Title: A Kindred Kind of Love
Summary: When Holden doesn't show up for school, Aria becomes unsettled, only to be comforted by an unexpected source of compassion.
Characters: Aria Montgomery, Jason DiLaurentis, Spencer Hastings, Ezra Fitz, Holden Strauss, Mr. and Mrs. Strauss (with mentions of Ella, Byron, and Mike Montgomery, Alison DiLaurentis)
Genre: Drama, Romance, Friendship
A/N: Although neither A nor her influence are featured in this story, it's still pre-2.24. It's also complete supposition of what could have happened versus what actually did or of a spoiler. Thanks for reading and enjoy, because, while perhaps not as momentous of a story for Jason and Aria like some of my others, I like this one.
A Kindred Kind of Love
A Jason and Aria One Shot
Aria was distracted – lost in her worries and incapable of focusing on anything or anyone around her. Sleepwalking would have been more productive. At least that way she would have been getting some rest while not accomplishing anything.
But surely she and her morose thoughts were overreacting. Holden wasn't in school because he had the flu or because he needed an extra day to prepare for the history test she herself had bombed that morning, and the fact that she was concerned that he might be... well, not okay – that would just totally piss her friend off. He didn't want people to treat him differently because he had a serious health condition – hence, why he kept the truth a secret, and here she was, thinking the absolute worst. She was proving his biggest fear correct with every single second of her needless distress.
Briefly, she contemplated finding one of her friends. She had a few minutes still before she needed to be in her next class – thankfully, the last one of the day, and Aria really needed someone to distract her from herself. Only, as she slammed her locker shut, she realized that the hallway was unusually crowded and noisier, too... which in high school meant one thing: a fight was brewing, and that was the last thing she wanted to get caught in the middle of. So, bypassing her plan for distraction, she simply turned in the opposite direction and started towards class, figuring she could make it through one last period before calling Holden and getting to the bottom of his unexplained no-show.
When she turned around, though, she found that everyone else was standing frozen in their places, their mouths open and eyes wide in that watching an unavoidable car accident occur right before them kind of way. The worst part was that they weren't staring over her shoulder but directly at her. She was that car accident; she was one half of the brewing fight; she was that day's freak show. It should have been a sensation Aria was used to at that point – people watching her in a sick and fascinated way, but she shuddered as their gazes burned through and under her skin, just knowing that the feeling of being in the spotlight – especially a negative one – was a sensation she'd never become accustomed to.
And then she just... knew.
Before she could even pivot around, Aria knew what was going to happen next, she knew what was the cause, and she knew that she would just stand there and take whatever it was that was going to be dished out towards her. So, when she felt Mrs. Strauss' hand connect with her face, she wasn't surprised, and when she heard the grieving mother's quivering words – "you, youkilled my son!," she bowed her head in acceptance of the harsh, recriminating words. They were everything she had been fearing all day long, but, still, Aria wasn't prepared to hear them.
Because she was tearfully staring at her shuffling feet, she didn't notice a fourth person enter their spectacle, coming to stand between her and Holden's mother and father, but, when she heard his voice – his strong, confident, protective voice speak out on her behalf, Aria's head quickly lifted to stare in speechless shock and gratitude. "Whoa, what the hell do you think you're doing?"
"Do not defend her," Mrs. Strauss bit out acerbically. "You have no idea what she did to my son."
"Maybe not but I do know Aria," Jason argued still standing before her like an impenetrable shield, and, from behind him, she felt safe... even from her own guilt. "And she'd never do anything to hurt another person, not intentionally."
"My son was sick – seriously sick, and she knew about it. He told her exactly what was wrong with him and what could happen if something went wrong, and she stood back and allowed him to, to... kill himself with that ridiculous fightingof his!"
"Look, we don't know each other," Jason spoke calmly, soothingly, "but I have no doubt that you know exactly who I am... or, at least, who I am related to."
Snidely, Mrs. Strauss remarked, "you're the brother of the other friend of Aria's who died tragically."
"I think it's time we go," Mr. Strauss attempted to pull his wife back, but she simply shrugged off his grip, shoving him away.
"After what happened to your sister, I should have known better than to allow my son to be friends with the likes of her!"
Aria flinched, Holden's mother's words landing directly where the older woman intended them to and stinging painfully, but what perhaps hurt more was the knowledge that, in attacking her through Alison, Mrs. Strauss was hurting Jason as well, though he was doing an amazing job of remaining stoically collected. Still standing protectively in front of her, he replied, "Aria was the best friend my sister could have ever asked for, and I know that she had nothing to do with Ali's death... just as I know that she had nothing to do with your son's either. Just because we have knowledge of another person – even if that knowledge is potentially dangerous, that does not mean that we suddenly become that person's keeper or that we're culpable if that person ends up hurt or worse."
When he continued, further using Alison as an example, Aria gasped and, without thinking, reached forward to tightly grip Jason's hand in silent support. "I hated my sister. We were constantly fighting, and, truth be told, she wasn't a very nice person. I knew exactly what she was capable of: lying, cheating, stealing, blackmailing, and she was constantly hurting people intentionally – all things which could have led and eventually probably did lead to her death. I did nothing to stop her, nothing to try to make her change, but I didn't kill my sister. I'm not the one who was responsible for her decisions... just like Aria wasn't responsible for your son's. Now, I'm sorry for your loss – I truly am, but this is neither the time nor the place."
Mr. Strauss stepped forward once more and spoke to his wife. "Holden wouldn't want you to do this to this friend," and it was that – the memory of her son – more than anything else which finally subdued the mourning mother.
"Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll be right with you in just a moment,, and I'll show you to the guidance office," Jason told the two parents.
Once they were several steps away, everyone started to return to their normal activities. The bell had long since run, but, just like all of the students, the teachers had stood frozen in their doorways, caught rapt in the dramatic scene playing out right before their eyes. The show over, though, life immediately resumed its usual pace with students gossiping, teachers chastising, and doors slamming shut to signal classes had begun. But, still, Jason remained with her.
He slid a cool, slightly callused palm against her red-hot – partly from embarrassment and partly from the sting of pain – cheek, cupping it in an infinitely soothing gesture, his fingers so long they stretched into her hair line, pushing the long locks away from her face. "This'll probably bruise," he murmured, his attention solely on her skin while her eyes never strayed from his face. With his thumb sweeping across the hollow of her cheek, he suggested, "you should maybe ice it," but Aria knew nothing would feel as nice, as comforting as his touch... which was just something else she had to be guilty about.
"Here," Jason said," snapping her from her thoughts. When she didn't react, he gently lifted her left hand with his right, placing a set of keys in her palm. Her face must have screamed bafflement, because, despite the seriousness of the situation, he chuckled and explained, "take my car and get out of here. After what just happened, this is the last place you should be. And don't worry about your teacher or getting into trouble. I'll handle everything."
"But what about you...?" The first words she had spoken in what felt like days came out scratchy and hoarse.
Jason smiled, giving her hand one last squeeze before releasing his grip. "Don't worry about me. I'll get a ride home from Spencer."
If she wouldn't have been so upset – not only about Holden but also about his mother's reaction, the memories and feelings about Alison his death brought back to the surface, and about how her heart wasn't beating so fast due to her sorrow over her friend's passing or because of the confrontation she had just been at the center of but rather because of the man who had come to her rescue, then maybe Aria would have questioned why Jason believed Spencer of all people would be willing to give him a lift. But she wasn't focused upon anything but running away and escaping from... well, everything. She couldn't wait for the day to over, but Aria had a feeling it was only just beginning.
"Now go," Jason whispered, and she listened, never once looking back.
She made it a mile down the road in Jason's car before she had to pull over. For several minutes, Aria just sat and sobbed, hands clenching the steering wheel in a white-knuckled, clammy grip. When she was finally calm enough to call the one person she needed in that moment the most, her breath was still hitching, and she could barely say the words. Without explanation or greeting, as soon as he picked up the phone, she begged, "please, I can't... you... please."
"Aria, where are you? I'm on my way."
And so she told him. She told him where she was, and then she waited. And waited. And waited some more. Why it was taking so long for him to get there, she wasn't sure. Hollis wasn't that far away, and she knew that he didn't have any classes scheduled for that time of day. At first, she thought maybe time was moving slower in her daze of grief and guilt, but the clock on Jason's radio told her otherwise, and eventually she started to panic that her selfishness, her need for him to comfort her had made him rush, and, in the process, he had been hurt while trying to get to her. Aria was almost in full panic mode when she finally saw his car pull into the lot.
Immediately, she climbed out of her parked vehicle and ran towards him, but Ezra held her at arms length by her shoulders, observing her closely. "Aria, what's wrong? What happened? Are you okay? Did something happen with your parents, Mike?"
She didn't want to talk; she just wanted him to comfort her, but maybe if she could just get the explanation over with quickly, he would then focus on making her feel better then. "My friend Holden, he's... dead."
For a brief second, Aria felt a flash of anger flare brightly inside of her, but it was quickly dimmed and then extinguished entirely. After all, she couldn't expect Ezra to remember everything and everyone about her life, especially when so much had happened between them recently and he had his own life to live, too. "He's the friend who has been helping us. I'd tell my parents that I was going out with Holden, so that I could meet up with you, and he'd tell his parents he was spending time with me so that he could attend these martial arts competitions that they didn't want him participating in."
"I don't think I understand. Why would his parents care...?"
She interrupted him, already knowing what his question would be. "He had a heart condition – an abdominal aortic aneurysm. His parents were concerned that his fighting would cause it to rupture, but that's just it; Holden said that it could rupture at anytime – whether he was doing nothing or doing something that he loved. His parents didn't see it like that, though, and they forbade him from participating in his competitions. Our pretending to date gave him an excuse to go back to doing what he loved."
For several silent, tense moments, Ezra just watched her, and Aria couldn't make out the expression upon his face. Once he spoke, though, that confusion evaporated... and quickly, too. "And you just stood by and... allowed this despite knowing his parents wishes?"
"I didn't think it was their place to decide, and Holden had some really valid points." Shifting from being defensive to angry herself, she asked, "and why are you acting like this? My friend just died. I feel guilty enough already! I don't need you adding to that; I need you to comfort me, Ezra."
"You should feel guilty, and it was his parents' place to decide, because he was their son, and Holden was a minor."
She took a step back as though he had slapped her. "I can't believe you just said that to me."
Ezra sighed, closing his eyes and pinching the bridge of his nose – whether out of frustration, or regret, or maybe even out of exhaustion, she wasn't sure. "Aria, this isn't about us."
"Then what is it about," she demanded to know. To protect herself against his response, she folded her arms against her chest. "Why are you saying these things to me? I don't understand."
"No, I guess you don't, and that's the problem," he replied, sighing. She watched as he turned his back on her, walked several steps away, and then sat down so that he was leaning against the hood of his car. "I just... I can't believe that you would use somebody else's bad decisions in order to sneak around so that you could see me."
"It wasn't like that," she snapped.
But he never allowed her the chance to continue. "Except it was. You knew that your friend was sick, you knew that he was putting his life at risk, and, yet, you kept quiet so that you wouldn't lose your cover story." Ezra looked at her then like he didn't even recognize her, and Aria lost any control she might have had upon her emotions, bursting into tears. "Who are you?"
Between hiccuping sobs, she attempted to explain, "Holden wasn't risking his life, Ezra; he was living it, and I have no idea how he died. His mother didn't say. She just... accused me of killing him."
"Well, I can't say I blame her. And, for that matter," he added, standing up and advancing towards her, shoving an angry hand in the direction of Jason's car. "Whose car is this?"
Dizzy from his rapid shift in topics, Aria struggled to ask, "what... what does that have to do with anything?"
He didn't answer her. Instead, Ezra responded, "it looks familiar. I'm pretty sure I've seen it before, but what I don't understand is why you're driving it when I know its not yours or your parents."
"What, you think I stole a car now, too?"
"Frankly, Aria, I don't know what to think at this point."
She laughed then – a humorous, ugly sound. Tossing frustrated hands up in the air, she exclaimed, "it's Jason's car! He was there when Mrs. Strauss confronted me, he defended me, and then he gave me his keys so I could leave school because he knew how upset I was."
"Now, why doesn't that surprise me," Ezra remarked snidely. "Of course Jason would defend you, because the two of you are exactly alike: you'll use any situation to your advantage in order to get what you want, whether its right or wrong."
"Oh, come on, Aria," her boyfriend yelled at her... no, more like screamed at her. "Don't be a fool. Jason saw an opportunity, and he took it. He's playing you – saying exactly what you want to hear and doing everything he can to show you he's this great guy, all because he knows you're vulnerable right now."
"I'm not sure who that is more insulting towards – Jason because you think so little of him, me because you obviously think I'm some naïve little girl, or yourself because you actually believe people operate that way."
"Wake up, Aria! Jason isn't a good guy, and you area naïve little..."
"What the hell do you think you're doing," a third voice entered their argument – a very pissed off voice at that. She had been so lost in her sorrow, and pain, and confusion towards Ezra's attack that Aria hadn't even realized that another vehicle had pulled into the parking lot. As Spencer rushed forward and confronted Ezra, Aria also realized that Jason was there, too, though he was staying well behind her by Spencer's still-running SUV. "She lost a friend today," Spencer remarked, bringing Aria's attentions back to the argument at hand, "and your response is to yell at and berate her? That's sick!"
"This is a private conversation, Spencer," Ezra shot back. "What are you doing here? Did she call you?"
"What? Of course not. Don't be paranoid," her friend dismissed, rolling her eyes. "We were driving past and saw exactlywhat was happening between the two of you, and I wasn't about to stand by and allow you do treat her this way."
'We," Aria's boyfriend repeated, finally glancing past his confronter's shoulder to find the fourth person in the parking lot. Then he chuckled mirthlessly. "What, you, too, Spence? And here I thought you were the sensible one in your group. A few months ago, you called me – desperate, saying that I had to get Aria away from Jason, and, now, what? The two of you are buddy-buddy or something?"
"Try bother and sister, and, obviously, a few months ago, I made a mistake. But to err is human, Ezra. I don't know why you're so upset with Aria, but, even if she messed up, she doesn't deserve you treating her this way."
"And I don't deserve you jumping to conclusions about something that is none of your business. What happens between Aria and I in our relationship is just that: between us."
Quietly, Spencer whispered, "except for when you make my best friend cry. Then, it becomes my business."
Ezra went to say something else, but Jason's hard, unwavering voice stopped him. "I think it's time for you to leave."
"I'm not going anywhere!"
"Fine. Then we will." Jason stepped forward then, setting a comforting hand upon her shoulder. "Aria, will you please come with me? Or you can ride with Spencer. It's your choice. I just don't want you stay here. You've been hurt enough today."
She couldn't speak. There was too much going on inside of her head and her heart for words, but Aria managed a slight nod before turning away and walking towards Jason's car. From behind her, she could hear Spencer's rapid, confident steps as she, too, prepared to leave. As Jason held the passenger side door open for her, Ezra called out, "if you leave, Aria, then we're over."
Her answer: she slipped inside of the convertible and turned her gaze away from the man who, at some point, had obviously turned against her.
The three of them were awkward gathered in Spencer's family room – Spencer and Jason sitting on opposite sides of the couch while she sat across from them, staring – first at one and then the other, back and back, back and forth, back and forth. In return, Spencer was looking anywhere and at anything besides Aria, and Jason just looked uncomfortable. It was obvious that, despite the two of them somewhat bridging the gap between them, he was by no means at ease in Spencer's family's house.
So many other things had happened that day – Holden's death; his mother confronting her in front of the entire school... well, except for her mother who, apparently, was still clueless, because Aria had yet to receive a flurry of texts and phone calls from her parents; and then there was that whole breakup scene with Ezra as well, and, yet, despite everything else, all she could think about were four little words: try brother and sister.
Needing to break the ice, needing to ease the tension... not to mention get some answers, Aria stood up, walked around the coffee table, and plopped herself down between her best friend and her... whatever Jason was to her. "I can't believe the two of you are related," she announced, punctuating the statement by plopping her head in Jason's lap. If he was startled by her forwardness, he didn't show it. Instead, he just lifted a hand to sift his fingers through her hair. "And I can't believe you didn't tell me," she accused Spencer, lifting her feet and dropping them onto the other brunette's lap. Spencer responded by pinching Aria's left shin.
"Yeah, well, I have a feeling there's a lot about the two of you that I don't know either," Spencer replied, referencing Aria and Jason and the closeness they obviously felt with one another. "And I just want to know why I'm the one who gets your feet?"
Aria giggled, and then her giggling turned to full-blown laughter. It was just what she needed in that moment, too. Everything else was still there – all the horrible things that had happened that day, but, for a few minutes, she was just going to... savor being with two people who knew her, who understood her, who... loved her not despite her flaws but because of them, two people who fit in her life.
"And the sibling rivalry begins," Aria quipped.