Hey guys. Sorry this chapter took forever to get out. I wanted to get it perfect, but I hope it's good enough. So I hope you guys like it. Let me know if I missed anything I needed to edit. Let me know what you guys think.
Disclaimer: I don't own PLL.
There were sounds Emily enjoyed hearing and that brought a smile to her face. Teddy's laughter. Her wife trying to sing. Rain falling from the sky. Ocean waves.
She had been grinning wide the first time she heard Teddy's heartbeat via the ultrasound. She felt relief whenever she rested her head against Paige's chest and heard the steady lub dub of her heart. Because it had been so close to becoming silent forever.
That was the sound she dreaded. The mechanical whine of a flatline. The heart going into asystole. Then calling out the time of death.
Unless through some intervention, surgical or miracle, the heart monitor would start to show a flutter. A small flicker that would grow until it was crackling with waves. The waiting family would receive good news. The candle didn't go out.
So a heartbeat was a celebration. The drumming of life. A pounding dance.
Watching Spencer stand there, shoulders squared and head held high, was like watching a patient come back from the dark. She was witnessing something stronger taking place. The fiery passion was back in her eyes. This was the legendary Phoenix being reborn from her ashes.
"Let me tuck Teddy in and we can talk about what you found." Paige's voice cut in on Emily's reverie. She picked up their daughter off the couch and carried her off.
"I'll take care of these." Emily gestured at the tray with the bowls and glasses.
"Let me help you." Spencer looked so earnest as she reached out to take the tray from her, but started coughing hard.
"Fine. But only because you're coming with me to the kitchen for cup of tea." Emily chastised. "Take the tumblers?"
Spencer nodded. Her hands went for the tumblers, taking up one in each. She stood there and Emily realized that she was waiting for her to move first. She led Spencer towards the kitchen. She pushed opened the kitchen door using her shoulder and allowed the other woman to enter before her. Spencer put the tumblers into the sink as Emily joined her. She put the bowls and spoons in the sink.
"Let me make you that tea, Spence." Emily went to a cabinet. She pulled down a copper kettle and filled it with water. "Take a seat."
Spencer looked at the stools at the kitchen island hesitantly. "I left something in the living room."
"Well okay." Emily tried not to let her disappointment show as Spencer fled from the kitchen. She was hoping to spend some more time alone with her. She had enjoyed just being with her on the couch with Teddy sleeping in between them and watching movies. But it seemed that Spencer was uneasy at the prospect of being alone with her. She seemed to be okay with being around her until Paige came home.
Paige. Had something happened between the two of them? Did Paige say something? Spencer was less likely to be the one to stir things up unless backed into a corner. As far as Emily could tell, Spencer had been reactive to everything that had happened, accepting every lash and blow that came her way. If there had been an argument between the two, Paige would have told her. Her wife hated raising her voice in anger and she would have been upset with herself for days afterwards. But Paige was all smiles. She was still friendly towards Spencer, if a little stern about the woman taking better care of herself.
Maybe Spencer wasn't ready to be alone with her after all.
Emily thought they had shared a moment in the kitchen earlier. Spencer had apologized for getting upset with her over the key, and she herself had apologized for overstepping her boundaries by giving her the key. She was being honest when she said she wanted Spencer to have a place where she could feel safe. It frustrated Emily that Spencer was shutting her out, so much so that she had been close to crying. Until Spencer took her into a comfortable embrace.
It was that closeness she had been craving. She was sure that Spencer had been about to kiss her. The intensity between them had been deadly. The collision would have destroyed them both. She knew that it wouldn't have ended well, but she had been ready to surrender.
It was Spencer who had saved the two of them. It was like she swerved with a small hitch in her breath. She had put her head down on Emily's shoulder and then it was over before it could get started.
She hated that she was grateful as well as mournful for that fact.
The almost kiss had been followed by an almost confession, one that Emily had tried to pry from Spencer. When she had suggested that Spencer had been protecting all of them, the other woman had jumped away in a panic. It was as good as a confirmation as she was going to get. She had pressed further, but immediately let up when Spencer promised answers when she was ready to give them.
She had done it again. She was pushing Spencer before she was ready. No wonder she had ran from the kitchen, where the questioning and near miss had happened. It was a surprise that Spencer was still here.
Unless she wasn't.
Emily ignored the sharp whistle of the kettle as she headed towards the kitchen door. She was about to open it when she had to jump back to avoid it smacking into her.
"Oh." Spencer let the door swing close behind her. "Sorry."
"No. I was standing by the door like an idiot." Emily felt that's how she had been doing a lot of things lately. She moved to make some tea, as well to give Spencer some space. "That's on me."
Spencer was holding a large paper bag. She was wringing the top of it between her hands. Emily wondered if that because of the contents, or because of her. She caught Spencer's eyes flick up to the nape of her neck then down to the floor. "Paige, uh, said she would be along shortly. There was something she needed to get out of her desk."
Emily poured the hot water into a mug to stop her hand from flying up to the love bite that Paige had left. Spencer knew it was there. She must have seen it earlier. Emily hadn't reapplied concealer after scrubbing out and she cursed her carelessness. She felt the need to explain, to cover up with words, but her wife came into the kitchen.
Paige always had command of a room, even without saying a word. It was something to see, but also something felt. She had a presence that put everyone at ease and that included Spencer. At Paige's encouraging nod, the woman relaxed and set the paper bag down on the kitchen island.
"I said I went to the storage unit last night to read my mother's journals. And I found something." Spencer bit her lip. "But I wouldn't have ended up there if A hasn't sent me there."
"You got a text?" Emily asked, completely worried. Spencer always kept things from her, and she could have been getting texts and threats every day if it meant protecting her.
"Not a text. But A did send me something. Or some things." Spencer opened up the paper bag. She paused. She took out a notebook, which she handled delicately. It belonged to her mother after all, so it warranted reverence. Spencer set the journal as far as possible from the paper bag, but it was placed within Paige's reach, like she was trusted to watch over it. That was true though, wasn't it? Paige had been keeping the journals safe and away from her.
It was frustrating that Spencer and Paige had kept the journals a secret. But she could understand. Paige's reason was from a place of honor. The Hastings women were clients as well as friends; a mix that meant Paige would never tell her about the journals unless permitted. And Spencer. She had her reasons. Issues with trust and wanting to keep them safe. Maybe even fear.
Spencer cleared her throat. Not to get her attention, but because it must be bothering her. Emily pushed the tea over to her.
Spencer took a sip. "Thanks." She bit her lip, before giving her a small yet appreciative smile. She set the cup back down.
"You okay to keep going?" Emily asked.
"I have to." Spencer fixed her with a determined stare. She ripped into the paper bag, revealing a teddy bear, a pacifier, and a yellow baby blanket. "Presents from A."
Paige leaned forward. "Where?"
"These were waiting for me outside my door. I got the bear first. In the morning. And I got the blanket last night. There was also a nightlight. That was sent to me at work."
Emily tried to read the tag attached to the pacifier. She reached for it, but stopped. She looked up at Spencer, who nodded. It read, "Sleep tight. -A" She frowned and handed it over to Paige. Her wife let go of the tag on the ribbon tied around the stuffed animal's neck to take the tag from Emily.
"What did the note that came with the nightlight say?" Paige asked Spencer with an edge in her voice. "Your chess game was found wanting yesterday, so there had to have been a note that got to you. You should have told us about all of this last night."
"No, she's right. I should have said something." Spencer looked at Paige's hand ruefully. Paige's jaw was clenched, making the scars on the right side of her face stand out in the kitchen light. It was a reminder. Bad things happened when A sent things.
Emily reached for Paige's hand. She ran her thumb along the back of her wife's hand. Paige relaxed. The tension left her body with a slow exhale, and Spencer continued.
"The note said, "Since your mommies can't be around every time you have a nightmare." I threw it away." Spencer's shoulders slumped. Her hand was gripping the crook of her left arm tightly.
"Is that the reason you got upset with the key?" Emily asked. When Spencer yelled at her last night, she had accused her of treating her like a baby.
Spencer glanced at Paige's hand still in Emily's. "One of the reasons." She rubbed her face with her hands. "I miss myself. I hate feeling so weak. I'm supposed... I'm supposed to be the one protecting you... Protecting all of you."
"Is that what this means?" Paige put the red chess piece on the countertop.
"Where did you get that?"
Emily started to explain. "From Mona. You two weren't giving me answers, so I went to see her. And before you get mad, Paige already told me how stupid it was. And I told her how I didn't learn anything except that A is still around and can be anywhere. Like the Red Queen." She gestured her hand at the chess piece in frustration.
"Emily isn't much of a chess player. Like I told her, The Queen is the most powerful piece on the board. It can move anywhere. In any direction. But that's not all a queen piece can do, is it, Spencer?" Paige's tone was stern. It was challenging.
"Paige!" Emily tried to rein her wife in.
"I don't play games when it comes to my family. If something can hurt us I want to know everything." Paige continued to stare down Spencer.
"I- I can't." Spencer's lip was quivering. Her entire body was shaking. She was sweating hard.
"Answer the question, Spencer."
"It can be sacrificed for a checkmate." Spencer murmured. "To win the game."
"So that's exactly what you did." Paige instantly deflated. She had pushed Spencer and what came back was the truth they both were afraid to hear.
"Spencer..." Emily reached for her. But the woman backed away.
"I had to. A was going to destroy us all." Spencer pleaded, her face twisted with desperation. She was swaying on her feet. "It was the only way... Please?" She closed her eyes.
And then she was falling.
Paige moved towards her, but Emily was faster. She caught her before she hit the tiles of the kitchen floor. "Shh. I have you."
A hand was on her shoulder. Emily jerked away from Paige. "Don't."
"Why did you do that? She wasn't ready." Emily looked down at Spencer's face. She was drenched in sweat.
"So you suspected that's what she did too. Well I had to know for sure. What do you think that the stuff A sent meant? The teddy bear?"
"You don't think...?"
"Do you want to risk it? I'm looking out for us, Em. All of us." Paige looked at Spencer with regret. "Let's get her to bed."
Emily nodded and let Paige pick up Spencer. She looked so small her in arms. She couldn't believe that the woman fainted, but it made sense. Her wife's interrogation on top of the weight she was carrying on her shoulders made her collapse underneath it all. It was exhausting to keep a secret like that.
Paige set her down on the guest bed. She had laid out some of her clothes for Spencer to sleep in: a pair of blue and maroon plaid pajama bottoms and a loose black t-shirt. She looked at the clothes apprehensively and then up at Emily.
"She'll be more comfortable out of those clothes." Emily stated.
"I know. It's just that Spencer might not want you to see her-"
"Naked?" Emily interrupted.
"Her scars." Paige corrected her softly from a place of experience.
Emily hugged herself. Her wife had scars of her own. She used to be so self-conscious about them. She had felt vulnerable at having her scars on display, at having Emily know the reason why they were there. Paige was right about Spencer.
"I'll go check on Teddy." Emily nodded.
"Thank you." Paige smiled in appreciation. But there was also sadness in her eye. Her wife felt horrible about the cross examination she put Spencer through.
"She trusts you, Paige." Emily reminded her with a gentle caress to her jaw.
"After that. I'm not so sure." Paige covered her hand with her own.
"It will be okay." Emily stated firmly and then took one last look at Spencer. She hoped she was right.
Paige and Spencer were so alike. It was no wonder they fought so hard when they were younger. They had their strengths. They were both loyal and insanely protective to those who earned their trust and love. And that was two things they both did not give away freely. They had their weaknesses. They were fiercely competitive and punished themselves when they failed.
And they had their damages.
She went to Teddy's room. Her daughter was sprawled out on her back like a starfish. The blanket had been kicked off, and now she was shivering. Dantes popped up from his spot next to the bed and came over to Emily. He nudged his head into her leg. She bent down and pet his head. "You always keep an eye on her, don't you?"
Dantes accompanied her the short distance to Teddy's bed. Paige had set a glass of water and a thermometer next to their daughter's bed, and she could hear the hum of the humidifier. Her wife was thoughtful and practical.
Paige was always sad when their daughter was sick. She wasn't her usual cheerful self. She walked around the apartment with a frown. But when Teddy wanted to watch Finding Nemo or Adventure Time, her wife was more than willing to work from home just to make their little girl feel better.
She checked Teddy's breathing and temperature. The temperature hadn't gone down, but it hadn't gone up either. Teddy flopped over to her side, and hugged Heddy to her chest. Emily tucked her back in and took a seat on the bed.
She didn't like seeing Teddy sick either. Their little girl wasn't as playful or as talkative. She missed Teddy's rambling stories, the loud playtimes of pretend, and the soft singing that came in between. And she and Paige knew how something so simple could turn into something so devastating.
Emily was curled up on her side in the hospital bed. She wanted to be invisible. It was hard to be a doctor on the receiving end of care. And of condolences and pity from the people she worked with. Everyone knew.
She and Paige had just started telling people they were pregnant. The timing had been perfect. They actually had a day off from work fall on the same day, so they had gone up to Rosewood to tell their parents over brunch. They spent most of the day with family. Caleb and Hanna came over as well. After hugging Emily, the blonde claimed the role of godparents for herself and her husband with joyful tears in her eyes. Together the two friends had called Aria.
Camille and Riyadh knew because she had asked Riyadh to do the blood work for her, and Camille probably drew the truth out of him.
The hole in her heart that she tried to fill with visits where she was turned away and rejected, could be temporarily patched by writing letters. Even though the envelopes always came back unopened, Emily could pretend in the time between when she sent the letter and the envelope's return that Spencer had read each one. She could pretend that a reply was coming in the mail. She thought it was kind of like writing a letter to Santa telling him what you wanted for Christmas. It was a grown-up belief that if she was a good person and she wished really hard, she'd get what she wanted. But she knew the truth. There was no Santa Claus and there would be no reply.
Still she would write. It was very therapeutic. She never kept a diary when she was younger, but she imagined it was a similar experience.
She had started a letter about the good news, about how they were successful on the third attempt. Third time's a charm, right? About how they were planning on naming him Patrick. Yes, they were having a boy. About how excited she was the minute they had heard his heartbeat. She wanted Spencer to know everything.
But then she had started to bleed.
Paige had come home to her doubled over in the foyer. She had ran to her side. The box of butter cream cookies Emily had sent her out to buy dropped to the floor. Her wife had been so good to her so far during the pregnancy, indulging in every little craving she had and massages. Just doting on her.
And this was how Emily was repaying her.
They had rushed to the emergency room. The plan had been to tell everyone she worked with at the hospital about the pregnancy that day with a grin on her face and a hand on her stomach. It was supposed to be a happy announcement. This wasn't how she wanted them to find out she was pregnant.
Emily felt even smaller. She pulled her knees up to chest as close as she could, ignoring the pain. She wanted to disappear. She never thought silence could be so deafening until the ultrasound couldn't pick up anything. There was no heartbeat.
She felt so stupid for telling people. She should have known better than to get excited. She had honestly believed that everything she had gone through, life could only deal her happiness for the rest of it. Nothing sad or wrong could come her way. A was gone and she had moved forward. She was done with suffering.
But it wasn't done with her.
Emily felt Paige climb into the bed behind her. Her wife's strong arms wrapped around her. She felt so safe. She thought she was all cried out, but she closed her eyes against the new tears.
Paige was grieving too. She had been just as excited. To have a family with her. They had been looking at cribs and Paige was already making plans like teaching him how to swim and how to ride a bike. To share everything with him that she shared with Emily. Paige loved that little boy already.
"I'm sorry." Emily whispered.
"Don't blame yourself. It's no one's fault." Paige left a kiss on her shoulder. They were pressed close together. She could feel Paige's breathe on her skin.
She knew Paige was right. But everyone she lost in her life meant there had to be something wrong with her. She couldn't help that thought.
"Em... We'll get through this. Together. I have you. And you have me."
She believed her wife. She trusted her when she had none of that confidence herself. Paige gave her that strength. She took Paige's hand in her own, their fingers intertwined. Paige was her anchor. She would get through this. They would get through this.
Emily and Paige kept going. It's what they did. They decided to try getting pregnant again. They were told Emily wouldn't be able to get pregnant. Paige told her she would carry their child. Teddy was born. Paige was attacked by A. Emily was her support while Paige rebuilt herself. Spencer got out of prison...
The door to Teddy's room opened and Paige slipped in. She came to stand by Emily. "How's she doing?"
"She still has a fever. But she's a trooper." Emily gave Paige a reassuring smile. They both fell quiet as they watched their daughter sleep.
"Spencer woke up for a bit." Paige brought up the woman staying in their guest room. The words came slowly. Any faster and a flood would come, to sweep them away. "I apologized to her. But she seemed out of it. And I gave her some NyQuil, so I don't know how much she'll remember tomorrow."
Even if Spencer remembered her apology in the morning, Paige would be apologizing for what she did for a long while. It was going to make her more morose and withdrawn on top of Teddy being sick.
Emily stood up and cupped Paige's scarred cheek. "I understand why you did it now." The reason was tucked in and sleeping tight in the bed they were standing next to. "And Spencer understands as well."
Paige's head was still bowed, so Emily kissed her cheek. "I thought I was supposed to be the Mama Bear," she tried to lighten the mood.
But Paige didn't budge. "I'm working from home tomorrow. I already called and cleared it."
Something else was weighing her wife down. Before Emily could ask if it was what Spencer had confessed, Paige kissed the top of Teddy's head and then glumly trudged out of the room.
She sighed as she did the same. Paige had forced Spencer to reveal what she did, but now they weren't going to talk about it. Her wife was obviously affected by it. Emily couldn't even begin to fathom it. She knew that A had everything to do with Spencer going to prison. Who else would want to see her fall? It was the perfect frame-up. All the evidence was against Spencer. It was hopeless, but if anyone was going to fight it was Spencer Hastings.
That wasn't what happened.
While she had her mother and Emily as her strongest defenders, Spencer had just given up. Like she had accepted everything. And now they knew for sure from Spencer's own mouth. She had given up her freedom willingly.
Emily didn't know how to feel about that. She felt guilty. That was fifteen years of Spencer's life taken away from her, while they all got to live. And it made Emily furious. She was angry with Spencer for being stupid enough to sacrifice herself. There had to have been another way to beat A, if only she had told them instead of deciding what was best for them all on her own.
"Damn it, Spencer." Emily cursed under her breath once she was out in the hallway.
She was also hurt. She was hurt that Spencer hadn't gone to them. Trusted them. They could have helped her. She could have helped her. A could have been a thing of the past, instead of out there, plotting against them.
When she got to their bedroom, Paige was already on her side of their bed facing away from her and feigning sleep. Emily gave her some more space by taking a shower and getting dressed slowly. Dry and dressed, she got under the covers next to her wife. It felt like miles in between them, but in the dark Emily found Paige's hand. Their fingers intertwined and Paige gave her hand a small squeeze.
The morning light would reveal if this peace offering was a small victory or a ceasefire.
Emily crept into the guest bedroom. The room's chair had been moved from the wall and placed close to the bedside. She could imagine Paige sitting in the chair last night watching over the bed's occupant and waiting for her to wake up so she could offer an apology. Emily sat down and leaned forward to watch over Spencer while she herself was deep in thought.
Her few hours of sleep had been interrupted, plagued by moments of unremembered dreams and wakefulness. When Paige had kissed her cheek and slipped out for her morning run, she couldn't fall back asleep, try as she might. She had gotten out of bed and checked on Teddy, even though Paige had probably been there just minutes before. Their little girl was sleeping soundly, so she made the rest of her rounds to her next patient.
If Teddy's slumber was gentle and peaceful, then Spencer's was a battle. She was whimpering and groaning, completely drenched in sweat. She started thrashing, but stilled. Before Emily could call out her name, Spencer opened her eyes.
The moment Spencer saw Emily sitting there; tears welled up in her eyes. She clenched her eyes shut. She started murmuring to herself, as her hands balled up into fists and she curled up into the fetal position. "No, no, no," spilled out of her mouth like a mantra.
Alarmed Emily jumped up and rushed to Spencer's side. "Spencer! Look at me. It was a dream. You're safe with me. Open your eyes." She put her hands on the woman's shoulders.
Spencer opened her eyes slowly. "You're okay." She relaxed instantly as if seeing Emily standing there was all she needed to know she was awake. "You're okay. I thought-"
Emily sat down on the bed. "Bad dream?"
"A nightmare." Even though Spencer had just woken up, she sounded exhausted. "You hated me."
"That's how I know you were dreaming. I could never hate you." Emily smiled softly.
But Spencer continued as if she hadn't heard a word Emily had said. "I had everything I wanted, except you. It was awful. And I made out with Aria," Spencer yawned, as if she didn't know what was coming out of her mouth.
"Sounds terrible." Emily replied in brief amusement.
"It was." Spencer whispered as she closed her eyes again. She was completely drained. "We weren't happy. You should be..."
"I should be what?"
Emily wondered what the woman had dreamed about. She brushed some damp strands of hair out of her face. Spencer sleepily nuzzled into her touch. She frowned at how warm Spencer was. There was a bottle of NyQuil on the nightstand that was almost empty. No wonder she was so out of it.
She stood up and Spencer whined at the loss of contact. "I'll be back."
Emily went into the bathroom and pulled out a small basin out from under the sink. She filled it with some lukewarm water, and grabbed a face towel. Back at Spencer's side, she put the face towel into the water and then wiped it along the woman's forehead. She hoped it would provide some relief.
"That feels good. Doesn't it?"
Spencer purred happily in response, almost like a cat getting pet. Emily ran the towel along her exposed skin. It gave Emily a chance to study Spencer openly.
There were more tattoos on Spencer's left arm, almost an entire sleeve, so she paid more attention to it. She wondered why the woman covered them up around her. They were done beautifully. And she also wondered about their meanings. Nautical stars, and a bird. The padlock on her wrist. A quote on the inner part of her bicep that made her frown due to it being unfinished. And above that an hourglass with more sand on top than in the bottom, frozen in time.
In between these tattoos, wrapping itself around Spencer's arm was some kind of design. Emily thought it was just something to fill up the empty spaces before, but this closer look made her realize it was a vine of some sort when she made out some leaves among the inky tendrils. It grew out of the padlock on her wrist and stopped below the bird and it's four stars, but there could be room to grow. It wasn't as faded looking as the other tattoos.
She had never thought of Spencer Hastings as someone to get a tattoo, let alone have more than one. But that was then, when they were friends who shared things. There was a story of why there but Emily no longer knew how to read Spencer.
She lifted up the shirt Spencer was wearing and gently wiped the towel against her taut abdomen. That was another physical change with the woman. She was no longer that skinny girl but this toned and muscular woman. It was always such a surprise since her wardrobe seemed to consist of loose and baggy men's shirts that hid her body. There was another tattoo on Spencer's left side. It looked like a feather, and there were words around it but she couldn't read the whole thing.
There was also a surgical scar in her right lower quadrant. Emily ran her free hand along it, eliciting a hum from Spencer. It was uncommon to see a scar like that these days instead of separate and smaller scars from a laparoscopic procedure. Open surgery was more invasive and had more risks for complications, as well as having a longer recovery time. She couldn't stand Spencer sick with the flu, so the thought of her having surgery while a prisoner hurt her. At least now she could take care of Spencer.
She dipped the towel back into the basin and wrung it out. She brought the towel to Spencer's chest, where it hovered above the tattoo that read "Liar." She remembered the first time she had seen it and how when she had tried to touch it, Spencer had grabbed her wrist to stop her.
It stood out now, black ink on creamy flesh. Emily bit her lip. She was lying to herself if she said that this wasn't taking advantage of the situation. Spencer wouldn't like how close they were and would probably object if she wasn't under the influence of cough syrup.
"Don't stop." Spencer mewled.
It wasn't fair.
"I should."' Emily stepped back. She really should stop. Stop wanting something she shouldn't be wanting. Stop thinking about how the last fifteen years could have gone. She needed to.
She straightened up Spencer's shirt and then placed a kiss on her forehead. The woman smiled in her sleep and the sight warmed her heart. She had a little more time before she had to get ready for work and before Paige got home. She sat back down in the chair and watch Spencer sleep more peacefully.
She should stop. But she knew she couldn't help herself.
Emily was putting her bowl in the sink after finishing up her breakfast when Paige came into the kitchen. "Good morning," she kissed her wife's cheek. "How was your run?"
Paige looked surprised by the kiss. "Uh. It was good. It helped me clear my head some. Did you just have some cereal? I could have made you something."
Emily pulled down a traveling mug from a cabinet. She poured herself some coffee. Paige had given her an opening. She just had the right way to take it. "I didn't want to trouble you. One less thing for you to worry about."
She took a steadying breath. "Paige, what Spencer said last night."
"Em," Paige pressed, a pained expression on her face.
"Let me finish." Emily held her hands up. "It doesn't change anything."
She didn't know whom she was trying to reassure more. Paige or herself.
Paige shook her head. "It changes everything. But I don't know how yet."
"I love you, Paige." Emily wrapped her arms around her. She didn't want to let go.
"I know you do. We just need to keep going and we'll be okay." There was something to what Paige was saying. It wasn't perfect. But it was them and all they had to hold on to, adrift in a sea of uncertainty.
Hanna and Aria needed to be told what happened and since Spencer's confession wasn't something she wanted to repeat twice, Emily asked Hanna to meet her for a late lunch and she hoped that Aria got her message about being online so the two of them could talk to her via FaceTime.
She was having a cigarette while waiting for the blonde. She didn't know if it was her fourth or fifth of the day, but she knew it wouldn't be her last with the night she had and the morning she had woken up to. She had gone to her shift and had left Paige to do her penance, asking her only to giver her updates on Teddy and Spencer.
"I thought you quit." Hanna stood in front of her.
"I've been told I don't know when to." Emily took one last drag and dropped the cigarette butt on the pavement and ground it out with her shoe. "Let's get inside."
Hanna followed her into the restaurant. The two of them had arrived in the wake of the lunch crowd, so there weren't too many people in the main dining room. But they would be dining in one of the private rooms in the back. Paige always spoke highly of the place's privacy. Her wife also loved how restaurant was officially called The Alibi Room but nowhere was the name visible. Plus, she was in love with their Moroccan Chicken.
Emily waited for her pregnant friend to catch up and be seated before sitting down herself. They were both quiet until the hostess left them and shut the door.
"What's this about?" Hanna had the menu open but was looking straight at Emily.
"I'd rather wait for Aria." Emily went into her bag and pulled out her tablet. She opened its case and then set it on the table. A few seconds later, there was the ring of an incoming call from Aria and she hit accept.
"Hi!" Aria gave a wide arching wave. Her hair was cut shorter than the last time Emily had seen her, in style that was flattering to her face. She was sitting on a leather couch with a steaming mug in her hands.
"Aria, hey!" Emily smiled. "It's been awhile since we had one of these, hasn't it?"
The two of them had grown closer after Spencer was sentenced. It seemed that when the four of them would pair off, it had always been Emily and Hanna and Spencer and Aria or Emily with Spencer or Spencer with Hanna to go off on A tasks. But Aria had always been a good listener when Emily needed someone to talk to that would be unbiased and tell her not what she wanted to hear, but what she needed to. And Emily would try to return the favor. But lately it seemed that Emily would have a monopoly on the conversation and the topic would be Spencer.
Aria knew everything she knew.
"I'm here, too." Hanna jumped in. "What time is it there? It's pretty late, right?"
"Hey, Hanna. No, it's only a little after eight here. " Aria cocked her head to the side. "This feels weird."
"What? You not actually being here?" Hanna raised an eyebrow.
"No. The fact that Spencer isn't here." Aria frowned as she set her mug down.
Emily knew that her friend hadn't had a chance to speak to Spencer yet. When Emily had brought up Aria, Spencer became distraught. She didn't want to talk to the other woman out of shame and guilt. She and Paige had tried to convince her that it wasn't her fault that Ezra had died and Aria didn't blame her. But Spencer still refused to see reason. She was afraid to talk to Aria.
"Well, she Nancy Screwed herself out of being a part of the group a long time ago." Hanna's expression soured.
"You still haven't forgiven her yet?" Aria's tone was incredulous but her brows were furrowed and her teeth were bared. "It's been fifteen years."
"Exactly. She could have gotten in contact with either of you. But she didn't. She was too busy wearing do-rags and getting strip searched."
"Don't talk about her like that." Emily pounded her fist on the table with enough force to knock the tablet over. "You have no idea what she did for us."
"Hey!" Aria's voice sounded from the tablet, but the two women just stared each other down.
"And what was that?" Hanna was scowling hard.
"She sacrificed her freedom for ours." Emily started strong, but her voice started to waver. "She was willing to serve life in prison so that we could live ours."
To say what Spencer did out loud somehow made it weigh more. The air was heavier, like it was harder to breathe. Emily's shoulders slumped and she brought her hands to her face. She could hear Aria calling her name, but she moved slowly. She looked over at Hanna.
"So that's supposed to make a difference?" Hanna was shaking with anger. "She could have let us in on her plan. We could have helped her. But she just... just went ahead and made a choice without us like an idiot. She left us. She didn't have to do it." The blonde was in agony by now. Her eyes were glistening with unshed tears. "She shouldn't have."
"But she did." Emily's expression softened. Hanna was feeling the same way she was, but was trying too hard to prove to herself and everyone that she wasn't. Betrayal and hurt at not being trusted after everything they had gone through together. Guilt at what Spencer had done was destructive so it poured out as anger at the person that was causing it. Anger couldn't burn away the guilt, but Hanna was going to try.
"It doesn't change anything." Hanna gritted her teeth. She heaved herself out of her chair and left.
Emily just let her go. Her friend needed to be alone. She'd come to her when she was ready. It was like Hanna was in grieving. Denial and anger at what Spencer had done. Emily had been dealing with her grief for fifteen years, but still felt nowhere near to accepting the loss.
She sighed and picked the tablet off the table. She held it in her unsteady hands.
Aria was still there. She looked pale and her eyes were somehow wider, like a child looking for comfort in a mother's arms. "Is it true?"
"Yes. Spencer told us last night." Emily grimaced at the memory.
"Paige knows too?" Aria sounded surprised.
"Paige is the one that forced the confession." Emily explained how Spencer had been there for a sick Teddy when she and her wife had been unable to. She brought up the "gifts" A had left her and red queen chess piece that Mona had given her. And the journals Veronica Hastings had left behind. And how Spencer was sick herself, holed up in their guest bedroom.
"You don't think A would hurt Teddy?" Aria was concerned. She had lost so much at the hands of A. They couldn't choose to believe that A had any limits on what they would do. Losing Ezra was proof of that A had no qualms about murder.
"Paige thinks so. That thought was enough to scare her into ambushing Spencer with that interrogation." Emily replied. She wondered how silent and uncomfortable it was at the apartment. Teddy was too sick to be a distraction and her wife and Spencer were still reeling from last night. Those two were probably hiding from each other, licking their wounds. Paige, still ashamed of her actions, and Spencer because...
Emily could only guess. Spencer felt guilt about so many things, things that weren't her fault. The lithe brunette kept her distance from her because she didn't trust her, but maybe because she didn't trust herself. Emily could only think about all the times the two of them had been close but then Spencer would pull back and that wall would go up again. She hoped that Spencer wasn't avoiding Paige because she was nervous to be around her. She needed at least one person she could depend on.
"How's Paige taking it?" Aria cut into her thoughts.
"She's upset." Emily knew that was an understatement. She blew a long breath out of her mouth, as if that could relieve some of the pressure she was feeling.
"I'd be too. I mean she knows how you feel about Spencer, right?"
"I told Paige that it doesn't change how I feel about her." She still loved Paige. She knew she did.
"Just think about what it looks like to her. I mean all this after you and Spencer kissed."
"Paige doesn't know about the kiss."
"You still haven't told her?" Aria gasped.
Emily winced. "No. How can I now? After what Spencer told us. And Spencer is still weary around me. Like she can't be alone with me. It's like Paige is the only person from Rosewood she trusts. They're actually really good friends."
"So it would seem that Spencer doesn't want to hurt Paige as well."
She fell quiet as she slumped against the back of the chair. She held the tablet in her lap. Aria brought up a good point. Spencer displayed a loyalty to Paige that was surprising. Maybe she wasn't afraid of Paige, but rather afraid of betraying her. Loyalty was all she felt she could offer in return for all that they were doing for her.
"It's... complicated." Paige and Spencer was the only thing working. Everything else was messed up by her hands.
"Sounds like you could use a drink."
Emily gave a small laugh. "I'm on the job. But I'm getting the next best thing."
No sooner had she finished her sentence than there was a knock on the door. Emily told the person on the other side to come in. The door opened and a waiter came in with a plate. He set it down in front of her. She thanked him and he left.
She set the tablet's stand up so that she could still chat with Aria. She picked up her fork with a pleased smile.
"Cake?" Aria was amused.
"It's not just any cake. It's heaven." It was a slice of German chocolate cake that Emily knew The Alibi Room ordered from Nina's. She cut off the tip with her fork and she brought it to her mouth. She moaned a bit. "Almost as good as sex."
Aria laughed. "Must be some cake. I didn't even hear you order it."
Emily set her fork down. "I placed an order before I got here. I ordered some food to be delivered to Paige so she wouldn't have to cook. The chef's a family friend. And I asked them to have a slice of cake ready when "my blonde pregnant friend" stormed out of the restaurant."
"You knew Hanna was going to leave?"
"She always does when it comes to Spencer." Emily frowned. She had known by the end of the conversation she was going to need something sweet to get rid of the bitterness it was sure to leave in its wake. She wished she was sharing that cake with one of her best friends.
"Yeah. That wasn't exactly a conversation you could stomach a meal after."
"I know, but I was still holding out hope." Emily was hoping that Hanna would finally forgive Spencer.
"I should let you finish your cake." Aria smiled as she gave a little flourish of her hand.
Emily gave her a sheepish look. "Sorry. It's rude isn't it? But I don't know..."
"You could use the company." Aria said in understanding. "We could catch up a bit. Let me get more tea."
While Aria was gone from the screen, she savored a few more bites of cake. Nina really knew how to bake. She brought the fork up to her mouth again. Sure the price for a slice was slightly higher, but it was worth it. She thought about stopping by the shop later to pick something up and fill everyone in on how Spencer was doing once her shift ended.
"Okay. Back." Aria sat down on the couch. Half of the cake was already gone. "So aside from that, everything else is going well?"
Emily still had a mouth full of cake. She chewed a bit before swallowing. "Uh... Yeah. Definitely. I'll be taking my oral boards in a couple months."
"You'll do well. You've been studying so hard." Aria raised her mug up in a cheers motion.
"I'll be glad when I'm finished. One less thing to worry about." Emily sighed as she stabbed another piece of cake. "How about you? What is going on in the life of Aria Montgomery?"
"Well, I'm working on my next-"
Emily's phone went off. The both froze. Aria gave her a worried look. She picked up her phone and saw that she had a message from a blocked number. Her face fell.
"Is it A?"
She nodded as she opened the text.
"You can't eat your cake and have it too. After all, a moment on the lips... -A"
Emily finished reading the text out loud.
"That bitch." Aria said. "You look great though, Em."
"That's not what the text was about." She put a hand on her stomach. "Well, not really."
"You mean the kiss?"
"Yeah." Emily stood up in frustration and moved to the door. She went to the main dining room and saw that the only people eating there were an elderly couple.
The headwaiter hurried over. "Is there a problem?"
"Yeah. Has anyone been in here within the past hour?" She asked with marked agitation.
"No, just Mr. and Mrs. Yokas over there." He looked confused.
"Well then someone was listening in our meeting back there." Emily bristled. Of course it wasn't going to be that easy to catch A in the act. It never was.
"I can assure you that we haven't been compromised. We value our customer's business by making sure their private business is kept private." He held his head up confidently. "Whatever it is, it's not a problem on our end."
"Damn it." Emily trudged back to the private room and shut the door behind her.
"What happened?" Aria was still there.
"A must have hacked our conversation somehow." Emily ran a hand through her hair. "I have to get back to the hospital."
"Okay. Let me know, if anything changes? Just... Don't let A get to you?"
Emily just nodded and gave Aria a halfhearted goodbye. But this was going to get to her. A sending things to Spencer, and now this text. All Spencer did by going to prison was put a bandage on a bleeding wound.
That wasn't fair. At least Spencer had done something. All she had done was sit on her laurels and get fat, hoping that A was behind them. And Paige had stayed ready. She was prepared for anything. So if those two were leaving her out of this, it was her own fault.
She couldn't have it both ways.
And A wasn't going to let her forget it.
She managed to get through her scheduled surgeries, grateful for a distraction from everything else. Other people might not think an inflamed gallbladder or inguinal hernias would be welcomed, but Emily could easily handle that. Once she put on that mask and gown, she was Doctor Fields.
The last surgery of the day was an appendectomy. She got through it no problem. Just made the small incisions and used the smaller surgical tools, and it was over quick. She scrubbed out.
And the problems of Emily Fields came back to her mind. She couldn't stop herself from making comparisons.
Emily knew she was invasive. She'd cut deep and left a bigger scar. With her there was a longer recovery time. And there were complications with her. She wiped her hands dry with a bitter laugh. She really was a surgeon after all.
What happened to that girl that was so fearless and knew what she wanted? The one that everyone was proud of. The giver that put others before herself. She wasn't too proud with herself now.
Because now she was so used to getting what she wanted that she didn't know where to draw the line. She didn't quit when she should. She didn't stop. She just took.
That was her problem. But she didn't know how to fix it.
She changed into her street clothes and put on her coat. She gave Camille and Riyadh a quick good-bye after they told her they hoped Teddy would be back to her energetic self soon. It wasn't that cold so she decided to walk the few blocks to their apartment. She had a lot on her mind. She could also get one more cigarette in before home.
A knew about the night she had kissed Spencer. But she didn't know what their tormentor planned on doing with that information. It had been days since that night, but nothing had come from it on A's end. There just seemed to be an upswing in A going after Spencer.
A was biding their time, as if waiting for the right moment.
Then there was what Spencer had done. They had to clear her name even more. They had to beat A now more than ever. It wouldn't give her back fifteen years, but she could live the rest of her life without being afraid.
They all could.
She could give that to Spencer at least.
"Hey, Emily." That man that had been way too friendly with Spencer was standing in front of her. He seemed to sense that she couldn't remember his name. Not that she cared to. "It's Gavin. So are you going in for a cup of coffee too? Getting close to closing."
She looked up. She was standing outside Cupcake-a-Coffee. She could use something to warm herself up and she could grab something to take home. Like some coconut cupcakes. Paige loved them even more than she did.
"Yes. A cup to go." She said in order to make sure he'd get the idea that she wasn't sticking around to share a table with him so he could get her to spill details about Spencer.
"I get it. You want to get home to your hot wife." Gavin grinned as he held the door open for her.
She pushed past him and rolled her eyes.
"Sorry." He apologized. "I'm kinda nervous. It's just that... You and Spencer Hastings are friends, right?"
"Yeah." Her eyes narrowed at him. She knew he wanted something, and the use of Spencer's last name made her feel uncomfortable. She hoped that she told him, instead of him finding it out on his own. "If you're here to see Spencer, she's home sick."
She continued, cutting him off from speaking. "And if you're thinking you can use me to put in a good word in with her, you can forget it. "
He shut his mouth, and was quiet as if choosing his words carefully. "I guess she told you. I would have loved to have gotten to know her better, but-"
"What are you doing here!"
Emily and Gavin looked up to see a fuming Nina coming towards them. She was surprised to the usually calm and kind woman so worked up. She did disappointed, which Emily had been on the receiving end of a few times. Right now she looked absolutely murderous. Eli was following behind her with an equally furious expression.
She backed up. They'd found out about how she kissed Spencer and just left. She knew Eli had done time, but Nina was going to end her for hurting someone she had taken under her wing. Someone she saw as a daughter. Spencer was family and family took care of each other.
But they were aiming for Gavin.
"You have some nerve showing up here after what you did!" Nina pressed a finger into his chest and he stumbled back a bit. "And now you're bothering her friends for information."
"What did he do?" Emily asked, crossing her arms. She knew she had been right about this guy.
"He's a reporter. He wanted to do a story on Spencer." Eli said while holding Nina back. But her face said that she was tempted to let her go and hurt him.
"I'll destroy him." Emily growled.
Gavin raised his hands up in defense. "A story, yes. Though not exactly on Spencer. But she might be interested in what I have to say."
"Fuck what you have to say! You're dead." Emily made a grab for the front of his shirt. But someone wrapped an arm around her waist. She struggled hard against them.
"Emily, calm down." Caleb was trying to be soothing, but his voice was straining. Emily could feel his grip loosening, so she pushed harder. "Dude, you should go now."
Gavin started to leave, but he turned around to say one more thing before he left. "I got a message from an anonymous source."
That got Emily to freeze. It must have gotten to Caleb too because he let her go. Nina and Eli were still shooting daggers at him. The last table of patrons left in the shop was pretending not to be watching, but Emily could tell they were still hoping to witness a fight.
Sensing that he had her attention, Gavin started talking. "All my leads were drying up and I thought I was going nowhere but then I got a text pointing me in what my gut told me was the right direction." He cast a glance around the shop. "Look, I don't think we should speak about this out in the open."
"I agree." Emily crossed her arms against her chest while she fixed him with a scalding glare.
Nina looked at her with a touch of betrayal. "You can't honestly trust him?"
"I don't. But I want to know what he knows." Emily said firmly. This was business.
Eli was studying her. "Nina, I think Emily knows what she's doing." She gave her a knowing nod. She pointed a thumb at Gavin. "But if he does anything to mess with Spencer, I have some connections that can make him disappear."
Eli managed to pull Nina back into the kitchen. "We'll be right back."
Emily would gladly take the older woman up on the offer. She'd go to any length to protect hers. It might not have to come to that, but it was nice to have it as a safety net. For now it was just a threat in order to put fear into the reporter, who had heard every word. It wasn't written on his face, but he had shifted closer to Caleb.
Caleb shrugged, as if to say he had no control over Emily. Her friend knew better.
"Right, I'm going to meet one of my sources. Not The Source, of course." He winced at the rhyme he made. "But someone they sent me to."
"What, right now?" Emily looked at him in disbelief. It was late at night. In fact, it was close to closing for Nina's shop.
"The news never sleeps." Gavin cocked his head towards the door.
"Fine. This better be worth it."
"I'm coming with you." Caleb stepped forward.
Emily arched an eyebrow at his declaration. "I can handle myself."
"I know you can. But I'd rather have just you pissed off at me than having my wife and your wife pissed off at me if I let you go alone."
Emily relented. "Smart man."
"Besides, I'll be there to make sure you don't damage those valuable hands on this idiot's face." Caleb grinned.
"Hey-" Gavin started indignantly, but fell silent at the glare Emily was sending him. He busied himself with his phone.
"Why are you here anyway?" Emily asked.
"Hanna was craving some cake. And only Nina's German chocolate cake would do. I have you to thank for that." He chuckled good-naturedly.
"If she stuck around earlier, she could have had some." Emily said, remembering about the A text.
"Hanna told me." Caleb leaned in closer, his voice low. "And I want to help. I need to help her."
Emily didn't need to be told why. Spencer had keep Hanna safe for fifteen years. Caleb and Hanna were married and he was about to have a child with the woman he loved. A life like that had never felt possible with A watching their every move. But Spencer gave him that.
Nina and Eli came returned. "Here's your order, Caleb." Nina was holding a paper bag in her hands. She stopped him though when he moved to take it. "But we'll be taking it to your wife. So you can go with Emily here."
Did everyone think that she couldn't hold her own? That she needed to be protected?
Eli continued the conversation. "To keep her out of trouble and to stop her from doing anything stupid."
Emily bristled but kept her mouth shut. The older woman was right. When it came to Spencer, she lost control of herself. She had done her fair share of stupid with Spencer already. She just hoped that Eli didn't know that. But it was probably too late.
"I'm already going." Caleb smirked. "Thank you for doing that for me."
"And you both better call your wives and tell them what you're doing before we drop off this cake." Nina nodded knowingly.
"We'll give you a head start." Eli winked.
"Hey. My contact just told me where we could meet him." Gavin cut it. Every one of them shot him a dirty look.
"Well, let's go. The sooner we get this over with, the sooner I can go home." Emily said goodbye to Eli and Nina, and took confident strides to the door. Caleb thanked the two women one more time and he followed her. Gavin just slinked to the door, knowing he was no longer welcome in the coffee shop.
Once out on the street, Gavin went to flag down a cab. But Caleb said they'd be using his car since he drove. He just needed the address. The car's GPS got the address from the phone and they were on their way. Caleb was driving with Emily in the passenger seat. Gavin was sitting in the back, out of sight and out of mind.
"So are you going to call Paige?" Caleb asked.
"Yeah. She'd want to know. Are you going to call Hanna?" Emily took her phone out. "I can call her and say it was my idea for you to come with me."
"No. You don't have to do that for me." Caleb glanced at her briefly before concentrating on the road. He was asking her not to lie for him.
There were things that Emily shared with Paige, and there were things that she kept from her. This wasn't going to be one of the things that fell into the latter.
"How you doing back there?" Caleb asked their third wheel.
"Just fine. Going over some of my notes. So did you guys know Spencer before or after prison?" He asked.
"If you know Spencer was in prison, then you know the answer to that." Emily gritted out.
"Right. So you're both from Rosewood. Did you know the girls she murdered?" Gavin asked nonchalantly.
"Caleb, stop the car."
He did as he was told and pulled over.
"Listen carefully." Emily unbuckled her seatbelt and turned around in her seat to glare at him. "Spencer Hastings did not murder anyone. She's innocent. And if you, or anyone, says otherwise in my presence, you're going to find it hard to say thing with your jaw wired shut after I break it."
"So you think she's innocent, too." Gavin crossed his hands over his chest, as if to shield himself. "This story I'm writing might prove it. But when I told her she freaked."
"And then she coldly insisted that she was a murderer, am I right?" Emily closed her eyes in frustration. That was the wrong thing to tell a reporter. "You better not publish that."
"Please, I have some integrity." Gavin scoffed.
"Oh, so you flirt with all the people you want to interview. Equal treatment and all that. Or just the ones that can get you a book deal and a Pulitzer." Emily was seething.
"That day we met, I had no idea who she was. What I saw was someone I'd like to get to know better. Yeah, I was interested, but this is bigger than me. This is a chance to clear someone's name and bring the real killer to justice. And maybe even to stop this from happening again."
"What are you talking about?"
Emily's phone ringing stopped him from answering. She looked at the phone in her hand. Paige was calling her.
"Hey, baby." Emily greeted.
"Em, are you okay? You should be home by now. I was worried." Relief replaced the dread in Paige's voice.
"I was on my way home when something came up." Emily glanced at Caleb and he started the car again. They were supposed to be going somewhere to get some answers.
"And what is that exactly?"
Emily didn't know how to explain it. "I ran into that guy with the dog that Teddy thought was pretty. The Australian Sheppard."
"Yes. He's a reporter and he has a source that we can get information from."
"I'm with Caleb."
"That makes it better? You should be home right now, instead of going to shady places. Teddy misses you and I miss you."
"How is she?"
"She's feeling better. She and Spencer just watched cartoons the whole day when I was working. I'm sure Teddy enjoyed having her around. I joined them on the couch for a bit."
"Did they eat?" Emily asked concerned.
"Yes, they did. Thanks for the lunch by the way." Paige seemed distracted.
"Is there something you're not telling me?" Emily was scared.
"I finally took a look at the journal Spencer wanted to show me. Veronica had a list of town names. And what I could find online was that there's been at least one missing persons case in each of these towns." She trailed off, like she didn't know how to proceed.
Emily's stomach sank. "And?"
"And some unsolved murders." Paige gave her some time for it to sink in.
"Fuck." Emily grimaced.
"What's going on?" Caleb asked.
"Is that what you meant?" Emily turned towards Gavin. "That Rosewood isn't the only town with dead girls? That whoever killed Alison and Maya didn't stop there?"
"Yes. That's the conclusion I've come to at least." He shrugged.
"Paige, how's Spencer taking this?" Emily went back to the phone. She knew the other woman would be blaming herself.
"How do you think?" Paige sighed. "She panicked again. So I calmed her down and gave her something to help her sleep."
"She sleeps best when she's not alone." She was remembering that night she woke up screaming, and all those sleepovers in high school.
"I know." Paige was quiet. "Just come home when you're satisfied."
"I always come home to you. Okay, Paige? I love you." Emily was telling the truth. She hoped Paige didn't doubt that.
"I love you, too. Stay safe." Paige hung up.
"I take it your wife wasn't too happy with you going tonight. It's easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission, isn't it?"
Emily ignored him. "How much longer until we're there?"
Caleb glanced at the GPS. "Just around the corner."
He turned the car at the next light. He found a spot and part the car along the sidewalk. "A bar?"
"Yeah. I've met him here before." Gavin said as if he didn't see the problem with their meeting place.
"Is he some kind of drunk?" Emily paused in front of the entrance.
"He checks out." Gavin held open the door for her and Caleb. "He a cop. Though he's retired now."
"Wait. You don't mean- Shit!" Caleb looked at the bar. And Emily did the same. Who she saw sitting at one of the bar stools made her swear.
"Of course, it's him."
The man was out of shape with a big gut pouring over his belt and he looked rumpled and discarded. He was slouched over a glass of amber liquid. But Emily recognized him. He had tortured her and her friends just as much as A had. So she took some pleasure in the fact that he looked like shit.
"Well if it isn't one of Rosewood's Finest."
Darren Wilden didn't look happy to see her either. "Are you fucking kidding me?"
I wrote a companion piece to this chapter based on Spencer's fever dream. So look out for that. Trying to get back to the mystery part of this fic. I hope I'm not sucking at it.