I can't choose for you. The thought filled his mind, driving out coherent thoughts. How could he make such a decision? He'd never been able to make decisions like this for himself, or even recognise when they needed to be made. He'd listened to everything she'd said. Some words had soothed him. Others had stung, but he knew that if she realised this, she'd also know he wanted to hear them anyway. She could have said anything, and he would have listened. But what she had said tonight had not been just anything. He had wanted to pour out to her all the ways that being single could be worse than her own predicament, but he knew that her situation was more important to him, because it was hers. And he hoped she knew, as he sat, silent, watching her beautiful face look so sad and worried, that he would never walk away. Never let her be lonely. As she'd spoken of her need for others, his own need tore at his heart. A need for her, not as anything, but simply her presence, her self. She had been a piece that fitted into the jigsaw, but he hadn't seen the picture she made until later.

He wouldn't praise her beauty now. He knew, from being told he was 'cute' by people who never called, never wrote, that those precious words could be devalued. If he had ever had a poetic spirit of his own, he had long since let it be poisoned by the banalities of his life. Everything flowed from others, and he knew he would feel a fraud, even at a better time, mimicking her own grace to praise it. Such a friend deserved something original. He wanted to talk for hours about her, to convince her that she was a goddess on earth. Not solely for her beauty, though he wished he could convince her she was so lovely. It was the mind that shone behind those green eyes, and the passionate heart inside the shapely form, that drew him to her. He wanted to listen to her talk about her interests, so different to his own, and so important. Whenever he did, he couldn't stop his own stupid mouth from supplying some spurious parallel. And her feelings for others were true, and he adored her for them, too. If she had failings, he wasn't interested in them.

She was relying on him, all but demanding an answer to a question he felt he barely understood. Treacherous voices offered unreasonable answers, answers that would hurt her and ruin him. He'd given her instead a truth that kept him sane, the reassurance that needing others was a strength, that at times it was all that seemed to be keeping him human. A truth that made him something like whole, and that let him hold his head up to her, whose gaze would destroy him otherwise. And he knew. He knew that he could never win, except by letting her win. He had to wish for her what he wished for himself, even though the one denied the other. A stray memory, tinged with an irony that was sad but could not hurt him, was the key.

Damn. Why do I do things like this, fiddling with this spoon? I look as disorganised as I feel. And he gave the answer, which would give her the chance which he still waited for. It isn't often you can give what you don't have yourself, much less have more after it than before.