"Surprise!" A chorus of voices greeted Emily upon her entrance into the Homestead. Every Glader – except those who couldn't get out of work for the day, or the one who was just being a stubborn ass – filled the small room.
Emily began tearing up – not an uncommon occurrence as of late – as she stuttered for a response. "B-but… why…?" She noted the small parcels that many of them held, wrapped in spare rags and haphazardly tied or pinned at the corners. Newt and Thomas came up on either side of her, each taking an arm into the crook of their elbow, and led her into the center of the room.
"Welcome to your baby shower," Thomas explained, beaming. Emily had been sullen and mopey lately, and he was more than happy to see the smile that lit up her whole face. She looked once again like the girl he remembered on his first day in the Glade – an angel pulling him out of the pit of hell.
"Now you'll have more clothes, diapers, and toys than you'll know what to do with," Newt continued. Though Thomas was obviously more excited about the planning and execution, the party had initially been Newt's idea. He knew how much Emily worried about not being able to provide for her child, and with Minho's recent estrangement, she needed all the love and support they could give her. Not to mention she was absolutely dreadful at sewing and woodworking.
"You didn't have to…" Emily trailed off, already delightfully scrutinizing the shapes and sizes of the various packages around the room. Before digging into her loot, she spun around and wrapped the two conspirators in a big bear hug. It was actually easier than hugging them individually, where her considerable belly would have nowhere to go. "Thank you," she whispered, pecking Newt then Thomas on the cheek.
They helped her to the couch and sat her down in the center, taking their places on either side of her. It was an afternoon filled with love, merriment, and carefree simplicity. Emily squealed with glee at every new bauble – a swing crafted from an old rocker, a set of wooden jungle animals including the lion she'd seen Newt carving months earlier, a variety of puzzles and rattles, and, as promised, more diapers than she could count. She leaned back into the couch and rested a hand on the crest of her stomach, sighing in contentment – this child was already so dearly loved.
Chores were left undone, most of the remaining edible indulgences were consumed, and the mentally unstable father of the child they were celebrating was painfully absent, but none of that mattered at that moment. The boys were laughing and wrestling and competing against each other – taking bets on everything from the baby's gender and birth date to how much bigger they thought Emily would get before she popped.
While she did not particularly appreciate the many jokes that were made at her expense, she enjoyed witnessing their enjoyment; even Newt and Thomas were chiming in with their "insider" opinions. After one smartass comment too many – which earned the seasoned Glader who'd made it a very maternal slap on the back of the head in admonishment – Emily went outside for some fresh air.
She closed her eyes and leaned heavily against the porch railing, breathing in the potent scent of damp earth. When she opened them, she caught a swift movement out of the corner of her eye. Over by the map room, she could just make out Minho's stocky frame pacing back and forth behind the building, coming in and out of sight every few seconds.
Emily was tired of this game they were playing – they could never hope to mend their relationship if they couldn't stand to be conscious in the same room together; but every time she approached him, he retreated into whatever solitude he could find. So instead of being the instigator, she simply sat – or, more accurately, flopped – onto the glider swing and rocked back and forth, enjoying the cool breeze it generated across her flushed face.
She had nearly fallen asleep, blanketed by the warm rays of the waning sun, when the sound of heavy footsteps sloshing through wet grass brought her back to reality. Those same feet trudged up the stairs and stopped abruptly in front of the door to the Homestead, and Emily watched the indecision play across his face. Minho was unsure whether he should knock, whether he was welcome or even wanted to go in, whether he should leave the small sack he carried in front of the door, or maybe even just toss it into the bonfire. He reached out several times, the beginnings of one choice or another, before a soft squeak to his right caused him to whip his head around.
The swing that Emily occupied was all the way at the end of the porch, and Minho had not realized she was there until she had already gotten up and started walking toward him. He was about to bolt when she paused, turning to face out toward the landscape and resting her hands on the wooden railing. The sight took his breath away – she was like a living sunset, long hair cascading down her back in countless shades of gold, complemented by the rich, warm pink in her cheeks that caused her impossibly green eyes to sparkle and made her whole face glow brighter than the sun.
Emily could feel his eyes on her, but Minho didn't speak, didn't even take a step toward her. To be so close to him, and yet so distant. A single tear escaped her eye and ran down to her chin. She heard no movement, but felt his warmth as Minho stepped beside her, brushing away the wet streak with the pad of his thumb. She wanted to lean into his touch, but he pulled his hand away too quickly.
"This is for you," he said in an awkwardly formal tone, belying the intimacy they'd just shared.
"You didn't have to get me anything," Emily said quietly. His willing touch was the best gift he could have given her. Still, he shoved the small pouch into her hand and turned away while she opened it. She shook out the contents, and a small bracelet fell into her hands. It was beautiful in its simplicity; just a few thin strands of leather tightly woven together – one that perfectly matched the dark color of Minho's eyes, another that was as light as Emily's skin, and a third that was exactly in between. There was a small loop at one end that hooked around the swirling green and yellow marble that hung from the other.
Minho didn't even know why he'd made the piece of jewelry; he used found scraps and the task had occupied his restless hands, allowing his mind to wade tirelessly through the flood of dissonant feelings and memories that plagued him. "You don't have to wear it," he said, emotionless, monotone, though part of him desperately wished she would.
Minho may not have recognized the significance, the symbolism in the gift, but Emily began to have hope. "Put it on me?" she asked – a request, not a demand. If Minho was going to come back to her, he'd have to decide to do so on his own. He turned around slowly, pinching the cool, round glass between his fingers and tugging the bracelet from her grasp.
Emily held out her left wrist. Minho laid the leather flat across his hands, brushing his fingertips lightly above her wrist as he worked the clasp, raising goosebumps up and down her arm and causing her pulse to flutter beneath the translucent flesh. He stared for several moments at the earthy braid, how the colors popped against her ivory skin; her hand was still cupped in his palms.
"Minho," Emily breathed. He didn't want to look away – afraid that whatever moment of peace he was experiencing would be shattered if he did. "Minho!" she cried, and the sudden intensity startled him. Minho jumped away from her, already preparing to flee. Had he hurt her again? He should have been more vigilant. "Please don't leave me," she pleaded, at which point he finally dared to look up.
She was leaning against a porch column for support, one hand wrapped around her stomach, face twisted in a mixture of pain, confusion, and absolute terror. "Did I…?" Minho didn't know what he could have done, but there were still times the rage overtook him; he'd black out and come to minutes or even hours later, usually with a few new cuts and bruises, and never certain of what had happened.
His fears were assuaged, though only partially, when she shook her head emphatically. "No, I think it's… shuck," she cursed, pitching forward and breathing only in quick pants. Minho, as if by instinct, reached out and wrapped his arm around her waist, supporting nearly all of her weight.
"Is it… is it the baby?" he asked. Either an unidentified pain twisted her gut, or she might be having the baby. The first was never good, and this early, the second wouldn't be much better.
"I- nghh!" Emily groaned, trying to catch her breath over the vice that seemed to be tightening around her midsection. She tried to stay calm; this wasn't like the last time. It didn't feel good by any means, but it did seem… natural, controlled – as opposed to the wrenching agony that she still feared would pierce through her once again. "Clint… inside…" she managed to get out between clenched teeth.
Of course. The baby shower was still going on just on the other side of the door. Minho dragged Emily back toward the party, each painful step eliciting a soft moan from the ailing girl. His arms otherwise occupied, Minho kicked in the door, splintering it off of one hinge so that it hung at a crooked and unnatural angle, grinding everything to a halt and scaring everyone half to death.
There was a beat as everyone tried to process the scene that was unfolding. "I didn't… something's wrong…" Minho tried to explain, though no one had blamed him for anything. "Where's Clint?" he demanded.
The Med Jack, who had until that point been much more interested in Minho's behavior and state of mind, rushed over to Emily's other side and helped guide her back to the couch. "What happened?" he asked, a routine and unaccusatory question, but still Minho took offense.
"Nothing happened – she was just standing there! Then all of a sudden she's doubled over and begging me to stay and, I mean, I don't know what to do. I don't know what's wrong!" Newt and Thomas knelt on the floor while the other boys all hovered in a little too close around her. Minho had begun to pace back and forth, continuing to ramble without actually offering any useful information.
"Are you in pain?" Clint asked, directing his questions toward Emily this time. She bit down on her bottom lip and nodded. She tried to sink deeper into the couch, away from the scrutinizing eyes of the crowd; she knew they were just concerned, but the circle of bodies surrounding her was stifling. Clint recognized her nervous glances and demanded everyone leave the room; he didn't mind being the bad guy if it was what was best for his patient.
"We're not going anywhere," Thomas and Newt said in unison, though they did back up a few paces to appease his request. Minho was now on the other side of the room, present, but watching from as far away as he could get.
With a semi-satisfied grunt, Clint turned his attention back to Emily. "Now, tell me what's wrong," he soothed in his calm, empathetic doctor voice.
"I don't –ah!" Emily clutched at her side, kneading at the tense muscles in her lower back. "I don't know," she explained, trying to take a few quick gasps. "It feels kind of like a running cramp I guess; but worse, b-bigger," she finished, shuddering out another breath.
"Minho, come over here!" Clint called. Minho was bewildered for a moment – surprised and anxious that he would have a role in whatever was happening – before taking a few cautious steps closer. "Damnit, Minho, now!" Minho jogged the rest of the way over and stood awkwardly to the side. "Everything's going to be fine," the Med Jack assured Emily with a smile, back to his genial tone. "You're doing great. I just want you to focus on breathing in through your nose, out through your mouth. I'm just going to take a quick look, see what's happening, and Minho will be right here holding your hand the whole time, okay?"
Emily looked from Clint to Minho, desperate eyes wide with need and longing. Minho wanted to leave, wanted to retreat before his nightmares became reality, wanted to cut ties and run to the Maze where it was just so easy not to feel anything, everything. He stood frozen, both unwilling to stay and unable to leave.
Clint probed and tested the soft swell of Emily's abdomen, as if his hands might be able to discern what his eyes could not see. The slight pressure against the sensitive flesh caused her to cry out, arching her back in protest against the muscle spasms that insisted she curl inward on herself.
"You gotta breathe, Em," a tentative voice whispered beside her. "Come on – out. In. Out. In."
Emily hadn't realized she had been holding her breath until she began following along with Minho's coaching. Eventually, her tense muscles loosened to a dull throb, and there once again existed a world beyond her fear and pain and the soothing balm of Minho's voice. At some point, she must have also grabbed his hand because she still gripped it with enough strength to turn her knuckles white.
Several more minutes passed while Clint examined her, and though no more pains came, Emily's fingers still remained intertwined with Minho's.
"Everything seems to be fine," the Med Jack decided.
"Fine?" the whole room echoed, incredulous.
Clint shrugged. "The baby does not appear to be in distress; it's still very high – and sideways – and you're not dilated at all. But your body is changing, getting ready to bear a child."
Newt and Thomas came up behind her, and Thomas put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Then what happened?" he asked.
"Practice contractions, if I had to guess. Nothing to worry about; but if it happens again, still come and get me. Never know when it might be the real thing," Clint finished, bracing one hand against his knee to push himself off the floor. "Get some rest. I'll let the others know that everything's alright," he said with a nod toward Emily and Minho, then giving the other pair a pointed stare before making his exit.
"Glad you're okay," Thomas whispered, giving Emily's shoulder a little squeeze before following the Med Jack out the door.
"We'll check in on you later," Newt added, giving her a wink, hot on Thomas's heels and placing the broken door as close to upright and closed as it would go.
A heavy silence surrounded the couple that sat side by side on the couch alone. Minho took his hand from Emily's grasp and tucked it at his side, back to the guarded, defensive demeanor that seemed to be his default since the griever attack.
"Thank you… for staying with me," Emily said, flexing and releasing her newly chilled fingers, admiring the new charm that adorned her wrist. She stared at him, but his eyes lingered on the door that everyone else had managed to escape through. He didn't get up, but his whole body was tense and rigid – as if remaining motionless required every one of his muscles to be locked down and strain against their natural state. "It's alright, Minho. You can go," she sighed, sensing his desperation to put some distance between them.
Minho sprung from the couch with such vigor that he landed several feet away from her. He was already halfway to the door when he heard a not-quite-suppressed sniffle from behind him. The sound – like most things since the attack – elicited equal parts anger and regret within Minho. She couldn't possibly love him – she had helped trap them in this place, Minho was sure, and you didn't hurt the ones you loved like that – and thus her tears seemed to mock him. And yet Minho – who was also sure that he still cared about Emily – had seamlessly transitioned from the allayer to inflictor of her pain without so much as a thought.
"I'm sorry," he called over his shoulder as his hand reached for the door handle. Sorry that darkness now colored the once immaculate image of the girl he used to worship. Sorry that she had ever made the mistake of loving him. Sorry that he would always be a part of her life because of the child she carried.
"Minho, do you hate me?" Emily asked, though she was sure she knew the answer. Fury and frustration were constantly boiling beneath his stoic surface, barely restrained.
The man that he used to be screamed inside him to deny it, that every second Minho hesitated ripped off a piece of Emily's heart, methodically and irreparably. He couldn't force his lips to form the word 'no', but refused to allow them to say 'yes'. "I don't know," was the best he could manage before throwing open the door, freeing it from its remaining hinge.
The gates were closed for the night, so Minho propped himself up against the stone wall directly beside them, positioning himself as close to the Maze as he could get and eventually falling asleep until the sun's first rays broke across the sky. For the first time in weeks, Minho woke up alone.