She was different.

She always had been, and maybe that's why she'd always intimidated him to some extent. And damn, he didn't like being intimidated. So, naturally, when Jace stumbled across her on his second day as the new kid, so many years ago, his first reaction had been to ignore her existence - it wasn't like he had any trouble displaying that he was above acknowledging people.

But she wasn't that easy to ignore. And even now, as he sat watching her from the shadows, he couldn't help but be drawn to her.

Back then, he'd sworn it was pure curiosity. And maybe, at first, it had been. Her tongue was sharp and her eyes were bright, and her smile was just as quick as her scalding wit. She was such a damn contradiction, and so different from all the other cut-out girls at that small school, that it seemed that he was almost obligated to watch a little closer.

He found himself trying to impress her - flaunting, like a peacock. He used his harsh tongue and mocking words against others - to him, a match to her sarcasm. It took him approximately two days to realize that that had back fired, Jace reflected with the vaguest hint of a smile. That pair of green eyes donned a scathing light whenever they lit upon his face, and her disgust was evident in the curl of her lip - sarcastic, quick people, she liked. Mean people? She loathed.

Jace's smile widened a fraction of a centimeter more. He had grown to appreciate that greatly, in her. No matter what she was feeling, her face, for the most part, portrayed her emotions as clearly as if she had inked them there with pen herself. For all of the flaws that she had that he'd stumbled across, that was one of the things that made her what she became to him - she was real.

He could see that even now, from his secluded little table in the corner. The emotions dancing across that fair skinned face and making her forest eyes glow - those petite lips pursing and grinning and frowning and parting in laughter. Jace sighed and dragged a hand through his already messy brown hair. He'd become so good at shutting everything out, but it was impossible for him to ignore that stupid little piece of him that she always had brought out - hope. Wishing. Longing. He refused to allow himself to wish that he was the one whom she was leaning against instead of being the one who was creeping on her from afar. But who was he kidding? Jace sighed again and pressed his drink to his lips. He knew that he'd kill to indeed be across the room.

Oh, but he'd screwed up any chance of that happening long ago.

Back then, when they were younger, he had toned down his attempts to impress her, though he had yet to recongnize them for that. Slowly, her scowls eased into tiny smirks, and then those smirks into smiles, and then before he knew it, he earned her stunning smile just by walking into a room.

He made the transition from enemy to aquaintance to friend to best friend. Then he became her "brother." Brother. Jace scoffed in his head, brown eyes trained steadily on that pretty face. That word had always caused something inside of him - he swore he didn't have a heart, so surely that couldn't be it - to wince and flinch away. A brother would never have put her through what he had - he was a terrible bastard, he knew.

A brother wouldn't have fallen so damn hard for her, either.

It had only occurred to him months after the fact that he was and always had been in love or lust or something similar with her. And God, she had been so close to being his. Jace allowed himself to imagine it for one moment - what that would have been like, having her for his own. He would still be able to earn that beautiful smile, hold that velvet soft hand in his own. He could hear her voice every day, so intelligent and yet so innocent, so excited telling him about her day. Asking about his. She was the only person who used to care how his day had gone. He'd finally - finally - know what those pretty little lips felt like. He would bet anything that they were as soft as they appeared to be - and he'd do nearly anything to know.

He absolutely hated himself.

The buxom waitress passing jumped as Jace slammed him glass down a tad too forcefully, causing the grotesquely colored liquid to slosh over the edge. She opened her mouth to speak, took one look at his face, and silently wiped away the liquid before hurrying away. Oops.

She had been so close to becoming his, that pretty girl with the chesnut curls falling loosely down her shoulders, and what had he done? He'd screwed it all up. He obliterated any chance he'd ever had in the worst of ways. He had broken her heart.

Thirteen years and he had yet to forgive himself.

He was older now, and he could no longer comprehne the thoughts that had been going through his messed up, teenaged head. He knew that he had been mad, mad at his step father, mad at the world, and that he had wanted to hurt somebody. Not physically, but emotionally.

And he had her phone number engraved into his brain.

She was stupid, Jace thought, watching regretfully as the tall yound man next to her laid a kiss upon her lips and was met with a grin. Stupid, because back then, she had been trusting. Oh, she trusted him, him, with his twisted mind and messed up life. She let him get to know her well enough to see past the independent, fearless, hot-head sweetheart that was displayed on a shelf for all the world to see. Well enough to see the fragile little girl she was on the inside, who just wanted someone to look after her, who remembered any and every mean word that she so casually brushed away. Who just wanted a boy to love and protect her.

And that was so very stupid of her.

Jace couldn't remember exactly what those text messages had said. He supposed, somewhere along the line, he had learned to block them out, trying to act like those horried things had not come from his mind. But he knew that he had lead her on, let her believe that he wanted her - had he known then that that was, in fact, truth? -and then he pulled it own from under her feet. He tore her down. And the next day at school, when he met those beautiful green eyes, glossy with anger and unshed tears, he had the audacity to smirk.

Why? Why, dammit, why? He didn't know. Taking another swig of his drink, Jace guessed he never would know. It had been one of those spur of the moment, lost in yourself, oblivious to reality and sanity moments. He was such a sick, mean bastard.

And now, looking at that face for what he feared may be the final time, he realized that the consequences that he had, back then, not paid a thought or care to, were still haunting him. Look at what he had lost.

He couldn't bring himself to hate the one who could hold her - who could call her his own. That man had once been his team mate, his friend. He still remained friendly towards Jace, something Jace couldn't fathom. He was taller than Jace, slimmer that Jace's own sturdy build. And, Jace had noticed, he could make that girl - their girl, in a way - smile like Jace had never been able to. She had found what she was looking for.

Jace wished he had the balls to tell him not to hurt her, just as his final attempt to watch out for her before he slipped out of her life for good. Jace wished he could tell that man to be patient and gentle and to always reassure her, because she liked that, and to let her act as tough as she wished and to never, ever make her cry. Never. Jace wished he could warn him to not to anything to lose her, because it would be a devastating loss indeed.

But Jace knew it was not his place.

Who was he to advise somebody who had already done so much better and gotten so much farther than he? But God, Jace hoped that that man wouldn't break that fragile little heart like he had.

But that man knew that she loved him - Jace had only learned that, so long ago, she had loved him, only after it was entirely too late. Maybe that knowledge would be a constant reminder.

Jace sighed, ruffled his messy brown hair once more, and rose to his feet. He threw money on the table, and as he allowed himself one last glance back at her, he was greeted with a jolt. Her eyes were right on him. Her hand was in his friend's, but her eyes were on him - he felt his heart shatter as she smiled soflty at him. I'm sorry, he tried to convey with his eyes, I'm so sorry.

Even from across the room, he saw the understanding in her features. She knew, she heard his apology - that was what he had wanted. He smiled a little crookedly, somewhere between a real smile and a smirk, because he knew it would make those nostalgic eyes better. Happier.

Maybe this was the last time they'd cross paths and maybe it wasn't. Maybe there was some other place that Jace would lurk in the shadows and watch her glow with that man. Jace would welcome it - that girl was one in a million, and she could tilt his universe any time she liked, as far as he was concerned.

Jace tore his eyes away and turned, easing his way through the people and out into the night.