CW: strong language, combat/violence, blood
May was almost at the end of the long, winding driveway before shame finally put an end to her fleeing.
“Why do I always run away?” she shouted, admonishing herself. Passersby on the street cast curious looks in her direction and whispered to one another before hustling away. But May was too caught up in herself to care about the scene she must have been making.
As she worked to catch her breath, May’s mind replayed Jeremy’s furious accusation on a loop.
This is all your fucking fault.
“Who am I kidding?” she groaned. “I know exactly why I ran this time.”
With only a few words, Jeremy struck the barely concealed nerve May had been nursing since the early days of her relationship with Em. She recalled the teary – on her part – confession she made to Em in the hospital room in Tenna; that she had always been on edge, waiting for Em to wake up one morning longing for the life she used to have.
Em reassured her then, but May couldn’t help wonder what would have happened if she hadn’t gotten in the way.
And what was going to happen now that the truth was out?
Stop, she thought, squeezing her eyes shut and pressing her palms over her ears as though that might shut out all her worries. Em loves you and you love her. You need to trust her right now. She needs you.
May’s eyes snapped open. “She needs me. What am I doing out here?”
Without another thought she turned on her dancer’s toes back toward the house.
She had barely taken her first stride when she heard a cold voice from behind her shout, “Stay right where you are.”
It was as though ice water had been released through May’s veins. She froze, petrified by the sound of a voice she recognized from her nightmares.
Peering over her shoulder, May’s fear was confirmed: Melanie, the Loyal agent who had first discovered them hiding in Tenna, stood at the mouth of the driveway. She held a device in her firm grip and had it trained right at May. Like an infestation, other equally menacing and armed people swarmed in from the other side of the hedges that lined the property. It was an ambush.
“May, wait!” Em’s voice came from around the bend in the driveway, blocked from view by a dense topiary. “Where did you go?”
Footsteps. She wasn’t alone. May’s breathing hitched; they were going to run straight into a waiting Loyal army.
Urgency sparked inside May, thawing her frozen limbs. She darted forward and cried, “Stop, it’s a-“
Without warning, pain the likes of being doused in boiling water ripped through May’s body. Every muscle in her body seized, tightening like stone, and refused to respond to anything her brain begged for. Vision jittering with the current of whatever force assaulted her, May saw Em round the edge of the bushes.
“May!” Em screamed, her eyes round with terror.
The current stopped. May felt as though she had been pushed down the rocky slope of a ravine. Her knees buckled, muscles screaming for rest, but before she could fall a hand grabbed her roughly by the shoulder and pulled her back. May barely registered it was Melanie who pinned her, an arm wrapped tightly across May’s chest. She was too distracted by the sight of Connor throwing his own arms around Em just as she tried to lunge forward.
It was all happening so fast and yet seemed to play out in slow motion. May’s ears were ringing but she saw Connor’s lips move in Em’s ear as he tightened his crushing grip around her.
Em’s face twisted. She threw her head back, howling at the sky.
When she looked forward again, Em had changed. The brilliance of her starlit skin faded to the cold pallor of corpse, and through her wild and snapping silver hair, May could see the whites of her eyes darkening like a storm-threatened sky. May’s heart clenched. She had only seen Em is such a state once before: the night Kane broke into the tree house and attacked May. Em’s fury had been absolute, and she had sent Kane crashing down to the beach below to prove it.
It was May’s threatened safety that hit a dangerously primal switch somewhere in Em. As May gazed fearfully at Em’s animalesque transformation, she wondered if there were any lengths Em wouldn’t go to keep her safe.
Hunching, Em let out a wild scream before sending a shockwave out from her center with a wide sweeping of her arms. Connor couldn’t maintain his hold and rocketted backward into Jeremy and Priva. This time when Em lunged forward, no one was able to stop her. She shot across a span of several spaces, making a beeline for May before anyone could think to react. As she moved, a sparking mass of energy gathered in her open fist.
Just as Em reached her arm back for the momentum to sling the manifested orb at the line of Loyal agents who had darted toward her, one of them drew his weapon – the same current-producing device Melanie had used on May – and fired. Em released the ball of energy and the two forces collided mid air and exploded. The impact sent Loyals careening backward.
Another agent stormed forward as the others scattered away from her. The agent carried what looked to be an arm-mounted cannon that sizzled and snapped as it charged. She squeezed her hand into a fist and the weapon fired a burst of energy not unlike Em’s own. The attack seemed to take Em by surprise, her locked and furious gaze faltering for the slightest of moments. She only had enough time to throw up a quick protective barrier before the mass hit, blasting her in the opposite direction. A raspy gasp escaped May’s scorched throat as she watched Em’s body hit the pavement and roll.
But rather than skidding to a stop, Em leaned into the momentum of her body and used it to windmill onto her feet, all while gathering another cluster of energy in her fist. A prideful look of satisfaction was still plastered on the cannon wielder’s face when Em landed, rolled on the outer edge of her left foot, heel to toe, and pivoted. She launched her assault as she turned, nailing the Loyal agent in the chest. Shrieking in agony as she was flung back, the agent caught Melanie’s shoulder with her elbow.
Melanie swore as she lost her grip on May, who had just enough energy to surge out of her hold to freedom. Once her full weight was back on her feet however, May didn’t have the strength to stand. She collapse in a tangle of limbs still wracked by lingering aftershocks from the current she had endured.
The ringing in her ears subsided just enough that May could hear the members of WIND screaming at Em to stop – Em, who was again barreling toward May with frightening speed. Yet another agent, this one looking so young with his cheeks flushed and eyes wide, reached down to haul May back to her feet.
His hand had almost closed around her upper arm when his entire body froze in place, limbs splayed in a pantomime of ducking downward. Em hovered in the expanse between WIND and the Loyals, toes skimming the ground with one arm outstretched, hand clutched as though she had caught something in her grasp.
Jerking her arm up, the young agent shot into the sky and dangled helplessly above them all.
“Stop!” Melanie cried, hands out and eyes darting rapidly between Em and her airborne hostage.
“Leave us alone,” Em demanded, her voice like deep and rolling thunder.
Melanie raised her weapon.
Em snarled and wrenched her arm down so fast that the young agent hurtled back to earth and hit the ground with a gut-curdling crunch. May clamped her eyes shut so she didn’t have to see the man’s collapsed skull or the spray of blood that painted the driveway only a few feet from where she still lay crumpled in a heap.
People on both sides of the stand-off screamed. Em didn’t pause to consider what she had done. Instead she used the distraction of her violence to dive forward and scoop May into her arms. With a powerful, no doubt adrenaline-aided jump, Em vaulted into the air and flew off.
May only caught a bleary glimpse of the chaos as it shrank beneath them before she passed out.
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