[ CW: vomit ]
May awoke in a panic.
Her body was numb and, from what she could see in the dim light, she was in a small office-like room she didn’t recognize.
Where am I? she wondered, fear rising in her throat like bile. The last thing she remembered was being ambushed by the Loyals at Marina’s house. A vision of Em’s face contorted with rage flashed through her memory. Where is Em?
Without thinking, May sat bolt upright. In an instant the numbness in her body was replaced by a painful sensation of blood rushing back into her extremities. Her head pounded, her vision spun, and she barely had enough time to lean over the side of whatever makeshift bed she had been sleeping on before vomiting.
“Ugh, very nice,” said a disgusted voice she had never heard before.
“Leave her alone, Jun,” Em replied, her voice making May’s heart skip. “It’s not her fault.”
May felt the warmth of Em’s body as she sat next to her. Gentle fingers brushed the hair back from May’s face as Em crooned, “It’s okay, babe. Just take it slow.”
Embarrassed as she was, the purging seemed to be exactly what May needed. She sat back up weakly and swallowed one deep breath after another.
“Here,” she heard the voice Em had identified as Jun say. She peered up to find a man silhouetted in the doorway to the room. He tossed Em a towel before turning on his heel and disappearing again.
Em twisted to face May and used the corner of the towel to wipe at her mouth. She reached over to a nearby desk, and picked up a glass. “Here, drink this while I clean up.”
May did as she was told. Every sip of water was like a dose of medicine. She watched in silence as Em used the towel to mop up the mess on the floor. As her eyes adjusted to the gloom, May was able to make out scattered papers covering the surface of the desk, photos and newspaper clippings pinned to the wall above her, and a collection of dusty cardboard boxes precariously stacked in the corner. Em excused herself to discard the soiled towel and, from beyond the doorway, May could just make out a group of unfamiliar voices and the metallic clanging of tools.
Jun’s voice, closer than the others, was barely intelligible over the din. “Ew, just toss it in the burn barrel.”
When Em returned she smelled of cheap hand soap and motor oil.
“Close your eyes,” she said softly.
When May did, she flicked on a lamp sitting amid the mess on the desk. May hadn’t even had a chance to open her eyes before she felt herself encased in Em’s arms. “You had me so worried, babe. I’m so glad you’re awake. How do you feel?”
“Like I’ve been rocked by a massive wave,” May answered, her voice still hoarse from the attack. “Where are we?”
Em pulled back from their embrace and reached into her shirt, producing the folded paper from Priva she had hidden in her bra. “One of the rendezvous points from Priva’s list.”
“Right.” May grimaced, a headache throbbing behind her eyes. “What happens now?”
“I’m not sure,” Em admitted. “I suppose we just wait and see if they come for us.”
May looked to her. “And if the Loyals come for us instead?”
Em blanched. A fraught, uncomfortable silence fell between them.
When it became clear that May was waiting for her to say something, a sadness crept across Em’s face. She reached out to caress her cheek. “I’m so sorry, Maybe.”
Her apology could have been for anything at this point – their tenuous sense of safety, the violence May had endured, or the multitude of nightmarish things she had witnessed. Remembering the young agent as he was thrown against the ground and the sickening sound that followed, May had to swallow against another wave of nausea.
She pulled back.
“You’re sorry?” May trembled. “Em, you killed someone.”
Em flinched as though she had slapped her. “I didn’t mean – May, I was trying to protect you.”
“Not like that.” May’s voice shook but her piercing stare did not waver. “You can’t kill people because of me.”
“Are you kidding me?” Em balked, incredulous. Rising anger darkened her features. “What do you expect me to do when you’re in danger?”
May grabbed Em by the shoulders and gripped her tight. Emotion – fear, fury, and desperation – swelled inside her. She pulled Em to her so they were eye to eye and spoke slow and clear.
“Emanthy, you are not a killer.” She pressed into the word ‘you’ like a panic button. “I have heard enough about Audrey to know she was no angel. You tell me all the time that you and her are different people. I need that to be true.”
Em’s anger morphed into a look of horror as she processed what May was saying.
“Please, Em.” May jostled her, every word as urgent as they were pleading. “That ruthless, terrifying person you become when you’re protecting me is not who you are. It can’t be.”
“I…” Em’s hand covered her mouth. For a moment she was back in Omea, feeling Audrey’s rage and relentless thirst for justice overtaking her as she stood staring down a swaggering Kane on a moonlit patio. Yes, she wanted to protect May. But that violence, that anger – that was not hers.
Or perhaps, a small voice whispered at the back of her mind, she and Audrey weren’t as different as Em wanted to believe.
“Maybe,” Em whispered fearfully. “What have I done?”