Emily couldn't seem to soothe her shaking hands as she waited outside the closed door before her. She swayed in her stance, feeling sick and wishing that she'd just pass out from the mix of nerves brewing inside her. Would they do it? She wondered, would they finally get rid of her for this?
The thought of the eerily familiar face that she'd seen just hours ago made her head spin. How was she supposed to know that he'd be at that store of all the ones that existed in Nova? And if they were so worried about someone from her past spotting her, why didn't they take better precautions? If anything Dalia should've been held responsible, after all, she was the tech person around here.
Emily shook her head of those thoughts, she couldn't blame anyone this time.
This was all her fault.
Heading out on a contract was far more common among Gale's operations than Juniper's. While Emily's powers were rather low level around the facility, she was surprisingly highly requested. Having a personal shield she could conjure up was just as helpful to others than it was to herself. With a shield that resisted most blasts and bullets, the crime world that stuck to the underbelly of Nova paid high for her assistance. Whether it be protecting whatever gang leader or crime lord that found Gale that week or even being made to close dangerous deals herself, Emily always delivered.
Her latest contract was supposed to have gone the same as always, and for the most part, it did, until she stopped at one of the local shops of Nova as Gale had instructed her to. The moment her contract was completed the thick bracelet on her left wrist activated. Small needles pricked into her skin and always left her with a jolt as it blocked her powers from being used again. As long Gale kept it activated Emily couldn't access her powers until he allowed it. Others like Lana and the late Mei wore on as well, while some subjects had yet to be fitted with one that adapted to their needs.
Emily had entered the little shop, looking for the changing rooms and entering the last one. Someone, Emily didn't know who had left a thick envelope for Gale. Discreetly hidden where Gale had said it was. Huffing Emily lifted her shirt and slipped it under the waist of her pants to hide it as she left. She knew that it was best she just leave with her head down and go unnoticed, but it had been so long since she had stepped foot in a place like this. Her footsteps lingered as she looked at the book displays. She hadn't read a book in years. Just a look couldn't hurt.
She picked a thick, hardcover book from the second shelf and thumbed through a few pages. She hadn't been aware of the big smile on her face as she quickly got caught up in the introduction.
She didn't look up until she heard someone call her name.
At first, Emily had stared at the boy before her dumbfounded. Her mouth agape and eyes were wide with disbelief. Bryson Fox's hand slowly pulled away from her shoulder and he stared back at her, taking in her appearance. "Emily?" He repeated.
Emily didn't say anything, she wasn't sure what to say.
The rustle of the shop around them continued, unaware of the almost unreal meeting happening. "Emily, it's me, Bryson! I haven't changed that much, have I?" He smiled and laughed, but she could tell he didn't mean it. He wanted to get an answer. He looked so familiar to her even after four years.
Finally, Emily mustered up her courage. "I-I'm sorry I don't know who you're talking about. You must have me confused with someone else." She closed her book and slipped it back in its place. Bryson gave her an odd look, maybe he would've believed her if tears hadn't already begun rolling down her face.
Or maybe if she hadn't been wearing that necklace.
"No- just wait a minute" he stopped her from turning and leaving, grabbing her forearm, but letting go immediately. "I know it's you." His voice was dripping in confidence, "because that" He directed her attention to the necklace she had on, a bicolored sapphire sitting snug intertwined with silver.
Emily put her hand over it with a growing frown, "you're mistaken-"
"Emily" He stated, voice strong and sure of itself. Emily could tell with one look at his face that there was no convincing him. A determination was already burning his gaze, a determination that made Emily's head spin.
Before he could say anything else; before he could say something that made Emily want to leave with him, she took a step back and raised her voice. "Please leave me alone, I don't know you!"
Customers' curious eyes were drawn to the pair, causing Bryson to look around with a nervous smile. One of the store clerks seemed ready to approach them. When he turned back to Emily, he found the blonde was making her way out of the store. Ignoring the murmurs around the store he followed quickly, stepping into the sunny evening air and running after her. The few pedestrians of Nova's streets paid little mind to it. The district was a crime hotspot, to begin with, many residents kept to themselves at all costs. There was no benefit in stepping into whatever suspicious activity was happening that day.
The initial shock of spotting a girl he had known to have gone missing four years ago was outweighed by the burning determination of keeping his eyes on her. Not a word or sighting for years, he wasn't going to let her go so easily. They winded through the nightlife district's streets, through back alleys and to the docks that split Nova and Jade's border. Emily could only run for so long as she struggled to catch her breath and keep up her speed. Her shoe caught on one of the cracks in the pavement. She hit the ground with a loud cry and scrambled to get back up. Bryson wasn't far behind her. "Stop chasing me" she huffed, getting up with shaky legs. "Just- leave me alone!"
"Emily please" Bryson had stopped just a few short steps in front of her, "please, just talk to me for a minute."
She shook her head, her hands resting on her knees as she keeled over. "I can't. Go away before things get worse." She pleaded with teary eyes. "Just...pretend you never saw me."
"What about your family? Everyone else? What about- what about Kirron, don't you want to see him again?" Bryson watched Emily try to say no, but she couldn't get the words out. He finally took a second to look at her. Four years hadn't changed much about her features, she looked a tad older and worn. Bryson found it safe to assume her overall tiredness and dullness weren't natural. Her hair was longer, not taken care of very well, and knotted up into a ponytail. She looked thinner, not in a good way. She looked like she just wanted to make herself smaller and smaller until she could hide away from him. "Come here" He wanted to frown, but he kept a smile on his face the best he could while extending a hand to encourage her over.
Emily took a long time to look around their surroundings. The docks that separated Jade and Nova were empty for the most part and hardly anyone used them due to the new shipping center built on the other side of Jade. Abandoned warehouses and storage crates were abundant, the wood of the docks was molding and falling apart and the actual roads weren't in the best condition. Forgotten trash and boxes sat scattered around, broken glass, old tools, and other shipping equipment had been drug from the buildings and picked through by people. There weren't any boats out on the water today, at least not around here, cars drove above on the ramp system, unaware and uncensored of the old shipping yard. She couldn't see anyone in the open, and most of the old security cameras were damaged or missing.
Almost reluctantly she inched closer to Bryson, taking his hand and joining him at his side. He was wearing a mix of joy and curiosity on his face, while Emily was beginning to brighten as well. Before she knew it she was grinning until it hurt, then laughing out of disbelief. It turned to crying fast and Emily stepped up to wrap her arms around her old friend and press her face into him. He didn't pester her with questions and when her knees buckled in her fit of tears he knelt with her and let her cry into his shoulder. "I-I never thought I'd see you- or anyone again." She sobbed, "I never stopped thinking about you guys, but I guess I had accepted that I'd be stuck with them forever." She hiccuped and rubbed her eyes.
She couldn't seem to make eye contact, "I can't...I can't talk about it here. Not yet- I'm sorry!" She bit her quivering lip as another flood of tears hit her. "I can't believe…" the rest was almost unintelligible for Bryson as she tried to talk through her crying.
"Come on, let's go"
"Where?" She sniffed and rubbed her face on her arm, trying to dry her face.
"You have to see Kirron now, and Lily's probably over with Valerian too." Bryson tilted his head, "you want to see them, right?"
It was almost like Emily hadn't even thought of being able to see them as well. She held her breath and focused on not beginning to cry again as she shook her head and followed at Bryson's side closely.
Unfortunately, like most things that had been in Emily's life the past four years, the peace hadn't lasted. She hadn't been entirely confident that she'd just be able to get in Bryson's car and go home, but her emotions had blinded her of the complications at the time. She'd gone with Bryson, but the moment she had found herself alone as Bryson left to get her something to eat, she had been unbearably hungry and too uncomfortable to go into the store, the hopefulness in her eyes had been shattered.
From the window, she had seen Bryson get in line behind an older couple while she eagerly waited for any kind of food for her aching stomach. A car parked beside them, a bit too close. A tinted window had rolled down as she turned to match eyes with the older man she knew as Roman. Nevermind the gun, his calm threats had been enough to rouse the fear in her stomach and pinch her nerves. With shaking hands, she quietly slipped out of Bryson's car and into the back of Romans. She felt sick as they drove in still silence. She felt like crying at the thought of Bryson coming out to find her gone again. She nearly threw up at the thought of Bryson telling Kirron about all of this.
She had been so close, she should've known better.
The door in front of Emily opened and a blonde woman beckoned her inside. Emily looked around the spacious room but frowned. "Where's Jiro?" She looked to the unfamiliar woman, "I thought Jiro wanted to see me?"
"He did originally, but Gale decided he should overlook some testing in the lab, though none of it is of your concern."
Emily slowly took a seat on one of the chairs sitting before a large screen and desk under it. The woman had sat down and opened a laptop. Roman had come in just after Emily, leaning over her with one hand gripping the back of the armchair.
Emily wasn't sure what to expect anymore. She knew the routine with Jiro, but recently it seemed that the hierarchy within Lacrima had begun to shift. "Roman will handle you while I finish this for you, Emily." The woman didn't say anything more about what she was doing. She looked up at Roman, "don't break any bones, ruin her teeth or hair, don't scar her face, and make sure she'll be on her feet within the next few hours."
Meekly Emily looked up at Roman, who closed his eyes with a smile. "Not a
Dinner with Gale took place on the hill of Arcadia. Within the gated community Juniper had arrived with Toma and Spandel shortly after Gale made his entrance. She led her boys through the front garden and into the house, which was just as nice on the inside. Polished marble floors and minimalist decor hit Spandel and Toma, it was far less homey than Juniper's house. Juniper strode in as if she owned the place, letting a maid take her coat and bag. Spandel silently rejected her offer and kept his, as did Toma. "Go wait with the others in the dining room, I'm going to find lovely little Eden!" Juniper laughed, wandering into the living room and leaving Toma and Spandel to follow the maid to the dining room.
The room was simple, with a large circular table and chairs. The typical expensive hard and curtains hung, decorative rug and fine china set out at each place. They didn't see Gale, but the girls they could only assume were her subjects were already sitting and chatting quietly. Toma sat down beside where he knew Juniper liked to sit and Spandel simply took the spot next to Toma. He seemed to be having a harder time breathing as the time ticked by, so he figured it best to stay close. Spandel looked out at the three girls Gale had brought. A young girl sat playing with her silverware and beside her an older one seemed to be reminding her which utensil was for what course of food. The third girl was quiet as she began to stare down at him and Toma. She had sharp, angry eyes and bore into him with one glare.
"So, what's your deal?" the third girl asked, brushing an inky lock of hair over her shoulder.
Spandel looked to Toma, who had ignored her. "Well-"
"Hey blondie, I'm talking to you too- don't roll your eyes at me!"
Oh no. Spandel frowned. He hadn't expected to have been with such hostility, but he supposed that living with Gale had to inspire hostility. "My apologies, he doesn't mean to come off so rude, but he can't speak right now," Spandel explained, but he could see Toma making faces at the girl from the corner of his eyes. He had to admit that he was glad Toma couldn't speak to her as he was sure he'd have nothing but sass to offer.
The girl stood up with a huff and marched right to where Toma sat. She leaned down a bit and grabbed his chin to make him look at her. "Wow, Juniper bought a pair of wimps, what a downgrade from last year." She pinched toma with her nails, staring into his eyes with a glare that he returned. Spandel frowned and looked to the other girls for help but they seemed to be trying their best to stay out of it. "I'm Spandel and this is Toma...and you are?"
"Violet" she answered, coming between the boys and leaning in to get a good look at Spandel.
"Come on, Gale's going to be taking his seat any minute. Oh, I'm Lana by the way and this is Dalia." Spandel smiled at the other two girls. They already seemed a bit more pleasant than Violet, who had pinched Spandel's cheek leaned in far too close.
"Oh, making friends already boys?" Spendel exhaled the breath he had been holding at the sound of Juniper walking up behind them. She was smiling, though aggravation was clear in her eyes as she grabbed Violet's hair to pull her back. "Off my boys" she pushed her to the side, leaving the girl to scowl and take her seat across the table. Juniper sat between Toma and Spandel, crossing her legs and waiting patiently for Gale to take his place.
When Gale stepped in the girls hushed their chatting immediately and stiffened in their seats. Juniper didn't cause much of a fuss, she simply fanned herself and smiled. Another man sat a few seats down from Gale, someone Spandel had never met before.
Gale took his seat at the head of the table and with a smile, he said, "Let's
Emily's head lifted from the sink with water splattering against the steel counter and tiled floor. Hard coughs left her as she spit up the icy water from her lungs. She panted between coughs, trying to regain her breath. Roman held the back of her neck tightly, fingers entangled in the nape of her hair. "How's your face?" He asked bored, craning her head over and inspecting the swollen skin and forming bruises. Ice sloshed in the deep sink as Emily gripped the edge and Roman pushed her back under. Water poured around Emily's feet as it overflowed and Roman held her head in place. Bubbles rose to the surface as she began to lose her breath and push up against the older boy's hold.
Emily stumbled back as he let go, instead grabbing her face and turning it from side to side to make sure the swelling was beginning to lighten. "Good enough." He sighed, letting go.
Emily slicked her hair back as she worked to compose herself.
She wasn't sure exactly how old Roman was, but he looked to be a few years older than herself. He was lean with broad shoulders and when she stood near him his height reminded her of Kirron, so she imagined he was at least six feet. His skin was an olive tone, smooth with two small beauty marks under his right eye. His hair was a thick, shiny messy of dark waves currently tousled from any particular styles. His eyes were a mossy green and usually held a certain amount of mischief.
Emily supposed that in any other situation she'd deem him attractive.
"You need to go dry off and change." Roman ordered with a hand on his hip, "These people Gale's bringing to see you are very important, so I'd make a good impression if I were you."
"Well no, how is she supposed to make such an impression with a banged-up face?"
Emily looked over to the new voice, spotting Jiro as he sauntered into the room. She frowned to herself, why couldn't he have shown up earlier? While she didn't like Jiro, she preferred sitting with him than anyone else around the facility. Jiro was tall and muscular, similar to Roman's build. Pale skinned with obvious discoloration of a scar coming up his neck. His hair was silky black, with red dipped at the bottom and a small braid on the left side of his head. His face read as intrigued as he walked up to the pair, red and green eyes looking his coworker and patient up and down.
"Oh, hey" Roman lifted a casual wave as if he hadn't just been on the verge of drowning the girl beside him. "Where were you? I had to take over your appointment." He slapped a hand on Emily's back, "we have different but effective methods."
"If you'd like to say that then go ahead." Jiro smiled and looked over the papers tucked in his arm. "I was just looking for Emily, we have business to tend to." Jiro appeared unconcerned with Roman's presence, truthfully Emily was sure he didn't care. He went about his business, carried his orders without much of a thought for most of the people around him. At times it felt like Jiro hardly even listened to Gale's own words. At first, that idea had sounded promising to Emily, that maybe Jiro wasn't like everyone else here, but it hadn't taken long before she realized she was wrong. He was excellent at playing games and understanding each of the subjects he tended to. He had been hired as a psychologist. He was well educated, odd in his own right, and Emily had learned to deal with him through the past four years. Well, there wasn't any dealing with Jiro, more as it was learning to avoid what set him off and trying to play nice.
Still, she found most of the time she spent with him was insufferable.
Before She could fully join Jiro Roman stopped her, grabbing her shoulder and jerking her back. "The stunt you pulled today was awfully bold for you" he lectured, sending shivers down her spine as his fingers traced the back of her neck, along the thin silver chain that held her necklace. "I don't know who let you keep this necklace when you first got here, but it should've been taken away a long time ago." Emily held her breath as the chain snapped under Roman's pulling. He pocketed it, "I think I'll hang on to it for now."
With her face burning red with anger and the building of tears Emily traded Roman for Jiro, following the older into the neverending halls of Lacrima. She was quiet as she tried to compose herself, not wanting to hear it from Jiro. "Well, Emily, we'll be sure to have a long session over what happened today later, but for now I need to oversee some tests on you in the lab before Gale gets back."
"Who are these people he's bringing?"
"None of your concerns, just look good for them." Jiro finally looked back at her, "and I'll need that envelope you retrieved for Gale."
"Uh, oh of course." Emily had forgotten all about it in the excitement of the day. She patted her stomach, ready to pull it from her waistband, but all she felt was her abdomen. Panic flashed across her face.
"Oh? Forget to pick it up? The thrill of seeing that boy perhaps?"
"No- I swear I got it…"
"So you lost it then?" Jiro exhaled with a shake of his head, "that was some pretty sensitive information, Emily."
Emily had stopped walking and again checked to see it had appeared on her person, but she knew where it was. She'd left it behind, accidentally of course. Seeing Bryson had thrown her so far off of the plan that she'd forgotten all about Gale's envelope. "I must've dropped it...I" the sick feeling was returning to her stomach now as Jiro crossed his arms.
"A lot of my work relies on that information Emily, as well as a lot of Gales. Where did you drop it?"
"I don't know...maybe the old shipping docks? How...how bad do you think…" Emily wasn't worried about what Jiro would do to her, not when the thought of Gale coming back tonight loomed over her. "How angry do you think he'll be with me?" She managed to squeak out. Jiro had bent down to her level with a deepening frown.
"You're going to have more than petty bruises to deal with after all of this gets back to him." Jiro straightened up and continued down the hall, "come on" he ordered, "we have a lot to do."
Emily nodded and hurried after her, stress weighing at her as she thought about how badly she had messed up today.