Actions

Work Header

Speeding Up

Chapter Text

Emily was still worried sick.

Spencer could see that, even though her eyes were focused on the road while she drove Emily back to the Marin's house. She could feel the thickness of Emily's tension taking her car over. The girl would not speak and she would not look at her either. She just looked out the window car at the different commuters who were safely driving to their jobs or back to their houses. They might have spilled their hearts out to Dr. Sullivan, but Emily was under great pressure and it was as if Spencer could hear the thoughts that roared in Emily's head without them really being spoken aloud. In their situation, it was hard to feel relief even after telling most of the truth to an adult psychologist who seemed to be both sensible and well connected, but she had hoped that Emily would at least take a break from all the crap that A was keen on giving her lately.

"You can't trust everything A says to get to you", Spencer ventured. "She, or he, or it has tried getting at everyone of us. Look at Hanna!"

They remembered all the bullying that Hanna had been able to endure in the past months. She actually had had the privilege of being the first one to be blackmailed by A into cluing Ella Montgomery about her daughter's illicit romance. That had caused a major conflict between Aria and Hanna, even though Aria's mother never really got to know. Now it was Emily's turn to suffer.

Emily didn't respond anything. She seemed to be deep in thought and overwhelmingly annoyed at everything that could be said in order to make her feel better.

"You're not going to break, Em. We won't let you", Spencer tried again, and her tone was dead serious now. "You're not the weakest link."

"Says who?" Emily sounded incredibly pissed off.

"Well, I do!", Spencer insisted. She believed in the power of insistence. If she didn't, she'd probably be still discussing Ian's guilt with her parents. Or she'd been murdered by now.

Emily looked at her for the first time during their ride.

"I know I have good friends, Spencer. Thank you for your kind words." Her tone was unbelieving, though. "I just don't want to be used to break you down, okay?"

"Em, A obviously wants you to question yourself. Are you gonna let her, or him, or it do it? Because if you are..."

"You can't control every little thing, Spencer", Emily interrupted her. "You can't control whatever's in my head and you can't control whatever A does to influence it."

Spencer gave her a look that could only be described as defiant. Emily used to think that Spencer did actually enjoy arguing with her friends: friendly arguing, that was. This conversation seemed to match her opinion. A part of Spencer seemed to believe that she could indeed control every little thing that was going through Emily's head or that she could at least try to. She seemed to feel an obligation that impelled her to be the Master of Thought and Mind Manipulation, even if she was in fact driven by good, gentle purposes towards most of the world population.

"You're not weak, Emily. Trust me."

Emily sighed. It was almost impossible to make Spencer quit, so she decided to lower the tone and open up a bit. This seemed a faster way to calm her down and get her thinking about something else.

"Harassing Jenna at school can hardly qualify as a strength, Spencer." Of course she was feeling guilty about snapping at the blind girl. Jenna might be scary and mean, but Emily was still the sweetest one of all of them. She was also the one who always seemed to be questioning herself and her own motives. It was her way to improve as a person, but she wondered if that was also her main weakness. "At least to some of us."

"Gee, thanks, Emily", Spencer replied, sensing a direct accusation. It had been Jenna who had called her a "terrier dog" some weeks before. And everyone knew that terriers were mean-spirited and barked too much.

"I wasn't talking about you, Spence."

And it was true. She wasn't talking about Spencer. Or was she? Spencer had the ability to turn every conversation into a punching ball competition which she always won. But Spencer didn't answer now. She started to slow down the car until she stopped it. Emily was surprised to find out they were already parked outside the Marin's house.

"You just don't realize, do you?", Spencer asked suddenly, her voice grave and thick. She looked at Emily in the eye, expecting a solid answer.

"Realize what?", Emily was almost scared of what Spencer would say now. She looked so serious and confident at the same time.

"How long you've come from the little girl who was in love with Ali and wasn't loved back. The girl who couldn't accept who she was. You're not that girl anymore and everybody knows BUT you", she said, stressing the words that she considered most relevant. "You have more guts than any of us has proved to have in this evilly corrupted place, including myself, Hanna or Aria. We all admire you and kneel on our knees before you and you don't even know it."

A faint smile appeared on Emily's face. She couldn't help it when she realized this was not anymore about Spencer fighting the battle of the wills anymore. This was probably the best way Spencer had to get her way, but it sounded so honest and blunt she had to give her the credit of winning again. She might be a crazy bitch, but she was also a caring bitch. Their caring bitch, to be exact. Her caring bitch, in a way.

"I obviously haven't changed that much if I still need you to tell me that."

Emily could only come up with such an answer. It was ironic that Spencer could praise her for being such a brave person when she actually needed Spencer to gain her confidence back. It was weird to need to know how another person looked at you or saw you. But that was just how Emily had been all the way. She had only taken Toby to homecoming after Hanna had signaled to her that she would be accepted no matter what she was or whom she brought. Brave people were not supposed to behave like that, to need others to confirm things they didn't know about themselves, right? But, at the same time, she also knew she'd gotten better at being herself in the last months. The fact that Spencer was actually emphasizing this made her feel proud of herself in a special way.

They stared at each other for a second, sparks of complicity flowing from their ever changing darker eyes.

"Do you really think so?", Emily whispered, unable to stop herself from second confirmation. "About me?"

"The point is why don't you?", Spencer asked again, her voice so much softer and warmer that Emily felt as if this wasn't Spencer talking at all.

But it was. This is how Spencer was before A started playing cruel games on them. It had been ages since Emily had heard Spencer soften up like this. Lately, it seemed she was always running through a sort of frenzy, always following clues that would lead to A and pushing her friends to become better detectives that they had proved to be; always failing, at some point, always proving herself wrong. It was hard to look at Spencer now, after what had happened with Ian, as the girl she knew before Ali died: frantic, but only about school; purposeful, but not terrified of the consequences; sometimes relaxed, able to not speak in code for murder mysteries. Emily knew that Toby was probably the only one who got to see this side of Spencer now. They all had seen it before, though. And now she was able to see it again. Why had it taken her so long to realize that that Spencer was still there, caged inside the crazy detective girl? Sometimes, the girls resented the fact that Spencer was always pushing them to get further. Nothing seemed to stop her. She seemed to lose it from time to time, when she felt she was getting so very close to the end. But the end never came, and the mystery was never solved, and they were all tired of this, and Spencer pushed and pushed for them to be alert and ready. Only at this moment did Emily remember how Spencer was with them when she was worried about them or just hanging out and talking about stuff, and not about A.

But at least someone was able to see that side of Spencer. It meant it had not been shut down completely. At least she had Toby to show herself to. Emily felt happy for Spencer – and for Toby too. But she felt also sad that it had taken her so long to rediscover the way Spencer always cared for all of her friends – and for Emily in particular.

"What?", Spencer asked, suddenly feeling self-conscious. Emily was looking at her as if she were understanding some big fact about life itself.

Emily's eyes filled with tears at the realization. She felt she had finally understood a secret. But she hadn't; she just wanted to understand it. Spencer was not an easy person to deal with, but she was open and ready for her friends. She deserved to be cared for too.

"What, Emily?", Spencer's tone grew tense, overfilled with a mix of concern and curiosity. "Please don't cry."

"It's nothing. I just…"

"What?"

Emily felt the impulse to hug Spencer, but instead she just kissed her quickly on the cheek.

"You're a good friend, Spence. You're great. Thanks for driving me home… or Hanna's."

Spencer smiled widely after receiving the kiss and the kind words. It was a clean, cocky smile, the one she usually had when she scored while playing hockey or when she got another A+.

"Does this mean that I finally convinced you that you're awesome?", she asked, still not controlling her proud, purely competitive smile.

"Nah, you convinced me that YOU'RE awesome and I should probably keep working on my own awesomeness", Emily smirked back.

"You should, if you want to keep picking up hot girls, you know."

"I should, if I want to actually have something going on with all those hot girls."

Spencer laughed hard, since she did enjoy all kinds of verbal battles and loved it when her friends willingly participated in them. Emily prepared herself to get out of the car. She was happy that the Marins - both Hanna and Ashley - were not home now. That would give her time to pick up what she was going to wear today while she thought about the conversation she had had with Spencer in the car. It seemed like a good conversation now, the sort of which she would probably try to replay in her head when she wanted to feel better.

"Ok, so take care now. And promise me no more tears and sad faces and insecurities", Spencer warned, not really wanting to drop the topic.

"At least for tonight… You keep safe too, okay?"

"Always. Got my hockey stick for that…", Spencer joked, sarcasm thick on her mouth. "Ooops."

Emily's brow furrowed at the mention of the hockey stick. No wonder Spencer's head sometimes felt as if it was going to explode. She had a lot of things to worry about.

"Seriously… No more sleuthing tonight", she warned, closing the door of the car once she had gotten out of it. "Just go home and get some sleep."

"You know I should be the one telling you that, right? You're the one who hasn't been sleeping."

"Oh, like you have." Emily lowered herself to keep talking through the window. "I'll sleep if you sleep."

"Sure", Spencer bowed her head, a smirk on her lips. But she seemed serious. "Deal."

Spencer started the car and Emily prepared herself to say goodbye.

"And how do I know that you're listening to me?", she asked suspiciously.

"Oh, you do know. That I'm listening." Spencer grinned. "You just won't know if I'm sleeping."

And without further clarification, the car started to drive away.

"You better behave!", Emily yelled, laughing. "Hastings!"

The car was already far from the Marin's house, so she wasn't completely sure if Spencer had heard her.

Chapter Text

It was late evening at the Marin's house. Emily came back after spending the day at the library trying to focus on something which wouldn't be related either to murder, kidnapping or betraying people. She had had a limited success at that, but at least nothing creepy or dangerous had happened today – to her. No texts from A either. She guessed it was a good thing, but she wasn't so sure anymore.

When she arrived, she went upstairs directly to Hanna's bedroom, which was now her bedroom as well. She saw Ms. Marin on her way up.

"Do you feel like pizza tonight?", Ms. Marin asked, worrying about dinner. "I know you should be feeding properly, but I just didn't have time today to go grocery shopping…"

"Pizza is fine, don't worry. Let me take a shower and I'll be right back."

She had had some snacks at the library and she wasn't really hungry, but she couldn't really say no to Ms. Marin. She was so good to her, not only providing her with shelter but also with understanding, which had been such a surprise to her. Not because she was entirely misunderstood or behaving like a misfit, but mostly because she had gotten used to not trying too hard after seeing her mother's struggle with acceptance, which sometimes came about more as conformity. It felt good to know that she was allowed to be who she was; but if felt much better to know that it was all right, that she was loved while being herself. She had Ashley Marin to thank for that. Ashley Marin and her friends, she guessed. They shared a bond that seemed to be linked to evil, since they had gotten together again only after Alison's murder and A's threats; however, she mostly hoped it served a greater good, of which she felt she was only a part. A tiny part, but also one which had its own importance.

When she entered the room, Hanna was on her bed talking on her cell phone. That was such a big surprise. Emily herself couldn't stand the telephone lately, but Hanna seemed to do okay with it. She nodded her head as a way to say hello to Hanna and she went directly to the shower. She undressed while she turned the hot water on and the bathroom quickly filled with steam. She suddenly felt a little anxious, like she couldn't breathe at all, but once she got under the water her body relaxed. This was a poor substitute for the pool, though. But she would have to go on like this until she got discharged by her doctors and until she figured out a way to avoid the menaces A was throwing at her swimming career to college.

She remembered Spencer had promised to go to sleep early tonight. She hadn't actually promised her that; but she kind of had agreed to it. She thought she should call to check up on her, and she wondered if she could actually bring herself to pick up the phone and make the call. She would have to, if she wanted to take care that Spencer was actually following her instructions. She smiled at the thought that occurred to her: taking care of Spencer was probably a living hell for anybody who tried. Well, maybe not so much for Toby. Toby seemed to be doing quite all right.

She got out of the shower and wrapped herself in the light green towel that Ms. Marin had put on the bathroom for her. When she opened the door, she emerged from a dense cloud of steam only to find Hanna still on the bed and on the phone. Hanna made a sign to her while she looked for her pyjamas and her underwear: it was Spencer on the phone. She had actually called in first. This girl was incorrigible. She had to be the first every time and with everyone.

Hanna handed the phone to her with a conspiratorial wink.

"She wants to talk to you. Says you had some kind of agreement that you need to discuss right now."

Emily answered the phone while smiling to Hanna, who left the room in order to help her mother set the table.

"Hey, Spence."

"So are you going to sleep as we decided? As in right now", Spencer joked. "Cause you know it's kinda late already."

"I haven't had dinner yet", Emily explained. "How about you? Have you had dinner?"

"Yeah, I did. I've been studying all afternoon and I was gonna hop into bed now. You know, to follow direct instructions from my doctor."

Emily couldn't help but laugh at the verbal coincidence.

"I'm glad to see you're in a good mood", Spencer replied, as a reaction to Emily's soft laughter on the phone. "So how was your day?"

" I studied too. No texts from A."

"Yeah, I know. Hanna told me. That's supposed to be good, right?"

"You never know."

"You never know", Spencer agreed. "We'd better not talk about it or we won't get any sleep at all. Again."

Emily sat on her bed, thinking about A's constant presence in their lives.

"Right."

They became silent for a second.

"What are you doing on Sunday?", Spencer reinitiated the dialogue, her voice sounding a little harsher and edgier than before.

"Don't know yet. I have to ask Hanna what her plans are. I hope she doesn't have to do more well-behaving for her dad now." She took a pause to think about Spencer's question. "Why, you got a plan?"

"I'm going to this town fair in St. Andrews and I was wondering if you guys would join me."

"Aren't you going with Toby?"

"Yeah, he's coming too. I just thought we could all go together."

"Hmmm, that might be nice."

The prospect of getting out of Rosewood for a couple of hours sounded really well in her ears. However, imagining herself as the sole companion to Toby and Spencer's loveliness did not seem so promising.

"But only if Hanna or Aria are going", she added. "I'm not gonna be the third wheel, you know."

"Ouch!", Spencer faked hurt. "Why not? It's not like you don't know him."

"I do! And I do like him. I'm just not particularly interested in being there while you get all lovey-dovey smushy."

"Smushy? Is that even a word?"

"It's definitely not an SAT word."

Spencer laughed at the exchange.

"I'm not a smushy or whatever-the-word-is kind of person", she stated, sounding amused. "Besides, I think you mean mushy and not smushy. Unless you're talking about mushrooms... which doesn't really make sense." Emily could hear the silent laughter at the other end of the line. "Anyways you should come", Spencer added, trying to sound serious again.

"Yeah, we'll see."

"You could use the fun." She advised, but decided against insisting. She'd have to come up with another idea to get Emily out of Rosewood, or at least of her shared bedroom, and to keep up her good humour. She had promised herself this morning that she was set on making Emily, as well as the rest of the girls, happy and relaxed at least for a while. "So did you do anything else besides studying today?"

"Yeah." Emily thought for a second about telling what she had done today besides studying. Providing information to Spencer was always a risky thing to do. "Kind of. I called Maya."

Ms. Marin appeared in the door and tried to silently tell Emily that dinner was ready. Emily nodded and made a sign that it would take her about five minutes. It had precisely been Ms. Marin who had convinced her that sometimes you needed to get clear about your feelings. And about your exes, in particular. And about your one and only ex, in this particular case.

There was a brief moment when neither of them said a thing.

"Oh", Spencer finally replied, sounding truly surprised. "How come you didn't tell me this?"

"I'm telling you now. It was just a few hours ago."

"So how did it go? Are you going back together?"

"I don't know yet. We'll see how it goes." She was starting to feel a little stressed out about Spencer's demanding information she couldn't really provide yet. "We just talked on the phone for, like, ten minutes."

"Aha."

"We needed to clear things up", Emily explained, knowing too well that she didn't really need to and feeling as if she couldn't avoid doing it. She sensed Spencer's penetrating gaze even though Spencer wasn't really in the room. "It was weird to not be able to talk about what happened when she left."

"Yeah."

Emily could definitely tell Spencer was holding something back. If it was weird of her to speak in short monotones, it was even weirder to actually have her agree with you so fast and simple.

"Okay, Spence, get it out of your chest. I won't get mad."

"What?" She sounded a little taken aback. "I've got nothing in my chest. Like literally. I wish I had more though", she joked, trying to ease the tone and redirect the conversation.

"C'mon, Spence. I know you're holding yourself back. Say it."

Emily wouldn't let Spencer get away with it so easily, even if that meant she wouldn't crack up at her kickass jokes.

"I'm not!", Spencer insisted, a little too eagerly to sound really credible.

"You are. I know you."

"You guys think I always have something to say, right?"

"That's because you always have something to say."

"You make it sound like I'm some judgmental bitch", she tried to defend herself. "I was just asking!"

"Cut the crap, Spence." Emily surprised herself at her own words. "Say it."

Spencer sighed and then spoke again. Emily could be quite ruthless and stern when she had a fixed idea. It was not so easy to mislead her. She might be sweet, but she was no fool.

"I like Maya, okay? It's just that I…" Spencer took a pause to think what she wanted to say and how she wanted to say it, so it wouldn't come across too badly. "I just think that she didn't behave very well when she didn't return your calls."

She waited for Emily to reply, and when she didn't she decided to explain further.

"It's not like you were the one who sent her to Juvie camp. I think it was a very cowardly thing to do."

That much was as Spencery as you could get, and Emily knew her too well to not have known about this when she decided to tell her about her call to Maya. Always protective of her friends to the point of excess, Spencer could get so stiff about the rules that should be applied to the people who related to the ones she loved that she tended to smother them too often. She even scared some people away with that behaviour. And she believed that was right – and cool.

That side of Spencer always made Emily angry. Especially when it came to trying to put a stop to the progress that Emily was making in her love life, which Spencer had so praised when they were talking in the car this morning. It was as if Spencer never thought she was doing anything bad when it came to true protection of her friend's hearts. But, obviously – and this made Emily even angrier –, she never applied the same rules and cares for her own chaotic life. But, of course, she had promised not to get mad at Spencer when she pushed her to speak her mind. Now she just had to swallow it.

"Spence, Maya was sent away because my mother wanted her to go." She tried to speak calmly but she did sound a little cold. "She wasn't mean to me. She just needed time."

In her mind, there was a giant step from criticizing Paige, who had sort of tried to drown her, to criticizing Maya, who had not returned her calls when she was sent away because of her. Or because of her mother. Nevermind. The point was that Spencer had to understand the difference.

"I know", Spencer quickly answered, sensing trouble. "And that's why I didn't want to say anything to you."

However, she decided to take a bold step. That was very typical of Spencer as well. She was never the accommodating type. If she believed she was right, she could go on and on forever.

"But since you asked me, I had to say that it was a cowardly thing to do and that it hurt you." She wanted to make her point clear. "And I don't want you to get hurt again."

"That's kind of unfair."

Emily was starting to get too mad to even utter anything else. Spencer could not seriously pretend to say that Emily would never be hurt again. Living life hurt. Loving people sometimes hurt too. She wouldn't be put inside an urn so that nobody would ever touch her.

"Em, I like Maya", Spencer stated calmly, trying to lower down the tone and make things better. "Have you forgotten whose house we used as a setup so you two could say goodbye?"

"No, of course I haven't. I could never forget that."

No, Emily could never forget that.

But there was another meaningful silence between the two. They shared too many things that were beautiful and true, but there was this point where they couldn't really avoid getting into an argument. Spencer tended to be protective and judgmental at the same time, and Emily tended to defend herself from Spencer's controlling impulses while trying to show Spencer it wasn't always right to act like that. That being a friend also meant leaving them to follow their own mind, even if you thought they were making a mistake. But, then again, there was this other point where Emily couldn't really help feeling that, on a very moderate and pissing-off manner, Spencer was kind of right about a lot of things. And, when she indeed was wrong about some others, there was a sort of kindness, a heartfelt softness which meant that you usually had to forgive her about those.

"I really should go downstairs and have dinner, Spence. They're probably over by now", Emily said, feeling regrets about Ms. Marin and Hanna.

"Yeah, okay", Spencer agreed. "It is kinda late already."

"Yes, it is."

"Just wait a sec", she pleaded, not wanting to let it go yet. She had called Emily for a reason. "Why don't we go to the park on Sunday?"

"I thought you were going to St. Andrews with Toby", Emily replied, surprised at this new proposal.

"Yeah, but I can do the park after that." She really wanted to have a plan with the girls during the weekend. They needed it; they needed to have fun together. "So we can all get together for a while. We should do that."

Emily sighed, indecisive about what to do.

"We can all pretend that we're young and carefree for once, right?", Spencer insisted. "Let's just hope we don't run into a car or a chopped tree this time."

Emily couldn't help smiling at Spencer's words. It seemed Sherlock Hastings was also getting tired of their detective games of terror. And it was true they all missed just hanging around and relaxing for a while. If there was even the slightest possibility of having a moment to do that without A getting in the middle of it, they should use it – and enjoy it.

"That sounds fine." She gave in. "I'll tell Hanna."

"And I'll tell Aria." Spencer took a pause. "So are we good?"

"Yeah, we're good, Spence." She thought about how Spencer could actually use a little warning. "Just keep it low on Sunday, ok?"

"I will. I promise."

"That'll be a nice gesture." Emily chose to tease her some more.

"It will. I can get very prodigal at nice gestures." Spencer did know how to pick up a joke.

"I'd like to see that, actually", Emily tried to keep it up too. "You should do your homework."

"Give me some credit." Spencer sounded playful again. "I'll work on it."

"So now… You going to sleep?"

"I am ready to eat the whole night away", Spencer laughed.

"Good. So I'll talk to you tomorrow."

"Yeah… Talk to Hanna, okay?" Spencer started to say goodbye. "And, Em, enjoy your dinner!"

Right after Emily hanged up the phone, she ran downstairs to meet Hanna and her mother. Hanna was already washing the dishes, although Emily's plate laid on the table with all of her vegetable pizza untouched. She smiled apologetically at Ms. Marin, who was still on the table peeling an orange.

"Sorry about that", Emily apologized while sitting on the chair. "I didn't mean to take so long."

Hanna turned from the sink and gave Emily a mocking look.

"Maybe you should move to the Hastings' and stay there."

"It's ok, Emily", Ms. Marin replied, smiling. "Is Spencer fine?"

"Sure, she just talks a lot", Emily half lied. The truth is that she talked a lot too, at least to Spencer.

Emily started biting her pizza, while Hanna came to sit by her side.

"So what did you two talk about for so long?", Hanna asked, clearly curious. "You spent more than an hour up there."

"Nothing serious", Emily answered, while she followed Ms. Marin getting out of the kitchen with her eyes. Once she was out of there, she felt more at ease to speak to Hanna. "Spencer wants us to go all to the park on Sunday afternoon."

"And why would she want that?", Hanna asked, as if this meant that Spencer was planning some other crazy adventure that would put them all in danger.

"She just thinks that we all should hang out together. You know, no worries, just us. No A", Emily clarified.

"Cool. Why the park, though? Can't we go somewhere, like, interesting?"

"We're not going to the mall, Hanna."

Hannah pouted, but she seemed to agree with the plan.

"So that's all you two talked about?", she enquired, still being curious about their conversation.

"Pretty much", Emily said, chewing on a piece of pepperoni. "I also told her about Maya."

"What about Maya?"

Hannah looked slightly stunned.

"I called her today. Just to talk."

This, in turn, gained Emily an accusing look.

"Great. How come Spencer gets to know this before me? I live here with you!"

"Take it easy, Han", Emily apologized. It seemed she had to run around putting out fires when things were related to her love life. "I just told her because we were already on the phone."

"So are you going back together?", she asked, repeating Spencer's same question.

"I don't know", Emily repeated the same answer she gave to Spencer. She wondered about the brunette's words on the matter. "Do you think it would be a mistake?"

"Why would I think that?" Hanna sounded surprised again.

"It's just that Spencer got all defensive and negative about it."

"You know Spencer", Hanna dismissed softly, almost as if it didn't really matter. "She's not the one to go looking for advice. You should come to me!" She grinned, proud of herself. "No, seriously, Em: Spencer is just... Spencer."

"And that means…?", Emily asked, somewhat confused.

"It means what it means. You can't expect her to approve of anyone", Hanna tried to clarify her point. "She will never completely like any of your girlfriends or any of mine. Boyfriends, I mean."

"I think she kind of approves of Caleb", Emily said, thinking about Spencer's behaviour towards Hanna.

"I think she kind of tolerates the idea", Hanna argued. "Just don't listen to her. You should be with Maya if you want to. You should be with anyone you want to be."

Hanna was really the best at giving advice. She wasn't lying about that.

"Don't tell her I said this", Hanna said, looking secretive, "cause I don't want her after me trying to win this one out, but Spencer rules at defending our interests. You should definitely hire her when you want to break someone's legs. Just don't expect her to be nice to your girlfriends, or to really tolerate them when she's seen you hurt over them."

Emily laughed at Hanna's expression. She was right about Spencer too: even though she worked a lot on trying to respect her friend's decisions, she always had a hard time tolerating the flaws she saw on the people who were not her friends. It was a part of Spencer's Quest for Perfection, she guessed.

That made her even more valuable as a friend, for some reason. Annoying as she could get, you could always count on her. That was what Hanna was trying to say.

She just hoped that Spencer would behave on Sunday, because she was really looking forward to having a good time with all of her friends. Especially if Spencer was in the mood for it. It was always great to see her relaxed and funny. And, if Spencer had been serious about doing her homework, Sunday promised to be a great day.

Chapter Text

Spencer turned off the light on the small lamp that set on the bedside table. She closed her eyes and tried to think of something really boring which would put her to sleep. On her mind, right now, boring herself to sleep equalled relaxing. It should be the other way around, but these weren't easy times for her. She was never relaxed. That's why she wanted to get out of Rosewood on Sunday: she would do that with Toby on Sunday morning, and then she would get to Rosewood in time to get the girls out in the afternoon. She figured that getting away somehow resembled calmness; she figured too that she could get the girls out for the same motives.

But, then again, she had to think of something boring, and that certainly didn't mean she should really start imagining how Sunday would turn out. It was an exciting promise and the sound of it in her ears would most probably keep her awake. Spencer took a look at the alarm clock, even though she knew that would just make her nervous. She shouldn't think about the Contemporary History exam she had next Wednesday either. The French Revolution. That was good stuff. She wondered why there were people who didn't find History entertaining. It was great to learn what other people had done a long time ago: which mistakes they had made, what they were pursuing, why they had acted as they had. Take the increase in the cost of bread, for example. There were so many interpretations about the importance of that little economic fact, but still what she saw as the main fascinating problem is that people had actually come out of their houses to scream and protest. That would have been easily ascribed to hunger. That seemed to be the Marxist interpretation, if she had gotten that one right; at least the basics of it, since they believed that material conditions of existence determined every historical movement. So, basically, if you were hungry, you started a riot. However, hunger tended to make people weak and easy to conform, for a thing. It could make people go mad too, but not as mad as to actually have the driving force to change a whole system of government. So there had been something else too: some kind of energy, probably an intellectual energy that moved the whole process forward. She wondered if those people were actually conscious of the changes they were initiating when they started to ask for food instead of justice. We were talking about a revolution here, not merely a riot.

She thought of herself as one of the little pieces who would have moved in the streets of Paris, as black peons in a chessboard. Then she thought her head would have probably been guillotined when the Terror started in 1793, since she came from a rather well off family. Then she saw herself in the streets of Rosewood, her own town. There was no revolution here. They were not hungry, either. Bread had a fairly normal price. However, there was fear in Rosewood. It was a scary world. You could certainly lose your head here too. There were people who were driven by fear: themselves. She and the girls. Perhaps there was someone else out there who was also scared of what was happening in Rosewood, but she didn't know about that. There was Toby, for once. He had been scared, even though he didn't know half of what was going on with all of them.

She turned, becoming upset under the covers. It was clear she would not be able to sleep if she started thinking about A and everything that had happened. She turned the light on again. When everything became illuminated, she could see her laptop, her books, the clothes that she had taken off tonight, as well as a couple of pictures of the girls that she kept on her wall. Alison wasn't in any of them. They were recent: all post-A. She wanted to keep them that way to always remember what life was about now that she was really growing up.

She realized she would have a hard time falling asleep at all. She wasn't one to sleep with the lights on. She wasn't like that even as a child. So she got out of bed again and she went to her study table to pick up her book on the French Revolution. She started reading through the pages that she had been thinking about when she was unsuccessfully trying to get relaxed. A sudden pang of pain hit her down her throat and chest when she thought that Emily might feel the exact same way she was feeling now: alert, agitated. She really hoped that Emily was sleeping peacefully now. They were trying to take care of each other, but they both knew this wasn't a game. She could only imagine the anguish Emily had experienced the night before, when she left Hannah's house and went running around who knows where – she hadn't told – and then right to Dr. Sullivan's office. The world of adults. It was a world symbolized by Dr. Sullivan's office, but she doubted it provided the shelter they needed. Adults had proven themselves clueless and unable to fight up until now. She wanted to believe that turning to Dr. Sullivan might help them, and she wanted to believe this for Emily's sake first of all, because she had had A's hands around her neck and because her very future was being jeopardized with the whole HGH scenario. And also because it had been Emily who had finally decided to confide in a grown-up who repeatedly offered to help. She wanted to believe it for her own sake too. And for Toby. And for Hanna and Aria.

She approached the window and looked through it. Jason Di Laurentis' house was bathed in complete darkness. No signs of sneaking or spying tonight, but Spencer knew too well that this didn't mean a thing. She looked further down the road to try to catch a glimpse of Emily's house, but there was no way she could see it from here and, anyways, she wasn't even there. Emily was at Hanna's. Hanna was Emily's shelter right now, tonight. She had hoped that being with Hannah would give Emily a stable background not to fall apart, but she felt so guilty the night Emily escaped that she almost lost it when they were trying to locate her. It had been Hannah's idea to go to Dr. Sullivan's. Spencer had felt, for the first time in her life, paralyzed and unable to think. She had tried to lead the way as she always did, but all she could come up was bubbles and stutters. Nobody seemed to blame her for that, though. They had found Emily after all. But she did. She blamed herself.

That was the reason why she was trying so desperately to give Emily the sense of common strength. Emily was stern and, more importantly, she was much stronger than she thought she was. What she told her in the car that morning was true: she had come a long way from little, sweet Emily. Still, Spencer knew Emily doubted herself because she always was the one who cared most about doing the right thing. She was always the cleanest one of all, and that part of her personality hadn't changed, even if she felt she had been hiding for so long because of her sexual orientation thing. She had been clean even when she was hiding, unlike most of them, unlike Spencer herself who had such a shady way of competing with Melissa for other people's – especially their parents' – attention. Only Aria had the same kind of innocence and purity to her. But Aria was not stern, was not brave like Emily was. Not the same way, anyhow. Moreover, Emily needed the backup. She knew Emily was strong, but she also knew she had felt isolated for so long she wasn't really used to trusting others when it came to survival. And, still, she managed to survive. But Spencer was now determined to provide that backup. She would join forces with Hanna. She just couldn't allow Emily to have another breakdown like the past night.

Spencer had feared for Hanna when that car ran her over in front of their eyes. She had, most evidently, feared for her own life when Ian tried to kill her in the church. But, of her experiences of death and fear, she had sensed adrenaline through her veins, a kind of rush that kept her miraculously alive. It was nothing compared to the utter dread that she had felt when Emily disappeared that night. That was it, yes. She had felt like time stopped for her, and she couldn't think about what to do, but she had to keep breathing, waiting for Emily to reappear. Like she was caged and couldn't get out. Like she had too much caffeine but could not move her own body to wear it down. That was something she had never experienced before.

When Ian had died, leaving a written confession, Spencer had tried to cool down and get back to normalcy. But, tonight, she saw this as her own personal failure. Of course things could not be so easy when they had been so wicked all the way for them. She should have realized it the moment they found Ian; not only because things in Rosewood were wicked, but mainly because she had seen A in the church. Instead, she had opted for pretending the mystery was solved, leaving Emily and the others to cope with reality. She left them unprotected. That's why Spencer had decided they had to fight together. Inspired by her reflections on the French Revolution, she wanted them to be a driving force: a driving force in Rosewood, a driving force against A, a driving force to lead their revolution into growing up like this and surviving. Spencer felt her forces had failed her; Emily had picked up the lead, and she was paying for that now that she had become A's main target. Spencer couldn't allow that. She wouldn't make the same mistake again. She wouldn't let the girls down anymore. She wouldn't let Emily break down another time.

But this was not just a fight. It had to be a true revolution in their lives. This would not turn only into a matter of survival: getting them all alive through it. It had to be a transforming push that would get them to live. They had to enjoy their life, even if it was a living hell. Hell or not, they would live it up. Spencer trembled at the thought, feeling a mix of joy and awe that might or might not have been similar to the one experienced by the people in Paris. She was sometimes surprised at how nerdy she was. It was good she kept these thoughts to herself. She was well aware her character could be exhausting to tolerate. But that's just who she was. They had to take her or leave her. And, right now, she was on a mission: her task was to get them through this thing and to make them have a blast. At least whenever they were not in direct danger of being put down by A. Carpe diem. Have a blast.

She remembered Emily again while she looked at one of the pictures on the wall. It had been taken at her home, in this very same bedroom, during one of her last sleepovers, before things had gotten so crazy they even stopped having them – except for Emily and Hanna, who seemed to live in a perpetual one. Emily was smiling shyly at the camera, half hidden by Hanna's blonde curls and expanding smile. Her eyes had a kind of secrecy to them, as if she would not open the door so easily if you knocked on there, cautious and careful as you may be. And, still, Spencer, who was hugging Aria when the pic was taken, felt as if she knew Emily since they had been born; as if she had seen her grown from the start, and was still seeing her, and bearing witness to it, and she hoped that Emily would bear witness to her own growth now, because she wanted to measure up to that, to finally do the right thing, to come clean now and forever. For some reason, it was always Emily who stood up to her and argued with her, even if right after she followed her steps, like the night they wandered into Jason's barn of horrors. Aria tended to be conciliatory, and Hanna had learned to be more independent after Alison's death. But Emily, especially now that she was becoming more confident, had the ability to be loyal and honest at the same time. Tonight, she had gotten mad at her when she mentioned Maya; but Spencer did like Maya, as she had told Emily. She just didn't really see her with Emily. Maya did not take Emily's calls; she did not call her back either. That was a major flaw, right? More importantly, it was something Emily did not deserve from a girlfriend or a lover - or a friend. That's what she had tried to explain to Emily, but Emily had made clear she would not take this kind of criticism from Spencer. And she was right to do so; Spencer knew she herself had major flaws as a person - friend or lover, as Toby did in fact know. So she would have to tolerate Maya, or Samara (who hadn't even given Emily the benefit of the doubt when Emily tried to explain whatever happened), or whoever Emily decided to be with. Even if they were not good enough. And it was all right.

Spencer sat on her bed and turned the lights off again. The mission was to have fun on Sunday. As if there was something to celebrate: themselves. It was an easy step. They could do that. She closed her eyes, trying to focus on the possitive feelings she felt about her decision and wishing they wouldn't be crashed by another of A's moves.

Chapter Text

It was a sunny, breezy afternoon in the park. Spencer had brought a semi-professional Canon camera her sister had forgotten to take back to Philly so she could take good pictures of the girls in the outside. Most of the pictures they had of each other were interior shots, always inside someone's bedroom or yard – not counting the ones A tortured them with. She wanted to hang these new ones in her wall, as a way to immortalize their new evolved estate of liberation. Spencer had requested Aria's help to take them, since Aria was truly the most artistic one of them, but she couldn't make it: her mother made her stay home to keep an eye on her brother. So Spencer had decided to take some pictures of the trees and the birds to try out her artistic pull, and she had wandered away in the park like that weird photographer in the movie she had decided to watch last night, Blow-Up, hoping she wouldn't run into some other murder scene which she would again try to disentangle.

Anyways, it felt awkward to take shots at Hanna and Emily without Aria being there, so she left them talking for a while. She had brought a soccer ball and junk food as well, two items which were contemplated by Hanna with a mix of disgust and horror. However, after a while Hanna had sat on a bench with Emily and had started to bite the Doritos and the fries Spencer had taken for them. Everything was going smooth. The air and the descending light gave the day a lazy quality which she could enjoy, as well as try to capture in her amateurish shots.

Emily, however, felt a little off this afternoon: Aria wasn't even there and Spencer had disappeared with her camera after a while. She wasn't obviously going to play soccer on her own, so she sat by Hanna and they started talking about what they talked every single day now that they were living together: Caleb, Mona, new clothes, Hanna's dad (this was a very touchy subject), Aria's highly complex love life. They didn't mention either A nor the colleges they wanted to go, given that Emily was still terrified of what would happen to her if the Danby affair was discovered, not to mention the whole HGH thing. This was supposed to be a happy-go-lucky kind of day, so they had at least to work on keeping the appearances.

After a long chat where they covered all of these subjects without really getting deep into any of them, they grew silent and they just ate from the paper bag Spencer gave them. Fortunately for them, the brunette, along with her camera and two blonde girls, reappeared from behind the trees and started walking towards Hanna and Emily. Halfway through, they all stopped, Spencer gave the camera to one of the girls and she took a picture of Spencer. They all started talking and smiling to each other, while Emily ate from the paper bag and Hanna just stared at the group trying to catch a word of what they were saying.

"Do you think we should just, like, get together with them?", Hanna asked into the void, her eyes never leaving the group. "It pisses me off she's making friends out there while we're here on our own getting fat with food she brought."

Emily didn't answer. She was indeed a little pissed off at Spencer. Coming to the park had been her idea all along, but she had been out of sight for a good half an hour. That was Spencer, though. She wanted to make everybody happy, but then she liked to do her own thing without really minding the others.

They didn't move from where they sat. Spencer looked at them and flashed them a cute smile. Then the girl who had taken the picture of Spencer gave back the camera and touched Spencer's elbow.

"Wait, is that girl hitting on Spence? " Hanna's radioactive eyes instantly picked up on the gesture.

"What?", Emily fixated her eyes on the group. "Why would she…?"

She interrupted herself. The blonder girl was clearly hitting on Spencer. Emily's gaydar was not in perfect conditions yet, and it might never be, but she was not blind. The girl had not only touched Spencer's elbow while they were exchanging the camera; she let the hand stay there, meaning Spencer's elbow, for a couple of seconds before she actually retrieved her hand.

"She's totally hitting on her", Hanna stated, matter-of-factly.

The blonder girl wrote something in a piece of paper the other girl handed her. Then she also gave it to Spencer, who took it with her perpetual half smile in her face.

"Well, that was fast."

This was all Emily could think of saying.

She had been hit on pretty fast by some girls too – especially Samara – but at least she was gay. And she had met Samara at a gay thing meeting where Paige was supposed to go instead of her. It was weird for her to look at other girls getting involved in that kind of action, especially related to one of her friends; she hadn't really grown accustomed to it yet. It was even weirder, however, to realize she would probably never reach that level of audacity. It made her feel unfit for the life she was preparing to have.

The girls finally said goodbye to Spencer, who sped up back to the bench where they were sitting, looking completely innocent but at the same time flushed with happiness.

"Did that girl just try to hit on you?"

Hanna decided she would not lose anyone's time trying to find out what had just happened.

"Who?" Spencer looked at the girls, who were already disappearing from their sight. "No. Why would she?"

"Sure she did!", Hannah asserted. "Didn't you notice how she was all smiles and elbow-touching?"

Spencer looked at her like she was crazy, but something playful flashed in her eyes at the same time.

"C'mon, Han." She dismissed it like it was nonsense. "She was just showing her gratitude. I ran into them while I was taking pictures and I showed them the way to the ice palace."

"And why did she have to touch you to do that?" Hanna would never buy such a lame excuse. "I don't touch your elbow when I'm showing my gratitude".

"But you do smile", Spencer joked, letting her slender body find a place by Hanna's side. She then looked at Emily, trying to find support. "Em, tell her. She was not hitting on me."

Emily looked Spencer in the eye, as if she was telling her a really significant fact of life that she herself still had trouble adjusting to.

"She was."

"You too, Brutus?", Spencer replied, but only Emily understood what she meant. "Come on! Why would she hit on me?"

"Yeah, that's what I wonder", Hanna said, gaining an offended look by Spencer. "I mean, no offense, Spence, but her gaydar isn't working."

"That should be pretty clear, yeah." Spencer looked as if she was starting to get annoyed.

"You could at least have handed her to Emily", Hanna scorned. "You should always think of that. Instead, you just gave her your number. That's alteristic of you."

Both Emily and Spencer looked at Hanna as if they couldn't believe what she was saying.

"Altruistic", Spencer corrected after a millisecond of doubt. "I'm gonna pretend I know what you're saying and tell you I would never hand a person to Emily. And, besides, Emily doesn't really need that, right? Em?" Spencer focused her argument on Hanna, not even waiting for Emily's answer. "And I didn't give her my number. She gave me her email address so I can send her a couple of pics that I took of them."

"Right", Hanna said, still utterly unconvinced. "Whatever."

Emily felt as if she was being left outside of the conversation. She had no real intentions of getting her way in, anyway. She didn't have time to think about the reason, but whatever it was, it was making her uncomfortable.

They became silent for a second.

"Maybe you led her on", Hanna started again, deep thoughts running through her mind. "I mean, unconsciously. You're straight and you have a boyfriend. Or is it the other way around? I'm never sure what to say first."

Spencer rolled her eyes.

"I didn't lead her on."

"Maybe your clothes did", Hanna wondered aloud. "They're kinda gay."

This time it was Emily's eyes that rolled all the way up, but nobody noticed.

"What?", Spencer did seem to take this one personally. "What do you exactly mean? Is there such a thing as gay clothes?"

"Yes, there is." Hanna seemed to be moving on safe ground on this one, because she sounded like a complete erudite. "And they clearly inflicted some lesbian-loving on the girl."

"Jesus Christ", Emily muttered. A part of her wanted to block her ears and shout la la la to them.

Hanna looked at Emily for the first time since her punching ball competition with Spencer had started, expecting support from her.

"What? You don't agree?"

"I don't see Emily dressing any different since she became gay", Spencer interrupted, again before Emily could say a thing. "So you're just not making sense, as usual."

"That's because she didn't become gay, Spencer. For your information, she is gay and has been all the way", Hanna explained, as if she could lecture Spencer on the mysteries of sexuality and clothes. "Besides, Emily is a hot lesbian, so that changes everything."

"Excuse me?", Spencer croaked, and this time she looked actually offended. The argument was clearly becoming heated. "Hot lesbians wear exactly the same clothes as hot straight girls everywhere. For all you're saying you could be a hot lesbian too."

"Wrong", Hanna declared, feeling overconfident. "She just doesn't get it." Hanna looked directly at Emily again and sighed in defeat. "Em, you have to make it clear to her. She will listen to you."

They both waited for Emily's wise diagnosis on the matter of gay clothing.

"I don't even know what you guys are talking about."

"Exactly my point", Spencer smiled. "Thanks, Em."

Emily gaped upon Spencer's arrogance, and she was still gaping when Hanna huffed her disagreement.

"We're taking about gay clothes, Em", the blonde feigned to clarify. "Don't be shy, speak your mind, she can take it."

"I'm not the master of lesbianism here", Emily responded, surprised that they would even allow her to utter a single sentence. She didn't feel like an authority in the matter. She wished she did. But that was not even the point. The point was... "To be honest I think..."

"Well, you're the only one who knows for a fact", Hanna cut her off, as if this was obvious.

Emily gave up and tried to form a sentence that would sum her thoughts up.

"Right", she said, preparing to explain the most important fact of her lesbianism to Hanna. "I know for a fact what it feels like to kiss a girl. It has nothing to do with getting dressed every morning."

Sure of her victory, Spencer smirked as she prepared to throw a triumphant remark at Hanna, but Emily looked straight at her. She wouldn't let Spencer win so easily. Hanna did actually have a point, even though her way of stating it was sort of impertinent... and crazy... and maybe not so realistic, but...

"Anyways", she continued, commanding Spencer to close her mouth when she fixed her with the kind of stony gaze she only used against Spencer in select occasions. "Hanna meant this girl probably thought you were gay, or could become gay, as you said before, Spencer. It's not that bad."

"I know it's not that bad." Spencer said calmly. "I don't really care."

"Right. Because you're wearing plaid", Hanna interrupted them, getting back to her point. "And a hat."

Spencer was indeed wearing a plaid shirt and a cute hat that protected her skin from the sun.

"What's that even..."

"So you don't care", Hanna repeated, looking at Spencer with great curiosity. "I knew it. You're totally sending a vibe."

"Of course I don't care, why would I?", Spencer shrugged her shoulders as if she actually didn't care. "The girl was cute. And I'm not sending a vibe."

"You were", Hanna countered. Then she flashed a smile to Spencer. "But I wouldn't care either. She was kinda cute."

"Could we, like, drop the matter of lesbianism already?", Emily asked, really wanting to leave the subject. Surprisingly enough, she was feeling off her game right now. She wondered if that meant she still felt uneasy when the subject was brought up by her straight friends – well, basically, her only friends. She didn't like the thought. There was no reason to continue feeling afraid or unsure after they'd all been so accepting.

"We're not talking about lesbianism anymore", Hanna smirked, completely ignoring Emily's request. "We're talking about Spencer enjoying it. It's different."

"I enjoy every bit of attention I can get", Spencer smirked back. She was, in fact, a natural flirter. "I just didn't realize she was hitting on me like that."

"Yeah, poor innocent girl", Hanna mocked her, still not buying it. "That's why you didn't think about Emily. You're innocent and selfish. You should've come here and introduced us to these girls so they could lay eyes on Emily."

"Hey, I am right here", Emily tried to break into the conversation, but they were too fast for her. She couldn't think so fast. "I could have introduced myself if I'd wanted to."

"Em doesn't care about that", Spencer said again, looking at Hanna and not at Emily. "And anyway she's kind of in speaking terms with Maya again."

This time she did shoot Emily a curious, penetrating look that somehow made Emily nervous. She felt as if she was being both questioned and challenged by Spencer.

She wondered what that even meant.

"So what?", Hanna was again fast to respond. "She has to have her options open. And you just made it impossible. You're selfish. And fake-gay."

"I am not."

"I just proved it."

"You didn't prove a thing."

"I proved you're not thinking about Emily's love life."

"Me?", Spencer looked back at Hanna and raised her eyebrow. "I'll get back the girl if you want me to. You just have to ask."

"I can ask."

"So do it."

She threw the dare in such a calm, confident voice that Hanna grew silent, impressed by Spencer's cockiness. Spencer did not move an inch from where she was sitting, but her whole attitude seemed to scream she was sure she could find the blond girl in this fairly big park and come back to introduce her to Emily. She just kept staring at Hanna, knowing too well that she had actually stopped her from picking on her anymore.

"Can we really drop this now?"

Emily was now officially annoyed, even though she really didn't know why. Perhaps it was because they were talking about her like she wasn't even there. Or perhaps it was because they were talking about lesbians and homosexual feelings in such a weird, absurd way that it also made her feel weird and absurd. Or maybe it was the way Spencer had looked at her when she mentioned Maya, which brought her back to the conversation they had had on the phone the other night.

What the hell did that mean?

Emily didn't really know. But she felt a little unsettled.

"Okay. Let's talk about something else", Hanna finally reacted, laughing as if she was having the time of her life. "Something that's even more fun than this."

Apparently, every person on the face of the earth enjoyed arguing with Spencer. She proved to be a tough contender. Although it seemed Hanna actually enjoyed picking on her more than arguing with her.

"So Spencer…", Hanna continued, fixing her sweet bluish-greenish innocent eyes on the brunette. "Tell us."

Yes, she did enjoy picking on her and she was going to try again.

"I hope you're not going back to the lesbian thing", Spencer warned. "Because I won that one."

Emily rolled her eyes and silently prayed for an ending to this torture. She generally enjoyed their banter, but not now that the joke was on her.

"Nah, I'm done with that", Hanna laughed, letting it go for the moment. Apparently she had something else in mind. "This is serious."

"All right. Shoot it then."

Hanna took a pause to observe Spencer before speaking.

"How is it going with Toby?", she finally said, her words slow but light. "You were with him this morning, right?"

"Yeah, we were in St. Andrews", Spencer replied. Nobody said anything but they kept looking at her, so she decided to go on. "There was a lot of stuff to do there. We went to an old bookstore where you could find really old editions of History books and stuff. Some first editions too. You guys should have come with us." She meant that for Emily, but she didn't want to say that in front of Hanna. Not that it wasn't clear, on the other hand. She had seen a copy of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter that was signed by Carson MacCullers in 1943 and she had thought of getting it for Emily, because she knew Emily had loved it when she read it a couple of months ago. It was kind of expensive, though, and she hadn't taken so much money with her. Maybe she would go there again to get it.

"What I mean to ask is if you feel good with him", Hanna rushed to her next question. Spencer could get it on with the book thing and never stop. "Have you reached second base? Third base?"

"Hanna!", Emily's voice high pitched a couple of tones.

Spencer gave Hanna a dirty look, but she answered calmly.

"You want to know if we just make out or if we already had sex, don't you?"

The question was asked cooly. They were again circling each other like best friend and joke hunters.

"Well, have you?"

Hanna was aware she was being a little tactless here, but she kind of wanted to share the feeling of not being the only one who had already experienced sex with a boyfriend; and Spencer was the only one she knew who could actually have done it already. Spencer was also the reckless one. That's what Hanna thought of her anyway. Emily was a prude and also currently sort of single (that was not exactly clear as of today, but Emily swore she was only speaking to Maya, not dating her yet), whereas Aria had her own sort of... problem. So it had to be Spencer. Hanna was waiting for her.

"No, we haven't", Spencer answered, "yet."

Hanna's eyes sparkled wickedly. She didn't seem disappointed. "So you've been thinking about it?"

"Well, sure I have", Spencer confirmed, her cheeks becoming suddenly blushed. "It's just that…"

"You're not sure you want to do it with him?", Hanna ventured.

"No, it's not that." Spencer denied with her head. "I love him. I do - it's real. It's just… I don't know how to explain it. I want to feel safe."

The three of them stood there silently looking at each other. Emily could swear she could actually hear Spencer's breathing coming in and out of her lungs, despite the physical impossibility of it due to the noises surrounding them in the park.

"It's not because of him. He's the perfect guy to do it." Spencer decided to continue, lowering down her tone so no passersby could hear her. "It's just… the whole A situation. I don't really want to run into a sex tape of me and Toby in two or three months. It's... You know how it is. We're not safe."

Hanna nodded in understanding.

"Especially if they show it after I've been killed off", Spencer said in her most sarcastic tone. "Porn in the grave. My parents would disown me. Although I'd be already dead, so that kinda makes it better."

"Yeah", Emily said, finally gaining back her voice. "You should just take it easy. And be careful."

"It's difficult to do both, you know. It's like..."

"But you should do it if you really want to", Hanna interrupted, abandoning her mocking tone and looking as solemn as she could ever get. "One thing I've learned lately is we should do what we want before we're dead."

She sounded so deep that both Spencer and Emily lifted her heads in surprise. They were not so used to Hanna sounding like an oracle.

"Wow, that sounded scary." Hannah immediately changed her tone, as if she had been half joking. "Sorry." She got up from the bench as if she had actually scared herself with her words. "We should throw this somewhere." 

Hanna grabbed the paper bags while she looked around for a place to throw the garbage. Spencer and Emily shared a meaningful look.

"Don't worry", Spencer said, taking the paper bags from Hanna's hands. "There's one over there. I'll take them when we leave."

Emily softly pulled Hanna's hand back to the bench, but at that very moment Hanna's cell phone rung. They all jumped like it was a call from hell. Hanna frantically searched for her phone in her big purse with the palest expression they had ever seen, but she showed nothing but relief when she finally took it out.

"It's Caleb", she explained, already walking away to get a little privacy.

Spencer observed Emily while Emily followed Hanna with her eyes, still shaken by the newest realization of their fear.

"It's starting to get dark", Spencer said, just to get Emily's attention. "Wanna come with me to throw this away?"

They both stood up and started picking up the garbage. Emily made a sign to Hanna to tell her they were going to throw the bags to the basket that Spencer had pointed before.

They walked slowly, the shadows of the trees already dancing on their faces while they grew closer to their destiny. When they got there, they threw everything away. Spencer took her hat off and then placed her camera in a more comfortable position around her neck.

"You've been awfully quiet today", Spencer said, still relocating the camera. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah", Emily responded, looking back at Spencer, "I'm fine."

"Good."

Spencer kept her dark eyes fixed on Emily's face, trying to read her mind.

"I'm sorry about that before." Emily gave her a confused look. "I mean the conversation. The lesbian thing."

"Oh, it's okay. Don't worry about it."

"I hope it didn't make you uncomfortable."

Emily wondered how it was possible that Spencer could actually sense her inner workings like that.

"Are you sure you didn't know the girl was trying to hit on you?" Emily took a bold step. She had been willing to ask Spencer about this all along.

Spencer smiled coyly. "I guess I did notice something was going on. Is that so bad?"

"No." Emily shook her head, thinking. "Not really." 

It was weird. She had wanted to ask but now she didn't know what to say. She could feel Spencer's eyes on her still trying to cut her mind open to see what was inside it.

"Have you talked to Maya again?" Finally it was Spencer who dared to ask, not knowing if she was going to be turned down.

"Yeah", Emily answered, inner turmoil inside her chest. Whatever they had talked on the phone the other night, it wasn't really working, but she wasn't sure whose fault it was. "We're meeting tomorrow after school."

"Cool."

Emily feared Spencer was going to keep asking her about Maya. She wasn't really in the mood for the interrogating mode, so she just wished it wouldn't happen, but she knew Spencer too well for that. What Spencer did after that, however, was lift her camera to Emily's face. She opened the lenses, took a couple of steps backwards and focused on Emily, who was still surprised to see Spencer's move.

"Stand still", she ordered. "And smile!"

Emily complied and looked at the camera, feeling sort of perplexed and flattered at the same time. Then, after shooting a couple of times, Spencer lowered the camera again, closed the lenses and walked towards Emily.

"I hope they don't come up too dark", she told her. "Thanks."

Emily only smiled as an answer.

"So have you had fun today?", Spencer asked, her eyes not leaving Emily's face.

"Sure. Why is that so important?", Emily shot back, a little too sharp for her own taste.

Spencer shrugged. "Because it is. I wanted you to have fun today." She showed off the widest, most innocent smile. "You should be happy."

"We all should, I guess", Emily answered, resigned to living in fear after having heard Hanna's words earlier. "That's what we're all trying."

She didn't really understand what Spencer was trying to say.

"Yeah, you're right", Spencer agreed. "But I wanted to have a special day of happiness." She stopped, as if she'd wanted to add something else. "Whatever." She looked away for the first time, catching a sight of Hanna's long pale form in the distance.

Emily laughed.

"You're acting kinda weird today."

Spencer laughed back, but something in her eyes told Emily she had something on her mind.

"I'll send you the pictures when I download them tonight." They started to walk back to Hanna. "It'll be an early birthday present. If they are good, of course. I hope they are."

"You can save the ones of the trees", Emily teased, "and the ones of the gay blond girls."

Spencer looked at Emily out of the corner of her eye, but she didn't say anything.

Emily was getting an awkward vibe out of this conversation and, probably, out of the whole afternoon. She had had moderate fun, although she wouldn't say that to Spencer because she seemed totally focused on the idea that this day had to be a happy day, as if happy days could be marked in the calendar in advance. But there was something that she was feeling uneasy with. And it had to be with Spencer. And she didn't really like feeling that way. And she was a little scared of it.

She had to give it some thought, though.

She had to defuse it. It gave her some vague sense of guilt she had not felt in months.

Hanna walked steadily to meet them. She pointed to the soccer ball and pointed the gesture with another face of disgust.

"We're not taking that thing back with us, right?"

Spencer ran to get the ball.

"Of course we are!", she yelled, already from a distance.

Hanna and Emily contemplated Spencer picking up the ball. The day had already grown dark and cold.

Chapter Text

Emily arrived to the Marins' when it was already too late to have dinner. Monday had been hectic: not only had she assisted to all of her classes – which lately seemed almost a heroic thing to do – but she had also spent part of the afternoon studying at the library and then had run to meet Maya at a diner downtown. It had been a good day, though, because being busy had kept her from thinking too much and from overanalyzing stuff, especially stuff related to events that had happened on Sunday. With Spencer. In the park.

Except that nothing had actually happened there. There were no events to take into consideration.

She had felt a little weird, but that was all. She would just need a couple of days doing her own thing and away from all Spencer-related matters. And, fortunately, with no A intermissions, it would be possible to do that. It was kind of awful to link A with Spencer, in such a way that she felt she was hiding away from both of them; but, at the same time, if A managed to be quiet for a while, Emily could put Spencer on hold, whereas any action by A would necessarily mean that she would have to help Spencer with whatever new discovery she would put herself to disclose.

So that was it: no A, no Spencer, ruthless as it may sound. This was a wish for peace of mind.

On top of that, seeing Maya had been great for her mood. It felt right to see each other and finally have a nice long talk. It felt exciting to show Maya that she was changed, and to expect that Maya would actually want to get to know her now that she felt… herself. Things were looking good. She had nothing to worry about. Well, she had a lot of things to worry about, but she could enjoy the feeling of having a good, busy, almost ordinary day.

She said hello to Ms. Marin in the living room and ran upstairs to get her evening shower and put on her pyjamas before telling Hanna about her day. When she opened the bedroom door, she expected to find a familiar sight: Hanna on the phone. But no, not this time. Hanna was listening to music with her headphones on while she leaned over a Biology book, an activity which she appropriately called "studying". Although Emily could hear the music from the door, Hanna turned her head the second she entered the room and took the headphones off. She probably had a third eye on the back of her head. Or a third ear.

Hanna looked at her with an interrogating air. "So how did it go?" She had obviously been waiting for her.

Emily closed the door and left her backpack by her bed. "Good". She smiled her best, most honest smile. "Where do I start?"

"Maya".

Hanna had a pretty solid idea of what was interesting to her.

"It went really well. It was a little awkward at the beginning, but after we started talking…"

"Did she apologize? For not calling?"

Had Hanna talked to Spencer at some point, or were they thinking exactly in the same terms at this point of their lives? Which would be really strange, by the way. Because they were polar opposites.

"She did. Are you gonna listen to me or not?"

Hanna sat straight on her bed and looked apologetically at her.

"So, basically, I told her I felt more confident about who I was now. I told her I was prepared to be more serious about things now, and that if she wanted to..."

"Did you give her the ring?", Hanna mocked her, biting her lip right after she spoke.

Emily gave her a stony, icy look.

"Sorry." Hanna smiled innocently. "What did she say?"

"She said we should get to know each other now that we both changed."

"So she doesn't wanna get back together?"

Emily felt a pang of irritation creeping up to her forehead. "It's not that. And we didn't talk about getting back together. We just wanted to see each other and see how it went."

"Well, yeah, but you're telling me you offered her an explanation about how much you've grown and how mature you are now and how you're ready to have a serious relationship and be totally gay for her and she just said you should get to know each other again", she made quotation marks in the air, fingers incisively biting the surroundings to make the irony evident. "So... you know..."

Emily sat on her bed, frustrated. Why couldn't her friends understand Maya had been the only one of all the girls she had tried to date till now with whom she had managed to reach a deeper connection? Her friends had not been there with them and they had not seen how they looked at each other; and still they refused to acknowledge the reality of it. This had to be Spencer's fault somehow. "Are you taking over Spencer's role in my life or what? Because you already have a role, and it's not Spencer's."

It was the only thing Emily could think of saying, and she hoped it would send a warning to Hanna. Hanna used to be the understanding friend, while Spencer tended to be the overprotective one; lately she was being more of a freakingly, annoyingly awkward but caring friend, if that even existed.

The thought of Spencer made her feel weird once again. And this was supposed to be a completely normal, sunny-in-the-spirit, Spencer-free kind of day.

"No", Hanna denied the dreaded connection with Spencer. She came to sit by Emily's side on the bed. "Tell me how you felt."

"Not if you're gonna crash it like you're doing now", Emily protested.

"I'm not, I promise", Hanna reflected on Emily's frustrated words. – "Sometimes it's more important to know what vibe you got than the words being said. Know what I mean?"

Emily kind of had an idea of what Hanna meant. The vibe you got. About Maya. About Spencer. 

"It felt good", Emily decided to sum up the Maya feeling. "I felt we were on the same page, more or less. Or wanting to get there anyway. So it felt good."

"So it went well", Hanna concluded, as if the fact of her saying it made it actually true. "Just don't rush it, okay?"

"I'm not going to." She wondered if she looked so desperate to live her own love story. "And she's not gonna let me, anyway, so there's no real danger there."

"You mean she's not moving in next week?"

Emily smacked Hanna's shoulder softly. "Next month, maybe."

"I'll tell my mom."

"And she will tell my mom."

"And soon the police will be here looking for drugs."

"Hanna!"

Hanna laughed at Emily's indignation and then got up from Emily's bed, settling the matter. She then turned around and looked back at Emily, remembering something else.

"By the way, talk about annoying", she said as if it was obvious, "but Spencer's called me like a hundred times today."

Emily's heart skipped a beat while pretending to smooth out the comforter. "Why hasn't she called me?"

"She didn't want to interrupt you while you were with Maya. Apparently she thinks it'd be annoying. I wonder why", Hanna said, dripping sweet acid against Spencer, probably to get a shield against other future accusations. She was going to move, letting it go, but then she stopped and opened her mouth again. "And it seems she texted you sometime today and you didn't answer. She was a little worried."

Shit.

Emily remembered she had put her phone on mute mode when she was on her way to meet Maya. She didn't want anyone calling to check up on her, especially Spencer. The truth was that she had been avoiding her all day. Even at lunch time she had found something else to do that required her immediate and urgent attention. She had helped the theatre group to arrange some kind of setting for a play that was coming out next month. One of the girls had asked her after class, and she had said yes even though there was no way in hell she was going to join the drama club. She was too shy for that. And she was too busy with the pool – at least whenever she was swimming.

She felt terrible now. But, at the same time, she needed a break from Spencer. Or rather from herself, since it was her who was feeling all these sorts of strange feelings when it came to Spencer. It wasn't really Spencer's fault.

"You should call her, you know." Hanna broke her self-absorbed state of mind. "She just wants what's best for you."

They were polar opposites but they loved and protected each other and everyone they loved against all odds.

"I know."

Emily knew.

Guilt got hold of her whole body.

"She's a pain in the ass, but she cares about you."

Hanna felt the need to give advice, something she only did when there was a piece missing in the puzzle of her friends.

Emily returned a somewhat guiltier look, the comforter already smoothed out in every corner as if it was 8 in the morning and not almost time to go to sleep.

"Don't let her get on your nerves, Em", Hanna insisted. "But call her", she made sure to order. Then she grinned. "That way she'll stop bothering me. She's been keeping my phone busy the whole afternoon. It's annoying. She's annoying. You know how she gets when she gets like that."

Oh, yes, Emily knew.

It was a surprise Hanna hadn't used Spencer's insistence to gain some kind of benefit or advantage with the Hastings. Like a free dinner or free homework for a month.

Instead of asking about it, Emily smiled reassuringly to Hanna, indicating she was taking note of her advice; but she felt worried and a little anxious inside. Hanna started to pick up the clothes she would wear tomorrow to school, as she did every night before going to bed. Emily got her pyjamas and decided to get into the shower, but first she grabbed her phone and took it in the bathroom with her. There was, indeed, a text from Spencer. It had been written some hours ago. "Hey, Em. Didn't see you at lunch. Will you call me later? Have fun ;)". Spencer had asked her to call, but as usual she had called first; only this time she had actually called Hanna and not her. In all fairness, Emily knew she should have texted Spencer back and she knew she would have done it had she been feeling normal enough to check her messages; so it made sense that Spencer had called to find out if everything was okay. But why had she called Hanna? It didn't really make sense. It wasn't as if Emily bit. That wasn't her at all. She was the sweet one. Everybody said so.

Emily took off her sweater slowly, thinking about it.

Thinking was exactly what she didn't want to do and what she had decided she was not going to do after all. It was weird, once again, that Spencer had not called her to check up on her, even if Emily had not answered her text earlier. Or maybe it was weird precisely because Emily had not answered it. Maybe Emily was the one who was acting weird and not Spencer. Maybe Emily was weird and not exactly sweet. 

Maybe, maybe this was Spencer trying to let her breathe with the Maya thing, in a way.

The Maya thing, which had her behaving in such a confusing way, even though Emily couldn't really figure if Spencer was only being her normal self or if it was another sort of Spencer who had become… intensely annoying? That was it: intense and annoying. Annoying being the key word, as Hanna made sure to indicate quite a few times. Spencer tended to be annoying when she got far too invested in anything. So that meant Spencer was annoying her because she seemed to have such an intense feeling against her going back to Maya. Or to any other person whatsoever. 

Emily remembered the girls in the park, but then she decided to dismiss the memory. It wasn't really going to add anything up to her thing with Maya. Or to Spencer's part in it.

So, bye bye, girls in the park.

Still - they were annoying too, for some reason.

Once the memory was erased, Emily realized there was something else, and she felt as if she was on the very verge on freaking out about it. Perhaps she was imagining things. Why was she annoyed at Spencer anyway? Whatever Spencer was doing was not that bad and certainly it wasn't out of character. She tended to be a little bit over the edge, okay, but it was nothing serious, as Hanna had said, and Emily should be able to stop it whenever she felt she had to. Plus - she was used to it. It wasn't new. It was old. Old like... old age. Like ice age. Like back-when-we-were-kids age. Like it shouldn't be a problem to stop it if she wanted to and Spencer would accept it - as usual.

But that was what she was afraid of.

What if she couldn't stop it?

Worse - what if she didn't want to stop it, or if she misread the signs?

But what signs?

Emily turned the hot water on, trying to forget about her worries.

Spencer was the same Spencer, and these were not signs. Spencer was the same awesome person about whom she had an epiphany the other day. Spencer was awesome because she was annoying and intense. Spencer was awesome, period. And one of her best friends. And that was it.

It was all nonsense.

She was making a lot of trouble out of nothing at all. She had to call Spencer because Spencer was her friend, and there was nothing more to it, and Hanna was completely right. She was annoyed at herself now. She was such a crappy, ungrateful friend. Dialling Spencer's number on her cell, Emily waited for the line. She hoped it was not too late or that Spencer hadn't already gone to bed. Probably not. Emily put her money down on it: sometimes she thought Spencer never slept at all, with all that studying, scheming, researching, sleuthing, overachieving and the general preparing for the future.

"Hey there!", Spencer answered, almost immediately.

"Hey", Emily greeted back slowly. "Hanna told me you called."

"I told her not to say." She sounded let down. "I got worried because you didn't answer my text, but I figured you wouldn't be happy to be receiving my calls at that very specific moment in your life."

Emily reasoned this meant Spencer was actually trying to respect the lines she had drawn around Maya. That was sweet, somehow, if still a little annoying.

"Are you in the shower?" Spencer must have heard the sound of water running. "So how did it go?"

Emily turned the water off and sat on the toilet seat.

"I was gonna get a shower", she explained into the phone, preparing herself to deliver the standard information she was asked to provide. "It went well, actually. We just talked."

Spencer didn't say anything to that, so Emily decided to keep talking.

"We decided to keep hanging out until we figure out if there's still something there."

"So you're not dating yet?", Spencer asked for clarification. "But you may be in the near future."

"It's not a safe bet. We've both changed and we want to get to know each other again."

Memories of the ring and moving in next week rushed back to her. She hoped Hanna wasn't right. Maya had to still like her; no, still like her better.

It seemed as if Spencer was going to keep silent so she could keep informing her about the changes, but instead, after a second of hesitation, she spoke. "She'll probably like what she sees, so I'd say it's a pretty safe bet."

Emily's heart rate increased for some reason she couldn't really understand. Spencer did sound confident and cheerful, and it was obvious she was trying to support her.

It was sweet.

And anyway that was what she herself had told Maya: Emily had promised Maya that she would like her renewed self. She wondered how that was even possible now that she was feeling like such a mess. If she couldn't be a good friend, how was she going to be a good girlfriend? Oh, Maya should definitely not see this part of her. Not yet. Not again.

"We'll see", she replied, trying to calm herself down. She was feeling so good just a few hours ago. She knew she had it in her: the possibility of being brave, and honest, and basically a good person to everybody she cared about. "Sorry about not answering earlier, Spencer. How was your day?"

"It was bleh", Spencer explained, drawling on the sound. "I have my History exam on Wednesday, so I studied the whole day."

"I thought you were prepared for that one since, like, past week."

"I am. I just want to do it perfect."

A smile escaped Emily's lips. "You will. You always do. Nothing to worry about."

There was a silence between them.

"So you think we can hang out tomorrow?", Spencer asked, tentative and respectful. "Maybe at lunch or later?" 

Emily swallowed, torn up between her current estate of confusion and her obligations towards one of her best friends.

"Sure. I'll go to lunch tomorrow." 

She waited for Spencer's reaction, figuring she could reach a peaceful agreement this way. It'd buy her some time to get herself right and stop messing around with these things.

"Okay then." Spencer's voice, grave and low but perfectly controlled, did not provide any hint. "I'll let you get your shower now. " 

They wished each other good night and then hung up, feeling like there was something else to say but postponing whatever it was for another conversation.

Emily turned the water on again and quickly undressed. She had one foot on the shower when the phone vibrated. It was a text. She hesitated to read it in case it was A, but finally she picked it up. It wasn't A; but it was Spencer. The night was A-free but not Spencer-free. "I forgot to say I sent the pics I took of you. They came out right. Night".

The pictures in the park. She would take a look at them before going to sleep.

Spencer hung up the phone, although she had remembered about the pictures before that. She just didn't want to keep Emily from getting her late night shower. She figured it would be easier to tell her in a text. That way Emily could see them whenever she wanted to and not feel obliged to say anything about them.

Something was not right.

Spencer sat in front of her laptop and stared at one of the pictures of Emily, the one she considered best. She had photoshopped it to make it black and white and play with the lights and shadows and oher stuff. Aria had provided some help on the phone. It wasn't a masterpiece, and Spencer knew it wasn't her destiny to become a celebrated photographer, but you could tell there was interest and heart invested on it; maybe a little talent too. Emily was looking at the camera shy and sweet, her trademark expression, but her eyes were direct, like she was talking to it – or to her. What was she saying? Was she keeping it a secret, or was it in a language that Spencer was too dumb to understand?

Something was not right.

Emily was acting a little distant. Spencer wondered if she had said or done something wrong. She might have, even if she was trying to control whatever came out of her mouth lately. She was trying really hard. She couldn't really say why, but she didn't like Maya. She didn't like Maya anymore. She had liked her, but not anymore.

But, of course, she was not allowed to say this. She was being really cautious about it. Emily had been very specific about the comments she would not tolerate from Spencer, and probably from anyone else.

She had told Hanna some of her reservations today. And Hanna seemed to know already, because Emily had probably told her about them. And, yes, Hanna agreed with her on some level, on a very moderate level, she might say; but she had also warned her about leaving Emily to follow her own path and so on. She had reminded her Emily did not like it whenever Spencer tried to stand in the way of one of her decisions.

As if she needed a reminder.

She contemplated some other pictures that she had taken yesterday. Some were of Toby, when they were in St. Andrews. She especially liked one of them: Toby in front of his truck smiling such a wide smile that you could truly believe he was preparing to beat the whole world with it. Spencer smiled back at the screen. She was so lucky to have him.

There was also the picture the girl had taken of Spencer. It wasn't bad. The sun had forced her to close her eyes a little, though, as if she was dazzled and blinded and couldn't make her special photo face. Still she looked fine, a little goofy and unfocused, but fine. Not terribly sexy, but she liked it, so she sent it to Toby. He would appreciate it.

Her phone buzzed. She prayed it would be Emily answering her text and restoring the goodness between them.

But it was A and she froze when she realized it.

"You say you love Toby. Then keep him safe and stop playing games with me. - A"

 

 

Chapter Text

The days after A's last message happened in a haze for the girls. Nobody had received news but Spencer that night; however, they all found out too soon that things had not been keeping quiet when Dr. Sullivan disappeared without a trace. Freaking out about it, the girls decided they had been too naive when they had decided to finally spill their hearts out to an adult, probably risking that person's life and maybe, once again, their own.

Nobody was freaking out more than Spencer, though. She was the first one who had received any news from A in weeks, and her message had warned her about Toby, not about Dr. Sullivan. At first, she had decided not to pay attention to it, apparently. She had tried to deconstruct the codified meaning for days. What did A want to tell her? Why was it mentioning Toby? Was it really as intimidating as it sounded, or was A just bluffing? She spent hours thinking about it and speaking out her always revocable conclusions to Hannah, Emily and Aria. But still she tried to go on as if nothing was actually happening, meeting with Toby in the afternoons and going about her usual business without really paying notice to A's message, while she tried to work out a plan in her head.

Her mental work-in-progress had to come to an end when Dr. Sullivan disappeared from her office, her house and her phone; that was, from virtual existence on earth. It was then that Spencer's mind went blank, all her plans stopped. Her face acquired a grim quality, her eyes turned wary and red from the lack of sleep. She stopped talking with the girls about the message at all. They were all too worried about Dr. Sullivan's luck, anyway. But, still, she wondered why A was blaming her for the "game" of involving Dr. Sullivan: she rebelled against her front-cover position, which she sought to have because she believed in her leading abilities; she deplored her luck, she despised how short her intelligence fell when it came to her situation with A, which made her unable to protect her loved ones; and finally she reached a decision which she accepted with her characteristic raw determination. She worked out a plan to keep Toby safe, which in her mind meant he had to be kept away from her. She broke up with Toby. She explained to him it was a question of trust; she couldn't really trust him with all her secrets, with things she did not even begin to understand. He didn't completely believe her, he tried to fight it up, but she won. She always won.

He left.

Spencer spent that day wandering around, trying to avoid getting in the way of any known person. She didn't quite make it; she ran into Wren. That was awkward at its best, but it did provide some sort of twisted comfort.

But when the night came, Spencer felt all alone. And that's when she did it. She had been receiving calls from Emily, Aria and Hannah every hour of the day; they took turns to call her, but she wouldn't pick up. Cautious as she always was, she did send Aria a text saying she was all right but needed some time to be on her own. They kept calling her anyway, only in longer intervals. At 10 pm, though, when she had already cried her eyes out and torn her clothes up, she texted Emily saying she would appreciate her help trying to get her through the night.

That's how she put it: "Need you now. Please".

She knew Emily was keeping her distance. And Spencer had been dancing around her trying to mend whatever damage she had done, although A's threats and Dr. Sullivan's disappearance had put this conflict in second or third place. Still, Spencer had not forgotten about it. She was proud. If Emily wanted space, she would have it.

Just not that night. She tried, she could have texted Aria. But there was no point.

Emily was there in ten minutes.

Chapter Text

Emily could see her face only briefly when she opened the front door, because Spencer immediately turned around and walked through the entrance and the kitchen with her back to her. She didn't say a thing, so Emily just followed her steps. When they were in the middle of the ample, perfectly clean kitchen, Spencer turned her body to Emily and finally allowed her to see her face for a moment.

"Are you hungry?" 

It almost sounded like a shot, dry and metallic. Emily caught a glimpse of Spencer's red eyes and dark, shadowy general appearance before Spencer hid her face again in the fridge.

"I could fix us something to eat", she said again, trying to put her voice together.

"I already had dinner."

It was half true. She had tried to have dinner so she wouldn't make Ashley Marin worried. Both Hanna and herself had only eaten a couple of bites before going back to their room to keep calling Spencer every fifteen minutes. Her stomach was still rejecting any sort of food.

Spencer took a couple of glasses and a coke, and closed the fridge without further explanation. They walked slowly through the stairs until they reached Spencer's room, which was in a estate of almost perfect order that didn't quite match the mood. There were some papers that laid scattered over the study table; some pictures had been taken off the wall, but Emily couldn't remember which ones had previously been there and which hadn't. A couple of jeans were carefully folded on a chair.

Spencer started to pour the coke in the glasses when Emily's cell phone beeped. Her whole body tensed up when they heard the phone.

"It's Hanna", Emily reassured her, damning herself for not making her phone mute.

Spencer turned back to the coke and then sat on her bed, staring blankly at Emily. She suddenly remembered the coke and stood up to offer the glass to Emily, who took it in her hands. Spencer sat again, so Emily decided to sit by her side on the bed.

"I don't wanna talk", Spencer warned, her voice throaty although it was a mere whisper. "I just called you to stay here, if you can. But I'm not talking."

Emily didn't answer; she just nodded in acknowledgment and took a sip of her coke. Her stomach burned at the mere contact of the cold, gassy drink. She had been so nervous all day her ulcer was giving her a hard time. She had had to slip from the Marin's house without telling Ashley Marin that she was leaving; once again, they didn't want to worry her, and Hanna had agreed the best option was to go check on Spencer while she stayed home covering up for Emily. The day had been so terrible it could definitely qualify as one of their worst to day. Still, Spencer's seemed to be much worse. So Emily just stayed there, wondering what they would do the rest of the night. It was obvious Spencer's parents weren't home. They were all alone, and Spencer was an emotional wreck, and Emily was there to help her even though she had so many questions running through her own mind.

She took her pyjamas out of her backpack and left them on the bed. She had packed them so many hours ago, expecting that something like this was going to happen. Just in case Spencer needed her, she had prepared herself to spend the night out, or to go somewhere looking for her.

Spencer took a quick look at Emily's things. Then she lay down on the bed, facing the ceiling.

"You can take that bed." She pointed to the spare bed they used when they stayed at Spencer's. "Or this one."

Emily turned to look at Spencer, wondering if they would be able to sleep at all, one bed or another. Sleepless nights were becoming really common for both of them. And, taking into account Spencer's estate, she really doubted they were going to have a nice long rest.

"What does Hanna want?", Spencer asked, out of the blue.

Hanna's text had come minutes ago and Emily had not answered. In fact, she had hardly read it.

"Just wanted to check if I was already here with you", Emily replied. She took the phone from her pocket. "I'm gonna text her or she'll freak out."

"She's probably freaking out already." A weak smile appeared on Spencer's lips.

Emily started typing a quick message. "We ok". She hit send right away.

"I hope she's not running here with the whole seventh cavalry", Spencer joked, suddenly finding entertainment value in the image of a freaked out Hanna calling Aria and a troupe of parents, doctors and policemen. 

Emily thought she would have to give whatever details to Hanna tomorrow. In case she got to know any details. That was still unclear.

"Have you had something to eat?", Emily asked, suddenly worried Spencer might not have eaten at all during the day.

Spencer just looked at her blankly, as if she was looking at her mom.

"I wasn't hungry."

"But you should at least have something. You haven't eaten anything at all?"

It was Emily's first reference to the day that had passed, and it made her feel as if she was walking on broken glass. Spencer averted her eyes from Emily, not really wanting to get in there, so Emily decided to go downstairs to the kitchen to get a sandwich just in case Spencer got hungry at some point during the night. It would make it easier to have it already there, and it gave her an excuse to move a little from her position. She stood up and started walking to the door.

"Where are you going?", Spencer asked, suddenly alarmed.

"I'm just going to get something in case we get hungry."

She knew she wasn't going to get hungry, but she had hopes for Spencer.

"No, please. Stay."

After a second of hesitation, Emily walked back to the bed and sat by Spencer again. She let her body carefully slip until she lay down on her back close to Spencer. They both looked at the ceiling now.

"Just stay, okay?", Spencer repeated, even though Emily was not moving anymore.

"Don't worry. That's what I came for."

Emily turned her head to look at Spencer's face, trying to send her a wave of warmth that would reach her. But it was as if Spencer was sensing some kind of closer contact that she wasn't really prepared to bear, because she turned away and faced the wall. They stayed still for what seemed a really long time, until Emily finally wondered if Spencer had fallen asleep. She didn't hear any sound, so she suspected Spencer wasn't crying. She hoped she wasn't. She moved her right arm, the one that was closer to Spencer's body, to get a more comfortable position; her body was starting to feel rigid, but she didn't want to make a lot of fuss for fear of upsetting her friend.

"I ran into Wren today", Spencer said, breaking the stillness of the night and allowing Emily to move up a little.

So she hadn't fallen asleep; she was still awake, probably thinking about what was happening to her. She readjusted her position too, moving closer to Emily and facing the ceiling again.

"He kissed me."

She stated the fact as if it was still startling her. Emily turned her head to watch Spencer's face.

"What?"

"Yeah. That was awkward", Spencer replied, blinking the surprise away. "One minute I was crying, the next he kissed me. Just like that. I guess things tend to happen just like that, right?"

She looked at Emily, who was already trying to make eye-contact.

"Would you ever do that? I mean, would you kiss someone who's breaking down in front of you? And who had a boyfriend whom she just dumped for all the wrong reasons?"

"No." Emily shook her head repeatedly as if it was an unthinkable accusation. She wanted to punch Wren's face. What was wrong with this guy? "Of course not."

"I mean, he was nice, don't get me wrong", Spencer assured in a quiet, dark tone. "He got me home, so that was really nice. I just don't get why I attract all these nutheads."

"Toby's not a nuthead."

Emily regretted saying Toby's name the second it came out of her mouth.

She knew what Spencer had done. Toby had sent her a text that afternoon. It was her who had broken the news to Hanna and Aria.

"I know", Spencer conceded. "But that's not really the point."

Emily wondered if that meant she was ready to talk. Spencer might have thought the same thing, because she decided to continue.

"Do you know what happened today?"

"Toby texted me", Emily answered in explanation. "He wanted to know if I could do something to stop you."

"And what did you say?"

"I said I couldn't reach you, but I was trying."

"You should just back my story if he asks again. I told him I didn't trust him."

"Why did you tell him that?"

"You know why, Em. I can't tell him the truth." She sounded strained. "Would you tell him someone wants to kill him if he stays with me? That's probably the best way to get him killed, Emily. He's not just gonna step out, and... even if he did, A might do something against him, we don't really know. Like we don't have enough problems already."

Emily sighed. She knew there was logic to Spencer's reasoning, but she still believed Spencer had taken it too far without really waiting to see what A was doing to them now, both relating Dr. Sullivan and Toby. She/he/it was probably playing another game on them. But who could say the threat was not real? Alison was dead. Ian was dead. They were all in danger.

"There has to be another way to get out of this", she said, her own frustration dripping through her words.

"Sure there is: get old and get out", Spencer fired dryly. "When I'm 18, if I ever get there, I'm flying to Japan or to Belgium for good. I'm telling you no place is good enough if it's still connected to Rosewood. That's the prime factor to take into consideration."

They stayed in silence for some minutes, until Emily started wondering one more time if Spencer was crying in a really silent way or if she was just thinking and feeling helpless. She really wanted to look over her and grab her and tell her everything was going to end up being ok, even if she wasn't so sure of it herself. But she had to handle the situation carefully. Spencer couldn't really bear the sight of her right now; she hardly looked at her or touched her at all. She knew the feeling. She had been there before.

"You know what?", Spencer started again, her teeth clenched. "Hanna was right the other day in the park. I should've slept with him. I'm so pissed off that I didn't."

Emily thought about telling her there was still time, that she would probably find a way to get back together with Toby. But what was she going to say that Spencer would accept now? She was heartbroken and angered and just needed to spill it to someone. That was why she was here by her side.

"How about you?"

"What about me?"

"You should really bang Maya, Em. You should really do it before A comes and destroys everything you got with her like she did with you and Samara. You know A's always gonna try to do that to you."

Here they were again: Maya's theme. It made Emily so uncomfortable she preferred to watch the ceiling again.

"It's not like I don't want to."

This comment seemed to trigger Spencer's interest, because she turned to face Emily for the first time and leaned her head on her hand, focusing her gaze on Emily. Her eyes were swollen and half closed but even with the lack of light in the room, Emily could see the slightest spark of brightness taking them over.

"So you want to do it?"

"Why wouldn't I?"

"Well, for a start, you never talk about it."

"Why should I?"

It wasn't a requirement to talk about it. It didn't meant she didn't want it as much as the rest of them. It being a love life. A sex life. A life.

Spencer let out a frustrated snort. "Can we stop asking questions and just talk?"

"I just think it's better to do it than to speak about it", Emily struggled with the words in order to make herself clear, her shyness still taking the best of her sometimes. "That's all."

"That's for sure", Spencer drawled with a tinge of irony. "Or at least I would guess so." The tinge of irony increased, with a hidden dramatic tone to it. She stared, her interest apparently reaching a peak in the conversation, which showed in the way her eyes narrowed at Emily in an effort to capture a sign. "How far did you go with Samara?"

"We just kissed a couple of times. She broke up with me even before we got started."

"Yeah, that royally sucks", Spencer commiserated. "And you only kissed twice?", she asked next, surprised at how little action Emily had had in the last months. "So you actually went further with Maya."

"We never got very far either. I wasn't prepared at that time."

"But you are now", Spencer shot the kind of look that made people in the debate team tremble, again challenging Emily to her roots. "Have you kissed her already?"

"No."

"Well, you should do it. She's waiting for you to kiss her first."

"And how in hell would you know that?", Emily shot back, suddenly irritated. "Anyway I'm gonna take my time."

"Don't take more time, Emily.  Hurry up. Don't make A wait."

Emily sat up on bed, unable to think clearly anymore. Spencer's tone had such a sharp, edgy intensity to it that Emily had a hard time separating the sarcasm from the raw honesty of it. She didn't really understand if Spencer was trying to give advice, even though it sounded more as pure bitterness coming out of her mouth, combined with that other strange element that was present whenever they spoke about Maya, which Emily was unable to decipher.

Spencer seemed surprised by Emily's sudden change of position, because she mimicked her movement and sat up too.

"Sorry about that.  I didn't mean to…"

Emily picked up her pyjamas from her side of the bed and stood up.

"It's okay. I'm gonna change."

She opened the door to the bathroom and went inside without looking back. She wasn't sure why this subject made her so nervous, and she had not really thought about it in the last days, especially since Spencer received A's message. She was really picking up a habit of not thinking over problems that worried her, but there had been so many things on her mind lately that she felt she had a good excuse for acting dumb and idiotic whenever this thing with Spencer annoyed her. However, by now she was starting to understand that it wasn't Spencer's fault entirely. And, anyway, it was Spencer's moment of weakness and vulnerability, and she had the obligation to be there for her and speak to her truly and honestly.

Emily washed her face with cold water and looked herself in the mirror, trying to force some courage into her. Her eyes were tired. It was already one a.m. She took off her sweater and her jeans and quickly put on her black and grey pyjamas. She didn't want to make Spencer wait for her.

Being there for Spencer wasn't really an obligation. She wanted to be there. She wanted to help. She wanted to make her see they would go through this untouched – or maybe just alive, but they would go through this no matter what.

And she knew she was the only one who could be there for Spencer, because she was the only one who had been called out to come in Spencer's hour of need. That meant a lot to her. It was Spencer Hastings they were talking about. The perfect, courageous, always disciplined Spencer Hastings.

She came out of the bathroom and put her carefully folded clothes besides Spencer's so she could use them again in the morning.

"I'm really sorry, I didn't mean to upset you when I said that."

Spencer was still sitting in the same position where Emily had left her and looked as if she had been waiting the whole time just to be able to say those words. She looked sheepishly at her.

"Come here again."

Emily's heart broke a little.

"It's not your fault", Emily explained, trying to infuse some truth to her words. "I'm also scared of A. I'm also afraid of not being able to live my own life. I understand."

"Just... Please come back."

Emily recovered her place on bed next to Spencer, just to calm her down.

"Aren't you gonna change?", Emily asked.

"I'm  just gonna stay like this."

She was wearing black leggings and a black T-shirt, so it actually seemed comfortable to sleep with that.

"You know what I really hate about this situation?" Spencer didn't wait for an answer. She wasn't really expecting one. "The fact that I can't control whatever happens to me. Or to the people I love. And I can't do anything to stop it."

"That's what we all hate about it." Emily stated the obvious. "But you have to understand you're not alone, Spence. We're gonna get through this."

She believed what she was saying, for once. Spencer had always put so much effort in convincing her they would be fine after all that she knew, this time, it was true precisely because they would do it together.

The only response Spencer gave was lying down again in silence.

"Do you think we'll actually manage to sleep?"

"Probably not."

Emily mimicked Spencer's position and tried to get more comfortable this time. She adjusted the pillows under her head while Spencer reached the lamp and turned off the light. Now they were in almost complete darkness. Only the streetlights offered a sense of bodies and things in the room.

"So how was your day?" Spencer sounded casual.

"You mean besides trying to track you down the whole day and waiting for you to pick up the phone?"

"Yeah, sorry about that too. I couldn't really speak to anyone."

They were silent for a while, until Spencer broke the silence again.

"You know, I meant what I said  before, even though I was a complete asshole. What I meant is that we should do whatever we want with our life. Like Hanna said. Cause that's what she said, right?"

"I know what you meant."

"So have you seen Maya again? I haven't had the chance to ask you lately."

Emily thought this was starting to be a constant in their lives, and that there was no way to escape it.

"I saw her yesterday."

"And how was it?"

Spencer sometimes felt she was like a screwdriver trying to get things out of Emily. She was so reserved. She wondered if she had always been so reserved. She believed she was always like that – Alison, her failed relationship with Ben – but she also thought Emily had improved a little after coming out. And, still, Spencer really enjoyed it when Emily opened up a bit. She felt like she had planted a flag on the surface of the moon.

"I told you we were just hanging out", Emily finally answered. "Nothing else has happened yet."

"Yeah, no kissing, no dating stuff. I get it." Spencer's voice sounded a lot more relaxed now. "Can I ask you a question?"

"As if I could stop you."

Emily's tone was light-hearted, but she dreaded whatever question Spencer was going to ask, so she moved further away from her in an effort to build an invisible barrier. Spencer didn't seem to notice it, because she just laughed quietly, knowing too well that, no, there was probably no easy way to stop her once she set her mind on a question or a task. But this time the question was easy. Maybe a little too nosey, but easy nonetheless.

"Are you in love with her?"

"What do you mean?"

Emily was taken aback by the question and, as a result, its easy simplicity took a highly complicated turn.

"I'm asking you if you're in love with Maya", Spencer felt obliged to explain, with as much patience as she could ever show. "Do you really want her as your girlfriend? It's an easy question."

"Well, isn't that the whole point of getting to know each other again?", Emily replied, annoyance tinging again in her throat. "I don't know yet."

"You don't know yet", Spencer repeated Emily's words with a slightly ironic intonation. "Well, that's interesting."

Wow, talk about annoyance now. Emily felt it powering up all the way to her head, but she tried to stop it from pouring out of her body and into her voice because Spencer was in a terrible state. And because she was a good friend. And because... well, it wasn't the right moment to fight over this. 

"Yeah, that's what I said, I'm not sure yet", Emily clarified. "And she's not sure either."

"I don't care about her", Spencer defied in a quiet voice, the voice she used when she wanted to calmly win an argument without smashing the opponent. "I'm asking how you feel."

"I..", Emily stuttered, trying not to get more annoyed at Spencer's aggressive style of questioning and evident need for winning whatever she thought she was going to win this time. "I don't want to rush into anything."

She wasn't sure she wanted to give a lot of thought to why she wouldn't rush into anything with Maya right now. She so could have rushed into it a couple of weeks ago. Truth was she could have kissed her already. She could have taken the risk. It seemed like an easy risk. Maya had pretty much opened the door for it to happen. But Emily wouldn't still do it.

She just needed to be cautious and slow and safe so not to shatter into a million pieces.

Spencer seemed to take some time to reflect on the answer, because she didn't shoot another question right away. After a few seconds had passed, the sound of her voice rasped the room in another whisper. "Is that all?" Her tone was encouraging. Apparently, she didn't want to win the argument; she just wanted Emily to talk.

"I'm not in love with her", Emily blurted out, suddenly starting to understand the truth about herself with the kind of imposing force that scared her because it wasn't the right moment to face it and she just wished to delay it some more, maybe until she was mentally prepared to move past it. But Spencer was the pushy friend, the awesome friend too, the one who never gave up, not even after what had happened to her today. Maybe this was needed, after all. "I want to be, though. I can be. It can happen."

With time.

And dedication.

And real-life care and desire and want.

"Yeah", Spencer agreed without really agreeing. It was as if Spencer had already understood that particular truth about Emily. But of course she had. "I guess it could happen."

The change in the verbal tense only scared Emily a little bit more. But she wouldn't give up either.

"Can I ask you a question?"

It was only fair to have her turn to force some honesty on Spencer.

"I won't stop you." Emily could hear the tease in Spencer's voice. "Although I could if I wanted to, right?"

"Right", Emily agreed, and it was probably right. But that wasn't what she wanted to know. "Why don't you like Maya?"

She had been willing to ask this for so long, she felt relieved to finally say it aloud.

"It's not that I…", Spencer started before stopping and trying to rephrase so she would be true to her own thoughts. "I think you deserve the best girlfriend you can get."

"And why do you assume it's not Maya?"

"It's…" Spencer wanted to say it was complicated. But the truth is that she just had a gut instinct about it. It wasn't complicated. It was simple, and clear as day, and solid as a rock, and certain as only her brain could become in a number of situations. "It's just that I know she's not."

"You know she's not?" It was Emily's moment to sound skeptical. This was not a History test. "How?"

"I…" It was hard to phrase her feelings over this. "You said it yourself, Em. You don't love her."

"That's not the point now." Or rather it wasn't what she was asking. Spencer was deflecting. "I want to know why you think she's not good enough. That's the question."

"Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer..."

"Spencer."

The tone was clearly a warning.

"Sorry", Spencer apologized, but Emily could sense the smirk. "So if I tell you what I think you won't get mad like every other time I say something about a potential girlfriend of yours?"

"I do not get mad." Okay, she did get mad, so maybe she was lying a little here.

"Remember Paige?"

"Hey, you stepped way over the line in that one, Spencer."

"She tried to drown you!", Spencer argued. "Not to mention all the homophobic remarks which ended up being some kind of self-hatred thing or whatever, I'm not even sure I wanna know."

Emily let out a sigh. Of course Spencer didn't want to know. And anyway she couldn't possibly know.

"You really have to stop doing things that I can do myself, Spencer."

"Okay, fair enough. You're not a child."

"Or a sweet little lamb."

"Right. Sweet little lamb either."

"Exactly, thank you. Now back to the original question, and I'm still waiting."

Spencer moved uncomfortably.

"There has to be a better person for you out there", she finally explained. "I can't really explain it better, but I know there's someone who's better for you, Em." That was all she could offer. It was as far as she had actually gone whenever she thought about Emily and Maya. She didn't like Maya, not anymore.

"Yeah, fine, Spencer, and thanks, but we're talking about real people, not about ideals."

"I'm not talking about an ideal girlfriend", Spencer protested. She took reality into consideration. She was a pragmatist, after all. And Emily did deserve a better treatment. Possibly, the best treatment that could be offered, because it was Emily, so it was obvious the best deserved the best. It was a fact. It was also justice. "Take me, for example. I would make the perfect girlfriend. So there has to be someone like that."

Right.

Emily held her breath in disbelief.

"Someone like what?"

"Someone who sees that, like I see it."

"That's not the point. You're not…" How was she supposed to explain this? You're not playing the field? You're not a contender?

"I know I'm not a contender", Spencer responded as if she could read Emily's mind. "But there has to be someone like me, I mean, with similar girlfriend-qualities, someone who can actually realize..."

What?

"Right." Emily could not believe what Spencer was saying. "And then you'll say you're not conceited."

"Hey, I know it sounds bad." Spencer took a pause to ponder on her next words, because even she knew it did sound conceited. She had a habit of screwing things up with Emily lately, but she couldn't really afford that anymore, and certainly, especially not tonight. "But that's not what I wanted to say."

"And what do you want to say then?"

"Just that I would never stop listening to you, Em", Spencer tried again. "I would never stop taking your calls. I would never just leave and go away saying nothing."

Emily opened her mouth, but no words came to her throat.

"That's what a good girlfriend would never do", Spencer summed up, finishing her argument. "Even if there's an A person doing evil things to everybody around."

"You didn't answer the phone today." Emily could only think of that argument, stunned as she was by Spencer's words.

Spencer felt as if she had been punched in the face. Because that was actually a good point; only relevant if she were actually a contender, which she wasn't, but it was a good one.

"Yeah, okay, but I did text you for help", she tried to excuse herself. "Plus I only disappeared for a couple of hours, it's not the same thing."

They both remained silent for a second.

It was Emily who finally recovered her voice. "You really have to stop doing this, Spencer. I'm serious." 

"Doing what?"

"This. Whatever you're doing. Talking about Maya and about others."

"Why?", Spencer asked, curious but a little scared as well. "How does it make you feel?  What am I doing so wrong here?"

Emily was finally able to tell herself how it made her feel, but couldn't Spencer see it without having to ask for it?

"It is weird, Spencer."

Spencer shut up, trying to second-read Emily's words.

"You mean it makes you feel weird?"

"I mean it is weird and so it makes me feel weird."

Spencer gave it some thought. She didn't totally understand it, but Emily's conclusion seemed valid enough.

"Okay then. I'll try to stop it." She had tried to stop it earlier. She had tried to stop it many times, so she wondered if she was really equipped to stop herself when it came to Emily. Probably not, but she had to...

"Don't try, Spence", Emily ordered. "Just stop it. Just do it."

Emily turned her body away, even though she had not been able to see Spencer's face at all during the last part of their conversation.

Spencer really had to stop this, and now she had told her enough as to why. If she didn't want to listen it wasn't really her fault.

Was it?

There was no way she was going to fall into the same situation she had lived through with Alison. She wondered if it really was the same problem: no, it wasn't. Alison was not Spencer, or rather Spencer was not Alison. Alison had played with her feelings, and Spencer was just being really confusing but seemed to mean well. It was amazing that a person so smart could actually behave so stupidly sometimes, and...

It was her own fault, really, not Spencer's fault. She had promised herself she would never ever allow herself to fantasize about another friend. She would just learn how to behave in the gay fraction of the teen population. And there she was once again: standing too close to one of her best friends, feeling rushed into some kind of awkwardness where she would be the one to lose because she would be the one who would be reading the wrong signs everywhere.

It wasn't about rejection.

It was about direction.

She didn't want to be directed towards another crazy, unrequited love story. Not with Spencer. Spencer was her best friend. And she had problems of her own now. She had just broken up with the boyfriend she loved, for god's sake, who was also one of Emily's best friends and, probably, her only male friend, and a really good one at that, by the way, and it had been so difficult to build up a sense of trust in their friendship, and, Jesus, she was so screwed forever and there was only one person to blame, herself.

She heard Spencer move closer to her, to a point where she could almost feel her breath in the back of her neck. It gave her goosebumps.

"Em", Spencer called out in a whisper. "I don't want this to go away." 

"What?" 

Emily turned back to face her again, worried about Spencer's shaky voice.

"This." Spencer's hand moved up in the air, as if to show the closing space between them. "Us. Our friendship. Me and you."

Emily felt her heart sink in her chest.

"I'm not going away, Spencer, I'm here."

"Yeah, I know, I just… I don't want to screw it up." She had screwed it up a lot already, for the look of it. "You have to trust me on this one."

Emily knew it wasn't Spencer's fault.

"You're not screwing it up", she reassured her again. "We're talking, we're here talking."

"I know. But you've been keeping me at arm's length for the last weeks and I don't want that to happen between us. Not again."

"It's not going to happen", Emily promised. "You're the closest friend I've got."

She tasted the danger in her own words. Spencer was the one who kept pushing her closer and closer despite all the efforts she had made to keep her distance and recover her balance. And, taking into account Spencer's own vulnerability, getting out of this intimacy, escaping it in some way, seemed almost impossible to do for any of them. It seemed as improbable as taking the spare bed tonight.

They would just have to work out their friendship step by step.

"So will you give me some time?" Spencer asked, looking for another comforting sign. "I promise I'll behave and..."

"Yeah."

Emily wondered why Spencer wanted time. Was it because she really needed it to adjust to what Emily was asking of her? But why would she need to adjust to that?

In her own view, it was probably her who needed time to stop the wheel that she was feeling inside of her. Time, even though her head was spinning.

She felt Spencer move again near her, trying to position her body in a more comfortable way, so she tried to keep quiet and still. It was going to be a long night.

Chapter Text

"I think we really need to cheer up the mood."

Hanna had summoned the group at the school cafeteria to have a quick snack before returning to their classes. A week had passed since Spencer's breakdown, but the mood was still gloomy. They had no news from Dr. Sullivan, but the police had been questioning the girls about the disappearance, and once again they were focusing on Spencer. They had found a shovel that apparently linked her to Dr. Sullivan's possible death, all a product of A's evil ways, and they were trying to build a case against her even though they needed to find Dr. Sullivan's body to back it up. There was no body, though. There was no sign of the good doctor. And the magnitude of Spencer's involvement seemed vague, to say the least; the police believed that applying pressure on the girls would be enough to make them crack, even though they had never gone far whenever they had tried that method. Still, the pressure was taking its toll on them, especially on the skinnier one of them.

Spencer frowned. She was far too stressed to pay attention to promises of cheerful delights.

"And what do you propose? Should we throw a party to celebrate my more than probable incarceration? Wait, maybe we can do it in jail next week."

Hanna faced her with her most worked-up, yet strangely patient expression.

"See?", she pointed her finger at Spencer. "That's what I mean. This is not doing yourself or us any favor."

She looked around to find Emily's and Aria's approval. They had been talking about their situation and they all agreed some kind of action was needed. Isolation was not good for them right now. They had to work as a group.

"Listen, guys, I already tried the let's-cheer-this-drama-up some weeks ago and it never worked."

Spencer chewed on her memories of the day in the park: they had a bitter taste. Her French Revolution had turned into another Rosewoodian Nightmare. She had lost Toby since then, Dr. Sullivan had disappeared, she was still a suspect of every kind of possible crime that may have ever happened in Rosewood, and, on top of all that, her best friend felt weird because of her.

"Wait", Aria asked, clueless. "When was that?"

"When we went to the park", Emily replied, guessing what Spencer had meant. "It was supposed to be a happy day."

"And it sort of was", Spencer dripped bitterly, because it had been a Sunday she had spent with Toby and with her friends. The she looked at Aria to provide her with more information about the event. "But you had to stay home to take care of Mike."

"Are you saying I missed the only moment when we tried to be happy in the last month?"

"Chill out, Aria", Hanna intervened. "You only missed Spencer making new gay friends."

Aria looked at Hanna and Spencer expecting an explanation, her big eyes only wider in surprise.

"I certainly didn't make any new friends", Spencer cut it off, her eyes suddenly ignited with fierceness. "And, besides, you're way happier than us, Ar, so don't try to play the take-pity-on-me card."

"All right!", Aria said, not wanting to get into trouble with Spencer. She knew she was still hurting over her break up with Toby. "So I guess we're not doing anything."

"Don't count on me", Spencer agreed. "I'm out."

She picked up her books and stood up decisively, but on the last moment she hesitated and looked back at Aria.

"Sorry about that. I know A is on your back too, so…"

"It's fine. But you should…"

"I gotta go to class now. You can tell me later." 

Spencer forced a smile so Aria wouldn't feel bad, but she had no intentions of negotiating the cheer-up thing with her friends.

She remembered she wanted to take a cup of coffee to class before she left, so she walked with her books to the bar and asked for a coffee to go. Emily, Hanna and Aria kept staring at her while she struggled with the books and the cup of coffee.

"Should we go help her?", Aria hesitated, almost getting up to do it. "I mean, she looks like she might need us."

One of the books Spencer was holding fell to the floor.

"She won't let us", Emily said thoughtfully. She was controlling her impulse to go over there herself. "Not until she's ready."

Spencer cautiously left the coffee cup on one of the tables and placed the book back under her left arm. Her expression was stern, focused, when she retrieved her coffee and walked slowly out of the cafeteria without ever looking back at her friends.

"She hates us", Hanna summed up. 

This comment surprised both Emily and Aria.

"C'mon, Han, you know that's not true", Aria reprimanded Hanna. "She just apologized to me."

Hanna leaned closer to them and shot them a direct, serious look.

"Yeah, after snapping at you, Aria. I'm trying to say something important here. She's not all right. She needs help."

"How could she be all right?", Aria defended Spencer. "She's going through a lot of things right now, and..."

"And that's why we have to get together and help her through it", Hanna explained before gazing back at Emily. "Like she would do for us. And you know it's true."

"Yeah, it is, but we already tried to talk some sense into her and it didn't work", Aria protested, thick brows knitting together. "I mean, wouldn't it be smarter to just wait and see if she...?"

"No."

"But Han..."

"So we have just to keep trying, okay?", Hanna answered. "Or should we just leave her on her own? Like that. I think I spotted one of Toby's Ts under her blouse. Plus she's not putting any make-up on."

"She's sad."

"So should we just let her drown?"

"No, of course we shouldn't", Aria convinced herself. "But what are we gonna do? I mean, if she doesn't even want us there it's..."

"I'll think of something."

Aria looked at Emily, who was following the conversation in silence. "Can't you talk to her? She listens to you."

In fact, Emily and Spencer had not talked much since that night at the Hastings' where Emily helped Spencer get through the night. They called each other every day to check they were all right or to exchange information about A, Dr. Sullivan and other matters – just no Maya, no Toby –, but they had been careful around each other. They were giving it time, like they had agreed.

Emily wondered if Spencer would actually listen to her now. She realized Spencer was starting to behave as an encapsulated soul, isolated and flying free; she guessed that was due to the fact she was feeling lonely and helpless, and she was worried about what that could do to Spencer, to the girl who always, always believed in herself. But she was also aware of her own dangerous position relating her friend. Spencer posed a danger to her heart right now. She knew it, and she had to keep it to herself.

"I can talk to her, but she's pretty much against any get-together", Emily resumed. She couldn't tell her friends about her worries. "You know it's not gonna be easy."

"Maybe we could lie to her, tell her we have a problem and make her come", Hanna thought aloud. "It's the kind of plan she'd like to throw..."

"On a suspect, Hanna", Aria cut her off. "It's not gonna work. She will kill us if we scare the hell out of her and it's nothing."

They shut up for some minutes, deep in thought.

"I gotta start having the same coffee she has every morning", Hanna said after a while. "I can't think of anything. It's bad enough to sit through the classes and then have to think about this..."

She felt she was the only one who had the guts to take Spencer's leading role now. For some reason, Aria was lost in some fog of indecisiveness and Emily was being rather timid about the situation. Hanna felt it should be either of them who took the lead, mostly because Spencer used to listen to them and not to her. But if they wouldn't do it, then she would find a way to get that girl out and face the situation together, like they had done all this time.

Emily felt the burden of Hanna's determination on her own shoulders. She knew Hanna well enough to realize she was adjusting to a role she considered suited for others.

"I'll talk to her, okay?" She swallowed her precautions once again. She was getting tired of feeling torn up and guarded as a friend. It just wasn't who she was. "I'll get her to come."

She stood up too, since she also had a class to prepare, but she stopped when she realized something.

"Where are we going to go?", she asked Hanna. "I mean, we have to go somewhere. And we're not going to the park again, right?"

"No, please", Hanna said. "No park, no soccer balls, no camera..."

"I'd offer my house, but I doubt it's the best option", Aria claimed, "unless you really want my brother around."

"And our bedroom is too small for all of us", Hanna added, looking at Emily, "including all the alcohol I'm planning to get for us, I mean, for Spencer to finally let go and open up."

"So  I'm  supposed  to  convince  her  to  go  to  her  own  house?"

"This is your new mission on earth, Em", Hanna teased, trying to encourage her. "And, trust me, it's a mission from hell." She almost felt sorry for Emily now. "Just think this is like if Ghandi were trying to stop thay ugly guy in the History class. The German guy who killed a whole bunch of people."

Both Aria and Emily widened their eyes a little.

"You're not really comparing Spencer to Hitler, right?"

"What? No."

"I think you're supposed to be Ghandi, Em", Aria clarified, turning to face Hanna. "You know, Han, if Spencer was here she'd totally..."

Hanna rolled her eyes. "But she's not."

"Any help with what I should tell Spencer?", Emily interrupted, her eye-roll even more pronounced than Hanna's. "So I can actually do something about this."

Hanna shrugged her shoulders, and Aria sent her most innocent gaze.

"Not really."

"Sorry."

"I'll find a way", Emily replied, her jaw clenching in tension. She just had to think really hard about the best strategy. "It'll be fine."

"Yeah, good luck with that", Aria said, then smiled sweetly to her, sensing her friend needed the spirit. "I'm sure she'll listen to you, she always does, Em."

She did?

Maybe she did, maybe sometimes she did, or at least Aria was convinced this was their best shot to get Spencer back to normal.

Emily left for class carrying the newest burden on her backpack. One more to add to all the rest.

"You think she will get to her?"

Aria's question was uttered while their eyes followed Emily leave the cafeteria with the same kind of focused, stern expression Spencer had worn some minutes earlier. 

"Yeah", Hanna assured. "Emily can do it."

Actually, Hanna wasn't so sure about it. Spencer was a hard nut to crack, and she was being harder than ever. But, if there was someone who could actually convince Spencer to change her mind, it was Emily. They were really close lately. They shared a bond that she did not share or understand at the moment, but in which she somehow trusted.

Emily spent all her classes breaking her head over this, but she couldn't really come up with a good idea that wasn't a gross lie that Spencer would either never buy or feel outraged by. Maybe she also needed that cup of coffee, as Hanna had said. Only her caffeine was the pool, so she decided she would go there after her classes. Even if she couldn't yet get under water – the doctor was close to discharging her, though – the pool always made her feel safe and sound, alone with her thoughts.

In the afternoon, after she had spent a couple of hours in the library trying to get prepared for another test on which she would not be able to concentrate, she went to the pool. She was alone. Swim practice had finished a while ago and the team didn't remain there; they didn't know what they were missing if they only went there for competition. That was all she wanted. She loved being there. She wished she would have brought her swimsuit so she could swim a couple of slow strokes. But, since she hadn't, she just sat on one of the benches they reserved for family, friends and general spectators and looked at the light blue water, now peaceful and untouched like a cold blanket.

She thought of Spencer. She had sat right there on the last meeting where Emily was able to participate before she passed out. Her figure had always been a point of reference to her whenever she came out of the pool, catching her breath because of the physical effort she had had to make; it wasn't anything romantic or sentimental – at least it wasn't at the time – but only a way to look for a rock that would allow her to focus and regain balance. Hannah could not always come to the meetings and Aria was too tiny to look around for her, but Spencer was there and she stood up in the crowd, with her tall, skinny body like an arrow and her right-through eyes that always seemed to address you and only you. However, Spencer was so nervous and moody lately that being alongside her was the opposite of the feeling Emily got right now in the pool. She hardly looked her in the eye, probably because of what they had said that night. Emily wondered if Spencer was really afraid of screwing up their friendship. But still, even though it was clear Spencer was exploring the new territory, Emily hoped she was able to feel her by her side. She would always be there. There was no way she was going to leave Spencer on her own. No way. She had always made that point clear.

What could she do to help Spencer or to get her close to them again? She tried to concentrate on Hannah's plan and not to let her mind wander other situations and possibilities. What would Spencer appreciate? What did Spencer actually cherish about her friendship with her friends, and with Emily in particular?

She took her cell phone and looked at the screen. No messages, no missed calls. The whole universe was expecting for her to be the one to make the call.

She dialled Spencer's number and waited for her to pick up.

"Hey." 

Spencer had answered after only a couple of tones.

"Hey!"

Emily could hear Spencer walking in the street.

"What's up?", Spencer said. She didn't expect Emily's regular call until tonight. "Is everything all right?"

"Yeah, nothing's up. I'm just sitting right here by the pool and I decided to call you", Emily explained. "Where are you?"

"What are you doing in the pool?" Spencer ignored Emily's question. "You're not allowed to swim yet."

"I'm not swimming, I'm just sitting here."

"Oh, okay." There was a pause. "I had to come get my mom's car, cause she's not here to do it herself."

Emily thought about addressing the topic in the most direct way, but she felt like she had to make a little more conversation.

"You know, I…" She thought about what to say next and decided against prolonging her anxiety. "I've been talking to Hanna and Aria and we've decided to get together on Saturday night."

"Aha." Spencer was caught off guard. "Okay."

"I just wanted to let you know in case you want to come with us." Emily was as straightforward and honest as she could possibly be. "You know, in case you change your mind."

"I'm not sure I wanna go", Spencer answered, and the reply encouraged Emily, because at least Spencer had changed from the absolutely-not, no-way-in-hell-am-I-going-anywhere-with-you that she had defended before to a position that sounded much weaker, even vague. It seemed she had stopped somewhere to talk because Emily could not hear the street noise anymore. "But thanks for letting me know." She did sound grateful too.

"Sure." 

Now they were stalled. This was going to be as difficult as Hanna had promised it would be.

Emily tried to think fast what her next move would be.

"Listen, I'm sorry about before, I know I've been kind of a jerk to you guys." Spencer was the first one to speak again. "I've been feeling bad about it the whole day."

A smile escaped and broke into Emily's lips.

Spencer might be hard and stern, but at the end she was always making things easier for her. She was such a softie.

"Well", Emily teased in a much calmer tone, "I'm glad to hear that."

"You're glad I'm feeling bad?"

"Yeah, in a way", Emily joked, because using Spencer's guilt feeling could prove of use if she wanted to accomplish her mission. "You should really think about coming on Saturday."

"And why's that?"

"Because we can't go to Aria's or to Hanna's", she summed up the truth. "Aria's brother is gonna be there and Hanna's bedroom is too small for the fo... all of us to fit."

"Didn't she have a basement where Caleb lived for a whole month or something?" Spencer's remark was rife with amused sarcasm. "Can't you throw a party there?"

Now it was Emily who was caught off guard.

"Ahm, I'll have to ask her about that."

"So you're basically telling me you need my house for a party that I don't wanna go to?"

She could hear Spencer softly laughing on the other end of the line. Good. She had been afraid Spencer was going to snap at her and politely send her to hell. Maybe Aria was right after all and Spencer did listen to her - sometimes, when it was not about Maya or another potential girlfriend.

"Yeah, that's basically it", Emily conceded. "But you should know it's not a party. It's just the four of us."

Spencer was clearly entertained by Emily's line of thought.

"Were you sent off to tell me that?"

"I volunteered", Emily clarified. "How do you like my masterplan?"

"It's actually neat. I always thought you had a thing for politics."

Emily laughed. There was nothing further from her mind than politics. Politics had always been Spencer's field, obviously. 

But the plan had worked.

Maybe she had a talent for devising master strategic plans to gain control and power. Or maybe it was just a natural flow with Spencer. It was as easy as talking to her.

"I don't think there should be a problem with getting the house", Spencer continued. "I'll ask my parents to see what they're planning to do, okay? So I'll text you later."

"Perfect", Emily said. "And thanks." She was really grateful it had actually been so easy.

"Sure."

Emily suddenly found her own optimism highly suspicious.

"Spencer, you will come, right?"

She suddenly imagined Hanna, Aria and herself spending the night at the Hastings' without Spencer actually being there. Sometimes Spencer could get wicked like that. And she had a thing for winning. Maybe this was about winning. Damn.

"Well, it's not like you really need me in the room, right?", Spencer teased. "You just need the house."

Emily frowned, although she knew Spencer was just teasing her.

"I think we'd enjoy having you there." 

"We'll see then. Life's full of surprises." Emily could hear the street again. "Hey, I gotta go now."

They said goodbye on the phone. The moment she hung up, Emily started typing a text to Hanna. "Got the house. And she'll be there". She was so sure of it. This time it was her who had won.

She smiled to herself. Talking to Spencer was so much fun, but being able to bend her will to hers was even better. She stared at the water again and felt her mood didn't match its calmness anymore. She felt somehow energised and powerful. But, since she was the worrying kind, she wondered if that was really good news. Not that she didn't like the feeling of it, but she had a vague idea of what it meant. It meant she liked it too much. It meant trouble, once again.

Chapter Text

Emily parked her car outside of the Hastings' and stopped the engine. It was 9 p.m.

"Let's go", Hanna said, picking up all of her things, which included a small cute suitcase and a plastic bag with some drinks.

Emily breathed deeply and took her backpack with her. It had been more than a week since she was here for the last time. She felt there had been some changes happening in her life, even though they were subtle and not obvious, at least to everybody else. Tonight was a test for her. It was the night she was coming back to Spencer's house and for some reason she felt nervous about it, even though she had been here a thousand times. She closed the car door with a resolved blow and followed Hanna to the main entrance.

When she arrived there, Aria was already at the door, welcoming Hanna.

"Where's Spencer?"

Emily asked the question while her old fear of having misunderstood the whole situation overtook her for a second. Maybe Spencer was not going to be here at all. Nobody seemed to notice the higher-octave of anxiety, though.

"She's coming back in a while", Aria explained, taking the plastic bag from Hanna's hands. "Why did you bring a suitcase? It's only one night, Hanna. It's not like you're gonna stay to live here."

Hanna rolled her eyes, as if no one in the world understood a single thing about life.

"I need things, Aria. And it's a small suitcase."

Aria started to put the drinks in the enormous fridge of the Hastings, until she took out a bottle of vodka, followed by another, this time blue and tall, of tequila.

"What am I supposed to do with this? And how did you manage to bring alcohol?"

"We brought alcohol?" It was the first time Emily had seen the alcoholic drinks. "Hanna, what if the police had stopped us on our way here?"

"Hello? I said I'd bring alcohol", Hanna reminded them. Of course, it was true. And it was Hanna. "Relax, girls. Nothing happened." She looked at both Emily and Aria, shrugging her shoulders dismissively in the process. "I just took a couple of things from my mom's. It's all good."

"Your mom drinks vodka and tequila?", Emily inquired, astonished, while reading the labels in the bottles. They were both so high-proof. She could picture Ms. Marin drinking wine, well, actually she had seen Ms. Marin drinking wine so many times, mostly during dinner, but the idea that she could drink other types of alcohol was strange. Not that she knew a lot about Ms. Marin, or about alcoholic drinks, for that matter. But it was still strange.

"Not together, Em", Hanna answered, a little exasperatedly at her friends' innocence. "We just happen to have a stash of, you know, alcohol that's convenient for different situations or, you know, for emergencies. I'm not really allowed to touch it but...", she trailed off, not really wanting to offer the whole explanation. "Anyway, you guys can thank me later."

"Are you sure?" Aria looked worried. "I mean, you think Spencer will be all right with this?"

"Why not? Spencer's not a puritan like you guys."

"But what about Spencer's parents?", Emily asked, even more worried than Aria. "I mean, we don't know if..."

There was a bang in the door. They all turned around to see Spencer standing there with her hands full of paper bags from the grocery store, which she could barely hold. She left them on the floor and smiled to them. Wearing a navy blue dress above the knees that Emily had already seen before, Emily thought it seemed she was slowly abandoning the stark black colors she had been using lately, which was positive and somehow hopeful. Her face was also fresh, flushed by the effort of carrying all the bags from her car to the house, small drops of sweat covering the side of her forehead. She stood there both graceful and ethereal, almost as if she wasn't there at all, like a sort of apparition, and Emily felt they had all frozen in contemplation of her friend. But it turned out it was only her, because Aria came running to take a couple of bags from the floor. She handed one to Emily and another one to Hanna, and they started putting them on the counter.

"Thanks", Spencer told them, walking into the kitchen after them. "My parents won't be home tonight, so we got the house for ourselves. That means: yes, we can actually drink alcohol, Hanna."

There was a little smirk quirking her lips.

For some reason Emily felt a little more nervous after the revelation, even though Spencer's parents weren't usually there anyway. She was already starting to thank Hanna.

"Great!" Hanna exclaimed, not caring about the bags anymore. "Told you, guys. So can we just have fun and forget about the twelve-step program?"

She looked at Emily and Aria, waiting for them to comply. She had brought the alcohol precisely to ease the mood, since things were a little rough lately. She figured they needed some external help, and who needed a (vanished) psychologist when they had alcohol to share in an empty house? She believed all of them could actually use it, especially Spencer, who desperately needed to have a break from her life. Although she did seem to be fine tonight. Emily and Aria looked way more worried than Spencer, come to think of it.

Spencer went inside the kitchen and started taking the groceries out of the bags and putting them inside the fridge and the kitchen drawers.

"So what do you feel like eating?", she asked, quickly glancing over the small group of three. "Anything special?"

"We're not gonna cook, are we?" 

Hanna had a look of horror, so Spencer stopped moving around and stared at Hanna.

"I just think it'd be smart to have dinner before getting drunk."

"Yeah, yeah." Hanna felt relieved Spencer only spoke about eating food and not about cooking it. "And I think we should order pizza like other times we've spent the night here."

"Whatever you want", Spencer accepted without a struggle. "Are you guys fine with pizza?" She looked at Emily and Aria, who just stayed there watching the dynamics between Hanna and Spencer.

They both nodded, so she went to the phone to make the call. She ordered some pizzas and came back to the kitchen to continue placing the groceries she had brought, while Aria and Emily helped her and Hanna just took her suitcase and everybody's backpacks to Spencer's room. After a while, the delivery guy came with the pizzas Spencer had ordered, so they all gathered in the living room around the center table and started eating. When they had finished with most of the pizza, Spencer left and then came back with the bottles Hanna had brought and four glasses where she poured tequila shots. They all drank at once.

"To get-togethers", Spencer said, already preparing the second shot. "And to sleepovers."

"And to hangovers", Hanna added, "if they're worth the pain."

They all laughed and raised their small glasses, toasting with her.

Hanna's eyes sparkled with mischief.

"I got something else."

She got up to get her purse from one of the chairs in the living room. When she came back, she bent down to show a pack of cigarettes.

"Hanna", Spencer exclaimed, clearly disgusted. "What the hell is that?"

"I believe they're called cigarettes, Spencer. Aren't you the smart one?"

"Why did you bring that?", Emily asked, already a little dizzy from the two shots she had ingested.

"Caleb gave it to me, and I figured we could use it", Hanna explained. At Spencer's ongoing horrified expression, she felt obliged to continue. "It's not like he smokes... He used to, but not anymore. And anyway I've never tried them."

They all looked at the pack of cigarettes like it was an item from evil.

"C'mon, girls, it's not gonna bite. I'm just gonna try it before I throw it away", Hanna claimed, a pout circling her perfect mouth. "Why do I always have to be the bad one?"

"You're not." Emily was feeling a little reckless tonight. It probably had to do with the alcohol she had already drunk, but she was not going to leave Hanna alone with the bad-girl behaviour. "I'll try them with you."

"What?" Spencer's eyes widened in shock. "Em!" 

"Yeah, Em, do you really think it's a good idea?", Aria corroborated. "I mean, with the ulcer and all..."

"Why? Is it gonna open a bigger hole in my stomach?"

"No, but it's not good for your lungs", Spencer warned, concerned. "For your breathing. For swimming."

"And it gives you a bad breath", Hanna added with a slight smile. "But it's only one."

"It's not like it's gonna kill me, Spence." Emily shot her a look. "I'm just gonna try one."

Hanna took out a lighter from her purse and sat down on the floor, next to Emily. "That's my girl", Hanna cheered, lighting one of the cigarettes and passing it to Emily. Then she lighted hers and looked wonderingly at it. "Let's do the bad girl attitude."

Emily hesitantly put the cigarette between her lips and tried a drag, thinking of all the pictures of actresses and writers she had seen during her life. Marlene Dietrich. Greta Garbo. Carson McCullers. Pictures in black and white, from another time, far away, when smoking a cigarette was cool and elegant and sexy. She could feel her friends' eyes on her.

She aspired and then coughed. Sexy might not be the appropriate feeling after all. It was more like sick.

"That's not how you do it", Spencer said out of the blue, her eyes warm and mocking at the same time. "Gimme one."

Hanna took another one and passed it to Spencer, along with the lighter. She lighted the cigarette and gently aspired, almost as if she was kissing it with her thin lips while its end burned slowly in response. She looked triumphantly to the girls when she let the smoke out of her mouth.

Sexy might actually be the appropriate word for certain people, Emily thought to herself.

"Wow, Spence, you're good", Hanna admired, gaining a brilliant smile from Spencer. "Nerd knows how to do bad things."

"It's not your first time", Aria concluded, her mouth still open in disbelief.

"How can you tell?", Spencer responded, taking another drag. "I smoke a couple when I was dating Alex."

"I'm impressed", Hanna acknowledged. "Aria, what about you? Anything you wanna do? Or share with us?"

"I'll pass, thanks."

Aria was not really in the mood to get into this competition the girls were having with the cigarettes. Because, well, she'd heard smoking did give a bad breath, besides all the other stuff, such as cancer and... everything. However, she'd gladly collaborate with them in the mission of getting drunk, so she poured another shot of tequila into her glass.

"Me too, please", Emily requested. She had decided against smoking and was now in favor of returning to tequila.

"You give up too easily, Em", Spencer remarked, looking straight at her. 

"You think?", Emily asked with a bite, returning her look somewhat defiantly. "I know when I've been beaten. Anyway it's kinda disgusting."

She regretted saying it right after the words were out of her mouth, because she didn't want Spencer to take the comment personally. Smoking looked nothing but smoking hot in Spencer. It just tasted bad in her own mouth, and it made her feel silly, and anyway she was afraid she was gonna puke if she tried to continue smoking and drinking. But Spencer just looked at her for a second and then looked away, as if she didn't care about the meaning.

"Take it easy, Em", Hanna teased, observing how Emily drank tequila from her glass. "We don't wana have to remind you of the last time you got drunk." 

Emily had gotten so wasted during that dance night at school she had been sort of difficult to handle. Spencer had had to drive her home. In all truth, it had been Hanna's fault. Whose else coult it be? Hanna had taken the alcohol to the party. Much like tonight, anyway. 

It had been the night Maya had refused to take any of Emily's calls.

Spencer laughed at the memory of Emily's drunkenness, but didn't say anything, proceeding to pour some tequila into her own glass. She looked like the very image of perdition, holding the glass with one hand and the cigarette with the other. She took a sip and let the glass rest on her thigh.

"Any other fond memories you wanna share with us, Spence?", Hanna asked, noticing Spencer's chuckles. "Something else Alex forced you to try?"

"No, not really", Spencer answered, blowing out another cloud of smoke and reclining against the couch. "You know, he was a really good kisser."

"Alex?"

Spencer nodded enigmatically at Hanna's question.

"Oh, nice", Aria exclaimed, excited, "we're gonna talk about kissing."

"I guess that means Mr. Fitz is a really good kisser too", Hanna commented, looking at Aria.

"You know in your mom's opinion I should be the one to know", Spencer joked, looking at Aria as well. "I can try him out if you want, Aria. Tell you what my opinion is."

"No, but thanks for offering", Aria winked back at Spencer. "He's good, yeah. I mean, from my experience, he's good."

"He's good", Hanna mimicked Aria's words and tone. "You've run out of words. That's how good he is, right?"

"How many people have you guys kissed?", Aria asked. "Like, in the last year?"

"You mean since we started kissing anyone at all?"

"Yeah", Aria replied to Hanna's question. "How many?" 

"Only two", Hanna answered, looking defeated. "Should they be more?"

"Not if you don't want to kiss more", Aria said. "Spencer?"

"You know I kissed Andrew Ferguson when I was six?", Spencer threw in. "But it doesn't really count cause, you know, it's not like it was a real kiss or anything."

"Tongue or no tongue?"

"I was six, Han."

"So how many?", Aria repeated the question, not wanting Spencer and Hanna to get into another one of their banters. "Last year."

"Four."

Spencer felt a chill down her spine remembering Ian's kiss a year ago. It almost made her sick.

"It's not a bad number", Hanna responded. "Em? What about you?"

"Five."

Emily remembered Alison's kiss, which had happened ages ago in her memory. It didn't make her shiver anymore. Not anymore. 

"Wow, you beat the ass out of us", Hanna said admiringly. "You totally win at life."

"Well, not all of them were so amazing, you know."

"Anyone you'd like to remember?", Spencer dared, lifting her head from her glass to look directly at Emily. "A really good one?" Spencer wasn't sure why she was asking. She counted Ben, Maya, the psycho girl and Samara, so the other one must have been Ali.

"You mean like Alex?" Emily returned Spencer's look, feeling again strangely challenged. "That kind of thing?"

"Yeah, exactly."

"Best kisser in the field", Hanna approved of the question. "Oooops, and it rhymes with you, Em."

"That's not a rhyme, Hanna."

"What is it then?"

"It's a pun", Spencer corrected. "A pun, like a game, a..."

"Whatever."

"I bet it's Maya", Aria guessed. "Right, Em?"

"No." Emily shook her head, reflecting on the question. "I actually have another one in mind." The tequila seemed to be easing her tongue and her muscles, not to mention her brain and different layers and filters. Finally, she got it out. "Paige was pretty good."

"You've got to be kidding", Spencer blurted out in what sounded slightly louder than a mere surprised whisper. "God."

Psycho girl was a good kisser.

Amazing.

And disgusting, as Spencer saw it. As in gross. As in very unpleasant. As in... She couldn't really think of those many words.

"She was good for real", Emily said in Spencer's direction. "And we're talking about best kisses, so it's not really my fault."

"Of course it's not your fault, Em", Hanna supported her, "it's your game."

"It'd actually be more like Paige's game, Han", Aria corrected. "I think it's great."

"Sure, I bet her kisses feel somehow like... danger", Spencer drawled sarcastically. "I'm just guessing."

"Spencer just can't get over the fact that she tried to drown you", Hanna explained to Emily. "But if the girl can kiss, the girl can kiss."

"Why was she that good?", Aria asked, curiosity glowing in her eyes and slowing down her tongue. "I mean, what makes someone a good kisser, from your perspective, Emily?"

"It's a gay perspective", Hanna reminded her. "It's not gonna help you find out about Mr. Fitz's skills, Ar." 

"It's still her perspective", Aria cut Hanna off, "and I wanna know about it."

Emily leaned back to have a good look at Aria, Hanna and Spencer. They were all expecting her to say something. Why did they want to know? It's not like she knew a lot about kissing. True, she had kissed five people in the last year, but that was because she had been driven by circumstance rather than by lust. One of the people she had kissed during this year had been Ben, and that was unpleasant for her, and perhaps also for him. She envied Hanna, who was in love with a guy who kissed her every day, at least whenever he was not in California.

She took another sip from her tequila shot. Her mind was still sharp and clear, but she didn't want to lose the hold on herself. She knew how alcohol worked: she might feel the power of it now, but later she would probably go down a long way. She caught a glimpse of Spencer, who was sitting across from her with her back on the couch, even though she was trying hard not to focus on her reactions – or on her actions. She looked so beautiful tonight, with her blue dress that was already wrinkled and starting to roll up her thighs because of the position they were sitting on the floor. She was the only one who was wearing a dress. It didn't seem like such a smart idea, but she didn't seem to care.

Spencer looked back at her, strangely shy and expectant.

"Well, it's not so easy to describe. You just have to…", Emily tried, but stopped to put the image she had in place. "I like it slow. I don't like it when it's too fast or when it feels imposed."

She couldn't do better. It was always more fun to do it than to speak about it.

"Yeah, I know what you mean", Aria agreed. "It's not good when it's rushed."

"Or when there's a lot of tongue involved", Hanna contributed her own idea.

"Yeah, that's it", Emily nodded.

It had to be slow, but mainly smooth and delicate, even when it was rushed. That's how she saw it, or rather how she tasted it.

Spencer abruptly got up from the floor.

"I'm gonna get another one of these."

She pointed to the tequila bottle, even though there was no more tequila in the house.

She walked a little unsteady to the wine cabinet her father kept in a corner of the living room. It seemed alcohol had already started to make its way through her veins and towards her head, because she wasn't thinking very clearly now. Well, that was the point of alcohol, right? That was why they were all drinking right now. To ease the nerves, to loosen up, to let go and dream of better things to come.

She opened the cabinet and searched for what was inside. Wine bottles. It was probably not a very good idea to mix wine with tequila. And now that she remembered, the bottle of vodka was still there – untouched. Was it a good idea to mix vodka with tequila? Probably not. She should be smarter than that. She should be smarter than a lot of things, and than a lot of people. But here she was: drinking tequila shots, smoking cigarettes and thinking strange thoughts to herself in the most badass and undignified way she could ever imagine.

An image of Paige kissing Emily came to her mind. She tried to shut it down. Then came a somehow more upsetting image of Emily kissing Maya. No, not that one either, please. She was through with the Maya thing. She tried to think of something else. No Toby. No nothing. Everything made her feel weird right now.

She grabbed a bottle of wine and came back to the table around which the girls where sitting waiting for her. Hanna got a hold of her to help her sit on the floor and carefully took the bottle of wine from her hands and placed it somewhere else where she really couldn't reach it.

"I'm fine", Spencer assured Hanna. "I just brought it in case we need it."

"We still have tequila." Hanna smiled, pointing at the last quarter of the tequila bottle, which was full. "And vodka."

Spencer sat back and lighted another cigarette. She decided Hanna was right. She shouldn't drink more alcohol, at least for a while. She tried to push down her dress so it wouldn't totally come up and put her long wavy hair up in a ponytail. It was rather hot in the room and she felt like she was burning inside.

"So, Em, how's it going with Maya? ", Aria asked, trying to make some interesting conversation again. "I've been wanting to ask you for ages."

Spencer lifted her head but didn't say anything.

Emily smiled, thinking it was funny that Maya's theme was now being brought up by someone other than Spencer. She could imagine Spencer literally biting her tongue to drink some kind of tequila-tongued venom.

"It's fine", she answered Aria. "It's kinda cooling down, though."

"How come?" Aria sounded sad, almost disappointed. "Is she stupid or what?"

"She's not, I cooled it down." She hadn't felt this honest in years. No, maybe she had never before felt this way. She definitely had to thank Hanna for bringing the alcohol. Alcohol made her want to share some of the stuff that went around - yes, mostly, right now, it was going around - in her head. "I think we should just stay friends for the moment."

"Oh." Aria sounded disappointed again, but also curious. "I suppose that means we can set you up on dates now."

"Sure", Emily agreed, not that she was looking forward to the prospect. "Just no blind dates, please. Or dates with blind people."

She laughed at how goofy she was feeling and, to her surprise, she heard the girls laughing around too. Although Aria was the one keeping the conversation, she couldn't help stealing a glance at Spencer, who seemed to be distracted with something else. Even so, her mouth was turned up in an incipient smile. Emily thought Spencer should cut the act already. Or perhaps she had indeed lost all interest in her love life. It was a possibility after the conversation they had and the agreement they reached.

But she didn't think so.

She was sure Spencer was biting her tongue.

"Think of it this way", Hanna encouraged her. "Now you can kiss six people and totally kick our ass."

"I bet you're a great kisser", Aria exclaimed, causing Emily's dark complexion to suffer from intensive blushing. "Definitely you sound like you are."

"Aria!" Hanna exploded in laughter. "Are you implying you'd like to cheat on Mr. Fitz in order to take a kissing lesson from Emily?"

"No, of course not!" Aria looked at Emily, and suddenly her expression turned so serious and profound. "I'm just saying you're totally hot and you're gonna find a totally hot girlfriend who's gonna appreciate how totally hot you are."

As Aria saw it, Emily had always been both the hottest and the sweetest one of them all. You just had to look at her to realize it. Her beauty went without saying. It pained her to see how difficult it was for her to actually find someone to share her days with. Damn Ali. For some reason, she blamed her for the obstacles Emily was finding in her way to true, epic love.

"See?" Spencer interrupted in a dreamy voice. "That's what I always say. I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who thinks the same."

She had been following the conversation with a rush of excitement inside her chest and now she couldn't hold back, even though she had almost gotten accustomed to not speaking about Maya or other potential girlfriends of Emily.

"Wait, what do you always say?", Hanna asked for clarification. "Because you say a lot of things every day."

"Me?" Spencer was glad to see someone was interested in knowing what she thought about this. "I always say that Em deserves the best girlfriend she can get on earth. It's not that weird."

But, then again, Emily considered it weird.

"Yeah", Hanna conceded, "I agree." 

"Spencer just doesn't like any of the real people around", Emily clarified to Hanna. If Spencer considered this was the right moment to open her mouth and stop getting drunk with her own tongue, then she would open hers too. She was so sure Spencer was holding herself back, and here was the proof of it. And she couldn't give a damn for caution anymore. Not tonight. This was what tonight was invented for. "She has this ideal girlfriend in mind."

"Yeah, that sounds a lot like Spencer." Aria put her two cents.

"Hey… Am I really that bad?" She knew she was. Emily had told her so. "I'm just saying there must be someone out there who's totally perfect for you."

Spencer figured they could break their silent agreement now that the girls had actually initiated the conversation. That wouldn't make it awkward, would it? Emily seemed to be doing okay now that they were talking about it in front of Hanna and Aria. So what the hell.

"No one's perfect, Spence", Aria argued. "I know it's difficult for you to understand but..."

"Okay, fair enough, then someone better than a psycho-drowning girlfriend or a long-time-no-see girlfriend."

"You can keep on giving examples, please."

Emily's warn caused Spencer to shut up. So maybe it wasn't so okay for her to say it, for some reason that she still didn't completely grasp, apart than the fact that she could sometimes sound like a repellent know-it-all. Maybe that was it.

"Yeah, it sounds a lot like you're proposing yourself for girlfriend of the year", Hanna teased Spencer. "Ms. Perfect Hastings, do you wanna be Emily's girlfriend?"

"Exactly", Emily blurted out excitedly, then immediately regretted it. "Which is why I need to lower my standards and keep going out with all kinds of girls." She hoped that would cover up the mess. She was feeling so easygoing tonight she had forgotten about being tightlipped to the point of blubbermouthing whatever crazy things were going on inside her. But she couldn't give too much away. She had to work it out with Spencer first. She shouldn't forget about that. It was the alcohol. The alcohol had made it.

"I think you mean making out", Spencer mumbled out of the corner of her mouth.

"Excuse me?" But she couldn't completely avoid another furious blush.

"You guys are so into each other you should totally date", Aria exclaimed happily, looking both at Emily and Spencer. She became so enthusiastic whenever she drank alcohol. "Like, it'd solve a lot of problems, right?"

There was a very brief silence, while Emily tried to make sense of the sounds in her ears.

"Spence, you'd totally make the perfect girlfriend", Hanna agreed, laughing at Spencer's expense. "You could take all of Em's tests."

"I know", Spencer said quietly, thinking about what a disaster her actual love life had always been to this very day.  She leaned over to put out the cigarette on the ashtray that laid on the table and stole a glance at Emily, who was still blushing and seemed on the verge of freaking out. "Anyway I just worry about Emily, that's all."

"Are you actually rejecting her?" Hanna faked outrage, then looked at Emily. It was fun to mess up with Spencer, although she wasn't easy to get caught. "She's rejecting you. You should not allow that, Em."

"What?", Spencer protested, leaning her back against the couch again. "I'm so not! You guys and your listening skills, like... no wonder you never know what they're asking you in class, Han." 

"But you're saying you wouldn't take her out." Aria carried on with the joke, deciding to go along with Hanna. "I mean, we do listen."

"I'd totally take her out", Spencer gave in with a smirk. "She's cute." She decided to look Emily in the eye, since it was weird to talk about her without actually looking at her face. "You're cute."

Emily felt her whole body shiver. Shit, she had a problem with this. She really couldn't take it whenever Spencer looked at her like that and spoke to her like that. She had lost track of the meaning of what they were actually saying at some point in the conversation. There were sounds, taunting and making fun of her, somehow, smirks and sparkling eyes. It was like she couldn't actually decode the words, even though she heard them. She felt like she was floating around all of these words, or like they were floating around her, spiced up with the challenge in Spencer's pose. It was...

"Cute?" 

Hanna was not satisfied with Spencer's mild response.

"Yeah, cute."

"Obviously you don't deserve to apply for the girlfriend position, because she's not cute. She's freaking gorgeous."

This was not happening.

It would be embarrasing if it wasn't somehow... intensely vague and exciting.

Emily's heart raced a hundred beats at once. She reached for the remains of the blue tequila bottle as a way to look away and distract herself from the conversation, and poured the remains on her own glass and Aria's, who was sitting by her side. Distracting herself with more alcohol seemed like the kind of thing that could make the weird thrill of being the center of attention of her friends (yes, friends) in terms of beauty and cuteness go. That way she could pretend she was not listening, or she could think of something witty to say. Or maybe not.

"That's true, Spence", Aria intervened in the discussion, taking yet another sip of tequila. "Em, you're totally hot and anyone with eyes can see that. That excludes Jenna…and apparently Spencer too." She bursted out in uncontrollable laughter right after saying it.

"Thanks, Aria", Emily said back at her, hardly containing her own smile at Aria's laughter. "But cute's fine with me. I can get by with that." 

Emily drank the shot in one gulp and felt the skin up to her cheeks heat up even more.

It wasn't that she felt insecure about her looks. She was aware that she was cute, gorgeous, or however you'd want to put it. She was not modest or humble, and she knew she had the looks. But who cared if she was cute or not? She didn't have a girlfriend at the moment, had hardly ever had one, and was falling pretty hard for Spencer, her friend, her straight friend, right now. Was Spencer really that straight? No, she shouldn't start thinking about that. You were not supposed to wonder about your best friends' sexuality unless they came to you because they had a problem with it. Right?

Right.

She was not replaying the Alison drama again.

Right.

That much was clear to her.

However, to make everything worse, and also somehow kind of unclear, alcohol was not really stopping her from falling. It was probably making her fall worse and clumsier than ever before. She could see herself tripping over every tone of voice and every twinkle of the eye. It was such a cliché.

She was such a cliché.

She was such a gay cliché.

She was such a gay, drunk cliché.

But was she pissed off at Spencer for that? No, she wasn't. Not anymore. Alcohol was not keeping her from falling, but it made her feel funny and sort of dizzy and foggy and even a little excited about it. So cute be it. That was still right. She could live with that and with all the other things that were happening to her. She could live with a crush, she could live with a fall, she would rise again. And she could certainly accept Spencer calling her cute. Especially if she said it in that low tone of voice that was getting even huskier now that she had been drinking and smoking.

Spencer reached for the bottle, which was now empty, and looked inside.

"We've run out of tequila." She seemed so disappointed now you would believe she had been waiting to finish the bottle herself, even though she hadn't touched alcohol in a while. "Maybe we should start with the vodka?"

"Whoa, I don't think so." Aria refused the idea. She was already intoxicated, and the others were too. "I'm too small for this."

"Oh-kay." Spencer looked at all of them thoughtfully. "You guys know that you're right", she stated, reaching a final conclusion on the matter they'd been discussing. "Em, you're really beautiful, you are." She had another word in mind that she had thought: stunning. But for some reason she felt embarrassed to say it, and beautiful seemed a proper, standard term for what she could see in Emily's face and whole figure and persona.

"Don't try to make it right now", Hanna scorned. "You're already screwed."

"Is it too late to fix it?", she asked, half joking.

"No, it's fine", Emily assured, smiling. "Thanks, all your encouragement is greatly appreciated, guys, and will be of use whenever I make out with more girls."

She looked at Spencer when she said this. She wanted her to take note of it. Oh, she was indeed misbehaving tonight, at least from her own point of view. She was actually throwing away all her good efforts of the last week, as well as Spencer's.

"Now you can go out and find yourself a hot girlfriend", Aria resumed. "Or a cute one."

"Or a gorgeous one", Hanna added in.

"Right now?", Emily smirked. "I don't think the clubs are open this late."

They continued talking for a while, picking up Mr. Fitz's topic to see if Aria could actually word her feelings about him. Spencer started some diatribe about one of Mr. Fitz's poems that she had read, because Aria had recommended it to her, and that, in her point of view, perfectly evoked the feeling of sheer love they shared, even though there was no sex involved; but no one really understood what she meant, not even Aria. There were too many words coming out of her mouth per second. Badass Spencer couldn't really exceed nerdy Spencer, in all truth, but it was too late to follow the combination of the two.

It was late when Hanna started yawning and dozing off in the middle of Spencer's discourse, so Emily decided it was time for her and Hanna to go upstairs and get some sleep. Spencer decided to stay up a little, and Aria decided she would stay with Spencer. At least they were talking about Mr. Fitz, and it wasn't a good idea, in her opinion, to leave Spencer alone. She might have been in a good mood tonight, but she was still unstable and upset about everything that was going on. And anyway they were sharing the bed tonight, so she would stay up with her until Spencer wanted to go to sleep.

They all wished their good nights and parted ways.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

"I can open my own damn door!"

Spencer stepped back to let Emily do what she wanted. She was driving her to her place, since Emily couldn't drive her own car and swore she would not go home either. Spencer had also asked Hanna to come with them: she didn't want to be alone with Ian and Emily would probably not be able to offer a lot of company tonight. For the look of it, she was going to snore the night away.

Emily threw herself on the passenger's seat. When Spencer sat by her side on the driver's seat, Emily was still struggling with the seatbelt. Spencer tried to help her fasten it, which gained her another outraged look from Emily.

"I can do this too, okay?"

She had quite the attitude when she got drunk, apparently.

Spencer waited patiently for Hanna, who was still talking to Lucas at the entrance of the school. After a couple of minutes, Hanna approached the car with a pained expression. She opened the back door and came into the car.

"Okay, girls, let's go."

None of them answered. Spencer started the car and drove slowly. She didn't want to attract the attention of the police tonight. She thought about what Ian had told her at the dance. He had sounded so menacing. It was a good thing she had managed to mislead him telling him about the kiss they shared some months ago, after Emily had made a scene in front of him. He was probably wondering now if someone other than Emily, and perhaps Aria, knew about it. At least he didn't know they knew he was Alison's killer. Because he was Alison's killer. He had to be. And that meant she was in danger, and Emily and Aria and also Hanna were in danger too, and Melissa, as well as everybody in freaking Rosewood. She had to find a way to trap him, to disclose him. She had to think about it and not panic.

She looked at Hanna on the rear-view mirror. She was looking outside at the road. What was going on with her tonight? As for Emily, Spencer had an idea of what was going on. She was unhappy. There was trouble in Mayaland. Emily thought Maya was moving on, since she was not really taking any of her calls, and once Emily had actually talked to her, after doing all kinds of tricks and cracks on the phone thanks to that shady hobo guy at school, Maya seemed to be out of it already and not care for Emily anymore. Spencer had tried to provide comfort. Maya was lost in the wild. Maya was having a hard time with the experience of being sent out to Juvie camp by her girlfriend's mother. Maya would be her old self after a while, etc. But Emily seemed angry and sad, no matter what Spencer said, and perhaps she had reasons to be. Was Maya really giving Emily the cold shoulder? How could that be? She had seemed to be head over heels with her. And she had fought for her, forcing Emily to realize her true feelings. So the girl deserved at least a chance unless she hurt Emily on purpose, but that didn't seem to be the case.

Emily shifted around in the passenger's seat. She leaned forward, opened the glove compartment and started moving things around, looking for a yet unidentified thing.

"What are you exactly looking for?", Spencer asked, patiently. Emily was disarranging the perfect order of her compartment.

But Emily didn't even look at her and continued searching for the object of her current worries.

"I wanna listen to a good song."

So that was it. She was looking for music.

Spencer put the radio on. Some indie rock group started to sound in the car, its languid, dreamy voices making the car elevate in the night.

"That's so depressing", Emily ordered.

It did sound like an order, not like an affirmation, so Spencer changed the station. Lady Gaga started to scream in the car. want your drama, the touch of your hand. Would that be cheerful enough? It seemed so, because Emily turned up the volume and got quiet in her seat.

Spencer heard Hanna lean towards her back and whisper in her ear.

"Spence, can you drop me home?", Hanna asked. "I think I should sleep there after all."

They were close to the Marin's. She thought about protesting, but she was too tired and Hanna must have had a good reason to want to go home.

"Okay", Spencer grunted, unable to ask for the favor anymore. "You sure?"

"Sorry", Hanna apologized. "But you'll be fine, you're with Emily."

Yes, like Emily was going to be able to protect her from a hockey coach armed with a baseball bat or a golf club or whatever other weapon he would use on her. It was more likely that Emily would wake up next to her body covered in blood, in case Ian decided this was a good night to eliminate her. Nice thought. Really, really nice thought.

She shivered in fear, but didn't complain.

Wishing Hanna good night once they stopped at the Marin's, she then continued the ride.

When they arrived at her house, she gently touched Emily's shoulder to wake her up. She had fallen asleep at some point. Emily half opened her sleepy dark eyes and clumsily got out of the car, and so Spencer walked her to the entrance of her house, following her closely from behind so she wouldn't trip. She was still wearing her heels, but Spencer didn't dare say anything to her, considering her angry, loud drunk self.

When they reached a small step in the back garden of her house, Spencer grabbed Emily's arm. Even with Spencer's help, Emily swung a little and held on to Spencer's body, so she had to put her arm around Emily's waist. A familiar, yet intoxicating scent clouded her mind for a second. Apple. Vanilla. The shampoo Emily used every day. She had smelled it a hundred times, had even borrowed it too in a couple of occasions when she had crashed at Emily's, but it struck her to smell it so fresh and powerful in her hair now, more intense than the cloud of vodka that was starting to transpire from Emily's whole body. She firmly got hold of Emily's waist and walked her to the door, where she let go of her so she could look for her keys.

Emily turned around to look at her.

"Thanks." She was back to her sweet self, then. "So do you wanna come in?"

Spencer couldn't help but offer a wide grin. "You do know this is my house, right?"

"Oh."

Emily seemed surprised. She must have forgotten about refusing to go to her own home. She fixed her eyes on the door, then looked back at the garden, and a flash or recognition showed in her eyes. Yes, that was the Hastings'. No doubt about it.

Spencer was still grinning, observing the slow, drunken process of recognition in Emily's face.

"So I am staying here with you", Emily stated, looking for a confirmation. Spencer nodded, her grin wider now, and Emily furrowed her brows in a new show of outrage, however softer than the earlier ones. "Are you laughing at me?"

Spencer let out a laugh. Emily leaned on the door, so she could face Spencer better.

"Am I too funny? Or just pathetic?"

"No, you're not pathetic", Spencer rushed. "But you are indeed too funny."

Emily didn't say anything, but her lips turned upwards slightly, the promise of another outrage shot down, and her cheeks stood out even higher than they usually were when she was serious, as well as sober. She had such a cute smile. It was shy, but it could turn sly in a second.

"I think we should come in." Spencer had the keys in her hand, but she couldn't really open the door with Emily leaning there.

Instead of getting out of the way, Emily held on to Spencer's shoulder again and started taking her shoes off. First, she took off the left one. She pressed against Spencer's body not to lose balance, and then repeated the operation with her right shoe.

Without her heels, she was a little shorter than Spencer, but that was only because Spencer was still wearing hers.

"I'm falling", she offered as an explanation.

"I see."

Another grin started to break out into Spencer's lips. She was starting to freeze out there, but the scene was oddly amusing.

Not to mention Emily must have been freezing all the way, since she wasn't wearing a coat and her bare arms just stood like that in the cold. They should probably come inside, especially Emily. Alcohol tended to make people oblivious of the cold.

"Have you ever loved someone?"

Emily's question came with no intentions of letting her open the door.

"What?" 

She wondered if Emily really wanted to have that conversation out there in the middle of the night. Since she was completely drunk, it was a possibility.

"Have you ever loved someone?", Emily repeated, tasting every word while she spoke. "Like, truly loved them."

True love.

True love in the wild, with the bears, not returning the calls.

But Emily had loved Alison too, and Alison was dead. Enough reason not to have this conversation when Alison's killer could just come and complete his murderous mission with them both. Two dead bodies in the cold, dressed like they had just left a party. Who could care about love?

"I don't have time to be in love", Spencer answered, going for the meaning of infatuation and not for other kinds of love. Because she did love her family and her friends. But obviously that wasn't what Emily's question was about.

She was too busy trying to catch a murderer.

She was too busy trying to avoid getting murdered by that same murderer who lived in her own house, or next to it, by all appearances.

She was too busy trying to build a future while surviving the present.

"Well, that's a smart move, Spence", Emily wisely warned, nodding her head to approve of her answer. "Don't fall in love. Like ever."

It seemed that was all she had wanted to say, either about Maya or about Alison or about both. Spencer would ask for a clarification once they were already in her room, but not right now, in the cold night, not right now in the center of a murderer's night vision.

"Yeah, I'm smart like that, so you shouldn't worry about it." She tried to end the conversation. "Can we now, like, go inside, Em? I don't want Ian to come back and see us here."

Emily still didn't move, but closed up her eyes on her.

"Are you scared?"

There was a tinge of surprise in her voice.

"Well, yeah, a little." Spencer thought that much was obvious. "And also I'm freezing out here."

This time Emily did step back a little from the door, allowing Spencer to approach it with her key. Again she could smell the apple and vanilla scent of Emily's hair, mixed with the somehow vaguer scent of alcohol that breathed out of Emily's mouth.

Apple, vanilla and vodka. 

It was strange, but it was actually a nice smell. It was kind of comforting. In an odd way.

Emily came a little closer and put her hand back on Spencer's shoulder.

"Don't worry, Spence", she whispered really low, and her voice sounded a little hoarse. "I've got your back. I always will. Nothing will ever happen to you, promise."

Spencer was going to murmur a quick reply when the door finally opened. She took Emily's hand in hers to guide her in the dark.

Chapter Text

Spencer laid back on the couch with the remote in her hand. On the TV there was a program on the Second World War: images of Churchill and Hitler slid through the screen without sound. Aria had fallen asleep on the cushions a while ago, so Spencer had completely turned down the volume to let her get some rest. But Spencer could not find peace of mind that would get her to sleep. It was too late anyway. She'd rather wait till morning light announced the new day.

After Emily and Hanna left, she chatted with Aria for another hour. They had been talking about Mr. Fitz, and then about colleges, finals, potential majors, and so on. Aria was focused on Art, Spencer on too many things to actually decide on one of them. She secretly wished she could major in History someday, but at the same time she saw herself as too antsy to sit forever in front of a file looking for hints of past civilizations and events. She wanted to make history, not only to relive and understand it. Maybe she should go into politics. Although that was pretty much out of the question if she was indicted for whatever crime they thought she had committed.

Aria had been really careful not to ask her about Toby or the police investigation: they discussed this last topic every day at school or on the phone, whereas Toby was never actually mentioned. There was a big gap around which the girls would not step in fear of upsetting her. She could see the fear in their eyes. Whenever they talked about boyfriends and girlfriends and kissing and loving she could sense it, she could see they were holding their tongues and making a detour to get to a conclusion that avoided her the pain of referring to Toby. It was different with Emily, though. Emily could read her mind. Emily didn't need to speak or hold her tongue; she just had to look at her and she knew how she was feeling, what she was thinking. It made Spencer feel wired to her, but at the same time afraid of the meaning of it, of the consequences, whenever Emily short-circuited the connection and looked away, distracting herself with other things and other people and making her feel isolated, like she had, after all, nothing in her hands, like nothing did matter and she could not make history, her own history at least, because nobody would even care in the end. Emily had the power of connecting or disconnecting Spencer from it, whatever it was, and Spencer resented that, because she did not have that power. She felt she was sometimes let in, sometimes blocked out. Emily could read her, but she could not read Emily. It made her want to push back in, to earn her way, to fight, to quit, to take revenge, to stand in the same terms and the same conditions, it made her frustrated and it made her happy too. It was a mess. It was a mess even when it felt good, like tonight. It was fun even when she wasn't sure what she had done or if she had pissed Emily off again. She guessed she just didn't know the proper balance they needed from each other, the way Emily seemed to know and the way Emily handled it.

So far it had been a good night, though. She had told Aria she was slowly getting back on her feet. But still she couldn't get to sleep. She was weak. She was a loser. She was far away from the perfection she wanted so badly to possess. She wouldn't make it through high school if she could not even get a night's sleep.

And she was not obviously going to fall asleep if she kept thinking like that. It was too late. She should cherish the moments lived tonight and let the rest go. She should enjoy the instants of joy and laughter, even if they were condensed in an alcohol-induced atmosphere. In the middle of all this drama, she had had fun. She was having unexpected fun. She should not have smoked, though. Smoking left her with such a disgusting taste in her mouth. Her tongue felt sticky and her throat itched. She hated it. She had done it only to show off, to prove it to Emily and Hanna. To prove she could behave worse than them, so there was no need for them to try. To make an ass of herself. But now she wanted to throw up that acid taste the cigarettes left on her tongue.

She got up and went to the small restroom downstairs. She knew her mother kept some toothpaste there, so she could wash her mouth even if she didn't have her toothbrush with her. She turned the light on and saw her reflection in the mirror: sleepy red eyes, rests of make up, messy hair, wrinkled dress. But she didn't look so bad. She put some toothpaste inside her mouth and started delicately rubbing her teeth with two of her fingers. Then she rinsed out with a lot of water, washed her face as well, and readjusted her ponytail. A nicer image looked at her from the other side of the mirror. She turned the light off and closed the door after her, walking towards the kitchen to get some water.

The fridge illuminated the room. She took a bottle of water and heard some steps behind her. Her heart raced to her throat in fear, but she turned around and saw Emily in her blue pyjama pants and a grey sweater.

"I scared you. Sorry."

"What are you doing here?"

"I'm sorry, I'm just really thirsty and have a really bad headache."

Emily walked in and took the bottle from Spencer's hands. She drank half the bottle before giving it back to Spencer.

"Do you want an aspirin?", Spencer offered. Then she thought of Emily's ulcer. "Or maybe something else that won't hurt you?"

Spencer opened one of the drawers and searched for the proper medicine, trying to remember its secondary effects on blood circulation. Emily looked over Spencer's shoulder and reached her hand to take one of the packs.

"This should be fine", Emily assured. "Thanks."

She swallowed one pill and drank again from the bottle Spencer gave her.

"I thought you guys were sleeping down here", Emily started after putting the bottle back on the counter. "It took me a while to decide to come down because I didn't wanna wake you up."

The truth of the matter was that she was not sure she wanted to go downstairs and run into Spencer, asleep or awake. She had been expecting Spencer and Aria to come up to the room and, when she finally realized they were probably going to sleep on the couch in the living room, she debated over getting up or not. At the end, her thirst and her headache won, so she left the room.

"Well, Aria's on the couch", Spencer explained, "but I couldn't sleep."

"Yeah, me either. I hate getting drunk."

Spencer remembered the first time Emily got wasted at the dance night. She had also gotten really thirsty, but Spencer had forced her to drink from the tap on the bathroom upstairs, so they wouldn't run into Ian.

"You seemed fine with it tonight, though." 

The teasing tone didn't go unnoticed, because Emily just gazed back and smiled.

"It's good that I didn't get to smoke. I can't imagine how I'd feel now."

"Yeah, tell me about it."

She thought about telling Emily she had just brushed her teeth because of the disgusting cigarettes, but she decided against it.

"Were you watching TV?", Emily asked, looking in the living room's direction. "I saw it was on when I came down."

"Nope, I just had it on without sound."

"Learning even more History?"

"Right. It's just like taking another quizz."

"Right."

Emily smiled back another of her smiles and then fumbled with the bottle of water again. They stayed silent, time passing by for what seemed like a few minutes. Spencer was thinking about what to do next. She felt a little self-conscious now that Emily was here by her side.

"We could watch a movie." 

A movie seemed safe enough.

"We shouldn't wake Aria up."

Emily was right. Going into the living room to watch a movie or to have a conversation would risk Aria's sleep. So: uncheck movie, because it was after all an unsafe choice. Spencer tried to think harder. They couldn't stay in the kitchen forever, could they? Well, there were a couple of stools alongside the counter, but they were not the most comfortable thing to sit on for what could be minutes, maybe hours.

"I guess I'll go back to bed now", Emily offered, and so the decision was taken away from Spencer's hands. "See if I can get a couple hours of sleep."

Emily started to turn around. She hoped she'd feel better now that she'd taken the painkiller, and anyway there was nothing to do downstairs. Spencer looked like she was spending time on her own - and liking it.

"No, wait", Spencer begged. She was doing this a lot lately. "We can stay here. We can just talk."

Emily nodded, intrigued. Instead of insisting on leaving, she sat on one of the stools.

"So did you have fun tonight?", she asked Spencer. "Did the masterplan work?" 

Had this little gathering helped Spencer in any way? Was she feeling a part of the group again, or was she going to keep herself aloof and apart? Because that had been the point of it all.

"Yeah", Spencer mused, "I guess it did." She approached the other stool, but before sitting on it she moved it to a position where she could face Emily. "I mean, we had a good time, right?", she continued, once she was sitting. "I'm glad I decided to stay in the same room with you guys."

"Would you've come if we'd met somewhere else?"

Spencer thought about it. She couldn't really say for sure. It was difficult to say no after she had been personally asked to assist. By Emily. Emily had been the one to ask her to come. That made her sort of change her mind about the whole thing.

"I'm not sure", she finally conceded. "You know you were clever to set me up here."

"Blame Hanna. It was her idea."

"I'll thank her in the morning." For some reason Spencer felt disappointed Emily was not claiming the plan as her own. "I thought it was your idea.You know, because you can't live without me."

She couldn't avoid sounding a little bitter, even though she tried to say the words with her perfect Hastings's sarcastic pronunciation.

"Well, it was all our idea", Emily explained. "I only volunteered to channel it to you, sort of."

"You volunteered to sooth the beast." This time Spencer did sound wholly sarcastic. "Well, you did a pretty good job out of it."

"I did, didn't I?"

Emily still had alcohol running through her veins. That allowed her to still feel some of the power she had been feeling a couple of hours ago. And it was true she had managed to convince Spencer to come even though she didn't want to in the first place. So she thought she deserved some recognition and applause, especially from Spencer. Now she was cute, really-beautiful, and courageous plus efficient Emily.

Spencer smiled knowingly. There was something different about Emily tonight. She had blamed the alcohol earlier, but now she was considering it might be some other thing, something that stemmed from the inside of her. Wasn't it there before? It was about 4 in the morning and she was glowing like a candle, she was looking like a fresh red apple. Had Spencer never seen it? Was Emily always like that? There was an energy, an electric feel about it – about her. It wasn't only physical, it was… She didn't know what it was.

Spencer cleared her throat when she realized Emily was holding her gaze while she completely let her eyes and mind wander over Emily's face.

"I hope you didn't get offended when I said you were cute", she blurted out. Why would she say that? But she had to say something. "Before, when we were drinking."

As if that was a necessary clarification. And she wasn't even drinking when that happened.

Emily gave her a quizzical look.

"Why would I get offended?", Emily asked. "Is that something bad?"

"No, I guess not." Spencer damned her inner idiocy. "I just…" 

All right, so she definitely couldn't express herself. Funny for a future historian and politician.

"I'm fine with it, I told you", Emily dismissed, shrugging her shoulders. "I don't see why you think it's important."

Spencer smiled apologetically. She didn't know what to say – again. And she also didn't know why it was important to her. There was nothing bad with being cute. It was just not enough. It was plain and stupid. And she had to stop thinking about it.

She felt a sudden urge to get out and breathe fresh air.

"Why don't we go out?"

"What do you mean out?"

"Let's take a walk. It's gonna dawn in a while. I mean, we're not really gonna go to sleep, and it'll help us clear our mind."

Emily looked at her like she was crazy.

"But I'm wearing only my pyjamas."

"So what? I'm just saying we go out to the garden. Don't you wanna see that? And it's gonna be good for your hangover too."

Spencer was already on her feet, but Emily had no intentions of going out at all. The night was scary everywhere, even more so in Rosewood.

"I'm not going to catch a cold because of your crazy idea."

"I'll get you a jacket."

Spencer rushed to pick one that belonged to Melissa. She came back to Emily and grabbed her by the hand.

"C'mon."

Emily put Melissa's red leather jacket on and allowed Spencer to drive her out. They opened the front door carefully not to wake Aria up and breathed the still air of the night. Spencer walked some steps ahead into the garden and dragged Emily behind, firmly holding her hand in hers.

Spencer conducted them through the garden towards a small patio on the back. When they got there, she stopped and contemplated the night. There was a pretty good view of daybreak from there. She used to watch it from Melissa's room upstairs when she was younger, but it had been a long time since she last tried to see it. Emily recovered her hand from Spencer's and stood alongside her, looking at the dark void with a mixture of fear and excitement.

"Don't you like this?", Spencer asked, her voice shuddering with a string of emotion.

"I don't really see anything yet."

"But you will", she assured. "And we're here."

Emily didn't say anything, but she stood quietly and that meant the world for Spencer, who was suddenly grasping the meaning of her "revolution", if there had ever been one. She felt so moved by this moment, even by the whole night that was now coming to an end. She wished the day would not actually break in, so she could stay like this in the dark, away and unseen. She was enjoying tonight so much. She didn't even care if A or the police were watching them. To hell with them. This was her night, it was only for her, and for Emily.

She sensed Emily shiver by her side.

"Are you cold?"

"No. Just a little."

Spencer heard Emily do the zipper up to her neck. She was cold. Damn.

She felt around for Emily's hand again and gently dragged her backwards so they would be more protected from the night breeze. There was a stone wall that covered part of the patio and they could seek refuge close to it.

"I'm fine, really", Emily assured. "I'm surprised you're not cold."

Spencer had not taken any jacket or coat for herself. She was still wearing her wrinkled, crumpled navy blue dress. Now she was glad that she was wearing stockings.

"I'm surprised you're not loving this", Spencer answered instead. "I thought you were a romantic."

Emily held her breath for a second, but decided to let the moment pass. Was it always going to be like this with Spencer, from now on? Because she did love this so much. But that was sort of the problem, especially now that the alcohol was slowly running out of her system and she could see herself screwed in a really bad way.

Spencer didn't say anything for a while, just held Emily's hand to comfort and warm her up. Forms started to appear when the light slowly came up. Now that she could actually see things, Emily softly moved her hand away. She thought Spencer would not really notice, but she turned to look at her.

"Is it…?", Spencer started. Then she stopped. "Are you feeling better now?"

"Yeah."

Emily smiled and looked away at the timid rising sun. There was something evasive in her eyes, though, that made Spencer feel afraid of having lost balance once again. Was she out of touch again? Could she never get it right?

"Sun's coming up", Emily stated calmly. "It's pretty."

"Is this making you weird?"

The question formed in her lips before she could even think of the words, an automatic thought voiced in her throat. As soon as she had phrased the feeling of awkwardness she was finally grasping, she felt she had stepped into a void. Emily opened her mouth up in surprise and then sent her a look that told her she was getting it right.

"Do you really need to ask?", Emily confirmed. She felt relieved, but also panicked.

Spencer stared at her in realization. She thought about apologizing – once more, always, forever.

"How does it make you feel, exactly?", she asked instead.

"Isn't weird enough?"

"But you can clear things up for me."

Emily took a couple of steps backwards and leaned her body on the wall to find some balance.

"Weird as in creeped out?", Spencer insisted. "Or as in a funny feeling?"

Spencer was always the one to look for definitions, a walking, talking dictionary. But this one was hard to explain without actually saying everything, and Emily didn't want to lecture Spencer on the wonders of crushing on someone you shouldn't be crushing on. Spencer was smart enough to get it.

Emily gathered up the courage and looked her in the eye.

"I'm not creeped out."

Spencer took a second to interpret what Emily said.

"So you feel funny about it", she finally stated. "Right?"

"I get a funny feeling about it, yes." Emily's voice was strained now. "As in getting slightly excited about something that should not make you feel that way."

She wished she could move further away, but the wall was supporting her body.

Spencer swallowed. So that was it. She had it in front of her face and she still hadn't seen it. She felt dumb and mean and stupefied and crazy about it.

"I always thought you…" How should she say this? Did she have the guts to say it? "I always thought you'd be attracted to Hanna in case you ever…you know, in case of ever being attracted to another one of us."

Being attracted. Blah. She could do better than that.

"Hanna?", Emily seemed truly surprised by that.

"Yeah, because she's a blonde like Ali." Okay, now she couldn't get much dumber. "And because she's a lot like Ali, only in a good way. She's a better person, a good person."

Spencer hoped that would explain why she had mentioned Hanna.

"Sure. Because I've only hooked up with blondes so far." Emily felt annoyed she had to explain this. "I've never liked any of you except Ali."

"But that's not true anymore, is it?"

Emily shot her a resentful look.

"No."

Spencer approached Emily again. Why was she so far away? She needed to look her in the eye, and it was still too dark to see her face from a distance. They had to be honest about this. They had to be face to face.

"So what do we do now?"

"Nothing."

Were they supposed to do something about it? Emily knew Spencer couldn't handle every emotion as if it were written in a treaty under a strict procedure.

"But we have to do something."

"We're talking about it." Yes, the elephant in the room, which was smashing her heart before going back to the zoo.

"So we just talk it over? Are you all right with that?"

"Well, do you want me to do anything else, Spencer?"

This question sent Spencer's head on a rampage. Her body was cold, but her palms started to sweat.

"I'm not sure." She wasn't sure. She couldn't think.

"It's okay, Spence." Emily showed her most sympathetic face, the sweet Emily everyone used to adore. "I understand you need time to digest this."

"I don't need time, I just… I'm not sure."

"It's okay", Emily tried to calm the mood down. "I'll deal with it."

"No, I don't want you to deal with it alone. We deal with it."

Emily breathed in. Her heart was racing too fast, it felt she was chewing on it.

"Fine, we deal with it." But how? How are you going to deal with it? That was the question she really wanted to ask.

Spencer looked at Emily's face. She wanted to comfort her, but couldn't bring herself to grab her hand again, as she had done earlier, so she lifted her arm and let her fingers hold to Emily's arms, which were crossed over her chest in a defensive posture. The sun was starting to light on Emily's forehead and eyes. Her dark, straight hair beamed reflecting the morning light. She looked like a model going to be painted, a dark Mona Lisa with a touch of melancholy and protectiveness. She wondered what she was thinking. She was always wondering what she was thinking. Spencer couldn't imagine a life without her if Emily decided to escape from the situation now. Was she planning on shutting her out again? She knew what dealing with it meant. It meant Emily would keep her distance even more than she had been keeping it before.

"I am not letting you deal with it alone", she repeated, and it almost sounded as a threat because she meant it.

"Fine", Emily gave in, holding Spencer's gaze.

It was difficult for her to stand in this close, utterly physical proximity to Spencer. She was so close now she could smell her vague fresh-minted breath; she could see her inquisitive eyes searching for signs in her own; she could feel her fingers grabbing her arm, almost as if she was expecting to disarm her once and for all.

"I like this", Spencer uttered in a low tone of voice, as if she were telling a secret. "I want this."

What she meant by that, she didn't really know. She just wanted to stay like this, she wanted to hold on to it and stop Emily from moving backwards and from looking away. That was what she wanted.

But the intense look Emily had on her face when she returned her gaze after she had spoken shook her whole body and sent it on shock. She felt her knees weaken at the mere feel of it on her cold skin. When did this actually start? When did she get so drawn to Emily that she couldn't stop coming closer and closer to her, that she set this thing on fire without even realizing it?

Emily leaned closer to Spencer and kissed her softly, chastely on the lips. It was a very sweet, very brief touch, meant only to discover how it felt touching Spencer's lips for a second, to finally close up the short, almost impossible distance between the two of them. She didn't dare do much more. She was already doing a lot. She was respectful, even though she feared she would receive a look of shock or a metaphoric slap whenever she broke the kiss and separated enough to see Spencer's eyes on her again. But, instead of that, she tasted the fresh breath coming out of Spencer's mouth, which opened in response to her touch and deepened the kiss in a shy, tentative move. The kiss gave her access to Spencer in a new way, opened up a door to a sensation that gave her goosebumps and sent her stomach on fire, Spencer's mouth slightly opened, wet and tasty with the flavour of toothpaste and the already remote scent of nicotine. It wasn't unpleasant at all. It was sexy and rich as she imagined it would be when she unwillingly contemplated her lips half smiling, or smoking, or drinking tonight.

She broke the kiss to breathe some air and to check the reality of it. Spencer's eyes were blurry, but as soon as her face was distant enough to actually see them she felt drawn again by the fierceness of Spencer's determination. Spencer grabbed her by the waist, trying to hold on to her. She leaned in with her light, skinny body and stared at Emily's mouth for a second before kissing her again. This time the kiss was less timid and more exploratory and confident. Spencer felt she was drowning on a see of silence where she couldn't really hear or see anything except her own beating heart carrying the blood to the inside of her ears. The first touch had struck like lightning. The second felt like a magnet where all she could do was follow her guts around, and drive in softly, agreeably, but still questioningly. She could both taste and smell the apple and the vanilla of Emily's fragrance inside her mouth, and her tongue insisted on confusing her senses to a point where she wasn't sure if she was kissing Emily's lips or breathing her neck. It was overwhelming. She tried to catch her breath without breaking the kiss – she couldn't break the kiss now, without finding out what it was – and her lungs were filled with that same feeling of having Emily to herself. Emily took advantage of this instant, though, to push her away a little and separated her mouth from hers.

"Holy shit", Spencer mumbled, realizing the energy and warmth of both their bodies.

She had to stop Emily from scaring away. Not now, not when this was going on. So she pushed harder, searched for her opened, receiving mouth again, because she could feel Emily was losing the ability to control herself. She could see in her eyes that she was giving in to her. She deepened the kiss, now more aggressively, tasted the fear and the eagerness in Emily's own kiss. Still her fingers got a grip of Emily's waist, but her body flinched in anticipation and excitement at the touch of Emily's hand trailing up the back of her neck, moving along her jawline while she slowed the kiss down again, making it last just a little bit longer, and longer, and longer till it felt they were paralyzed in the kiss and it was going to be everlasting. Spencer realized they were not even kissing anymore. She was holding her breath while Emily's nose and lips slightly touched and brushed against her skin. Before she could recover her breath or even start things up again, Emily retrieved her hand and looked back at Spencer, her red lips wet and slightly trembling.

"We really have to stop this now."

Her voice was hoarse like Spencer had never heard her before. She wondered if that was what Ben and Maya and that disgusting psycho girl and Samara had heard when they had the chance to get it on with Emily.

"Why?"

Spencer realized she could barely speak herself. There was a knot in her vocal chords, and her stomach was whirling like crazy. 

Chapter Text

Spencer realized she could barely speak herself. There was a knot in her vocal chords, and her stomach was whirling like crazy. The kiss had basically stopped her brain functions, and her lips were burning with the contact already lost.

Emily continued staring at her but managed to slip away from Spencer's arms.

"Because we don't know what we're doing."

Her voice was still low and breathy. Hearing it sent another chill down Spencer's spine, but also made her hope for a reconnection.

"We're kissing."

Spencer's useless clarification came out matter-of-factly, her own voice coming from deep within her throat. 

"Exactly. But we don't know what it means."

Emily spoke catching her breath, but by the time she finished her body was already apart from Spencer's, who had longingly occupied the space abandoned by Emily next to the stone wall in an effort to hold on to the touch.

Spencer tried to forget about kissing. It seemed it really was over for the moment.

"It means we kissed", she offered, again matter-of-factly. Why did they always have to argue? What they were doing was pretty obvious to her. There was no real need to start wondering about it. "Three times."

Emily sent her a questioning look. She could swear it had all been just one kiss, a long, yearning, lasting, meaningful kiss that she had somehow broken. So how could Spencer count three? And why was she counting it?

"Why do you wanna stop it?" Spencer tried another approach, both physically and psychologically. "What are you afraid of?" 

Emily thought of the one thousand reasons she could imagine for stopping it. Because they could be seen. Because they might have been seen. Because A might have seen it, or recorded it, or photographed it, or any of the other technological wonders A mastered, and could now be sending the pictures of their make out session to all the people in Rosewood. Because Hanna and Aria could wake up any moment and realize her other two best friends were making out in the yard. Because they were friends, and friends should not make out, at least they should not make out without previous knowledge of the risks involved. Because she didn't want to get caught in a friends-with-benefits kind of relationship with Spencer. Because Spencer was into guys, or had been until this very moment. Because Spencer was in love with someone else. Because that someone else was Toby. Because her heart was beating like a crazy beast at the mere thought of continuing with this and that meant she wouldn't know how to stop it if she did it again. Because Spencer was not freaking out right now but could start freaking out tomorrow, or in a minute. Because if she got carried away and then she was forced to stop, she was going to be heartbroken. She didn't want to be heartbroken. It was probably too late now.

"We can't be friends who make out, Spencer."

It was the only thing she could come up with to sum up all of her reasons, so she went for it.

"Then why did you kiss me in the first place?", Spencer asked, fighting back. "I thought this was what you wanted."

Maybe she shouldn't have said it, but it was the first thing that came to her mind. Emily had kissed her first. She had followed her lead and now nothing could stop it from happening again. Not even Emily. Spencer could see in her eyes that she was still resisting the desire to start again. If only she could get a little closer. Spencer stepped forwards a little and reduced the separation.

"You're right." Emily sounded apologetic. "I shouldn't have."

"That's not what I meant", Spencer clarified, stepping into Emily's personal space again. "Why kiss me if you didn't want to know what'd happen? And why stop it now? I mean..."

"I wanted to show you what was going on."

Emily swallowed her fears. Spencer did have a point, and she shouldn't just apologize and let it pass. She owed her an explanation. She had been prepared for a freaked-out reaction, or at least for a surprised one, because she had already fought against that kind of thing before. She had her excuses, she had her apologies. But what she had in her hands now was another thing. And it frightened her even more.

Spencer gave it some thought. Emily had indeed showed her what was going on. In three steps, in three kisses. One for starting it, another to make sure it was really happening, and a final one to make it last in her mind. Boy, and was it lasting. She could still feel the taste of it in her mouth. Emily was so close now, again. She felt dizzy and wasted by the newly conquered proximity.

"You did show me", Spencer said, looking into Emily's eyes. "There's nothing wrong about it. I liked it."

Emily felt her strength weaken down her knees. She knew Spencer had liked it. That had been crystal clear during their kiss. But hearing it from her lips was a completely different story. She fought the urge to lean in again and kiss her. Instead she tried to reason with herself as to why she was doing what she was doing. She wanted Spencer to know this was what was going on between them. She had felt the urge, the impulse, the gut, and she had been allowed to do it. There had been no slaps, no hard words, no questioning looks, no pushing away. It had been one hell of a kiss. And Spencer wanted to keep it going. Nothing was wrong, but still – what did it mean? Spencer was not thinking. Did it mean they would just go on kissing like that forever and mindless of the consequences? Was that even a possibility for them?

"What do you want this to be?" Emily made her last effort to sound firm and reasonable. "I think we should figure that out first."

Spencer fought against her own annoyance at Emily's resistance. She didn't want to freak out and think about it. But Emily was insisting on it, trying to get her to realize what they were doing. She knew what they were doing. She liked it. She wanted to do it again. There was not much to say.

"I want this", Spencer said, stubborn. "I want to keep kissing you."

She didn't know what else she wanted. She could be in jail by next week, for all she knew.

"I'm not sure things work out like that."

"Why not? Why can't we do it if we both wanna do it?"

Emily resisted the temptation to roll her eyes. For some reason, it was enough, it was more than she had expected, it was exciting and it was promising. But she needed more. She wanted so much more.

"We're friends, Spencer", she insisted, her tone suddenly abrupt. "We're not supposed to ruin that by doing something we're not even sure of."

"I thought you were sure."

"I am… I'm just saying that maybe you're not."

"Well, I am pretty sure now that I wanna do it again", Spencer argued, raising her voice a little in exasperation. She felt misunderstood. "What do you want from this?" She lowered her voice again at Emily's look of concern. The sun was already shining. People might be getting up. They could be heard. "Don't you wanna find out what this is?", she tried to counteract. Her tone was low, but there was an edge to it. "Or did you just do it to strike your sixth kiss?"

Emily shot her an annoyed look and crossed her arms, finally imposing a barrier.

"I don't wanna be Wren." Her voice was cold but there was fire in her eyes. "I'm not going to be Wren. That's all I know."

"What? What are you saying?" Spencer was taken aback. "Of course you're not Wren."

She didn't understand what Emily was saying. What did Wren have to do with all this?

"I don't wanna be the person who kisses you just for the sake of it."

"I… Are you implying I kissed you back even though I didn't want it to happen?"

"I'm just saying Wren kissed you. Twice. Or did it happen more times?" Emily couldn't really hide the disdain she felt for Wren and for that whole kissing story. "And you kissed him back."

He had kissed her when he was engaged to Melissa. And then he had kissed her again the same day she had been crying over Toby. Emily couldn't really imagine something worse than that right now. Well, that was a lie; once her imagination was set in motion, she could definitely imagine something worse than Wren. She could picture Ian kissing Spencer even before that, and Spencer kissing Ian back. That had happened too. Oh, God.

"So?"

"So you don't even want him."

Spencer's skin suddenly turned reddish. She opened her mouth as if she was going to say something, closed it again, and her face turned a whiter shade of pale in a matter of seconds.

"I can't believe you're saying this", she finally said. Her voice was low and shaky. Her eyes filled up with tears, but she didn't cry. She was too mad for that. "That you of all people are saying that."

Emily felt her heart sinking. Why had she mentioned Wren? Couldn't she find another way of saying she didn't want to be the one risking everything, that she wanted to be sure Spencer was wanting to do this as much as she was?

"Is that how you actually see me?" Spencer didn't give her time to respond. Her voice was still intense, but she seemed to have regained her composure. "That's how you think I am?"

"No, it's…" 

"So you actually see me like the slutty little sister who goes around kissing everybody too?",  Spencer cut Emily off, her voice already spilling controlled rage. "You really think I'd kiss you to entertain myself while I wait for something else to happen?"

"I didn't say that, Spencer", Emily managed to say a whole sentence. She was the one who wanted to cry now. "I…"

"Yeah, you did", Spencer resumed, cutting eyes on Emily. "You implied it."

"No!", Emily denied it. She had to fix it. "No, I just want this to mean something to you. To both of us."

That was the truth. She wanted this so much. It made her hurt and bend and say stupid things like the one she had said.

"And why do you assume it doesn't mean anything?", Spencer asked, now somewhat calmer. "I'm not Alison, Emily. And you're not Wren." There was a pause and a sharpened stare. "You're not even Ian."

So Spencer had also remembered that one. No wonder she had become so upset.

"I thought that was perfectly clear between the two of us."

They remained silent for a second, both trying to calculate the risks of speaking again.

"Spencer, I am sorry, okay?" It was Emily who decided to speak first. "I do wanna kiss you again. I really wanna do it and that's sort of the problem. We're not thinking clearly about this, but we should try to…"

"So  let  me  do  it  again."

She said it even though her posture was not sending any of those signals anymore. She had accepted Emily's apology in her heart. But she was reasoning now, as she had been asked to do. She was not longing for a repetition of the kiss. It wouldn't happen now. If Emily wanted her to speak about it, then she would speak her mind.

"We're never gonna know if we don't do it, Em."

There was no point in overthinking. That would only lead to disaster or to a lack of interest and passion.

"I'm not opposed to doing it again, Spencer", Emily repeated, trying to state her point. "But you're not thinking about the risks or the consequences. For one thing, someone might've seen us. A might've seen us."

Spencer had not thought about A. She hadn't really thought at all. She had just done it. But the mention of A touched bone, because she felt an immediate fear.

Her eyes rapidly scanned the surroundings while she tried to calm herself down. Nobody had seen it. It was her night. She had the right to have a stroke of luck at least once in a while. But A was everywhere. A was always everywhere and always behind her back and always ahead of her.

"Okay, you're right about that", she reasoned quickly. "But still I… We can sort it out. We shouldn't do it now, but we can find another way…"

"What about Toby?"

Toby was Emily's most absolute fear.

Emily had never mentioned Toby again since they had that talk on Spencer's bed. But she could see Spencer was still hurting over it - over him.

She respected Toby. She liked Toby. Toby was a friend. And Toby loved Spencer, there was no question about that. Then there was the other thing – Spencer loved Toby too. They were in love. What was she doing there? Why did she even kiss a person who loved someone else?

Spencer felt a flinch of intense pain surging and springing forth through her body. Toby. She had shut him out for the past two weeks, she had not even been thinking about him. A and Toby. She had broken up with Toby because of A. How could she not realize these things? What was she thinking? Yes, she had been thinking about feeling better. And she had been thinking about enjoying the moment. And then she had been thinking about kissing Emily as a way to feel better and to enjoy the moment.

Emily was so right about this whole thing. This was insane.

"What about him?", she answered, trying to buy some time to think.

But it was pointless. She knew what Emily meant.

"Well, he's in love with you." The words had a sour taste. Emily felt she'd better not say them at all if she wanted to have a shot at this, but she said them anyway. "And you're in love with him."

"A is going to tell Toby if he/she/it finds out." Spencer wasn't paying attention to Emily anymore. She just concluded her own line of thought and then looked at Emily in a panic. "We have to keep this a secret, Em."

There was never a moment when being right about something that she was discussing with Spencer felt so bitter. Heartbreak was already here. The bigger, the higher you reached, the harder, the faster you fell.

"So now you see why we can't kiss in the yard", Emily concluded coldly, trying to hide her broken feelings. "Right?"

Spencer nodded before offering the verbal confirmation. "Yeah."

"And Hanna and Aria…"

"Yeah, I understand."

No, they both understood. But especially she - Emily: she understood. She had made a mistake. She should've known better. Emily felt colder now than she had felt when it was still dark.

"We should go back inside."

Spencer gave another nod, and they started to walk back to the house. Emily tried to think there was still a way out. She tried to think it had all been just a kiss, it had felt right but it was over, and there was nothing more to it. She knew it was doomed before she started it. She did it for the sake of it. She was like Wren after all. Tears came to her eyes, but she choked them back. There was no way she was going to cry in front of Spencer.

They would go back to their normal selves, and nothing would happen, and she would call Maya again just to hang out, or Samara to offer her a better explanation, or would just wait for the next gay girl to show up in town. Maybe she should ask Spencer for the email address of that girl she met at the park. That'd do as well. Anything would do, anything to get out of this mess.

An hour ago she was crossing the garden with her hand in Spencer's hand. Now they were walking side by side, but an abyss had opened between them in the middle. The sun was shining. The light blinded her eyes because she had not gotten any sleep. Spencer seemed to be in a trance. And it was not even A's fault. It was their fault. It was her fault.

When they arrived back at the kitchen entrance, Spencer grabbed Emily's arm to stop her from going inside. She looked at Emily as if she had finally noticed her presence again.

"Em…"

"Yeah?"

The touch of Spencer's hand made her feel relieved for a second, but she could hardly meet her eyes now. She did, though. Spencer's dark brown eyes looked tired, but not detached.

"Em, please", she pleaded in a whisper. "We're gonna figure this out. Just give me some time to think about how to do it, okay?"

Emily nodded and quickly moved away to open the door to the kitchen. The night had ended. A new day was ahead of them.

Chapter Text

"Where's Emily?"

Aria sat on a chair next to Spencer and put the tray on the table. She looked around at the bar in case Emily was still ordering her food.

"She's talking to your mom", Hanna explained. "She gave her a bad grade on some Literature paper."

Three days had passed since their sleepover at Spencer's took place. Sunday had been a day to sleep the day away. Monday had the girls coming back to school, except Spencer, who stayed home sick that day. Tuesday was a grim, rainy spring day. Wednesday was better, but it was the middle of the week. The three friends sat around the table with their lunches, waiting for the week to end.

"My mom gave her a bad grade?" 

Aria was incredulous about it.

"What grade did she get?" 

Spencer asked the question while lifting her head from her food to look at Hanna.

"B."

"Huh", Spencer groaned, surprised. "Right."

"I know", Hanna continued. "B is what I call a good grade, but she wouldn't listen. She's really stressed about her grades right now."

"It's probably the Danby thing", Aria reasoned. "She wants to make sure she's going to a good college so her parents won't get mad."

"Spencer, you should help her with that", Hanna warned. "You're the one who's always improving our grades. Or doing our homework."

"It's not the same thing", Aria clarified. "Maybe Em does need some help, though."

"It is the same thing", Hanna argued, "for me at least."

Hanna smirked at Aria in complicity.

"I will if she asks me to", Spencer replied. "I don't have a problem with helping her, or any of you for that matter."

They hadn't talked a lot since Sunday. Just the usual "hello, see ya later" stuff.

"She won't ask", Aria corrected. Emily was proud when it came to asking for that kind of help. "You have to offer."

"Well", Spencer conceded, "then I guess I'll offer."

That could be a good idea, actually. It'd give them the excuse to spend some time together.

"Anyway she's going back to the pool today", Hanna announced. "She'll be fine."

Spencer didn't know that either. Or she had forgotten about it. She mentally kicked herself in the head for that.

They saw Emily coming in the cafeteria, her tall, fine figure approaching them with a concerned look in her eyes. Spencer felt herself grow increasingly nervous. It had been that way since Tuesday, because they had not seen each other on Monday. She couldn't even look at Emily without feeling sweaty and stressed. She looked down at her food and picked a piece of broccoli to distract herself from the view. She put it in her mouth, started to chew, then looked up again. Emily was already leaving her backpack and a couple of books on the table. She hardly established eye contact with her. Just a glance of recognition, and that was all.

Spencer moved uncomfortably in her seat while Emily sat next to Hanna and took out a sandwich from her backpack. She delicately removed the plastic that was covering it.

"So you talked to my mom?", Aria asked. "How was it?"

"Fine."

Emily offered a polite, tight-lipped smile. She wasn't really in the mood to talk about how great she was doing in every aspect of her life.

"Did she change your grade?", Aria insisted.

"Nope", Emily answered. "But she's letting me rewrite a part of the essay. And she also told me I could write something optional… you know, to get a better grade."

"As a plus." 

Spencer spoke from the other side of the table.

"Yeah", Emily confirmed without looking. She sank her teeth on the sandwich. "As a plus."

"And what are you gonna write about?"

The poor attempt at conversation didn't go well for Spencer. Emily fixed her eyes on her for the first time since she arrived. Her long eyelashes didn't flatter or move. She just stared for a second, then continued with her sandwich.

"I don't know yet."

They continued their lunch in silence. After a while, Aria got up and picked up her things.

"I gotta go." She looked at Emily. "Em, you're going back to the pool today, right?"

Emily looked back at Aria and her face lit up a little. Spencer felt her heart swell when she saw Emily's lips turn upwards and loosen her concerned features, her eyes spark at the mere idea of swimming. She wasn't the one who inspired it, but she could enjoy it from a distance.

"Yeah. This afternoon. In four hours."

"Cool", Aria confirmed. "So,listen, I've been thinking we could go see you and cheer up for you."

Emily's expression turned worried again, but she smiled politely at Aria.

"Oh, there's no need. It's only swim practice."

"No, it's a great idea, Aria", Hanna said before looking happily back at Emily. "We can get to see you in action again."

"I don't even know if people are allowed there when we practice", Emily argued back. "I mean, you're not my parents or anything."

"But we're your friends." Aria directed her eyes to Spencer, who was watching the whole scene with curiosity. "Spence, can't you ask the coach to let us in?"

Emily's body tensed up. She frowned so very slightly that only Spencer realized it.

"Sure", Spencer answered cautiously. "I mean, if Emily wants us there."

Spencer was trying to be extremely careful with the situation, but she felt it was completely out of her hands now. It was Aria and Hanna's idea, although she was in favour of watching Emily dive back into the pool – because that was always a pleasure, anyway – even if Emily didn't seem particularly thrilled by the plan. She couldn't do anything about it. Emily didn't even return most of her glances right now. She probably didn't want them there today. Or only possibly her.

"Of course she wants us there", Hanna voiced the complete opposite idea. "Em, c'mon. You want us there. We're cool. We're gonna keep quiet." The best of Hanna's puppy eyes and pouts accompanied the plead.

Spencer thought that maybe she should excuse herself and not go. She had things to do. But no, that was not an option. She was sure her absence would backfire somehow.

She wondered if Emily would find another excuse to keep them from coming. However, Emily just breathed deeply, as in giving herself the strength and patience to confront a situation that wasn't particularly pleasant for her.

"Whatever you want." She smiled and then sent a warning look to all of them, very briefly passing over Spencer. "Just be quiet. It's my first day in a long time."

"We'll be quiet", Hanna assured. "Promise."

Hanna believed she was the one Emily was sending the warning to. But she wouldn't wear her headphones or talk on the phone. Not today. Emily needed the support and they were going to supply it.

Aria started to say goodbye when Hanna realized she had a class as well. The same class, actually. Thus, she got up in a rush, asked Aria to wait for her and prepared to leave too.

"See you later, then?", Aria said to Emily and Spencer, waving her hand once Hanna was ready.

They nodded in agreement and then were left together. Spencer was hardly eating any of her chicken with vegetables and Emily was almost done with her sandwich already. Spencer wondered how long they would be able to endure the awkward silence between them. It was clear Emily wasn't going to break it, and she felt she could hardly swallow her own food, let alone try a shot at conversation.

Emily finished her sandwich and quickly stood up to take everything to the trash.

"Are you done?", she asked Spencer, her hand and eyes already on the tray.

"Yeah."

She took Spencer's tray and everything else to the trash bin, while Spencer waited for her return. It had only been three days and they could hardly speak or look at each other. She was trying, but Emily wasn't, at least when they were alone. Why? Was this a way to punish her? Or to avoid her?

Emily came back and took her backpack and her books, sending Spencer another one of those quick, sideways glances she was giving her since yesterday.

"I'm going to class too", she announced, wrapping her dark pink scarf around her neck. "See you later."

Spencer felt dismayed at this whole thing. She was not one to take this kind of silent treatment from anyone. She had no patience for this sort of situation. But she couldn't be angry or outraged. She just felt helpless while Emily turned around and slowly walked through the cafeteria, her slim body fading away as it met other bodies along the way, until it was impossible for Spencer's eyes to distinguish her from the others and it remained only a memory, a mental image of the one who had recently been there and then left almost without a word.

She picked her own books and her bag and walked to class in a dream. Although it was more of a nightmare, to tell the truth. She sat in class, next to some guy and some girl, listened to her beloved History teacher tell them about this and that, but she could only see Emily leaving in her mind. She broke her head over it. She thought about ignoring it, she thought about confronting it. She thought about the kiss and it turned her stomach into a flock of butterflies. She thought about A and panic invaded her again. She thought about Toby and sorrow grabbed her by the neck and twisted it almost to tears. The class ended, she got up and left, walked to her French class in a clouded haze, where the same thing happened to her. How was she supposed to live like this every day? She had to put a stop to it. She was a doer, she could not stand to be the Hamlet type and think and think and think again. She'd rather be Lady MacBeth even if that meant she would lose it and get blood on her hands… Maybe she shouldn't go that far, but she was a doer anyway, she ought to do something about this. But what would she do? She had to talk to Emily. There was no way she could stand to go on like this anymore, to be disowned, to be left wondering, to not be even looked at. But how was she going to talk to Emily if she could hardly breathe in front of her? It didn't matter. She would confront her even if that meant she would run out of air. She had to talk to Emily and it had to be right now.

The bell rang and she left in a hurry. Maybe she could catch Emily in the lockers before her next class started. She walked steadily, trying not to think about what to say, just thinking she had to get there and do it. And there she was, indeed: Emily was standing with her head down, looking into her locker, her pink scarf a sign that made her stand out in the crowd, a lonely, beautiful figure that she knew so well and was yet so distant. Spencer breathed deeply and approached her from behind.

"Emily."

When she heard her name, Emily turned around and looked at Spencer with unveiled surprise.

"Hey." 

"Hey", Spencer replied, almost automatically. She gathered all of her mental strength. "I think we need to talk."

Emily examined her face for a second.

"We're going to see each other later." She smiled, but her tone and her expression were so serious and distant Spencer realized she really was going to have to sweat over this. "You're coming, right?"

Emily retrieved a book and closed her locker.

"Sure, I'll be there", Spencer replied, focusing on her task, which consisted in not letting Emily get away with that one. "But I mean alone. Can we meet later?"

This time Spencer could see some kind of inner struggle taking place in Emily's soul, because she frowned and seemed to think what she was going to say next.

"I'm not sure I can meet today. I have a lot to do for tomorrow."

"We need to talk, Em", Spencer demanded. "You can't avoid me forever."

Anger flashed in Emily's eyes.

"You know, it's funny to hear you say that I'm the one avoiding you."

Bitter, acid cheerfulness dripped through her words and her fiery almond eyes, and so Spencer guessed hearing it wasn't funny at all. At least now she was reaching behind the mask.

"Why'd you say that? I came to talk to you. I'm here now."

Emily gave her a blank look, and then seemed to weight different possibilities, considering if she should voice them or not.

"Yeah, you're here now."

"So doesn't that mean something?"

"You're here now", Emily finally started, sarcasm giving way to raw honesty, "but you skipped classes on Monday, and we both know how difficult it is for you to do that. You only texted me to say you were sick and you couldn't come. I called you five times to see how you were and finally your mom picked up and said you were sleeping but you'd call me later. Let me tell you I'm still waiting for that call." She recited all of these actions non-stop with a firm, cold, ruthless anger. "And then we've hardly exchanged four words in two days, so I guess that settles it, Spencer." She finished with a forced timid smile, directed not so much to Spencer but to the crowded student population who were still walking around them.

Spencer swallowed saliva and felt herself tremble at the mere thought of settling it like that.

"Okay, I should've called you, I know that and I am sorry."

She agreed that was a huge mistake. She was so screwed again, a thousand mental kicks in the head would not be enough of a punishment. But she had been so consumed by her fear of A telling Toby about their kiss that she had forgotten about calling. Amongst other things. Her head was like a colander, full of holes too big to keep things from slipping away.

"Apology accepted", Emily terminated in a way the apology didn't seem to really make it through her. "I'll see you later."

Spencer grabbed her by the sleeve.

"Just wait a second." Emily stopped moving. The girl would always have a heart, would always give a second chance, Spencer knew it by experience; and she also deserved one, apparently, because if everybody else had gotten second chances with Emily, why not her, who was her best friend and partner in crime? Now she just had to make the most of it. "So I admit to freaking out on Monday. But it wasn't about this." She lowered her voice till it was only a whisper, and she approached Emily to be heard. "It wasn't about us. It was about A. And about Toby."

Emily looked at her as if she didn't believe her, but there was something that softened in her eyes, and she leaned against the locker as a way to show she was listening. The halls were emptying now. The bell had rung.

Yes, Emily would always have a heart for anyone, including Spencer Hastings, partner in crime.

"I told you it'd happen", Emily mumbled, although in truth she had never told her with actual words. "It's fine."

"We still need to talk anyway", Spencer continued, knowing she had knocked Emily's anger out of her, if only for a moment. "Let me take you home after practice."

"I brought my car", Emily answered sternly. "We can meet tomorrow or during the weekend."

"I can't wait until tomorrow and I can't certainly wait until the weekend", Spencer sounded exasperated now. "It has to be today."

She wanted to say she was going to go crazy if she had to wait another day. She wanted to say she couldn't breathe if she spent just one more day like this, or that her brain would probably explode in a bomb of thoughts and words, or that she would die of starvation because she was not able to eat either, but it all sounded too overly dramatic and she didn't want to embarrass herself. It had to be today. That was all. Today. Talk.

"I have a pap..."

"I'm going nuts like this", Spencer cut her off, and all of Emily's barriers seemed to fall down as a result of this confession. "So please let me give you a ride home. It's only a ride."

Emily still hesitated to say yes.

"What about Hanna?", Emily asked, the last remnants of her resistence putting up a fight. "Are you gonna drive her too? Cause I'm guessing you don't want her in our conversation."

Right, Hanna couldn't know. No one could know. It was their secret.

But Spencer also had an answer for this one.

"Hanna's going to the mall with Mona after seeing you swim. She told me at lunch."

Emily was almost there. She just needed a soft shove and then she'd be where Spencer wanted her to be.

Sort of.

Mostly.

"Mayb..."

"You can be the one to drive me home", Spencer pulled off her last resort, "if you don't wanna leave your car here."

However, Emily didn't want to set foot on Spencer's house for the moment. The memory of it created too much of an internal turmoil.

"No, it's okay", Emily finally surrendered. "You can take me home. I'll walk tomorrow."

"I can also give you a ride in the morning."

Emily sent her a look that said that was enough, so Spencer didn't push her luck.

"I have a class. And you do too", Emily said, taking her backpack from the floor and placing it on her back. The bell had rung minutes ago and they were late. "I'll see you later."

She passed her by at a close distance and walked away for class without looking back. Spencer reclined her head against Emily's locker and tried to make sense of the situation. She had managed to convince Emily to have a longer talk and spend some time with her, but it was going to be difficult to convince her that she had not acted thoughtlessly on purpose. She didn't know why, but every time she tried to make things better, either with Emily or in other situations of her life, she just created a bigger, scarier mess. She saw herself digging a black hole that would eventually swallow her. The image of the terrier Jenna mentioned some time ago came to her mind. It gave her the creeps, but she was the only one to blame now.

At this point, going to swim practice was not going to improve things with Emily, despite the conversation they had. This conversation was only a beginning, but she needed something else to show Emily that she did care about whatever they were going through. She remembered she had a birthday present prepared for Emily at home. She had had it for weeks now. She looked at her watch. If she skipped her Trigonometry class, she could be back at school in an hour, ready to go see Emily and then take her home. She wasn't a fan of skipping classes, but whatever. Other actions were required now. She had to be ready.

She went to her own locker and put her books inside. The halls were completely deserted now. She took her bag and left for her car.

Chapter Text

Emily dived into the pool, leaving a splash of fine, translucent drops behind, where her head and then her long body had made contact with water. An immediate coldness washed her over as she submerged completely and propelled herself under the blue water. She opened her eyes and saw the pool bottom underneath, a light blue marking her path. Her body relaxed as all of her muscles functioned in unison, as if they were singing inside of her, while her head popped out of the water to reach the surface. She breathed and then stroked effortlessly, finding a steady rhythm that kept her going. She didn't push it, but her strength showed itself in the way her body imposed and drove her over the water. This was nothing like running. Running made her feel the resistance of the soil, the obstacles she had to save to force herself upon, and it left her sore and relieved. As she continued crawling, her arms and her feet dancing their secret dance in the water, silence invaded her for the first time in two months. Nothing, nothing screamed at her now. There were no inside voices telling her to do this or to say that. There was no conscience of the world, because right now she was only the air and the water that supported her.

As she approached the end of the swim lane, she started to turn. Her neck flexed and her knees bent in a movement that was like second nature to her, until her feet found the wall and pushed off gaining impulse from it. If she had been swimming faster, she wouldn't have needed to use the wall to go off again, but this was her first contact with the pool in a while and she had to take it easy. The rhythm took hold of her body again. She repeated the same movement, pure energy that made her feel for a second she could win this race. But this wasn't a race. After she had completed a few lengths, she touched the wall with her hand and looked around to find the coach, who was looking at her with a satisfied grin. It was all right. It was always all right in the pool.

Hanna, Aria and Spencer were sitting in the benches where the spectators usually sat. They seemed to be very well-behaved. Emily had to admit Hanna was being really cute, since she even hushed Aria once, when Aria was trying to say something to Spencer. Emily hadn't really looked in their direction when they arrived, but she turned now to smile at them. They were here for her, and she was grateful in a way. In many ways. But it was difficult to have Spencer there. Emily didn't want to meet her eyes. But she felt Spencer's eyes on her the whole time, like a constant reminder of their connection, of their attraction, that Spencer would not let her forget, even though Spencer herself seemed to forget about it whenever she needed to. Oh, she was still so mad at Spencer for that unreturned call and everything else, after she had had to listen to all that bullshit about the most perfect girlfriend in the world. Not that Spencer was her girlfriend – yet, and most probably was not going to be. But Emily had felt like crap during those three days, had relived everything that she used to feel when she was in love with Alison. The anxiety, the uncertainty of having blown everything away, the fear that she'd have to learn how to behave with Spencer after this new disaster. Love had taught her to lie about her feelings. Ali had taught her to lie. But she had shrugged the lies off when A outed her, so, in a way, in a really wicked and twisted sort of way, A had allowed her to tell the truth and live her life. She had broken it off with Paige because she would not live a secret love affair. But she was lying again: lying to Hannah, who was already on her back, asking her why she was so moody and sad since Sunday; lying to Aria, lying even to Spencer because she was trying to give her the time she had asked for to figure it out, when all she wanted to do was to force her to make up her mind. It wouldn't take Hannah and Aria long to find out something was going on if they kept being silent around each other. Spencer should realize that. She guessed that was what they were going to talk about today… And A… Emily was sure A knew already and was laughing it off while preparing her/his/its next move.

She approached the stairs and came out of the pool, dripping water. Paige was swimming in another lane. Talk about awkwardness: Paige was there, Spencer was there, and A was probably there too, taking pictures of the living joke her life was. Only Maya, Samara and that friend of Samara she gave her number to were missing so this could be the perfect Emily's awkward moments freak show. She was starting to understand why Paige had wanted to drown her, because now she swore she would love to push Spencer's head under the water, or just to slap her face just so she knew... Well, maybe not so much. She would never hurt Spencer. Only a little bit. Only to make her suffer for a second. Although, in all truth, Emily knew Spencer was suffering over this. She had told her she was going nuts, after all, and Emily believed her – at least because she knew how much Spencer hated to lose control.

Paige came out of the pool too and walked towards her, a half smile in her lips. She had been really cool when Emily arrived and greeted her team mates. She had told her it was good to have her back. And, when Paige had said that, and then had hugged her in a way that made Emily feel awkward (a recurring theme) and wonder about Paige's actual estate of conscience about her inner gayness, if she could express it like that, she had fought the strong, urgent temptation to look right back at Spencer and watch her reaction. She hadn't, obviously. She was ignoring Spencer on purpose. And they would talk later anyway. But now that Paige came to her again, she could hardly resist the impulse and she stole a glance at Spencer's figure sitting on the bench. She couldn't see anything. Spencer was either very good at practicing her poker face, no matter if she was going nuts or not, or Emily was too far to actually get a reading out of her face.

"Good job, Emily."

Paige gained the approval of their coach, who seemed to be pretty happy about getting Emily back on board, with those words.

"Thanks."

Emily offered Paige a wide, honest smile. She was happy to be back, so happy. Especially inside the pool. She walked towards the coach, who handed her a towel, and turned around to catch another glimpse of Spencer's seemingly peaceful appearance. It was very brief, but she could swear Spencer was frowning a little. Maybe she was not so peaceful at all, maybe she was burning inside. Or maybe it was Emily's imagination, her pure desire to have an impact on Spencer. Emily waved shyly at Hanna – she fixed her eyes on Hannah, for a reason – and walked to the showers to get changed. A conversation was awaiting her. It could turn out well or it could drive them to another catastrophe. It was still hard to say. There were so many things happening right now, and she felt so many contradictory impulses and desires, she didn't really know what was going on anymore. But she'd have to tell Spencer what she thought, or at least a part of it; probably the part about drowning her or slapping her should be left out. And Spencer had better offer a good explanation of how they were going to do this without hurting each other and… other people. Toby. If that was even possible anymore.

She took a quick shower and put her black skinny jeans and her shirt on. Then she brushed her hair, but left it to dry on its own. She looked herself in the mirror. Not bad. But she still decided to add some blush on her cheeks. She looked at herself again. Better.

She walked out of the locker rooms expecting to find Spencer and probably Aria in the hall. But there was no sign of them. What was going on? Hadn't Spencer said she would be taking her home? She was on the verge of becoming angry again, but decided to go to the pool to check if they were still there waiting for her. She opened the door to the pool and saw Spencer still sitting on the bench, all by herself, just like Emily had been sitting some days ago. She was staring at the now deserted pool, her head leaning upon her hand, so deep in thought that she didn't even notice Emily approaching her. The image of a solitary, oblivious Spencer, waiting there for her to take her home, stole Emily's breath away. Wasn't this what she wanted? Wasn't this what she had always wanted, even when she didn't know she wanted it with Spencer? No matter what Spencer did to piss her off, or how much this situation reminded Emily of her failed unrequited love for Alison, she knew Spencer would always try to make things better. She would always admit to her mistakes and she would always look her in the eye and tell her whatever crazy idea she was having. She would wait for her in that pool. And that was why Emily couldn't really help looking at her like she was looking at her now, feeling like she was stealing her beauty, her loneliness, her weaknesses, and feeling crushed, so crushed over them, even if all the rest was still uncertain.

She coughed to make her presence felt, and Spencer turned and smiled weakly, as if she had been awakened from a sleepy dream.

"Hey, I didn't see you there. Ready?"

"Yeah."

Spencer stood up and approached her, and they walked together through the halls and the parking lot until they reached Spencer's car. Emily looked anxiously for her own car, and said a mental goodbye to it while she sat on the passenger's seat. She prayed the ride would be worth it. But during the ride to the Marin's, there was no conversation between them. It was as if they were each considering and examining the other out of the corner of their eye. Emily decided that, since it was Spencer who had been so insistent in meeting today, it was up to her to say something, so she just stared out of the window, trying not to expect anything specific out of the situation.

"Have you already decided what you're gonna write about?"

Emily directed her eyes to Spencer, not understanding.

"I mean, for Ms. Montgomery. The paper."

Oh, homework. Emily understood Spencer was trying to make conversation out of one of her favourite topics.

"I'm still thinking about it." 

It was a lie. She had already decided the topic and had suggested it to Ms. Montgomery when they had talked this morning. Ms. Montgomery had thought it was a wonderful idea. She just didn't feel like telling Spencer.

"I can help you with that if you want."

Spencer had promised Aria and Hanna she would offer her help. And, besides, she wanted to help. She wanted to have the chance to be with Emily for a while… and do something useful, instead if messing things up.

"Thanks, but… I'd rather do it myself."

Way to kill the mood, Spencer thought. Except the mood was already kind of dead. Emily wanted to keep to herself these days. How was she going to break the wall? She had a secret weapon, but she wondered if Emily was even going to let her use it.

"Just call me if you need anything."

"Sure."

"I mean it."

"I know you do."

Before Spencer could realize it, they were already at the Marin's and their time in the car was over. Anxiety took hold of her again. Was that the talk they were going to have? Was that the time they were going to spend together? Was Emily going to say thanks and wave goodbye before she could even say something back and force her to listen to her? Emily didn't seem very happy either. She came out of the car and was followed by Spencer, who took her purse and another bag with her.

"Can I come in for a little while?", Spencer asked, worry and determination painted all over her face. This was her last shot. She didn't even care if she sounded desperate or aggressive.

Emily stepped closer to Spencer and took one of the bags she was carrying from her hands. The secret-weapon bag, the gift which was not a birthday gift anymore. Then she looked Spencer in the eye, curiosity glimmering in her own eyes. That was the moment when Spencer realized Emily was not exactly angry at her anymore. She was just waiting for her to say or do something. She was allowing her to take her chance and use it. Just not with homework. Homework was not a topic Emily wanted to discuss. Spencer mentally crossed it off her list.

"C'mon", Emily said, and she made an inviting gesture to Spencer to walk with her.

They both took some steps until they reached the Marin's front door.

Chapter Text

Emily opened the door and left her backpack and Spencer's bag on the table. She glanced at the bag with curiosity, but didn't say anything. Spencer came in after her and closed the door. It had been a while since she had been in Hanna's room. To her, this was still Hanna's room, not Emily's, although Emily's things were scattered all over the place, intermingled with Hanna's. She supposed this meant Emily had already made that room her new home.

"Is Ms. Marin home yet?"

Emily took a glance at her watch.

"She'll be here in a while."

Spencer nodded. A silent look was exchanged between them, and Spencer knew it was time to jump at the chance. She wondered if she should speak or if she should just give Emily her gift and pray for it to be the right button to push or the right wire to cut, like in those movies when a guy or a girl were trying to defuse a bomb by choosing between the red and the blue, and one meant you were saved and the other one meant you were screwed – and dead. There was not much time left: Emily had to study, and then Hanna would be back, and Ms. Marin would arrive and she'd have to say hello. The clock was ticktocking. Spencer felt nervous, again. Words were normally her thing, but this time it was probably better not to speak, for once. She approached the table, where the bag had been put to lay, and took out a package, wrapped in a bright red paper with images of little cute Scooby-Doos. It was so appropriate for them, and so adorable at the same time.

"I got this for you", Spencer started, her voice cracking a little out of nervousness. "I hope you don't mind…"

She trailed off. Why would Emily mind? She looked up to her face, and saw Emily's confused, though not entirely surprised, expression.

Emily took the package in her hands, but didn't open it.

"What is it?", she asked, sweet but also severe. "And why are you giving it to me?"

"It's a gift. I got it for your birthday, but I figured this'd be a good moment to give it to you."

Emily's brow furrowed slightly. "But it's not my birthday." She handed the gift back. "You can keep it and give it to me when my birthday comes."

"No, please", Spencer refused to take it back. "Look, I know it's… I want you to have it now."

Emily did take the gift back in her hands, but didn't do anything with it. She stared at Spencer, more interested in what she was trying to say than in the gift itself.

"There's no need to give me a gift, Spencer. I appreciate it, but…"

She tried to think about how to say this. Gifts were nice, but everything would be better between them if Spencer just answered her calls or if Spencer just spoke her mind, or if she just… If she just stood here next to her, like she was standing now.

"I know I haven't been my best, okay?", Spencer interrupted Emily's thoughts. "I'm just trying to say I do care about you."

Emily's brow relaxed. Finally they were getting somewhere.

"I know you care about me. You don't need to give me a gift to prove it." She smiled, so it wouldn't come across as a rejection. "So keep it. That way I will still have a birthday present when it really is my birthday."

"Oh, you will have one", Spencer answered quite as quickly as she could. "I'll just have to think of another one. Just let me express myself this way."

"This is about expressing yourself?", Emily asked, amused.

"Yeah, it is. I'm expressing my thoughts and feelings and you're obliged to sympathize."

Emily hesitated for a moment, but then she smiled the kind of smile that lighted up her whole face. Spencer knew she was cutting the right wire now.

"Open it." 

The encouraging command worked, and Spencer felt her posture relax. Her hand leaned on the table, so she could get a good view of Emily's face. She hadn't realized she'd been standing so stiff. Her neck hurt a little. She should get her weekly session of field hockey or of tennis soon to relieve some of her tension.

"Fine." Emily started to open the gift. "But, seriously, you don't need to think of anything else for my birthday."

The wrapping paper was so cute that Emily didn't want to rip it. Spencer waited patiently until she had delicately removed every trace of adhesive tape so the paper would come out smoothly. Her fingers worked always so easy, so gracefully, that watching her open a gift was almost as entertaining and enjoyable as watching her body move under the water. A book appeared, its cover written in full, flashy characters, its pages old and wrinkled but somehow still held together. The Heart is Lonely Hunter. The book Emily had read a couple of months ago. The book she was going to write about for her literature class. The story of a deaf man and of a group of people who couldn't really communicate with each other, even though they tried so hard.

Emily couldn't help being puzzled this time, so her mouth opened in surprise.

"It's a 1943 edition", Spencer explained, excited because the book was having the effect she had expected. "And it's signed by Carson McCullers. I also allowed myself to write some words for you. I hope you don't mind my leaving my mark, so to speak, next to Carson's."

"When did you get this?"

"Some weeks ago. I thought it was the perfect thing to give you when I saw it…"

"But how did you know?" 

The question seemed important.

"How did I know what?", Spencer asked for confirmation. "That you like it?"

"That I'm gonna write my paper about it."

Spencer raised an eyebrow.

"I didn't." She gave one of her sexy crooked smiles. "But now I know you lied to me about it."

"It wasn't exactly a lie", Emily reacted, playful. She was so busted. "I just didn't want you helping me."

"Why?" Spencer pretended to be offended. "That hurts my feelings, by the way."

Emily laughed for the first time in days. She couldn't hide her happiness right now. Her cheeks were flustered and her eyes were bright with delight, all the usual signs of getting high when you flirted with someone that you actually fancied. Especially when that person started the flirting, which might mean that they were fancying you too. But then again, Spencer was a natural flirter. And a natural you-can-kiss-me-if-you-feel-like-you-want-to-do-it kind of person too, which was something that still scared Emily away, and at the same time intrigued her. Back to the starting point.

"Thanks", Emily finally said, looking into Spencer's warm eyes, which had acquired a hazel shade of colour now that the light of sunset was entering the room and caressing her face. "This is very sweet of you. Although you really didn't need to do it, you know. But thanks."

Spencer felt her pulse quicken and her heart melt at the very same speed. She nailed it! She was so freaking perfect at this! She should get a prize for being the best person to mess things up and then fix them in a better way than they were at the beginning.

"I'm just glad you liked it."

She held Emily's gaze for what seemed forever. She was glad Emily liked it, but it was more exciting to realize the way Emily was looking at her now. She looked like she was holding her breath and then going to explode in little pieces of happy, sunny Emilies. Like she was on the verge of totally, completely, absolutely blushing in front of Spencer, only because she knew she was being carefully watched by her. Spencer wasn't completely sure if Emily had ever looked at her like that. She wasn't even sure if she had ever seen Emily with that look on her face, maybe she had seen flashes of it directed to others, but not exactly to her. But she recognized the look. It was a universal look, a look Spencer had definitely sent to maybe a couple of guys in her life, a look that she had received, in a different form, but still, she had received it from time to time. She had never received it from another girl, that was the difference. So the girly, don't-look-at-me-like-that almost-blushing face, that one was different, and still it was so much like Emily she was surprised it felt this new to her. It did cause a deeper effect now that Emily and herself were on the respective ends of it. It was the look that said Emily belonged to Spencer in this very instant. That she owned her. That Emily was hers right now.

And this was all Spencer's doing, this was all because of her, after Emily had been so pissed off and serious and grave and severe and not really there at all. Because Spencer had nailed it. If people knew of a better feeling than that, Spencer didn't. It felt better than scoring a goal, than getting an A+, than being elected president of the debate club, than kicking Melissa's ass at home. It felt better than managing Emily to open her heart about something after a long interrogation. Better than spying on Jenna, than getting the correct numbers in a Sudoku, than finding another suspect to blame for all of A's doings. It felt better than getting a long desired kiss.

"So can I get a thank-you kiss now?", she asked without really thinking.

It came naturally to her mouth, as a result of the rushed, euphoric feelings inside of her. She couldn't believe she had actually said those words, but she had. And she wanted them to be out there. She wanted to see Emily's reaction, to push her farther, to get her to totally blush and surrender. She wanted to get a thank-you kiss. And she knew she was going to get it, so she let the tasty words take the power of her tongue and come out slowly, enriched by the anticipation and the confidence she felt.

Emily seemed a little taken aback by the sudden proposition, and in fact she blushed, her dark complexion becoming only slightly darker in her cheeks and her nose.

"Spencer…"

It was half a warning, half a plead.

However, Emily didn't move an inch from her position, and she didn't say another word, nor did she roll her eyes or narrow them as an accusation. Her lips didn't tremble, her eyes did not leave Spencer's eyes. It was as if she was expecting just that, despite all of her reasons telling her not to. The air instantly filled with a magnetic force, and Spencer knew it was going to happen, like the waters laying open for Moses at the Red Sea. She just knew, so she moved closer to Emily, touched her pink scarf until it slipped from Emily's neck and fell to the floor, contemplated her eyes and her lips for a second, neither checking it was all right nor asking for her permission anymore, just taking them in, and then kissed her softly, but confidently, on the lips. Emily received the kiss shyly, but as soon as Spencer's hand rested on the base of her neck, close to her shoulder blade, and gently caressed it with her cold fingers, the kiss grew deeper and Emily allowed entrance to her mouth. They kissed slowly first, then a little more wildly until Spencer pushed Emily against the wall. She slowed the kiss down again, playfully biting Emily's full upper lip, and stopped for a second to look into Emily's eyes.

"Is this how you like it?", Spencer asked, her voice extremely low.

She wanted to erase the memory of other kisses from Emily's brain. Especially Paige's kisses. She swore she hated that girl so much.

Emily looked at her with a dark, intriguing glance. Maybe she knew what Spencer meant, because she grabbed Spencer's wrist and pulled her back, kissing her again with her mouth open. Spencer let herself be driven, but kissed back fiercely. Emily's hair was still wet from the pool and the shower she had taken before, so Spencer could distinctly smell the flavours of her shampoo, touch the back of her warm-yet-humid neck, and taste her soft, fresh mouth. Now all of her senses were falling into place, not confusing her anymore like they had during their first kiss that night, but they just made her want to reach further, to know more, like that wasn't enough yet. Emily tasted different this time, and she guessed it was the lack of alcohol that had changed in her mouth, but also something else that had not been there that night, or that was there now. Maybe it was the pool, or maybe something else that was indistinguishable, or her own mouth as it became more intimate with Emily's. She eagerly explored Emily's mouth, taking charge of the kiss with a total absence of fear, because she could feel Emily's response to her not only in the way Emily was kissing her back, but also in the way her fingers grabbed her by the waist and pressed on her back.

All of a sudden Emily moved and released herself from Spencer's tight hold against the wall, without entirely breaking the kiss. Her eyes burned like a fire, and then Spencer felt Emily both grabbing her and throwing her against the door of the closet in such an intense way that she hit her head with the frame. A slight flinch of pain made her jump, although she was more surprised than anything else.

"Ouch!" Spencer lifted her hand to touch the part of her head which had been hit. "What's with the violence?"

"Sorry", Emily apologized, and slightly touched Spencer's head too with a concerned expression. "Did I hurt you?"

Emily was out of breath and could barely speak a complete sentence. For some reason, Spencer thought that was sexier than anything else that had happened until now.

"No", Spencer clarified, smiling so Emily wouldn't feel bad. "I'm just surprised. I've never seen this violent, throw-you-against-the-wall side of you."

"I guess you haven't seen a lot of me then", Emily teased, although she was still a little embarrassed. "I got carried away, sorry."

"I like it", Spencer said, getting a hold of Emily's hand, which was still caressing her hair, and intertwining her fingers with hers. "Can you repeat it?"

Emily sent her quite a meaningful look, where a combination of excitement and embarrassment still showed. That made Spencer chuckle, because Emily was starting to blush again, her nose quickly becoming a darker shade of pink.

"You're so cute when you blush."

"I'm back to being cute now, huh?"

"It's your punishment for being violent with me."

Spencer laughed again, but dragged Emily back to her and kissed her quickly on the lips. They heard a bang on the front door downstairs and Emily's body tensed up immediately. Ms. Marin was already home. They both held their breath but neither of them separated, waiting to see if Ashley Marin came upstairs or not. Nothing happened, so Spencer decided to meet Emily's eyes again. Once she found them, she cupped her face in her hands and kissed her again. This was too good to stop now. She was afraid Emily was going to be reluctant to continue after the incident with the closet and the arrival of Ms. Marin, but, contrary to her expectations, Emily deepened the kiss again and the ritual exploration of their tongues begun for the second time. She was surprised at how bold and delicate Emily was when she was kissing her. It's not like she had imagined things; she had never had the chance to imagine anything until she was actually kissed by Emily three days ago. But when Emily had described the perfect kisser during that same night, before they had actually kissed, Spencer had assumed two things: that Emily didn't like aggressive kisses, and that Paige was the most hateful person in the world. How was it possible that a person who had tried to drown Emily was a smooth, sweet kisser? It didn't make any sense. But Emily herself knew how to be aggressive and how to do it smooth at the same time. It was a mystery, but it allowed Spencer to do just the same without being shy or feeling she might be doing too much, or too little. As for the psycho girl, just thinking about her again, while she was kissing Emily, made her feel all sorts of aggressive impulses, and she wished she could do that flipping turn Emily had made to her so she could take charge of the kiss and burn all of Emily's memories of Paige under the memory of her own aggression. Even though she didn't move and kept still, she did increase the rhythm, pulling Emily's body closer to hers until it was hard for any of them to gasp for air. Then she slowed it down again – this was so much fun, for god's sake, and she bet they could keep doing that for hours – and Emily sweetly sucked her lower lip, a surprise that caused her to let out an almost inaudible moan. Emily separated a little, a sly, curious look on her face, but Spencer didn't give her the time to say or do anything. She parted her lips and kissed Emily again, while she prepared her vengeance by sneaking her fingers under Emily's dark green shirt. When she touched Emily's bare skin in her waist and her stomach, she felt Emily's body tensing against her, and just when she thought the kiss was going to gain intensity once again, Emily abruptly stopped and separated from her a little.

"What's wrong?", Spencer asked.

"We shouldn't go that far."

"It's not like we're having sex, Em", Spencer teased because, really, it was just a long kiss with a little touching, and her eyebrow rose again as a sign of her good humour. "I'm just touching you under your shirt."

Emily rolled her eyes at Spencer's condescension.

"I know. But don't you feel a little weird?"

Oh, that weird feeling again.

"Me? No. Do you?" 

Emily gave it some thought. Apparently she did, or was afraid Spencer did.

"I've seen you thousands of times without a shirt on, Em. I just saw you in your swimsuit", Spencer remarked, trying to lighten up the mood. She wasn't releasing Emily's hand. "Come here."

"This is different, Spencer."

"Fine, it is different", Spencer conceded. "But it's not my fault that we're making out." Just when Emily was starting to roll her eyes again, she dropped the tease like the ball in a drop shot over the net in her favorite sport - tennis. "Wait, maybe it is. Can you believe it?" 

"That's..."

"In any case, we're making out", Spencer concluded, both light-hearted and sarcastic, "and making out involves touching, as everybody knows."

They exchanged a look and both of them understood they had a different approach to this making out situation. So what Emily decided to do to make her point clear was simple: she took her shirt off. Spencer gaped at Emily's resolved movement, especially when she saw Emily standing in front of her with only her black bra on. Ok, so maybe it was very different from all those other times Spencer had seen Emily without a shirt or in a swimsuit. She had to give her credit for that. Spencer closed her mouth and stared for a while at Emily's upper body without anything to say. Abs and strong, masculine chests had nothing to do with what she was seeing now. All right, Emily did have abs too, although they were obviously very different and sort of forming a harmonic curve with her stomach and her hips, but she had other things too, and all of it was coming to her attention now. She would have felt rude to watch her like that if the occasion had been different, but that was kind of Emily's point, so Spencer just felt speechless and suddenly overwhelmed. For once, because of Emily's resolve and boldness to make her point across, even if that meant that sweet, shy Emily was now in front of her only in her bra, while Spencer was fully dressed – and staring. Secondly, because of Emily herself. Spencer hadn't obviously looked at Emily like this before. She did know Emily was absolutely beautiful, in a sort of breathtaking way that every living person with eyes could actually admire, as Aria had said, but what was happening now was not an act of mere contemplation. They had not made out before, except for that night when they had only kissed. And she had only tasted and felt Emily during that kiss, not really using her eyes to actually see what was in front of her. It was kind of weird, in a way.

"It is kind of weird, in a way", Spencer finally acknowledged. "In a good way."

"Do you want me to put it on again?", Emily asked, closely watching her reaction.

"No." Spencer made sure she looked Emily in the eye when she said this. "C'mere."

Emily still hesitated, but she responded to Spencer's call and approached her again.

"Are you sure? Because I understand if you prefer me wearing it."

Spencer dragged Emily by the hand and then grabbed her by her now bare waist.

"I said no."

Emily leaned in and kissed her again, as chastely as the first kiss had been. This caused Spencer to smile broadly in the middle of the kiss.

"You can't be both violent and shy, Em. You've got to choose one."

"I guess I'm choosing shy now", Emily murmured, as she leaned in again.

They shared a very slow kiss, probably the slowest one since they had started. It felt like they were actually kissing in slow motion, as if every movement of their lips was taking a long time to build, to follow, to burn. They barely used their tongues now, but the kiss was not shy… It was more of a torturing, revelling sort of touch between the lips. But that only made things worse – or better, in Spencer's own view. The room temperature went up and their breathing got heavier, although they could perfectly breathe now that the rhythm was low. When she felt Emily's hand and then her lips kissing her neck, in a very sensitive spot right below her ear, Spencer dared use her hands again, and she softly let her left hand run up and down Emily's back. Then she decided to wander back to Emily's waist and to her stomach. Emily's skin was so soft and warm that, combined with the lustful way of kissing they were enjoying now, Spencer started to feel overwhelmed with emotions. She suddenly wished she could take off her own blouse and do something else besides kissing like that. She hoped Emily's hand would also venture under her blouse, although it was a difficult blouse to reach under, because it was sort of covered by two straps that tied it to her pants. Damn her choice of outfit for today. This is when she freaked out a little. They might have been taking it a little bit too far, or perhaps she just wanted to take it a bit further now, but didn't know how to do it, didn't know if it was a very good idea and was kind of sure Emily would not approve of it… Although Emily was obviously finding it hard to resist Spencer, so maybe she could actually give it a shot.

"Are you okay?", Emily closely inspected her face again, looking for signs of distress or insecurity - or of a gay panic.

"Yeah", Spencer reassured her, becauge gay panic had not been invented for her, apparently. She had probably forgotten to kiss back as she got lost in her other emotions, and Emily was too aware of every response. "I just…"

Emily gave her an understanding look and her body separated even more.

"We're going too fast."

Again, she was having problems to breathe while she spoke and again Spencer thought that was sexier than anything she had experienced.

"No, it's not that, I'm…"

Spencer hated her own stuttering, though, because she didn't know what to say.

This is getting really hot.

I want to take my blouse off. 

But I don't really want to because I'm not certain I can deal with that right now.

"It's okay, Spencer", Emily sympathized. "I kept wondering when you were going to freak out." 

She picked up her shirt from the floor and put it on again, becoming her old, dressed self again.

"Don't." 

It was too late to compIain, because Emily had sat on the bed, imposing a physical distance. And she was already dressed. Don't. Don't.

"I'm not freaking out", Spencer assured. "Do I look like I'm freaking out to you?

Emily observed her for a second. Spencer's face and neck had little cute pinkish stains, reflecting a special kind of sweaty, lustrous light, and her lips were a little swollen, so she just looked… hot.

"No, you don't." Emily tried to be careful not to babble the words. "But it's good that we stopped. You might freak out later."

"When did you learn to be so self-controlled?" Spencer approached the bed and sat next to Emily. "You wanted to go fast with Maya."

She sounded reproachful, so Emily turned and gave her a quizzical look. Maya again? The same Maya Emily had basically cut short because of her own attraction to Spencer?

"I never said that. And it's not the same thing."

"You did say it. But I'm not Maya and I understand that is a significant fact that makes this situation so much hotter." Spencer offered one of her cockiest, most self-confident smirks, the ones she reserved to those moments when she was feeling the queen of the world. "So how do you control yourself?"

"I don't", Emily answered, defiantly but still playfully. "That's why we needed to stop."

Those words sent a chill down Spencer's spine, when she thought about what they could be doing now if she hadn't started wondering about what they could be doing later.

"I'm actually sort of relieved", Spencer managed to say, after giving it some thought. "I don't really know what to do next. You're gonna have to teach me a lot of things about this."

The mention of future making out lessons made Emily's head start to spin. Weren't they supposed to be talking about what this meant? Instead, they were talking about doing it again and taking it further. And she felt excited about it and not the least scandalized. Her own lack of interest in clearing things up surprised her.

"About what? About making out with a girl?", Emily asked, and Spencer's cheeks suddenly grew pinker. It was good to see it happening to Spencer too. "I don't know more than you do."

"Right…" Spencer remembered Emily had confessed she had not gotten much more than a few kissing lessons from Maya and Samara. And Paige. Though she had made the most of them, for the look of it. "That's good, actually. We can learn together. You know how much I hate to feel like an underachiever."

Spencer's habit of getting her way and believing she was the best at everything she tried always annoyed Emily a little. She would not let her win this one so easily.

"What?", Spencer asked, intrigued. Emily had shot her one of those sideways glances that meant something Spencer felt unable to decipher. And this one definitely meant something Spencer wanted to know.

"What what?"

"You gave me one of those looks", Spencer explained, "and now you have to tell me."

A mischevious laugh painted Emily's eyes. "I was just thinking I'll always have an advantage over you."

"Which is?"

"I like girls", Emily shrugged, playing the game. "I've kind of always liked them. So I've played the scene in my mind thousands of times."

"Thousands of times?" That did sound like a lot, and it somehow triggered Spencer's interest. It had never occurred to her, but it made perfect sense: she suspected Emily had an intense inner life, she just never thought about it being sexual. "With me or with other girls?"

Spencer spoke with such a sultry voice that Emily blushed again. Damn. Would Spencer always get her way no matter what?

"Not with you." 

It was mostly true. Emily had never dared to imagine certain things, even after she'd kissed Spencer. She had completely forbidden herself such a thing.

Spencer started to chuckle, so Emily instantly shot back a smile. But then she softly smacked Spencer's shoulder with her hand.

"Shut up! And stop making me nervous."

"And here you are hitting me again."

"I'm not hitting you. It was an accident."

"Really?"

"Before."

"You know, Em, some people would say this shows a pattern of sexual interest", Spencer continued the tease. "Not me, though." When the color was starting to taint Emily's whole face in a darker tone, she attacked again. This was way too funny - intense too. "So how nervous do I make you?"

She wondered if Emily did fantasize about other girls. Who were they? And they'd better not be Maya, Samara and Paige, because she was not ready to accept the fact that Emily did fantasize about them and not about her. It wasn't that bad if they were Olivia Wilde or that Naya Rivera girl, because they were not real in a sense, they were just characters in tv shows. Was this her first moment of jealousy over Emily? She really didn't consider herself to be a jealous person. Well, maybe she was ready to accept Maya and Samara, because they were nice and kind of cute and had dated Emily at some point. But not Paige. That one was unacceptable.

"You'd really want to know, wouldn't you?", Emily counterattacked, expecting to find a weak point. "Good. I sort of get the feeling that I can make you nervous too if I really, really try."

Spencer stared at her in wonder. This was definitely a new Emily – at least for her. And she was right, she made her very nervous in a way. And lately it wasn't as if Emily really had to try at all. Not only had Spencer been getting all sweaty in the last three days, every time she remembered their first kiss, she was obviously feeling completely mesmerized and… well, intensely involved with Emily at this very moment. It was a complete new discovery. One that she didn't fully understand yet.

"Well, you got it right", Spencer admitted, absorbing every bit of information she could get from Emily's eyes. "Point for you."

She felt they were going to kiss again, because Emily did that thing that she was doing a lot this evening: she gave her an intense look of recognition, then looked down at her lips and back at her eyes again, her long, black eyelashes slowly showing and covering her desire, and sort of unconsciously smiled in a slightly mocking, yet very innocent, way. But now she just looked away at the very last moment, her smile fading away. Another chance that was gone. Maybe it was better, because they were sitting on a bed now, and that was kind of dangerous. Ms. Marin was downstairs.

Chapter Text

A sigh escaped from Spencer's lips when she contemplated the situation. They were sitting on a bed, side by side, shamelessly flirting after kissing like crazy in Hanna's bedroom, while Hanna's mom was doing whatever in another floor. This was crazy, weird, amazingly intense stuff, if you came to think about it. She wondered if this could still be considered flirting, and unconsciously touched her lips with one of her fingers. No, according to her standards, this definitely wasn't flirting anymore, because they had taken a step beyond that. Had they flirted at all before? She wasn't sure. Perhaps they had. Perhaps she had not even realized they had. Maybe she had set this thing in motion without even knowing. That was, more or less, what Emily wanted to say when she kissed her to show her what was going on, right? Those had been her words. But what would they do now? They had not really, really talked about it; they had engaged in another type of conversation, instead. A kissing conversation. And obviously they both had lot to say in that area. Oh boy. Or rather: oh girl.

Spencer stood up and wandered around the room, taking a look at some of Emily's books – it was improbable that they were Hanna's – and thinking abut some of the things they had said. The physical separation allowed her to take a grip on some of her thoughts. Meanwhile, Emily was still sitting on the bed, changing her shoes. Why she was doing that, Spencer didn't know, but she suspected it was just a way to keep herself from jumping into another kissing session. If they looked at each other again, in that way, that freaking intense, mind-blowing way, they were going to start again. They both knew it. And to think that some hours ago they were hardly speaking or looking at each other… If every time they argued they were going to end up like this, she bet they would be arguing a lot in the following days. Although they hadn't really argued. It was more of an awkward feeling between the two of them, which had turned into this wildly kissing, flirting stuff.

"Is it because of the sexual identity thing?", Spencer suddenly blurted out, voicing one of her chaotic thoughts. "Is that it?"

The question caused Emily to turn around to look at her, surprised.

"I mean, is that the reason why you keep thinking I'm gonna freak out?", Spencer rephrased. Sometimes her mind went too fast for her tongue. "There has to be a reason."

"What do you mean the sexual identity thing?", Emily asked, a mustard coloured Converse in her hand.

"The fact that I like guys", Spencer clarified. "Are you afraid I'm gonna be scared when I see a naked girl in front of me?"

She was surprised at her own choice of words: using when and not if was a clear indication of an unconscious certainty or desire. For some reason, she was certain she was going to see a girl naked. Not any girl. Emily.

But she had to keep these images away from her mind if she actually wanted to talk to Emily about it. So she tried to let go of the naked image of Emily that had just flashed through her mind. Awkward, but appealing at the same time.

However, Emily didn't seem to be affected by her use of the word when. Or of the word naked. She was still staring at her, clearly expecting more of an explanation.

"What I mean is: do you think I'm gonna run away like a scared princess", Spencer continued, "so I can seek comfort in the arms of a guy who washes away whatever gayness I have inside of me?"

All right. Perhaps her use of imagery was a little clichéd, but Spencer believed it served well to make a point. She didn't want to be considered a damsel in distress who was terrified of discovering she might like a girl. Emily seemed to be pretty careful about it, respectful too, and that was fine, but Spencer didn't want her thinking it was going to create a commotion inside of her, because it wasn't. That was just not who she was.

This was actually their first shot at a real conversation about what was happening between them. Emily didn't know if she should be relieved or scared, so she just tried to focus on Spencer's question. One step at a time.

"No", Emily started, and then she confirmed, "I do know you like guys." She gave Spencer's words some more consideration before speaking again. "I can also see you're enjoying this, so I'm not worried about the… identity thing."

She used Spencer's phrasing, which was kind of funny, because there were all these moments when Spencer spoke like a book and it was sort of difficult for her to translate her to everyday conversation and to answer accordingly. Sometimes she mixed things up, to a point where she didn't know if they were having a normal conversation or a high-brow cultural one.

Her words were almost truthful, though. She did worry about the possibility that Spencer was only enjoying this as a game, as a newfound interest. Like that time she discovered chess. Or that other time, when she became obsessed about black and white French films. Or when she wanted to learn Chinese, because it was the language of the future. It took her a while to gather all the information she needed, and then she just got bored and something else triggered her interest. But that did sound too harsh to say, and Spencer was going to be pissed if she said it, because of all their issues about Alison and Wren. Spencer was not Alison. Emily was not Wren. They were just two friends who were making out in a room. Everything was perfectly natural. She could deal with this. They were just teenagers in a twisted, evil world.

Besides, there was something else that actually worried Emily a lot more. Emily could deal with this being some sort of a game if she believed Spencer really wanted to do it, because then it wouldn't exactly qualify as a game. It would only qualify as living, she guessed. Taking chances. Giving your life a shot before reality crashed down on you. After all, Spencer did keep some of her interests and obsessions, so why wouldn't this be like one of those? But there was just one thing Emily couldn't deal with, and that was Spencer being in love with somebody else while at the same time making her feel like they could actually do this. That was just too much. That was just like a romantic suicide for her.

"And there you are right again." Spencer smiled, but her upper lip trembled a little. "So then why are you worried about me?"

Emily fell silent. She wasn't sure how to approach the problem. The silence was taken by Spencer as a hint to continue explaining her position relating her sexuality.

"Listen, I don't give a shit about being straight or gay, Em", Spencer passionately asserted. "Just so you're totally sure about this: I may've always liked guys, but if wanting to be with you makes me gay, then I am gay, and I don't have a problem with that." There was a pause to check the weight of her statement. "I'm not gonna shy away because of the sexuality thing."

The sexual identity thing.

Emily nodded. Spencer's words on the matter of sexuality seemed to be quite close to what Emily thought Spencer might be feeling about this new experience. She knew Spencer was not shy in that sense. And, for god's sake, did she just say she wanted to be with her? Like in actually being together and not just making out as a secretive, surprising new thing? Her heart jumped and almost high-fived her brain when she heard it, so she had to remind herself that not every story had a happy ending, and that they still had to talk about this. She had to hold herself back to preserve some sense of protection and dignity. Some part of the Emily she had thought she was going to become when she decided to confront her… sexuality thing.

"I know."

That was the only thing that could manage out of Emily's mouth, and Spencer furrowed her brows.

"I really don't want you to worry about it."

"I'm not worried about it."

She wasn't worried about it.

"But you don't look fine about it either", Spencer concluded. Emily had bitten her lip, and was clearly still thinking about her words. "So tell me why? Why are you still worried?"

Emily got up from her bed and walked near Spencer, with one of her shoes on and the other one still in her hand. It looked like she was wearing a funny shoe-shaped, yellow glove.

"There's just this thing that makes me feel like I'm off my game here."

"Off your game? I thought we were playing your game precisely."

Spencer couldn't help the irony, so it hurt a little when Emily just disregarded her joke. She seemed to be trying really hard to find the correct words.

"Yeah, I think we're fine, and it's obviously…", Emily stuttered before pausing to think her words better. "It's obviously fun, and I like it."

Fun.

People liked fun. She liked fun. Stuff like going to the movies and eating popcorn and dancing in her room and traveling to an unknown place she hadn't seen before. How was she supposed to say that she really liked it? Fun? This wasn't fun. It was more like there was a rollercoaster inside of her chest, full of completely insane ups and of dreaded downs. Was she supposed to give all the information, or would that scare Spencer away?

"Fun?", Spencer voiced her own doubts, raising both of her eyebrows. "Go on."

"But sometimes I think this is not going to end up well for both of us." 

There it was.

Maybe it wasn't only sometimes. It was most of the times. Most of the times when Spencer actually did freak out and did not return her calls, or tried to pretend they could have a normal conversation about homework when they really couldn't. That was when she clearly saw this rollercoaster was doomed to derail and crash against the ground with their friendship and her sanity - and her dignity, and her sense of direction, and her gayness - aboard. It was scary, terrifying - really.

"What do you mean it's not going to end up well?"

Spencer frowned at the words. She didn't obviously like what she'd heard.

"Just that it's..." Doomed, mistaken, probably a very stupid idea, but an idea we could actually try if it was even an option. "You know."

Suddenly a bulb went off and a brick hit Spencer in the head. "Is it Toby?" It wasn't going to end well. Emily believed she was going to freak out. "Toby's what's bothering you, right?"

Toby.

The not-so-much-fun part. 

Here they were. Emily felt like she had to thank Spencer for bringing up Toby's name. It was a lot easier that way, because it meant Spencer's brain had actually started to work again. And they always counted on Spencer's brain, crazy and out-of-tune as it sometimes was.

"It's the fact that you love Toby", Emily carefully said, standing in front of her own abyss and looking down at it while her body wavered in the dark. "That's it."

That was it.

Spencer found herself at a loss of words. Once again, she had been so consumed over A, over her break-up with Toby, over the experience of kissing Emily, that she didn't even think about the possibility that Emily might be feeling bad about Toby too. For her, Emily and Toby were two separate things, two separate worlds that she had to deal with. But they weren't.

"I broke up with him before I even knew this was going on between us."

Spencer gave the only explanation she had.

"I know, I'm your best friend, remember?", Emily said. "I was there." She had been there that night. It had been so confusing.

"What can I say?", Spencer started to stutter again. This was difficult. "I didn't plan this and you didn't plan it either."

"And Toby didn't plan it, even A didn't plan it", Emily snapped, her tone surprisingly sarcastic. "But you still love him."

She loved him.

She loved him.

Saying the words was, for Emily, like sticking a knife into her chest. She wanted to do it once and again to see if she could survive the effect of actually putting it out there. She loved him. Spencer loved Toby. So what was she doing here discussing this?

"So that's what's bothering you so much, isn't it?" Of course it was. Spencer knew already when she asked the question. Emily had basically confirmed it in her own special way. "I couldn't go back to Toby even if I wanted to, Em." 

Even if she wanted to go back to him.

But did she want to?

Emily decided to stick the knife deeper, with a little bit of Spencer's help.

"Can I ask you something?"

"Please, do."

"If there was no A", Emily laid out, "or if A was caught tomorrow and sent to jail and outta here, would you go back to Toby?"

Spencer gulped, knowing her response was the key to this situation. She had broken up with Toby because of A. She had lied to him, said she didn't trust him, even though she did. She had done it when she had absolutely no idea there was this amazing undercurrent between Emily and her. She had only found out about them three days ago, and after the kiss everything had been crazy and chaotic inside her heart. She felt like this was the first time she was actually thinking about it.

But Emily was in front of her watching her every movement. She couldn't be ambiguous because Emily would use that as a proof that they were just being foolish; that things were not going to end well. And maybe they were being foolish, and maybe things were not going to end well, but she wanted to try her best. And, if she tried her best, and if Emily also tried her best, then things had to be the best. It was only logical.

"Don't try to be nice", Emily ordered, as she watched Spencer consider different answers. "Just be honest."

"I wouldn't go back to him." Spencer sounded determined, even though she'd spent some seconds frantically looking for the words. "Not right now. Not while we figure this out. You have my word on it."

Word.

Pinky promise.

The figuring out part seemed already so far away after what had taken place in this room during this evening… There was no turning back anymore. There was just moving forward. Everything was already figured out, in a way. But this was as much as she could give at this point.

Emily nodded: Spencer's word had left her wordless.

"Isn't that good enough for now? ", Spencer asked.

Her voice shook a little, and she sounded almost as a little girl looking for comfort.

Goodbye, playfulness. Hello, drama. She knew she had been honest, and direct, but not completely reassuring. Not totally, completely reassuring. She could tell by the look on Emily's face.

"It should be", Emily answered, serious and tense. "But I just don't really see it."

Emily let her arm fall to the side, the Converse still covering her hand. The answer was satisfying, but somehow she couldn't fully believe Spencer. Perhaps it was the way she had taken so long to answer, or her way of saying that it wouldn't happen right now – which might mean that she would indeed go back to Toby in the future, and when was the future? It could be tomorrow or the next month or the next year. And Emily wouldn't blame her for that. Spencer was in love with Toby four days ago, after all. And Toby was a great guy, and they were the most perfect, lovely, sweet couple. And Emily was the best friend on whom Spencer could lean on and basically now also kiss and have a great sexy time. A great, freaking sexy time.

Perhaps it was her own selfishness. Perhaps she wanted Spencer to think only of her, and she just wouldn't accept anything else. Her whole body had been taken over by this feeling, and now it had become too strong, too powerful to tame it back into a simple liking that she could just shrug off easily.

"What don't you see?", Spencer asked. She understood if Emily wanted more than that, but she didn't understand her not seeing it. "Just tell me what you want me to do so we can end this conversation earlier."

"I can't tell you what to do, Spencer", Emily replied sharply. "It's not about what I want you to do, it's about what you want. Period."

It was rather unusual to hear such a sharp, curt answer from Emily, and somehow Spencer understood the whole conversation, the whole situation had only one possible outcome, one unique end to which it was directed. The end was to tell Toby about Emily before A did. It was the only way Emily could feel some reassurance. It was the only way Toby would be hurt, but maybe not completely destroyed. It was the only way she might give herself some space to look for the right answers.

But Spencer couldn't think about doing that just now. She just couldn't. She already felt terribly guilty about leaving Toby like that, even if she had done it for his own safety, and now she felt like a dirty little bastard shining with happiness around someone else, when she should be at home crying over the love she had lost. Not only that, he was going to think she had lied to him. He was going to think she had left him because of Emily.

"I can't tell him now", Spencer repeated the little voice in her head. She hated to whine. "I can't break his heart twice."

Emily listened to her, but her eyes immediately became so detached Spencer felt miserable and stupid.

"I understand."

"I already left him because I didn't trust him", Spencer continued, "I can't go to him now and tell him I'm seeing someone after only two weeks."

Silence fell on them like a layer of snow in winter. Spencer couldn't really think of anything else to say. She wanted Emily to say whatever was left. She wanted Emily to convince her about the need to tell Toby, and she wanted Emily to say she trusted her. Basically, that was it. Say you trust me, say we're going to make it. That would just be enough. But Emily was not saying anything.

After what felt like too much time, Emily bent down and finally put her right shoe on, then tied it. She looked up at Spencer, letting out a sigh. She decided to speak again, taking the role of the good, loyal friend she was.

"I know it's difficult because you didn't leave him for the right reasons." Her voice was already calm and easy. But her eyes were still covered by cold. For someone with such a soft gaze, it was strange. "I understand everything about it."

Frustration got hold of Spencer. She didn't know why, but there was something really scary in the way Emily had shifted from asking for reassurance to this silent, secret code she was speaking now. It was like repeating the whole act again: they talked, then Emily shut her out and she couldn't break in again. Same old dance over and over, and it kept getting worse at the same pace they were getting closer and things between them got more intense.

"Could you please stop doing this, Em?", Spencer snapped. "Cause you're driving me crazy."

"Stop what?"

"Stop being reasonable and stop being understanding." Her voice was suddenly filled with anguish and rage. She knew she was probably being unfair, but maybe she wasn't. Maybe this was just what they needed. "Let's be clear about this for once. Cause what you're really trying to do now is find excuses not to go on with this thing. And it drives me crazy."

It was like someone had inhaled all the air in the room. Emily froze, a question mark on her face. Then she tried again.

"I'm saying there are reasons why we should think about what we're doing before we do it." Emily's voice cracked. What were they talking about now?

"But they're excuses, Emily, they're not reasons." Spencer's tone rose, an edge of anxiety taking over. "Let me put it this way: you're not really thinking before you act either."

Emily looked at her, unable to understand.

"Why do you say that?"

"A reason makes you do something", Spencer explained, the force of her intellect not strong enough to cover up her anxiety. "An excuse gives you the chance to feel like you did your best when you really didn't."

Was Emily being accused of not wanting this enough?

"Don't lecture me, Spence", Emily protested. "I know a reason from a excuse." She wasn't totally sure she knew the difference, but she got what Spencer was trying to say. It was, in fact, an accusation. Spencer was trying to turn the tables on her.

"All the time I'm feeling like you're pushing me inside of this thing, and then you're pushing me out of it." Spencer's tone grew angrier. "So you just do that over and over again and then you go around saying that it's my fault it's not working."

Emily's eyes widened in surprise. Where did this come from? When had she done such a thing?

"It's not your fault", she tried to calm Spencer down. "You say you can't tell Toby, and I understand that, but Toby's gonna find out anyway if we keep doing this, Spencer."

"I know that, okay? I'm not stupid. I just can't live my life thinking about A all the freaking time."

Emily had seen Spencer lose it quite a few times, but she had never seen her lose it because of her. This was unexpected. Wasn't Spencer the one who spent her whole life thinking about A all the time, anyway? Emily didn't buy the A card. If they were revisiting different sorts of excuses for not making up one's mind, this was one of the best she had ever heard.

"I'm not asking you to spend you life thinking about A", Emily retorted. "I'm saying if you don't really want Toby to know, then why are you here? Why did we just make out? Can you really answer that question?"

There was an undercurrent of anger in Emily's voice too. Now they were both mad at each other.

"Is that supposed to be a real question?" Spencer's voice was thick with bitter sarcasm. "Okay, Emily, I'll let you know why: because we both want to do it and we both want to do it here and now. Because you kissed me and I kissed you and we both want to kiss each other, are you content now?"

She took a pause to really look at Emily. She could swear Emily was trembling. She could feel she was trembling too. If only they could grab the chance to actually understand each other for a second, like they used to do before all of this started. But they seemed to lose the chance every time.

"I'm just asking you to have some patience, Emily", Spencer begged, and again she sounded like a little girl pleading for justice, protesting because the world was unfair. "I'm asking you to show me you can fight for this if you really want it. Because that's what you do when you really want someone."

Again, the accusation.

"You're asking me to fight for this?", Emily asked, and for some reason she was more hurt now than ever.

What were the implications of fighting over someone or for something? Even if it was something you actually wanted, you actually cared about. Patience was one thing, but to ask her to lose herself in a battle against Toby, especially if it was a battle over Spencer's love, which perhaps was already decided, seemed selfish and petty on Spencer's part and clearly self-destructive on her own, if she agreed to do it. So what was Spencer asking from her? To bet on something that Spencer herself still had to come to grips with. To bet on something risky and unsafe, when she might be the only one betting on it? To spend more days wondering about the reason why Spencer wouldn't look her in the eye in front of the girls, or waiting for a call back, or trying to stop herself from bordering elation and happiness over a stolen kiss or a whispered word.

"I fight every day against A", Emily continues, "but I'm not gonna fight Toby for you. I am not a fighter, Spencer." Emily spoke clearly, defiantly. The words were so sharp they cut Spencer's skin. "The way I see this, it's very simple: you either want me or you don't. There's nothing else to it. So why do you ask me to be patient when all you have to do is make up your mind?"

They were already caught up in the turmoil of a real fight, the fight that was taking place now. This was where the fight happened: it had nothing to do with A or with Toby. It revolved around them.

"Are you even listening to me?", Spencer shot back, pure energy now. "I said I want to be with you. So why are you trying so hard to stop me?"

"And why are you trying to get me into a mess where I'm gonna have to wonder every day about what is really happening between us?"

"This is happening between us. This." Spencer waved her arms, showing her impotence to express it with words. "It was you who started this mess and now you're just trying to finish it!"

"We're fucking friends, Spencer!", Emily shouted, and suddenly they realized they were speaking too loud. Still Emily couldn't lower her voice. "I'm not trying to finish it, I'm trying to save it!"

Spencer swallowed her anger and looked through Emily as if she was transparent before shooting her final bullet. For some reason, Emily did not understand what she was trying to say. This was not about friendship anymore. To hell with friendship and with all the good things in the world. Stick with me. Show you can trust me. Take me on, because I am on. It could go so much further than friendship. It was already more than that. It might be scary, but they had to face it once and for all.

Perhaps Emily did understand and just wouldn't give her what she needed. That was more like Emily. Always reserved, always secretive, always shying away. Always trying to make Spencer think, to make her realize things on her own. Always pushy without really applying any pressure, civilized and cool and nice and gentle and fair. And all of those marvellous qualities angered her more now, because Emily would fight for this if she really wanted to, like she had fought for other things, like she was fighting to stay in Rosewood or to go to Danby or to make herself be respected by everyone around at school. Like she was fighting to find Alison's killer. But not for this. Not for her, because Emily didn't trust Spencer.

"Well, I am sorry", Spencer angrily, coldly said, in quiet revenge for all the times Emily had been distant and cold to her, "but it just doesn't look like you're saving anything."

Emily fought back tears of rage. But she didn't retort. If she had, she would have probably smacked the book she had gotten as a present in the middle of Spencer's face.

Spencer was pale, but her eyes were injected in red. She looked down at her feet. There was nothing else to shout at each other. Emily was on the verge of crying now. At least she had broken her mask down. What a victory in the best and bloodiest battle of the war. If this proved anything, it proved Spencer was, indeed, a fighter. She was made to fight back, to push and to hit and to finally win the war. Instead of the victorious glory she deserved, the only thing she felt was a giant black void eating her from the inside of her guts. She felt she was the one killing whatever had to be saved right now. But she couldn't take it back. A part of her wanted to hurt Emily, to shake her to her roots so they could both find their limits, if they had any relating each other. Had they?

"I should go home", Spencer said, moving to pick up her purse from the table. She sounded like a dead crow which had been run over in the road.

Emily looked at her as if she was going to say something else, still not breaking. "Yeah."

"I'll see you tomorrow at school."

And then Spencer took her coat, which was lying on the chair in front of the table, and turned around without giving another look to Emily's face. She just left, closing the door quietly as she escaped. She ran down the stairs, a criminal, almost tripping on her way down, fighting her own heart, which would not cry and would not let her breathe either. She was almost making it to the door, trying to put on her coat while she silently ran from Hanna's house, when she ran into Ashley Marin, who was coming out of the kitchen with a stack of papers in her hand. It smelled of lasagne.

"Hey, Spencer!", Ms. Marin greeted her. "I didn't know you were here."

She hadn't probably heard anything, if she had stayed in the kitchen the whole time.

"Hi, Ms. Marin", Spencer swallowed her heart and tried to present her best, most adorable Hastings face. "I was helping Emily with a paper."

What a convenient excuse.

"Don't you want to stay for dinner? Hanna's coming in ten minutes."

"I can't." She rushed, trying to look away while she thought of another excuse. "My father's coming from Philly and he wants to see me."

His father was indeed coming back from Philly tonight. He probably didn't have much of an interest in seeing her, though. Or maybe he did. She had no idea and she didn't care.

"Oh, okay then." Ms. Marin observed her with interest. "Spencer, are you all right? You seem a little… worn down."

Spencer approached the front door, trying to hide her face and at the same time forcing a smile.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Just kind of stressed."

Ms. Marin followed her to the door. When they were there, she gently touched Spencer's arm.

"Everything will be all right, Spencer. We're all here for you, you know? They won't find anything against you."

Spencer remembered the police, A, Dr. Sullivan. A world of enemies and foes. She didn't really care about that either. But she turned to smile weakly at Ms. Marin, because it was really nice of her to show her support. Tears came finally to her eyes, overpowering her desperation, her false sense of vengeance.

"Thanks, Ms. Marin", she said, finding her voice against the tears. "It means a lot."

And with that she left. Her car was parked in front of the house. Still, she wouldn't cry. What was inside of her felt more like a scream, like a fist wanting to hit a ghost. She sat in the driver's seat and let her head rest against the steering wheel for a second, trying to come to terms with her own fury. What had they done? Why had she pushed so hard? Why wouldn't Emily trust her enough? Could it be that Emily was right, that she wasn't one to be trusted? Clarity reached her amidst her sorrow and her impotence. She had to talk to Toby. Then Emily and her could kill each other if they wanted to, could send this thing to hell if they wanted to, but first she had to talk to Toby. Emily was right about that. There was no way she could let this thing pass for another day.

Her phone buzzed in the right pocket of her coat. Her heart froze. She knew it was A. There was no question it was A.

"Not now, come on!", she screamed at herself. "Not fucking now!"

The screen was shiny and brilliant with colours when she took the phone out of her pocket. She opened the text.

"Cheater, cheater. Which one will hurt him more? Wren or Em? – A."

Attached were two pictures. One showed her kissing Wren back in a really mild, goofy way the day she had broken up with Toby and had then ran into Wren. It was daylight and it had been taken from afar, but you could tell it was her. Another had been taken tonight: it showed one of the passionate kisses she had shared with a shirtless Emily. This one was darker, but it had been taken from a closer distance or with some kind of amplifying lens. The picture left no place to doubt. Both were damaging in terms of her own implication, but, if it were her, she would have no doubts about which one to send.

She threw the phone with all the force of her hatred. It hit the window of the passenger's seat, and then fell to the floor.

Breathing became harder to do. She thought about leaving the car and walking, running home. But Ms. Marin was there and she didn't want to call her attention by leaving the car in front of her house. She couldn't risk facing Emily again, not now after their fight, when Emily was probably crying because of her, because she had made her cry, and there was nothing else to say until she could do what had to be done. And Hanna was almost there.

She started the car and pressed the accelerator, leaving the Marin's house in a rush.

Chapter Text

Emily watched as Spencer's car sped up on the road. Tears flowed through her eyes, but she tried to wipe them away with the back of her hand. How could everything be so wrong, all of a sudden? There were times when she thought she was missing some important meaning in life. This was one of them. People spoke and said things to her, she answered them back, and suddenly the whole world was flying around in a craze. Spencer had fled away in anger and Emily couldn't really understand what had gone so wrong. She had never ever had a problem of this sort with Spencer. It was all her own fault, it was all her own doing. There was no other explanation to this. She wished she could travel with her mind to Texas. Maybe there she could just cuddle in her mother's arms for a while, cry like a baby and ask her dad to fix what was so wrong in her world. But there was no way to do that anymore. There was no one to turn for help. Whatever there was in her, she had to cope with it alone.

She sat on the chair and opened her laptop. Her paper was due on Friday and she really had to get this work done if she didn't want to flunk the class. Well, she wasn't really going to flunk, but she needed a really good grade. The screen returned a broken image of her. She opened the document. No ideas came to her mind. But she was supposed to write, to write something brilliant and interesting which would convince Ella Montgomery that she deserved, indeed, the opportunity she had been given.

How many opportunities had she been missing and would she still miss? How many more classes, how many more grades, how many more papers due for Friday, how many more friends who were angry at her? Only one. Spencer. Spencer was angry at her. And the situation was so confusing she just couldn't pick up the phone and call her and tell her she was sorry, because she didn't know what she was sorry for. She was certainly not sorry for asking about Toby. Spencer had to tell Toby about this if they were actually going to keep… doing whatever they were doing. Kissing. Making out. If they were ever going to do it again. It didn't seem likely, right now. It had all so suddenly happened, then slipped from her hands when she thought it was there to stay for a while and she could relax.

The book looked at her from the corner of the study table. The Heart is Lonely Hunter. You bet. Her heart surely was a lonely hunter, and it was generally and constantly hunting for the wrong person. How many close friends do you get to fall in love with before actually running out of friends? Maybe she should give Hanna a shot and kiss her to see if she could just kill that one too. Seven kisses a year, whoa! Then she would strike Aria down, so she would have to get new friends and start all over again. She realized self-pity was not really the best way to cope with the fight she had just had with Spencer. Spencer, Spencer all over her head again. Spencer kissing her, then Spencer accusing her of not giving enough, then the ghost of Spencer who had fled, Spencer as a fantasy, as the best girlfriend in the world (crap!), Spencer in love with Toby, Spencer in love with her? Was that even possible? Could that ever happen? Spencer's long, pale neck, pink-stained after they had kissed, her brown waves falling over her small ears, down her neck, falling into Emily's fingers, into Emily's nose to breathe. Spencer's fingers intertwined with hers, Spencer's raspy voice talking into her ear, Spencer's craziness, nerdiness, Spencer's crooked smile and complicated nose, Spencer's eyes in that hazel colour before she leaned in to kiss her (to kiss her!), Spencer's funny, cute, delicate lower lip that Emily found so hard not to stare at lately, that she had tasted, kissed, bit just an hour ago, just some minutes ago. Everything, everything about Spencer. Everywhere. There was no one else. There was no one else, and she wanted no one else, and it scared her every day that she realized she could not put a stop to it. Because Spencer was right, she had tried to stop it. But it always came back with a vengeance.

Her hand reached for the book and opened it. Carson McCullers had signed it, blue ink, old pages. "For my dear friend, Anne." Anne, who was Anne? Was she a little lost lesbian girl? Because then they had a lot in common. Maybe they should start dating… although the woman must have been like eighty years old now. Or more. Not a good idea. She looked for Spencer's writing. Spencer's writing: small, ordered, disciplined, legible. Spencer, Spencer, Spencer. Was there any other sound in the world? She tried to concentrate on the words: "I hope you can hear me back. Love, S.". Hear her back. Spencer's words, Spencer's voice, Spencer's brain, always right, always right. Emily sobbed, tears coming in an unstoppable flow. She tried to wipe them off her face with her sleeve now.

Her paper. She had to write her paper. And Hanna was going to be here in a second. Do not cry. Do not cry over Spencer, this is not over yet. This is not over. She tried to repeat that as a mantra until she could actually believe it was not over. We are not done.

She couldn't kill it, she couldn't finish it. Contrary to what Spencer thought, she was fighting for it, and she was going to keep fighting. But she just couldn't say it like that. Not in the sense of making their life hell. Not in the sense of trying to convince Spencer to be with her, to talk to Toby, of insisting they were right for each other, they were meant to be with each other, they belonged with each other. Not in terms of making an argument about how Emily was better than Toby, because was that the truth? Was that fair, was that even real? Spencer had to be the one to see it for herself. But Emily would always fight for Spencer. And yes, it was true Emily didn't fully believe her, it was true she didn't totally trust her when Spencer said she wanted to be with her. And there was not a specific reason for that, besides the fact that it scared the hell out of Emily to believe it. It scared the hell out of her to feel no ground under her feet. She always tried to moderate herself and to tune her emotions because she just didn't work when she had nothing under her feet to support her, when there was not even a thing that she could hold on to and the world spun around as it changed. Everything was changing now and she needed to get a grip on something that would help her stand, even if that thing was the belief that they could always get their friendship back after this. So she was still trying to be the good friend she was used to being. Although it was a lie. Because she was not a good friend anymore, she was something else, undefined yet, but strong and powerful, and she needed to be brave to be that person who she was used to being – Emily, Em – as well as the force that was driving her now, the force that revolved around Spencer.

So did she want her? Yes. Would she fight for her? Yes, yes, but she wouldn't say. Did she believe her? No, she couldn't, she'd better not believe her yet. She'd better not believe anything at all until she could just breathe happily for one whole day.

Her phone beeped, a text. A? Not A now, please. She checked the phone, but it was not A. It was Spencer. Spencer who had left in a rush, angry at her.

"texted about us. Just so you know."

That was all she said. A texted about them. She was letting her know. Spencer, always taking care of things, always in charge of the situation, cluing her in.

She wrote back quickly, concern mixed with the thrill of knowing that Spencer had texted her even though they had fought. In another situation, she would have called her endlessly, but somehow she knew she needed to ask for permission this time.

"Can call u? ok?"

The answer was almost immediate.

"Can'talk now. will call."

That was it. A stop sign. Maybe that was enough. A had finally taken action, and this was something Emily had been expecting since the moment after she kissed Spencer in her backyard. And Spencer, in a way, must have been expecting it too. She would have to wait for Spencer to send another signal. Wait, wait, don't make the mistake of rushing into things. Be patient. Wait for her call. Emily knew Spencer would eventually call. Would that be a sign of trust? Would Spencer actually take it as that, or would she believe that Emily didn't really care or was trying to get past it?

Besides, she had other ways to find out if Spencer was all right. Hanna would inadvertently tell her if something was wrong, in case Spencer sent an SOS or was put in danger.

She looked again at the blank page in front of her. This paper was not going to write itself, so she googled "the heart is a lonely hunter" and a lot of information came up. The copypasting part of writing a paper. She'd rather copypaste Spencer's brain. But what was she doing? She knew these characters, she understood them, she had been inside of their heads, or rather they had been inside of hers. A line came to her mind: "this book is set in a town where everybody feels lonely". She wrote it. It wasn't a very good start, but she could correct it later.

The door opened and Hanna came in, carrying three bags that she left on the floor.

"Hey! Are you still studying?" Hanna made a face. "My mom says dinner's been ready for ages now."

Emily turned around a little.

"Yeah, sorry. I'm stuck with this."

Hanna left her purse and her jacket on the bed and started to change into more comfortable clothes.

"You're not coming down for dinner?"

"I really have to write this, Han. Can you apologize to your mom for me?"

Emily refused to look directly into Hanna's eyes, but she could feel the blonde was paying more attention than she normally would to her homework duties.

"What's taking you so long anyway? My mom says Spencer's been here helping you."

Oh, so Spencer had offered that excuse. She had probably run into Ms. Marin on her way out.

"Yeah. She was here."

Hanna approached her and looked at the screen over Emily's shoulder.

"Wow, it looks like you guys have been breaking your asses over this one." She laughed when she saw the one, solitary line Emily had written. "Is that all Spencer could come up with? Because I'm pretty sure I can do that too."

Emily tried to let a simple smile out.

"She helped me with the other paper first. The one I have to rewrite."

"Uhm." Hanna said, more or less buying the excuse. "Right."

She started to leave, but then she changed her mind and approached Emily again.

"Em, is everything all right?"

"Yeah!", Emily faked a cheerful tone. "I'm just really stressed over these papers."

She couldn't help looking at Hanna's face. If she kept avoiding her eyes, Hanna was going to think that was even weirder and was going to become even more suspicious. She tried to tilt her head a little so her hair would somehow cover part of her face, but she could see Hanna was looking at her with a slightly concerned expression.

"I can tell you've been crying", Hanna finally said. "Red eyes. Weird voice. What's going on?"

Damn. Red eyes, weird voices always offered such a great, helping hand.

"Nothing! It's just… you know, stress."

"Is it because of your grades or is it something else?"

"No, I swear, Hanna. I only needed to blow off some steam."

"And you cried for that?"

"Yeah. Crying is a really good way to… you know, to feel better."

She looked at her as if Emily was really the weirdest person she had ever met. Like that time Emily said she was going to study in the library.

"Okay then, I'll leave you to it. I'll bring you a sandwich so you eat before we sleep."

"Thanks."

Emily smiled in gratitude and relief.

Hanna was already leaving the room when she stopped again.

"Em, you know you can talk to me, right? If you have a problem or something."

"I know, Han. Thank you."

"Well, don't. Just talk to me if you need to. Or if A is doing something really bad to you."

"You mean something else?", Emily forced a bitter smile, and then she lied, "I will."

She couldn't get Hanna involved before Spencer cleared things with her. Or before she cleared things with Spencer. Especially now that A had already made her/his/its move.

Hanna smiled sweetly and then rolled her eyes at her, a funny gesture Hanna always mastered perfectly, the combination of sweetness and acid wickedness that characterized her so well. Then she closed the door and left.

No, she couldn't tell Hanna now. Hanna would try to find a solution, would want to rush things, would even tell Toby herself if she thought that would make things better. And, anyways, Emily first had to find out what sort of threat A had sent to Spencer. She hadn't really said. It was probably related to Toby, but perhaps there was a chance A only wanted to make herself/himself/itself noticed? Perhaps it was only a way to say: I know about you two. But A was playing a much harder game lately. Emily doubted things would be that easy. A had to know this was the only way to strain Spencer and Emily's relationship, especially now that it was already sort of totally strained because of all the confusion they were going trough since things had changed. So, no, there was probably a higher risk involved. What would Spencer be doing now? She hoped she wouldn't try anything stupid. Spencer tended to do really crazy, reckless things when she became anxious or didn't get what she wanted right away.

Her palms started to get sweaty. She looked back at her phone and for the first time since all of this blackmailing stuff had started, she wished she would receive a text from A where she could know what was going on exactly. So she could just go to Spencer's house, or to Toby's house, or somewhere, to do something about it while keeping an eye on Spencer. Without interfering, if her help wasn't really needed, but just to keep an eye on her. See she wouldn't get into trouble, help her if she was broken down, or in a panic, or in danger, or all alone by herself trying to sneak into some weird place to get whatever information which could help her kick A's butt, or to hide their kiss from Toby, or who knew what else. And what if she ran into Wren again? How many times could this guy possibly get in the middle of Spencer's way whenever she was in trouble, either romantic or of another sort, just to plant a kiss on her lips?

Jesus, she had to stop imagining all these different scenarios. Picturing Wren almost made her throw up, and that was kind of awful on her part: she should be more worried about Spencer's safety and sanity than about the possibility of that guy's reappearance. And what if he reappeared to save her life or something? Then Emily guessed she'd have to be grateful, although her true intentions were to break the guy's head and then kill him with her own hands. Was that too violent? And, anyway, it was pretty difficult to run into Wren at this time at night. She hoped. That guy was everywhere. Maybe he was A. Not probable, though. Then there was another possibility: what if Spencer was talking to Toby right now and, instead of telling him whatever Emily was hoping she would say, they were making up? A would probably love such an outcome. It would give her/him/it plenty of ammunition against Emily, Spencer and Toby in the future. But no, it couldn't be, Spencer had said she would not go back to Toby now, not while they were still trying to "figure this out". So no, it couldn't be. Patience. Trust. Fight. Say the magic words. This is not over yet. We are not done yet. Make things happen. That was a new one.

She took the phone in her hand and quickly wrote a text: "Please, don'do anything stupid ALONE." Then she erased it. There were so many different texts she could actually write: "Call me if you need me. I'll always be there. So call NOW and let's make up" (this one was obviously too long). "Don't let Wren near you" (she would be so dead if she actually sent this one). "Does Toby know about us?" (purely informational, but did it convey everything she wanted to say?). The thought of Spencer running alone, like that time when she faced Ian in the church, terrified her and almost made her stand up and run out of the house to find her. It was Spencer, after all. The possibility that she would just keep quiet and stay at home was… unlike her. Emily thought she was going to go crazy. But what if she sent a text – one that she could actually agree with herself in sending – and Spencer took it as another sign of distrust on Emily's part? They weren't communicating very well lately. Everything that came out of Emily's mouth seemed to be taken by Spencer as a proof of doubt and ambivalence: she had said Emily was pushing her in, then pushing her out of "their thing".

"Arrrrrgggggh", she snorted all her frustration.

Spencer was always so fast to make a decision. Emily, on the other side, was kind of slow, except when her life was at stake. Or another person's life. Then she just ran fast and took a bat to fight whatever monster, whatever zombie was menacing their lives (a memory of Alison came to her mind). She was always full of doubts and struggling with herself. What if that was just not her thing? But there must be something that was, actually, her thing? Besides swimming. And not writing papers that she had asked a teacher to write. Make things happen. She had to start making things happen. There was actually one thing that might qualify as hers: sugar-coating things to get what she wanted. People tended to like her instantly and to try to protect her. Maybe she could and should stop feeling bad about it and use it to her advantage. An idea came to her mind: it wasn't really an idea, it was more of a person. Aria. She could call Aria and sort of subtly indicate her to go spend the night with Spencer. Obviously she couldn't tell her all the information, but it would be a good way to make sure someone was watching over Spencer so she wouldn't go totally crazy. It was a really good idea, actually. It gave Spencer time to call her, it showed trust and patience on Emily's part, and it meant someone else would be taking care of Spencer while Spencer took care of whatever situation she had going on with A's text and Toby… and her.

This was as good as she could get, for the moment. She'd have to wait a little to get even better. Because she swore she could get so much better at this. If only they found a way to make their thing happen.

Emily took the phone in her hand again and looked for Aria's number. She would write her paper after the call, even if it took her the whole night to do it.

Chapter Text

Spencer was sitting on the front stairs that led to her house, waiting for Aria with the face of a gravedigger. Aria had called when Spencer was preparing to sneak out of the house, after making countless calls and sending a couple of texts to Toby, asking him to meet her so they could talk. He hadn't answered the calls or the texts, which was a clear indication that A had sent one of the pictures to him. Maybe both of them. She had decided to camp out of the Cavanaugh's until Toby had to go outside and meet her, but then Aria had called saying she was coming to spend the night at her house – just like that, tonight! – and she had found no credible excuse to stop her. She talked about her father, about Melissa (who wasn't really there), but Aria just wouldn't listen; she was coming because she felt bad about some stupid thing that had happened with Ezra back at Hollis. Spencer had tried saying she wasn't feeling all right, she had a cold, she might get a fever, there were inner feelings of hatred and violence that might explode tonight and she wouldn't like to take it on Aria – but all that Aria had said about it was that she was glad they could help each other then. She was coming. Period.

And now Spencer had to pretend she was a normal person. There was no chance to go wait for Toby outside of his house, nor of calling him every half an hour, nor of talking to Emily or even about Emily to Aria. Could her life get really worse than this? Not only was she in the middle of the greatest conflict of the Teenage World in Rosewood, now she also had to pretend she had a cold and no problems related to A, Toby and Emily. It all seemed like a big, funny, laugh-your-ass-out-at-Spencer-right-there kind of joke. She would even quote Alanis Morissette's classic on this one, but she didn't really enjoy her music that much.

Aria's car appeared on the distance. Her father was driving her to the Hastings'. Spencer wondered what excuse Aria had used to say she needed to spend the night at her house at such late notice. Anyway, Aria's parents were kind of liberal and understanding. It wasn't like Aria had to offer a lot of explanations. And, at least, they were usually home, unlike her own parents, who, by some mysterious irony of fate (see? Irony all over again), were home this very night, making everything about her love life just a little more difficult. She stood up and waved at Aria and Mr. Montgomery, trying to draw a smile on her lips. She imagined herself as a clown, painting her face in front of the mirror for the world to see when probably all the world would see was another stupid, pathetic, ridiculous clown with a big red nose and an awfully disturbing, terrifying smile (she had always disliked clowns as a child). Aria walked towards the house, where they hugged each other and Spencer invited her in. The night of the famous clown Spencer Hastings was thus set in motion.

After they'd changed into their pyjamas and Spencer had carefully left some other clothes on the restroom downstairs in case she could sneak out once Aria fell asleep, Aria had started telling her story with Ezra and Jackie Molina. Spencer understood it was a difficult situation for Aria, because of the illegal aspect of the whole relationship, the age difference, the need to keep it hidden from everyone around, and the mere existence of a beautiful, intelligent, bitchy ex-fiancé who was keen on making Aria's life miserable. But, still, you couldn't really compare that to the drama she was going through: how about realizing you actually wanted to kiss your best friend, who happened to be a girl, all the freaking time, something that you had never suspected? Not that she was a girl, you obviously knew that very well; you even knew she was gay, and it sort of occurred to you at some point in your life, once she came out of the closet, where, by the way, you never even realized she was, that she might have liked you, although you didn't really think so because you were clearly not her type; but the possibility that you might end up kissing her all the time had never crossed your mind, because you were clearly an idiot, oblivious and blind to the reality of its hotness and its rightness and its everythingness that made it so obvious to you right now. So how about realizing all of that while you still had to tell your very recent ex-boyfriend, with whom you broke up only because you wanted to save his life (although you didn't tell him that, you said you just couldn't trust him with all your shady family secrets), about the fact that you were already falling for another person, whom he also considered a friend? Let's not forget about some other guy you sort of kissed the day you left him, who used to be engaged to your sister. Now, you only needed to throw in another "person" – who might or might not be human – whose main interest in life – or death? – consisted in blackmailing you and trying to frame you for every possible crime that had been committed in this area, and whose newest way of torturing you had taken the form of making you appear guilty of cheating on your ex-boyfriend, which you really hadn't, although you did feel like you had. Some people would say that cheating on your boyfriend was a lot less important, as a crime, than killing Dr. Sullivan, or Alison. She did realize that. But she had not murdered anyone. However, a part of her felt like a cheater; and another part of her felt like a really bad person. She had made her best friend and current love-interest, a person well known for her gentleness and general coolness, cry just because she wouldn't throw herself in her arms or swear eternal love to her, despite the fact that it was only natural she was holding herself back in front of all this trouble. Was it natural? Why had Emily kissed her if she wasn't really willing to throw herself in her arms and face the concomitant trouble? Spencer still had to figure this part out, and...

"Spencer!", Aria called out. "Are you listening to me?"

Spencer could add another factor to the tragedy: she had a friend who was sitting in front of her from whom she had to hide all that was going on inside of her.

"Yeah." She came back from the other universe, Fringe-style. "I think you should tell Ezra how you're feeling about Jackie."

"I wasn't talking about that anymore", Aria protested. "Are you gonna tell me what's wrong with you or not?

"What do you mean? Nothing's wrong with me. I'm the perfect Hastings' specimen, born to life only to bring the most outstanding combination of..."

"Cut the crap and tell me about it." Aria was stone-faced and unmoved. "You look like you were just run over by a trunk full of chickens."

"What kind of metaphor is that one? Are you gonna use it in your next poem?"

"It's the one I'm using when I look at you." Aria leaned forward, looking directly into Spencer's eyes. "You can tell me, Spence."

No, Spencer couldn't tell her. Emily was a very, very common friend. And she had to talk to Toby first. She looked at the phone out of the corner of her eye: still no messages or calls.

She wished it was true she could just spill her heart out to someone. Aria was a good listener, even if she wasn't Emily. Emily didn't even need to listen to her most of the time; it was enough if she just stood there with eyes and ears opened. But she couldn't talk to Emily about Emily. That was another problem related to getting involved with your friend. Suddenly you couldn't come to her asking for her advice, because what was she going to tell you?

"I've got a problem with A", Spencer tentatively decided to say. Maybe she could explain only a part of the problem. Maybe Aria could help clear her mind if she didn't know all the information. "Another one."

"What happened? Is that why you're looking at the phone all the time?"

"Yeah, sort of. It's Toby. A sent him a picture. I don't know which picture yet."

"Wait, wait." Aria held up a hand to stop her. "What picture are you talking about?"

Spencer took a deep sigh. This was going to be difficult to explain.

"A picture of me with another person." She held her breath for a second before puffing out the big news. "Kissing."

"What?!" Aria was shocked. "Wait, is this a picture of you and Wren?"

"Well, that is one of the possibilities."

"What do you mean it is one of the possibilities?"

Aria looked totally pissed off at her lack of understanding.

"I kissed another person", Spencer clarified. "A few times."

Aria opened her mouth, closed it, and then opened it again, her big, sparkly eyes moving accordingly with her lips and her eyebrows to accompany the surprise. It was quite an entertaining thing to see: Aria was so expressive.

"You kissed someone else. More than once", Aria repeated very slowly, while Spencer nodded in confirmation. "Spencer, are you out of your mind? You broke up with Toby two weeks ago!"

Scowl was met by scowl.

"Are you gonna get mad at me? Because, if you are, go get in line!"

"No!", Aria screamed, then lowered her voice when she remembered Spencer's parents were home tonight. "But why didn't you tell me? And who's this mysterious new guy? I mean, obviously A was gonna do something against you if you were kissing another guy, Spencer!"

"I'm telling you now."

Aria got up from the spare bed, where she had been sitting all this time, and started pacing around the room. Then she stopped and faced Spencer again, who was slouched against the headboard of her own bed, watching her.

"So A sent a picture to Toby", Aria cleared her ideas. "But you still don't know which picture: Wren or the other guy."

"Exactly."

Now Emily was the other guy. Irony, irony in her head.

"And you're trying to talk to Toby. To tell him what?"

"I don't know, but I obviously have to talk to him."

"You don't know what you're gonna say?"

"I know a part of it."

Aria sat on the bed next to Spencer.

"Who in hell is this guy?"

"He's just…" Okay, she needed to improve her skills a lot to manage this conversation. "He's someone I really care about, okay? He's not some random guy."

Aria gave her a weird look.

"Are you confused about him? You don't know what you feel? Is that why… you did that?"

"I haven't cheated on Toby, Aria", Spencer defended herself. "I know it's difficult to believe, but I didn't cheat on him! It's all happened after I broke up with him, and I had no idea it was ever gonna happen before it actually did."

"I know, I know…", Aria tried to calm her down. "Now tell me about it."

"I didn't even know about this a week ago. And then he kissed me and everything changed."

He.

"He kissed you?" Aria's thick eyebrows rose like red flags on her face. "You really have to stop making people kiss you, Spence."

Spencer shot her a death look.

"Thanks, Aria."

"I'm kidding. Just lighting up the mood." Aria took Spencer's hand and squeezed it with her small, tiny fingers. "But you said you've kissed more than once."

Spencer gave a cautious nod.

"Yeah. More than once."

"So basically you've made out with him."

"Yeah, pretty much so."

"And you liked it?"

"Yeah. I…"

She ran out of words. She had liked it. A lot.

"Is it that good?"

You don't know how good it is. Another nod served as an indication.

"So, yeah, it is that good", Aria concluded by the look on Spencer's face and the nod. "So are you over Toby now?"

Spencer looked away. Was she over Toby? But that sounded so harsh.

"I… I don't know. I feel bad about him."

"You feel guilty."

"Yeah."

"What else do you feel?"

"You know how I feel about Toby, Aria. I've told you a million times."

"No, I know how you felt about him two weeks ago", Aria corrected her. "Before you made out with the new guy. I want to know how you feel now."

"Well, I feel sad…" Spencer tried to convey her feelings about Toby ever since Sunday. "He's my soulmate and I can't be with him."

"So that hasn't changed."

"I don't know. I think it's changed, in a way." She looked for Aria's comforting eyes. At least now she was trying to understand her feelings. "He totally gets me, and I get him. And he's the sweetest, cutest guy ever… I can be myself when I'm with him, without pressures. I can let myself go."

"Aha. That's what you used to feel for him."

"I still feel it. Maybe not so strong as before."

"Because of this other guy or because you're not with him anymore?", Aria asked, but Spencer shrugged her shoulders, as if she wasn't sure herself. Then Aria coughed, indicating she was going to dig deeper into Spencer's soul. "What about when you kiss Toby? When you make out with him?"

"Are you serious?" Spencer got annoyed and interested at the same time. "Who are you? Hanna?"

"I'm trying to help you here. Trust me, I don't really wanna know."

Spencer chuckled for the first time since she had fought with Emily. Aria was funny: she was taking this thing so rigorously.

"Well, it's been a while." She realized she couldn't really remember a lot of their kisses. They had sort of faded away. "He's really sweet. But in a hot way, not in a boyish kind of way. He's got an amazing body. He's a good kisser. And he looks at me like I'm the best thing that ever happened to him."

She felt like she was reciting a line of previously learned delights. They used to be real, to make her shiver in expectation, to a point where she felt she could just spread her wings and fly into the sky. But now they were only shadows in her memory, covered by some other emotion that had gotten stronger and had pushed those to the corner of her mind. She struggled to make the words vivid and fresh again, but they just weren't there anymore.

And now she felt shame. Shame that she could forget about these things so quickly. Shame that she might have fooled herself when she took them for granted, thinking they had a meaning that they didn't ultimately have. Because it couldn't be love if you forgot about it so quickly, if you couldn't remember it well enough in your heart. Even for her, the spoiled little brat who had spent so much time craving for attention, love was a magnificent word that had to correspond to an equally magnificent reality. It was a living force that you just couldn't ignore, or shut out, or forget. It couldn't have been love, then. Or maybe it was love, but not strong enough, not passionate enough, not love enough. A final blow came as another realization. She felt shame that she had fooled Toby, that in a way she had created this situation because she didn't really understand much about herself yet.

Shame that she was actually remembering someone else's kisses, someone else's eyes without shame.

Aria observed her, encouraging her to continue.

"But you're not really thinking about him now, right?"

Spencer's eyes got wet with tears again. She hadn't cried in a while. But every day there was this knot in her throat, and she wondered if it was going to go away at some point or if it was just going to break.

"How do you know?", Spencer asked, not allowing herself to cry.

Aria was really good at this thing, and Spencer wanted to take advantage of it. If she cried, the conversation about her feelings would be over, turning into a sobbing, babbling, nose-blowing situation that she preferred to have on her own, or not have at all.

"Because I can see it." It was enough for Aria to see Spencer's furrowed forehead, an obvious sign that she was struggling with herself. She gave her a considerate smile. "So now tell me about this other guy. You've made out with him a few times, so it's kind of intense already, isn't it?"

"Yeah." Spencer nodded. "It's totally, completely crazy."

Spencer wanted to feel more comfortable with the conversation. It was a good thing that she didn't have to say who she was referring to. It made it so much easier. It created some sort of freedom, where she could actually say anything that came to her mind as long as it was true and real.

Aria was good at this! Spencer had to remember to tell her to major in Psychology if her project to go into Arts didn't work or lost part of its appeal.

"Go on."

"I… It's like I can't stop. It's very emotional", she started, letting her mind wander around all the dark, secret places that she had shared with Emily. "It's not like we've done a lot more than just kissing. But I could… go on for days like that and I'd just need more all the time, you know what I'm saying?"

Aria nodded in understanding, but her face suddenly turned very weird and kind of pale. Why would she look like that? Had she seen a ghost? Spencer hadn't slipped anything, right? Aria didn't say a word, but Spencer could see her mind working behind her immense eyes.

"What?", Spencer asked, concerned. "Aria?"

"Nothing", Aria said. But she was growing paler. "Go on."

"Gosh, Aria!", Spencer suddenly realized. "It's not Ezra! I'm sorry to tell you this, but Ezra is not the only person in the world who's great at making out, you know? And why does everybody think I'm stealing their boyfriends?"

"No! No! I wasn't thinking it was Ezra!" Aria shook her head several times, denying the evidence. "I just… You were talking about this guy and you made me think of him, that's all."

Spencer didn't fully believe Aria's explanation.

"And that's why you looked like you had seen the ghost of Alison walking in the room? Aria! I would never ever in my whole life try to kiss Ezra."

Ella Montgomery was sure it was Spencer who was having an affair with Mr. Fitz. Emily didn't want to be Wren. Did everybody around her actually believe she had no boundaries at all?

"I know, I know…", Aria repeated, apologizing. "It's just the way you were talking about the guy. And the way you don't want to say who he is…, you're being so mysterious, Spencer."

"I just… He's…", Spencer stuttered. Oh, man, that change from she to he was constantly confusing her. She had to stay alert all the time.

"What else?" Aria had already recovered her coolness after the Ezra-shock. "Tell me how he makes you feel. I get your make out sessions are totally hot and all, and that you can't really stop thinking about him…"

"Yeah. Just imagine how it's gonna be when we actually get to do more."

Spencer couldn't really stop herself from saying that, which gained her a funny look from Aria.

"And I also get you're thinking a lot about that, but there must be something else…", Aria continued. "You say you care about him, he's not some random guy,so what does he make you feel? You know, on an emotional level."

Spencer looked at Aria with as much respect as she could possibly gather in a single look. No wonder she was dating an older guy! And a teacher! How old was she again?

"You know you're really good at this soul-searching stuff?"

"Just tell me", Aria demanded, serious and so focused on her task. "You said kissing was very emotional. Why?"

This was slippery territory. Spencer had to be very careful with the information she gave: a description of how Emily was as a friend would totally leave her in the open. But, at the same time, she had to explain as much as she could, she had to give all these little details that made her thing with Emily so amazing and, basically, overwhelming.

"He calms me down", she started. "Even when we're fighting, which we are doing a lot lately, he can always calm me down. It's like he has this secret key or something…" Her alarm for slippery territory sounded inside her head. But she tried to go on, counting on Aria's presumption that she was talking about some secret guy. "No matter what we do or say, it's like he's gonna be there forever. Well, maybe not forever. I wish he'd be there forever, though. It's not forever, but fully." She recalled the text she had received a couple of hours ago from Emily, asking if she could call her. That was the kind of thing Emily did: she never intruded, but she made sure her presence was noticed. More than noticed: her presence invaded the room until it conquered it completely. She had all these little ways to do it. All these little ways. All these little Emily ways.

"Hmmmm", Aria furrowed her brows. "You can't get to have two soul mates, Spence."

"Yeah, I know", Spencer agreed. "It's not the same thing, though."

"Why? Is it because of the fighting?" Aria questioned an interesting point. "You just said you're fighting a lot. Is it the kind of relationship where you make out and fight all the time?"

Was it? Spencer wasn't sure about that. She was pretty sure there was a lot of intensity between them, because that was sort of out there all the time since they kissed, but Emily had never been the fighting type at all. And Spencer didn't believe she was. And then there were Emily's words about her not being a fighter. As for Spencer herself, she was a pain in the ass, sure, but she didn't really enjoy fighting, as in hurting and being hurt in return.

Was their relationship unhealthy? And how could that be when all there had always been between them was good and right?

"I'm not sure."

Maybe they were both too passionate? Maybe what could work between them as friends would just not work as lovers? Were they lovers already? Could you actually become someone's lover just by making out? But it was more than just making out. That was what she was saying to Aria.

"Why have you been fighting?", Aria tried to help again.

"I don't really know." Spencer thought about it. "I think we want a lot from each other, but we don't really know if we're supposed to expect that much. Does that make sense?"

She hoped it was only the transition from best friends to whatever-they-were-now that was making them fight.

"Kind of." Aria gave her a look full of curiosity. "So who's the guy? And why aren't you saying his name?"

"Aria…"

"It's not Jason, is it?"

"No way! I'm leaving that one for you."

They looked at each other for a second, laughing. Spencer knew Aria's curiosity was increasing with every word she said. It was sort of dangerous now.

"Okay…", Aria started again. "So to sum it up: he calms you down and is there for you, but you're still fighting because… you don't know what you want from each other."

"Something like that, yeah."

"Okay, final question. You said he was always there. So I just came up with this one."

"Shoot."

"How do you feel when you're not with him? Like when you fight and then you don't know what to do… what do you feel?"

Spencer's mind was taken back to the recent days when things had been so weird between Emily and her: she had felt terror that Emily might turn her back on her, might never look at her the way she used to. She had felt she was walking through the desert and Emily had the water she could never reach. Emily was like water, in a way. Spencer had stared at her while she beautifully swam, completely hypnotized by her easy movements, afraid that, once Emily got out of the pool, she was going to slip away again, like water in Spencer's hands.

Then they had made out in Hanna's bedroom and the terror had been replaced by that sort of certainty that you only feel when the other person is totally yours, and you know it for a fact, and you have all this power that you don't really know how to use. So she used it badly and they fought: it had been their worst fight ever. But now, ironically (there again!), she knew they had a chance. Spencer just didn't know how they were going to survive the intensity of their relationship, as well as all the obstacles that were being put in their way, but now she knew they had a very strong chance of actually having something. She knew Emily was not going to escape from her, at least not right away. She knew Emily couldn't really escape from her.

At least not right away. But who knew what could happen later? Spencer tried to remember how she used to feel before they had kissed for the first time, whenever she felt left out or rejected by Emily.

"It doesn't happen a lot."

"What? That you're not with him?"

"Yeah."

"But you've had arguments, or moments when you thought he wasn't going to be back in your life, right?"

She mumbled yes, her heart falling to the floor when she reactivated the feeling.

When Emily ran away and they went looking for her to Dr. Sullivan's office. When Emily said she was feeling weird and asked Spencer to take a step back, even though Spencer really didn't understand why. When Emily thought she was going to move to Texas, although Hanna rapidly made that fear go away. When Emily got mad at her because Spencer had dropped Paige's name to the swim team coach, and told her she was not a little lamb that needed constant care. When Emily gave her the silent treatment after their kiss. All of those had been pretty awful, in their own degree.

"So how was it?"

"Well, it's something like… utter terror." Spencer searched for the words, but she couldn't really find them. "It's like…"

Like dying? She really didn't know what dying felt like, and didn't want to know so early in life. It also sounded so very dramatic that it probably wasn't true.

"Like you need him to be there?", Aria tried to help. "Like you only exist when he's there, even if it's a secret and it's hidden and it has to be kept in the dark?"

Wow, Aria seemed to be finding a lot of common points in her relationship with Ezra, judging by how involved she was in the conversation.

But what she said did ring a bell in Spencer's ear. Worthlessness. Meaninglessness. Being without Emily was not like dying; it was more like life was not enjoyable at all. Spencer was actually capable of doing anything to prevent Emily from leaving, to stop her from not being there, because she didn't want to learn how to do without her. She didn't want to be without her. She felt better when Emily was there. It wasn't only that she could be herself; it was that she needed Emily to be more than herself, someone whose existence only came into being whenever Emily was there. Like there was a circle of fire that surrounded them both when they were together, from where Spencer absorbed the energy she needed to do everything else that other people considered the normal things Spencer would do. But no one knew the actual Spencer who was inside the circle of fire. Not even Emily. But she was the cause of it.

It was scary, to think that she might stop being that person without Emily, and that nobody but Spencer would notice that fault. Spencer couldn't really put this whole theory about the circle of fire into words. It did sound kind of crazy, like a story about superheroes, when they were only a group of teenagers with a stalker in their world; so she decided to go for something simpler.

"It's probably gonna sound very corny, but it's like I can't really breathe without her. Like I don't even want to do it."

Aria's eyes widened a little.

"Her?", Aria asked. "You said her".

He, she, he, she, her. 

Spencer's skin paled. Those goddamn pronouns! She knew she couldn't always get them straight! 

"So?" Spencer held Aria's questioning gaze stonily. "I made a mistake."

One and only one mistake. So just let it pass.

Aria's eyes widened even more and started to shine as burning diamonds.

"You didn't!" She screamed some kind of victorious scream. "Oh-my-god, you're talking about Emily! I so knew something was going on with you guys since the other day, you were barely looking at each other!"

"What?", Spencer tried her best to deny it. "Of course not!"

"Yes! Why didn't you tell me?" She shoved Spencer against the headboard with all the force of her small arms and raised her voice even higher."And you guys made out already and then you had a fight? I mean, how did this even happen?"

"Shhhh." Spencer tried to shush Aria. Her parents were in the house, and she didn't really want them finding out about the latest advances in her love life. "C'mon, how do you know it's her?"

"Because it has to be her! You'd never talk about any other girl like that!" Spencer had never seen Aria so excited. "I mean, come on!"

"I'm not supposed to tell anyone, Aria", Spencer begged. "And you're supposed to give me your objective point of view!"

"And I'm gonna! Why didn't you guys tell us?"

"Why? Because of Toby, and A, and because of everything I just told you!"

Aria tried to catch her breath, allowing blood into her brain again.

"And what are you gonna say to Toby? I mean, you're gonna be honest, right?" Aria shot her a very serious look. "You can't play games if Emily's involved."

Again with the boundaries!

"Is this your best shot at objectivity?"

"Yeah, it is! I mean, it's Emily we're talking about. I'm not letting you do anything unless you're totally sure." Aria scowled at her. "You're totally sure you want Em, right? Oh my god, just saying it is weird." A hand covered her mouth in astonishment.

Apparently, the impact was too dramatic: she got up and started walking again, too nervous to remain quietly sitting next to Spencer.

"I'm not playing games, Aria. I swear."

"Oh my god", Aria exclaimed for the umpteenth time, an explosion of ideas in her mind, "that's why she sent me here."

"Who sent you here?"

"Emily. She called me to tell me she was worried about you. You were having a tough day but she couldn't come tonight because she had this paper due for Friday. She insisted I should come even if you didn't want me here."

"She did that?"

Spencer was totally puzzled. She thought she was going to get mad, but instead a wave of warmth washed her entire body.

"She was worried about you! Does she know about A?"

"She does, sort of."

Emily had sent Aria to babysit her?

"Okay, and you can erase that goofy smile from your face right now", Aria warned Spencer. "You're probably thinking she's really cute, but she lied to me! Did you guys fight today?"

"Yeah, we did." Spencer suddenly blushed. It was one thing to tell Aria about making out with some unknown person and a completely different thing to tell her about Emily. "She did have a paper to write, you know."

"Don't you defend her now!" Aria looked at her with a crazy look on her face. "Okay, you defend her, but I'm gonna kill her. And you'll just have to let me do it, because she could've told me the truth."

"Fine." Spencer could see why Emily wouldn't tell the whole truth to Aria. But she was still delighted by the way she had handled everything. "But you have to agree it is totally cute."

"It is! That's what pisses me off so much. I can't even get mad at her. The bitch!"

Spencer and Aria blurted out in crazy laughter at the same time. They laughed so hard at the situation that Spencer had to wipe a couple of tears from her eyes. It had been ages since she had had such a good laugh.

When they calmed down a little, Aria came back to her place next to Spencer and sat there again.

"So what are you gonna do?", she asked. "Whenever you can talk to Toby."

"I don't know. Tell him the truth?"

"About both Wren and Emily?"

"Yeah, obviously. I can't give A more weapons against me than they already have."

They stayed silent, serious again.

"And what are you gonna do about Em?"

"I've got to talk to her. We can't fight like that."

"Why are you guys fighting so much again?"

"It's not so much. It's just really bad."

 Spencer recalled the look on Emily's face and her own sense of despair.

"But what was the fight about?"

Aria couldn't easily imagine Spencer and Emily fighting that badly. They were generally so adorable towards each other, even when they argued. Well, she guessed she would have to get used to alot of changes now.

"I'm not really sure about that one either. Toby? Us getting together, what it means, what it doesn't mean?", Spencer tried to focus on why she had become so pushy during the argument. "She doesn't trust me, Aria."

"Are you sure about that?" Aria looked for Spencer's eyes. "I can't really see Emily not trusting you. Maybe she just wants you to be totally sure about this. The same way I want you to be totally sure."

"I know."

"She probably doesn't want feeling like she forced you to do anything you didn't want to do."

"Oh, please, she hasn't forced me into anything. I'm not a little girl."

"Okay", Aria agreed. "But with the Toby thing, what's she supposed to do about it?"

Spencer leaned forward and covered her head with her hands. Yes, that was why she needed to talk to Toby first. There was no way she and Emily could understand each other if that matter was not cleared.

"I told her I wouldn't go back to Toby."

"But did you mean it?", Aria asked, grave and solemn. "Don't get me wrong: I think you did. But how does she know that you're sure? What do you think it'd happen if she told you to do something and then you regretted it or changed your mind?"

What would happen? The total, most absolute disaster ever caused by Spencer Hastings.

It's not going to end well.

It's not going to end well.

That was what Emily had said.

"I know you're right. I just… She hasn't really said how she feels about me. I know she likes me and everything, I mean, that's pretty obvious." Spencer blushed again. Was that going to happen a lot in front of her friends whenever they found out about this? "But I don't really know how she feels. Like, I understand the whole Toby thing, which I am trying to mend now, but how am I supposed to know she's not interested in me out of loneliness, or because she's confused with the whole friendship thing?"

"She hasn't told you?"

"No, that's what I'm saying. You know how she is."

"Well, it's safe to say she'd never ruin your friendship because she felt lonely", Aria assured. "And, besides, have you looked at her? She's not gonna be lonely for a very long time, Spencer."

Spencer's cheeks went up in flames when she heard that. She had, indeed, looked at Emily. Aria was right about that. But if she said it again, Spencer was going to get so, so mad. She didn't know why. But she was going to get mad.

"Listen, you just have to ask her, Spence", Aria encouraged her. "I'm sure she'll tell you if you properly ask."

"Properly ask? I have asked. And it was proper."

Had she really asked? She believed she had, but maybe not as properly as Aria was implying.

"Then ask again. Once you've talked to Toby, go talk to her and ask her what she feels. And she will tell you. End of the story."

"Let's hope it's not the actual end", Spencer bitterly said.

"Cut it out", Aria answered, but her eyes were warm and comforting. "You know it's not going to end. You seemed pretty sure about your feelings when you were telling me about the guy called Emily."

"Man, that was weird."

"I know", Aria laughed, then continued. "And she has manipulated me into coming here to take care of you. I mean, everything screams crazy-in-love to me."

Spencer's heart skipped a beat.

"In love? Oh my god, am I in love? I am in love, right?"

"I don't know!" Aria laughed again. "Are you?"

"I don't know. Can you actually fall in love in three days?" Spencer thought about it. People should explain these things in books. Maybe that book had already been written and she had missed it somehow. "With someone you've actually known for ages?"

"Well, you'll have to ask Emily that one. See? Now you have two questions."

"But what do you think?"

If there was one person Spencer trusted to have all the answers on the emotional level, it was Aria. And it would be Aria from now on. Aria equalled the Master of Feelings and the Voice of Wisdom. She had officially received the title.

"I think this isn't only about kissing or making out while you keep it from your friends", Aria joked. "You said it yourself: it's very emotional. But I can't say more than that. That's yours to figure it out."

"Why? I should take you with me when I talk to Emily. That way we'd never fight again."

"I don't think I wanna be caught in the middle of all this intense kiss-and-fight thing you've got going on there."

They laughed, but Spencer grew serious again when she stole another look at her phone. Still no news from Toby. She would never be able to advance on this if she couldn't reach him.

"Spence, it's gonna be okay. He'll come around."

"He's gonna hate me. He's the best person I've ever met and he's gonna hate me."

"It'll take time, but he'll understand, Spencer."

Aria hugged her for a while. Aria was a hugger, had been all her life. Spencer closed her eyes and realized she was probably going to fall asleep before Aria. She was so tired after this hell of a day. At the same time, despite the fight and A's message, the day was ending well: she was glad Aria had come. On top of all that, it was also impossible to get cuter than Emily, who had sent Aria to her house as the messenger of Peace and Love. It had been an act of pure Emily: gentle, respectful, silent, but with a touch of slyness and cockiness to it. Pure, pure cuteness. She was ready for that. She was so, so ready for that.

Chapter Text

They didn't see each other during the following morning. Those first hours of the day at school were torture for Spencer: she usually enjoyed the classes and her friends, but the only thing she cared about today was the moment when she could get away and find Toby. Friends were forbidden for the day, until she could solve the problem with Emily. Classes passed again in a haze: she'd have to work her ass out to get back in line, because this week she swore she had not listened to a single thing the teachers said in class. If she kept like this, she'd have to ask Hanna for private lessons. And, now, that would be something. Sure, she had gotten some hours of sleep, thanks to Aria, but there were no news from Toby yet. Maybe he was planning on giving her the silent treatment too, but she couldn't really afford such a thing right now. Or ever. If she didn't hear from him today, she would camp out in front of his house tonight as she had planned to do yesterday, before Aria's visit. Thoughts passed by through her mind every minute, coming and going without really stopping to give her a rest. They were thoughts about Toby: about what he meant for her, about what she would say to him. They were also thoughts about Emily: had she walked to school this morning? Had she cried her heart out yesterday night because of her, or just enough to get her anger out after hearing Spencer's accusations? Would she be getting anxious or mad at Spencer again, since she hadn't really called her yet, even though she had texted she would be the one to make the call? Was she waiting for it, was she waiting for her? Every hour that Spencer spent waiting to talk to Toby was another hour that was spent building a wall between Emily and her. Another hour where they wouldn't really know what to expect from each other. Another hour that would add up to the tense silence between them. Silence was a place where Emily might be able to dwell for a while, but Spencer could not survive it much longer. Yet, she had to be strong. She had to talk to Toby.

 In a way they had seen each other, but it was only a brief vision during one of their classes. They were together in a couple of classes. So, apart from catching a glimpse of Emily's figure walking around the halls, or stopping at the lockers alongside Hanna, Spencer had seated in their Biology class trying to pretend she was paying attention to the teacher, although she had not resisted the temptation of stealing a glance at Emily; but she had not looked back, she seemed to be so imbued with the explanation of the reproduction of the invertebrates. Yeah, sure. She just didn't want to look at her. That was fine. Spencer understood why. They had fought, A had written a text, they were both freaking out, and even though Emily had sent Aria to her house to take care of her (which was probably the sweetest thing Spencer could ever imagine someone had actually done for her, and it made her feel soft and warm and silly on the inside), they still had a big conflict which was unresolved and that had no prospect to be solved unless Spencer did something about it, which she had not done yet, because there had been no chance to do it, because Aria had been sent to her home by Emily and she had spent the night talking to her about her problem with Emily and sleeping instead of actually grabbing Toby and clearing things out with him. So that was why. That was why Emily would not look back at her, and why she had to content herself with stealing a very brief glance at Emily's silhouette, her face turned to the teacher, her lips so full that even her serious, stern expression could not eliminate the sense of inner liveliness and dreaminess that always emanated from her, corroborated by her long, dark eyelashes and the curvy line of her eyebrows. Jesus, she was so beautiful her heart ached just by looking at her for a single second. She was so mysterious, she had this air of detachment and of reserve, and at the same time when she looked at you – but she wasn't looking at you now – she meant everything she said, she was full, and alive, and probably more wholesome as a person than anyone you'd ever known; but sometimes she didn't even say a thing, and still you felt contained, received by how well she understood, although you could sense she was already flying somewhere else, away from you. Was she flying away from you now? No. Spencer didn't think so. She was just pretending not to care. But Spencer was sure if she could just get up in the middle of the class and reach Emily's face and lift her eyes to hers, that she would see there was really nothing else happening right now in Emily's mind that didn't belong to Spencer, that didn't have Spencer's name written all over it. Boy, that would be something to see. Welcome to Biologay class! Everybody clap your hands and give a standing ovation to this newfound hotness! A place where the reproduction of the invertebrates should be replaced by the pure wonder of female beauty and love!

Had she never realized this before? No, of course she had. Of course she knew Emily was beautiful. Of course she had always known Emily was stunningly beautiful and that she was going to break everybody's heart along the way. She just never realized her heart was also at stake. But Spencer remembered Aria's wise words on the matter. This was more than just kissing. This was more than just making out. But how? When had it started for her? How could she not know she would feel like this just by looking at her? Emily had been her best friend for years now. Spencer couldn't really remember a moment when she had actually felt like this with Emily, and at the same time she knew this had to come from some place deep inside of her that was already there and had been there before they kissed. But when? How? Would she just have gone on in that estate of ignorance forever, kissing and dating other people without ever really becoming aware of this? Or would she, at some point, maybe later, maybe even years later, have finally realized that she wanted this so much, so much that her entire body ached with it? If Emily had not decided to kiss her that night, would she just have been an idiot for all of her life, or would she have grasped the truth, would she have kissed Emily instead of being kissed by her, would she have acted on it or would she have just let the chance pass her by? Gay or straight, she didn't care about all of that. She had never asked herself that question, because she liked boys, so what was the need to ask yourself such a question if you did like them? She did know she was open to her sexuality, in a way that maybe other people didn't consider themselves to be, because she had thought she would never have a problem in admitting she liked a girl. If she ever did like a girl. But she never liked a girl. And now she was liking a girl. Not a girl. Her girl. The girl. She didn't like her; she had fallen at her feet and was laying there speechless. It was time to face the truth. She had no idea about what was going to happen, but there was no way she would let it pass. Now she had to find out. So that was pretty clear. But still, how could it happen? What had she been thinking all of this time? She was right there, in front of her, and she was purely herself in every sense, and still it was as if Spencer was looking at her under a whole different light.

When the class ended, their eyes met for a moment. That was the brief moment of vision, of mutual recognition they had. Spencer was collecting all of her things when Emily's deeply dark, almost black eyes settled on Spencer's face, and Spencer had looked back, hoping to send all of her determination, and at the same time all of her warmth, to the girl to whom she couldn't really talk to right now, because what were they going to say? Emily had not smiled, but there was something in her eyes that told Spencer she had somehow understood what Spencer was trying to say. Then she had looked away to respond a question some insidious jerk asked her, leaving for some other class, and Spencer had wondered if Emily really understood what she was trying to say, or if this eye-messaging was really only a way to imagine things and mess up your head. This was so weird. She tried to keep her strength, because she knew they were going to talk at some point, but this was so, so weird. Not to be able to take a couple of steps forward and talk as they had always done. Not to walk together out of the class, not to walk together to their next class. Not to grab her arm when one of them was going to trip, or just because it was the most urgent thing to do whenever they were having a conversation, not to corner her against her locker to tell her they needed to talk, as she had done yesterday, not to touch her for a second, not to search for her eyes to try to get what she was thinking, not to laugh, not to make her laugh, not to kiss her in front of everybody regardless of whatever they were going through right now, because that was what they both wanted to do and it was so freakingly obvious people would notice anyway. God, she had to stop thinking. She had to stop thinking and start doing what she needed to do.

Spencer did not go to lunch, unable to really pretend there was nothing going on in front of Hanna. The tension would be so thick this time they could probably cut it with a paper; and Hanna, Hanna was difficult to handle when she was curious about something. Besides, Emily didn't know Aria was already aware of the situation. Too much tension. Too many factors. So she decided to go to the library to spend some time while she waited for Toby to make a freaking move in her direction. She had called him again this morning, had texted as well, so there was nothing else she could do except wait for him to give her a sign that he was ready to listen to her and hate her. Aria came by the library to visit her for a moment, and there she told her Emily had also given an excuse not to go to lunch. It seemed they were both avoiding not only each other, but also Hanna and Aria. It was a miracle they had not run into each other while trying not to run into each other. She guessed irony was over for the moment. Anyway, Emily was too smart for that. She knew where to hide. She was probably in the pool, or with the drama group, or somewhere else where Spencer and the others would not find her.

She spent the whole afternoon pretending to study. The books were open in front of her. But really what she actually did was look at them, then look at the phone, then look at them again, thinking about what she had been thinking all day: Toby, Emily, her conversation with Aria, herself. She hoped all this waiting would actually bring good things into her life, because she was definitely not made to wait. She was waiting now because she wanted to make things right with Toby and with Emily; it was too late to make it really right, with Toby at least, but she needed to show herself she could actually try to be honest now, even if it was too late. But she was not built to wait for anything. It was just not in her nature. So she just stared at the infinite horizon of books and students whishing the sign would come already, or else she was going to scream and drag Toby out of his house even if she had to punch Jenna, Hanna's style, and every Cavanaugh in the face to do it. Poor Toby. Not only had he been left for the wrong reasons, not only had he been sent one, maybe two, images of his ex-girlfriend kissing other people – one of them a friend –, now he could also be assaulted in his own house, where he was retreating from all of this pain, caused by the same person (her, only her), in order to receive an explanation he might not want to hear at all. Maybe he just wouldn't listen to her. Maybe he was already through with her. Maybe he would just not take her pity. Pity. Was that what she was feeling now? Pity for him? Pity because he still loved her, but she didn't love him anymore, or had never loved him enough? But he was going to hate her. Maybe he did already hate her a little because of what she had done, but after talking to her he was going to hate her even more. She knew, because she would hate anybody who would do that to her, if she loved the person so much… But did she love anyone so much? Had she ever loved anyone so much?

She was lost in her thoughts when Hanna suddenly sat in the seat next to her.

"Hey, nerd."

Spencer smiled at her, surprised.

"Hey, what brings you to the temple of knowledge and sacrifice?"

"You, actually."

She felt a shiver down her spinal cord. Hanna was looking for her and had even come to the library to find her? Weird. This meant Hanna was already on the track.

"Well, here I am", Spencer whispered, "tell me."

"Have you seen Emily today?"

Emily. No, I haven't seen Emily today. Was I supposed to see her today? Oh, right, because we see each other every day. Can I give her a message from you? Oh, but you live with her. You'll have to give it to her yourself. If we see each other and actually talk to each other, we are in mortal danger of engaging in another crazy, my-eyes-my-eyes! make-out session in your bedroom, which might end up in a very tense and friendship-damaging fight. You surely wouldn't want to know that.

She really had to keep her cool. Hanna was scary when she got mad.

"Nope." She tried to sound light-hearted about the situation. "Why? Are you looking for her?"

"No, I'm looking for you", Hanna said, grabbing Spencer's purse and searching for something inside of it. "I thought she'd be with you because of the paper you're helping her write. By the way, nice job you did yesterday."

Spencer tried to keep a poker face, but she was getting annoyed by the way Hanna was digging inside her purse.

"What do you want?" Spencer took the purse from Hanna's hands. "I helped her yesterday, but I haven't seen her today."

"Don't you have any snacks here? I'm hungry."

"Didn't you have lunch?"

Spencer took an energy bar out of the purse and gave it to Hanna. She opened it and took a bite.

"You mean the lunch you and Emily didn't have?" She looked Spencer directly in the eye. "I texted her and she said she'd be here writing her paper. How many papers does she have to write anyway? A hundred?"

Couldn't they at least agree on their lies?

"Well, I haven't seen her here, so..."

"I thought she'd be with you."

"Well, she's not. Why don't you text her again?"

"I will. So…" Hanna stared at her for what seemed too long. She was obviously on to something. "I need to ask you a favour."

Spencer felt herself tremble with fear.

"Aha. What kind of favour?"

"I need you to drop me home later."

More fear. Emily's car was parked at the school, so why wouldn't Hanna go home with Emily? Why did she need to go with her?

"Sure", Spencer said, maintaining her stone face. "Why doesn't Emily drive you?"

"Because I can't find her", Hanna asserted, as if it was the most normal thing in the world. "And because she has so many hundreds of papers to write she'll probably wanna stay in the library anyway. Maybe she'll even sleep here."

"Ha", Spencer feigned a laugh, although the library never opened during the nights, she knew because once she'd tried and... Anyway that was not the point, the point was to get rid of Hanna. "Okay, then. I'll be leaving in about two hours."

To start my hunt for Toby so I can some day fix my love life, before I go to jail, where I'll be found guilty of murder and get a death penalty. But at least Emily will be there, looking at me before I die. Whatever.

"Good. I need to ask you a couple of things about… a poem. A poem for my literature class."

Now that was weird. Hanna never asked for help like that. She straightforwardly asked her to do her homework. And a poem? Wasn't that Aria's field of expertise? So she was definitely on to something, and Spencer was not going to be able to release herself from her inquisitive, fake sweet-and-innocent smile. She only smiled like that when she was perpetrating some strange plan: it was normally directed against A, but now she was obviously directing it to her.

"I'll be delighted to help you if it only takes me five minutes", Spencer said, instead of voicing her fears. She had to try to appear normal. "I have a lot to do."

Search for Toby. And then talk to Emily.

"Sure, it'll only be a second." Hanna stood up, finishing the conversation. "Give me a call when you're finished."

"Yep."

Hanna smiled again – oh my god, now she was in trouble – and she walked away.

Spencer spent the next two hours thinking she might never be able to talk to Toby if she didn't survive the conversation with Hanna. Maybe she already knew something? Had Emily told her? But then she wouldn't be so… weird. She would just come and yell at her. Maybe Aria had slipped something to her? No, Aria wouldn't do that. Still, she texted Aria and asked her if Hanna had said something about Emily or about her during lunch. Aria responded that she had just asked where Spencer was, and had complained about Emily's and Spencer's recent lack of interest in sharing good moments with her friends, but that was all.

All this tension was going to get her killed. She didn't even need A to do it, or Hanna; it was enough with her own anxiety.

And where the hell was Emily anyway? Couldn't she control Hanna? This was Emily's fault. 

When she decided to finally leave, she stood up, picked up her books and put them in her bag. Just after she had passed the metal detector in the entrance, her phone buzzed. She thought it would be Hanna, or maybe A again, but when she took her phone to see the text, her heart raced like a crazy beast: it was Toby, telling her to meet him in an hour at this place where they used to hang out a lot when they were going out. Man, oh man, finally, finally. Now what was she going to say? She had suddenly forgotten about it. Right: Wren. She had kissed him because she was in shock, and he was there to help, and he always seemed to want her, and she had allowed him to want her because it felt good to be wanted by someone when you were feeling down. It was wrong, but she had done it. She was sorry. It didn't mean a thing. Now, Emily: that was a completely different story. She… had also kissed her. Emily had kissed her first, and then she had kissed Emily. No, no, but it wasn't only that. She had… She wasn't expecting any of that. Sure, she loved her like a sister, but not really like a sister anymore, because… things had changed. She had realized she just couldn't live without her. No, no, it was also more than that. She hadn't planned it, but she just couldn't… wouldn't live without her. She didn't know before, but now she did know, she wanted more, it wasn't an accident, she just had to do it or else she would regret it forever, and she would never, ever accept the possibility of Emily getting together with someone else, because there couldn't be someone else, because that would mean there'd be no Spencer in Emily's life, and there had to be a Spencer in Emily's life. A whole Spencer. A kissing Spencer. A more-than-friends Spencer. Was that too much information? She was sorry. She was so sorry. She did love him, she did love him so much, but it wasn't enough to stop her from wanting someone else. Was that what she had to say? Couldn't Aria come with her to these things?

She ran to her car and quickly started it, without even stopping to take off her coat. When she was manoeuvring to get out of her parking space, the door to the passenger's seat opened and Hanna entered the car, clearly pissed.

"I told you to give me a call when you were finished!"

Shit. She had forgotten about Hanna.

"Sorry", Spencer apologized, "I'm in a hurry, Hanna, can't that poem wait until tonight or something?"

"No, it can't." Hanna closed the door. "I don't have a poem to ask you about. Now are you going to tell me what the hell is going on with you and Emily or not?"

That was more like Hanna: straight to the point. In a closed space. No witnesses.

"There's nothing going on, Hanna. Haven't you reached her yet?"

And that was her: lying straight to Hanna's face, knowing she would not buy it. Nice.

"Cut the crap and spill it, Spencer. It's gonna be easier if you just tell me."

"Why don't you ask her? You live with her."

"I already asked her, Spencer. And she's not talking."

"So why do you assume I can tell you anything?"

"Because you SO obviously know", Hanna glared. "Now don't tell me there's nothing going on here, because my mom says you were really weird when you left yesterday, and then I went up and Emily had been crying. So don't you dare telling me nothing's going on."

Emily had been crying. Now she had a confirmation, and her heart broke a little just to know.

"I am trying to fix it."

It was the only thing she could think of saying.

"What's going on? Did you guys fight? Is A trying to do something to you… like with me and Aria?"

"No… it's… It's no big deal, Hanna."

"It's no big deal? That is a big fat lie, Spencer." Hanna's eyes and words worked together like a machine gun shooting hundreds of bullets per second. It was difficult to avoid all of them. "You guys are really close and now she's crying after you leave? What did you do to her? If it's not A, then what is it?"

"I didn't do anything to her!" That was actually a big fat lie, in a way. "Yes, we did fight, but I'm gonna fix it if you just let me do it."

"But why don't you tell me what happened?", Hannah begged. "I can help!"

"I can't tell you, Han."

Hanna lived with Emily. They had promised not to tell anyone. It wasn't exactly a promise, it was more of a silent agreement, which she had somehow violated when Aria had found out. But Aria shouldn't really know about it, not until her problem with Toby was cleared and she could tell Emily about it. And, in any case, it was Emily's decision to tell Hanna.

Anyway she didn't have time to tell Hanna the whole story if she wanted to meet Toby on time.

"Ask Emily again", Spencer urged, thinking that way Emily and she would get even, if Hanna managed to persuade Emily into telling her the truth.

"She's not gonna tell me, Spencer. She's obviously defending you or something!"

"She's not!"

Was she? Well, in case Emily had tried to defend her from Hanna's rage, it wasn't really working.

"So just let me know what's going on and I can help you fix it!"

No, Hanna could not help her fix it.

"You can't help me fix it. This is something I have to fix alone." 

Hanna was starting to lose her patience. It wasn't as if she had a lot of patience anyway. Like Spencer, but with a slightly more acid angle. Corrosive, one would say. Violent, even. Oh, oh.

"And why are you even fighting with her?", Hanna was already yelling. "It is Emily, Spencer. I know you're having a hard time, but for god's sake, Emily's had her share of crap too, and her parents are not even here! She has no one to turn to except you and me and Aria and now you are fighting with her! Making her cry! What are you thinking?"

The machine gun again. This time a little bit worse.

"Okay, I know, Hanna!", Spencer yelled too, trying to make herself heard over the storm of bullets. Then she lowered her voice again. "I swear I'm gonna make it all right, okay?"

These words seemed to calm Hanna down a little, but not enough.

"I thought she was helping you with all of your problems! And you were helping her too. And it turns out you're fighting with her!"

"No, you're right, we were helping each other." Help was what Spencer needed now. "Hanna, it's complicated to explain, but it's gonna be fine!"

"It's complicatedIt's no big deal?", Hanna faked Spencer's little girl voice. "Man, you're scaring the shit out of me now! Whatever A has on you, it must be really big!"

They both fell silent for a second. Then Spencer looked at Hanna again, her last try to beg for an exit.

"Hanna, I promise. I am fixing this."

"Well, you'd better", Hanna answered, fury dripping through her words. "I am your friend and I love you, Spence, but I swear if you don't fix this by today I'm gonna break your legs and then I'm gonna leave your body down some god-forgotten road. And you know that I mean it!"

Spencer took a deep breath.

"Are you actually threatening me to break my legs?" Spencer didn't know if she should start crying or laughing about it. "Hanna, you don't even exercise."

"Oh, don't you underestimate my fury and the power of my muscles."

Spencer blurted out in laughter, unable to contain her own nervousness.

"There are other ways to break your legs, moron. Remember I was hit by a car!" Now Hanna was furious again. "And no matter how much you exercise, you still have this really skinny body. It doesn't look like it's very difficult to break."

"Oh, god, this can't be happening", Spencer exclaimed, exasperated. "I have to go! I have to go, Hanna! And if you actually want me to fix this situation, you just have to let me go and put your crazy-ass trust in me."

Hanna looked at her again, quizzically but somewhat calmer.

"Okay, fine, I'll let you go", Hanna finally grunted. "But I swear to god, you have until tomorrow to fix this situation."

"Thanks for your trust, Han! I greatly appreciate it!"

Spencer sounded terribly sarcastic, but Hanna would not totally back off. At least she started to get out of the car but, when she was already out, she turned around again to talk to Spencer, a finger in front of her face.

"And I'm leaving you until tomorrow only because you are my friend", Hanna yelled before closing the door. "You perfectly know you should go fix it right now."

And with this she closed the door with a strong, resolved blow meant to show her fury and the power of her muscles.

"That's what I'm trying to do, goddammit!", Spencer yelled back, although she was unsure Hanna had heard.

She pressed the accelerator and the car ran out of the parking lot. She was still on time, but she depended on the traffic lights and on the amount of commuters she would run into in the roads.

That fight with Hanna had been epic. She hoped they would laugh at it in time, because, if they didn't, she would end up dead in some god-forgotten road. God. And Emily used to warn her about all those times when Spencer got to be too protective and territorial over her? Had she actually seen Hanna get protective and territorial? Because that was certainly a spectacle. Spencer took a mental note to tell Emily about this so Emily could tell the I'm-not-a-little-lamb warning to Hanna too. She was so not going to be the only one to be scorned if the others deserved it too. Although, in a way, she was glad Hanna was so protective over Emily. It meant Emily had her back covered, in case something happened to Spencer at some point. She knew she could always count on Hanna on this one. And it confirmed her idea that Emily had indeed found a safe refuge at the Marins'. But there was no way she was going to let that one go without a warning. Maybe Hanna was becoming the new Spencer now? Well, she still had lot to do to actually resemble Spencer. Marvellous grades and kickass personality. And kissing qualities that Emily obviously appreciated. Oh, man, who was she trying to fool? Hanna might not have the grades, but she had a kickass personality, probably kissed even better, and was… Hanna. She didn't really need the grades. She was one of the smartest people she had ever known. But she was straight. And in love with Caleb. Just like she was straight and in love with Toby four or five days ago. Damn.

Enough of it. She wasn't really enjoying this newly found side of her personality: the sickly jealous side. One thing was to feel like that with Maya or the psycho girl, and another one was to feel like that with her own, dear friend. Her dear friend, who had just threatened her with a beating. Scary as it was, she felt almost proud of Hanna. She had come such a long way from the days she was Hefty Hanna, Alison's sweet, but wicked protegé. They all had, in a way. But Hanna...

Hanna was so funny. Spencer found herself laughing at the whole conversation while driving crazily – but safely: the only thing she needed was to have an accident on her way to Toby – downtown. She wondered if Hanna would actually be capable of deploying physical violence against her if Spencer, unintentionally, ever hurt Emily. She didn't think so. Hanna might have slapped Jenna, but she was obviously bluffing in front of her. She was just trying to make sure Spencer did the right thing. Which she was going to do, if the world just allowed her to actually do it.

She was still thinking about Hanna when she saw the Black and White Coffee Shop where she used to hang out with Toby. And she had not even thought about what she was going to say again. From the distance, while she was looking for a space in the parking lot, she saw Toby's straw-coloured hair, his fit, muscled upper body covered by a black T-shirt and a leather jacket that partially hid how attractive a man he was. He was waiting for her. He was waiting for her to break his heart – again. She promised herself she would never do it again. There would never be a third time. There would never be another chance. Let other girls do that to him. She had already done enough.

She did love him. She did care about him. She did want him to be happy, to be safe. She did not want to be hated precisely by him. But she was going to. And it was all right. Lady MacBeth she was, her hands covered in innocent blood with this petty crime, but she had to do it. She was going to do it. She wanted to do it. Because she couldn't help it. Because Emily was there on the other line, most probably waiting for her. And Spencer wanted that to happen – Emily on the other line, waiting for her – so badly now, so, so badly, that there was nothing else to do, right or wrong as it may be, there was nothing else she could do. She hoped Aria was right, and Toby would find a way to forgive her. There was just nothing else to do. She took a deep breath and opened the door to the car, stepping out. 

Chapter Text

Emily tossed and turned on her bed, her black long hair spread over the bleached out white pillow. She faced the wall, she faced the ceiling, she faced the window. All there was to see were the dancing shadows created by the streetlights outside: the study table, some bookshelves where she had placed the books she had saved from her old house, the lamp, Hanna's shape under the sheets on her own bed. It was 1 a.m. More than one moth ago she had found herself in a very similar position, only that time she had gotten a text from A, and she had run – literally, she had run - to try escape from it. The girls had gone to Dr. Sullivan looking for her, and that had been the first time they had talked about A to an adult. Now Dr. Sullivan was missing, and Spencer was again a person of interest in the investigation. Now they were still fighting A's evil ways on their own.

And her? What had changed in the month that had passed? She was waiting for Spencer's call. She wasn't thinking about A. That had changed.

Spencer had not called yet. But she had said she was going to call. She had texted: I will call. But how much longer was it going to take her? Emily knew for certain it was going to happen: tomorrow maybe. That was why she couldn't really sleep. And, then, there were all these glances Emily had sensed on her back during their Biology class. All these somewhat longing glances, radiating through all of Spencer's body, like rays coming from the sun to warm up the earth at the end of winter. It had been hard not to look back. She had felt that, if she had looked back at some point, the whole school was going to melt with the force of the volcano they were creating. She could have skipped that class; but she had wanted to go, she had wanted to be present, to be felt. Instead, what had happened had not only been a mere verification of their mutual presence, so as to check they were both still there, but a riveting act of pure, undivided attraction between the two of them, even if they were not looking at each other, both pretending to follow a class of which they didn't catch a word. After that, she had avoided all contact and had sought refuge in a section of the library neither Spencer nor anyone at school ever went: she needed to finish writing her paper, but she ruled out the most common part of the library, knowing that would also be Spencer's refuge for sure. Nobody ever visited the basement, though, where the microfilms were kept. Hanna probably didn't even know it existed.

They couldn't set the library on fire too, anyways. They couldn't set the whole world on fire yet. Not yet. It felt good to know that Spencer was safe – she was there, after all, reachable albeit in a distant way; but it felt even better to sense that the soil under their feet was slowly burning, incandescent to the point that they had to tiptoe on it so they wouldn't get burned too soon. After feeling something like that, how could she not be sure that Spencer was going to call? She was going to. But how longer was she going to take to finally do it?

All this time after she kissed Spencer she had thought she was going to lose this thing. Emily, the loser. The gay loser. The one who's killed off first in the movie. But, in all truth, there was a part of her that felt arrogant and proud, if not entirely brave. All those instants she had grasped that were right – despite her own fear of misreading the signs –, when Spencer did this or said that, when Spencer picked up the phone immediately or took a picture of her with that special warmth in her eyes, had cleared the way, had turned on the lights, had cut the path open; had led her, in essence, to their kiss. So – yes, she knew. She was just waiting for the call. Of course, there was still a chance to lose everything, to be defeated in the war she said she would never fight: Spencer could still change her mind, or A could redirect things with the force of her/his/its threats, Toby could still get the girl, Emily could still be the weak link. All of this could crumble away. Toby. She felt bad about Toby. She was a traitor. She had not given a damn about what she was doing to him. There was too much selfishness in her about this. It felt like it was hers. It felt like it was her chance to take it.

Hanna moved a little in her sleep. It was being difficult to hide this away from Hanna. She was kind of pissed, because she obviously sensed something was happening and Emily was refusing to clue her in. Hanna usually let her be, whenever Emily felt like hiding, but this time she was being a little more insistent because Spencer was also out of sight. In any case, it wouldn't take too long for her to find out about it. Spencer was going to call. Hell, even if Spencer did not send a sign, she was going to tell Hanna tomorrow. There was no way she could keep this from her one more day.

Emily contemplated the possibility of getting out of bed and running, like she had done that night. But it was 1 a.m. She took a look at the clock again: 1.30, already. Too late to go running, too early to get up. It was that time of night when you just had to find the strength to relax inside of you, because there was nothing at all you could do with yourself except stay in bed and wait for the hours to pass.

Her phone, which was under the pillow in case Spencer called, beeped. Before she moved to take it out, she held her breath, considering the options. It might be A. It was only natural she was next in line for a threat. But it could also be Spencer. It had to be Spencer. It was Spencer. She reached her arm under the pillow and retrieved the phone, so frantically that it fell off her hand. Instead of crashing against the floor, it fell on the sheets, from where she again took it, now more carefully, and opened it in a sensitive rush.

It was Spencer.

"Is there chance you're awake and want to talk? If there is, I'here".

Here? What did she mean by saying she was here? She felt tempted to start looking around, dumb and a little nervous as she suddenly was. She texted back as fast as she could. "I'awake. Where are u?" She pressed the send button.

The answer came back in a few seconds. "Here. Hanna's".

She must have meant she was waiting outside. Emily got up very slowly, so Hanna wouldn't notice – although she did have a heavy sleep –, picked up a warm sweater from the chair where she had put it earlier and both tiptoed and ran out of the room, if such a thing was possible, down the stairs until the front door. She got the keys to the house and a coat and tried to make as little noise as possible when she opened the door and stepped out. Spencer was waiting outside, wearing a jacket and a thick wool scarf that obviously didn't completely defend her from the cold of the night, because her nose was red and she was rubbing her hands against each other to give herself warmth.

"Hey", she said, the moment she saw Emily appear in the door.

Emily closed the front door very carefully.

"Hey", Emily greeted back cautiously, "are you all right?"

"Yeah", Spencer answered, and for a second they looked at each other as if they had not talked in years. It felt so awkward and strange. "I'm sorry to wake you up."

"You didn't wake me up."

"Right". Spencer smiled a shy smile. "That's better."

Emily walked a little in order to move away from the entrance of the house, since she didn't want to wake Ms. Marin or Hanna, even though they were whispering to each other; Spencer followed her steps. They stopped by one of the kitchen's windows. There they could go more easily unnoticed and at the same time be a little protected against the cold breeze.

Emily turned around and stared at Spencer, who seemed to be thinking about what to say next.

"I'm here to talk", Spencer finally decided to say as an explanation. "I don't wanna fight."

She figured that a white flag would be somehow welcomed after the way they had said goodbye yesterday.

"I don't wanna fight either."

Emily seemed to be a little nervous, because her upper lip trembled a little.

"I feel like we haven't really talked about this… about us", Spencer continued, "and we need to do it before… we do something else."

Spencer felt a wave of heat rushing up her neck and her cheeks. It was amazing. Twenty-four hours earlier she had been kissing Emily in Hanna's room, and now she couldn't even mention the possibility of doing something else – which, actually, could mean so many things, from having a Caramel Macchiato at Starbucks to simply discussing their next move regarding A – without feeling she was talking about making out. Which she was talking about, really; but come on. Fortunately, it was dark enough to actually be noticed.

"Yeah, you're right", Emily agreed. They had lost too much time running around this thing without really confronting it. "What happened with A?"

Right: Emily only knew A had sent a text about them. She didn't know anything else. Spencer hadn't really explained it to her.

Spencer tried to think about where to start.

"A sent a picture to Toby", she finally, cautiously said. "A picture of us."

A had finally chosen that one, as Spencer had anyway suspected. It was obviously the most damaging one. But she had only found out once she had finally talked to Toby.

Emily didn't seem surprised by the news. In a way, she was the first one who had warned her about this outcome. She was expecting it. But she did look worried, because she frowned, nodded as if she was confirming her own suspicions, and then looked at her feet.

"And what happened?", she asked. "Did you talk to him?"

"Yeah, I did." Spencer took a pause. "That's why I'm here, cause I… wanted to tell you about it."

Emily lifted her eyes to her again.

"I was gonna wait until tomorrow, but then I couldn't really sleep thinking about it, so I decided I'd give it a shot in case you were also awake."

She was gabbling, trying to say too many things at once. She had actually made the decision so suddenly, when she was already in bed trying to sleep, that it had felt like a bolt of lightning had struck her again. There was no need to wait for the next day when she could actually try to solve it now. At first, she had been so exhausted after talking to Toby that she had wanted to postpone her talk with Emily to the next day. But then she had realized the thought of waiting until tomorrow exhausted her even more; she just couldn't take the wait anymore, while the thought of seeing Emily tonight seemed to provide some sort of relief. Even if the purpose was to maintain a serious, profound talk about them, it still counted as seeing Emily. It still counted as that thing that she could never renounce.

"I was awake too", Emily noted again. Suddenly her eyes seemed to send a message, like petroleum bursting out of a hole in the sea. "What did you tell him?"

"The truth", Spencer said, shrugging. "Well, except for the part about A wanting to kill him if I stayed with him. Not that right now it matters that much anyway."

Emily didn't say anything, but she kept looking at her, so Spencer decided she would go on with the explanation.

"I told him about Wren too, so he could hate me all in one single blow." She didn't intend to sound so sarcastic, but it came out like that.

"What did he say?", Emily asked, trying to sound curious but sounding more anxious instead.

"Let's just say he's not my biggest fan right now", Spencer he said, and decided to approach Emily a little. They had been keeping the distance. "Or yours. But I guess he'll forgive you in time."

Emily gave her a weird look, then looked down at her feet again and, finally, proceeded to sit on the ground, where she reclined her back against the stone wall. Spencer decided to sit by her side. It was so cold that both the cement ground and the wall behind made her shiver when her skin, hardly covered by her jeans and the jacket, touched them. She should have gotten a better jacket.

"If I were him I wouldn't forgive me", Emily suddenly said, her only conclusion to the Toby affair, "you know."

"If I were him I wouldn't forgive me either", Spencer agreed, "but we're talking about Toby, so he'll probably forgive both of us sometime."

Emily nodded as an answer, giving her consent to Spencer's words. She seemed to be deep in thought. Spencer wondered to which extent Emily felt bad and guilty about Toby. Being Emily, she was probably feeling the worst kind of guilt. But the crime had been perpetrated already, had been carried through. There was no point in wondering once again about the reasons why it had been committed.

Spencer tried to call Emily's attention back to her.

"Don't you wanna know what I told him?"

It worked, because Emily turned to look at her again.

"Sure. If you wanna tell me."

"I wanna tell you", Spencer said, and she smiled a reassuring smile. "That's why I came."

"So… what did you say?"

Even though Emily had already asked the question, this time it was certain it had a whole different meaning, and Spencer felt suddenly nervous. She wanted to say it, because that was why she was here. It was the last step she had to take to make things clear and right. It wasn't a bold step; she already knew what she wanted to do. But still – it felt like undressing in front of someone. You wanted to do it, but it made you feel unsure and fragile. Not that she had actually undressed in front of a lot of people, even of a single one, but whatever; she had read about it in books.

"I want to be with you, if you want to be with me, which I hope you do."

She said it all non-stop, without even stopping to breathe. When she was finished, she inhaled some of the fresh air of the night and she felt a little dizzy with it.

Emily didn't look shocked or moved by the declaration. Instead, she gave her a coy smile, the type of smile that said a lot of things, but that was still sort of enigmatic, at least to Spencer.

"I do want to. I thought that was clear", Emily declared, still smiling her enigmatic smile. Then the smile disappeared and she looked deeply into her eyes. "So why do you want that?"

"You mean why do I want you?", Spencer asked for clarification.

"Yeah. Why do you want me? What makes you wanna be with me?"

Emily already knew Spencer wanted to be with her. All right, she had her doubts. She was a girl of doubts. She always tended to believe she might be missing some important point. But there was something inside of her, a certainty that had somehow grown and progressed during the day that had passed, that told her Spencer did indeed want her. Maybe those glances they hadn't even exchanged today were a part of the certainty she felt. The sense that it was bound to happen floated in the air during the whole day, no matter the distance.

But she still needed to hear it. It wasn't, after all, the first time Spencer had said something like that; yesterday, during the fight, she had pronounced almost the same words, but they were fighting and it didn't sound right in her ears.

"You're…", Spencer stuttered a little, trying to think of the reasons again. She hadn't completely expected the question. Aria could come right to the rescue, and Spencer stared hopessly at the road, but there was no sign of Aria. She had to do this alone. "I trust you completely. I'd trust you with my life."

"I'd trust you with my life too", Emily said. "But we can trust each other as friends, the way we used to do it before."

Spencer felt a little frustrated with herself now.

"You're the person I always wanna go to. You're the person I always wanna talk to. There's just no one else I feel about the same way."

She hoped this was actually better. It certainly reflected her feelings and her thoughts on the matter.

Emily watched her for a long time, considering her words.

"You can always come to me, and you know that. And you must know that", Emily finally said, with passion that started to be unveiled. Then she tried to explain what she meant. "But you can also come to me as a friend. There must be something that makes this thing different from what we used to have, because…"

"I know where you're getting at", Spencer interrupted. "You want to make sure I want you because I really want you, not because I'm afraid to lose you as a friend."

Finally she was starting to grasp Emily's intentions. Emily's subtle intentions: her way to guide the conversation to the places she was actually interested in clearing up. All her little ways, which were confusing sometimes, but still so precious, so valuable, so… much like her.

"You don't have to be afraid to lose me as a friend", Emily clarified, "that's what I'm trying to say."

"But I've already lost you as a friend", Spencer asserted, and the words did cause an impact on Emily, whose eyes widened a little, "cause I don't want to be your friend anymore." She tried to find the correct words for all that she was feeling. "I can't stop thinking about you", she started again, "even before we kissed, I used to spend a lot of time thinking about you, but not in this way, never in this way, because I didn't know I could actually… feel this. But since we kissed, it's gotten worse. I can't stop thinking about you. I can't stop thinking about kissing you again. So I don't think I really wanna be your friend anymore."

Emily swallowed, her eyes wide open and her eyebrows arching in a funny, delicate curve outlining her surprise. She supposed that was what she had been after. Now that it was in her face – with all the words – she felt disarmed. Like she had indeed been fighting to uncover the truth: now the truth was saluting her and she felt too shocked to salute it back because it had taken such an effort to get there, and she had rocked so many times from complete certainty to absolute scepticism, that she didn't even believe there was a truth that could be delivered anymore. But it was there, in those words that Spencer pronounced almost innocently, so focused on her task of getting out what she wanted to say that she didn't even realize the shock they were causing on Emily.

Her eyelashes fluttered a little, still no words coming to her throat.

Spencer looked at her with one of her deep, demanding glances. She had struggled to get the words out and she was obviously expecting an answer from Emily. But her features relaxed and her eyes turned warmer when she saw Emily was indeed kind of moved this time. At least, she seemed to be speechless, so she decided to be the one to speak again.

"Do you find my answer satisfying?", Spencer asked, her tone now more light-hearted, an incipient smile on her lips. "Or is it still unclear?"

"No", Emily was finally able to speak, and her voice came out a little hoarse, as if her throat was dry, "it's clear, and satisfying too."

"It does help to know, right?"

"Yeah."

She gave Spencer one little, shy smile, that grew wider when she looked away at the deserted street and breathed deeply. The smell of victory filled her lungs, sweet and refreshing, but she felt strangely calm, peaceful even.

"You don't look like you're dying of happiness", Spencer accused in a mocking tone.

Emily turned to look at Spencer again.

"Why, do you want me to die?"

"No, unless it is of happiness. Caused by me, if possible."

"That still counts as dying, you know."

"Then I want you to die", Spencer playfully teased, "in fact I demand you to die."

Emily smiled wider again, but she stared at Spencer with a certain degree of seriousness.

"I am happy", she said, as if Spencer would not believe her anyway.

"Good, because sometimes it's difficult to tell for sure what you're thinking", Spencer replied, her playful tone hardly hiding her real concern anymore, "you know, with you being the silent type and all."

"Did you just call me the silent type?" 

Surprise was written all over Emily's face. It was probably the first time someone called her that.

"Yeah, I did, didn't I?", Spencer smirked, proud of having found a definition for Emily that would not match any other possible lover or friend's definition of her, before deciding to rephrase. "You're just so reserved, sometimes it's not easy to know what you're really thinking."

"You think I'm reserved?" There was a certain disbelief in Emily's voice, but she seemed to be considering Spencer's opinion. "I always tell you what I think."

"It's true, you do, most of the times." Emily frowned at her, as if hearing that upset her a little. "Don't get me wrong, I know you're really honest with me. I just… You're…" Spencer decided to be honest herself. "You tell me what you think only when you feel safe to say it. If you don't, you tend to keep things to yourself."

They looked at each other for a second, trying to decipher each other thoughts again.

"I…" Emily thought again about it. "I may not be as expressive as other people, but I always try to tell you what I think when it is… relevant."

"Exactly, only when you think it's relevant", Spencer agreed, trying to make her point clear. "But sometimes I need to know more than that, you know."

"You do?"

"Yeah", Spencer smiled, "like… I can't believe I never knew you were gay before A outed you. I didn't even know you were in love with Alison until A outed you. I can't believe you never said a thing about it."

Emily looked away a moment, but then she turned her eyes back to Spencer.

"That was different. I didn't know who I was. I didn't know what I wanted."

"But you do now, right?"

"Yeah." She looked at Spencer questioningly. She could see Spencer's hesitation. "You think I still keep everything inside?"

"No, not everything, obviously."

If Emily had kept everything inside, she wouldn't have kissed her in the first place. So Spencer was glad that wasn't actually happening anymore. In any case, it was time to voice what she actually wanted to say, or else she might get too confusing and Emily might get the wrong idea. And she didn't want any of them getting the wrong idea again.

"But now that we're talking about this, about your reserve and stuff…" She watched Emily's increasing frown out of the corner of her eye. "I also need to ask you a couple of things. About us."

Emily's frown relaxed a little and her expression changed to intrigued.

"Sure", Emily said. "I'll try to answer even if I don't feel safe to say it."

Her tone was ironic, which meant those words had actually gotten to her.

"I know it may sound surprising to you people, but I can also get insecure about things sometimes." Spencer tried to sound ironic too, but her voice came out more like she was whining. She took a deep breath to try to encourage herself. It wasn't like her to shrink in the face of trouble, so she looked Emily in the eye. "I just need you to clear some things up for me, if you don't mind."

"Of course I don't mind", Emily replied, turning her whole body to look at her. "So what do you want to know?"

This time she didn't sound ironic, but warm and direct. It was one of those moments when Emily managed to make all the distance disappear with a subtle shift of tone and position. Maybe it was the difference in her voice or the way her eyes changed from evasive and shy to caring and loving, but she mastered the art of imposing distance and taking it away at her wish. Maybe she didn't really master the art; maybe it was just who she was.

"Everything", Spencer answered, relieved to see Emily's collaborative attitude. Aria had been right. She just needed to properly ask.

Emily raised her eyebrows in mocking disbelief.

"I mean everything you can explain to me", Spencer clarified, "I know you like me because… you made it pretty clear when you kissed me. And after that too, but you haven't really said anything else about how you feel."

"I haven't?"

Emily felt sort of puzzled. She had always believed that was clear enough. But perhaps Spencer did have a point: she had been so obsessed about Spencer finding out her true feelings and expressing them to her that she hadn't really worried about the fact that she was on the other end of the line. She had just assumed Spencer would know from the moment she decided to kiss her.

In a way, she had taken that for granted because… Why had she taken it for granted? Probably because she was gay. And because she had already been in love with Alison. That led her to the assumption Spencer would automatically understand her position, like one thing would lead easily to the other.

"Well, you haven't said a lot", Spencer continued, unaware of Emily's thoughts, "and I understand you were trying to make me think about this… about us, and you didn't want to influence me or anything related to Toby, but…"

"No, you're right", Emily interrupted her, realizing it was true she hadn't really said a lot to Spencer. "Maybe I can be clearer now."

Spencer looked at her in wonder, impressed that they were actually finally understanding each other like they used to. No, actually it was more than that: they were understanding each other way better than they used to. At least she believed they were on the right track.

"What do you want to know exactly?", Emily asked. "You'll have to be a little more specific."

"Well, for instance, I don't know how you feel?" All the questions flowed rapidly to her mind. "Like, when did you start to feel like this? Has it been going on for long, or is it really recent? Were you…"

"It's recent", Emily interrupted, choosing to start from there, "I thought I'd told you that much."

"Well, yeah, but you told me you felt weird like two weeks ago. The night I broke up with Toby."

Spencer realized for the first time that night had been the first one that Emily had thrown the weird card at her.

Emily offered a nod, then said "yeah" to corroborate it.

"But that's like really recent." Spencer couldn't help sounding disappointed. "Something must've happened before that to make you feel like that."

"Something did happen before that", Emily agreed, her fingers playing with a loose thread on one of the buttons of her coat. "I… I didn't really want to give it a lot of thought when it happened. I tried not to think about it."

"Why?"

"Because I didn't want it to happen", Emily explained, matter-of-factly. "I didn't want to feel like that."

"Because of Alison?", Spencer shot, clearly sensing Alison's guilt in her own bones. 

Emily took a pause and tried to reflect on Alison's possible implication. It obviously seemed the easiest way out, but there was something else too.

"Not only because of Alison." Emily looked away to the street. "That was important too. I obviously didn't want to fall for another friend, who couldn't feel the same way about me. I wanted to fall for someone who'd be prepared to fall for me too."

"But you didn't know that for sure", Spencer replied, a little heatedly. She always resented people making decisions for her. "I mean, just look at us now."

"Yeah, whatever, but you had a boyfriend, Spencer", Emily retorted, turning her head to look straight back at Spencer, who was trying to read her mind again. "It's not like you were just waiting for me with your arms open so I could just go and tell you… And anyway I thought I could stop it. I thought it'd be easier to stop, but it wasn't."

Spencer nodded in understanding.

"So you tried to stop it before you told me you were feeling weird, but you couldn't."

"Yeah."

"But when did you start to feel like that? When did you start getting this weird feeling about me?"

"I don't really know", Emily shrugged her shoulders, unable to assign a date in the calendar to the feeling. "Maybe after we went to see Dr. Sullivan? Maybe sometime before that, I'm not really sure."

"But that was like more than a month ago."

"Yeah."

It was so recent that Spencer almost felt kind of sad thinking about it.

"So you're telling me there was never a single thing that you noticed about us that made you feel like this? Before?"

"You sound like you're… getting pissed at me because I didn't suffer over you for months."

"No, I'm not pissed", Spencer said, but her eyes expressed the opposite feeling. "I'm just trying to understand."

Spencer couldn't deal very well with rejection. Especially if that rejection came from Emily. For some reason, which was entirely irrational and absurd, she felt crashed down by the reality that Emily had not felt anything particularly special about her prior to a month or a month and a half. Images of Emily's cuteness and gentleness mixed themselves with other sensations that were not so pleasant to her: Emily's distant ways when she was trying to build a wall with whomever didn't make it to her heart. She did know she was being negative and irrational, but she couldn't handle the feeling very well.

Instead of trying to get her to understand with words, Emily took Spencer's hand in hers, a movement that caught Spencer by surprise. The absorption of distance between them took place again. When she touched Spencer's fingers, Emily realized they were so cold and stiff from the low temperature of the night that she tried to warm them up with both her hands.

"Spence, listen to me", Emily whispered slowly, "I can't tell you something I didn't even want to begin to understand at the time."

Spencer returned the gaze, suddenly warmed up and comforted by Emily's sweet, gracious touch, and nodded.

"Maybe it was the way you were always so pushy and controlling and protective about everything that was going on in my life that made me… realize there was more to this than I'd thought", Emily tried again, looking for direct contact. "At first I got mad at you, because you were always so annoying, but then I sort of… liked it."

"You liked my being annoying?", Spencer raised an eyebrow at her. "Well, I guess I'll just have to go with that."

She didn't sound totally happy with it, but she grabbed one of Emily's hands and held it in hers, contemplating it.

Emily searched again for Spencer's eyes, which were entertaining themselves now with her own fingers. She felt like she hadn't said enough yet, so she just lifted her one free hand to Spencer's chin and softly grazed her face with her thumb until she was looking at her again.

"I like your being annoying", she murmured one more time, the proximity so close now they could almost hear each other without even talking. "I like everything about you."

Her statement had the intended effect, because the left corner of Spencer's mouth turned up in a half, incipient smile, and her eyes shone with a bit of excitement.

"I guess I'm not so annoying after all."

"You're adorably annoying. And funny."

They looked deeply into each other's eyes, and Emily thought they were going to kiss, because it seemed like the right thing to do now. But Spencer shivered a little and Emily realized it was from the cold. She was only wearing that ridiculously thin jacket, no wonder she was shivering like that.

"You're freezing. Let me get you a coat from inside."

She started the movement to stand up, but Spencer caught her by the arm and pulled her down again.

"No. Don't go now."

"I'm coming back. You can't be like this, you're gonna get sick."

They looked at each other again, unable to leave or to move. Emily sighed, knowing she couldn't really resist Spencer anymore. But then she decided to take off her own coat. At least she was wearing a really thick sweater that was protecting her from the cold.

"Take this."

She started to unbutton the coat.

"No way", Spencer shook her head, "you're not getting sick because of me."

"Take this or we're getting into the car or I'm going inside to get you something."

Spencer didn't say anything. She didn't want to get inside the car. That meant something like… she was leaving, and she didn't want to leave yet. So she allowed Emily to take off her coat and give it to her. She felt warm and alive when she put it on; and she could smell Emily all over it.

"Thanks." 

"Welcome."

Emily gracefully buttoned the coat up for her. When she was finished, she just left her hand resting on Spencer's thigh, close to her knee, a touch of such intimacy that Spencer felt she was going to start trembling again. But it felt good.

"So you were saying…", Spencer picked up the conversation where they had left it, "that I'm annoying but adorable. I guess that's a compensation for not really seeing how great I was until one month ago."

Emily rolled her eyes.

"You are great. You've always been great."

"But you've never pictured me naked." She was in the mood to tease again. "I hope you do now, because if you don't nothing of this makes any sense to me."

A second eye-rolling came, but Spencer could tell Emily was laughing inside. And she had said she was funny.

"You were my friend, I wasn't supposed to picture you naked", Emily responded, following the joke, "you've always been obviously attractive, and beautiful in your own way."

"Beautiful in my own way?", Spencer narrowed her eyes. "Ouch! That one's harder than the annoying thing."

"I didn't mean it like that", Emily complained, "so..."

"It's okay", Spencer said, her half smile still on her lips, "I mean, it's the nose, right? And I'm far too skinny."

"No, you're not! You're beautiful."

"In my own way."

Third eye-rolling in a row. It was almost like playing another sport. How many could she score? 

"I know what you're doing", Emily warned, "you're trying to make me nervous again."

"I'm just trying to get you to feel really guilty about saying that thing so you have to make it up to me later."

"So just drop it now, I'll make it up to you anyway."

A chill went up and down Spencer's spine, but this one wasn't caused by the cold weather. Emily's hand was still resting close to her knee, and it made her feel funny.

"You can start now", she dared, "if you want to."

Emily stared at her for a long five seconds, holding her gaze, and then she lifted her right hand, the one she had on Spencer's thigh, to Spencer's cheek. She softly touched it, trying to warm it up a little with her touch, and then moved her fingers to the base of her neck to pull her head closer. She stopped halfway to look again into Spencer's eyes, which were bright and dark, an intensely darker colour than the one she had seen yesterday when the sunset illuminated her face, a colour that reflected the night, but also her desire. That was when Spencer decided to close the distance and they finally, finally kissed. It was a long, sweet, smooth kiss that tasted like glory, like victory to both of them.

They separated with their lips wet.

"So… are you happy now?", Emily asked in a murmur."With my answers."

"Let's see: annoying, adorable and beautiful-in-my-own-way. What do you think?" She just couldn't stop teasing. It was just too cute to make Emily nervous. She couldn't really see if she was blushing, because it was too dark, but still. "Would you like to add anything else to the list?"

"I might add something else, yeah."

"Make it worse, please."

Emily maintained a suspenseful silence, a sweet smile on her lips.

"You're also incredibly sexy", she finally said, and lowered her eyes in a mechanical gesture of shyness.

"I am?" Emily nodded when Spencer asked the question. "I'm disappointed, that's actually so much better than annoying."

"See? I told you I could compensate."

Spencer laughed a little.

"So I'm sexy, right? And you realized this when?"

"I don't know, you just are." Emily lifted her eyes again. "At some point I sort of realized you're… sort of doing everything you do in a sexy way."

"Everything I do? Wow, that's actually a lot."

"It is, isn't it? I guess that's what draws so many people to you."

"So many people?" Spencer pretended to look around, expecting to see a line of potential lovers of her sexiness. "You're probably referring to my sister's boyfriends. And Toby. And you. End of the line."

She tried to sound as sultry on this one as she possibly could, but the tease was too evident.

"And Alex."

"Oh, right. Alex too."

"And the girl in the park."

"The girl in the park. I'd forgotten about that one." It was true: she had actually forgotten about that one. "Did that piss you off in any way?"

Emily gave her a weird look.

"Not really." She thought about it for a moment. "Okay, maybe a little. It sort of gave me the idea that she might actually have a chance."

"She didn't."

"Then why did you lead her on?"

"I didn't lea…" Spencer trailed off, not wanting to start the same discussion she'd already had with Hanna. She could be honest now. She could be everything now - in a sexy way. "I guess I just enjoy the attention. I could see she was interested, so I just… you know, I let her be interested."

"Hmmmm", Emily grunted, because it had sort of pissed her off in a way. "That's what I mean. You're always flirting with everybody around."

"I am?" She hadn't really realized that. She just thought she did enjoy the attention when she got it. "I thought you said it hadn't pissed you off."

"Well, I guess it did", Emily acknowledged, shrugging her shoulders. "It's just annoying to see how you attract all these people who're just expecting something from you, and you clearly enjoy it too much."

Spencer thought her old self was supposed to get mad at that comment, but she actually couldn't. She just found the fact that Emily might get jealous too fascinating.

"I sense some jealousy here", she said out loud.

"It's not jealousy. It's annoyance."

"Sure. Annoyance at other people finding me attractive and beautiful-in-my-own-way."

This time Emily wasn't fooled to give another eye-rolling. She just held Spencer's playful gaze.

"And sexy", Emily added, "and at you letting them get close to you."

Spencer guessed asking about that comment would actually touch bone regarding Emily's possible jealousy. It was probably about Wren. The memory of that other comment about Wren burned in her mind, from the night they had kissed the first time. But she decided not to go there right now.

They remained silent, keeping the image of each other in their eyes. It was as if they were both chained to each other.

Spencer took Emily's hand back in hers. She breathed. She felt almost as if she was intoxicated with the air.

"So what do we do now?"

"What do you wanna do? We should get some sleep."

"No, I mean with us. What do we do now?"

Emily looked her in the eye, suddenly feeling shy again.

"What do you wanna do?", she asked again.

"Make it official", Spencer asserted. "Go public."

"Don't you wanna take it easy? Go slow?"

"I'm not a fan of slowing things down", Spencer replied, "and I don't see the point with A sending pictures of us to everybody in Rosewood. Do you wanna take it slow?"

"I don't know, it's…" Emily thought about it for the first time. "Not really. What does official mean to you?"

"What it means to everybody, I guess."

"Which is?"

"You know. Kissing in public, holding hands, going on dates, stuff like that."

A flash of mischief appeared briefly in Emily's eyes.

"It's kind of weird to think about going on a date with you", Emily wondered, "I mean, what are we gonna do? We already do most of the things you do when you go on a date."

"You don't wanna go on a date with me?"

"I'm just saying it's gonna be weird."

Spencer looked a little troubled. "I'll think of something we've never done before." 

"You don't need to." Emily's smile turned mischievous too. "I don't really care."

"I thought you liked the big romantic side of things." Spencer was confused now. "Maya said…"

"Forget about Maya", Emily snapped, still smiling her dreamy, sly smile, "I don't really care, I just like doing stuff with you."

Spencer squeezed Emily's hand softly.

"Me too."

They got caught again in one of those moments when all there was left to do was kiss, but when somehow they kept looking at each other in wonder and intrigue instead of actually doing it. Spencer had replayed their kisses so many times in her head that it was amazing to let herself be dragged to this estate of joyful and reciprocal investment and flirtation, where the words being said were almost as important and meaningful as the glances exchanged and the little, subtle touches they gave almost unconsciously. However, every little thing was registered and sort of fell into her like drops on her skin on a rainy day. She could feel each of them with a magical, absurd intensity, so the continuous postponement of the kiss made the wait tense, but delicious at the same time.

There were a couple of things Spencer wanted to add, in any case, now that they were actually speaking about having an official dating status.

"There's a couple of things I think we should discuss… about dating. Or whatever."

She still felt unsure about calling it dating, taking into consideration the mocking tone Emily had just used.

"Yeah?"

"Okay, first off, we have to see each other every day."

"We already see each other every day, Spencer."

"Yeah, but now it's an obligation. Including weekends. Saturdays and Sundays. Does that sound too controlling?"

"It does when you say it like that", Emily joked, "it's not an obligation for me, I wanna do it."

Spencer felt relieved. First point crossed.

"Good. Now, next thing." She wondered how she should say this. "We have to speak about everything. If we don't like something the other is doing…"

"Is this your way of telling me I have to be less reserved?"

"Yeah, you're so smart!"

Emily smiled, but looked away. Spencer thought she might have been too sarcastic on this one, but she meant well. It was something she needed to say. If she didn't say it, she was probably going to go crazy wondering about every little thing that crossed Emily's mind.

Before she could explain herself better, Emily looked back at her and opened her mouth to speak.

"I'll try, okay? I know I'm not always that easy. But I'll get better."

This actually broke Spencer's heart a little. She had to remember to thank Aria forever for telling her to ask things properly, whatever that meant.

"You're good and easy as you are", she explained, "I just don't wanna drive myself crazy, so it's better if we just… say everything."

"We'll do that", Emily agreed, "I'll do it."

"Oh, and you have to tell Hanna. Like right away."

"And Aria."

"No, Aria already knows." She bit her lip, unsure about Emily's reaction. "I sort of had to tell her yesterday."

"You told her?" Emily did use an accusatory tone. "Why? I thought we weren't going to tell any of them until we… sorted this out."

"Yeah, I know! I tried not to say!", Spencer defended herself. "But you sent her to my house! Was I supposed to keep a long-night conversation about Mr. Fitz when I was dying inside because of this? It's your fault."

"How do you know that I sent her?" Emily's frown returned to her forehead. "And you are perfectly capable of maintaining a long-night conversationa bout Mr. Fitz, you do know that, and it wouldn't be the first time."

"Not when I'm having a heart attack over A's sending the picture to Toby and you crying over here because of me!" She tried to lower her voice again. "Aria told me you sent her there."

"I was worried about you. I didn't know what you were up to, and you're always getting into trouble, so…"

"I always call you when I'm gonna get into trouble."

"But you weren't gonna call me this time, because you were mad at me, because I wouldn't fight for you", Emily reminded her of her words, "so I sent her."

"To take care of me?"

"To keep an eye on you, not to be informed about our thing without me knowing."

Spencer felt like falling into Emily's lap, she wanted so much to let go of their past fight and to revel on the pure cuteness of Emily's effort to take care of her. But Emily was sort of mad now, so she'd better not push it.

"Sorry", she offered, "but it was a sweet thing that you did anyway, thanks."

"Yeah." Emily was not so mad after all, because she stole a quick kiss to Spencer's lips that took her completely by surprise. Spencer was preparing for another one when Emily looked away, frowning again. "I'm just worried about Hanna. She's gonna kill me. She's been after me for days now."

"At least she's not gonna kill me… And I doubt she will threaten you with breaking your legs."

"What do you mean?" Emily looked at her, not understanding.

"Our dear friend Hanna got into my car today to tell me she would literally beat my ass if I didn't fix things with you."

"You're kidding." Spencer denied with her head. "She did that?"

Emily burst out in a small laugh.

"Isn't she the cutest thing ever?", Emily exclaimed dreamily.

"Sure. Cutest thing ever", Spencer mocked, a little bitterly, "because violence is just so amazingly cute."

Emily laughed a little harder now.

"She was just trying to scare you off."

"I can beat her ass too, you know." She sounded too cocky on that one. "Now you've got yourself another self-appointed saviour."

"Right. That's because I need so many saviours", Emily teased, feigning annoyance, "I don't even know how I'm alive without you guys."

"Well, blame her! She's the one who was defending you from me like I was trying to make your life miserable or something", Spencer used her whiny, little girl voice, but then she reflected on it for a second, and her tone changed to its normal grave, low sound. "She could use those skills with so many other people, you know."

Emily narrowed her eyes at her.

"She already does. And you're not much better than that", she warned, "Miss I-will-destroy-her."

She tried to imitate Spencer's lowest, huskiest tone of voice, with not much success, which caused Spencer to chuckle.

"Is that supposed to be me? Cause your voice is really too girly for that."

"How can a voice even be girly?"

"It can", Spencer teased, "when it's too high."

"That only means that it's high, not that it's… girly."

Spencer laughed at that. Emily didn't seem to consider herself too girly, even though she was. Well, maybe not too girly. Just generally girly. Beautifully girly. Mind-blowingly girly.

She sighed deeply, feeling tired and at the same time longing for a more intense touch, and reclined her head against the wall. This wait, oh this wait, even though it was fun and delicious, was torture all the way. But she wouldn't be the first one to crack, not now that they were involved in such a feel-good conversation.

Emily turned her head to look at her, intrigued by the deep sigh she had just heard.

"You're tired." It was an affirmation, not a question. "I should let you go."

"I'm not that tired. Really."

Emily took a look at her watch. It was already 3.30 a.m. Wow. Her heart got a little flustered by how late it was. Time had flied so quickly when they were talking and… looking at each other.

"I think we're done." It sounded so definite that Spencer's eyes suddenly opened wide. "I mean we're done with the set of dating rules you were giving me."

"I wasn't giving them to you", Spencer protested, "we were just discussing them."

"Yeah, that too", she smiled. "Is there anything else you wanna add to them?"

Spencer thought a little about it. There were a couple of things she still considered worth of mentioning, like how they would act when they were near their exes – mainly Paige, who wasn't even an ex, but who was on the swim team with Emily – but she decided to postpone that talk until they both felt more… established.

"No, I think we're done with the rules. For the night at least."

"Right, for the night. I'll get my notebook tomorrow so we can continue."

They smiled at each other, and Emily leaned in for another quick, stolen kiss on the lips. This time Spencer wasn't caught by surprise like the first time, so she lifted her hand to Emily's neck and softly pulled her back when she started to separate. Emily understood the message, because the smile disappeared from her lips and she got this really serious, deep expression on her face. Suddenly the atmosphere changed, the air of the night got dense and thick, almost as if it was burning their skin, and Spencer started to shake again, only her body did not really shake at all. It was her mind, and her guts, and all of her muscles that shook deeply when she sensed Emily's change of disposition. They kissed deeply, slowly, heavily, breathily, moving without real care from one velocity to the next one, both their hands on each other's faces, separating them from the rest of the world.

After a few more little kisses Emily stole to Spencer's lips and to her nose, they looked at each other again.

"Kissing time, finally", Spencer said, relieved. "Thought it was never gonna come."

"If you were so eager to kiss me, why didn't you try a little earlier?"

"I like it when you make me wait for it."

This time her voice did sound as sultry as it could, in a way that even she had to realize the effect it caused, because Emily's expression seemed to change to a yet more serious, but still abandoned gesture, her long eyelashes falling over her eyes heavily as she contemplated her mouth. And so they kissed again, and the wheel began to spin once more.

When they stopped for a moment, Spencer felt hot and burning inside, but she could tell Emily was a little cold. She had stolen her coat, after all. Her fingers were a little stiff, even though they were tracing lines all over Spencer's face and hands. All these things her fingers did, all these little wandering around the free spaces on Spencer's skin, that made her shiver and die a little inside.

"I don't wanna leave", Spencer said, realizing she should leave so they both could warm up and get some sleep.

Emily seemed to come out of a trance when she heard Spencer's voice. Her fingers stopped tracing the line they were drawing around Spencer's palm.

"I don't want you to leave."

Emily took a deep sigh. She couldn't get Spencer inside the house. So she guessed she'd have to let her leave at some point.

"You're cold." Spencer started to take off the coat Emily had given to her, a movement that caused Emily to deny with her head. "I don't want you getting sick either. Tomorrow is Friday, so it's our first official… non-date."

"So you're leaving?", Emily asked, a little disappointed.

Spencer stopped taking her left arm out of the sleeve.

"Why don't we… take a ride?" The idea had just popped out in her head.

"A ride? Where?"

"Anywhere." She completed the movement and got her arm out of the sleeve. "Let's just drive around for a while. I'll drop you here in time to change and get to class."

Emily raised her eyebrow at her; simultaneously, the corner of her lip turned up in a potentially mischievous smile.

"Are you trying to get me to make out in the car in the middle of the night?"

Spencer stared at her.

"No." She raised her eyebrow too. "Well, maybe. If you want to."

"I'm not a big fan of making out in cars, you know", Emily announced, "especially if I don't know where I'm being taken."

Spencer handed the coat to her and Emily stood up and started to put it on.

"Making out in cars is a classic", Spencer teased, as she stood up too. Her legs felt numb and her butt was cold. "So can you please tell me where the hell you used to make out with Maya, and Samara, and the other one and the one in the middle?"

She refused to say Paige's name.

Emily didn't answer anything; she only gave her a funny look and started walking towards the car.

When they arrived there, Emily leaned on the door to the driver's seat instead of going directly to the passenger's side. Spencer approached her and completely invaded her personal space, trying to make her final point across.

"We don't need to make out", she gave in, seeing her breath elevate in the air as she spoke, "we can just keep talking and stop to kiss at traffic lights."

Emily stared at her wonderingly, but she didn't move away or back. She clearly enjoyed the proximity.

"Yeah, let's go."

She was just making Spencer wait. Of course she was going to go with her.

Spencer took her by the lapels of the coat and pulled her closer for a quick kiss. She was freezing again, so it had to be quick.

After that, they got inside the car and Emily fastened the belt on the passenger's seat, while Spencer turned the radiator on. When the car reached the street, Emily leaned forward to turn the radio on, but she changed the station herself. Spencer usually listened either to political debates or to indie-rock music stations, and that was going to make her sleepy. Lady Gaga started to scream that she wanted your love and all your lovers' revenge, you and me could write bad romance, as Emily turned up the volume to keep herself awake while watching Spencer drive to some unkown, promising place.

Chapter Text

Spencer pulled the car in the gas station. Emily had fallen asleep a long while ago, but she had kept driving anyway, animated by the rush of driving with no destination in mind, only the night, the music on the radio – although she had turned down the volume to let Emily sleep – and Emily's soft breathing by her side. She usually enjoyed driving, but she had never done anything like this. There were a lot of things she had never done before. History was not repeating itself. History was starting now. And it made her feel optimistic, young, a newcomer.

She wondered if she should wake Emily up to let her know she was going out to pump some gas. But she looked so peaceful and calm that she decided against it. Spencer grabbed Emily's coat, which she had taken off earlier when the car started to feel warm, trying not to touch her, and carefully got out of the car. It took her a while to get it done, because the night guy was also asleep on the counter and she had to wake him up to pay for the gas, but ten minutes later she came back in, only to discover Emily had indeed waken up during her absence. Emily smiled at her all heavy-lidded and bedroom-eyed.

"Where are we?", Emily asked, her tongue flurry and thick.

She stretched her arms and legs on the seat, and her neck cracked a little with the change of position. Oh, bad posture. She'd have to take it even easier on the pool.

"I've got no idea", Spencer replied, but then Emily looked kind of horrified, and she explained further. "But we're not far. I just kept driving around. Like literally around, so we wouldn't go far either."

Emily nodded, relieved. She had to hand in the papers today – was it Friday already? – and she couldn't skip classes anymore.

"I'm sorry I fell asleep."

"It's okay." Spencer's corner of the mouth turned up in a smile. "You looked so relaxed I didn't want to wake you up."

"So where are we going now?"

Emily looked around the place, while Spencer took the road again.

Spencer mumbled something unintelligible, so Emily assumed she didn't know that one either. She felt sorry for Spencer: she was doing all the driving, while Emily had taken some time to sleep. She looked at her watch again, to see how long she had actually slept. An hour, approximately. It wasn't much, but Spencer had not slept at all.

"Do you want me to drive so you can also relax?", she decided to ask.

"No, I'm fine." Spencer wondered if they could stop somewhere. She did feel a little tired, although she was enjoying the ride. "Do you mind if we stop?"

"No."

Emily got a little anxious about where they were going to stop. But it was all right, she could survive it. The only thing that actually mattered to her was to make it on time to school.

Spencer drove for another ten to fifteen minutes, took an even more secondary road, probably a tertiary one, if that even existed, and parked the car on some kind of deserted area. They were surrounded by trees and rocks. Possibly animals too. And serial killers.

The car's engine switched off and they were left in complete silence. The only sound was the music on the radio, which sounded really low, more like a vague, remote melody coming from somewhere far behind on their memory. Spencer gave Emily a quick glance, and then reclined her back against the driver's door and lifted her legs to the seat, where she bent her knees, acquiring a position that allowed her both to face Emily and to massage her calves, which were hurting a little. Seeing Spencer do that, Emily decided to lift her own legs too, but she placed her feet above the glove compartment, against the dash board. She hadn't realized she was still wearing her slippers. What a hot girl she was, looking like someone who was just dragged out of bed in her pyjamas, her slippers and a wool sweater. This seemed to be a pattern: somehow she kept going out looking like that with Spencer, who might look tired but still managed to appear pretty composed even in her jeans and blue wrinkled shirt. She hoped she could get a little more dressed up during their first official "non-date"; meaning that she'd get to wear at least casual clothes and not a pyjama, perhaps even a cute dress, if she managed to find one which would match appropriately with whatever they were going to do.

Silence made her feel uneasy. She looked around out of the window and into the darkness, a wary expression on her face.

"What?" Spencer was starting to feel sleepy too, but the wariness on Emily's face triggered her interest. "Are you scared? Car's closed."

"Why would I be scared?", Emily joked, pretending to be cheerful. "There's probably a couple of serial killers going around in the dark trying to murder someone."

Spencer chuckled.

"You watch way too many movies." Spencer turned around a little to look out of the window. "Are you afraid of the dark?"

"Isn't everybody?", Emily asked, knowing it was futile to ask such a question to Spencer. "Except you, of course."

Spencer returned her eyes to Emily and gave her a cheeky smile.

"I'm scared of other things." For example, of going to jail. Of A. Or of sleeping alone in a big house like hers, although it had gotten better since Ian died. "We have our own serial killer in Rosewood. Chances are we're not going to run into another one."

She did have a point, Emily thought. Rosewood had turned out to be a pretty scarier place than this one. Although the dark still scared her a little, but she was inside the car, at least.

Silence took over of the car again, and Emily watched Spencer out of the corner of her eye. She kept massaging her calves on her seat, maintaining a laid-back attitude that Emily thought might be totally fake. She wondered if she was doing that on purpose to keep distracted or if her legs really hurt that much.

"Why are you sitting so far away from me?"

She decided to directly ask.

Spencer lifted her eyes: they looked tired, but they instantly shone with a special brightness in the dark.

"You're sitting far away from me too", she answered. Then she smiled crookedly, showing she was in the mood for a tease. "I'm just trying to behave."

"Then that's it", Emily smirked. She so knew it. "I'm glad you're finally learning to do that."

"I always knew how to do it." Emily seemed to be in the same mood, so Spencer decided to take advantage of it and kept going. "You said no making out in cars, so we're not making out in a car. This is just innocent chat, you know. Like when you tried to get back together with Maya."

Oh, maybe she had crossed a line on that one, because Emily did roll her eyes pretty evidently this time; and not exactly in a playful way.

"Sorry, am I too out of line here?"

"You have a habit of doing that", Emily retorted, but her tone was still playful. "I wonder why you keep talking about Maya if you've already got me in your car."

She might have rolled her eyes, but she was not pissed off. She did know how to carry on a joke, even how to carry it further than it was intended.

Spencer did feel speechless for a short millisecond.

"I don't talk about them", she grossly lied, but she couldn't help referring to more people besides Maya. "I just acknowledge their past existence."

"Them?" Emily quickly picked on the pronoun. "So there are more?"

"There were more. Some of them are still around, aren't they?"

That got Emily intrigued.

"You mean Paige?" She realized Spencer had to be talking about Paige, and she kind of had an idea as to why. "I said that thing about her being a good kisser just to piss you off, you know."

"You said she was the best kisser", Spencer corrected her. "And it worked."

"I know it worked", Emily asserted, confidently. That had been one of the signs she supposed she had read correctly. She turned her body a little to have a more direct vision of Spencer. "I think you should stop competing with them if you want to do something with me."

Speechlessness affected Spencer again. Maybe she was too tired? She usually knew how to be quick and sharp-tongued; not as sharp-tongued as Hanna, but almost as good, and maybe even sharper, in a way, depending on the definition of sharp you were using. Hanna would probably use a knife, while Spencer would lacerate with the amazing power of her SAT vocabulary. But her tongue wasn't running very fast right now.

"You're probably right on that one", she finally admitted, but she didn't move an inch from her position, although that was what she actually wanted to do. "So did you ever write that paper?"

She successfully achieved a light-hearted, casual tone.

"Nice change of topic", Emily laughed. Her eyes were so dark and sparkly now and her whole face was so lit up that she looked as if she had slept the whole night. "I actually did. Yesterday in the library, after I had to do an all-nighter the night before, right after our fight. That was hard."

So she had been in the library. Spencer wondered where.

"Yeah, sorry about that", Spencer apologized. "Guess it was my fault somehow."

"I have to say I missed you when I was writing", Emily continued their chance at small talk. "I almost regretted not accepting your help."

Spencer's heart filled with joy when she heard that Emily had missed her. Not that she didn't know she had missed her, but still. It felt good to know, once again.

Although she bet Emily had not precisely missed her writing abilities this time.

"And here you are now", Spencer concluded, lowering her voice, "doing your second all-nighter in a row. And it's my fault too."

"You know it's always your fault."

Emily intended to deliver the line with a sarcastic turn, but instead it came out with so many double meanings, even third and fourth meanings, that she became surprised at her own playfulness.

As a logical result of it, there was a long, standing gaze between the two of them. It literally raised Spencer's hair, chilled down Spencer's spine and goose bumped Spencer's skin all at once and in one single blow, even though she didn't completely grasp the meaning of Emily's words. Somehow it seemed the meaning was the least important thing. But she still didn't move, mainly out of obstinacy but also because she couldn't really keep her eyes off of Emily right now. It was as if she couldn't or wouldn't move so she could keep Emily's image still and fixed in her mind.

Emily was the first one to look away, apparently getting distracted with something in her slippers. She reached her hand to them, placed them better in her feet, then paid attention to the radio, where she changed the station even though she didn't really turn up the volume, so the change didn't make any difference. They kept listening to the silence outside, the dark blue silence outside that was embracing their hearts now that they were beating so hard.

All the time Emily could feel Spencer's eyes fixated on her, clinging to her like claws, expecting something from her, so she finally moved to look back.

"Don't look at me like that."

"Like what?", Spencer asked innocently. "I can't really see myself, you know."

Emily stared at her, and she felt her own body was already playing a game she could no longer control.

"Like that. You're still doing it."

It was the volcano thing. The volcano, the gravity, the planets and the stars revolving around each other. Everything she had felt during their Biology class, but this time more powerful because they were alone in the dark of the night and nothing but themselves were acting as barriers to it.

Spencer didn't say anything for a second. But then she smiled, a little shyly, but still playfully, as if she knew too well what she was doing.

"Okay, I won't look at you", she said, and pretended to slightly move to look at the air above Emily's head, "I'll look somewhere else."

"You can just ask for it, you know." Emily's voice was sweet, but unusually throaty. "It's not like you don't know how to do it."

Again, Spencer didn't say a word, but her eyes widened a little. Then she batted her eyelashes a couple of times, and returned her gaze to Emily.

"I won't ask", Spencer finally murmured, still a tease but mainly hinting at her secret motive. "I'm truthful to my word."

Emily lowered her feet from where she had them and started to move in her seat. If Spencer didn't come to her, she would go to Spencer. She started to cross the distance that separated them, trying not to bump her head with the car-roof.

"No, you're not", she said firmly, before finding an unstable spot next to Spencer's legs. She put one hand on her knee to support herself better. "You just want me to do it."

Spencer looked at her with her warm brown eyes, now widened at her in slight surprise, and her mouth half opened, as if she had something to say but was caught in the middle of saying it. Only she hadn't uttered a word. Instead of kissing her right away, Emily removed a strand of hair that had crossed the middle of Spencer's forehead and her left eye, brushed it with her fingers until she tucked it behind Spencer's small left ear. Then she lowered her head a little and deeply kissed Spencer's already opened mouth, without any restraint or timidity. Spencer did not simply receive or take the kiss; she completely gave in to it, feeling the inner turmoil of her heart beating in her ears, rushing trough her veins, letting the whirlwind of emotions she was feeling every time take power of her body and of her own tongue. She grabbed Emily's neck to pull her closer, now that she had travelled to her; and yet she managed to breathe whenever she could, still without allowing Emily to pull away, even if they would run out of air. She could feel Emily's fingers both clawing at her knee and sustaining her head, and it was like she could drag Emily even deeper if she just pulled her closer, so she tried once, and then again, and finally her own head hit the window door and made a knocking sound that scared Emily.

"That wasn't me", Emily whispered, immediately placing her hand on Spencer's head, "was it?"

"No", Spencer clarified, still trying to come to terms with the fact that it was her own clumsiness that had ended the kiss she so desperately was trying to continue. "It was me, getting all clumsy and violent with myself."

Emily laughed at her words with a touch of warmth that emanated from both her eyes and her body.

She gently touched Spencer's lower lip with her thumb. It was wet with both of their saliva. Gosh, was that the key to Spencer's sexiness? Because something about it made it so kissable and addictive, and she just couldn't seem to stop wanting to bite it.

"What?", Spencer asked slowly, reaching up to catch Emily's lips.

The murmur of a question was left unanswered and they started kissing again, and again it was hungry and unstoppable.

Emily was trying to position her body in a way that she could continue kissing Spencer without actually having to feel she was going to lose her balance all the time, but when she tried to reach that place between Spencer's legs and the steering wheel something stuck in the middle of her side. The gear stick. Right, it always had to be the gear stick. What a coincidence.

She snorted through the kiss and pulled away.

"And this is why I don't like making out in cars."

It was so damn uncomfortable.

Spencer smiled sweetly, but did not let her go. She had a tight hold of her neck.

"I'm going back to my place", Emily warned, kissing Spencer on her eyebrow and then on the lips before releasing herself from her grip. "We're both too clumsy for this."

"You're not clumsy, you're just impatient."

She said that, but now she let her go back to her seat. The sudden distance was bad though, so she was fast to make a decision. She moved after Emily and sat on her lap before Emily could do anything to stop it, acquiring a much more comfortable position, although she did have to lower her head not to bump it too. But that wasn't too much of a problem if they were going to keep kissing.

"You didn't think I'd give up so easily, did you?" 

"Do you ever?"

Emily was the surprised one this time. After all, it wasn't that often that she suddenly found herself in a car, in the middle of the night, with Spencer sitting on her. It was the first time, and even though every making out moment they had shared until now, including the one with the gear stick a couple of seconds ago, had been absolutely hot and amazing, this did make her feel more nervous and excited than any other thing that had ever happened to her. She blamed her inexperience, but she felt trapped, and aroused, and energised, all at the same time. Her surprise lasted briefly, though, because they started to kiss again, now with sweetness and gentleness and care. There were so many ways to kiss each other that Spencer felt she had to try each of them. Yet – every time felt new. So it seemed like they were never going to stop, because there was always a newer way to do it that she'd have to try again and again. They kept kissing like this, and like that, and Spencer felt free now to move her hands around, so she moved them to Emily's neck and to her head, and played with her hair – long hair was definitely new to her in such a situation –, and inspected her nape with her fingers, and trailed back and forth her cheeks and her neck with her lips, and felt an instant need to look into Emily's eyes, to see her expression while she was being kissed, even though to do that she had to actually stop kissing her, and she didn't really want that, so she kept going. Emily, who seemed to be in the less active position, and sort of still shocked by the situation, finally lifted her arms and embraced Spencer's thin, bony figure, and with the sudden, abrupt embrace the kiss got hungrier again, more passionate than it had been before, demanding and craving, as if driven by some kind of frenzy that possessed them both, until their breathing got too heavy and intense and Spencer had to let out a deep sigh that sounded all around the car and that made her gasp for air. She took the opportunity to inspect Emily's face, where she read again all these details, all these little signs that told her about Emily's estate of mind – and body. Her eyes, black as burning coal mines, a little blurry, foggy because she was obviously so much into this thing that she looked as if she couldn't really see Spencer at all. Her skin, warm, soft, lightening up the night; her lips, which were always so full and now were swollen and sort of meaty red. She kissed them again, she kissed her eyebrows, she kissed her nose and her cheeks. She couldn't stop kissing her. Then she stopped to look at her once more, and now it was Emily who pushed Spencer's back with her hands and who lifted her head, with her mouth opened, to continue, and so they went on.

Emily was obviously feeling more and more confidence in herself, because she picked up the rhythm with her mouth to travel around Spencer's neck and collarbone. She decided to dedicate her time and effort to the collarbone. A fine, delicate, elegant collarbone, which made Spencer look like a ballerina whenever it showed through the wide necklines, which Spencer did not always use, still not fully aware of the effect it had on others. Her graceful and balanced posture was sometimes close to stiffness when she got stressed or angry about something, but was always composed of serene, precise lines marking the bones and the tendons that Emily was now conquering for herself with her lips and her tongue. They had a language of their own, all these lines, turning and never really shying away except when they were covered by clothes. She had the cutest hollow in the middle, right where the neck ended and transformed into something else. Was that another secret, another key point to Spencer's addictive power? There were too many secret spots to count, perhaps; she was discovering one after the other. She heard Spencer's deep sighing when she sweetly bit and sucked there and, instead of becoming shy about it, instead of thinking she should stop herself so they wouldn't rush into things too fast, she did it again, now harder, even a little aggressively, and then she sneaked her right hand under Spencer's blue shirt with absolute boldness and impudence, driven by the same impulse she had obeyed when she decided to bite and suck and stop and start here or there. It was surprisingly easy, and she could reach Spencer's burning skin without a problem, thanks to the loose shirt Spencer was wearing. Nothing was actually stopping her hand from crawling inside the shirt up her bare, fiery side, and so she came in without knocking. With the touch of her hand Spencer's body tensed up, then softly relaxed as Emily sweetly drew circles around her side, her fingers feeling the curvy line of her waist and her stomach, daring up a little bit, sensing the ribs under her touch, and yet another little bit, until Spencer could hardly breathe or kiss Emily at all. She tightly held Emily's head with her own hands, trying to take her back to her mouth to kiss her as hard as she could, but she couldn't, so she pulled back a second and looked at her, her face and her neck pinkish and her forehead bright with sweat.

"Maybe you should consider stopping there", she said, low and breathy, after she had swallowed and gasped.

Emily did stop moving her hand up, but she didn't take it away, and her fingers continued drawing a smaller circle around Spencer's ribs.

"Why is that?", Emily asked, all innocent eyes. But Spencer could tell she knew why.

Was this the same Emily who spent their first two make out sessions stopping to ask if Spencer was going to freak out?

"I might lose it if you keep doing that."

"Lose it?"

Emily sounded innocent, but there was a flash of intense mischief that said she wasn't innocent at all, and this time it showed so clearly that Spencer had no doubts about it.

"Do you want me to explain further?", Spencer asked, recovering a more normal breathing. "I'm not really… wearing a bra or anything."

She could feel her cheeks getting even hotter.

"I know you're not." It was Emily's only answer, and her hand was still there.

"You know?"

"I can tell."

"So you… notice that sort of thing?"

Emily looked at her as if that was too obvious to even consider an answer.

They had this awkward moment when neither of them knew what to say next. The normal, everyday Emily would now have moved her hand away, so Spencer would feel safe and things got back to a slow-and-heavy only-kissing situation. But she didn't. For some reason, she didn't. She just let her hand there, although she did stop her fingers from moving around.

"So do you want me to stop?" Emily was the first one to speak again.

Her tone was respectful, but there was a layer of naughtiness hardly hidden, somehow a challenge, a dare posed to Spencer, that seemed to say she knew Spencer did not really want her to stop.

Spencer looked into her eyes intensely, but also with shyness. She did feel the challenge in her bones.

"I… No, I don't want you to stop at all", Spencer finally replied, admitting to it, "and that's sort of the problem."

Emily stared at her in amusement, her eyes sparkly as ever. She was clearly enjoying this.

"Why is that a problem?" Emily felt so bold she didn't even sound like herself anymore. "I won't stop if you don't want me to stop."

Was this wicked, naughty person her sweet, shy, gentle Emily? Spencer wondered about it. And yes, that was still the same Emily. There was the respectful tone, the self-controlling part indicating she would stop for real if Spencer wanted her to stop. But there was also the mischievous, extremely playful coolness that Spencer had never known, that Spencer had never seen or heard or even imagined before. The Emily who was enjoying the game of playing Spencer to her limits.

She decided to test which Emily was actually there and which Emily was just bluffing, teasing to the extreme. The Emily she knew would tease, but would also stop at some point, even if Spencer didn't want her to stop at all.

"I know you." She sounded more certain than she actually was right now. "I know you will stop at some point."

That was the problem. She didn't really control the situation, Emily did. And it made her feel giddy.

Emily frowned at her, but gave her a little smile.

"Is this some kind of challenge?"

Still the mischief flashed in her eyes, and Spencer felt like she could pass out just by sensing what it meant.

"Well, do you want to be challenged?", Spencer asked, trying to keep up the game and not give anything away.

Although she had given away a lot already. She could see it in Emily's eyes. She could feel it in her whole burning body.

"That's a tricky question", Emily responded, looking down to search for an answer.

"I knew I'd get you in that one."

She felt victorious. But Emily's fingers still burned her skin when she pressed them a little against her ribs, and they still made her feel dizzy and drunk.

Emily did move her hand now, but not away. She just let her fingers travel very slowly to Spencer's back, where she softly walked up and down, sending all new kinds of chills to Spencer's body. They looked at each other.

"Is this better?", Emily asked, softly pressing Spencer's shoulder blade.

Better? Was that even a question Spencer could answer? So she just leaned in again to kiss Emily, feeling all sorts of crazy things inside.

It took a while like that until Spencer moaned again and had to pull back a little to recover herself once more. She stared at Emily's face again, awe and wonder still that this was going on. It wasn't that she hadn't been involved in similar situations. It was just… the way she felt, she had never felt like this before. With anybody. Emily repeated the same movement and tried to push Spencer down with her arms, but this time Spencer resisted it. She resisted Emily's power over her, because she wanted to take a moment to actually look in the beautiful face of that power no one had probably ever gotten so close to holding over her. Emily returned the gaze with intrigue and amusement.

"You okay?"

Spencer offered a nod. "Yeah."

"Want me to stop something else?"

Spencer laughed out loud and denied with her head. "No." She lifted her hand to Emily's hair and forehead, and stroked them softly.

Emily opened her mouth to speak, but closed it again, not sure about what she wanted to say. Her mind was not really working.

"No, I'm not freaking out", Spencer whispered in Emily's ear, although she was sure Emily was not going to say that.

Emily smiled widely.

"I wasn't going to say that."

"Then what were you going to say?"

"I don't know." She didn't know. She had no idea. It was probably a babble of unmeaningful sounds anyway.

Spencer brushed her nose and her lips against Emily's, affection flowing through her.

"God, this is…", Spencer started to say… This was just too much, and still too little. She separated again to get a better, more global look of Emily's face. All those details and signs she had seen earlier in little pieces and fragments came together in a single, general picture. "You're so freakingly beautiful that it totally breaks my heart."

Emily frowned at her, again clearly amused. That was not what she was expecting to hear.

"I thought we agreed I was cute", she said, cutely indeed.

"You're too cute. But you're also too beautiful. You are… I can't even say."

Spencer had never talked like that to Emily. Which was totally natural, because they had never been involved in such a situation, but it still sounded kind of strange.

"You've clearly been reading too much of Mr. Fitz's poetry lately", Emily joked, and tried again to push Spencer's body back to her. But Spencer resisted her again.

"No, I mean it", Spencer said, not wanting to get into a joke now. "You're just… heartbreakingly beautiful."

Spencer looked so serious and deep when she said those words that Emily felt a little shattered by them. But she tried to joke again.

"Is this some kind of payback because of what I said about your beauty?"

"No", Spencer laughed. "I know my steamy sexiness can't break a heart. It can break other things, though, like a car or... my head."

She pouted cutely, her lips and eyebrows making a simultaneous frown, as if she accepted that fact of life and was still able to enjoy it. But Emily didn't completely like the sound of Spencer's words, so she cupped her face in her hands.

"Don't say that", Emily begged, and this time she was serious too. "I don't wanna hear you say that."

Spencer followed the curve of Emily's left eyebrow with her index finger.

"You don't want me to tell you that you're beautiful?"

"You can tell me whatever you want", Emily said, "as long as it doesn't involve heartbreaking stuff."

All that talk about breaking hearts was just… it sounded weird, and unsettling in her ears. Spencer had just broken a heart. Toby's heart. Twice. So she was referring to something else, and it had to be related to Emily, with her weird heartbreaking beauty, whatever that was.

"It's just a figure of speech", Spencer explained with her lecturing style, smiling and grabbing Emily's sweater with her hands, "but it's also a truth about you."

A truth or only a word?

"Why would you even say that?", Emily asked, unable to understand why it was a truth about her. "I'm not going to break your heart."

"Not even like this?", Spencer asked, still teasing. "Just by looking at you?"

The way she was looking at her all the time tonight.

"No. I don't want to."

"What if you've already broken it?"

Emily's eyes opened wide. What was Spencer trying to say?

"It's not possible", she said, almost as if she needed to look for a justification or a defence. "We just started this thing. I haven't had time."

Spencer chuckled at Emily's funny explanation. But then she lowered her head and hid her face in Emily's neck. She was feeling so emotional it was strange even for her. She was really speaking nonsense, but at the same time it had a meaning to her, and it made her feel embarrassed and shy.

Emily moved her hand up Spencer's back to her neck and caressed her gently.

"I'm not gonna break your heart and you're not gonna break mine", Emily murmured, "and that's all there's to say about this. Now we can both be beautiful and cute to each other."

Spencer breathed into Emily's neck and hair. She sniffed deeply, vaguely recognizing the fragrance Emily used during the day, and the soft, but still deep air of her shampoo. There was as well another touch to her, a sweet, delicate sweat, her pure unmasked skin after probably spending some hours in bed and then tumbling around her in the closed space of her car.

"Okay", Spencer said, giving her consent.

"Good." Emily moved to give a kiss to Spencer's chin.

Spencer's head hid and rested between Emily's neck and shoulder for a while. Then she decided to face Emily's eyes again, a clearer notion in her mind.

"I don't mind you breaking my heart. Even if it's bad. I don't mind."

Man, she was indeed saying the weirdest things, but she felt like she couldn't really stop herself from saying them.

"Spence, what are you saying?" Now Emily did sound worried. "I don't wanna break your heart, I wanna take care of it. That's all I want."

"I know", she admitted, "and I'm gonna let you do it."

It made her happy to let her do it. She leaned in to kiss Emily, but this time it was Emily who pulled away.

"Is this…? Does this have anything to do with…?", Emily trailed off, trying to find an answer. Then she had another idea. "Remember your own dating rules. We say everything."

"Our dating rules", Spencer corrected her. She smiled now apologetically, and bit her lip, unsure. "And I can't really say. I know it sounds crazy. I guess I'm just too creative with language."

"You're usually sort of precise too." Emily wouldn't buy the creative excuse now, not after what Spencer had just said. "Do you feel like… you're in danger?" But why would Spencer feel in danger with her? "Is this because of Maya and the others?"

"No, I don't care about them", Spencer denied with her head. "I know you never loved them. They were never… important." A hand waving underlined Spencer's dismissal.

Emily thought about it.

"Then is it Alison?"

Oh, Alison. The common friend. The common ghost. The dead keeper of everything secret and sacred.

Spencer shrugged her shoulders. She hadn't really thought of Alison, but Alison was important in a way.

"You did love her. She did break your heart."

"So this is about her?"

This wasn't about Emily breaking Spencer's heart, at least not yet. So was it about Emily's own broken heart?

"No, not really. I don't know what it's about", Spencer tried again, this time harder. "It's about me falling really hard for you without me even noticing it until… like five days ago. And now I find myself like… I can't even control what I'm saying."

Or what she was doing.

Emily looked her in the eye, concern painted all over her face, but also warmth and care.

"I don't even remember why I fell for Alison, Spencer." Emily decided to dig deeper into the Alison part, sensing some insecurity there. "I'm here with you, and you're all that I want, and she's dead."

Which sometimes made things worse.

"It's just it sometimes feels like… just because she's dead, you're still hers. Because you did love her." Spencer concentrated on this awkward feeling she had. "So it makes sense that… Whatever." She decided to give up, and the hand dismissed the object of her frustration again.

"No, say it."

She let herself be absorbed by Emily's imposing gaze.

"Just… I want you to be mine", she said aloud, even though she had never said such a thing before. She had said other things, she had told Toby she loved him, but she had never said such a thing before. "I want you to be mine. I don't want you to be hers. You're not hers anymore."

"And that's why you think I'm gonna break your heart?"

"It's okay if you break it. I told you."

It was all right. It was such a strange feeling, but it made sense to her, if only to her.

Emily had always known Spencer, the cocky, type-A, witty Spencer Hastings had her share of insecurities. She just had never thought they would or could relate so strongly to her.

She sighed.

"I'm not gonna break it", Emily repeated, "I care too much. And even if I did, it won't be because of Alison."

Spencer nodded, and bit her lip again in an unconscious gesture.

"I'm yours already." Emily squeezed Spencer's hand and took it to her lips to kiss. "Can't you see that?"

Spencer could see it. But everything had happened so fast for her that she felt she was spiralling into this complete new thing that, on some strange, mysterious level, was already there before she had been confronted with it. It was what Aria had said: there was more to this, there was more to this that she had to find out herself, that she was finding out just now, every time. And there were just too many emotions on her hands, and in her head, and in her heart.

Emily's lips were so sweet and caring to her that she felt her heart ache even more with the tender touch. That was what she meant. It was crazy, but she couldn't really control it. It was bigger, stronger than her. It was in every glance and in every touch. It was in Emily's soft, caring ways, as well as in her challenging, daring, teasing games that she was just discovering now.

She leaned down to kiss Emily and this time Emily did kiss her back.

"What a mood-killer I am", Spencer apologized, once they separated.

She had violated the ABC of dating: never speak about serious, deeply meaningful issues while you were making out with someone you really liked. Especially not about broken hearts.

But she was aware that nothing about dating Emily would resemble a normal, conventional dating situation. They already knew so much about each other. There were already so many feelings and emotions prior to their dating status that dating only seemed like something they just had to do in order to actually disclose everything that they were going to be. So she guessed she would be forgiven for bringing up such an awkward topic during their hottest, steamiest session so far. And, amazingly, they hadn't even started dating officially yet.

Emily was still a little worried she had washed away that insecurity about Alison.

"I'm not letting you take more literature classes", she joked, and kissed Spencer again.

Spencer smiled through the kiss, a good sign, and then searched for Emily's mouth to deepen it. They kissed slowly, sweetly, following the new mood they were in right now.

A phone beeped in the car and they both jumped.

"It's mine", Emily said, because she had her phone in the pocket of her coat and the sound had come from there.

Spencer didn't say anything, but just reached her arm to get the phone, since she was on top and had more mobility than Emily. She took it out and handed it to her without looking. She didn't really want to know what A had to say about this turn of events.

Emily was relieved, though.

"It's Hanna", she announced to calm Spencer, whose face had fallen to her feet again. "She woke up, I'm not there, she's worried."

She started to text back.

"What are you gonna say?"

"That I went for a ride and will be there in…", she thought about how long it would take them to go back, "thirty minutes?"

She pressed the send button as quick as she could. The last thing she needed was a freaked out Hanna. She was going to deal with a mad-as-hell, possibly hurt Hanna, and that was enough.

Another text came in. Spencer raised her eyebrow.

"She says my car's there", Emily read aloud.

Spencer rolled her eyes. Oh, Hanna, Hanna.

"I'm just gonna tell her I'm with you. She's gonna know anyway."

She wrote quickly again. When she finished and sent the text, Spencer started to move to get back to her position on the driver's seat, but Emily stopped her.

"Wait a sec", she kissed her briefly. Then she took a longer moment and kissed her again, biting her secretly badly wanted lower lip. "Don't move yet."

Spencer stood still.

Another text came. Emily read it and laughed.

"What?", Spencer asked, impatient.

"She says hi."

Spencer took the phone in her hands. "Hi, nerd. Glad u do as told."

"She's crazy." Spencer gave the phone back to Emily.

Hanna was crazy, but maybe Spencer should thank her somehow. She was feeling so emotional she felt like she could hug Hanna the day after she had been threatened by her. Maybe she was crazier than Hanna, after all.

Emily put the phone away and looked deeply into Spencer's eyes, in such a way that Spencer had no other choice than to lean down and start another kiss. And so they went in for another round of caring, sweetening kisses, which were the ones the situation required of them now.

They were going to be late if they didn't rush, so Spencer finally pulled away a little.

"We have to get going."

She moved, but Emily got a tight hold of her waist again. They took a second to stare at each other, this time a lingering, all meaningful stare.

"Look who's stopping now and again", Emily teased, reminding her of their previous cut and thrust.

Spencer rolled her eyes a little, but smiled sweetly to her, not moving yet.

"We have to get to class." She touched Emily's neck with her long fingers. "You don't fool me."

Another long stare followed, when they seemed to weigh all the possibilities that faced them from now on. They both knew they had to move, but knowing was different than doing, and it felt too good to stay, to remain unconscious of everything else for a little while longer. Always for a little while longer, and longer, and yet again - longer than that.

"I'll drive", Emily made the final decision. "Even if it's for half an hour, you need to take some time to rest."

"You don't even know how to get out of here."

"You can show me. Come on."

Emily delicately let Spencer slip away from her hands to take her place on the passenger's seat. Then she took the driver's position and started the car. The night, which was not so dark anymore because a grey, slight reddish light was beginning to appear in the distance, became suddenly illuminated in the spots where the headlights hit, showing there was a clear, distinct world around them beyond their hands and their lips.

She started driving, and Spencer wrapped herself up under Emily's coat.

"Spence…", Emily called while she drove trying to follow Spencer's indications to get to the main road.

"Yeah?" Her voice sounded sleepy.

Emily stopped the car for a moment.

"I'm not creative with language, thankfully enough", she started, and even though it sounded as if she wanted to keep a joking, casual tone, it was clear she was trying to say something important. "I can't say one single thing about you. There are just too many things and I can't put them all in a single word." She took a pause to let her tongue form all the things that rushed through her mind. "It's the way you get mad when you don't eat and the way you raise up your hand in every class and the way you talk out the corner of your mouth when you're thinking, and how you get these pink stains in your neck when you're turned on, which, by the way, I have to say it's a huge turn-on for me, and the way your lower lip is always kinda saying something on its own, and..."

"Shut up", Spencer commanded, low and a little shaky.

Emily obeyed, feeling awfully shy all of a sudden. Maybe she had said too much.

"Unless you want me to start having sex with you right now, shut up", Spencer mumbled, clarifying what she had meant. "You don't need to say anything."

She got out of the coat, which was acting as a blanket, and approached the driver's seat again, where she took Emily's face in hers and kissed her mouth with undisguised passion. The kiss transformed slowly into a embrace, and the embrace into yet another lingering, locked gaze. Then Spencer decided to be sensible and returned to her seat, where she covered her body with the coat once more. Emily slowly started to accelerate, and they reached the main road in silence.

The snore of the engine was making Spencer sleepy while Emily drove home to the Marins'. From time to time Spencer could feel Emily's hand searching for hers under the coat, or her eyes watching her to check she was all right, or just her regular, soft breathing in the next seat, just like she had heard it on their way here. It was Friday already. Not a week had passed since Emily had kissed her while they watched another day breaking in. Not a week had passed, and now she knew she was in love.

Chapter Text

"But how could this happen?"

Hanna was sitting on a table outside with the rest of the girls, scowling at Emily in particular. It was a beautiful day, sunny and bright for the first time in two weeks.

"I told you already."

Emily had told her while she rapidly showered and changed and again while they rapidly drove to school. They had been late by five minutes. Spencer had gotten there even later. Now they were all sitting outside in between classes, summoned by Emily to face the trouble with Hanna together. The truth was that Hanna had not adjusted badly to the news. She was a little surprised, but also relieved A was not doing something terrible to both of them. However, the moment she was informed she was the last one to know, the world turned into flames and lightning and narrowed eyes and generally apocalyptic rivers overbursting in blood.

"No, I don't mean how you two made out and did not tell me at all even though I asked both of you", Hanna responded, sarcastic but mainly hurt. "I mean how Aria knew about this before me, when she's totally clueless about everything else."

"Hey!", Aria protested.

"Shut up", Hanna retorted, still looking at Emily. "It's my turn to be heard."

Emily gave a brief, I-told-you-this-was-gonna-happen glance to Spencer.

"I… That's Spencer's doing."

Emily decided to share the blame, and Spencer returned another brief, thank-you-for-that glance.

"It's actually your doing too", Aria cut in, looking at Emily, who was sitting by her side. "You sent me to her. And I'm gonna kill you, by the way. I had to lie to my parents."

"Like that's a big deal", Emily replied, almost too sharply for her taste, which gained her an admired glance by Spencer.

However, Hanna's eyes turned even narrower and more accusatory.

"You sent her where?"

Emily had not yet explained that part of the story to Hanna, so she was, again, clueless. And being clueless was something Hanna didn't take well.

"Em basically used me as a substitute babysitter so I would go take care of Spencer because they had made out and then they had a huge fight", Aria explained to Hanna.

"You told her every detail?", Emily shot back at Spencer.

"Not… really", Spencer replied.

"She didn't get into the real juicy stuff", Aria explained to Emily, back to her candid self. "I was totally on your side, by the way."

"What side?" Now it was Emily who didn't understand what they were talking about.

"It wasn't about choosing sides, Aria", Spencer warned Aria. Then she looked at Emily a little sheepishly. "She gave me some advice on the situation."

"Good advice", Aria said, full of pride. "And I was totally on her side."

Emily smiled at Aria, but then looked back at Spencer.

"So there were sides, huh?", she asked, a little intrigued about that part of the conversation between Aria and Spencer.

"No, there weren't", Spencer replied, shooting a quick dirty look at Aria before concentrating on Emily again.

"Yes, there were", Aria said, happily. "But Spencer was on your side too, like...totally, definitely, wholeheartedly hotly on your side. I didn't have to say much to prove it to her."

Emily nodded, thinking she would have to ask for more details later.

"HELLO?" Hanna's call was heard around the walls of the school, and you could see the flames coming out of her greenish, bluish eyes. "I'm still here, and you're still ignoring me."

They all turned to look at her again. The sun was shining, but Hanna was going to unleash a tempest if they didn't make her the center of their attention.

"I could've offered you guys some good advice too." Instead of shouting again, she complained.

She had proved to them she was good at that, in other occasions. She could understand why Spencer had not accepted her help, but Emily could at least have told her about her little fling with Spencer. She had not seen this one coming.

"Yeah, I know", Emily said, and reached her hand through the table.

They all stayed in silence for a second, and Spencer and Emily exchanged another quick, meaningful glance. Hanna was a little hurt, but it wasn't that bad. She would get over it soon enough.

Hanna reclined against the bench and took a general look of them, as if to agree with their impression.

"So I guess this means I was right about the gay wardrobe thing", she shot, acid rust directed at Spencer for the first time. Up until now all her complaints had been mainly for Emily.

"What gay wardrobe thing?", Aria asked, missing the point.

"This is an old argument of us", Spencer dismissed with her hand, even though the argument was not that old. "And no, it still doesn't mean you were right."

"You're in no position to say anymore. You're gay now and you're wearing gay clothes."

"I am not." Then Spencer watched Emily out of the corner of her eye and rephrased. "I am not wearing gay clothes. No one is."

"What are you guys even talking about?", Aria asked again.

Hanna looked at Aria, satisfied with herself because she had managed to package the ignorance back to Aria, with a cute ribbon and an extra punch directed to Spencer.

"Don't you think Spencer's always looked kinda gay? Maybe not today, she's probably trying to overcompensate."

Spencer rolled her eyes. She was wearing a skirt and a blouse with a burgundy vest. She was actually so sleepy this morning when she chose her outfit for the day that she didn't even know if the colours matched correctly. Hanna's comment might mean she had actually picked them right. Or maybe not. Her logic did not make any sense whatsoever.

"No…", Aria answered, trying to think about the implications of whatever Hanna was saying. "Although I wasn't completely surprised, to tell you the truth."

"Oh, come on. Are you also talking about my clothes?"

"No, not about your clothes", Aria laughed. She had always believed Spencer had great taste, and she didn't really see the gay connection. Perhaps Hanna could explain it further to her, although she'd probably regret it if she asked for a clarification. Anyways, she had another theory about Spencer. "But, if you think of it, you could see this thing coming."

Aria looked thoughtful and dreamy when she said that, and the other three immediately showed their interest.

"You could?", Spencer asked, puzzled. She was the most interested of all. "You mean like… for a long time?"

If so, why had no one told her so? That was the big question she was asking herself these days.

"Well, you always had a thing for Emily."

"I did?", she asked, again. "Did everybody know I had a thing for Emily but me?"

"I also knew you had a thing for Emily", Emily herself smirked.

Emily had remained silent with all the gay-clothing argument that she really didn't want to pick up on, but she decided this was the moment to speak again. And it was kind of funny to hear Aria say that.

"You don't count", Spencer cutely smirked back.

Actually, if everybody knew she had a thing for Emily, this confirmed all her suspicions that she was an idiot. She had always known she cared deeply for Emily, but she never suspected it could actually go as far as it was going right now. As far as the sky, or maybe, possibly beyond that, into the outer space where there was no oxygen, only hydrogen and helium. She tried to recall the different layers that composed the atmosphere.

"Well, I didn't know it was a thing-thing", Aria spoke again, trying to explain her words and interrupting Spencer's meditations. "I just knew she was kinda special."

"I always thought you were into guys", Hanna deadpanned, shrugging her shoulders. "I guess I was wrong."

"She was into guys", Emily asserted, confidently. "And now she's into me."

She smirked again, looking at Spencer for a second, who returned her glance with a sweet smile. Yes, that was the truth.

"I am", Spencer voiced her agreement, and her cheeks got slightly pink.

She didn't know if it was the sun or something else, but she could swear Emily was glowing today.

"Oh, god, no", Hanna begged, overacting her horror a little. "You can't do this to me. Is this how it's gonna be from now on? Because if it is, I'm out!"

"What do you mean you're out?", Spencer shot back. "You can't be out. You're not even in." 

"I can be out. I am gonna be out if you guys keep doing that." Hanna looked again straight at Emily. "You can't do that, you can't make her believe she's right every time. She's scary enough already."

"Hey!" It was Spencer who protested now. It wasn't the first time she was called scary and there was no reason for it right now.

"I'm not gonna make her believe she's right if she's not right, Han", Emily reassured her. "It's okay."

"Well, you better not", Hanna warned. "And stop looking at each other like that. It's like… watching porn or something."

Only Aria laughed at Hanna's comment. It was, indeed, a little awkward to see the changes, although she thought they were totally cute and not exactly porny. Not that she knew what watching porn felt like, but she could imagine. Still, it did feel like sometimes they were intruding in a private room or something.

Spencer, however, blushed now deeply, her skin becoming more of an intense red than pink, while Emily remained her usual silent, sphinx self, taking a bite of her cereal candy bar.

"So… what are we gonna do tonight?", Hanna asked, glad she had imposed silence and respect.

"Spencer and I are going on our first date", Emily replied, sunny like the day.

She had to steal a glance to Spencer, obviously. She knew Hanna was joking about the porny glances. But Spencer was still reddish with embarrassment and did not return the gaze.

"See? This is what I'm talking about", Hanna retorted. "The world is turning upside down, and I'm not even having fun out of it."

This meant she had no plans for tonight. Caleb was in California, Aria was probably shutting herself up in Mr. Fitz's apartment-prison, and now these two were going out together. Her Friday nights were over. Maybe her Saturdays nights too. Mona was again her only chance at teenage night life.

"What the hell are you saying?", Spencer asked, a little annoyed. "I hope you understand people need to be alone when they're dating."

Hanna completely ignored Spencer this time.

"Aria, we have to do something about this." She directed her efforts to convince Aria. "They're taking the power. We're never gonna be able to say or do a thing again. They'll agree with each other and they'll always make us go to their things. That is, when they wanna do something with us. The rest of the time we'll be on our own, flying free."

"Something like what?", Aria asked.

She didn't really understand Hanna's point, although she did get the powerful couple menace.

"I don't know." Hanna looked as if she was thinking about it just now. "Hang out on our own? Make out with each other?"

Aria burst out in laughter.

"Don't count on me. I'm seeing Ezra tonight. And I'm making out with him", Aria answered, hoping that was still a possibility. It was always so complicated for them. "And, trust me, if I were going to make out with someone in this group, it'd be Em. She obviously knows how to do it."

Now it was Hanna who grinned cheekily, especially after checking Spencer out, almost choking on her coffee.

It was Emily's turn to blush. She guessed she'd have to get used to a lot of these jokes now.

"You're right, Aria." Hanna had found a goldmine to take her power back. "Maybe we should all kiss Emily. Maybe Emily's the key to gayness. Maybe Emily's the ultimate worldwide gay convertor." She looked directly at Emily now, but her real attention was on Spencer. "What do you think, Em? Just a little one. I promise I'm pretty good at it."

"Not gonna happen", Emily said, still blushing. But something about Hanna's wicked smile got to her. She knew she was after Spencer's reaction, and that wouldn't hurt to see, right? "I'm not kissing anybody else in this group, it takes too much trouble."

Spencer, who was sitting across from her, shot her a furious look.

"I hope that's not the only reason", she grunted.

Emily smiled sweetly, reassuringly to her but, now that Hanna got what she wanted, she turned to Spencer again.

It was Aria who spoke before Hanna could form the bullet in her tongue, though.

"Whoa, Spence, I didn't know you were so territorial."

Spencer gave her an icy look.

"I'm not territorial. And it's your fault."

"She clearly had no one to be territorial about", Hanna retorted, another bullet in her pocket. "You can continue to pee around Emily now, please."

This time Spencer sent a death glare to Hanna that made the blonde shut up for a second. She didn't want Toby anymore, but she still cared about him and didn't like the sound of the joke. And, besides, she wasn't peeing around Emily. She knew they were picking on her. Including Emily, apparently.

She coldly sipped her coffee again, which was, indeed, already cold. Then she lifted her eyes and they met Emily's: she was looking at her, warm and a little intrigued. The moment their eyes crossed, Spencer's heart melted in a sea of love and want. Friday night was ahead of them. Friday night was waiting, only some more hours to get there.

"Where are we gonna go tonight?", she asked Emily, as if Hanna and Aria had suddenly disappeared.

"I don't know. What do you wanna do?"

They heard Hanna snort.

"Not again!"

"You're gonna have to get used to it, Han", Spencer warned, looking more relaxed now.

"Yeah, I guess", Hanna gave in. "I'd find it cute if it weren't because you totally decided to ignore my feelings. So now I'm just gonna keep saying it's wrong and awkward."

Spencer gave all of them a crooked smile.

"You can say whatever you want, I won't listen to you."

"Oh, big news. You just made my life miserable. I think I'm gonna take a sec to go slit my wrists."

Spencer laughed at that. It was good to play back and forth with Hanna.

"So what are you guys doing tonight?", Aria asked, back to the Friday night date topic.

"We don't know yet", Spencer replied. "Em thinks we've already done everything."

"I didn't say that exactly."

"I hope you haven't actually done everything", Hanna teased them again. "Although you did spend the whole night out. You had time for that and also for more."

"Hanna…", Emily started, blushing again.

The memories of the night spent in Hanna's front and then in Spencer's car were too vivid for her, and they immediately formed a knot of excitement in her stomach.

"You'll be the first one to know when that happens, Han", Spencer grinned, picking up on Hanna's joke.

"I wonder why I don't believe you."

"It's a promise."

"Oh, no, it's not", Emily jumped. She wasn't going to reveal intimate aspects of their love life as if they were the national news. But Hanna shot her a dirty look now, so she blushed more intensely and then decided to be a little kinder to her. "You'll find out after we do."

She still wasn't going to publish the news like that, but… why was she even thinking about this? They were only joking about it.

Spencer was the one who was looking at her right now, her eyes tired but bright and a half smile on her lips.

"I think we should go back to class", Aria said, lazily. The sun was warming their skin and it felt better to be out than to return to class.

"I'm gonna take more time out in the sun, but thanks for the information", Hanna replied, reclining in the bench to let the sun wash her face.

"Spencer?", Aria called, thinking that was the only person who could actually move them out of there.

"Hmmmm, yeah, I guess we should go."

She wasn't in the mood, but she had arrived late to her Trigonometry class, and she was already a little behind on some of her AP classes. So she moved a little, then stopped to look at Emily.

"You coming?"

"I'm staying with Hanna. Still got 5 minutes."

"Okay", Spencer looked warmly at her. "So I'll see you later? Lunch?"

"Yeah, I'll be right there."

"We can discuss where we're gonna go."

"Yeah."

Emily actually had an idea. Sometime ago Samara had told her about a French bistro downtown which was kind of cheap and very cute. Since she had never gone there with anyone, and since Spencer didn't seem to hate Samara that much, she figured there'd be no problem to propose that plan. They needed to do something relaxing, but not as relaxing as to fall asleep. And Spencer did love French food and everything French in general.

Spencer didn't want to move yet, but Aria coughed a little uncomfortably, while Hanna ostensibly looked away not to interfere with their moment. So she took Emily's hand in hers and squeezed it, a little shy to do something else. Emily smiled sweetly, and they intertwined their fingers for a second. Then Spencer stood up, picked up all of her things and looked at Hanna too.

"Can we look at you now?", Hanna asked, her whole body turned in the opposite direction. "Or is it gonna be really awkward?" 

"It's gonna be really awkward and porny, so just stay like that for a while", Spencer said, laughing, so Hanna would obviously have to look back at them.

"Haha, funny girl", Hanna said, once she had indeed looked back, only to find Spencer standing up ready to go.

They exchanged one last glance and then Spencer walked away with Aria.

Emily stayed there, enjoying the sun on her skin and letting her mind dreamily wander around the things they had said and done. She knew Spencer had said it was not a problem to engage in public displays of affection, but Emily still wanted to do it discreetly, not only because she was a discreet person but also because she thought Spencer herself would feel more comfortable taking things one step at a time. One thing was to say it wasn't a problem, and another thing was to act on it. Spencer tended to be reckless and extreme, but Emily was pretty convinced she was also shy about this, still adjusting to the new situation; she just had to count the times Spencer had deliciously blushed during the conversation. So Emily decided she would manage the rhythm and control the pace they were going to deploy when it came to public demonstrations, especially at school or near the Hastings' house.

On a certain level, she felt she had to carry the lead, and she was happy to do it. She was even happier Spencer was going to let her do it.

On yet another level, she would have to work on Spencer's insecurities. She felt like Spencer had opened up to her in such a way that now she had to use a extreme delicacy in every little thing she did, not to shatter her, not to crash her. Spencer was used to being the tough, adrenaline-driven leader of the group, but there was also a special frailty to her that Emily had somehow suspected and even acknowledged before, but about which she had never, obviously, felt so responsible. But now it was up to her to take that on and to care for it. It was her job, her task, her mission, and wasn't that a mission she indeed wanted to carry on. It gave her strength, a kind of happiness she had never felt before.

She was thinking about this when her phone beeped, disrupting the sun and the quiet evolution of her thoughts. She knew who it would be. This time there was no space for doubt in her mind, so she opened her eyes and faced Hanna's sudden look of concern. It was a text from A, the one she'd been expecting since Spencer got hers. It was only natural it had come now. It had to come now, on a sunny, quiet, happy day. On Victory Day.

"Poor little Em: once fool, always fool. She'the heartbreaker, not you. – A"

An instant pang of pain and guilt spread out from her heart to the surrounding nerves and muscles of her chest, and she tried to fight it with the certainty and the confidence she felt in her and in Spencer's feelings. Still, knowing that their intimacy was violated like this, once again attacking the core of her own weaknesses, her self-doubt, her past foolishness and cowardice, was already painful in itself. Expected, but still painful. Her lips turned into a grimace of disgust, and Hanna automatically took the phone from her hand and read the message. Then she looked at her with a mixture of warmth and rage.

"It's a bluff", she said as the only possible comment.

"I know."

Emily knew A was bluffing, but who could say it was not yet another bluff that was basically trying to destroy a good thing from the inside of it.

Hanna seemed to read her mind, because she sat closer to her and spoke again.

"You can't let A get into your head, Em, you know that."

Emily didn't say anything. Sometimes it seemed A was not outside, spying on them, but inside their heads, so how could they keep her/him/it from getting into it if its voice was already there?

"I'm not saying A's not gonna try something really bad on you guys now", Hanna tried again. "We all know it's gonna happen. But this text… this is just bluffing. This is nothing."

Emily looked directly into Hanna's eyes.

"I know it's a bluff. It's a bluff right now."

"But you're worried it might get real later?"

She didn't say anything again. She hated her own doubts, which so easily ate her away. Brave Emily was still a second away from turning into frightened Emily, the loser. But no, it was stupid; Spencer had the same doubts and the same fears, even if she expressed them differently. If there was a thing she had learned from Spencer yesterday, or rather some hours ago, that was it; along with how good, how absolutely good they were together when they were together, how precious their thing was when they had it only on their hands.

"No", she said. "It's just rain on a good day."

"So don't let it", Hanna agreed, and put her arm around Emily's shoulders.

They remained like that for a while, even though the bell had rung already and Emily should not skip more classes.

"Is everything gonna change now?", Hanna asked abruptly, after some minutes. "Like… are you gonna move to the Hastings' and we're not gonna hang out and stuff?"

Emily looked at her with a mocking expression.

"Seriously? I love living with you and your mom", Emily assured. "And, besides, the Hastings are scary."

"Well, their daughter's scary too", Hanna joked, "and you're dating her now." 

Emily laughed at Hanna's comment.

"That's different. Their daughter's…", she trailed off. Their daughter was the craziest, most beautiful, precious treasure she had unearthed in the world. "It's different."

She couldn't say more, but Hanna sent her an understanding look.

"So I guess you do have a type now. And it's our boss the Nerd."

"Our boss the nerd." She had to smile when she heard that. "Yeah, I guess so."

They spent some more minutes like that, thinking about it.

"Maybe you can actually de-nerd her a little", Hanna joked again.

"Hmmm, I don't want to. I find it totally cute. And useful too."

"Then you can de-boss her."

"I think I might be doing that already. A little."

"No shit. You're the only one who can do it."

They spread their bodies on the bench for some more minutes, the sun lazily crawling up their arms and their faces, to a point when Hanna was starting to get a red, slightly burning shade on her extremely pale skin.

"Wanna skip classes?", she asked, just to test the waters.

"I can't. I should be there now."

"Yeah. But it'd be cool to go to the mall, pick you something pretty for your date tonight."

"Good try, but you're not gonna convince me like that either."

They still didn't move, though.

"Anyway Spencer'd probably kill me if she knew I'd kidnapped her girlfriend and taken her shopping."

Her girlfriend. The sound of it still made them feel awkward, but at the same time it was right. And, more importantly, it was a fact. As in a fact of life, like the third law of thermodynamics, or the Pythagorean theorem, or the American Revolution.

"Hey, you can kidnap me whenever you want."

"You sure?"

"Yeah!"

"Let's go then!", Hanna encouraged, although she knew Emily couldn't really go.

Emily laughed quietly. She didn't want Hanna to get the feeling she was being left out. She wouldn't have made it here if it weren't for Hanna.

"Come on, let's go to class", Hanna said, finally making the decision and pushing Emily on the shoulder to force her to stand up and move.

They both stood up and walked in the sun towards the building. Once inside, each of them ran to their classes. Emily arrived, again, late. She profusely apologized and entrusted herself to the goodness of her teacher, who usually thought well of her. She wasn't normally so lazy. And, once again, she got away: her teacher adored her sweetness and removed the delay from her student profile. She was really learning to use that special ability she had.

The minutes passed slowly. She was tired after her two all-nighters and in truth the only thing she expected was the night, but not because she wanted to sleep. There was only one thing she wanted and it was to take Spencer out; or the other way around, to be taken out by Spencer. To do silly things. To say silly things. To kiss silly kisses in the car, the car she used to hate because they were uncomfortable and because they brought a memory of the times she used to make out with Ben when she was trying to pretend she could still be the straight, cutesy, little Em.

The Em she wasn't anymore, or who she was still, but who had changed. Now she was the Em who got what she wanted, because she knew what she wanted and who she wanted. And it turned out all she wanted was her full-on Spencery wildness. For the first time since she started feeling weird about the whole thing, she tried to remember how Spencer used to be before she had realized how adorable, how intense, how sexy, how funny she was. She remembered Spencer with her big dorky glasses, bonier than she was now, smaller and shorter too. Only a kid really, talkative, competitive, prone to crying when she felt defeated, but still the one who had the guts to tell Alison she wouldn't take any more of her crap while Emily was still crying in every corner over a love she did not understand or even want yet. She remembered a more recent Spencer, the one she observed from the distance after Alison's disappearance, who had grown to be stiff, the preppy Spencer Hastings everybody expected to see, a little distant, although you could tell there was still a very human passion vibrating through her cords, underneath the layer of tightness and arrogance. All that passion had been, nevertheless, unleashed when she had become the crazy detective, always frantic about a new lead in her case against A. Through it all, there had been some other thing that always remained hidden, some other pulsation that other people always missed when they were near the adventurous captain of the group, our boss the Nerd, as Hanna had called her today, the extremely physical, restless bookworm. An all too human, contradictory, beautiful light, which was what Emily had tried to express when she had actually referred to Spencer's own kind of beauty, meaning there was really no other kind, no other person like her, because she was unique, and no one was more beautiful than her in that way which combined so many flawed impulses to perfection.

It had also taken Emily some time to see it, because she had spent too much time struggling with herself, not really paying attention to anybody else; her own love for Alison had been a sign of her struggle against herself, she guessed. And, then, Alison's disappearance and death had left her alone with herself, with the person she disliked so much at that time, until she broke the shell with the help of Maya and of others, like Hanna or even Ms. Marin. Even Paige. But, when she had seen it, when she had truly seen Spencer's light and beauty, it had been a slow, progressive realization that had taken her here, to this very point of clarity, first reaching out to Toby so he would be the one to sort of share the vision, then accepting it would only belong to Toby after all, even if she did see it too, a while after that stealing the vision away from Toby, knowing, in a way, she had taken it for herself first. It had actually been a longer process than the one she had told Spencer about yesterday during their conversation. It probably had been as long as themselves: when did they start to be them? Sometimes she had felt a vague sense of thief, like she didn't really deserve it, but could still take it. That was when she took the final step and kissed her. But she only knew the reason why she had acted like that now. She had a primary right to it; a "this land is my land" sort of streak drove her. She had seen the beauty of it first, and then she had allowed others to see it too, but hers was the primordial, the original vision, and Spencer was drawn to her because she knew that too, because only Emily could see through her like that, and because she liked it, she liked it as much as Emily did. Memories of Spencer in the church, after she had run for her life, intermingled with memories of Spencer in the park, running for a soccer ball. All of those Spencers… they were hers somehow. They had always been hers somehow. And A could never do anything to stop that, because no matter how much he/she/it could get inside her head, they still belonged to her and not to A, because they had always belonged to her and not to anybody else, even when she was refusing to accept it. This land was her land. They still belonged to her, and to Spencer. Nothing could break them, nothing from outside; perhaps not even something from inside could break them. It was only up to them to find out in time.

When she got out of class, she picked up her phone, which she had put on silent mode not to be disrupted by A again, and saw she had two more texts, this time from Spencer. She'd have to remember not to put the phone on silent mode, not even because of A. Spencer never texted during class, but she seemed to be changing some habits now, because both texts were written during that hour. "Miss you": the first one read. Oh, boy. Oh, silence. Oh, everything. Emily's heart beat in her chest and in her pulse, telling her it was there and more alive than ever. She opened the second one: "Want to meet me quickie? Meaning: coffee and talk". This one was sent five minutes ago. Instead of losing her time texting back, she walked steadily to Spencer's class, to check if she was still there. When she was approaching the classroom, she saw her slim, delicate figure in the distance. She was obviously waiting although Emily had not texted back. How could that even be? She walked faster now, because Spencer could not see her coming closer; she was reading some names on a list on the wall, her fingers playfully curling around a strand of her hair. A guy crashed into Emily, apologized. A couple of her books fell to the floor, and she bent down to pick them up. That was when Spencer turned around, her long neck turning with her body, doing their ballerina dance, first a curious look on her face, then an open, clean smile when she recognized Emily retrieving the books from the floor. She started walking towards her, and Emily could swear she looked a little flustered because of the way she rocked her arms and the way her eyelashes batted a couple of times when she approached her on the floor, but maybe all she could feel was the flush in her own heart, telling her this was it. This was it. Yes, this was it, no doubt about it.

All this time she had been waiting for this moment. Here and now, and only for her, only for them.

 END

Chapter Text

"Bye, mom!"

Spencer shouted her goodbye, closing the front door with a bang. They were already late for the movie. The light of sunset was extinguishing the day, orange sparkles in a darker blue sky.

Emily was leaning on the driver's door of her own car, looking down at her phone while she waited for Spencer in the Hastings' driveway, but she lifted her eyes the moment she heard the noise of the front door banging closed. Spencer walked steadily to the car, taking long steps with her long legs. She had changed a couple of times, indecisive about what to wear. This kind of changing weather always made her confused. Summer was slowly approaching, but they still needed to wear jackets because the weather tended to get treacherous during the night. At the end she had gone for a cute striped blouse with a belt and black leggings, but was insecure about getting a jacket or a coat, and Emily was already waiting outside. She had peeked out of the window of the living room to take a look at her and see what kind of clothes she was wearing: skinny jeans, red loose shirt, and her denim jacket. Good, so it seemed they matched, more or less; not like that one time right at the beginning when Emily decided to wear this really cute dress and Spencer decided they were going to a totally casual dinner and they both looked like they were going to completely different places. It had been Emily's fault, really; she hadn't told her where they were going and had only said to dress casual, assuming that casual meant something sort of classy for Spencer; while Spencer had tried to adjust to the casual meaning of Emily and of most of the world population, including her, even if Emily didn't believe it. Luckily that had never happened again. You got all these what-to-wear problems when you were dating another girl. Anyway she picked up the jacket, then hesitated again, and ended up getting the coat. Now she'd probably get hot sometime during the evening.

Emily didn't move while Spencer approached her. She fixed her gaze on her while she walked, which was something Emily liked to do a lot since they started dating; and she did it unabashedly, immune to all exterior, worldly influence, even if Hanna snorted and made funny comments about it to try to embarrass her. It didn't work anymore; Emily was not blushing a lot lately, not even when Spencer tried. Some comments still triggered that reaction, but it was getting harder to get. Every time this fixed contemplation happened, when Emily stood still just looking at her as Spencer walked, or as Spencer talked, or as Spencer looked back at her, Spencer felt as if Emily was expecting her to magically vanish at some point, as if this was the way Emily made sure she wouldn't disappear; but Spencer wasn't going to disappear; she wouldn't, for her own sake. She was having the time of her life now. At the same time, there was something terribly sexy about being watched like that, and it made Spencer feel all sorts of little earthquakes inside. They were like two bodies entering a magnetic field. Thus, she always took her time when she felt Emily's eyes on her. She was learning to be so patient, she felt like she could actually stretch the moment the same way she stretched her muscles before training, slowly getting them to the point where she wanted them to be, the motioning, approaching touch when they would finally get as close as to completely miss the general picture and get only fractions of it, mainly fingertips and breath, when the sense of sight would finally lose the battle to all of the other senses. That was how she felt every time.

But right now they were late for the movie, so they should be getting inside the car and driving already instead of contemplating each other while they grew closer.

"Don't rush, we're late anyway", Emily warned when Spencer was almost there in a trot.

She slowed down a little and stopped in front of Emily, who advanced a couple of steps and kissed her briefly on the lips. She never really kissed her at her house when another member of her family was there. And they had been dating for almost a month already. Her parents knew about it. But still Emily couldn't bring herself to greet her like she would actually greet her whenever they got out of her house: with a big kiss, or a kiss to her neck, or any other embrace that involved a lot of more contact. In front of her parents she just acted like an invisible nun; she was visible because she was actually too beautiful not to be seen, but her wish was to go completely unnoticed. It was even hard to bring her in to actually say hello to them, which was weird because Emily had always been so polite and nice with everybody, and she knew her parents since she was a kid. But she seemed to have this idea that now she was a gay corrupter and had to prove herself reliable again.

"So we're not going to the movie?", Spencer asked, taking Emily's hand in hers as a greeting. If there was no big kiss, at least there'd be hand holding.

She actually wasn't in the mood for a movie tonight. It was a special night for her, because next weekend Emily was flying to Texas to see her parents and they were going to separate for the first time.

"We're gonna be late", Emily announced, assuming they would not make it.

"It took me a while to decide what to wear", Spencer admitted, "and my mom's there so I lost some time asking her about it."

Her mother had not really helped. She said she looked fine with everything and then said she should get the coat.

"You're gonna get hot with this coat", Emily said, grabbing her by the sleeve.

"You think I should go back and get the jacket?"

Emily looked at her as if this required a lot of patience on her part.

"No, right?", Spencer guessed.

Emily smiled widely, her teeth slightly showing. Spencer had always been a very punctual kind of girl, but lately she seemed to be more obsessed about what to wear than about being on time. It was the second time they were running late for something. It didn't matter that much, anyway. It wasn't a big plan or anything.

"Go get it if you want", Emily said, trying to play nice.

"No, I'll just wear this", Spencer replied, raising her eyebrow at her. "I can tell you're gonna strangle me if I go inside again."

"I'd never strangle you. I'm planning other things for you."

Spencer flashed a crooked, playful smile.

"And I bet you're not doing any of them until we get out of here", she said, while she walked to the passenger's side.

They got inside the car and Emily sat there for a second, thinking about where to go now that they wouldn't make it to the movie. Spencer looked at herself in the mirror to the passenger's side, checking her makeup, and turned her head to look at Emily when she realized she had not started the car yet.

"Where do we go?", Emily asked, her mind suddenly blank.

"Wherever", Spencer answered. "Just take me out so we can kiss properly."

Emily laughed, took a second to think about what Spencer had said, actually considering if she should kiss her properly right now, and then decided against it. She still felt too shy when the Hastings were around.

Instead, she started the car and took the road.

"You know, at some point you're gonna have to start acting normal in front of my parents", Spencer told her, while she observed her driving.

She wondered where they would go now. Should she let Emily make the decision?

"I'm acting normal", Emily defended herself. "I'm just not kissing you in front of them. I think that's pretty normal."

"You don't have to be afraid of them. They know you, they like you. You're not a stranger to them."

She had already told Emily this, but there was nothing wrong with insisting until she could leave a permanent mark on her mind.

"It's not the same thing to know and like me now."

"Yeah, because you've made me gay, you're the big bad gay wolf", Spencer said as if she was repeating a motto, thick sarcasm in her words. They had already had this discussion. "Look, I'm not saying my parents are great, but at least they're not homophobic. That's the one good thing about them, so… let's just try to use it in our favour."

It wasn't the first time she had told Emily this either. But she really believed they should use that to their advantage. It was definitely more difficult to use that when it came to Emily's parents.

Emily watched Spencer out of the corner of her eye.

"I'm thankful they're not homophobic." She was thankful for that and for the fact that they weren't home that much. "But they're still getting used to the idea."

Spencer's parents were always nice to her. They still were. But she could tell there was this awkward vibe, especially when her father was around. They seemed to believe this was another of their daughter's whimsical shots at what they considered rebellion. Like she had decided to go from a boyfriend who was the number one scapegoat in Rosewood to a girlfriend who was the number one lesbian in the blink of an eye.

"And they'll get used to it faster if they see you around", Spencer argued.

She knew she was right. Emily knew she was right. It was just a matter of time: Emily would have to actually start to behave naturally when it came to this so they could be… freer. Freer than they already were whenever there were no Hastings around. But Spencer still wanted to be freer, as free as she could get.

Emily stopped at a traffic light and turned towards Spencer, a mischievous spark in her eyes that Spencer had learned to recognize as the way Emily had of saying certain things to her while other words came out of her mouth.

"Sign me in for the next family reunion", she said this time, pretending to continue the conversation, although it was clear that, for the moment, it was over. "I'll be the perfect gay swimmer."

She had this idea that the only thing the Hastings would value about her were her abilities as a swimmer and potential athlete. It was actually her one true shot to get into a good college, thus to get a good education, thus to have a life.

"Shut up."

Spencer took advantage of the red light and leaned over to her left to finally get her big kiss. Emily was already waiting for her, so she grabbed her by the shoulders and they started to kiss as properly as possible. They would have liked it to last longer, but the light turned green and the car behind them hooted at them. They got that a lot, anyway. Every time they stopped to kiss in the car or in the street there was some guy blowing the horn at them. Spencer had already stopped jumping at the sound. At the beginning, when it started to happen, she had just wanted to kill all these people.

They finally decided to meet Aria for dinner at a local grill restaurant. Aria was spending the rest of the evening with Ezra, but she had no plans for dinner and they all went there. Hanna was with Caleb tonight. After dinner, Aria headed for Ezra's apartment and they drove around until Spencer decided she was sick of driving around without a purpose and proposed a place in the forest where Emily didn't really like to go – because Spencer used to go there with Toby – but that provided a nice, isolated place to talk, and kiss, and touch without being hooted or stared at. Emily finally gave in and they ended up there. A nice little manipulation about how they were not going to see each other next weekend sufficed.

The night was actually proving to be warm, almost summery. Spencer left the coat inside the car, slammed the door shut and turned around to put her arms around Emily's neck, pulling her closer for a really big, lasting kiss, the one they deserved to have after a couple of hours, the one she was long due. Thank god her good sense still prevailed from time to time. She loved how Emily had really clear ideas about what she wanted to do or where, and how, and when, and she especially loved how good she was at doing everything when she did it her way, but sometimes Spencer had to lead the way and do her natural thing if they didn't want to grow old waiting for Emily to find the perfect, secret place that no one had ever set a foot on so they could completely inaugurate it with their marvelous presence. Going to a place she used to go with Toby might not seem very tactful, but it was practical. And they needed to be practical. Especially when there were parents at both their houses tonight. Especially when next weekend they would not get a chance to see or touch each other. Especially when Spencer had a court hearing the week after that, and no one knew for sure what would come out of it.

So Spencer won this time. She didn't get to win that much lately. But it felt like a big, good, tasty win, because it gained her the kiss she had been hoping for, in the fairly deserted area they needed to do it as it should be done.

And it should always be done like this. Fingertips, and breath, and tongue; darkness, and warmth, a slow, breezy touch on their faces and their arms. The night was as warm as their embrace, so it was actually the first time they could make out outside of the car. It was like a rite of passage, another one for them: they had tried the car, each of their bedrooms, several restrooms in town; as well as other secret places at their houses or the school where they could take their lips and their hands a little bit further away, sometimes perhaps too far, but never far enough, in Spencer's point of view. Emily enjoyed torturing her with a really slow pace. But this was the first time they could kiss under the moon and the stars. The sound of other cars in the road was distant, as distant as the light of the apartment houses they could see below them, and Spencer wondered how it would be for them during the summer, a whole universe of skirts, and shorts, and sleeveless shirts and bikinis opening up to them, and sweat, and air-conditioning, and cold watered showers, and late week nights included. Just the thought of it made her feel a mixture of nervousness and needy anticipation. If she could just be all right for the summer. If the court hearing went well for her.

Emily pressed her body a little against her, and Spencer felt the door handle stick on her lower back. She moved over a little to the right, gently grabbing Emily to accompany her in the movement. They moved like two dancers, not stopping the long kiss except when one of them needed to breathe or to take a look at the other; the time for hitting their heads – or rather, Spencer's head – was over. They weren't clumsy anymore. They weren't impatient anymore. Well, Spencer was a little impatient, but it was all part of the game. It was all for the sake of lust. They needed no words, no signs. Just the necessary ones. Sometimes they did discuss one term or the other, but everything was quite self-explanatory as it went along. The same way it was going along right now, when Emily slowly undid Spencer's belt, tightly fitted around her waist, in order to reach the blouse and then her skin. Even though Spencer was the one who insisted on doing this tonight by the light of the moon, taking advantage of the weather, it was also at this precise moment that Spencer realized tonight would just not be enough for them. They would still need another night. And another one, before Emily had to leave on Friday. Maybe during the week they could sneak out with Hannah's help, or maybe Spencer could sneak Emily in her house if her parents left for Philly before Friday. But they needed at least another night; they needed to sleep for a whole night together before Emily left. She just couldn't get enough with this one, light of the moon and all. She was still a Hastings. She always needed to get prepared for the next one, which would always be better, and longer, and fuller.

Emily was already halfway with Spencer's blouse when she stopped to look into her eyes for a second. She still did all this starting and stopping, sometimes as a game and sometimes to search for different signs in Spencer's responses to her moves and her touches. This time she looked at her for a brief moment and then kissed her so sweetly that Spencer felt her knees tremble and weaken, she didn't know why; it wasn't like it was the first time they were kissing like this. When Emily separated a little and looked down to continue working through her blouse, Spencer followed Emily's mouth with her eyes and then with her own mouth, but instead of kissing her again, she decided to speak.

"I'm really, really gonna miss you during the weekend."

Emily lifted her eyes to her again, a playful smile on her lips.

"It's only two days, if you count them. I'll be back on Sunday night."

"Yeah, I know."

It was actually two days and a half, but she got the idea. A rather fast trip, to tell the truth. The Fields were not so happy about it, but Emily had the excuse of not missing any more classes and exams.

Still, it was the first weekend they were not going to spend together.

"You'll be fine", Emily said, but a slight flash of concern showed in her eyes.

"It's your fault. You cast a spell on me and now you're irreplaceable."

"You should have thought about it when you enacted your see-each-other-every-day dating rule", Emily joked.

"I thought about it, and I still prefer it that way", Spencer replied. "Anyways I didn't know you could be so addictive at the time."

"Addictive?", Emily smiled. That was how she always thought of Spencer: as an addictive kind of person. "Did you know I'm illegal in three states?"

"No kidding", Spencer complained, but then took Emily by the lapels of her jacket to get her even closer. "I wish Texas was one of them."

They started to kiss again, but Emily suddenly felt a little anxious. She had offered Spencer the chance to come with her to Texas, but as much as Spencer was pushing her to be more open in front of the Hastings, she was terrorized of Emily's parents. She wouldn't really admit to it, but she was. Emily couldn't really blame her. All parents were scary, except for Hanna's mom. Aria's parents were not so bad, either. Although she might get another idea if she were dating Aria. Or if she were Mr. Fitz, which she weren't, thank god, because it was enough to be herself, and anyway she was incredibly happy with the lot she'd been given in life, who was kissing her neck right now.

Or maybe it was because of her mom. Her mom had gotten much better, but she was still the woman who sent Maya to Juvie Camp because she smoke weed (and because she was kissing her straight daughter). Spencer Hastings did not smoke weed (yet) and was as close to perfection as you could get in Rosewood, save the police investigation on Alison's murder and Dr. Sullivan's disappearance, but she did know Emily's parents were difficult to please in the homosexual department.

So they agreed Spencer would visit during the summer, but not this weekend.

And then there was the other thing: the hearing. Spencer was probably worried about that too.

"I'll call Aria to keep you company", Emily blurted those words out while she was still thinking about them.

"You can't call Aria every time I'm gonna get lonely."

Emily didn't like the idea of Spencer getting lonely at all. She would call Aria.

"Why not?", she insisted. "She loves hanging out with you."

"Because she doesn't like being used for that", Spencer clarified. "And because I can be on my own while I wait for you to come back. I'm just really gonna miss you. It's no big deal."

They inspected each other's faces. Emily's frown, which had formed while she was thinking about the prospect of sending Aria to reduce Spencer's loneliness, increased a little.

"I'll call her anyway."

She wouldn't let Spencer spend the whole weekend on her own. Not when the court hearing was so close in time. Damn her parents' choice of dates for visiting.

And if Aria wasn't willing to do it – which she would be, Emily was sure – she would tell Hanna to pay Spencer a visit.

Spencer grabbed and at the same time shook Emily a little by the neck, as if she was the one who would strangle her.

"And I'll tell her not to come", Spencer counterattacked. She'd be fine. She didn't need a babysitter. She just needed Emily, so she'd just keep herself busy while waiting for her return. "I'm just pissed because my parents won't be home. We could have the whole weekend for us."

Emily let her weight lean a little on Spencer's lighter body, a playful tease when she heard about the weekend for us. But she didn't really buy that was the only reason why Spencer was complaining.

"There'll be more chances." She could have added: to sleep together. To spend the whole night making out. To have sex. But she didn't say any.

"Not if I go to jail."

That was it: the real concern.

"You're not going to jail", Emily firmly asserted, although her heart clenched with panic.

"We don't know that for sure."

"I know for sure." Emily was deadly serious now, and she separated her body a little to have direct eye contact with Spencer. "You haven't done anything."

Like that was important in Rosewood.

Still, she couldn't believe it would happen: A was pushing things to their limits, but would surely release the tension before sending Spencer to jail. How was A going to play his/her/its game without Spencer Hastings in it? Spencer was the queen, the most useful and movable piece on the chessboard.

Spencer sent a look that said now she understood she was the one who had to calm Emily down.

"Hey, it'll be okay", Spencer said, fingers intertwined. "My dad can bail me out."

"You're not gonna need bail", Emily croaked out, a little vehemently. "I'm… Nothing's gonna happen."

"Yeah, I know."

Spencer didn't really know. But she was sure they could all find a way out.

"I'll kill A if something happens to you", Emily threatened, sternly.

There was no way Spencer was going to jail. She might lack the leading qualities, but if Spencer was sent to jail Emily would personally make sure for once and for all that A would not get out of Rosewood alive.

You didn't need to lead a group to hunt down a person, or whatever A was, and kill him, her, or it.

"You don't know who A is", Spencer told her, and her tone was mocking now. She didn't want Emily to freak out about this.

"Then I'll kill someone else and I'll go to jail too."

Spencer chuckled at Emily's comment. Emily was so stern sometimes. At least she had managed to reduce the tension.

"I like that better", Spencer said quietly. "So who're you gonna kill?"

Somehow she couldn't see Emily harming anyone at all. Maybe A. But they didn't know who A was.

"I've got a couple of potential victims", Emily answered, light-hearted again.

"Like?"

"Not gonna tell you."

"Why not?" How could she possibly not tell her?

"They're gonna be my victims, not yours", Emily warned her, teasingly. "You think you always have to do everything."

"Oh, but killing someone is your thing."

"Exactly."

They laughed at each other's silliness, when this topic was actually so serious that it could still make them really scared; desperate, even, if things took a turn for the worse, if things got out of hand as sometimes they seemed they would.

Emily reached Spencer's chin with her hand.

"Nothing's gonna happen, Spencer", Emily said, serious again. "I'm not letting you go to jail."

She would really kill someone if they sent Spencer to jail.

"Yeah, I know", Spencer answered, and pulled Emily closer for a brief kiss. "You've got my back."

They leaned in for a longer, humid kiss.

When they broke it, Emily pulled away a little to check Spencer's state of mind. Instead of finding a serious or a sexy Spencer, she was surprised to find her smiling, a cute, twisted grin on her lips.

"What?"

Somehow she suspected the joke was on her.

"Nothing", Spencer answered, still smiling. "It's just that I remembered something you said once."

"What did I say once?"

She didn't say that many memorable quotes, she believed.

"You said you'd always have my back", Spencer grinned now more widely, amused at the memory. "And this was before you were falling at my feet."

"I probably fell at your feet the day you were born", Emily joked, touching Spencer's earlobe with her fingers.

"That's kinda difficult, considering I'm older than you."

"Two months and a half. Big deal."

They laughed again, sparks of electricity coming out of their skin and their eyes.

"You were really funny that night."

"I'm always so funny, I can't even remember", Emily added a slightly sarcastic turn to her words.

She had no idea what Spencer was talking about.

"You don't remember because you were totally wasted", Spencer clarified.

"Wasted?"

She didn't get wasted that often.

"Yeah, you got wasted over Maya, over Alison, over whoever wasn't in love with you who wasn't me."

Emily looked at her quizzically.

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"You don't remember that night?"

She sort of remembered the night when she got wasted because Hanna took alcohol to the school dance and Maya was not being very communicative when she finally reached her on the phone after doing all kinds of shady, illegal things to get a hold of her.

She had crashed the night at Spencer's. The next morning she had gotten up feeling like total crap.

"I think I do…", she slowly said. "And I said I'd always have your back that night?"

"Yeah. Among other weird things."

"Having your back is not weird, it's just always been true", Emily reminded Spencer. She had always tried, at least. "What else did I say that was weird?"

Spencer had just remembered a couple of minutes ago.

"You said I should never fall in love." Spencer let every syllable sound in her throat, like she was repeating an enigma she had been told.

"I said that? Why?"

"I don't know, you were drunk", Spencer shrugged. "You should be the one to tell me."

"I don't know either." Emily tried to remember what she could have meant. "And you didn't ask me what I meant? What did you answer?"

"I don't really remember. I probably said something just to shut your mouth up, you were really loud that night." She laughed. Emily had been so funny."Thank god I didn't actually take your advice."

"Yeah, it was really crappy advice", Emily agreed. But then she shot Spencer a look full of intensity, and her smile changed from curious to wicked in a second. "So you didn't take it, huh?"

Spencer returned the gaze playfully, but there was also a touch of seriousness to it.

"I didn't." She took a pause and then lowered her voice until it was almost a whisper. "Why? Does it surprise you?"

She hadn't told Emily she loved her. What was the need? She had told Toby she loved him and it had been a lie.

She believed her whole body screamed she was in love. It was speaking its own language, no matter what she said, or which words she used.

She was pretty sure Emily was listening to that language anyway.

"Not really", Emily answered her question after apparently giving it some thought.

So, yes, she had been listening to it.

"You've got a really big ego now, haven't you?"

Emily chuckled, but her smile changed again, the same old shyness that still made her so recognizable.

"It's not that big", she answered, "only the right measure."

"And what measure is that?", Spencer asked, curious.

"You tell me. Aren't you the most perfect girlfriend I could ever find on earth?", she joked, trying to find a counterargument.

"I'm not that bad, am I? I'm better than others."

She still believed she was better than others. Maybe not the best, but definitely better than any other person Emily could have found.

Emily looked at her now with a deep, serious expression.

"You are", she agreed, and suddenly her eyes seemed to send one of those messages that Spencer was still learning to decipher. "You're way better than anyone. You're better than everyone."

There was a secret in her eyes, but Spencer thought she was slowly cracking the code. Slowly, patiently, like a miner with her miner's hat, like a CIA agent looking for the right answers, like an anthropologist trying to learn the native language of another culture, she was cracking all of Emily's codes. So many career choices. So many things to study, to live. But only one on her mind. Fingertips, and breath, and then again – eyes. She smiled warmly, but before she could realize their lips were touching again.

The night was warm and dark in Rosewood. Some would find it menacing, even dangerous. It had been like that so many times. But tonight was just a simple, almost summery night, nothing more and nothing less than that. Only a night to hide their bodies from the lights of the city and of the sun. Only a night made of many nights.