Joining the Fray
A Jason and Aria One Shot

Perhaps more than anyone else he knew, Jason DiLaurentis understood that a person had to fight for their happiness. Contentment wasn't just handed to you on a silver platter. This concept had been something he had struggled with while still a teenager, and being Alison's older brother hadn't improved matters either, especially when their parents doted on her yet shunned him, when, really, she was this awful person yet everyone, on the surface, had appeared to worship her. Perhaps, if he had been sober while in high school, Jason would have realized that his sister's life wasn't as rosy and perfect as Ali liked people to think, but, instead, he had spent those formative years in a jealous haze, doing absolutely nothing to make himself happy yet still believing himself entitled. But now he was sober, and now Alison was dead, and death was really good at canceling out any petty jealousies and ridding one of life's misconceptions.

But that didn't mean that the fight wasn't still hard some days.

Life was better now that he was away from his family. Even with Alison dead, he still felt like a disappointment. When he told Aria months back that they made him feel like the wrong sibling had died, he hadn't been acting melodramatic or self-indulgent. Getting away from the shadows of disappointment and even blame which clouded his parents' eyes whenever they looked at him had been one of the best decisions of his life. Fixing up the house, making it his home rather than just a rattling pile of memories enshrined to Alison's memory helped, too, as did counseling, but the best thing in Jason's life, the brightest was his girlfriend. Being with Aria, laughing with Aria, loving Aria made him happy. What's more, making her happy was at times absolutely euphoric.

She wasn't happy anymore, though.

Something had shifted in their relationship, and he had no idea what had changed or what he had done wrong. Oh, there were still moments when she was the free spirited pixy of a girl he adored. She still smiled when he laughed, she still kissed him with as much enthusiasm as he kissed her – sometimes even more... like she was desperate to hold him close, and it wasn't like he minded her desperation. There were days when he felt like he couldn't breathe until she was next to him, and, if he went too long without her touch, his skin would start to feel too tight. What concerned him, though, was the cause of her distress, for it didn't feel like it was born from urgency but from fear.

He knew... well, he hoped that she wasn't afraid of him, and Jason did everything within his power to not only tell her but also show her the sincerity of his feelings. Aria might have been younger than he was, but her heart already wore the bruises others excused as love. And he wasn't talking about her breakup with her ex either. No, dating Ezra Fitz had been far more damaging for Aria than breaking up with the teacher, something that Jason was still trying to make up for. Aria wasn't the kind of girl who deserved to be someone's dirty little secret, and, until they started dating, that was the only kind of relationship she had ever experienced.

So, now, they were constantly out on dates or with other couples, other friends. It helped that he and Caleb got along well, and, since learning that he was Spencer's half-brother, Hanna and Emily had relented somewhat on their 'Jason is Evil' campaign, though he still sometimes detected notes of hostility and suspicion from Emily, but he had a feeling that had less to do with him personally and more to do with the fact that Emily had felt more for his sister than mere friendship. He and Aria also spent time with her parents, even enduring several double dates with the older couple despite the rampant awkwardness in the efforts to ease their concern for their daughter and repair the damage Fitz had done between them. They went out for dinner, and they went to the movies. They went bowling, dancing, and miniature golfing. They spent time together in arcades, at sports complexes, and he even went to the mall with her – anything and everything to reassure Aria that she was worth more than a few stolen moments in a cramped, studio apartment. It didn't matter that his favorites times with his girlfriend were those they spent alone together; what mattered was making Aria happy.

For several weeks, it had been working, too. Aria smiled more, she laughed more. It was like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders, and to know that he had been the one to give her that had been the best feeling in the world for Jason, but now it also made her regression back into her shell just that much more painful to watch. What also hurt was the fact that it seemed like he was the only one she was shutting out. Though he wasn't necessarily watching her, Jason could also admit that, if Aria was anywhere nearby, his body would tell him, and his eyes would automatically seek her out, and several times now his intense attraction towards her had gotten him into trouble – not literally, of course, but he had seen her whispering conspiratorially with Spencer, Hanna, and Emily... and it was obvious that their secrets were anything but pleasant, nothing like what four best friends should be whispering about.

After Jason had observed several of their clandestine meetings, he had been tempted to start following the girls, to start following Aria, but he refused to demean their relationship in that way. He had waited far too long and had fought far too hard to get the chance to be with Aria; he wasn't going to ruin it by returning to his old ways. So, instead, he had hoped that his girlfriend would eventually come to him, that everything they meant to one another would assure her that she could trust him with whatever it was that had her so upset. A week later, though, and he couldn't wait any longer.

The ideas running through his mind alone were enough to drive Jason to distraction. Maybe he was more confident now, maybe he was mentally and emotionally stronger than he had been as a teenager, but that didn't mean that he wasn't just as prone to bouts of insecurity as any other person out there. The more Aria distanced herself from him, the worse his fears became. Was there something wrong with her family; was Mike in trouble again? Did the cops, once more, wrongly believe that she and her friends had something to do with his sister's death? Did she regret her decision to be with him, and did she want to reunite with her ex? The not knowing was slowly eating away at him, destroying both his faith in their relationship and his faith in her, but, just as he now knew that he had to fight for every moment of happiness, he was going to fight for Aria as well.

She was home alone. Despite the early hour, he knew that the rest of her family was already gone for the day – Mike to a lacrosse tournament, Ella had gone with him to watch, and Byron was away at a conference for work. Jason also knew that Aria had not made any plans with her friends for that Saturday morning, instead looking forward to the opportunity to sleep in late while her house was otherwise empty and, consequently, silent. He couldn't have designed a better chance to talk to her even if he had tried.

Despite everything that had recently happened in Rosewood – not the least of which being Alison's murder and Mike's little foray into the world of breaking and entering, the Montgomery family still left their front door unlocked when someone was at home... even if that someone was sound asleep. So, using that fact to his advantage, though Jason made a mental note to talk to Aria – and soon – about a change in her family's routine, he slipped silently inside, making sure to lock the door after him. He didn't immediately head upstairs to Aria's bedroom, however. No, first he made her breakfast, hoping that the sweet gesture would go far in distracting her from her annoyance with his sudden appearance at her bedside – uninvited, at 8:00 in the morning on a Saturday.

Luckily, he already knew which bedroom was hers, the two of them having made it a point in the past to sneak off for at least a few minutes of alone time whenever her parents invited him over for dinner. With one hand balancing her tray, he used the other to quietly open her door, moving as silently through the room as he possibly could. After all, Jason had no idea how their conversation that morning was going to turn out. His inability to sit back and allow things to just happen could, in fact, hasten the end of their relationship, and, if that was the case, then he needed at least a few moments to just... be with Aria one last time before he both woke her and all the issues which were standing between them.

Placing the tray at the foot of her bed on the floor, he took a seat beside his peacefully sleeping girlfriend. Though they had yet to spend the night together, Jason already knew how Aria looked in her sleep, and it had nothing to do with that roll of film he had found amongst Alison's things. Rather, he remembered that she slept on her back, that she curled one of her hands up by her face, and that she tilted her head to the side to burrow slightly into her pillow from all the nights she had slept over at his house when they were younger. Ali had loved hosting sleepovers, and Jason had always felt the most relaxed in his own house once everyone else had gone to bed. He had spent his days as a teenager high and his nights wide awake, restless, and, oftentimes, bored. There had been more than one occasion when, while roaming the house, he had stopped to simply watch Aria sleep. All those years ago, it hadn't been sexual. After all, she was his baby sister's best friend and far too young and innocent for him, but, still, there had been something about Aria which had always drawn him in.

"What's going on inside of that head of yours," he whispered softly, still not ready to wake her. As Jason talked, he softly ran his fingers through Aria's hair, over her cheeks, around her jaw, and across her lips. When she shifted closer to his touch, nuzzling his hand and showing, even if only subconsciously, that she wanted to be near him, he was reassured slightly. "What kind of secrets are you hiding from me?" Dropping his head so that his forehead was resting against hers, he asked one final, desperate question, "why won't you talk to me?" He could feel her starting to stir beneath him, her body sensing his presence and waking. Needing one last touch, he kissed her lips which were parted in sleep, the embrace just a flutter against her mouth.

"Hmm, Jason," she murmured, snuggling deeper into the cocoon of her comforter and shifting so that she was laying on her side, her body somewhat wrapped around his seated form. Aria blinked slowly, licked her lips, and then yawned. She was absolutely adorable, and watching her wake up made him want to spend every single night with her... well, even more so, but Jason was too worried to become distracted. For a brief moment, he considered slipping off his shoes and sliding underneath the covers with her, but then he remembered why he was there, and his resolve was immediately fortified. "Not that I'm unhappy about seeing you or anything, but what are you doing here?"

"Hold that thought," he told her, turning around to grab her breakfast tray. As he placed in on the bed, she slid up so that she was leaning against her headboard. "We need to talk, but I'm not cruel enough to ask you to do so without at least offering you a cup of coffee and something to eat first."

"That sounded both sweet and ominous." When he didn't say anything, she placed the steaming mug she had just picked up back down. "Okay, Jason, you're starting to scare me here."

"Yeah, well, trust me when I say that it'd be impossible for you to be any more afraid of the conversation we're about to have than I am."

Aria sat up a little straighter, her brow furrowing. "If that was meant to be reassuring...?"

"I know, and I'm sorry, but go ahead and eat," he encouraged her, pushing the tray further towards her only to be met by Aria pushing it back at him.

"Look, while I appreciate the gesture – and, truly, I do, if you think that I can drink anything right now, let alone eat something, then you're crazy. My stomach's already in knots," she confessed as he lifted the tray and placed it once more on the floor. "If I'm hungry afterwards, then we can always reheat my breakfast, but, in the meantime, I'd rather we just talk..."

"Are you leaving me and going back to him," he blurted out, interrupting her – all his intentions to play it cool, calm, and collected disappeared when faced with everything he would lose if his risk to confront his girlfriend didn't turn out the way he hoped.

The fact that Aria didn't answer him immediately and, instead, just looked at him aghast – whether it was a 'you're insane' aghast or a 'how do you know that already' aghast, he had no idea – didn't help matters either. "I, uh... what?"

"The teacher – Fitz," Jason clarified. Even saying the other man's name made his fists clench and his jaw tighten painfully. "Are you breaking up with me so that you can get back together with him?"

When her face softened, he finally knew that his worst case scenario wasn't true. "No, Jason," Aria quietly answered, sitting forward so that she could cup his face in her tiny, impossibly soft hands. "I'm exactly where I want to be: with you." Watching him closely, she then added, "but the fact that you would even be worried about that..."

"I know, and I'm sorry," he was quick to apologize. "It's not so much that I doubt you or even us; I just... sometimes, I doubt myself."

"Because of the past," she surmised correctly. "Eventually, you're going to have to let that go."

"I will when you will."

Aria smiled crookedly and rolled her eyes, acknowledging his remark. "Touche."

Their moment of levity didn't last long, though, and quickly he returned them to the topic at hand. "Well, if that's not it – if you want to be with me, then what's going on, Aria? You've been so withdrawn the last couple of weeks, so secretive, and, if I had a dollar for every time I saw you and your friends whispering, well... let's just say that I could give up my day job and focus all my time entirely on counseling."

She let go of him then, even going so far as to shy away slightly. "Are you... spying on me?"

"Trust me, you guys aren't subtle enough to require any effort on my part to detect your little meetings."

His attempt at teasing her and her friends didn't even inspire a smile, let alone a laugh, and Jason realized that the situation, while not an imminent break up, was just as serious as he had feared. That knowledge was only compounded by the fact that Aria went from being defensive to highly dismissive. Without looking him in the eye, she busied herself with the blankets, fidgeting and arranging them almost obsessively. "Oh, come on, Jason. Don't tell me that you're scared of a little gossiping, because that's all we were doing – you know, typical girl talk: boys, clothes, boys, shoes, boys."

"You and your friends are not that shallow, Aria. Don't sit here and lie to me, please."

Still, she wouldn't meet his gaze. Shrugging airily, she said, "well, I don't know what you want me to say then, because..."

"I want you to tell me the truth," Jason interrupted her, his voice louder than he intended but full of passion and obvious anxiety. Perhaps the outburst was necessary, though, because it finally made Aria look up from her hands.

With tear filled eyes and a trembling bottom lip, she confessed, "I can't."

"Can't or won't?"

"Can't," she repeated and then amended her statement, lowering her voice. "Or maybe both."

Desperately, he stood up and started pacing back and forth across her room. "What's that even supposed to mean, Aria?"

"It means that you just have to believe me when I tell you that you're better off not knowing."

He paused, pinning her with his intense gaze. "I don't buy that. When two people are in a relationship, they're supposed to share everything – the good and the bad. Whatever is going on, you can tell me."

"It's not that I don't think I can tell you, Jason," she sighed, collapsing back against her pillows and curling up into such a small ball it was like she just wanted to disappear. "It's that I know that I shouldn't."

He paused then to contemplate her words. After several still, silent moments between them, he finally asked, "do you not trust me? I already told you that I trust you, Aria, but, if I've done something to make you think that I would hurt you, or betray your confidence, or..."

"I trust you, and I trust us, and I trust my friends, but I don't trust anyone else," she yelled, derailing his thoughts.

Crossing the room, he dropped to his knees beside her bed. In a gentle voice, he asked, "Aria, is someone... hurting you?"

A few stray tears leaked out of the corner of her eyes before she hid her face in her hands. "You don't get it," she sobbed, and he could tell that she was close to breaking down. "I'm not worried about me; I'm worried about you. If I tell you what's going on, it'll put you at risk... well, even more so, and I refuse to do that."

The more they talked, the more confused he became. "Because you don't believe that I can handle what's happening to you," Jason guessed.

"No, you idiot," Aria exploded. Her hands fell away from her face, and she glared at him. "Because I'm in love with you!"

Of all the ways he had imagined those words coming from his girlfriend's mouth...

Despite the seriousness of the situation – despite her tears, and his confusion, and the rocky ground their relationship was currently standing upon, Jason simply reacted to Aria's declaration the only way he possibly could: he kissed her. He stood up, kneeled on the bed, took her small face in his large hands, and kissed her so demandingly, so passionately that it took him several minutes to realize that, somewhere along the way, they had fallen back onto her bed together, their legs entangled possessively, her hands clenched in his hair, his hands trapped between their bodies, underneath her clothes, and warmed by the decadent heat of her naked flesh.

Finally breathless, he pulled away from her greedy, swollen lips, though he kept the rest of their forms as intimately linked together. "I think you already know this – at least, I hope you do. I didn't think you were ready to hear me tell you how I felt, but I always tried to show you."

"You did," she promised him, smiling warmly.

"But I love you, too; I'm in love with you as well – so much."

"And you're not going to leave, are you," Aria asked rhetorically, and Jason could see the light of realization dawning in her deep, rich eyes. "You're not going to run away, and you're not going to get scared. You're not going to hide how you feel about me... even if I push you away, and you're not going to be intimidated into falling out of love with me."

"Does this mean that you're willing to tell me what's going on, what's wrong?"

She slowly shook her head up and down, signaling yes, and he moved so that he was no longer laying on top of her but, instead, sitting in front of her, facing her. Whatever the big secret was, he wanted to give her his full and complete attention. She sat up, too, crossing her legs before her so their bodies were still touching... if only slightly.

"Someone's blackmailing me," Aria confessed.

"Well, if that's the case," Jason was quick to jump in, feeling relieved that it was something he could so easily help her with, "either I'll help you go to the cops, or, hell, I'll pay the person off. What do they want?"

"It's not that simple." When he went to protest again, she continued talking, "they don't want money, Jason; they want me to do certain things for them or... or they'll hurt you."

"Aria, they can't hurt me," he argued only to have her quickly fight back.

"That's what Caleb thought before A had him arrested. That's what we all thought before A ran Hanna over with his or her car, before A spiked Emily's sports cream with steroids, before A sabotaged Toby's scaffolding so he'd fall, and so many other things as well. Even when we think we're safe, A finds something – some secret, some ugly thing from our past to hold over us or, even worse, over the people we love. Now, she or he... I don't know... is targeting you. Either I push you away, or A's threatening to ruin you, and, Jason, we both know that there are things about your past..."

"Ali's death and how I don't remember the night she went missing," he supplied for her.

"... that could really hurt you. To make matters worse," Aria continued, "the last time we told someone, they ended up missing – Dr. Sullivan, our group therapist, and we ended up led on a wild goose chase to the middle of nowhere, thinking that we were saving Dr. Sullivan's life when really we were using a piece of evidence that would land us in jail."

"So, wait," he realized, becoming even more taken aback by everything his girlfriend had revealed. "Are you telling me that this A person is messed up somehow in my sister's murder?"

Aria shrugged. "We're not sure exactly, but they definitely know more about what happened than we do."

Frustrated, he closed his eyes, groaning, "you should have told me about this months ago."

"I know, I know," she was quick to agree with him. "Ali's your sister, and, if anyone deserved to know what was happening surrounding her death..."

"No, Aria, that's not it," Jason interjected. Grabbing her by the shoulders, he held her close to him as he talked. "Yes, I want to know what happened to my sister, but, even before we started dating, I cared too much about you to have been kept in the dark about this. And now... now, if anyone should be involved, it's me. Not only does it concern Alison's death, but, more importantly, this person is putting both you and Spencer at risk. Whether I'm in the dark or not, I'm still involved in this."

"Ugh," Aria groaned, flopping back down onto her bed. "Spencer. Don't remind. She's going to kill me when she finds out that I told you."

"Look, I know we're not close like most brothers and sisters, but we've made some progress with each other," he defended.

"Oh no, it's not that," she immediately sat back up to assure him. "In fact, I think Spencer cares more about you than she'd like to admit... even to herself. Her family, your family is so messed up. They don't... really know how to show affection, I guess, and you've been nicer to her since she found out that you're related than anyone else in that house has been towards her in a long time. I actually think she wants to protect you from this... well, in her own Spencer way."

He chuckled, recognizing his half-sister's unique brand of affection when he heard it. "I hope so... I hope that she cares, but, at the same time, that's not a good enough reason for me to sit back and watch the people I love get hurt. Besides, don't you realize what including me in this will do for you guys?"

With a puzzled expression, Aria bluntly stated, "no."

Dropping his hand into her lap, Jason laced their fingers together. "Aria, there are so many things – school, your parents, the fact that none of you have jobs or your own means of income – which hinder you in this... fight against this A person, but I can really fight back. Plus, if this person knows so much about the four of you, then they must be close by, they must be constantly watching you. If we can keep my knowing the truth a secret for a little while, I might be able to turn the tables and watch them, figure out who this A person is."

"So, you want to... what – play A's game, pretend to break up, and do what A says to buy us time to figure this out?"

"What? No!" At first, Jason was taken aback by her suggestion, but then he remembered what her last relationship was like and how the fact that no one could know she and that Fitz guy were together became more important than anything else the two of them shared, and his shock instantly turned to comprehension. Gentling his tone, he explained, "even pretending that we're not together, that we don't love each other is giving this sick freak too much power over us. I won't do that to our relationship, but, more than that, I won't do that to you, Aria, especially not after what you've already been through."

She sighed in relief. "I'm so glad to hear you say that, because I don't think I could do that again." Before he could respond, she rushed to add, "and it's not because I don't think you're worth it, because I do; it's because I care too much to stay away from you and only see you in secret."

"Well, then it's settled."

"But that still leaves us without a plan."

"So what," Jason said, shrugging his shoulders. "We don't have to figure everything out this morning, and, besides, I think this is something we need to discuss with your friends first."

Her smile was all the agreement he needed. "It's too early to call the girls, though, especially Hanna." Mischievously, she then asked, her voice a lilting song of feigned innocence, "whatever shall we do with the rest of our morning?"

"I don't know about you," Jason replied, quickly standing up to kick off his shoes and pull down her blankets. Aria squealed in protest as the cool air hit her bare legs, for he was pleasantly surprised to find her in nothing but a tiny pair of shorts and a tank top, but he soon covered her body with his own, crawling back down on the mattress so that his legs were straddling her. Reaching behind him, he grabbed a single sheet, pulling it up, up, and over their heads. As the billowy fabric settled down around them, he announced, "but I think we should go back to bed." And, without giving her a chance to protest, agree, or even laugh, Jason sealed their mouths together, his tongue immediately slipping between her lips to seek out her own.

Let A threaten him all A wanted. As long as Jason had his girl, he'd be alright, and, in the meantime, he'd keep Aria and her friends safe as well. There was a whole new playing field in Rosewood now.