Welkin did not need to reply for May to know she was right.
A heavy breath escaped her lips as she tried to wrap her mind around what the Star was telling her. “But then, how is she not dead?”
“By virtue of a very unorthodox and imperfect process that involved harvesting what was left of Audrey’s life force and providing her with a new vessel in which to reside.”
May knitted her brow as she deciphered Welkin’s words. “A vessel? As in, a new body?”
“Of course,” the Star replied. “Although building a new body is a skill I myself do not possess. I had to call in a debt owed by an acquaintance of the earthbound and, shall we say, mythical persuasion for that.”
Welkin continued. “But as I said before, there is no perfect way to bring someone back from the dead. Em is Audrey, as best as I could salvage her. You need to understand there is no easy way to collect an evanescent soul, but I did the best I could. Even with assistance, there was still need to fill in blank spaces with pieces of myself and ultimately, of another, to make her strong enough to live again. Em as you know her is as much of Audrey as possible, while at once someone entirely new.”
Welkin paused, collecting their thoughts as they watched May carefully.
“I never did right by her,” they admitted quietly. “I wasn’t there for Audrey the way I should have been. This, I thought, would my way of of making up for that. She still thinks I did it for Astrid. That it was because I loved her mother that I brought her back. I did not realize how much I hurt her.”
Confused, May met Welkin’s gaze and held it. “Hurt her how?”
“I gave her a new life without once considering whether or not she would want it,” Welkin replied as though this should have been clear.
“How could she not want a second chance at life?” May asked, incredulous at the thought.
Welkin’s face was heavy with sadness. “I felt the same. I thought I was giving her a chance to live without fear of persecution. I had no idea how terrible it would be to wake up as a new person; with feelings and memories you can’t connect to, friends and family you can’t return to because, even if you did feel the same way about them, people aren’t supposed to come back from the dead. She is not who she once was.”
May mulled this over. If she had been asked to imagine what it would mean to cheat death, she never would have fathomed it looking like this. But of course the sacrifices would be devastating. A gift like this could never come cheap.
“I asked her to be careful,” Welkin said. “Once she was finally through being angry with me, I asked her to keep her abilities a secret. I did not want her to draw attention to herself a second time. But I had no idea how much loneliness I was damning her to by asking her to hide. Settling in to this new life has been… challenging for her, to say the least.”
Without warning, Em sat up, startling May and Welkin both. She said nothing, pulling her hand from May’s gentle grasp and hovering her way to the door as quickly as she could.
“Emanthy, wait.” Welkin stood. It took May a moment to realize they were saying Em’s name in full; not once had she mentioned it was short for anything.
“Don’t let me interrupt,” Em snapped without looking at either of them. “You’ve been doing a fine job of airing my dirty laundry all on your own.” Em threw open the door and escaped across the threshold into the night. The door slammed shut behind her.
May made to stand – she wasn’t about to lose Em to the ocean again – but Welkin’s firm grip held her in place. From their hand radiated a calming warmth that wrapped around her pounding heart and lulled her into passivity.
“Let her go,” Welkin said softly, guiding her to sit on the now-empty couch. “Everything will be fine.”
A drowsy sensation creeped along the edges of May’s mind.
“But, I want to help her.” Her words came out slowly.
Welkin smiled at her kindly. “You already have. She trusts you, after all. And I would not say it if it were not true.” Those long, warm fingers pushed May’s hair from her face. Her eyes grew heavy. “Can you keep a secret, May?”
“Mhmm,” she replied weakly.
“I’m so tired of hiding and I’m tired of being alone. I just want to live my own life with someone who understands me.”
Outwardly, the only sign that May understood was the quickening of her breath. Inside, her mind reeled with the horror of having her own secret wish – the same one she had whispered up at the night sky for years until Em had told her someone was probably listening – being recited back to her verbatim. She was mortified.
“You want the same thing,” Welkin whispered as they clasped her face gently between their palms.
May pushed her mind through the encroaching cloud of sleep. “We do?”
Welkin leaned close, their forehead pressing into May’s. Her vision flared white as the Star began to glow.
“Why do you think I brought her to you?”
Before she could answer, May’s mind gave way to the weight of fatigue. She fell into a deep sleep.
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