“You want to blow up the treaty.”
It had been a life-changing moment for Audrey. There she was, thousands of miles away from where she was supposed to be, staring down the one person who, until a handful of minutes ago, she had trusted more than anyone else in the world.
And he lied to her.
“So what if I do?” Jeremy snapped, anger and frustration getting the better of him at last. “Is this really how you want to live the rest of your life, Audrey? Lab rats under constant surveillance?”
Of course it wasn’t how she wanted to live out the rest of her days. But if they wanted to free themselves of the suffocating conditions of the treaty, it couldn’t be like this.
“The question you should ask yourself is whether this is how you want to die. Because I know my answer. Do you?”
Jeremy threw his hands up and stormed away from her. “You’re being dramatic. Neither of us will die over this. We’ll get these fucking things out of us and then we’ll go back for the others.”
He looked back at her, his expression softer now.
“Please, Audrey. We have a real shot here.”
Without thinking, Audrey’s fingers traced down the center of her chest where, beneath the soft fabric of her sweater, a scar marred her flesh. The devices she, Jeremy, Connor, and Priva now lived with, nestled next to their hearts and tracking them like spies, seemed like the better end of the deal back when they made it. They hoped understanding more about them as Wishes would encourage the Loyals to see them as people.
But instead Audrey and her friends traded one form of imprisonment for another. The Loyals were always with them. The treaty came with strict rules and check-ins and repercussions for stepping out of line… Was this freedom?
Was the sacrifice worth it?
Audrey took a shaky breath and let herself meet Jeremy’s desperate gaze.
“Where do they think we are right now?” she asked.
“On vacation.” Jeremy took her hands in his. “A romantic getaway of sorts.”
Despite her anger, Audrey let slip a soft chuckle. It had been romantic, at least romantic by their standards.
At least until she caught onto Jeremy’s plan.
“You realize what they’ll do to us if they find out?” Her voice was the tiniest of whispers.
Jeremy pulled her to him. Pushing the dark curtain of her chestnut hair away from her shining golden eyes, he smiled down at her.
Gently he pressed a kiss to her mouth, working her lips until he felt her relax against him.
“They won’t,” he assured her in a tender voice. “I promise.”
Even then she knew it was a promise he wouldn’t be able to keep.
It was rare Em experienced a breakdown May couldn’t help fix. And if May’s touch – her embrace, her kiss – wasn’t enough, there was always the water.
On only two or three other occasions, water hadn’t been an option. When those breakdowns came, all May could do was hold tight.
From where she sat, rocking gently with her arms wrapped around Em, it looked as though her lover was falling apart. Choking and sobbing, Em clasped her hands over her ears, screwing her eyes shut and trying to shut out the barrage of cosmic noise. The trauma of her mind ripping back and forth between who she was and who she used to be, coupled with a heightened sensitivity to the energies pulsing around – the ones that are always there but no one else seemed to notice – left her screaming and thrashing.
This breakdown did not surprise May. A part of her wondered what coming face-to-face with people who once meant the world to Audrey might do to Em. The fallout was as bad as she had feared.
So May rocked her, letting Em know she was safe with whispered words. Dom sat beside them, rubbing rhythmic circles on Em’s back. He had seen her lose control before, but never like this.
“Is there really nothing we can do to help her?” He watched the scene with sad eyes.
May shook her head, acutely aware of its weight through her exhaustion.
“We have to ride it out. She’ll come around, eventually.”
“This is hard to watch.”
“Imagine how hard it must be for her.”
They lost track of time while they waited, but as the night wore on Em’s breathing slowed and the screaming ebbed. May thought she had fallen asleep when a groggy voice punctuated the silence.
“What did you tell them, Dom?”
Dom sat up with surprise. “What do you mean, Em?”
Em peered over her shoulder, twisting in May’s still firm embrace. “Do they know who I am? Who I used to be?”
“I think they thought they did,” Dom admitted. “At least Jeremy did. But once they saw you-”
“What did you say?” She sounded more awake now, her voice tight with urgency.
“I told them the truth,” Dom said. “That your name is Em and you’re not whoever they thought you were. I told them I could help them find the person in the picture, but that was it.”
Em let out a slow exhale as May gave her a tight squeeze.
Dom sat back and ran his hands through his hair. “I thought it was important. When they told me about the kid, I thought you might want to make your own call-”
“Poor Dominic,” Em teased. “Always has to be a hero.”
He didn’t have it in him to argue.
“What do we do now?” May asked. She had bought them some time, but they still had a decision to make.
Em pulled herself up to sit, wobbling and looking around sluggishly as though she’d had too much to drink.
“I don’t know,” Em mumbled, lurching to her feet and staggering the few short paces to the door. “I need to think.”
“Wait.” May scrambled up and after her. “Where are you-”
But before she could finish her sentence, Em threw open the door and launched herself into the air.
May could only gape after her as Em disappeared skyward without so much as a goodbye.