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[ CW: Graphic violence, blood, strong language ]
Adrenaline pumped through May’s veins as she marched back to the treehouse.
She was a cocktail of comeuppance: one part fury to three parts victory, and she liked it. Her only regret was that it had taken so long to stand up for herself in the first place.
But as she neared home, the fire inside her subsided, smoldering in a way that left her feeling tired and shaky; exhausted and exhilarated at the same time.
“I can’t believe I did that,” she whispered to herself, pressing a trembling hand to her heart. “I told Kane off in front of all those people!”
It was hard to say whether or not her bravado would come back to haunt her, but for now she let herself enjoy the feelings of pride and awe sloshing around inside her like the glass of water in her belly.
As she came up on the treehouse, she found it dark. The Rocket was gone and for the first time since storming off, May felt guilty.
“Kai must have gone looking for me,” she murmured, glancing back down the beach from where she had come.
For a moment she considered doubling back. Perhaps she could go to her parents’ place where he might be waiting and, if he wasn’t, they could at least help her find him. It wasn’t that he needed her, but she needed him; she was consumed with a desire to apologize so strong it nearly overwhelmed her.
But, no. It didn’t make sense to try hunting him down, especially on foot. Looking up at the treehouse, she thought maybe she could find some other way to make it up to him. Knowing Kai there was probably some mess she could clean up as a goodwill gesture.
She climbed the stairs and was relieved to find the door unlocked – along with leaving her money behind she had also failed to grab a key during her dramatic exit. The kitchen counter was cluttered with the mess of dinner, and an empty plate sat abandoned on the coffee table where Kai must have eaten. May imagined him chewing pensively as he stared out the window, wondering if she was going to come back on her own. But Kai’s heart was too big, and she was sure not knowing probably got the better of him. She wondered where he had been searching for her as she shut the door softly.
The sun was setting and the fading light cast long, deep shadows across the room. May scooped up Kai’s dinner plate and cutlery only to pause – the knife he had used brought back a memory so strong that it stole her breath.
It was the same nondescript kitchen knife May had brought to protect herself the night she met Em. She could remember the ridiculous way she had brandished it, her hands trembling, and then how foolish she had felt when she realized the odd and beautiful stanger was simply in need of help. May turned the knife over in her hand and smiled over the silly yet cherished moment it brought back – a moment that had changed everything.
She turned to bring the dishes up to the kitchen and gasped barely a millisecond before the shadow of something hard and fast struck her in the side of the head. A spark of light overtook her vision, blinding pain surging from the point of impact as the force of it knocked her back and set the dishes flying.
Someone was in the room with her, cloaked in the dark. May didn’t even have a chance to scream before her assailant emerged again, landing a hit like a battering ram straight into May’s stomach. Gasping for breath, May swung and collided with a body but having been taken off guard her hit lacked strength. She wasn’t fast enough – a pair of strong hands wrapped around her throat and squeezed.
It was only then, as she struggled against the fingers digging into her windpipe with clawing hands, that May saw her attacker.
Her heart stopped.
It was Melanie.
“You and I need to have a little talk,” the Loyal agent hissed, giving May a violent shake. In response, May kicked with as much force as she could manage, again and again until she connected with Melanie’s knee.
The Loyal cursed and flung May to the floor. May wasted no time in attempting to scramble away, but Melanie was already upon her. She was bigger than May, and unquestionably stronger, so when she straddled May’s middle and pinned her arms at the elbows with her knees, there was little May could do but squirm.
And scream. She screamed for help, for Kai, for anyone, but Melanie silenced her with a hand pressed tightly against her mouth.
“None of that,” Melanie said as May thrashed.
But May wasn’t ready to give up. She gnashed her teeth, catching one of Melanie’s fingers between them and biting down – hard. Melanie cried out and tried wrenching her hand away but May held fast, the taste of blood coating her tongue.
With her free hand, Melanie hammered at May’s temple until the pain overwhelmed May into letting go.
“Help!” May choked through the throbbing in her head and the tears that blurred her vision. Her heart thundered so hard she felt it might burst.
Melanie took hold of May’s face, forcing her to look at her.
“You’re making this much harder than it needs to be,” she growled. “This can all be over if you just tell me what I want to know.”
May sobbed, hysterical with fear and overwhelmed by pain unlike anything she had ever experienced.
“Are you listening to me?” Melanie demanded.
Trembling, May nodded.
“Good. Now, tell me where she is.”
A fresh wave of terror coursed through May: Melanie was looking for Em. This was everything they had been hoping to avoid; May was in danger but this time Em wasn’t there. May swallowed and tried to focus.
This may have been what they were trying to avoid, but they had planned for it too. After all, this was the entire reason they had feigned such a dramatic breakup in the first place.
“Who?” May asked, her voice cracking.
“Don’t fucking play stupid with me, girl,” Melanie spat, tightening her grip on May’s jaw. “You know exactly who I’m talking about. Where is the Starborn?”
“I don’t know,” May answered with a sob. At least she wasn’t lying.
Melanie didn’t hesitate, bringing her free hand down and laying a sharp slap across May’s face.
“Not the right answer.”
“I’m telling you, I don’t know.”
Another slap, harder than the last.
“Please,” May wailed. The room swam around her. Warm blood oozed from a wound above her eye. “I really don’t know where she is.”
“Alright, let’s try this then.” Melanie sat back, her body pressing down and forcing the air from May’s lungs. She reach for the front of May’s dress – an overlong button-down that Em had loved – and ripped it open, exposing the smooth, sunkissed flesh of May’s chest. May cried, thrashing and squirming with renewed vigor, while Melanie searched around and found the discarded dinner plate. She brought it down hard against the floor right next to May’s head, shattering it while May screamed.
“I don’t think you understand how serious this situation is,” Melanie said, holding up a particularly jagged ceramic piece of the broken plate so May could see its sharp edges. “But I need you to cooperate.”
“Please,” May begged. “Please don’t do this.”
While May sobbed desperately, Melanie placed a broken tip of the place piece against her chest, right at the spot where her sternum ended. She pressed in, breaking the skin. May shrieked.
“You have until I reach that skinny little neck of yours to tell me what I need to know,” Melanie said, digging the piece in a little deeper as May wailed in pain and white hot fear. “If I make it that far, you clearly won’t be any use to me. It’ll barely take me a second to finish the job. Do you understand?”
Blind terror was all May understood. Her breaths were rapid and shallow, and she couldn’t stop the blubbering mess of tears that streamed down her bruised and swelling face.
I’m going to die, she thought turning her head so she wouldn’t have to watch as Melanie began dragging the ceramic piece slowly, mercilessly up her chest. The jagged edge was like a scalpel, slicing her open with ease. All May could do was scream and sob.
But it was from that vantage point May caught a metallic shine, glinting in the fading red light of sunset. The kitchen knife laid by Melanie’s foot, and it was the only chance May was going to get.
“Where is she, May?” Melanie asked again, moving the piece at an agonizing pace, dragging out the torture.
May gritted her teeth and squirmed, stretching her fingertips toward the knife. “Please, I don’t-“
The ceramic sunk deeper. May cried out.
“Come on May.” Melanie’s voice was freakishly steady. This was clearly not the first time she had used force to get what she wanted. “Don’t be a hero.”
Almost. May clamped the very tip of the blade between the ends of two fingers. Gingerly she curled those fingers toward her palm until she could wrap the rest of them around the knife. Her hand trembled and she fumbled to grip the handle, the razor sharp edge of the blade sliding across the skin of her fingers. She ignored the sharp sting of the fresh, bleeding cuts. I just need a bit more time.
“She left me,” May blurted. It was the first time she admitted these words – up until now she had simply danced around Em’s absence when anyone asked. Saying it hurt almost as much as the gaping gash up her chest. Melanie paused, barely an inch from May’s collarbone.
“Oh?” Was all Melanie said in reply.
“She told me I was getting in her way,” May continued, weeping. “That she’d had her fun but that she could never be with some ordinary human. She told me… she said I wasn’t special like she is. She left me to go with WIND.”
“Hmm,” Melanie looked May over, considering what she was hearing. “And where exactly were they going?”
May’s hand, slippery with blood, gripped tightly – painfully – around the knife’s handle.
She would only have one shot at this. She had to get it right.
“I’m sorry,” May whispered. “She didn’t tell me anything. We got in a fight and she said all these horrible things.” A sob interrupted her. Even if they had just been for show, there was a very good chance those horrible words would be the last ones Em and May ever said to each other. “And then she left me stranded on the side of the road.”
“She broke my fucking heart.”
It was impossible to read Melanie, her face impassive as she looked down at May. She cocked her head for a moment, and then leaned down to May’s ear. Her weight shifted forward ever so slightly.
“Here’s the thing,” she whispered. “I don’t believe you.”
Before she had finished speaking, May struck, digging the blade deep into Melanie’s calve. The Loyal yelped, jerking in a way that gave May enough room to stab at her again and then again, blindly sinking the sharp steel into whatever she could reach. May twisted, trying to find a decent target.
Melanie trust the piece of broken plate into May’s chest, catching it on her clavicle, just as May stabbed again too. The knife blade plunged into the thin flesh above Melanie’s ankle. May only needed to saw it forward once before she felt a snap.
Not even Melanie could grit through the agony of a severed achilles tendon. Shrieking like an animal, the Loyal bucked backwards. May took advantage of the moment, adrenaline giving her just enough strength to knock Melanie from atop her.
Yellow light washed through the now dark room from outside. May heard an engine cut as Melanie tried to struggle to her feet and failed, pitching sideways on her ruined foot.
“Kai!” May screamed as loudly as her raw throat would allow. She scrambled to drag herself away from Melanie, her limbs quaking with the effort. The world was growing dark around the edges. “Kai, help me, please!”
“Fuck,” Melanie hissed, stumbling again. She threw herself at the deck door and shoved it open.
“May?” Kai shouted with alarm. “May, I’m coming!”
Footsteps thundered up the stairs.
May’s vision swam in and out of blackness.
The last thing she saw was Melanie stagger out onto the deck and disappear into the night.
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