A Jason and Aria One Shot
Before she and her family returned to Rosewood, Aria wouldn't have said that there was an art to making a decision – to weighing one evil against another and choosing between them at a split second's notice, but now she knew better. It was just one of the many lessons she had learned from A. Even now, nearly six months after the mask had been lifted and Mona Vanderwaal – dorky, insecure Mona turned queen bitch and Hanna's ex-best friend – had been revealed to be the mastermind behind the torture and blackmail Aria and her friends had endured for nearly a year, she was still being forced to closely examine her life. While realistically she knew that Mona was locked up in a secure facility where she couldn't hurt her anymore, emotionally Aria was still crippled by her memories of being stalked, of being bullied. She couldn't go around a corner without first checking to see if someone was following her, and she woke up every morning with the feeling of being watched. Even from a padded cell, A was still controlling her, and a part of Aria believed Mona would always hold that power over her.
Closing her eyes, she took a deep, bracing breath, clutching the reason for her errand that morning even tighter against her chest. For some reason, she felt nervous to be there which was ridiculous. Sure, things were strained between Aria and her boyfriend, but Ezra was stressed over finding a job – his savings nearly depleted, and she was anxious about going back to school in the coming weeks, tense over her continued trust issues with her parents, and worried that, even now, she and her friends were missing something – a telling clue – about Mona's games with them. But she needed to focus on taking her life day by day, one battle at a time.
Knocking, Aria plastered a wide smile upon her face, not wanting to burden Ezra with yet another problem. He already had enough on his plate – thanks to her, and she didn't need to be the cause of anymore of his unhappiness. Before he even had the door fully opened, she was making her way inside, talking fast and avoiding her boyfriend's sleepy gaze. "I hope I didn't wake you, but I have a favor to ask, and I'm trying to be productive today – you know, cleaning out my closet, starting my school shopping, so I have a full day ahead of me, and I... What," Aria paused in her ramble, finally noticing the less than pleased expression upon Ezra's face.
"You just... walked in. You didn't even wait for me to invite you."
"Since when are we so formal with each other?"
"Since when aren't we," he tossed back at her, evidently jonesing for a fight.
While Aria knew that she was there to ask her boyfriend for a favor, his attitude also irked her. Plus, it hurt as well. So, despite her best intentions, she engaged him. "Ezra, we're sleeping together. I think that entitles me to a few social leniencies, don't you?"
As if frustrated, Ezra closed his eyes momentarily before crossing his arms over his chest, feet planted shoulder-width apart as if he was bracing himself against her presence. At least he shut the door, though, so they could talk in private. Aria really didn't want to have the discussion she had planned mentally out in the open for everyone on Ezra's floor to overhear. "What are you doing here," he questioned her. "I have a lot to do – another day of sending out my resume and getting rejected."
"You'll get a job," she tried to assure him. "I know you will," only her confidence in him went unappreciated and even unrecognized. "Well, anyway," Aria continued after several beats of silence stretched between her and her boyfriend. "I won't keep you long. I actually just stopped by to see if you'd keep these photographs here for me."
Ezra finally crossed the room to stand by her side and then looked down at the top frame in the stack she was holding. Before she could protest, he lifted the burden out of her arms, quickly spreading the pictures out on top of his messy coffee table. "Aria, where did you get these? What are they? They look like..."
"They're all of me," she answered obtusely in an attempt to distract him from the direction in which she knew he was heading. "I don't want anything to happen to them, and, if my mom found them, I think she would..."
"Take them to the police as evidence which is exactly what she should do, which is exactly what you're going to do."
Taken aback by the fact that Ezra was ordering her to do something, Aria took several steps away from him. "Excuse me?"
"These look a hell of a lot like the pictures that were in the paper, the ones the police found in that motel room where Mona Vanderaal was holed up."
"I didn't get them from A," she was quick to dismiss her boyfriend's claims.
"Aria, these were taken while you were sleeping without your knowledge or consent. Whether Mona gave them to you or not, they fit her MO. You have to take them to the police."
"I don't have to do anything," she snapped, glaring at him. "Look, I brought them here to you, because I thought I could trust you. Whether you understand or not, these photographs are important to me, and I don't want anything to happen to them, but I also don't think they're safe at my house. Even if I hid them, my mom's not exactly respecting my privacy at the moment."
"Yeah, well, whose fault is that," Ezra fired back at her.
"Someone was stalking you for months, Aria, and you never told anyone – the police, your parents, me."
Hands on her popped out hips, she observed him closely. "So, that's what this is about?" Before he could respond, she continued, "I already told you that I kept A a secret from you, because I was trying to protect you."
"And what about these," Ezra gestured towards her pictures. "Why are you keeping the story behind these a secret?"
"I'm not," Aria defended herself, tossing up her hands in frustration. "You just never gave me a chance to explain them before you jumped down my throat."
"Well, I'm listening now."
For a moment, she didn't say anything. She couldn't. Instead, she was considering whether or not keeping the photos at Ezra's outweighed giving in and meeting his demands. While she knew that part of his attitude was born from the frustration he felt with himself and the mess his life had become, Aria also recognized the fact that she didn't deserve his animosity – at least, not about the pictures. Eventually, though, she caved, the photographs more important than her pride.
"Up until the point when they caught Mona and I saw for myself all the pictures she had not just of me but of all my friends, too, I had believed these pictures had been taken by Ali."
"Ali... as in Alison DiLaurentis, your dead friend?"
Why Ezra even needed to ask for clarification, Aria had no idea, but she ignored her irritation with her boyfriend and answered him, "yes. And I don't expect you to understand this, because you've stayed in contact with zero of your friends from college, and you never talk about your family... let alone spend any time with them, nor have you introduced me to them, but these photographs meant something to me. They still do. It's like, seeing these photos helps me to remember that there was more to Ali than just her disappearance and death. She was a real person before all of this happened – a flawed person but still one that, at one point in my life, meant a lot to me."
"But, Aria, Alison didn't take these pictures; Mona did."
"You don't know that for sure, and, even if she did, a few close up shots of my face while I'm sleeping are not going to impact the cops' case against her."
Ezra narrowed his eyes and tilted his head to the side, looking at her closely. Too closely. "Where'd you get them?"
Dismissively, she responded, "what does that matter?"
"It matters for many reasons," he replied, still not releasing her from the grips of his piercing gaze. "It matters, because, by what you've said, it's obvious that someone gave you these pictures after Alison was already gone. It matters, because there's something that you're not telling me. And it matters, because there's a reason you don't want the police to see them, to question you about them. So, tell me, Aria," Ezra pressed her. "Who gave you these photos?"
Lifting her chin, she squared her shoulders and slightly lifted her nose in the air. No matter what, Ezra was not going to intimidate her or make her feel guilty about wanting to keep the photographs. "Jason gave them to me." Without saying a word, her boyfriend immediately started to gather the pictures, stacking them carelessly in his arms. "What are you doing?"
"What's it look like I'm doing," he asked rhetorically. "Now that I know these came from that DiLaurentis guy, I'm definitely taking them to the police. For all you know, he was working with Mona this whole time."
"That's ridiculous, Ezra, and you know it!"
"Oh, really," he paused in his actions to look up at her. "Do I? Because all I know is that Jason has been obsessed with you since he came back to town. He won't leave you alone. And, now, I find out that he gave you these creepy pictures, too? Add to that the fact that Spencer didn't trust him..."
"They worked that out," Aria interrupted her boyfriend to defend her friend. "And what's between Spencer and Jason is none of your business."
"But it's yours," he fired back snidely. Without giving her a chance to respond, he pressed, "and let's not forget the fact that Jenna Marshall nearly died in a fire at Jason's house after receiving a text from him asking her to meet him there."
"First of all, I'm sick and tired of your blind devotion to Jenna – no pun intended. You've never taken my side against her, and you always stick up for her, too. You have no idea what she is capable of. Secondly, I don't understand this grudge you have against Jason. Yes, he kissed me, but I made it clear to him that I was unavailable, that I was with you. Hell, I blatantly ignored him for you, saying hello to everyone at Spencer's months ago but refusing to even acknowledge his presence, despite the fact that he was there trying to help us, despite the fact that I could see just how much my actions were hurting him. And, finally – and I'm only going to say this once, Jason had nothing to do with that fire, and he certainly didn't set up a meeting with Jenna at his house so that he could try to kill her."
"And how do you know that?"
"Because he told me so." Chest heaving, fists clenched at her side, and eyes wide with barely restrained fury, Aria realized just how bitter her argument with her boyfriend was getting, but, still, she couldn't back down. "And because what happened to Jenna reeks of A."
And, just like that, the last piece of the puzzle clicked into place for Aria. Oh, she didn't think that Ezra was right about Jason, but she realized that what her boyfriend was arguing was what everyone else in town would think if they were to see the photos currently piled up in Ezra's arms. While the fire could be excused as a fluke, as a mere coincidence, the photographs, if the police ever saw them, would create a pattern that connected Jason to Mona... which, Aria suddenly knew, had been A's intentions all along. Maybe Mona had never blackmailed Jason, but she had certainly wanted to hurt him – whether by tarnishing his reputation in town further or by alienating him from one of his only friends and his newfound sister. Thankfully, A could do nothing else to falsely incriminate Jason, because Mona was locked away, but that didn't mean that Aria didn't need to protect him from what had already been done.
"Never mind," she changed the subject, holding out her own arms for Ezra to transfer the pictures back to her. "I shouldn't have asked you to keep these here for me. Give me my photos back, and I'll find somewhere else to put them."
Screwing up her face in feigned confusion, she repeated, "no? What do you mean 'no?' They're mine. I want them back. Now, give them to me."
"Either you turn these into the police, or we're over, Aria."
An ultimatum. After all the pain, and heartache, and trouble their relationship had caused, it was ending with an ultimatum. Before that morning, she would have done anything to hold onto Ezra... anything but sacrifice her own self-confidence and compromise her sense of right and wrong. Jason was not a threat to their relationship. While she was attracted to him and even had feelings for him, Aria had made the conscious decision to be with Ezra, and she wasn't a cheater. When she committed to someone, she committed with her whole heart, flaws and consequences in all, but an ultimatum was one thing she could not get passed. Just the fact alone that Ezra felt he had the right to challenge her in that way said all she needed to know about their relationship, their future, and what he thought of her. Obviously, her boyfriend didn't respect her, and Aria wouldn't be able to respect herself if she stayed with someone who treated her in that way.
Holding out her hands once more, she said, "well, then, I guess this is goodbye."
Without a word of protest or even apology, Ezra gave her the photos, and she left his apartment for the last time, her posture confident and strong. Oh, Aria knew that she'd fall apart later, that she'd have to mourn the failed romance with chick flicks, disgusting amounts of junk food, and her best friends, but, in that moment, she was too angry to cry – too angry and too worried about Jason. It didn't help matters either that, as she exited Ezra's apartment building, her cell phone beeped, alerting her to the fact that she had received a new text message. Instinctively, Aria just knew that the other shoe had dropped.
"So, you're sure that Mona is locked away and has no access to a cell phone, or a computer, or a flock of seagulls."
"Carrier pigeons," Spencer corrected Hanna who was on the phone with Doctor Sullivan, but the blonde merely waved off the remark, concentrating, instead, upon what the psychologist had to say in response to her question, their question.
The four of them were gathered around Spencer's island – their usual spot du jour to plot, commiserate, and worry about A... only A was supposed to be gone. Aria wasn't sure if they gravitated to the Hastings' kitchen because Spencer's parents were so rarely home or because the Hastings had the best stocked pantry. Whatever the reason, though, there they were – Hanna on the phone, Emily staring blankly into the cup of tea Spencer had insisted she have, Spencer herself watching Hanna as though, by looking at her alone, she'd be able to hear everything Doctor Sullivan was saying. And then there was Aria who was only paying half attention to what was going on around her, her mind otherwise occupied by someone who wasn't in the room, and that person wasn't A.
"No, no, nothing's wrong," Hanna assured their former group therapist. "It's just, it's nice to hear what I – what we – already know again every few weeks: that Mona can't hurt us anymore. I'm really sorry for bothering you, Doctor Sullivan." Hanna exchanged a few pleasantries with the shrink before hanging up, tossing her phone haphazardly onto the counter, and slouching onto her stool. "Well, that was a waste of time, and I still don't understand why you made me call. Now, Doctor Sullivan probably thinks that I'm just as crazy as Mona."
"Maybe that's why we needed you to call her," Spencer teased.
Before Hanna could respond, Aria jumped into the fray. "Han, she doesn't think you're crazy. In fact, she'd probably be more concerned about us if we weren't worried about Mona."
"Yeah, well, worried or not, those text messages definitely didn't come from her," Hanna replied despondently, and Aria could sympathize with how she felt.
If Mona had been behind the latest demands sent to them by A, then they wouldn't have had anything to worry about... or, at least, not as much, but, since Mona didn't have access to a means of communication with the world outside of her sanitarium, then that meant they were dealing with someone new, and the texts they had received that morning did not seem like imposters or like the jokes they had been receiving all summer long. Rather, they felt real, which meant that they were dealing with yet another A on their hands, one just as malicious and all-knowing as Mona had been.
Even with her cell phone off and buried at the bottom of her oversized purse, Aria could still see every single word of the text message she had received as she walked out of Ezra's building earlier that morning, the memory of its image burned into her mind. For a moment, when she had first read what the note said, she had stopped breathing, a clammy sweat breaking out across her forehead, down the back of her neck, and on her palms. Then, seconds later, she had ignored her panic long enough to sprint towards her car, locking herself inside of the stifling vehicle as though an inch of glass could actually protect her against a watching pair of eyes. She didn't even have a chance to calm down enough to leave before her cell phone had rang with a call from Spencer. She and Emily and Hanna had also received messages, and the four of them agreed to meet at Spencer's to discuss their next moves, because move they would most certainly have to do. The blackmail had started all over again.
Dear Delusional Aria,
Did you miss me?
I missed you. I missed showing you and your three bitch friends that you can't play with fire and not get burned. After all, none of you have learned your lessons yet.
But that's all about to change if I have anything to say about it. And I do.
Even after everything we've been through together, you're still lying; you're still keeping secrets, and you know that makes me angry. So, this is what you're going to do: either you tell Holden's parents about his secret martial arts competitions, or I'll switch out his heart medication with placebos. And, Aria, I think we both know I'm more than capable of playing doctor, don't we? If in doubt, just ask that bitch friend of yours, Emily... though she's going to be busy with her own tasks.
And, as promised, not only had A sent Emily an ultimatum, but he or she had also sent ones to Spencer and Hanna, too. Emily had to confess to her parents that she had forged her scholarship letter, Spencer had to tell Toby about her extra-curricular activities with Wren while they were broken up, and Hanna had to tattle on her mother's relationship with Wilden to her father, risking her mom's custody. And do these tasks they would, because the alternatives, just as in Aria's case, were unthinkable.
"She said I could join the A team."
"Huh," Hanna questioned.
Aria looked up as well, offering her own inquiry. "What?"
"Mona," Spencer clarified. "After I found out that she was A, she gave me a choice: I could either join the A team or else... Do you guys think that maybe Mona was just a pawn this whole time, that she had been working with or for someone else, and, now, that person has found themselves a new A?"
"I can't believe you never told us this before," Hanna exclaimed, mouth agape in shock and exasperation. "If you had, we might have been prepared for this morning's texts."
"Nothing could have prepared us for those text messages," Emily spoke up for the first time, though she refused to meet any of their gazes. Six months later, and she was still haunted by Maya's death, blaming herself for not doing more when her ex-girlfriend first disappeared, doubting herself for believing the text messages she had supposedly received from Maya's phone.
"Plus, how was I supposed to know what Mona meant," Spencer defended herself. "I thought she was insane; she is insane. For all I knew, she was just referring to herself as the A team. Besides, I was a little busy trying not to die."
"I know," Hanna relented, once more collapsing onto her barstool. "And I'm sorry."
"It's okay," Spencer accepted the apology, though Aria could still see the defensive stance to her posture. After a moment, she segued, "so I guess the games begin anew. I can't believe this is happening. Just when things were starting to settle down and make sense again..."
"I want to tell Jason."
At her words which cut off Spencer's, all three of Aria's friends turned to look at her with various expressions of incredulity and astonishment on their faces – even Emily. "I think all Melissa's screaming during delivery affected my hearing, because I did not just hear you say that you wanted to tell Jason about A," Spencer remarked sarcastically.
"Yeah, what she said," Hanna added, "though, you know, without the gross labor reference."
"Look, I know how it sounds, but hear me out. Please." At her friends' continued silence and attention, Aria pressed on. "This morning, I broke up with Ezra."
"What," Emily questioned.
"Why," Spencer wanted to know.
"You did," Hanna responded, sounding almost doubtful.
She should have known better; she should have known that such a pronouncement would distract the three of them from what she was about to say. "Right now, that's not important." When Hanna went to object, Aria placated her, "I'll tell you about what happened in a minute, but, first, you need to know what I realized today: A is going after Jason, too."
"That's ridiculous," Spencer instantly argued, but Aria's next words stopped the other brunette in her tracks.
"When Jason first came back to town... right around the time of Ian's funeral, he received this note that said 'I know what you did.' It wasn't a text message, and it wasn't signed by A, but it was definitely Mona's style to taunt someone about Ali's death. Then, there are those photographs that he developed for me, pictures that he thought Alison had taken, but I now think that Mona planted that roll of film in order to make Jason look either guilty of stalking me or guilty of working with her, because the style of the photos match those that were found in A's lair. And, finally, there was the fire at Jason's house. Someone sent Jenna a text message pretending to be Jason, someone wanted her to get hurt in that fire, and someone wanted it to look like Jason had tried to kill Jenna. A – it had to be A."
For several moments, everyone was silent, absorbing Aria's words. Finally, it was Emily who spoke up, something that surprised Aria. "I think you're right, and I also think this is a clue. I think that A not only wants to hurt Jason, but A also wants him out of the way, too, which means that Jason must know something... even if he doesn't realize it, something that puts A at risk for getting caught."
"So, then, we tell him," Spencer questioned, already reaching for her cell phone, presumably to call her half-brother.
"We do," Hanna confirmed. "Besides, it's not like he hasn't come through for us already." Just as Aria was about to think that she would escape her friend's nosy curiosity, Hanna spoke again. "And, in the meantime – while we wait for him to come over, Aria can tell us all about her breakup – every single juicy detail."
She rolled her eyes, playfully kicked Hanna's stool, yet settled in to tell her friends about what had happened between her and Ezra. In a way, talking about her breakup was a welcome distraction. Though she would inevitably still cry... eventually, suddenly the end of her relationship with Ezra didn't seem like nearly as big of a deal in comparison to A having returned to their lives, and any delay in thinking about A's latest demands was a welcome distraction... even if that distraction involved her heartache over Ezra and her confusion over her feelings for Jason. Because that was something else which had become abundantly clear that morning: even after all these years, a real boyfriend, and turning Jason down, Aria still had a crush on her dead best friend's older brother.
"We have to get rid of these, burn them."
That was how she greeted Jason when he opened his door that evening... well, that and shoving one of her old book bags against his chest. He laughed, though, stepping aside for her to enter his newly reconstructed house, shutting the door behind her as he slowly said, "okay," drawing the word out to showcase his confusion.
Aria took several deep breaths and then moved to peer out the nearest window, relieved to see that no one had followed her to Jason's. Yet. Once her nerves were calmed somewhat, she turned to find Jason watching her curiously, her bag still clutched in his hands. "Sorry about that. I know I was acting all insane, and paranoid, and..."
"... like a person who is being stalked," he finished for her. She smirked to acknowledge his remark. "So, what's in the bag," Jason asked, shaking it slightly only to hear nothing despite its obvious fullness.
At his quirked brow, she answered, "everything's wrapped up in clothes, not only to give me an alibi – I'm spending the night at Spencer's – but also so that they wouldn't break." Realizing that she still had not told him what they were burning that evening, Aria added, "and they are the photographs you gave me." Motioning over her shoulder for Jason to follow her towards the back of his house and then out onto the new deck, Aria continued to explain, "remember how I told you that I realized A must have planted that roll of film in your house and how the police can't see them, because then they'll suspect you of working with Mona? Well, I think Ezra is going to go to the cops... if he hasn't already. That's why we have to get rid of them."
By the time they reached Jason's back yard, she could see the bewilderment on his face. "Why would he do that? If you said you didn't want the police to see them, he should honor your wishes. The pictures are of you, after all. I get that he might be worried about you, but he's not the one being blackmailed; you are."
"Yeah, well, there's more to the story – mainly the fact that Ezra and I aren't dating anymore. We broke up almost two weeks ago."
As Jason set to work piling several logs into the fire ring he had installed that summer – his house having become a place for Spencer to escape to whenever her parents, Melissa, and the baby became too much, he continued to talk to her. "That should give him even less of a reason to involve himself then."
"You'd think," Aria snorted in agreement, "but he's acting like this crazy person with a vendetta."
"Against you... for breaking up with him?"
For the first time since she had arrived, Aria looked away from Jason unable to meet his gaze and fidgeted with her fingers. Though she had long since become comfortable around him – even more so now that he was included in their A secret, the idea of Jason having feelings for her, feelings that she knew she returned in her own way, made Aria a little less sure of herself. Basically, she became a blushing, fumbling middle school student around him all over again, just like she had been years ago when Ali was still alive. "Actually, it's against you, and it's kind of because I picked you over him."
Jason stood up straight, the fire he was building forgotten. Observing her closely – so closely that Aria could feel the intensity of his gaze singeing her cheeks a dark crimson, he asked, "what did you just say?" She was amazed by the suddenly husky quality of his voice.
"It's not like that, not like it sounds."
Jason took several steps closer to her so that, by the time he stopped, he was towering over her, her flip flops doing nothing to help her in the height department, her head tilted back to meet his unwavering stare. "I don't care how you meant it, Aria. I just want to hear you say it again."
Whispering, she obliged. "I picked you over him." Jason sighed in pleasure, lifting a hand to whisper the pads of his fingers against her jaw. "I asked him to keep the pictures you gave me at his apartment, because I was afraid my mom would find them one day when she was snooping in my room and that she would turn them over to the cops. I didn't want to lose them, and I definitely didn't want you to get into trouble. But Ezra... flipped. He started accusing you of working with Mona which was exactly what I was afraid the cops would think, and then he gave me an ultimatum: either I take the photographs to the police myself, or we were over."
"And, so, you chose me."
His hand now cradling her face, Aria just nodded her agreement. Their moment was interrupted, though, when, through the screen door, they could hear the doorbell ring. For several seconds, Jason dropped his forehead to rest against hers, his breath tickling her suddenly dry lips. "Take the photos out of the frames, burn them, and then bury the frames underneath your clothes. I'll be right back."
So, Aria did as Jason suggested. Without the protective glass of the frames, the pictures burned quickly, and she stirred the fire with a stick to make sure that all that remained of the photos was indistinguishable ash. When she heard the sound of several footsteps walking out the back of the house, though, Aria turned so that she was facing away from whoever Jason's guests were, pretty much already sure that, when she did turn around, she would find Ezra there along with Detective Wilden. Despite the fact that they were broken up, she had spotted Ezra watching her several times that week, especially when she went to visit Spencer or all five of them met at Jason's. He had even approached her, apologizing for taking a strong stance against Jason but refusing to back down and admit that she had the right to make her own decisions, even going so far as to hint that, if she wouldn't take care of and protect herself, then he'd do it for her. Then, that afternoon, as she had been walking home from school after picking up her class schedule, she had seen her ex and Wilden sitting together in Ezra's car a black away from her house. Aria had just known what was going to come next, but she also knew that she couldn't burn anything at her own house without alerting her mother's suspicions, so she had done the next best and natural thing: she had gone to Jason for help.
"Hey, sorry it took me so long to grab the marshmallows," Jason announced as he moved up beside her, wrapping an arm low around her waist and placing a kiss against her temple. For a moment, she was startled by his actions, but then she quickly caught on to what he was doing and more than happily played along. Using a stage whisper, he added, "but there was someone at the door for you – two someones in fact."
Aria pretended that she was surprised by his statement, turning around to curiously look behind them. When her eyes met those of Wilden's and Ezra's, she feigned just noticing that they were there. "Oh," she squeaked, eyes wide with astonishment. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched as Jason tossed down the aforementioned marshmallows, plus a box of graham crackers and a couple Hershey bars. Without conscious thought, she observed how adorable it was that he had the makings of s'mores just lying about his house.
"I'm going to just take your stuff upstairs," Jason told her, picking up Aria's bag of clothes. He moved closer to her and lowered his voice. "Unless you want me to stay out here with you..."
"No, I'll be fine," Aria answered him, still playing along.
"Of course you'll be fine," Ezra snapped, shooting a glare in Jason's direction. "Just turn over the photos, and you won't be in trouble."
"What photos," she acted like she had no idea what her ex was talking about. Meanwhile, silently, Wilden stood by, arms crossed over his chest, simply observing the dynamic between the three of them.
"Don't play dumb, Aria," Ezra remarked snidely. "You know exactly what photographs I'm talking about."
"Look, if she said she doesn't know what you're talking about, then she doesn't know," Jason defended her.
"Stay out of this," Ezra yelled. Then, turning back to her, he further accused, "so, you have him lying for you now? I should have known that, as soon as we broke up, you'd go running to Jason."
"What I do or don't do is quite frankly none of your damn business," she bit back, "because, as you said, we're broken up." Deciding to throw her own accusations into the mix in an effort to redirect the blame, Aria pressed, "and don't think that I haven't noticed you stalking me these past two weeks. After everything I've been through..."
Jason turned to her, concern written across his handsome features. "He's been following you?"
"Following me," Aria repeated, never once taking her accusing gaze from her ex's, "harassing me, confronting me in public with all these ridiculous accusations, and ranting about these pictures I supposedly have when I don't even know what the hell he's talking about."
"Wait a second," Jason said, turning his own narrowed eyes upon Ezra. "If you're the only one who knows what these photographs are, who's to say that they're not yours." He then took a step in front of Aria, shielding her with his body. "So help me, Fitz, if you took inappropriate pictures of Aria when she was vulnerable..."
From behind Jason, she gasped, covering her mouth in mock horror. "Oh my god!"
"What, no!" Ezra adamantly defended himself. "Of course I wouldn't do that!"
"Yeah, says the former high school teacher who dated his student. Sorry, Aria," Jason added as an aside.
"Look," her ex-boyfriend said, "quit trying to redirect the guilt here. You took pictures of Aria while she was sleeping. You gave them to her, passing them off as your dead sister's – pictures which looked too much like the ones found in Mona's hotel room to be a coincidence. Admit it. All this time, you've been working with her, and there's evidence probably hidden all over this house – including those pictures of Aria."
"Search it," Jason told Wilden who had yet to say anything, gesturing towards his home.
"Are you sure you want us to do that, Aria," Ezra taunted her. "Just cooperate already. Whatever this creep has on you, I'll help you; I'll be there for you."
"I don't have anything to cover up either," she responded easily. "As you know because you've been following me, I just got here a few minutes before you did. That definitely wouldn't have been enough time to hide anything."
"Well, then, let me see your bag," Ezra demanded.
Although Jason went to comply, Detective Wilden held out a hand, preventing the exchange. "I don't have a warrant, and, frankly, I don't think one is needed." Piercing Ezra with a stern look, he lectured, "I see what's going on here. You're pissed off that your girlfriend dumped you and hooked up with another guy, but that does not give you the right to use the cops to harass them. As for the accusations lobbed at you – stalking, dating a minor, taking pornographic pictures, I think it would be a good idea if you left town, Mr. Fitz." Addressing Aria and Jason once more, he added, "I'll show myself out. Sorry about this." And then Wilden disappeared around the side of the house.
Once the three of them were alone, Ezra sadly said, "I don't even recognize you, Aria. Were you always this childish and immature when we were together?"
"I could say and ask the same of you," she returned blandly, too tired of her ex's games to even react to his bait.
"And I think it's time you left," Jason added, gesturing towards the same path Detective Wilden had just taken. After a silent battle of wills between the two of them during which time both Jason and Ezra stared each other down, Ezra finally did as was suggested to him, fleeing into the shadows of late afternoon.
As soon as he was gone, Aria sighed in relief. "I'm so sorry, Jason. I never should have come here. I just..."
"Don't apologize," he told her, turning around to once more look down upon her face. Just like before, they were standing extremely close together, forcing Aria to tilt her head back in order to look into his eyes. "I like that you came to me."
"Even if that means that you have to deal with me and my crazy life?"
"Hey," he chided her, placing his right thumb and forefinger underneath her chin and gently cupping it. "My life's no walk in the park either. Besides, I should be the one apologizing to you."
"You should? For what?"
"For implying that we were a couple. I knew that it would throw your ex off his game, and I also knew that it'd give me a reason to get rid of your bag, but I also know that the two of you just broke up, and you probably didn't want the police department thinking that we were sleeping together."
It had only been two weeks since she and Ezra had called it quits, but Aria just decided to live in the moment and enjoy life, to take the opportunities which came her way and stop second guessing herself and her instincts, her feelings – another thing life made more immediate by A's torture had taught her. So, lifting herself up on her tiptoes, she wrapped her arms loosely, coquettishly around Jason's neck, pulling her body so close to his that they were finally touching from their shoulders all the way down to their thighs. "They could think worse things about us, about you, and I really don't care what the cops – let alone this entire town – thinks about our relationship."
"Our relationship," Jason parroted, smirking.
Aria nearly quit teasing him and just kissed him then when she saw how happy his green, sparking eyes were, but she refrained long enough to insinuate, "well, you did just imply that I was spending the night. I don't sleep in the same bed as a guy unless I'm in a relationship with him."
"And what about Spencer?"
Grinning cheekily, Aria said, "she doesn't share a bed with a guy unless she's in a relationship with him either."
Jason laughed then – a full on, belly laugh, and Aria knew that she had never seen him so carefree and spontaneous before. It thrilled her that she could give that to him. Before she could say anything else, though, or comment upon his joy, she found herself being lifted into the air and tossed over Jason's shoulder, her book bag still held in one of his hands. "Jason, what are you doing," she sputtered in mock protest. Really, though, she found his antics highly amusing and a turn on as well. Ezra had never been so playful with her, so lighthearted and fun, and they had dated for almost a year. "Would you put me down!"
"No, I don't think I will," he responded casually, already striding towards the house.
"Well, at least get the food." When he didn't pause or even miss a step, she further protested, "the chocolate! I'm going to want some of that later."
"We'll just have to see about that."
Anything else Aria was going to say died on her lips when the Jason kicked the door shut behind them, locked it, and then purposely carried her towards the stairs.
It was amazing – the repercussions still being felt from Mona's deceptions. Sure, there was a new A, but Aria had broken up with her boyfriend all because of an innocuous roll of film, obliviously developed and then shared with her in an effort to keep a dead girl's memory alive. Yet, now that same roll of film had also brought her back to Jason. The aftershocks of an earthquake weren't supposed to be as powerful as the main event, but Mona – six months later and locked up – was still playing with her life, only Aria knew that, for perhaps the first time, she had played A's game with Jason's help and won. That realization more than anything else – more than standing up for herself, more than helping to capture Mona, more than protecting Jason – made her feel empowered.
But even empowerment didn't feel better than Jason's embrace. Aria kissed him late into the night, long after the sun had set and the only illumination in Jason's bedroom was the smoldering fire outside his window. She liked the way the shadows danced across his naked chest, and she marveled at how the firelight made her lighter skin glow against his own. Best of all, she loved the way the red flames were reflected back to her in his gaze as Jason looked down upon her, as he moved inside of her. The intensity of his unvoiced emotions burned her, and she returned the heat, the passion, and the devotion with her every caress and mew of pleasure.
As Aria fell asleep in Jason's arms early the next morning, her last thought was that he had been right. Chocolate was the very last thing on her mind.