In the days that followed that first night in the woods, May made a conscious effort to throw herself into her new surroundings. Any concerns she had about not being cut out for life on the mainland were dwarfed by her worry that Em had knowingly walked them into a potentially dangerous situation. Em could claim they were safe as much as she wanted, but May was a worrier at heart. In response, she did whatever she could to busy herself to distraction.
Stephanson had struck a bargain with them; Em and May were welcome to stay in the headquarters’ dorms and even earn a bit of money if they agreed to help out while they were there. For Em this had meant jumping back into her old role, but for May it had meant training, learning the ropes, and stepping out of her comfort zone.
She was able to apply some of her existing skills right away. Hours were spent under the hoods of team vehicles doing routine maintenance and repairs with Matti, who appreciated the company and conversation. At one point during a slow morning in the garage, Karin overheard May offhandedly mentioned that her mother was Omea’s longest standing midwife. In her life pre-scandal, May had spent time apprenticing at her side until expectant mothers in town had become uncomfortable by her presence. But Karin saw only opportunity in her story and dedicated some of her downtime to teaching May first aid.
“Damn, you learn fast!” Karin exclaimed. “I wish everyone I trained picked up on things as quickly as you do. Keep this pace up and I’ll be able to bring you on calls with me before you head home!”
May was sure Karin was just being nice, but the encouragement filled her with pride nonetheless.
When Dom found out Em had taken May on her first ever camping trip (a story during which both women left out their favourite part and instead shared a private, knowing smile) he became hell bent on making sure she had all kinds of unique experiences out in the mountain wilderness. He taught May basic tracking skills and about the local wildlife.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” May whispered excitedly one afternoon as they watched a great bear lumber through the trees from a safe distance. “Is it dangerous?”
“They sure can be,” Dom admitted. “You just have to give them plenty of space; don’t sneak up on them or get between them and their babies or food. And, like, be prepared obviously. Bear spray is a must.”
May eyed the animal’s massive clawed paws and shuddered at the thought of making a creature like that angry.
Dom noticed and patted her on the shoulder. “Bears are nothing. Just hope you never run into a mountain lion. Those bastards will track you through the woods if you let your guard down and they always mean business.”
May was sure to stay very close for the rest of the hike.
But her education included far more than mountain survival and lifesaving skills.
Since Em first revealed she was half-Star, May had been curious about how she had managed to make use of her abilities during her time working with the Tenna SAR team without anyone raising any concerns. After all, Em may not have considered her skills to be magical, but May was sure she wasn’t the only one who disagreed.
Em had once told her the mainland was a place of many different sorts of people and creatures. It was as if she thought that diversity was somehow enough to excuse her supernatural ability to defy gravity and manipulate energy.
Then again, May had also thought Em’s offhand mentions of witches and forest spirits during the argument with Welkin had been her way of pushing the Star’s patience.
She couldn’t have been more wrong.
Tenna was small but lively, and home both permanent and temporary to more than just people. May was suddenly grateful for early exposure to Em’s otherworldly nature – it helped her adjust to being surrounded by equally fantastical creatures and magically inclined beings.
One morning at a café she wound up eavesdropping on a pair of young – witches? Wizards? Sorcerers? – as they nonchalantly discussed their preferred enchantments for luck and love over tea. She was tuned in for a good 20 minutes before Karin finally snapped her out of it.
A local legend about the old inn downtown being haunted turned out to be completely true; Em even introduced her to the ghostly couple that originally owned the place and stuck around to make sure new management was up to snuff.
There were even plenty of people in town who weren’t human at all. Just that morning May had walked right into a gentlemen covered head to foot in silky brown fur while she was distracted by a slow moving contingent of creatures that looked like people made of trees. No one else seemed to bat an eye as traffic paused to allow the creatures to continue their purposeful parade from one side of town to the other.
“I just don’t get it,” May remarked that night as she, Em, Dom, and Trina sat around a small, wobbly table at one of the local pubs. They were already a couple drinks in, and May was whisper-yelling over the ruckus of music and laughter pressing in from all sides. “If this is all so normal, how come I’ve never seen anything like it before?”
Trina and Dom shared look of confusion.
“Are you saying there are only humans on the island you’re from?” Trina asked skeptically. “Like, no magic or anything?”
“No!” May answered, a bit louder than she intended. In a quieter voice, she continued. “Why do you think that is?”
The others shrugged and Em wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “I wouldn’t worry about it, babe. The world’s a big place. Imagine the stories you’ll have to tell Omi when we get back!”
Even though there was nothing funny about what Em had said, May giggled anyway. The liquor made something about the idea of telling her nephew about the things she had seen on this trip seem ridiculous to her. While she laughed, Em leaned in and kissed her.
That was the other thing May found incredible about Tenna: here, no one looked twice when she and Em were affectionate with one another. May was nervous the first time Em took her hand as they walked through the village. But soon enough she too embraced the way they could openly flirt and kiss without so much as a sideways glance.
This particular kiss, fueled in part by copious amounts of alcohol, had already morphed into a furious make-out session. May all but climbed onto Em’s lap, their roaming hands always stopping just shy of inappropriate territory.
“Easy, kids. You’re supposed to be professionals,” Trina drawled. She cast a restless glance to the corner of the room as Dom signaled for another round.
Fresh drinks arrived just as the band came back from a break. They picked up their instruments and launched into a fast, folksy-sounding song that made Dom slam his fist on the table.
“This song!” he shouted over the scandalized voices of his startled friends. “I’m dancing to this. Who’s coming with me?”
“Don’t look at me,” Trina replied. “I’ve got my eye on that hot little piece in the corner by the pool table. If he thinks I’m with you tonight, all bets are off. Fuck, you are such a shitty wingman.”
“Whatever,” Dom sang, standing up to make his way around the table. “You’re not even trying. C’mon, Emmy. You’re up!”
Em groaned as he heaved her from her seat and away from May’s lips. The two of them shoved at each other as they made their way to the small, crowded dance floor.
Flushed and happy, May laughed loudly.
“They’re such dorks,” she grinned, watching them over her glass.
“Yeah,” Trina replied, turning in her seat to get a better view. “I’m glad they can still be so cool with each other.”
Pausing with her glass half-raised May frowned.
“Why?” she asked and continued with her sip.
“How many people manage to stay friends after a hook-up gone wrong?”
May spluttered, choking on her drink.
Trina’s face fell.
“Oh, shit,” her cheeks went red. “I’m guessing you didn’t know about that, huh?”
“What do you mean?” May wheezed, still trying to catch her breath.
“It’s not like they were dating or anything.” Trina shifted awkwardly. “They were just super close, gave it a shot, and decided they were better off as friends. Which, for what it’s worth, I completely agree with.”
But May wasn’t listening anymore.
She was watching Em and Dom as they danced wildly, making fun of one another’s moves. They weren’t even touching, but whereas only a moment earlier May had seen a couple of friends, she now could only see former lovers. Nothing felt as innocuous as it looked.
It was probably the booze working its twisted magic, but May was suddenly overwhelmed. Every little thing that had been eating away at her – the Loyals and the Wishes, Em returning to Tenna against Welkin’s best efforts, and now this – hit her all at once and made her feel dizzy. Her mind raced, second-guessing everything. Why were they really here? What was Em really doing with her?
But it was a single voice in May’s mind that rang out over the cacophony of her jealousy and doubt: did she even know Em at all?
May pushed her drink away and stood up on uneasy legs.
“I’m feeling kind of tired,” her voice was taut with the threat of tears. She knew she wasn’t fooling Trina but it was better than staying. “I’m supposed to be doing a ride-along on patrol in the morning. I should probably get to bed.”
“May, c’mon,” Trina pleaded, knowing full well it wasn’t going to do any good.
With a shake of her head, May made her way into the crowd. She pushed to the door, giving Em one last glance before shoving it open and disappearing into the night.
Banner art by @flowerveil