The grating artificial, overhead light bathed them as they swept into the hospital, racing after the stretcher, already speeding toward surgery. Hannah wasn't entirely sure how her legs hadn't caved from under her, somehow – likely on pure adrenaline, her body was keeping going, willing her to keep moving and carry on: for Caleb. Her friends were arrayed around her – apart from Emily. She had been traumatised enough, without a trip to the hospital and, in any case, the ever incompetent officers of Rosewood PD needed to question her about the stabbing of Lyndon.
Spencer, immaculate as always, clutched at Hannah's arm supportively, her handbag resolutely slung over her arm and her long, dark curls bouncing as they walked at speed. Aria's dark, mysterious eyes were alive with worry and concern – darting about as they surged through the hospital, following in Caleb's wake. She was dreading the moment at which they were told they could go no further; at that point Hannah would break down and she wasn't sure if she could deal with that again.
As the thought crossed her mind, a kind looking elderly nurse stepped into their path, her sweet grandmotherly expression contorting into a stony gaze that stopped the trio dead in their tracks.
"I'm sorry but you'll have to wait here," she addressed firmly, "the Doctors need to focus on him now, you'll only be a distraction."
Hannah's resolve shattered at that moment. Despite Spencer's steely grip she slipped through it, plunging to the floor, twisting her ankle in the process as her shoe slipped on the floor. She yelped, opening the floodgates as tears began streaming down her face and she began sobbing inconsolably – just as she had at the lighthouse. Spencer and Aria dropped in unison to her side, and without a word lifted her swiftly to a bench on the side of the waiting room sitting either side of her. Spencer fumbled in her bag for some tissues, while Aria stood up – hoping to capitalize on Hannah's emotional explosion to get information from the Nurse about Caleb.
"Hi," Aria greeted, flashing a sweet smile at the Nurse who had seated herself at a desk and was disinterestedly reading a report on the computer screen, "I was wondering if there was anything you could tell us about Caleb," the woman offered her blank look, "the boy they just brought in? He's my friend's boyfriend…and any news you could give us would be of help-"
"-I can't disclose anything to you at this point," she said raising her hand, "I wish I could help your friend but hospital policy strictly-"
"-Spencer?" A British accent called and Aria turned, spotting Wren, his hair styled in a cropped quiff entering from the ER, he then caught sight of Hannah and dropped to her side immediately, "Look he's in surgery and he should be fine, I'm actually helping with that so I should get back…but…don't worry about it." He smiled at her and touched at her hand for just a moment, although as Aria saw it, it was a very long moment for two people who barley knew one another.
She turned back to the Nurse and smiled weakly – her objective accomplished and turned back, spotting Emily entered and ran to embrace her in a hug, she stood back, regarding her friend, "You're okay, right?"
Emily nodded timidly, "They…let me go…until they can speak to Caleb they can't do anything about it anyway."
"You don't seriously think they would?" Spencer quizzed imperiously.
Emily shrugged and then frowned as Spencer's Mom entered, looking tired and drawn. It was hard to believe anyone in the Hastings family could ever looking anything but immaculate, but Veronica was living proof. Worse she was followed by Garrett whose entire demeanour seemed to be bolder than it had in weeks. Emily suppressed the urge to shudder as she regarded the two of them, and then inwardly cursed as they began advancing toward them.
"Emily," Veronica greeted, turning to her, smiling although Emily doubted the sincerity of it, "I'm so sorry you had to go through something like that," she paused, but then continued, "but…you should know that you're actions helped clear an innocent man." Veronica returned to Garrett's side as he moved to the desk. Emily was about to express her discomfort but she was stopped – her phone was ringing. So were Hannah, Aria and Spencer's. As one, the friends lifted the phones to their ears.
A vocally modified voice greeted them, "Emily, I owe you one." It hung up as quickly as it had called but it's impact was not lost on Emily. She caught Garrett's eye and saw him smile smugly, and disconcertingly. Spencer's Mom led him away, leaving the girls alone again.
"Even if he is cleared, I still don't trust him." Emily declared bitterly.
"None of us do," Spencer affirmed, squeezing Hannah's hand as a comfort, "and he's on our radar now."
Aria frowned, "What are you saying?"
"You sound…different." Hannah sniffed.
"I am," Spencer's steely gaze lingered on the door her mother and Garrett had left be, "I'm sick of being on the defensive the whole time."
Morning sunlight was drifting through the parting in the lazily drawn living room curtains as Spencer strolled downstairs, glad that it was the weekend and her hair still wet. She hadn't had time to dry it and since she had little or nothing planned all day she wasn't in any rush to: yesterday had been a day of many things…perfection…deception and danger. It had all brought her to the single conclusion that it was time she fought fire with fire – she needed active rather than passive resistance.
It would likely be a lonely crusade.
Hannah was too concerned for Caleb to be in any mood for going after A and Emily would be trying to rebuild bridges with Paige – something that would be impossible if she had to spend time with the very people who had accused Paige of terrorising them only a few days earlier. That had left her Aria. Spencer rummaged in the cupboards, producing some cereal and finding a bowl, adding some milk and happily eating them, without being rushed by the need to get to school.
"Hey Spence," greeted Melissa, causing Spencer to nearly choke on her cereal as her sister rounded the island to face her, "miss me?"
After an awkward moment Spencer sped round the island and hugged her sister for lack of anything else to do, "How have you been? Mom's been so focussed on the case she hasn't been passing anything along and Dad's…being Dad." The sisters laughed at that – their Father was a famously bad link in the social chain between the family – Veronica was the real glue holding the family together.
"I'm good…better actually…I guess Mom didn't tell you I got that internship with the media company?" Spencer shook her head and Melissa laughed, "Well, I did…how are things with you anyway? Are you still seeing Toby?"
"Yeah," Spencer blushed accidentally and immediately regretted them as comprehension flickered across Melissa's face, "I mean…things are good with him."
"I'll bet," Melissa was smirking now, "so when did it happen?"
Spencer immediately felt fire swelling in her, "Hey it was really-"
"-beautiful? Special? Romantic?" Melissa let out a shrill laugh and raised a hand as she saw a glare forming on Spencer's face, "Skip the cliché Spence – and don't be mad, I'm just laughing cause it took you two this long," Spencer looked even more furious at that, "and I'm happy for you." Spencer's anger evaporated.
Spencer's phone rang out and she scanned it, urgently when she saw the unknown sender marking.
ROMANTIC IT MAY HAVE BEEN SPENCE, BUT ROMANCE DOESN'T MEAN LOVE. AND FYI, IT'S NO FUN TO PLAY GAMES ON YOUR OWN, WATCH YOUR BACK – A.
Spencer frowned at the text and immediately saw that Melissa had spotted the change in her mood, her mind raced for a solution and found one, "It's Hannah…they're keeping Caleb at the Hospital another night."
"Okay," Melissa replied, not sounding entirely convinced, "well…I've got some errands to run in Rosewood so I'll see you later?"
"Sure," Spencer nodded.
Melissa moved to leave the kitchen but paused as she opened the door, admitting Aria and exchanging a polite smile before leaving. Aria walked into the kitchen and took a seat next to Spencer and offered her a surprised expression, "Since when was she back?"
"Who knows," Spencer said, without a trace of humour, "I just got the strangest text from –A." She showed Aria her phone, and Aria studied it intently.
"What does that mean? It's no fun to play games on your own. What does –A want?"
Spencer shrugged, "I'm not sure but I've got a few ideas – and I'm not sure why she'd warn me off Toby…I mean I get threats…but warning me? This is distinctly not-A-sounding."
"Anyway," said Aria, desperate to off-load, "I need to talk to you about something since Hannah isn't here."
Spencer nodded as a prompt.
"When I spoke to Ezra's brother after meeting his mom…I found out some pretty…shady stuff about what she did with an ex-girlfriend Ezra had gotten pregnant. She paid this girl to have an abortion and disappear from Ezra's life and…as far as Ezra knew she did. Except…I went to see this girl," a reproachful look was crossing Spencer's face, her dark brows furrowing, "and I mean she was fine…and had made something good of her life…except she never got rid of the kid." Aria could feel her eyes beginning to water, "He…he has a kid Spencer."
Spencer processed the information and wiped the reproachful look from her face.
"Have you told him?"
"Are you going to?"
Aria frowned and a single tear escaped her watering left-eye, "I promised her I wouldn't."
Spencer nodded, "I mean…he has a right to know…and you love him Aria. I'm not sure if it's any good for your conscience to be holding something back from him like this. The longer you leave it, the more damage you're doing to your relationship."
"I know," Aria admitted sadly, "I just…if he finds out…I'm scared he'll leave me."
"Because you aren't ready to be a step-mom?" Spencer prodded nervously.
Aria shook her head, "He'd want to do the decent thing and stand by Maggie…and at some point he'd realize it's easier for them to be together than apart," at that point Spencer wrapped her in a tight hug, letting her sob into her chest, Aria continued, although muffled, "I can't lose him Spencer…we've been through too much."
"You won't lose him, I promise."
The idea was all the more concrete in Spencer's mind now: she would take the war to –A. Whether she liked it or not. That started with Mona.
Emily curled up in her window seat and reached out to touch Paige, although she shrank back against the far side of the frame, fear wide in her eyes, her fiery mahogany hair at odds with the frightened look she wore. Emily frowned deeply, she'd thought when she'd asked Paige to come over they'd be able to talk about things and moved past it, but Paige still seemed worried Lyndon was waiting to pounce upon them at any moment.
"You aren't really okay are you?"
"Are you?" Paige demanded, looking in Emily's eyes for the first time, "Because I'm seriously freaked out. Someone so close to you betrayed you Em and he kidnapped me…being kidnapped is a pretty messed up thing." There was anger in Paige's voice, but Emily knew it was just a front for fear, she herself often hid behind anger when she was scared – being terrorised by -A brought that ought in a person.
Emily bobbed her head understandingly, "I get it okay."
"Do you?" Paige's expression was cold now, "Emily my parents have booked me into counselling and I'm beginning to think I need it. I had four dreams last night – all of them nightmares about…Lyndon. I'm terrified Emily…everywhere I go I think I'm going to be attacked…and I'm worried about that anonymous text. I hope that it was Lyndon's way of getting me on a particular route so he could kidnap me but…I'm worried it was someone else."
"You think it was –A?" Emily probed.
Paige's eyes were wide with fear, "Yes. It's pretty terrifying to have to deal with."
"I'm scared to." Emily said quietly.
"I love you Emily…but the fact is the –A stuff is something I can get out of. I could remove myself from the situation and live a normal life." Paige was moving away from Emily again.
Realisation dawned on Emily, "You're breaking up with me? After everything?"
"Because of everything," Paige underlined determinedly, "I need to keep my distance Emily, I can talk to you at swim practices and say things to you around school but I can't be with you. It's too dangerous…you have to understand," Paige could see Emily's eyes watering over as tears began to run down her face, "look…for what it's worth I'm-"
"-get out." Emily said coldly.
"I-" Emily was looking out the window now instead of at Paige, looking down at the street and at the trees. Drifting away to think about Maya…think about the solace she could take from her. Paige stood up and left fairly swiftly and Emily's eyes fell upon her desk and her computer. She needed to see Maya…hear her voice – a sooth-song.
She flipped open the laptop and accessed Maya's website. She blinked the tears away, for a moment she thought she saw a new video upload. She frowned and then looked again: there was a new file. She opened it and sat back, confused. The video showed a dark room, barley lit by a number of candles. Emily felt her heart rate increase dramatically as she recognised a dark-hooded figure: Mona, standing with an identically clothed figure: Noel Kahn. She gasped as three more people entered the room: she could see the faces of two: short Lucas and broad-shouldered Garrett, the third was obscured, though she was fairly sure he was a boy.
"She'll be shaken up." Noel murmured.
"She can be drawn back in," Mona dismissed, "besides she isn't that relevant anymore…since the entire theory that Paige is –A was squandered."
"I dealt with Caleb like you asked," Lucas admitted determinedly and Emily felt a stab of shock – Lucas had shot Caleb, "he's in hospital and Hannah's distraught."
Noel frowned, "I still think that was unnecessary."
"I'm free now, which means we can focus on the plan." Garrett said, seemingly steering them away from a combative topic.
"You'll move forward as I direct, Emily is old news," Mona's eyes were sparkling with sinister scenarios, "I have a new target in mind for special treatment, and Noel since you have a connection to her you can design it."
The clip froze at that point and Emily frowned as her phone rang out, she grabbed at it and scanned the text, knowing it would be from –A.
MARK THIS AS A GAME-CHANGER 'EM. THE PACK MIGHT BE SCARY, BUT YOU SHOULD KEEP AN EYE ON THE LONE-BITCHES. –A
Aria strolled past her brother's room, smiling at him as he worked – it was nice to see Mike actually knuckling down and focusing on his schoolwork for a change. He grinned at her and looked up, "Did you get Mom's text?"
"Yeah," Aria said, "how do you feel about dinner with her new boyfriend?"
"If she's happy I am," Mike confided, "although you know I have to give him a hard time right?"
Aria laughed, "Yeah I guessed you might," she paused, "keep up the good work."
She crossed into her own room and flopped down on her bed. The chat with Spencer had been intense but she was still in turmoil over the decision. Maggie seemed like a nice enough woman…but she didn't owe her any loyalty. She owed Ezra the truth and she had to give it to him. She couldn't put her own reservations in front of Ezra's needs – after all it was his child and she had to accept that he would make his own choices on the matter. Maggie had a right to privacy too, but that didn't extend to not telling Ezra he had a child – no matter how much money she had received from Dianne. At the same token could she bring such upheaval into Ezra's life? He had experienced such chaos since he had fallen in love with Aria…this could be the final straw, and even if it weren't of Aria's making she would have to deal with the fallout.
She chided herself for letting her reservations come to the forefront again. But somehow, despite Spencer and Hannah's protestations she felt that she had to value what she was thinking on some level.
Not for the first time she wondered if things would have been different if Wes hadn't picked her up that night and if she'd never found out about Maggie. She would be free from such great burden and be able to escape. She frowned – she would never have been truly free. Maggie would have contacted Ezra at some point, and at a point beyond that he would have discovered his son. There was no disguising that fact for a great distance of time. Perhaps Ezra would even have only found out when Malcolm became old enough to start asking questions for himself. But it was a ticking time-bomb and Aria had to acknowledge that.
Her phone rang out and she saw the caller ID, happily picking up to speak to Spencer again, "Hey, how'd you know I needed you?"
"I'm your friend, I'm meant to know these things," Spencer greeted warmly, "you're still confused aren't you?"
"I'm just not sure how to approach this…or even if I'm right to tell him. It has to be my decision you know…I can't act just because you and Han both say it's a bad idea to keep it from him." Aria felt pained to hear her honest feelings expressed out loud again.
Spencer sighed, "I just think you'll regret it at the end of it all…if it comes out. The writing's on the wall Aria…I think you just have to stop ignoring it and admit it to yourself…then tell Ezra. But like you say it has to be your decision."
"Thanks Spence…I'll speak to you tomorrow." Aria put down the phone, still no clearer in her mind about what move to make than she had been that morning.
Almost immediately it chimed again – this time a text. Aria picked it up expecting it to be from Spencer and slammed it back down on the table almost as quickly.
DECISION TIME ARIA, YOU'VE GOT A CHOICE IN FRONT OF YOU. MAKE OUT WITH WES, OR I TELL EZRA EVERYTHING. –A.
I've been itching to do a PLL fic for so long and now I'm finally doing it,
I hope you guys like it,
I'm definitely going to keep this going,
Reviews and responses always appreciated and welcomed,