. She should have told him to go to hell... or something equally as insulting. She should have slapped him across the face, but, instead, Aria simply nodded her head slightly, slowly in acquiescence. Jason grinned then, leaning forward to brush his lips against her own after gently lifting her chin with his thumb and forefinger. And then he was gone, walking away without a goodbye or even an 'I'll see you later.'
Panic would come next – blinding, exhilarating panic, but, first, she was going to enjoy the view. While she suddenly hated the fact that Jason was leaving her, she couldn't argue with how he looked as he made his exit.
Ezra was going to break up with her, Spencer was going to commit her, Emily was going to fuss and worry over her, Hanna was probably going to give her grooming and sex advice, and A was going to crucify her and probably Jason, too, but Aria just... didn't care. Maybe she was addicted to older men, men who were off-limits, but she was aware of her habit, and she was going to enjoy the hell out of it – starting that evening with Jason freaking DiLaurentis.
And then she was going to streak her hair pink again.
Who knew counseling could be so... liberating?
Striding confidently down the quiet, empty hallway, Aria headed towards her seventh period study hall.
She couldn't wait for her next session with Jason.