HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE! Wishing you all an incredible 2018! 🥂
I hope you like my EmMay Champagne dolls! Patreon patrons can get a high-res text-free version of this image, plus the line art for colouring!
HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE! Wishing you all an incredible 2018! 🥂
I hope you like my EmMay Champagne dolls! Patreon patrons can get a high-res text-free version of this image, plus the line art for colouring!
By the time May, Em, and Priva returned to the campsite, Connor already had the fire blazing with a satisfying crackle. Rue busied herself with food prep while Jeremy had been tasked with creating small tin foil bowls for everyone. They took turns layering their bowls with meat, potatoes, and eggs, positioning them delicately on a camp grill once the coals were hot enough.
The snapping fire was the only sound as the group sat wordlessly, waiting for their meals to cook. May watched spits of ash pop from the flames and drift skyward into the darkening sky. The sherbet colours of twilight gave way to night by the time Connor inspected his bowl and deemed dinner to be ready.
May wondered if the tension around the fire had been in some part the result of empty stomachs. As she collected her meal, she felt the mood lighten as everyone tucked into their food, and decided now might be a good time for casual conversation.
“Back to camping,” she said with a sigh, dropping back down beside Em, the edges of her foil plate pinched between her fingers.
“Hey,” Em remarked, looking mildly scandalized. “I thought you liked camping.”
“I like some parts of camping more than others,” May replied with a wink.
Em rolled her eyes dramatically.
“Kids these days,” she grumbled, earning her playful kick in the ankle from May.
The comment raised curiosity in Rue.
“How old are you two, anyway?” she asked.
“Twenty-five,” May answered, distracted. She leaned over to survey what was in Em’s plate. “Yours is cooked better than mine.”
“That’s because I’m a pro,” Em teased. Then, turning her attention back to Rue, “I’m, uh, a bit older.”
At this, Priva laughed loudly.
“You saying you’re a cradle robber?” She grinned at Em who mirrored her expression.
“Ha! Not quite that bad.” Em scooped a hearty forkful from May’s plate and shoved it in her mouth. After swallowing, she continued, “Still, I almost passed out when I realized my girlfriend was just a wee babe.” She turned to look at May. “Yours is fine, by the way.”
“You’re not that much older than me,” May defended, digging her own fork into Em’s plate. The utensil pierced the foil bottom, catching in a way that May hadn’t expected. Her hand slipped, sending the plastic handle snapping backwards and striking Em’s breast with a sharp thwap.
“My boob!” Em cried, choking on laughter and clutching at her chest. “You got me right in the tit!”
May doubled over, breathless in a fit of gasping laughter and tears, unable to reply.
Everyone but Jeremy succumbed to the first true bout of laughter since the two groups met, a moment of pure weightlessness that made the night feel a little less dark and the stakes a little less dire.
“So, how’d you two meet, anyway?” Jeremy asked, his question stopping the laughter dead.
May’s heartbeat stumbled. When she and Em decided to lie, they hadn’t taken the time to fill in the blanks of their cover story. Hoping her own panic wasn’t showing, May glanced at Em and found her to be a picture of calm.
“Maybe’s a dancer,” Em said, a goofy lovesick smile on her face that left May flushing. “I was in the audience one night when she was performing and I was instantly smitten.” She gave May a wink. “I’ve been her biggest fan ever since.”
That night in Omea’s community theatre – the night everything changed between them – flashed through May’s mind. She could still see Em standing in the wings, wide-eyed and marveling, watching her take the stage for her final performance of the night. Was this what Em was thinking of as she spun her tale? May had never asked Em what it was that pushed her over the delicate line between friends and lovers; that there might have been some truth to Em’s story made May giddy.
“Of course!” Rue’s face lit up. “We saw you dance at the circus. How long have you been performing?”
“Since I was in school,” May replied, delighted by Rue’s interest. “I’m self-taught though, so sometimes it feels like I’m making it up as I go.”
“She’s selling herself short,” Em insisted.
“Self-taught?” Connor look gob-smacked. “I’m impressed.”
“Me too,” Rue agreed brightly.
“Thank you,” May gushed. But elated as she was to have a chance to talk about one of her truest passions, she wanted to steer the conversation away from her and Em. “What about all of you? I’ve been so curious to know more about Wishes. I mean, I know what Wishes are but…” she shrugged, struggling to find the right words. “What does that mean for you? Is it different than being human?”
Sure, she was playing dumb to a certain extent. But this was the first time she had ever met other Wishes; she was curious about what she might have been missing. Em’s attempts at distancing herself from her past had often made her answers to May’s questions vague or indifferent. May figured this was a chance to learn more about herself as much as the others.
Connor rubbed his chin, mulling over her question. He looked to his friends. Priva shrugged.
“I guess for the most part it’s not that different,” he admitted. “We’re born to our mothers and, if we’re lucky, we live our lives and die when we’re old. The only difference we’ve noticed – aside from how we come to be, of course – is that every Wish has their own unique ability.”
May blinked in a way she hoped conveyed naive confusion. “What kind of abilities?”
“Something we’re naturally very good at,” Connor replied. “Think of it like a talent on steroids. Everyone’s is different. Mine is my strength.” He gestured back to the massive dead tree they were using as firewood and May picked up on the implication that he had felled it singlehandedly. “Nothing too fancy here.”
“Mine, on the other hand, is very fancy,” Priva said, sounding rather proud of herself. She leaned forward and grinned. “I don’t have to sleep.”
“That’s only partially true,” Rue quipped, giving Priva a cutting look. “She can live on very little sleep. One night’s worth for every three or four days awake.”
“Killjoy,” Priva pouted.
If this was a reason to be any less impressed, May didn’t see why.
She looked to Jeremy expectantly. “What’s your ability?”
Arms crossed, Jeremy studied her for a moment before answering.
“Perfect memory.” He tapped his temple, his expression impossible to read. “I don’t forget anything.”
“Oh.” May smiled. “I’ll bet that comes in handy.”
Jeremy didn’t reply.
“What about you, Rue?” Em cut in on the awkward silence filling the space between May and Jeremy.
Rue laughed. “Oh, I’m not a Wish.”
May looked at her in surprise. “Really?”
“Yep.” Rue set her bowl down and settled back beside Connor, leaning gently into his side. “My place in this little family is kind of different than the others. I come from an ancient line of astromantic druids.”
Now genuinely confused, May frowned. “What does that mean? Are you human?”
“For the most part. But way back, in the beginning of human history, my people came to be specifically because of the Stars.”
The firelight danced, reflected in Rue’s magnificent golden eyes. May’s breath caught as she remembered why they had seemed so familiar.
“Were they Wishes?” May asked.
“No.” Rue’s eyes – the same otherworldly gold as the Star called Welkin – creased in the corners as she smiled. “They were Starborn.”
“We need to lay low and travel carefully,” Connor had instructed. “If the Loyals learn we’ve found you before we’re ready to stage the handover then we’re screwed.”
According to WIND, the Loyals had informants everywhere. To avoid rousing suspicion from potentially prying eyes, the group would have to leave as faint a trail as possible. No travel that required identification; cash only, aliases as much as necessary. May and Em didn’t mind – they were familiar with the best practices of runaways by now.
No one cared who you were when you took the bus, and travelling by dark was a good way to keep a low cover, which was how the group found themselves riding a night bus headed east. May and Em sat away from the others, as they would whenever they were in public. May was grateful for the many hours that lay between them and their next destination; she felt like she could breathe for the first time since climbing out of Dom’s truck.
She leaned into Em, her legs curled up beneath her. She was supposed to be sleeping, but with the space to breathe had also come the stillness her mind had been waiting for. It took advantage of the silence and filled it with a barrage of worries.
Beside her, Em fidgeted.
“Can’t sleep either?” she whispered, her voice just audible over the monotonous din of the bus.
Em gave an affirmative grunt.
Glancing up, May watched Em toy with a lock of dark hair. In their hasty packing, Em had the foresight to take one of her stage wigs – the long black one she used for their Moon and Ocean routine. May had trimmed it to a reasonable length and tucked her own hair beneath Em’s old ball cap. It wasn’t much as far as disguises went, but it was certainly better than nothing.
“On a scale from one to ten, how goth do I look in this thing?” Em asked, gesturing at the wig with a dramatic flourish.
May chuckled. “Ten. Very witchy.”
“Ooh, witchy. I can get into that.” Em wrapped her arms around May and let her cheek rest atop May’s head. “How are you holding up?”
Chewing her lower lip, May debated whether she should share the latest addition to her growing list of concerns. She hadn’t had the chance to tell Em what happened with Jeremy back at the motel.
Em broke her train of thought with a squeeze. “Babe? What’s on your mind?”
May sighed and decided to go for it.
“When we were back at the motel, Jeremy pulled me aside and told me he wouldn’t put up with me slowing things down.”
Em snorted. “Classic Jeremy.”
“He said he wouldn’t let me ‘get in the way’.”
“He doesn’t know you’re a Wish,” Em said, shrugging lightly. “He, Connor, and Priva have their abilities; him and his perfect memory, Connor and his super-Wish strength… have I ever told you that Priva only needs like, a handful of hours of sleep per week? And I mean, Rue may not be a Wish but even she has experience resisting the Loyals. Jeremy probably thinks you’re just an ordinary human, and if that were true, he wouldn’t be wrong in thinking you were in over your head.”
“Interesting,” May bristled. “That wasn’t what I thought he was implying at all.”
Em stared down at her quizzically before she clued in.
“Ah, you think this is about Audrey.”
“Can you blame me?” May tried to keep her voice down. “Ever since you told me the two of you were engaged I haven’t been able to-”
She was cut off by Em shifting out from beneath her. Righting herself, May twisted in her seat to see Em sitting pin straight and frowning at her in the flickering shadows.
“I was never engaged to him, May,” she spoke tersely, her words simultaneously hurt and offended.
May’s heart dropped. “I’m sorry. I meant-”
Em grabbed May’s hands and held them tightly.
“Babe, I need you to believe me when I tell you that Audrey and I are different people.” Her intensity was impossible to miss, even as she whispered. “Please, tell me you understand.”
“You can’t blame me for being confused,” May hissed, the fear and frustration she had been suppressing bursting the holds of her patience. “I still don’t even understand why Jeremy expected you to be her. These are her friends – people who loved her. And here you are asking me to keep this all straight as if it made any rational sense to begin with.”
Sighing, Em sat back and took a moment for both their sakes. It was difficult to see her in the darkness but May didn’t need her eyes to know Em was studying her carefully.
“You’re right,” Em agreed at last. “I’ve been asking you to suspend your disbelief without giving you much reason too.”
May shook her head. “I’m not asking for you to placate me, Em – I’m asking you to help me understand. Please?”
Leaning back against the window, Em hummed thoughtfully. She gestured for May to join her, and she did, nestling into her as best she could across the uncomfortable bus seats.
“Where do you want to start?” Em mused, lacing her fingers with May’s.
“Tell me why Jeremy thought you would be Audrey,” May replied. She remembered the tattered security photo he had shown her when he first stormed into her life. “Do you look like her?”
Em chuckled softly. “Not really. Audrey wasn’t a ghost like me. She had her mother’s super thick, brown hair and this warm, honey brown skin that I’m guessing came from Welkin, like her eyes.”
“Her eyes?” May asked, peering up at Em and trying to imagine her painted in Audrey’s pallet.
“Gold,” Em answered. “Just like the Stars.”
May mulled this over, curiosity tugging at the corner of her mind.
Em continued. “She was a bit shorter than I am. Smaller in generally, actually. It’s like when Welkin built this new body for me they made everything about it… more. Bigger. Stronger. It’s as if they thought…”
She trailed off. Her expression was distant.
“As if they thought making you stronger might keep you safe,” May finished. Em’s physical strength had never escaped May’s notice – even now she could feel the firmness of her body beneath her own. She could imagine Welkin – like any parent – wanting to do whatever possible to protect their child, especially after what happened to her.
“Yeah,” Em breathed.
May swore she could feel the fissure Welkin’s disappearance left in Em’s heart widen from where she lay against her.
“So what was it then?” she asked, trying to pull Em back from the edge of despair. “What tipped Jeremy off?”
Beneath her, Em squirmed with unease.
“My abilities,” Em explained. “All Wishes have a distinctive natural advantage; like you and the way you can master virtually anything with only a little bit of study. But the things I can do – the levitation and manipulation of energy – only a Starborn can do that.”
“A Starborn? Are there more like you; people who were parented by a Star?”
Em shook her head. “Not anymore. We were a bit more common thousands of years ago but that’s it.”
Fear settled over May. She sat up and looked at Em in a panic. “If that’s the case then they all know. How could they not?”
“Babe, people don’t come back from the dead.” Em’s voice was calm and steady. “What Welkin did for me is unheard of. Jeremy might be holding out hope, but the others are probably looking for the logical answer. They likely think I’m another Starborn, just like the Loyals do. Our job is to come up with a convincing story and stick to it, okay?”
May toyed with her ring, her anxiety relentless despite Em’s self-assured tone. “Okay. So you’re a Starborn. We’ve never heard of Audrey or Welkin.”
“Right.” Em cupped May’s cheek. “Just another secret love-child between a Star and some earthly creature. Maybe we can tell them I’m half-elvish. That could be fun.”
“Sure,” May laughed weakly, trying to shrug off her apprehension.
In the darkness, Em kissed her; soft, slow, intoxicating.
“It’s going to be okay, my love,” she whispered against her lips. “Trust me.”
May swallowed and nodded, breathless.
With a gentle tug, Em pulled May back against her, wrapping her in her arms and offering her body as a makeshift bed. “Let’s try to get some sleep, okay?”
It took only a moment for Em to drift off, the rhythm of her breath joining the concert of bus noise.
For May it would still be some time before sleep took her.
She could say she was okay as much as she liked.
She felt anything but.
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.”
[ Next Chapter ]
Content Warning: Strong language
For a heartbeat no one spoke.
Em’s wide eyes, filled with surprise, flickered from one face to the next, her grip tightening reflexively around May’s shoulder.
“Dom, what the fuck?” she demanded. She looked ready to run or fight, whichever was necessary first.
Holding his palms up in surrender, Dom kept his focus locked on her. He could sense her mix of fear and anger from where he stood. A part of him wanted to bridge that gap, to coax her down to a peaceful place with a compassionate touch. He knew her well enough to stay back. His heart ached, reflecting on how he had hoped his first reunion with these friends would go; so different from the scenario he found himself in now.
“Please, Em,” he begged. “These people need your help. You’ve got to know I wouldn’t have lead them to you if I didn’t believe that.”
And that was the problem – Em did know Dom believed he was doing the right thing. He was so good, and helping people was in his nature. For the first time she regretted not being more honest with him, for waiting so long to tell him her truth in what wound up being just a hastily abridged version anyway. She didn’t know what these people told him but there was no way he could have realized just how far away from them she had hoped to stay. For that she had no one to blame but herself.
Despite having tried to avoid it, Em eventually let herself look at the man gaping at her from the centre of the room. His dark eyes were troubled beneath a mess of unruly red hair, his expression that of someone who had just been slapped – hard. His companions glanced uncomfortably between him and Em, none of them speaking until the blond man with sad green eyes cleared his throat.
“We aren’t here to hurt you,” he said, his voice gentle and low. “But he’s right, we need your help. We’ve been trying to find you for a long time and we hope you’ll hear us out.”
Em licked her lips and let out a shaky exhale. It took her a moment to reply.
“Why us? Why me?”
The man opened his mouth to answer but it was his redheaded friend that stepped forward.
“It’s a long story, so we should probably start from the beginning.” He offered his hand for her to shake. He didn’t smile. “My name is Jeremy.”
May let out a barely audible gasp, flinching imperceptibly to everyone but Em, whose arm was still draped protectively around her. Instead of acknowledging May’s surprise, Em took Jeremy’s hand and gave it a single, firm shake.
The moment between the two seem to hang, but around them their friends exchanged wide-eyed glances. Everyone was tense.
At last Jeremy pulled back his hand and gestured to his companions.
“This is Connor,” he said of his blond friend. “His wife, Rue. And that’s Priva.”
Jeremy watched Em’s face carefully as he spoke, looking for something he didn’t seem to find as she nodded curtly in turn from Connor, to the golden-eyed Rue, and finally at Priva, who at least gave a slight wave back. In response, Jeremy frowned deeper and looked away, missing the way Em’s knuckles faded to white as she gripped at the loose edges of May’s shirt – the only hint she was reeling.
Another deep breath. Em slid her hand – clammy with nerves – to the small of May’s back and rolled her shoulders so she stood a little taller.
“I see you’ve already met my girlfriend, May.”
A person would have to be dead to miss the shockwave that shot through the room. May forced a small smile and resisted the urge to press tighter into the protection of Em’s side. She wasn’t sure what had happened but she knew the mood had gone from bad to worse. With anxiety swelling inside her she watched as Connor, Rue, and Priva glanced at one another but said nothing. Between them, May could see Dom holding his breath.
Jeremy remained locked on Em, his jaw tight and his expression stiff.
“It’s nice to meet you both,” he said at last, turning away as he did so.
May met Em’s eyes.
She wondered if Em could tell he was lying, too.
[ Next Chapter ]
Content Warning: Strong language
It didn’t take long for May’s cheerful excitement to give way to unease.
“As much as I’d like to believe you just wanted to surprise us, something -” she glanced back at Dom’s unfamiliar travelling companions “- tells me this isn’t a social visit.”
Dom’s jaw tightened. He gave May’s hand a quick squeeze.
“I wish, Maybe. I really do.”
“What’s going on?” Worry settled heavy across her brow. “Who are-”
“Let’s wait until we’re somewhere more private before we get into it, okay?” Dom cut her off. May didn’t argue.
They made their way out the back of the tent and into an open lot teeming with activity. May waved and exchanged quick words with the fellow cast and crew milling around. The last remnants of the night’s props were being locked away in the shipping crates and boisterous laughter drifted from an inviting-look dining tent. Beyond that, a sea of mobile trailers clustered just out of the tent’s circle of light.
“You’ve gotta tell me what this “Ginger” thing is all about,” Dom remarked after a fourth person referred to May by the name.
May laughed quietly. “We’re on the run, Dominic. It wouldn’t make much sense to go by our real names, now would it?”
“Fair enough.” He gestured at the scene around them. “Nice work hiding in plain sight by the way.”
At this, May beamed. “Yeah, we’re pretty proud of ourselves.”
“You must be happy to be dancing again.”
“I really am. I didn’t realize how much I missed it, to be honest.”
A voice was cleared from behind the pair, who looked over their shoulders in unison.
“Your performance was very lovely,” said one of the two women who followed them with a soft smile. “You’re very talented.”
May flushed; for someone who loved to perform, she was still getting accustomed to praise.
“Thank you! That’s very sweet of you to say.”
Her gaze lingered on the woman a moment longer. She was striking; warm brown skin that was etched with painstakingly detailed tattoos on her face and forearms. But it was her brilliant golden eyes that held May’s attention the most, their familiarity causing her to shiver involuntarily.
Giving her head a slight shake, May hoped she hadn’t been staring too long and changed the subject.
“Rose was in the shower when Bertram came to find us,” she said, speaking Rose’s name slowly as though she were still getting used to it herself. “But she should be done by now.”
They made their way through the small village of trailers to one with fairy lights framing the door. May skipped up the steps and poked her head inside.
“Babe?” she called and listened for a reply. Jeremy tensed and shot Dom a look who pretended not to notice. “Huh. Maybe she went looking for me. Would you like to wait inside?”
The troupe filed into the cramped trailer – a space not suited for quite so many bodies – and clustered in the awkward silence that followed.
“Sorry it’s so small,” May murmured, bashfully shoving stray laundry out of sight. “The other trailers have more room but we took this one so we wouldn’t have to share with anyone else.”
“Smooth,” Dom replied with a chuckle. He nudged at her with his elbow, bringing the blush back to her cheeks. She gave him a swat.
“So what’s going on?” She gave the group of strangers her full attention for the first time. She tried to ignore the anxiety that gnawed at her gut under the intense stare of the man with fiery hair. He had been fixated on her from the very first moment – the entire walk to the trailer she had felt his dark eyes boring into her, but now she couldn’t avoid them. “Is everything okay?”
Before Dom could reply, the red-haired man reached into his pocket and produced a tattered, folded piece of paper. Opening it carefully he stepped forward and handed it to her without a word.
Panic gripped May’s insides when she saw the photo – herself and Em, caught on a security camera in Tenna nearly a year ago. She could pinpoint the moment precisely, her shoulder wedged under Em’s arm as the two wove through alleys to escape a Loyal agent named Melanie.
“Why do you have this?” May’s voice hitched, her breathing shallow. Her eyes darted fearfully from the man to her friend. “Dom, what is this?”
“May, listen,” he tried to sound reassuring but there was grief in his expression that filled May with dread. “You’ve got to hear them out.”
But her mind was already racing.
“We trusted you.” May felt as though she were looking at a stranger. She couldn’t imagine anyone who knew about that day in the photo having anything but bad reasons for wanting to find her and Em – surely Dom realized that. “Dom, how could you bring them here?”
With her heartbeat thundering in her ears, May could see that the others were talking to her but she was too busy scouring the room for a way out. The strangers blocked her path – would she be able to fight her way through?
“We’re not here to hurt you,” insisted another one of the strangers; the other man, beautiful and earnest. He reached tenderly to her as though she were a wounded, frightened animal and she jerked away only to back into Dom.
“C’mon, Maybe,” he pleaded. “Just list-”
Panic overcame her and she screamed. Aliases be damned, she screamed Em’s name and lunged for the door just as it swung open. Dom and the strangers pulled back in surprise, leaving room for May to stumble into the arms of a woman with pearlescent skin. Hair like polished silver poked out from where it had been hastily tucked beneath the ragged ball cap Dom has often seen her wearing in the photos she sent him. She clutched May close while her haunting diamond-blue eyes took in the scene.
The room went silent and she spoke.
“What the fuck is going on?”
The wait was almost too much.
As soon as the show ended, Dom, Jeremy, and the rest hurried through the crowd and hunted for the usher who had shown them to their seats.
“I’m afraid Lenore won’t be available for a while yet,” she told them. Her voice was sympathetic but her answer was infuriating. “She’s one of the performers, you see. They don’t take any guests until after the rest of the audience has left and they’ve had a chance to freshen up. I’m sure you understand.”
Jeremy elbowed his way in between Dom and the usher.
“What about the dancers from the Moon and Ocean act?” he asked, sounding breathless. “They’re the ones we’re actually looking for.”
Dom couldn’t suppress his groan as he watched the usher’s expression fall. Just like the boy at the ticket wicket, she took a moment to think before answering.
“You’ll still need to talk to Lenore first,” she said at last. “How about you just wait in the stands? Someone will come find you when she’s ready.”
Before anyone could argue to the contrary, the usher turned and disappeared into the slow exodus of patrons making their way out of the tent. The chatter in the air was still excited as people rehashed their favourite moments from the show – eyes alight with the magic they felt they had witnessed – but for Dom and the others excitement had given way to anxious tension.
They did as the usher suggested and returned to the stands to wait. Dom made a point of sitting off on his own, hoping to avoid Jeremy and his questions. But Jeremy kept to himself as well, pacing along a row of seats with a furrowed expression while his friends whispered to each other in low, hurried voices.
“Who the fuck is this Lenore person and why do we have to go through her anyway?” Jeremy growled, throwing his hands up after what must have been more than an hour of waiting. The tent seemed quiet now and it was hard not to feel as though they had been forgotten. “We’re wasting-”
“I’m the leader of this outfit,” boomed a voice from the entryway through which they had come. “And no one gets to my performers without going through me first.”
Lenore – a woman who appeared to be in her mid-fifties with close cropped greying hair – strode toward them with an unmistakable air of authority. She paused a handful of paces away from the group and scrutinized each of them one by one.
“Now what’s this I hear about you asking after my girls?” she barked. At this distance, Dom noticed her reptilian-esque eyes and the bony protrusions that jutted out from the peaks of her cheekbones and crown of her forehead. He recognized her from the show as the performer who had danced with fire, and he made a mental note that anyone who could make flames look like well-trained animals was not one to be tested.
“Ma’am, my name is Dominic,” he began, stepping up and turning on what had often been described as his most disarmingly charming smile. “The performers we’re looking for are friends and former colleagues of mine. We were really hoping to see them.”
With a harsh laugh, Lenore shook her head. “I don’t think so, buddy.”
Dom pushed onward, careful not to let Jeremy sneak a word in edgewise.
“Please, we’ve come a really long way.” He hesitated. He didn’t want to lie for fear of being found out, but… “They sent me an invitation to watch them perform.”
Lenore still wasn’t buying it.
“They didn’t say anything to me about it, which means you’re probably full of shit.”
Exasperating as it was, Dom was grateful for Lenore’s steadfast gatekeeping; at least it wouldn’t have been easy for anyone of ill-intent to get close to the girls.
The others didn’t see it the same way. In a flurry of voices they came at Lenore as one, talking and shouting over one another with questions and demands. Lenore opened her mouth and Dom knew at once they had blown it – she was going to toss them out – when a new voice cut through the noise.
“Dom? Is that you?”
The chatter ceased. In unison, every head turned to the closest entrance, where a pair of faces peeked back at them. One belonged to the boy from the wicket. The other was that of a rosy-haired woman with dark blue eyes and constellations of freckles splashed across her face. An elated smile lit up her features.
“Maybe!” Dom cried, opening his arms to catch her as she tore out into the open and lept up to greet him. “Look at you – your hair’s gotten so long!”
Scrubbed free of her stage make-up, May Alana was positively glowing. Dom marvelled at what time on the road had done to her: not only had her soft waves grown long and wild, tumbling over her shoulders, but even under loose studio clothes he could tell how much stronger she was. He could feel the firm muscles that wound up her arms and down her back as he crushed her into his embrace. Her skin had lost its sun-kissed island radiance but she still looked happy and healthy.
“I can’t believe you’re here!” May squeaked, taking a step back to see him better but keeping her fists clutched at his shirt sleeves. “When Bertram said people were here to see us I wasn’t expecting it to be you!”
Over May’s shoulder, Dom watched Lenore throw a stern look at the wicket boy – presumably Bertram – who went scarlet and ducked out of view.
“Is everything okay, Ginger?” Lenore sounded wary. “Do you know them?”
As if in reply, May pulled Dom into another tight hug. She tilted her face until her mouth met his ear.
“Who are these people?” she whispered as quietly as she could.
“I’ll explain later,” Dom murmured back to her. “Who’s Ginger?”
“I am. Just roll with it.”
Pulling back, May beamed. “Yeah, they’re friends. Everything’s okay, Lenore. Thanks for looking out for us though.”
At this Leore actually smiled, relaxing her stance ever so slightly.
“Of course. You know me: family first. Sorry for being hard on you, folks – you can never be too careful in this business. Ginger, honey, will you tell Rosemary to stop leaving her costumes on the dressing room floor? Fool girl doesn’t seem to want to listen to me and I’m about ready to kick her ass.”
May laughed. “Sure thing, Dragon Mama. We’ll go find her right now.”
She took Dom by the hand and lead him to the exit, motioning for the others to follow. When he was sure Lenore was well out of earshot, Dom ducked his head and whispered.
“Is this Rosemary who I think she is?”
A grin cut across May’s face as she winked.
“You’ll have to wait and see.”
[ Next Chapter ]
Content Warning: Strong language
“Do you think we should be worried?”
Trina was four drinks deep and hunched over the table, whispering conspiratorially. It was evening now, yet the mysterious group of strangers was still top of mind for the SAR team these many hours later.
From their regular table at Duke’s Pub, Dom and Matti cast uneasy glances around the room. It felt dangerous to be talking about this in public. Then again, they had been there for a while and inhibitions were getting lower by the sip.
“Well, I sure am,” Matti admitted, picking nervously at the label on his bottle of beer. “What do you think they want from Em?”
Dom shifted uncomfortably in his chair and frowned into his drink.
“I don’t know,” he replied gruffly. “But hopefully everyone remembers to keep their mouths shut.”
When Em had finally confessed her secret to Dom – thanks in no small part to May’s insistence – she made it clear the woman pursuing them likely would not be the last of her ilk to turn up in Tenna. Dom may not have understood who these Loyals were but he recognized danger when he saw it.
To help ensure Em and May’s safety he had charged the rest of the team with keeping her existence a secret. They had devised elaborate stories – practiced their lies until they felt like truths – and spread the word around town that, should anyone come asking about their former teammate, the best response was to deny, deny, deny.
Em was a charismatic sort, and even though her time in Tenna had been relatively brief, people were keen to do what they could to take care of someone who had spent so much time taking care of them.
Sure enough, strangers had come to the remote mountain town – first in droves to investigate and later in smaller numbers until the flood dried up completely – and everyone had stayed the course. Still, every visit from someone who asked too many questions put the team on high alert. Dom in particular found it difficult to relax until the strangers eventually gave up and left Tenna behind.
But there was something about this new group that felt different to Dom; something less militant and more desperate. Whomever they were, Dom got the sense they weren’t part of the regular outfit that came sniffing around after his friends.
“Sammy’s drunk again,” Trina noted, derailing his train of thought. “Duke really has to let that guy go.”
Dom lifted his eyes to the bar where, sure enough, the youngest bartender on staff was laughing loudly over his own glass with a group of patrons on the wrong side of the bar. He was supposed to be working.
“What a mess,” Matti tutted with a disapproving shake of his head. “Can you imagine if we got drunk on shift like that?”
“To be fair, our line of work is a little bit different than his,” Dom retorted. “Serving drinks when you’re hammered isn’t quite as problematic as trying to save lives.”
Matti shrugged. “Fair enough, I suppose.”
“Whatever. Duke still needs to fire him,” was Trina’s two-cents worth.
From there they let the conversation shift from subjects of worry to shop talk and idle gossip. Trina made eyes with a scruffy hiker across the room while Matti bemoaned the trouble he was having sourcing a part for one of the team vehicles.
“I love it here – I really do. But, damn, sometimes being so remote drives me nuts.” He waved his now empty bottle around with inebriated gusto. “They said it’s gonna take a month to get this thing all the way up here. What a joke!”
“I hear ya, bud.” Dom reached out to pluck the bottle from his friend’s hand. He threw back what was left in his own glass and stood. “Another round, kids?”
His friends nodded, Trina half-heartedly offering to pay knowing full well that Dom would say no just like always. It was a comfortable routine between the three youngest members of the team – Dom more so in spirit than actual age – and they all appreciated the predictability of it.
By now the pub was crowded with Friday night revellers. Dom had to push through the mass of people milling and dancing, throwing smiles and ‘hey, how’s it goings’ to one familiar face after another. The bar itself was especially busy and a quick scan showed Sammy was nowhere in sight.
“Great,” Dom muttered, pressing in closer to the counter in search of another bartender. Amara, Duke’s daughter and bar manager, was swamped at the other end of the room. Her face was flushed and scowling as she picked up the slack for her flighty co-worker.
Placing Matti’s empty bottle on the bar, Dom was steeling himself for a long wait when he felt someone tap his shoulder.
“Dominic, it’s Sammy.” His neighbour Luis leaned in close to be heard over the boisterous crowd of the pub.
“Yeah, he’s gonna get his ass fired if he keeps this shit up,” Dom replied.
Luis shook his head and Dom suddenly noticed the panic in his eyes. Hitching a thumb over his shoulder, Luis stepped to the side so Dom could see Sammy, face aglow with intoxication, sitting at a table by the far wall. He was talking loudly, his hands animating his words.
Sitting across from him, back to Dom, was a man with wild red hair.
Dom’s stomach bottomed out. He realized what Luis was trying to tell him and lurched forward, barrelling unceremoniously through groups of friends and strangers alike and eliciting scandalized shouts and curses as he went.
Wordlessly he tried to signal for Sammy to stop talking, to shut his mouth for the love of all that was good in this world.
Sammy raised his glassy eyes and, spotting Dom just steps away now, smiled.
“There he is!” Sammy boomed so loudly the din in the room seemed to fade away. “That’s the guy I was telling you about. He worked with the girl you’re looking for. Tell ‘im, Dom!”
The red-haired man turned in his seat, his eyes narrowing in on Dom with a look that could scald.
Dom wasn’t imagining it: the room had fallen silent.
Jeremy Parker got to his feet.
“I knew you were fucking lying to me.”
[ Read Next Chapter ]
Content Warning: Brief, non-explicit insinuation of past sexual assault
May should not have been standing at that door.
There was a foggy sense of purpose egging her on from a dark corner of her mind. Her hand trembled as she raised it to knock weakly. If someone had asked her in that moment why she was there, she wouldn’t have been able to answer, aside from insisting it was something she needed to do.
It wasn’t until she heard the lock click that the bottom of her stomach gave out. Her extremities tingled and a roaring filled her ears.
No. This isn’t right.
From across the threshold, Kane smiled down at her with cruel satisfaction. Dim light from his apartment framed him in the night; a dark and dangerous silhouette.
He didn’t touch her – didn’t say a word – just stood back to let her in.
As if under a spell, she stepped past him and listened in dread at the sound of the door closing, the deadlock clicking into place.
Stop. Stop, what are you doing? Go back.
He was on her in an instant, his hands rough and unforgiving. She cried out of fear. She cried out of shame and pain. But he didn’t stop.
He never stopped.
It was only while she was in the thick of reliving one of her worst memories that May would realize that’s all it was – a memory. A dream.
She’d wake up in a cold sweat, often in tears, shaking and confused. It didn’t happen as often as it once did – before Em had washed up into her life – but that didn’t make it any less terrifying when the nightmares came.
Tonight’s dream was no different. May fought for wakefulness to escape it.
“Hey,” a soft voice came from beside her in the darkness of the room. “Hey, it’s okay. You’re alright, babe.”
May felt Em’s arms encircle her, strong and warm. She collapsed into her and took a few deep breaths. Em’s familiar, airy scent filled her senses and grounded her in the present.
“The dream again?” Em squeezed May’s shoulders gently. May nodded against the crook of her neck.
“I’m sorry, babe.”
Pulling back, May brushed away a stray tear and exhaled. Her eyes adjusted to the darkness. Moonlight streamed in through the open window and lit Em’s pale diamond eyes; her gaze was full of loving concern.
“It’s alright,” May mumbled, trying to bury the fading visions from her mind with a light shake of her head. “I woke up a lot sooner than last time.”
Em frowned. “It’s been such a long time since the last one. Is everything okay?”
It was a difficult question to answer given the circumstances.
The pair had been travelling for months; so many May long since lost count. They moved frequently but made their stops memorable. May had done more since she and Em fled Hoku than she had in the rest of her life combined. The rich, earthy scent of the vineyards they were working on wafted in from the window; it must have just rained.
But for all the amazing experiences and wonderful people they met along the way, it was never far from May’s mind that they were on the run. They had only come to this vineyard a few weeks ago, making money by working the vines by day and enjoying free wine and each other by night. Yet they were already making plans to leave. Where to head next had been the last thing the two talked about before falling asleep that night.
May bit her lip. She didn’t want Em to worry – to think she was having regrets about leaving her home behind. But Em was giving her that look and she knew dancing around the truth wouldn’t get her very far.
“I think…” May swallowed. “I think I might be a little tired.”
It took a moment for Em to catch on. “Is this about the move?”
With a shrug, May nodded sheepishly.
“It might be. I can’t say for sure. But…” she let out a sigh. “I don’t know. It’s not like I’m not happy or enjoying seeing the world. I just-”
“No, I get it.” Em gently brushed a rosy curl from May’s forehead. “You’re right – this way of life can be exhausting. Being on the lam is stressful. Maybe we can find a place to settle for a while. A bit of routine couldn’t hurt as long as we don’t get sloppy.”
May smiled in appreciation; Em always found the words when she couldn’t. She took Em’s hand in hers and pressed it to her lips.
It was only then May realized Em was sitting on the edge of the bed.
“Were you already up?” She glanced back at Em’s side of the tiny bed they shared. The blankets were tossed aside, the pillow was on the floor.
“Couldn’t sleep.” Em’s eyes flitted to the window and at once May understood.
“Not a thing.”
Try as she might, Em hadn’t been able to make contact with Welkin. She spent long nights casting her vibrations into the sky and receiving nothing back but the regular noise bouncing around the universe. Em tried her best to downplay her concern, but May could tell not knowing what had become of the Star was wearing on her. Her gaze was unfocused, her thoughts far, far away.
“They’ll find their way back to us sooner or later,” May assured softly, trailing her fingers up and down Em’s forearm.
Em blinked, bringing herself back to the moment. She smiled at May. “Yeah. I’ll try again some other night.”
Still far from being ready to go back to sleep, May returned Em’s smile before leaning in, letting their lips meet in a soft, slow kiss.
“Want to make out until we fall asleep?” she asked in a honey-soaked voice. She trailed her fingers all the way up Em’s arm this time and used them to trace her jawline with a feather-light touch.
Em raised an eyebrow. “I would hope making out with me wouldn’t put you to sleep.”
A playful look settled across May’s face.
“Maybe we can keep each other awake instead.”
With a sly grin of her own, Em crawled up May’s lap and crushed another more urgent kiss against her lips.
“Now that I can do,” she murmured, her voice low, mouth still grazing May’s with tantalizing proximity.
They fell into one another, letting the softness of skin on skin and the heat of desire drown out all the worries and fears. Both knew they were only putting off the inevitable; neither could shake the sinking sensation that the gap between them and danger was quietly closing.
And while they couldn’t have known it for sure, they were right to worry.