By the time they arrived in Mondova, Em had told Dom everything; from her celestial beginnings as Audrey to her miraculous rebirth. He listened attentively, nodding and frowning at all the right places. Given his own mythical existence he didn’t have trouble accepting the story the way May had.
“I’ve heard about this Star feud business,” Dom said quietly, staring across the shipyard. “That’s some scary stuff to be caught up in, Em.”
Em gestured vaguely. “There’s not much I can do about that unfortunately.” She had regained her strength over the course of the mercifully uneventful drive. Her eyes darted around anxiously, looking for any sign of trouble.
“You can be careful,” Dom insisted. “Keep your head down and don’t draw attention to yourself. Maybe this will blow over in time.”
I doubt it, May thought unhappily but kept it to herself.
Dom parted with a promise to keep Em’s existence a secret from anyone who came snooping, but not until he watched both her and May safely board the ship that would bring them back to Hoku. They watched his truck rumble away with an increasing sense of vulnerability.
“Part of me wants to be mad at you, you know,” Em said suddenly, breaking the silence and startling May with her words. “For forcing me into that situation. What if I wasn’t ready to tell him the truth?”
May gaped, her cheeks flushing. She wanted to defend herself – to explain she had only meant well. After all, Dom had put himself on the line for them. Didn’t he deserve to know why?
But Em was right – she hadn’t once considered it from her perspective. The memory of Kane robbing her of any agency over her own secret came rushing back to her. The circumstances were completely different but the crime was uncomfortably similar and May was mortified.
“You were right though – he needed to know,” Em continued without looking away from the shore. “Shit, I should have told all of them forever ago.”
“I’m so sorry,” May whispered, ashamed.
Em took her by the hand. “It’s fine. Let’s get inside.”
They spent the majority of the trip quietly hunkered down in their cabin, leaving only when absolutely necessary. May crept back in after one such excursion to find Em curled up on the bed, staring into nothing.
“I managed to get through to Kai,” May ventured tentatively, referring to the call she had just put in to her brother. She placed Em’s phone down gently on the narrow shelf by the bed. “He said he’ll be there to pick us up when we land.”
Em nodded but said nothing. May squirmed, worried and uneasy that Em was still upset with her. She sat gingerly on the edge of the bed and smiled hopefully down at her.
“If you pretend the last day didn’t happen, that was actually a really amazing trip,” she said, trying to deflect some of the awkwardness. “I’m really glad we got to-”
“Melanie,” Em interrupted without shifting her gaze.
“Melanie,” she repeated, rubbing her face with her hand. “That’s her name, the Loyal woman.”
May plucked at the sheets to hide her nerves. “Oh. What else do you know about her?”
“That she’s dangerous,” Em replied. The glassy look inher eyes told May she was reliving a private memory; the weight of her brow made it clear the memory was an unhappy one. “A zealot as far as Loyals go and pretty high up in their hierarchy the last time I knew her. Fuck, she looks so much older now.”
“Do you think she recognized you?”
“Probably not, but I’m sure what she saw me do raised a few red flags.”
There was nothing May could think of to say, so instead she eased herself down to lay beside Em. They rested close, face to face. Em met her eyes at last.
“I’m sorry, Maybe,” she said quietly.
May twitched with surprise. “For what?”
“For putting you in danger. Welkin was right and I knew it, but I just had to be stubborn and now-”
May stopped her with a kiss.
“Don’t,” she whispered, her lips still grazing against Em’s. “Please don’t.”
She kissed her again. And again. She kissed her until kissing was no longer enough and she had to pull herself on top of Em just to feel as close as she needed to be. May peeled off her shirt and threw it into a dark corner. She pushed Em’s up and over her head before pinning her down.
They kept kissing until kissing became so much more.
When May woke up the bed was cold and the room was dark. She fumbled around but there was no denying it: she was alone. She flipped on the light and pulled on her clothes in a fog.
A cool breeze washed in across the ocean and up onto the deck where May padded along quietly. She shivered, rubbing her shoulders absentmindedly as she searched. At first the sound of the water breaking along the boat was all she could hear, but her ears perked up as two voices drifted from somewhere near the stern.
“I’m so sorry,” she heard Em say. It sounded as though she was crying.
May stayed in the shadows and watched surreptitiously as Em sobbed, wrapped in Welkin’s firm embrace.
“I’ve fucked everything up, haven’t I?” she asked, her words muffled by the folds of Welkin’s cloak.
The Star didn’t answer, their eyes trained on the sky, thin fingers combing through her long silver hair.
“Are you in trouble?” Em’s voice trembled.
Welkin sighed. The sound was heavy.
“It doesn’t matter.”
“It does to me.”
“I made a choice, Emanthy,” Welkin replied. “It’s not your job to worry about me.”
Em sobbed and for a while her weeping was all that transpired between the two of them. Welkin let her get the fear and worry out of her system before pushing her back and staring at her hard, their usually stoic face tense and stern.
“You need remain composed, Emanthy,” they told her. “This is no time to lose yourself to despair.”
“I put her in danger.” Em sounded horrified with herself. “What was I thinking?”
Welkin pursed their lips. May’s heartbeat quickened.
“I don’t want to start over again,” Em moaned, a hiccup escaped her rasping throat. She wiped at her wet cheeks with the palms of her shaking hands. “I don’t want to run or hide. I want to stay with May. I… Please, don’t make me leave, Welkin.”
A flicker of guilt tugged at the Star’s features. “You don’t need my permission to stay, Emanthy.”
Em scoffed. Frowning, Welkin conceded with a sigh.
“You need to understand what’s at stake here. If the Loyals find out where you are, you put your safety – and hers – at risk by staying.”
She didn’t reply. The far off, vacant look on her face made May ache.
With gentle hands, Welkin took Em’s face and kissed her forehead softly.
“Just be smart about your conduct. Stay vigilant, and…” they paused to consider their words. “Be honest with May. If you care about her, you’ll give her a chance to make up her own mind about this.”
Quite suddenly May found herself unable to breathe.
She knew it didn’t make sense but the choice between life with Em or returning to a life of relative safety wasn’t one she wanted to make.
Panic rose from somewhere deep inside of her and she ran from it, careless to whether or not Em or Welkin heard her. She raced back to the cabin and dove beneath the covers of the bed. Taking deep breaths, she tried to clear her mind and calm her racing heart in hopes of being asleep by the time Em returned.
Her efforts were no use. Welkin’s words floated to the surface every time she cleared her mind. A decision was looming; a question that would need to be asked and answered.
May knew how she wanted to answer. Her heart still soared at the thought of that two letter word: us.
But was she ready to leave everything else behind to have it?
And was she ready for the danger that came with it?
Banner art by @flowerveil