A/N – this is a one shot from the point of view of Elizabeth's ex set in the early 1990s. Feedback, as always, is appreciated! Thank you for reading.

This story is for Gigi who has supported it since its inception on a random weekday night. Special mention here also to Emma, the best and only math tutor I know.

He takes a swig of lukewarm, frankly mediocre champagne from a plastic flute and snaps his polished shoes together, so that he's upright and at full attention. A silver canapé tray drifts past him and he snatches up a tiny piece of salmon on rye and puts it in his mouth, swallowing it whole. How is it that these miniature foods can look so good but taste of nothing?

The nausea is churning in his stomach and the bubbles and paltry portions do nothing to help him with it. He really shouldn't be here. He shouldn't have come here tonight. And yet he knows exactly why he is here. From the moment the cream cardboard envelope with gold lettering and the UVA logo landed on his doormat, he knew he would attend this event in the vain hope of seeing her. He'd been invited to the math and engineering faculty Christmas prize giving, sure to be an annual bore fest and ordinarily he'd have ripped the invitation in two and dropped in the trash. But not when he knew she was likely to be there. He had made a few polite enquiries over the phone to the university administration staff, then sent his suit to the cleaners the day he found out she was confirmed to be there. The event had been marked for weeks in both his calendar and his diary.

It had been two years and four months since he'd last seen her, and if he'd thought about it really hard he could have probably worked out the number of days and hours too. The idea of wanting to see her again had germinated from a twisted seed of self-deprivation deep within him. He knew she would be polite to him, perhaps be happy to see him even. He might be lucky enough to land a kiss on one cheek or a hand on his arm. But theirs would be a conversation of stilted politeness and awkward pleasantries, undoubtedly whilst he puffed his chest and tried to concentrate on what she was saying whilst simultaneously sizing up the man in a tux on her arm. He'd be watching his every move.

He'd met her in the summer between his third and fourth years. She'd been between her first and second, and they'd stayed around Charlottesville over the summer. They'd been part of a small team of tutors who'd stayed to teach at the summer school; a winning situation all round. The university had cheap labor, the older students had money and earned themselves a letter of thanks from the Dean.

He'd caught sight of her crouched over a desk reading a list of names of their prospective students, making neat notes in the margin with a pencil she retrieved from her pocket. Her long blonde hair was pulled off her face in a high pony, and faded blue jeans hung off her slim hips. She had sky blue eyes you could just get lost in but he noticed how they were grey and dark, seemingly masking a sorrow she clearly didn't want anyone to latch onto. He'd gazed at her for long enough he bordered on creepy and had gone to see if he could help her. She'd looked him over, her expression neutral with a polite smile as his voice cracked like a nervous teenager saying 'Nicholas. Most people call me Nick.'

The way her tongue had rolled over the syllables of Elizabeth as she told him her name had made him feel a burn in his chest. Surges of heat were flying through him and he remembered asking her how they were going to 'divide' the students up, stifling a laugh at his own math pun. It was then that the polite smile had become a bit wider. She'd shaken her head at him and rolled her eyes and he'd thought he'd won her over a little. But he wasn't sure.

She wore a splash of make-up and a fitted black tee and a slither of toned abdomen was visible between the bottom of her t-shirt and the top of her jeans. Her skin was tanned with scattered freckles and he got the impression that every spare moment she wasn't indoors teaching she was out in the sunshine, the fresh air enhancing her beauty. Those legs of hers went on for fucking days and she spoke softly, her voice deep and husky and her hand gestures wild and animated.

They'd spoken at length about dividing students, allocation of classrooms and weekly schedules. He found himself outside of her room most afternoons after class, always asked her for coffee and she always made her excuses about having to get away. It turned out she looked after some horses which confirmed his theory she enjoyed the outdoors and explained why her ass was so damn peachy he wanted to sink his teeth into it.

He persevered persistently, asking her to spend some of her time with him, until one Friday afternoon in late July she'd relented and said yes. He'd asked if she had plans for the weekend and she'd surprised him by saying she didn't, and asked him if he wanted to grab a bite to eat that evening.

Being surprised at what she'd said was an understatement, he'd been left speechless and stood there slack-jawed and open mouthed until she asked if he was tutoring math or giving lessons in fly catching. He'd laughed at that, and noticed her voice louder than normal with pointed humor. She was one of those people who articulated herself better when she was angry or passionate. He was the sort of man who mumbled into his shoes laces and backed away. He'd swallowed several times to moisten his dry mouth and mumbled his acceptance as she froze him with a look that told him he better buck his ideas up and start taking the lead before she got bored and changed her mind.

They'd eaten chilli dogs with fiery mustard and fries doused in ketchup at a sports bar in town. The game was playing and the televisions in front of them were blaring incessantly but she'd seemed happy enough. Half a dozen Sam Adams littered the bench between them as they'd chatted at the bar. He was doing his upmost to find out more about her and she seemed to be holding back from giving too much away. In fact, she seemed hell-bent on it, and to him it only made her more of an enigma to him and fueled her appeal.

It wasn't that she was cold, her manners were impeccable and her conversation polite but he found himself wanting to delve deeper. Even if he could have found out everything about her all at once he wasn't sure that would have been enough. This girl had captivated him, drawn him in and unintentionally flipped his world upside down upon its head.

They'd left the bar with a stream of their laughter following them, wandering aimlessly for a few steps before realizing they were actually needing to head in the opposite direction. That had made them giggle even more. He'd insisted on walking her home and she'd eventually relented, keen on saying her goodbyes and reiterating that the distance to hers was short and a trip she'd walked many times. He would have done just about anything to get a few more final moments with her that night.

He wasn't sure if she kissed him to shut him up but it came out of the blue and before he could say goodbye her lips were on his. It was a kiss with intent behind it as her tongue slipped between his lips and she wobbled as he pulled her fiercely to him, his lips smoldering as his tongue immediately found hers.

As quickly as it started it had stopped and he'd felt the chill of the night air across his face before he realised she'd taken a step away and was headed up the steps to go inside her apartment. He'd asked for her number and she simply said she'd see him next week. Not when, not a day, no plans made, just next week. He didn't know how long he stood outside, dumbfounded by the fortune that his evening had given him but with a gnawing desperation to see her again clawing at him.

It was a whole five days before he saw her again, on the Wednesday. He'd searched for her daily up until then but noted a last-minute revision in the timetable explaining why she was absent from the teaching schedule. He'd waited for her class to finish and tried to keep it as casual as he could, asking her for coffee. She'd turned him down and though he'd prepared for it he hadn't expected it, and couldn't help the sting of disappointment that pierced through him as she'd said no. She wasn't free. She'd made small talk with him before excusing herself and leaving, presumably to look after the horses.

This dalliance of theirs continued, he'd move three steps forward, she'd keep him in check, at a distance. She wasn't put off by his persistence but she wasn't encouraged by it either. He'd never known such a middle of the road response from a girl to a guy who chased her so blatantly. They'd gone to the local summer fayre a few days after and eaten baby pink candy floss and too many donuts in between the coconut shy and the big wheel. He remembered being desperate to hold her hand, to feel connected to her, to feel her fingers between his, but he got the impression that this was not a date, more that they were just hanging out together. He'd bottled a move and tried to be grateful that they were spending this time together, watching as her legs dangled through safety bars on the rides and the wind ruffled her hair, whipping it around her face.

As they left the fair their second kiss had been as electric for him as the first, her lips sticky sweet with sugar as he ran his hand down one of her braids. She'd pecked at his lips after that, and told him she'd see him on Monday. No plans were made, and again, nothing was said. She was clearly enjoying taking things a day at a time, being in the moment. She was teaching him lessons in being cool from a syllabus he'd simply never laid eyes on.

He'd been surprised that they'd progressed to having sex. Rather naively he'd thought that a physical union with her would have brought them closer together mentally but he couldn't have been further from the truth. She clearly liked spending time with him, she clearly found him attractive and one night after class they'd found themselves at his place, the radio murmuring on in the background as they'd gotten physical on the sofa. She'd crossed her arms over her body and pulled her tee over her head, leaving his lips to roam over her chest, his thumbs to squeeze her breasts and draw her nipples into peaks. She'd moaned all the right pitches underneath him as he'd pressed his fingers against her wet folds and croaked out the words 'Should I...?' with an erection straining against the zipper of his pants. She'd nodded as he'd gone to his room to retrieve protection, his hands shaking as he'd unwrapped the foil packet and placed the sheath over himself. She'd spread her legs for him right there on the sofa, and he knew he'd never forget the exquisite feeling of that first push inside of her.

She'd spurred him on as he'd thrust inside her, letting out the craving he had for her that he'd been holding in for weeks. He was disappointed he hadn't made her come but watched with fascination as her hand slipped its way between their joined bodies to stimulate herself over the edge into orgasm. He should have known he would get carried away burying himself inside her, chasing his release and hoping to take her with him. Her arousal was a slow simmer and a short peak and though by no means was the sex bad, they were clearly on different pages physically as well as emotionally. Predictably she'd left afterwards, kissing his cheek and saying she'd see him next week.

They'd never talked about where things were going, but he knew with regret that he was far more invested in her than she in him. Anyone with an ounce of sense would have stopped things right there and then but he couldn't get enough of her, maybe if he was funnier, maybe if he was less needy, maybe if he was more muscular... All of his musings were futile and self-deprivating and yet he couldn't stop his thoughts. He wanted her to stay around for the long term, and it was clear to him she thought of him as nothing more than a summer fling.

Each time he'd found her in his bed he'd tried to get her to look at him as he penetrated inside her, thinking if he could just look into her eyes maybe he could get her to see that she could trust him, that he could be the right man for her. But her eyes were always closed, her mouth slightly open as her fingers played with her clit and she reveled in the physical feelings he was giving her, and nothing more.

She'd never said any differently, she'd never offered something she couldn't give and retracted it back, they'd simply seen each other occasionally and then got physical with one another. Most guys would have jumped at the chance for this kind of deal, but he wasn't most guys and she most definitely wasn't just any girl. It was him who'd wished it could have been so much more than it was, him who wished he could have given her something, reassured her of something to turn that grey hue in her eyes into a blue glow and truly make them sparkle.

As they summer ended, so had they. They'd never really said goodbye to one another, just went back to their separate classes and their own separate lives. He could have tracked her down, poured his heart out and laid his feelings on the line, but he wasn't sure if it was worth it. Instead all he was left with were fond memories and the knowledge of just how infinitely painful it was to fall in love with someone who didn't feel the same way that you did.

It was now that he stood across the room from her, throwing mediocre mini bruschetta into his mouth and washing them down with second-rate fizzy wine. He waited and wondered if he'd speak to her, watching as her floor length black ballgown dusted over the floor and the sequins in her bolero flickered gently as they caught the light. It was a shame she'd hidden those well-sculpted shoulders, her flawless neck visible as her hair was pinned up, whisps of honey-blonde curls framing face.

The man she was with had a perfect charcoal shit with a perfect cut and a perfect fit. He wore a dark blue tie and his shoes were shiny and glossy. He looked at first glance like a buddy you didn't want to take out as a wingman, girls would fawn over him and you'd never get a look in. And yet despite his appearances, despite his surroundings, he clearly only had eyes for one woman in the room, one woman who he wouldn't let out of his sight. Nick did not blame him one little bit.

He realised he just wasn't the man that she felt she could truly open up to, to wear her heart on her sleeve to and risk it being broken. He wasn't the man who'd end up standing beside the woman. He was the friend with benefits, the summer fling, the 'we dated for a while it just didn't work out.' The ex to whom no hard feelings were harbored, who was Mr Right Now, but sadly not Mr Right, at least where Elizabeth was concerned.

No, the man who stood next to her was the one who'd clearly claimed the key to her heart. Sadly, he couldn't be described as anything less than, tall, dark and handsome. He had a twinkle in his hazel eyes and was attentive with military precision to her every need. His arm guided her elbow around the room as they networked, smiles matching, expressions mirrored and simultaneous laughter harmonizing as the sound echoed off the walls. Her glass was never empty and when his hand wasn't on her elbow his arm was draped loosely around her waist, his thumb pressing circles into the silken material at her hip.

It was what they did with their eyes that transfixed him the most. Whole conversations were had over fleeting moments of their eyes reading one another, pupils darting from side to side asking silent questions and gaining silent answers in return.

His hand on her elbow moved to her waist, fingers splaying over her stomach. This hold told her he supported whatever she wished to do, understood if she wanted to stay or go. It was comforting, but somehow possessive without possessing, letting her know he was there as her escape if she needed him. If his hand left her body even monetarily he saw her reach a long, dainty finger in his direction and clasp at his hand, not even holding it but just molding their thumbs together. This guy was feeling the connection with her that he'd longed for all those months before.

His mouth was at her ear, whispering to her and he watched as hers split into the widest grin before she broke into laughter. She glanced quickly around the room, thinking no one was watching and quickly claimed his lips with her own, their bodies drawn impossibly close to one another for a fleeting second. They righted themselves, eyes still sparking fingers rubbing on palms, always maintaining that sense of connection.

He knew then what he was looking at was purely and simply love. A love he'd wanted to bestow upon her but that she hadn't been ready to receive. She was somehow taller with this man there, lighter almost. The grey hue from her eyes was gone and he could see the depth of the blue sparkle he'd always known was there. He had been the one to bring her out of her shell. He'd clearly taught her how to love, how to give herself to another and how to allow herself to receive the love she deserved. He supposed he should be grateful to this guy for turning the reserved, polite nineteen year old into the beautiful woman and loving person he saw tonight.

Her eyes caught his across the room and he watched her shoulders hitch, a tiny intake of breath imperceptible to anyone but both men who were watching her. He'd been spotted, and knew she was about to come over. The liquid in his glass gains a slight tremble, he feels his palms getting sticky as his mouth dries out. He's suddenly transported back through time with the same feelings he'd had as he'd first met her, and watches as she looks to the man beside her before walking him over.

Nick is hypnotized by the continual finger stroking close up, a slow caress, a lazy circle on her palm, a finger twine. He has to tear his eyes away from where their hips have molded together as they stand next to one another. He feels the heat of her hand on his arm as the imprint of her fingers sears through his suit jacket and she tilts her chin to one side.

'Nick, it's nice to see you again.'

She removes her hand and he feels his skin prickle before it starts to cool.

'Elizabeth, you too.'

He doesn't know how he manages to form words let alone string three together in a tangible sentence and it's all he can do before he gets lost in the depths of her eyes. A whole weight has been lifted from her and though he sees her, she looks completely different. She looks truly happy, she looks loved, she looks content and she looks complete. He feels a lump grow in his throat as he realizes how happy he is for her that she's happy, and suddenly realizes a hand has been extended towards him.

'Nick, this is my fiancé, Henry McCord.'

Fiance. He could hardly blame him for wanting to put a ring on her finger. Of course, this man's handshake is firm, he'd have never expected anything less, but the way Henry tells him it is good to meet him is so genuine and honest that he knows he could never harbor this man any ill-feeling. He's opened up one of the kindest, most generous people Nick has ever known and made her happy.

'Good to meet you Henry.'

'Congratulations on your prize, Nick. Masters level gold medal. It's fantastic.'

Nick bites back the comment that in fact the only prize in the room has her arm looped through Henry's and manages to mumble an embarrassed thank you and a shy smile.

'Thank you. It was a surprise I can tell you.'

An awkward silence descends over the three of them, and Nick watches first hand a silent conversation between the couple as they plan their next move. Together. Elizabeth opens her mouth to speak, but from somewhere deep within him, Nick finds his first.

'You look well, Elizabeth. Both of you, in fact. Being engaged looks good on you. Congratulations. If you'll um… If you'll excuse me.'

With that, he nods at the couple and heads for an opposite corner of the room, leaving them to say their gratitude's to the empty space in front of them. She's found her true love and though it wasn't him, and though he thinks Henry is the luckiest man on the planet, he's pretty certain Henry knows that too.

A final glance back at the couple sees him tuck a strand of hair behind her ear and a strong hand runs down her arm, his thumb pausing to rub over the diamond on her third finger. Maybe in two years that will be Nick with someone else. He can only hope.