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…"
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.