Okay. So another chapter. I'm into patterns because here is a chapter from Paige's POV when the last one was Chapter 9. So you will probably have more questions than answers. I'll answer them if you ask in the reviews, and I'll PM you back if you're signed in.
Flashbacks are in Italtics.
I don't own Pretty Little Liars
A mug of coffee being set down in front of her didn't get Spencer to look up at Paige. No reaction. Not even a mumbled thank you or a nod. Paige sighed. Based on the worried look on Emily's face, she was guessing that the other woman had been like this the rest of the morning.
She hadn't been able to get out of her morning meetings and appointments, but now she was meeting Emily and Spencer for lunch in her office. It was a safe place. At least since her attack. The senior partners, that was Paula Katzung and Felix Haines since Roger Jawetz had passed away, believed that Paige had been the target of a vengeful client, and had gone above and beyond to keep their employees safe. Long before Paige had started working at the firm, there were sweeps for bugs to cut down on corporate espionage and to protect clients and their business transactions. Paige knew there was no one listening in.
There was still an on-going investigation both by the authorities and Paige. But Emily and Paige knew who sent the letter bomb. The shadowy figure that was A. There was no doubt to that. She had let up on her digging for the past years, to give Emily peace of mind and partly out of fear. Fear for her family and for herself.
But the hunt was back on now that Spencer was back in the picture. At least that's what she had thought.
She thought that Spencer Hastings being fresh out of prison would be thirsting for justice and to clear her name. She thought that she would have a partner determined to find out who had wronged them.
That wasn't what happened though. Spencer hadn't hit the streets and kicked down doors. She was mild now, and tamed. The lioness accepting her cage. It had thrown Paige. There had been moments though where Spencer would look at her, a snarl in her eye and head held high.
When Paige had first invited her to lunch, Spencer resisted. When Paige dropped by to try and see if things between her and Emily could be mended, Spencer had yelled. But then Spencer had stopped fighting her and started letting her in. When Paige had told her to relax on the couch with a beer since she was a guest in their house, Spencer joked that she would do just that, after she helped with the dishes. When Paige went to pay for some of the items Dantes needed, Spencer told her to put her wallet away, if not a little shaken up at Paige yelling at the cashier for insulting her. That morning when they had met before the sun came up.
But all that progress seemed to be erased with this A text. It was apparently the latest in a series, Paige knew that much, but what she wanted to know was how long Spencer had been getting the texts from A. She glanced over at Emily who was on the phone with Aria before taking a seat on the edge of her desk directly in front of the brunette. "Talk to me, Spence. How long?"
Spencer was still quiet, so Paige continued. "I thought we had a partnership of sorts. I wish you told me A was back. This isn't just your problem alone."
"Well, Paige, the texts started up once I gave you my number." Spencer looked up, an accusing scowl on her face, but only sadness in her eyes.
"Don't do that. Don't push us away." Paige said firmly. Spencer ducked her head again. "Doesn't this lone wolf bullshit get tired? I thought... you were starting to trust me."
"They weren't... anything. They were just for me. Taunts. Trying to break me." Spencer's voice cracked on the last part and Paige felt that the texts had done exactly what they had aimed to.
"Do you still have them?"
"Ye-yes," Spencer stuttered. She took her phone out and surrendered it to Paige.
It was an old phone, maybe six years old but in technology time it was ancient. It was thick and heavy in her hand. "Can I read them?"
Spencer nodded. But Emily joined the two of them. "Aria said she hasn't received any messages from A. Maybe we should all move to Europe."
"So just Spencer then?" Paige asked aloud. She looked at Emily. Her wife said she hadn't gotten any messages from A, not since the night she had been attacked.
"Hanna got cupcakes."
She and Emily looked at Spencer in confusion. She continued, "Hanna got cupcakes from A. She thought I sent them." She rubbed the crook of her elbow. If Hanna had yelled at her at Teddy's birthday, then she must have tore into Spencer after those cupcakes.
Paige wished things were better between the two former friends. She had always been jealous of the friendship between the four girls. They all had a bond that that seemingly couldn't be broken. Except it had the moment Spencer confessed.
Paige thought Hanna was the most loyal of the four. She hadn't given up on Mona, and the two still kept in touch. But Spencer shutting them all out and not trusting them was what got her Hanna's hostility. Hanna could forgive betrayals, but continue to hurt her friends and she'd cut you out of her life like a tumor.
She was glad that Emily had someone looking out for her like Hanna did, but she wished that Spencer knew that she had more people fighting for her.
Paige looked down at the phone in her hands. Emily was watching, her brows furrowed, apprehension pouring off of her in waves. She opened the messages folder. The A texts were the only ones left in there. There were only about five in total.
"After the pride, comes the fall."
"You have quite the body count to your name. And it's only going to climb higher."
"How are you sleeping these nights? Sweet dreams. Because they're all you're ever going to have."
"Nice job getting Dorothy and Toto lost. If you only had a heart."
"Part of the family now. But for how long once they find out where your claws have been."
Paige read the last most recent one out loud. Claws. She felt the bile rise in her throat. Emily's eyes widened. A had overheard their breakfast conversation. A had known that Spencer and Teddy had gone missing briefly. A was threatening anyone that got close to Spencer.
"That's why I didn't tell you. I didn't want you to worry." Spencer was anguished. She jumped out of the chair.
"You shouldn't have kept this from us." Paige said, unable to keep her voice from rising. She tried to steady her breathing. Of course A was still out there. She knew that. It's why she had taken all the precautions. It was only a matter of time before A returned. And she was afraid of what it meant for Emily. What it meant for all of them.
Spencer flinched and backed away from both of them. Emily went to her and hugged her. Paige took off her glasses and pinched the bridge of her nose, feeling some of the scar tissue there. "Look, Spencer. I'm sorry. I will always worry. I can't help it."
Paige threw open the door to the climate controlled storage unit and went inside. "Thanks for meeting me here."
Spencer just nodded quietly. She was standing at the entrance with her hands in her pockets but her eyes were darting around. Paige hit the lights.
There was her motorcycle with a drop cloth over it, the first thing seen upon entering. She couldn't resist going over to it. She pulled the cover off. "A Triumph Bonneville. I know, I know. Predictable. But fuck it. It's a classic. Good enough for McQueen then it's good enough for McCullers."
Spencer eyed it. "That's a 865cc parallel twin engine, right? Electric fuel injection and manual transmission." She started smirking. "I know my way around engines. Worked in the prison garage for a bit. Before I settled into the tutoring program."
"I'm impressed." Paige grinned, and Spencer beamed at the complement. "Mechanic, Mandarin, and MC. Is there anything you can't do?" She decided to use Spencer's question to her from last night.
"Leave the state." Spencer said dryly, before the corner of her lip perked up. That got Paige roaring with laughter, and Spencer gave a few chuckles. They both had a dark sense of humor that would make other people uncomfortable but for them it was a way to fend off the demons.
"Damn, Hastings." Paige inhaled, trying to catch her breath. She put the cover back over the motorcycle.
"Maybe you could give me a ride?" Spencer asked. But then her eyes widened. "I mean..."
Paige passed on the opportunity to tease Spencer, but she did chuckle. "I'd love to. Emily trusts me behind the wheel of a car, but she's probably only ever rode with me about four times. She's afraid of the thing. Even before I lost the eye. And it doesn't help that Teddy wants to go riding with me."
They had talked about the way Paige had adapted to having one eye. The car had extra mirrors, including a fish eye. Same with her bicycle and her motorcycle. When she was riding either she'd wear goggles to protect her eye. She'd wear them under her full-face motorcycle helmet. Sure she was crazy enough to ride motorcycles but even she wasn't going to fuck up her remaining eye.
"As sexy as your motorcycle is, I'm guessing it's not why we're here." Spencer looked around again. Paige watched as her eyes fell on a couple of footlocker trunks.
"Well, yeah." Paige rubbed the back of her head. She didn't know how to proceed with the next part. She had tried to think of a way to bring it up for months, glad when Spencer had asked for a month to herself. But she hadn't come up with anything in all that time.
She went to the first footlocker. She unlocked it. "These are yours."
Inside were some of Spencer's things. Old test papers, ribbons, awards, and trophies. There were also some clothes. Spencer kneeled down beside her. She pulled out a ribbon for a science fair. She was speechless. "Your mom didn't want to get rid of anything. She took most of your things with her when she left Peter. And Emily and I ended up with them when she passed."
"Did my entire life fit into two trunks?" Spencer finally spoke.
"No. This isn't all of it. Emily wanted to keep some of your things back at the house. Some books and some clothes. Your field hockey jersey is definitely over there. We moved these here to free up a room for Teddy. You owned a lot of clothes, Hastings. Did you really need that many blazers?"
"Didn't wear the same outfit twice." Spencer said wryly.
"I'm sure you can still fit into a lot of these." Paige brought up. Spencer was the same height. She had gained weight, but it all looked to be in the form of muscle. "They might be tight in the arms. But who needs sleeves?"
Spencer gave a small smile. Paige continued. "We can come back later and sort through them. We'll be coming back because you're going to want to look at these." She got up and went over to a large filing cabinet. Spencer returned the ribbon to the foot locker and shut it close.
"Veronica left these to me." Paige unlocked the file cabinet. She pulled a drawer open. "While you were gone, your mom did her own investigating. Trying to clear your name. She wrote down everything. Even what happened when she visited you."
Spencer was shaking and her lips narrowed to a thin a line. Spencer took a swing at her face, which Paige blocked, but when there was another punch coming towards her. She tried to flex her stomach muscles. It didn't help much when Spencer's fist slammed into her gut though. The strength behind it almost had her on her knees, but she stayed standing, if doubled over and trying to catch her breath.
Then Spencer's eyes seemed to clear.
"Oh God." She looked torn between making sure Paige was going to be okay and running away, least she continue to be a danger to anyone else. It was as if guilt and uncertainty had claimed her, shackling her to the floor.
Paige gasped. "S'okay. Deserved that." She gritted out through her teeth. She was surprised at the power behind the punch. And surprised that Spencer Hastings had thrown fists instead of just slapping her.
Her breath was returning to her slowly. It was understandable. If someone kept something from her like this, she would have reacted badly as well. Though she tended to throw things other than punches when her anger got the best of her.
She hated those moments. When her frustrations surged out and transformed into negative energy. The last time was when Emily said she had dreams about the woman currently quaking in front of her. Some of the silence that had fallen between them had to do with anger at herself as well. She didn't like when she could not be in control of her emotions.
"Everybody gets one." Paige straighten out, glad that she had flexed. "Just didn't want you to hit me in the face. Can't really afford to lose my good looks." Or have a bruise show up where Emily could see them. She chuckled a bit to show Spencer she really didn't wish any bad blood after the punch.
But that was the wrong action. Her muscles were sore. She winced. Nothing she wasn't used to from playing contact sports and her escrima practices.
"I'm sorry. I didn't even think of that. Emily would have saw... I wasn't thinking." Spencer stammered. She looked down.
"Hey. You did me worse on the field. Even when those were just friendly practices." Paige attempted a joke, a distraction. "But damn, Hastings. I could have gone the way of Houdini."
"That's actually an urban legend. Houdini did die from appendicitis, but those punches didn't rupture his appendix. He probably just attributed the abdominal pain he felt to being punched by the college student, so he most likely delayed treatment." Spencer said with flourish, her head held high.
Paige grinned. She knew Spencer would rise to the chance to correct her. That was one habit that was hard to break. "Thanks for the lecture, Professor."
Spencer slumped her shoulders. "Please don't call me that."
"I was just teasing. I didn't mean anything by it." Paige apologized. Spencer, while entirely different from the girl she did childish battle with, was still intelligent. That would never change.
"I know. It's just that..." Spencer frowned. "That was my bunkie's nickname. And I don't think I've done anything to earn the right to be called that like she did."
"She taught you Mandarin right?"
Spencer nodded. "Among other things. I was just a stupid kid back then."
"What did your students call you?" Paige asked. Spencer had brought it up earlier. Veronica had written that one of the few times Spencer talked with any passion, let alone share something with her during visits was when someone she had tutored got their GED. Veronica had suggested she pursue a Master's in Education. Spencer had looked thoughtful at that and Veronica took that as a sign she was getting through to her daughter.
"Teach. They called me Teach." A small smile graced Spencer's lips, as if she was remembering the women she taught. "I enjoyed teaching. I actually got my Master's. Paid for it myself. Not that it does me any good. Who would hire me?"
"Did you even try? I'm sure you could get hired at a junior college or something." Paige tried. She could tell that Spencer really enjoyed teaching. There was that hunger for knowledge Spencer always had, and the chance to share something like that was what the woman wanted to do. It was like planting a seed where people said nothing would ever grow, and then showing them all the tree that they said was impossible.
"Did you forget what I went to prison for?" Spencer yelled. "Murder, Paige! That's not something that gets rewarded."
Paige watched Spencer. It was an odd thing to have an outburst on. The woman had all the right in the world to get upset. But insisting on something that wasn't true. She of all people couldn't force Spencer to admit the truth before she was ready.
She put her hand on Spencer's shoulder, to calm her and to get her attention. "Hey. Couldn't hurt to try. I could call in favors." Paige didn't want to be infected by Spencer's dejection. There was always a silver lining, even though she knew that Spencer was more than likely right.
"What did you teach?"
"Tutoring in most of the subjects for the GED test while I was working other jobs. The kitchen and then in the garage. Then I got the job teaching actual classes later on. Math and history. That's what I focused my Bachelor's on." Spencer spoke slowly. She was relaxed again.
"Hmm. Well, Teddy can't buckle down when she has math problems to do. You're more than welcomed to try to get her more focused." Paige suggested. She knew for a fact that more often then not her daughter would already have the simple math and writing worksheets her teacher assigned done on the days Karolina had brought her into Nina's shop.
Spencer smiled at her. "I'll keep doing that then. She's really quick. Just can't sit still sometimes. I was like that when something didn't hold my interest. When I found something boring."
"We appreciate it." Paige nodded at the drawer full of composition notebooks. "Take a look."
"I want to start from the beginning." Spencer didn't ask. She was informing Paige.
"Right. A very good place to start." Paige took a second key out of her running jacket. "But we should get back. Before Emily wakes up."
"Can we come back later?"
"Sure." Paige said and handed her the spare key. She needed to get back to her investigation, to get back to what she was looking into when she had been attacked. The fact that she had been attacked had to mean she was getting close. She stopped because something worse could have happened to Emily. But now that she had Spencer, there was someone else to keep her family safe.
Spencer pocketed the key, as Paige closed the filing cabinet. She made sure it was locked tight. They made their way out and she locked the storage unit up as well. They went to Paige's car.
"I'm guessing Emily doesn't know about the journals." Spencer had her hand on the passenger door's handle.
Paige looked at her over the roof of the car. "No."
She wanted something substantial to bring to her wife. She didn't want her to get her hopes up at getting Spencer freed.
"I'm glad. She would have lost herself in them trying to save me." Spencer pulled the door open and got in.
Paige had no doubts about that. This was one of the times that she knew Spencer was right.
"We keep things from the people we care about. To protect them." Spencer said as she looked at Emily. Paige thought she was calling her out about the journals. But maybe she was talking about herself and not just about the string of A texts.
"Spencer." Emily's brow furrowed. "Don't do this alone. You have me now. Let me help you."
"Like you helped Paige?" Spencer challenged.
"Excuse me?" Emily fired back at the accusation. Spencer was trying to get Emily angry with her. Paige knew that her wife had blamed A attacking her on herself. Apparently Spencer figured that out.
"Spencer," Paige warned. She had a hand in losing her own. Her wife was blameless. Emily didn't know about the journals. She just thought it was A reminding them that they were still out there. Hanna and Aria got their own reminders as well.
They found out Caleb's breaks were cut before anything bad could happen to him. But it was too late for Ezra.
"It's not safe," Spencer stated.
"You always did this. Tried to fight my battles for me. I can slay my own dragons. I'm not some helpless princess in a tower." Emily was angry. "I protect the people that I love. I protect me and mine. I'm not going to lose any more people."
Emily looked at both of them. "And if either of you think I'm just going to stand idly by, you're wrong."
Paige and Spencer kept quiet. "I'm going to the hospital. I have patients to attend to."
"Do you need me to take you?" Paige offered. Emily was angry with both of them now apparently, but she still always would take care of her.
"I'll take a cab." Emily said a bit less harshly. "I'll see you at home."
Emily left her office without looking back at Spencer. Once Emily was gone, Spencer took a deep breath and sat down. Her shoulders slumped and her hands were shaking. At that moment, she looked so small as if the secrets in her life had grown too large for her to control.
"I guess that went the way you wanted. She's mad at you. And by extension me." Paige crossed her arms. "Why do you do that? Push her away."
"The same reason you didn't tell her about the journals." Spencer looked back at her. There was a fire in her eyes. "She'll be mad at me, but she'll be safe."
"I didn't antagonize her." Paige challenged. "I will tell Emily about the journals. If there's anything to tell. When are you going to come clean?"
Spencer flinched. She swallowed the hitch in her throat. But she didn't crumble under Paige's gaze She smirked wryly. It was the look of someone that had nothing left to lose except the hope of ending things one way or another. It made Paige shudder.
It was the look of a lioness that was ready to break from her cage and ready for the taste of blood.
"Which lie do you want me to start with?"
Paige put another coffee down in front of Spencer, this time in the form of a take away cup. While Spencer didn't look up at her, not wanting to tear her eyes away from the journal she was reading, she gave a murmured thanks. Paige took a seat on one of the footlockers, and watched the other woman work. She put down the bag of donuts she had bought.
Spencer was sitting on the floor, sitting cross-legged and her back hunched over. There was a stack of journals within reach on top of the other footlocker. It looked like she was halfway through the top drawer. The journals she had finished reading where easy to identify due to the colored flags sticking from them. Spencer had her own notebook in her lap, a page filled with her own flowing script.
"Please tell me you weren't here all night?" Paige put her hands on her hips.
"Okay. I won't."
"Dammit, Spencer. Did you at least eat? Or sleep?"
She nodded. Paige saw that Spencer had used her jacket as a sleeping pad. There were two energy bar wrappers balled up next to an almost empty bottle of water. "That hardly counts."
"I've done worse with more." Spencer grunted. "This storage unit is bigger than my cell. I can sleep anywhere."
Paige sighed. "You won't find anything in those earlier ones but dead ends. I told you the important parts."
"It's not that I don't trust your work. I do. It's just..." Spencer leaned back against the footlocker, inches away from Paige's leg. Her head bowed with her hair falling into her face.
"You miss your mom." Paige spoke softly.
"Yeah." Spencer cracked as she looked up with watery eyes.
"I understand." Paige placed a hand on her shoulder.
"You actually do, don't you?" Spencer said. She hugged her knees to her chest and rested her chin on top of them. "I'm sorry about your dad."
"It was sudden. But I did get a chance to say goodbye to him." Paige said. Her father had a heart attack. The team in the emergency department revived him. He was dead within the year from a second one. Her father had made his last year on earth count. He left no doubts about how much he was proud of her. He had fully accepted Emily as a daughter and Teddy as his granddaughter. It didn't make the pain of losing him hurt any less. It meant it was a healed wound in her heart that healed and she'd feel him from time to time, when she took Teddy bike riding or did laps in the pool.
For Spencer the wound of losing Veronica was still gaping open, hemorrhaging parts of her soul. "You didn't get to."
"The last time I saw her. Was in the visitor's room at a Muncy. Her last image of me was in my prisoner's uniform." Spencer shivered. "I can't help but feel that she died disappointed in me."
"No. No, she didn't." Paige said firmly.
She and Emily had gotten close to Veronica because of Spencer. Emily would go to Veronica for updates on Spencer. And Veronica would go to Paige to see how Emily was holding up. Veronica Hastings had been one of her influences for cementing her decision to do pre-law. While the woman was older and more experienced, making the perfect mentor for Paige, she made a close friend as well. It was why Veronica had entrusted the journals to her and why she had told Paige that she felt that she had let Spencer down by not being able to prove to the world what she knew down in the depths of her heart. That Spencer was innocent.
"She loved you. Don't ever doubt that." Paige lowered herself down to the floor to sit next to Spencer. She took the woman's hand in hers. They were quiet. A comforting silence enveloping them.
"Whatever you've done in the past, I don't care. We don't care." Paige looked over at Spencer. "You're family." She squeezed her hand in her left. "So fuck A."
"That's the plan right? Bitch is going down." Spencer deadpanned, and then grinned.
Paige chuckled but had to wince. "Still sore from yesterday. You left quite the pretty little bruise." She lifted up the hem of her Underarmour to show off a purple bruise. "But how's your hand? I hope it didn't break when you punched these abs."
"Seriously? You're a dork." Spencer laughed. "And the only way I'd break my hand by punching you is if I took a shot at your hard head."
"What? Come on then. Let's see what you've got." Paige cocked an eyebrow. "I showed you mine. Now show me yours."
Spencer rolled her eyes but obliged to her request. She lifted up her shirt and displayed abs that were much more defined than Paige's.
"Damn, Bruiser. So you win this round. Let's take it to the streets. I know I can still run faster than you." Paige went back to looking at Spencer's bare skin. She made out a tattoo on her ribs. A feather with words along its length. She had to cock her head to the side to read it. "A loneliness I cannot bear."
"McCullers?" Paige asked. Spencer looked at her in confusion as to why she had blurted out her own last name. "Your tattoo there. Carson McCullers. The Heart is A Lonely Hunter, right? Always identified with Mick Kelly myself."
"Yeah." Spencer pulled her shirt down. "Never thought I was the type to get inked. But after the first... it's very addictive."
"How many do you have, if I can ask?"
"A lot." Spencer smirked.
"Another question." At Spencer's nod, Paige asked. "Which one is your favorite?"
"I like them all. But I am proud of my back piece. Which is..." Spencer gave a sharp short disbelieving laugh, "A lioness."
"Really? I'm sure Teddy would be pleased to know she was so right about you that you have a lioness tattooed on your back." Paige grinned.
Spencer looked like she was at war with herself, as if she was struggling to say something. The side that won was the one that wanted to open up.
"I lied yesterday. I mean do miss the person that said I was their lioness. So much that it hurts." Spencer slouched down. "But I missed who I was. Those things Teddy said about me. I used to be those things. Fierce. Strong. Respected. Even if it was in prison, I felt like I was someone. Out here, I'm no one. It's loud and bright and I'm scared all the time. Not just of A. But that people are going to realize what I was and put me back in that cage."
Spencer took a sharp breath. "And I don't want to go back. Because even if I'm the fiercest and strongest in there. Even if I'm on top of the food chain, it's still a cage."
"Okay." This was the most Paige had heard Spencer speak about prison, if at all. They had only met maybe less than five times before for these meetings and they had mostly been Paige trying to get the woman to open up to her. But she had been met with stubborn silence. "You won't go back."
"I mean it, Paige. I can't go back. I'd rather die before I..." Spencer stopped.
"I promise you. You won't go back there. I won't let that happen." Veronica had made Paige promise that she would take care of Spencer when she died. She had talked to her and Emily separately in her final days before talking to them separately. She didn't know all of what the two had spoken about. Emily had said that Veronica had asked her to be patient with Spencer. But there had to be more to it because her wife had been distant the rest of the week.
Paige looked at her watch. It was still "freakishly early" as Emily used to say when she had tried to go on morning runs with her. "You should try to get some sleep. I'll wake you up after an hour thirty."
Spencer looked like she was about to protest, but instead yawned. She crossed her arms over her chest and Paige moved closer to the woman. Spencer closed her eyes. Paige heard the change in Spencer's breathing after a couple of minutes. She had fallen asleep. Spencer said she could sleep anywhere, but it couldn't be comfortable for her. The woman slipped a bit into her side. Paige sighed and put her arm along the edge of the footlocker behind Spencer's shoulders so at least one of them wouldn't be stiff later.
Paige wondered how this happened. Why it was her Spencer clung to instead of her wife? They had both gone through things and understood how the world worked. And Emily wouldn't get that. They both hoped she would never have to know the dark corners of the world.
Still Emily wanted to help Spencer, but the woman continued to push her away. The two of them would ebb and flow. One would always chase the other, both of them going in circles. It made Paige dizzy. To be fair it was a complicated friendship, even without the presence of A screwing them over.
Her wife had feelings for the woman sleeping against her. Complicated didn't even begin to describe that.
She didn't want to think about that. She didn't want to think about her own selfish reasons for wanting to help Spencer now that they were starting to become friends. This early in the morning the world shouldn't have to be too loud or too big. She watched the rise and fall of Spencer's chest and made a decision.
She took out her phone and wrote up a text. She hit send.