Content warning: Strong language
Em’s eyes sprang open, widening at the sight of Jeremy’s accusatory finger pointed her way.
“Me?” She balked with indignation. “How is this my fault?”
“The Loyals caught wind of your little stunt in the mountains,” Priva said. “You remember, the one with the bear?”
Em went stiff.
“I was just doing my job,” she muttered.
“You should have been a little less fucking flashy about it,” Jeremy snapped.
“She saved someone’s life,” May countered, coming to Em’s defense. “It’s not like she had any other options.”
Jeremy stared May down with such burning intensity she flinched.
“The Loyals wanted us to help find you,” Priva continued, distracting May from Jeremy’s scrutiny with a shudder. “But we refused.”
“Why?” Em asked.
“Because agreeing to the treaty didn’t mean we agreed to turn on Wishes,” Connor answered. “They tried for a while on their own but they never were as good at finding Wishes they way we are. And when we refused to help them a second time-”
“They took our son instead.” Rue finished his sentence, her voice breaking.
A tense silence filled the small trailer. Em counted her rapid breaths as May looked to Dom.
“See?” he said quietly. “I told you they needed your help.”
At this Em shook her head. “How are we supposed to help? I’m sorry if I fucked things up for you guys but I’m not about to turn myself in just to-”
“We’re not asking you to,” Rue interrupted her, raising her hands to quell her rising temper. “We have a plan, but the only way it will work is if you agree to help us.
Em opened her mouth but paused when May placed a gentle hand on her shoulder.
“Let’s hear them out, love,” May whispered in her ear. Em might not have felt any responsibility for Gaten’s abduction but May couldn’t seem to suppress the guilt roiling inside her.
Lips in a tight line, Em gave her a hard stare before letting out a tired sigh.
“What do you need us to do?” she relented.
Looking more hopeful than he had all night, Connor stepped forward.
“The Loyals wanted us to turn you in when we found you,” he admitted. “But as far as we’re concerned, we don’t owe them anything now. The treaty was as good as dead the moment they took Gaten to get us to cooperate. Our plan is to stage an exchange and, once he’s safe, come at them in an orchestrated assault. We don’t need to beat them – just create enough of a diversion so that all of us can slip away. With our combined abilities – yours in particular – we should be able to pull it off.”
Em raised an eyebrow and let out a hollow laugh. “You not only want to use me as bait, you want us to help you fight the Loyals?”
Dom jumped as though someone had shocked him.
“You didn’t say anything about using her as bait,” he exclaimed, looking scandalized. “You promised me they would be safe.”
Priva shook her head. “They are safe. We’re not going to hurt them. This is their choice to make.”
Em buried her eyes beneath the heels of her palms and tried to focus. Audrey’s dearest friends being back in her life was confusing in a way that was making it difficult to keep her mind from slipping. The fight to stay grounded in the present was wearing her out.
Scenes from Audrey’s final days cut into her thoughts like a corrupted reel jerked from scene to scene. The surface of her skin prickled with the static that warned of an impending breakdown.
With great difficulty she tried to concentrate on the touch of May’s warm hands still tight on her shoulders while her mind stumbled over the problem at hand.
This is unbelievable, she thought as bitterness boiled in the pit of her stomach. What would make them think I would agree to a plan like…
Em’s mind snapped. For a split second she was Audrey again, her attention wrenching from a heated argument with Jeremy as a terrifying realization dawned on her. Audrey placed a shaking hand over her chest and the jagged silver scar that ran down its center…
“You fucking assholes,” Em shouted, shaking her head and choking on her words.
“What?” May asked, alarmed. “What is it?”
Em’s glare was furious.
“They’re fucking tracking you, aren’t they?”
No one spoke. Connor and Jeremy exchanged wide-eyed looks of surprise.
“Aren’t they?” Em bellowed again, her demand for a response making everyone jump.
“No,” Connor answered, caution edging into his voice. “I mean, I suppose they might be, but-”
“For fuck’s sake,” Em snapped. She was furious, anger rolling through her veins like a tempest.
“Please,” Rue begged, stepping around her friends so Em and May could see her sincerity. “We swear we aren’t trying to lead them back to you.”
“But you might have.” There was venom in Em’s voice now. “So much for us being safe, huh?”
“Does it matter?” Jeremy mused. “From the sounds of things, you two don’t mind being on the run, anyway.”
Incensed, Em made to lunge for him but Dom had already rushed to her side and held her back with a firm hand. All her anger earned was a satisfied sneer from Jeremy instead.
“I’ve about had it with your shit,” she growled.
“Stop it,” May cut in, jumping down from her perch and planting herself between the bristling pair. “Both of you need to cut it out.”
She gave Em a look that begged for her trust before turning to Connor and Rue.
“If we help you, is there a way to end this?”
The others shared a look of unease.
“How do you mean?” Connor asked, approaching her as though her fingers rested on the detonator of a bomb.
“If we help get your son back, you have to help us too.” May could not have explained where the confidence to negotiate with these people was coming from, but she let it lead her. “You can go back to running from the Loyals if that’s what you want but somehow, when this is all over, they need to be off our trails. We walk away from this without targets on our backs or no deal.”
Jeremy scoffed. “And how would you like us to do that?”
Since the first moment their eyes met, May had been intimidated by this man. Yet now she wasn’t willing to back down. Whatever his problem was with her, she chose to rise above it.
“I guess you’ll have to figure it out.”
“It’ll be tricky,” Connor offered, his brow knitted tightly. “We need to think about how to pull it off.”
“That’s fine.” May held her head up high. “We need to think about this too.”
Everyone started, each pair of eyes turning to gaze at her with varying degrees of incredulity.
“You’re asking a lot of us here.” May took in their surprised with an aloof shrug of her shoulders. “You didn’t expect us to answer you right away, did you?”
A quick whispered exchange passed between Connor, Rue, and Priva. Jeremy glared.
“That’s fair.” Rue agreed at last. “We’re staying at a motel on the edge of town – Willows Court. Can we meet again in the morning?”
May glanced at Em and Dom, who stared back at her expectantly.
“Noon,” she said. “If we don’t show up by then, you’ll know our answer.”
While the decision didn’t sit well with everyone, WIND knew they had pushed far enough for one night. With muttered words of parting, they took their leave. Dom stayed behind and locked the door after them. He took a moment to steel his nerves, knowing full well he owed Em and May one hell of an apology.
“There’s no way for me to express how sorry I am,” he began, his back still to the girls. “If I had known-”
“Em? Are you okay?”
May’s voice was high with concern.
Dom twisted around just in time to see Em collapse into her arms.
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