Content warning: Strong language
Connor broke the awkward silence that followed Jeremy’s words.
“Do you know who we are?” he asked point blank.
It was a loaded question. Em’s mind tripped over how best to respond.
“You just introduced yourselves,” May pointed out, rescuing Em from herself. Em could have kissed her.
Rubbing his face thoughtfully, Connor considered them both.
“Let me come at this another way.” He wasn’t flirting with the edge of anger the way Jeremy had. His voice was steady and unflinching, like that of a therapist trying to connect with his patient. “We know about you.”
Em folded her arms and stared him down. “Know what?”
“About what you can do. That you can manipulate the energy around you and use it to help you fly, and as a weapon.”
“You realize what we did tonight was just an act, right?” Em drawled. “Smoke and mirrors. Rigging and clever lighting and shit like that.”
“We’re also not the only ones who know what you can do,” Priva cut in, ignoring the way Em mocked them. “But you already knew that, didn’t you?”
With an exaggerated shrug, Em gave a cheeky grin. “Well, there were an awful lot of people in the audience tonight.”
“A full house, I’d say,” May chimed in without missing a beat.
“Same with last night, if I remember correctly.”
“You’re on the run,” Priva snapped, interrupting their banter.
“Says who?” Em asked, sounding incredulous.
“Says your girlfriend.”
Em followed the accusatory point of Priva’s finger to where May stood gaping.
A flare of crimson flooded up May’s neck and across her face. She looked back at Em apologetically. “Dom asked about Ginger and Rosemary. I didn’t-”
“Whatever, it doesn’t matter,” Em waved her hand as if the details were trivial. “Half the people in this circus are on the run from something or someone. Did you know running away to join the circus is an actual thing people do?”
Jeremy stood abruptly from the small chair he had taken to haunting in the corner.
“How many of them are running away from the Loyals?” he asked, mimicking Em’s snark. “Is Melanie after them, too?”
This time Em kept her mouth shut. May bit her lip, becoming preoccupied with the ring on her middle finger.
“We know that’s who you’re running from,” Connor said, his voice a soothing balm after the many barbs and sharp tongues of his friends. “We know about Melanie; how she was there the day that photo was taken in Tenna.”
In a split second, Em re-lived that day in her mind like a film on fast-forward. The argument with May leading them both to a woman in danger. Em’s flagrant use of her otherworldly abilities not only saved her but got the attention of Melanie, a Loyal agent who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. She and her organization of devout Star-worshipping Loyals had made it their business to hunt down anyone they assumed had been influenced by a missing wishing star. Em knew first hand just how vicious they could be in their misguided efforts to appease the Stars, which was exactly why she and May were still in hiding.
That Melanie and her cohorts were still after them wasn’t surprising. But if word of this pursuit had reached the people from her previous life, Em knew their situation was far worse than she had previously thought.
“What does it matter to you?” May asked, breaking the haze of Em’s troubled thoughts. Despite her stress, Em couldn’t help but smile. It made her proud to see how much May had come into her own, especially since they had fled the island of Hoku. The woman she met just over a year ago that fateful evening on the beach wouldn’t have been so brazen.
Connor smiled as well, the corners of his mouth creeping shyly skywards.
“It matters very much, actually,” he said in that gentle voice of his. “Over the years we’ve made it our business to protect anyone targeted by the Loyals and the way they try to scrub out anything that may have resulted from a missing wishing star.”
May opened her mouth, prepared to play dumb as long as necessary, but Jeremy cut her off.
“Don’t,” he snapped. “You’re going to pretend you don’t know what we’re talking about but we all know you do. This shit is exhausting and we don’t have time for it.”
Pursing her lips, May looked to Em. The pair exchanged a cryptic look.
“We know what you can do,” Jeremy continued, pointing at Em. “And we’re not fucking stupid. We know your abilities have something to do with the Stars.”
“Fine,” Em huffed, throwing her hands up. “Maybe everything you’ve said is true. Maybe it’s not. But it doesn’t matter. We don’t need your help. We’ve got this. But thanks anyway. C’mon, babe.” She took May’s hand and pulled her toward the door.
Jeremy stepped in front of them, blocking their escape route.
“If we could find you, what makes you think they won’t?” His eyes bored into Em’s, holding them with an uncomfortable intensity.
Em glanced over to Dom. He was hunched, his features pinched with shame, but he did not look away.
“I said we’ve got this,” Em growled through clenched teeth. She made to push past Jeremy, daring him to stop her with a glare, when Rue cried out from behind them.
“Wait!” Her voice was pained, desperate. “You may not need us, but we need you.”
“Please, my son’s life depends on it.”
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