Chapter Forty-Three

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[Author's note: This chapter has been edited to adhere to Wattpad's 'Everyone' rating. To read the uncensored, NSFW version of this chapter, please see the 'Starborn Mature Chapters' book on my profile]

May didn't need to be told twice.

No sooner had Jeremy's words of encouragement left his lips, she was on her feet and hurrying through the house on the hunt for the stairs. She followed a worn path in the old sepia-colored carpeting into the darkness of the second storey. The musty smells of old wood and generations of life were stronger up here, giving the place a homey feel despite being completely unfamiliar to her.

At the top of the stairs, May found a hallway that turned directly to the right. Most of the doors were closed, but the sound of Em's muffled voice led May exactly where she needed to be. She followed it to one of the closed doors halfway down the hall, and paused outside for a moment. From here, she could tell Em was crying.

As much as she wanted to barge in, she also wanted to be respectful of Em's grief. Raising her hand, she rapped on the wooden door with a knuckle. The weeping stopped.

"Em?" May called gently. "It's me. Can I come in?"

There was no answer. Slowly, May turned the handle and opened the door just a crack. When she peered in, her eyes immediately found Em, laying on her back in a modest single bed, clutching a pillow over her face.

"Emmy?" May tried again.

This time, Em replied with a sad strangled noise that sounded even more pitiful through the pillow's stuffing. Sighing, May crept into the room and closed the door softly behind her. She came to Em's side and sat on the edge of the mattress. Em didn't emerge from beneath the pillow, and so May waited.

A moment or two passed, punctuated only by the sound of muted sniffles from under the pillow.

"Everything is so fucked up," Em said at last through layers of cotton and stuffing. "All of this is exactly what I didn't want."

May reached over and carefully lifted the pillow off Em's face. Em didn't stop her, but she draped a forearm over her now-exposed red, wet eyes in response.

"I know, babe," May said softly.

Em took a shaky breath and grimaced. "All I wanted was to leave this life behind. I had a chance to start over, and somehow I've wound up right back where I started. Only this time I've dragged people I love down with me."

"For what it's worth, it was my idea to help WIND get Gaten back," May reasoned. Guilt prodded at her heart, and she dropped her eyes to a tear at the knee of her jeans. "I forced you to get involved, even though I knew you wanted to stay away from all this. I'm so sorry, Em. I thought we were doing the right thing."

"We were—we are." Em removed her arm and wiped her tears with a couple rough swipes. She sniffed, eyes narrowed bitterly up at the ceiling. "I just wish doing the right thing wasn't so damn hard."

For the first time since May entered the room, Em looked at her. Her tear-swollen eyes did nothing to help her disheveled and unkempt appearance.

"Can I say something brutally honest?" May asked.

"Always."

"You look terrible."

Em blinked, visibly taken aback for a split second, and then burst into laughter. It was a tired laugh, but it carried a note of relief. It made May smile.

"I know, I know." Em pulled herself up to sit. She tucked some of her messy hair behind her ear and then dropped her hands into her lap. "I, uh, guess I didn't handle you being gone all that well. But look at you!" She reached out—ready to run her fingertips across the fine fuzz growing back on the shaved side of May's head—but hesitated.

May smiled sadly. She closed the distance, leaning into Em's touch. "Would you believe me if I said I took our fake break-up hard and made a few drastic style choices to express myself?"

"I'd say that's a much more punk rock way of dealing with your feelings than, you know, not bathing." Em traced the thin scar that ran from the top of May's forehead back onto her scalp — the only unsightly reminder of Melanie's attack that remained after Emandi's healing. "But no, I wouldn't believe you."

Despite the dread of knowing she was going to have to explain what happened, May gave herself a moment to melt into the sensation of Em's hands on her again. Closing her eyes, she took Em's hand and pressed her palm to her cheek. Her skin was like a soothing salve, and May wanted to bathe in it.

But when she opened her eyes, she found Em waiting, watching her expectantly. May decided there was no point dragging it out — this was a bandage she needed to rip off swiftly.

"Melanie found me. She followed me to Hoku."

Em inhaled sharply. "She hurt you?"

Lips pursed, May nodded. "They're looking for you, Em. She thought I would tell her what I knew."

"May, fuck. I don't—May, I'm so sorry." Em's voice broke. She sobbed, sounding on the verge of hysterics. With trembling hands, she reached for May, who fell into them without hesitation. Wordlessly, May held her tightly and let her cry.

When Em's tears seemed to ebb, May made an attempt at lightening the mood. "If it makes you feel any better, I met Emandi. They fixed me right up."

Em made a sound somewhere between a laugh and a sob. "Are you fucking kidding me? How did that—"

May cut her off with a kiss. She pressed her lips to Em's, holding back her self-blame with love.

When they broke, May stayed close.They rested their foreheads together just like they had outside and breathed one another in.

"I don't know about you, but I've had enough of being sad for a while," May whispered. She held Em's face, her thumbs wiping away her tears. "Can we just forget about all of this for a little bit?"

Em blinked at her. "I'd love to, babe. But how—"

May interrupted her with another kiss, this one slow and tantalizing. Then, as she moved her face to plant a trail of kisses on Em's cheek, her jaw, her neck, she dropped a hand and used it to tug gently at the hem of Em's shirt.

"Oh," Em said, gasping a little as May's tongue made a quick and playful swipe at her throat. "Are you sure?"

By way of reply, May sat back. She shrugged her ill-gotten leather jacket off her shoulders and tossed it on the floor, then pulled her shirt up over her head and disposed of it the same way.

"Very."

By the time the pair had finished with one another, their sadness was forgotten. Laying together, intertwined and breathless, the only thing they felt now was gratitude. They were grateful to be together, still in love and looking forward with hope and forgiveness.

May was drifting off when she felt Em's hands fidgeting behind her back.

"What are you doing?" she mumbled.

Em tapped something small against May's shoulder. "Here, you should take this back."

May glanced up and smiled — pinched carefully between Em's fingers was her ring.

"You can only give it back to me if you promise not to send me away again."

"I wouldn't dream of it," Em replied.

Satisfied, May reached up and let Em slide the ring back to its rightful place on her middle finger. The familiar weight of it brought her a sense of peace she hadn't realized she was missing. She curled and unfurled her fingers, reacquainting herself to the sensation, when she realized it probably wasn't the ring itself that had quieted the long-raging riot in her mind — it was what it meant for them.

She nuzzled tightly into Em and let out a contented sigh. "I missed us."

"Me too, love," Em replied, planting a soft kiss on May's temple. "Me too."

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