Content Warning: Strong language
For a heartbeat no one spoke.
Em’s wide eyes, filled with surprise, flickered from one face to the next, her grip tightening reflexively around May’s shoulder.
“Dom, what the fuck?” she demanded. She looked ready to run or fight, whichever was necessary first.
Holding his palms up in surrender, Dom kept his focus locked on her. He could sense her mix of fear and anger from where he stood. A part of him wanted to bridge that gap, to coax her down to a peaceful place with a compassionate touch. He knew her well enough to stay back. His heart ached, reflecting on how he had hoped his first reunion with these friends would go; so different from the scenario he found himself in now.
“Please, Em,” he begged. “These people need your help. You’ve got to know I wouldn’t have lead them to you if I didn’t believe that.”
And that was the problem – Em did know Dom believed he was doing the right thing. He was so good, and helping people was in his nature. For the first time she regretted not being more honest with him, for waiting so long to tell him her truth in what wound up being just a hastily abridged version anyway. She didn’t know what these people told him but there was no way he could have realized just how far away from them she had hoped to stay. For that she had no one to blame but herself.
Despite having tried to avoid it, Em eventually let herself look at the man gaping at her from the centre of the room. His dark eyes were troubled beneath a mess of unruly red hair, his expression that of someone who had just been slapped – hard. His companions glanced uncomfortably between him and Em, none of them speaking until the blond man with sad green eyes cleared his throat.
“We aren’t here to hurt you,” he said, his voice gentle and low. “But he’s right, we need your help. We’ve been trying to find you for a long time and we hope you’ll hear us out.”
Em licked her lips and let out a shaky exhale. It took her a moment to reply.
“Why us? Why me?”
The man opened his mouth to answer but it was his redheaded friend that stepped forward.
“It’s a long story, so we should probably start from the beginning.” He offered his hand for her to shake. He didn’t smile. “My name is Jeremy.”
May let out a barely audible gasp, flinching imperceptibly to everyone but Em, whose arm was still draped protectively around her. Instead of acknowledging May’s surprise, Em took Jeremy’s hand and gave it a single, firm shake.
The moment between the two seem to hang, but around them their friends exchanged wide-eyed glances. Everyone was tense.
At last Jeremy pulled back his hand and gestured to his companions.
“This is Connor,” he said of his blond friend. “His wife, Rue. And that’s Priva.”
Jeremy watched Em’s face carefully as he spoke, looking for something he didn’t seem to find as she nodded curtly in turn from Connor, to the golden-eyed Rue, and finally at Priva, who at least gave a slight wave back. In response, Jeremy frowned deeper and looked away, missing the way Em’s knuckles faded to white as she gripped at the loose edges of May’s shirt – the only hint she was reeling.
Another deep breath. Em slid her hand – clammy with nerves – to the small of May’s back and rolled her shoulders so she stood a little taller.
“I see you’ve already met my girlfriend, May.”
A person would have to be dead to miss the shockwave that shot through the room. May forced a small smile and resisted the urge to press tighter into the protection of Em’s side. She wasn’t sure what had happened but she knew the mood had gone from bad to worse. With anxiety swelling inside her she watched as Connor, Rue, and Priva glanced at one another but said nothing. Between them, May could see Dom holding his breath.
Jeremy remained locked on Em, his jaw tight and his expression stiff.
“It’s nice to meet you both,” he said at last, turning away as he did so.
May met Em’s eyes.
She wondered if Em could tell he was lying, too.
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