Thomas spent the next couple weeks trying to avoid Emily, which wasn't difficult since the runners spent all day in the Maze and all evening in their locked room doing who knew what. But when the loud siren rang out over the Glade – signaling the arrival of a new Greenie – Thomas knew that all the Gladers would spend the whole day together taking inventory and initiating the new guy.
The new kid – who was just Greenie until he could remember his name – was just a kid, no older than 12 or 13, and was greeted with Gally's manic mug instead of the soft, pleasant face that had been Thomas's first sight. He looked around, but she was nowhere in sight.
The boy's age didn't mean the other Gladers took it easy on him; on the contrary, they seemed to relish torturing the poor boy. When they shoved him into the ring by the bonfire, drinking and laughing, Thomas thought back to his first night there. He looked, but couldn't find her sweet face in the rowdy crowd.
Though he wasn't sure whether he was relieved or disappointed by her absence, Thomas began to wander the Glade. He picked a few cherry tomatoes off the vine and popped them in his mouth, enjoying the juicy pop that exploded between his teeth. He wandered to the Homestead, but thought better of going inside and instead weaved through the outdoor hammocks. Emily was draped in a very uncomfortable-looking angle over the side of one of them, tossing and moaning, and breathing rapidly in the throes of a nightmare.
All other concerns pushed aside for the moment, Thomas rushed in and leaned over her. "Emily? Em – wake up!" Thomas shook her, soft at first, then with increasing urgency when her eyes didn't open. When she finally startled awake, her emerald eyes were wide and panicked, still seeing the ghosts of whatever had plagued her mind moments before. When she came back to reality and found Thomas's soft, chocolate gaze, she threw her arms around his neck and buried her head in his shoulder. "Hey, hey. It's okay. It was just a dream," he soothed.
She clutched at him until her breathing normalized, and even then she pulled away only far enough to look into his eyes. She placed her hand on his cheek and brushed a thumb across his cheekbone, sliding her fingertips around his ear. He clenched his fist at his side to keep his hand from wrapping around hers.
"Want to tell me about it?" he probed, squatting into a more comfortable position beside her.
She shook her head, but couldn't seem to stop the words from spilling out of her. "It was terrible," she began, eyes becoming unfocused and distant. "They… they cut us open. Studied our insides. Poked at our brains." She shuddered. "We were alive." Her voice quieted to a whisper. "We could feel everything…"
"Who? The grievers?" He couldn't imagine what that would feel like.
She shook her head. "No… I don't know." She took a deep breath and the fog lifted from behind her eyes. "It was just a dream?" She'd meant it to be a statement, but the lingering fear caused it to come out like a question.
"Just a dream," Thomas confirmed. She threw her legs over the side of the hammock, but her knees would not support her weight. Thomas grabbed her by the waist before she fell to the ground. "Whoa, hey, you sure you're alright?" Though he was concerned for her well-being, he couldn't help but be thrilled by their sudden closeness.
"Yeah," she said with less certainty than intended. "Did we find out who the new Greenie is yet?" she asked, trying to change the subject.
"Nah, he'd just gotten into the ring with Newt when I went to…" he didn't really know what he'd been intending to do, "…go for a walk," he finished.
She narrowed her eyes in suspicion. "Good. Newt'll go easy on the kid," she said, satisfied with the course of events. "Shall we?" She was still clutching onto his arm for support and, despite the glare he would surely receive from Minho, she wouldn't make it back to the party without him.
"As you wish," Thomas said, giving her hand a little pat and starting toward the ruckus.
Minho was busy wrestling with Gally, if you could even call it that. It was well into the night, and each time one boy lunged for the other, he'd fall flat on the ground and trip the other one in the process. Then they'd both just lie there a little too long, laughing a little too hard, and crawl to get another drink.
Thomas poured a glass of the foul liquid for himself, and brought one back for Emily as well. She was sitting by the fire, knees pulled up to her chest and arms wrapped around her ankles, as if she was trying to collapse in on herself. "One for me and one for the lady," he said, handing her a cup and, though there was plenty of space, sitting close enough that her hip pressed against his thigh. "Thought you could use a drink," he explained, sensing that she was still rattled by the nightmare.
She swirled the liquid around in the cup before taking a tentative sip. The cup fell to the ground, contents quickly soaked up by the dry dirt, and she cupped her hand over her mouth, closing her eyes and trying to swallow back the bile that was threatening to come up her throat. Thomas quickly abandoned his own cup and started to get up and look for help, but Emily curled her small fingers around his wrist and her eyes begged him to stay. She took a few deep breaths and gulped before saying, "I'm fine. Just… haven't had any in a while. And might still be sick!" she added, when he clearly didn't buy her explanation.
"Egg salad again today?" he challenged, anticipating the gentle punch she landed on his shoulder.
"Where are you going?" she squeaked when he stood up.
"I know you're the suffer-in-silence type, but I'm the annoyingly-pushy-worrier type." She knit her brows together in confusion. "I'm just going to find Clint or Jeff. I'll be gone two minutes –"
She leapt up and grabbed his arm, roughly this time. "Thomas, I said I'm fine," she hissed, trying not to draw attention.
He wrestled his arm from her clutch, annoyed at her annoyance. He was just worried about her. "And I don't think you are. If I'm right, you need help, and if I'm wrong… you can send me to the Slicers."
She stomped her foot and looked to the sky, trying and failing to control her temper. "Damnit, Thomas, I don't need you to take care of me! I survived two and a half years on my own before you got here." Though not technically on her own; she had the other Gladers, she had Minho. "You're not a runner, you're not on the council, you're not my boyfriend." She took a step closer and looked up into his eyes. "You have no right to tell me what to do," she yelled unnecessarily loudly into his face.
Their spat had started to draw attention and Minho stumbled his way over. "What're you think yer –" was all he managed to slur out before Emily wrapped her arms around his neck and shoved her tongue down his throat.
"I've missed you, Minho. Can we… go to bed?" she suggested sweetly, biting her inviting lip. Thomas was all but forgotten as they giggled and groped their way back to the Homestead. What the hell had just happened? Whatever it was, he doubted it was anything Clint had a pill for.
Thomas was delighted to discover that as soon as they'd gotten to their room, Minho passed out and Emily chose to sleep under the stars. Just like that first morning, she looked surreal and almost glowed in the misty sunrise. Thomas tried to lie next to her, but she promptly stood up and stalked off in another direction.
She ignored him for a solid week before he apologized for upsetting her – though not for caring enough to be concerned – and promised not to bring it up again. And he didn't, mostly because he was unsure of what exactly had caused her erratic behavior and terrified that he'd accidentally do it again. The more time she spent with Thomas, the less time Minho spent with her. He was still jealous, still hotheaded, still acted before he thought. As Thomas and Emily's friendship grew, he noticed she was having more… incidents with Minho.
Three weeks after the new Greenie – Adam, was his name – had arrived, Minho made a mistake that would cost him more than he had to give. They were late for dinner, having been arguing for the better part of an hour, so no one was close enough to interrupt what was now a screaming match. "You don't think I see it? How he rubs your back and brings you food and gazes at you with those big doe eyes?" he fumed.
"Well shuck, Minho, I wouldn't be sore or hungry or lonely all the time if you stopped cracking the whip long enough to actually pay attention to someone other than yourself!" Minho had been working all the runners inordinately hard lately. Ever since Thomas had arrived, he felt like the one thing – person – he cared about was slipping from his grasp… and into someone else's. Running faster, harder, farther, then locking everyone in the map room and forcing them to check and re-check their findings, was his solution for staying close to her. But even that seemed to be driving her further into Thomas's arms.
"You're right, Em. I am so self-centered. In fact, I love myself – and only myself – so much, I think I'm gonna need my own room! Can't share with someone else when there's only room for me in my life." He said, dripping with sarcasm and trudging out the door without her. It was an empty threat. They'd had arguments like this before, but it was because the other needed an ultimatum before they were willing to cave at all, and usually ended in hot, passionate makeup sex.
So Minho wasn't prepared when he came back from dinner to find Emily gone, and all of her things gone with her. There wasn't much – a few clothes, a bottle of perfumed oil, her pillow – but the room felt barren and naked without them.
For the first time in a very long time, Minho felt truly alone. And he was scared. His fear quickly turned to anger and he stormed off to where he knew she'd be.
"Put them back," Minho demanded through gritted teeth.
Emily was sharing a hammock with Thomas, who somehow looked both pleased and uncomfortable. "No. You were right. I don't belong in there anymore," she countered, the implication being that she did belong there with Thomas.
"Get your stuff and go back inside!" he bellowed loud enough to shake the surrounding canopy.
"Hey, Minho, wait a minute, man," Thomas tried to interject. Minho swung around and propelled him out of the swing and to the floor.
Emily ran to his side to make sure he was okay. Minho snapped. He grabbed her by the arm and started hauling her toward his room, their room. She was struggling, but his strong hands easily pulled her along. They were halfway to their destination before he registered that she was screaming something at him.
"Minho! Stop! Minho, you're hurting me!" Her tone brought him up short; it was raw and weak and afraid. It was not the voice of the strong, independent woman he was trying so desperately to hold on to. When he looked back, the tears on her cheeks glistened in the moonlight and he felt her trembling in his grasp.
He released her, surprised at how the delicate muscles in his hand ached and horrified by the angry bruises that were already beginning to blossom along her bicep. She took a few steps back from him, eyes wide as she tried to control her ragged breaths. "Em, I –"
"Don't," she interrupted, clearing her throat. "I think it would be best for us to just… have a break from each other for a few days." Minho's heart sank, but she didn't say she was dumping his sorry ass. She wiped away her tears and straightened back up to her full height, looking like nothing had even happened.
He didn't deserve her – never deserved her – and, despite the shuckface his jealousy and insecurity had turned him into, he didn't know how to live without her. Minho stalked off to find the stash of booze and punch a few holes in the walls his newly vacated bedroom, so he didn't see what state the fight had left Emily in.
Thomas was a talker – it was how he worked through his own emotions, but Emily refused to acknowledge that it was anything she couldn't handle. They talked about things that seemed trivial now – how insects destroyed the strawberry crop, how Newt had finished carving his wooden lion, hatching a plan to make Thomas a runner. Every so often, Thomas would see her bottom lip quiver, or her eyes would become unfocused, or she'd flinch whenever he accidentally brushed against her.
Eventually her eyes drifted closed. Thomas wrapped his arms around her; at least in sleep he could give her the safe haven she refused to accept but so desperately needed. Unfortunately, even he couldn't keep the nightmares away.
A week went by and they fell into a routine. She would run, Thomas would schmooze Alby and Newt until they eventually agreed to try him out as a runner, he would bring them dinner to avoid… anyone they didn't want to see, which she would push around on her plate but never actually consume, then pretend to sleep until the sun rose.
Of course Thomas was concerned; he was always concerned. The purple crescents beneath her eyes gave away the fact that she wasn't sleeping more than an hour or two per night. She was running all day, and not eating, and the bones in her face were becoming more pronounced. He tried to talk to her, but the constant physical and emotional turmoil had taken its toll.
Emily was a mess. She couldn't seem to do anything, or be around anyone, without getting pissed off, or driven to tears, or – more often – both. She never let them spill over, though. Thomas had seen her vulnerable, but that was a weakness – a window into her dark and unsteady soul – that she refused to share.
She tried to bottle up her feelings; she used to be so good at it, but it was like her bottle had sprung a leak. She snapped at Newt, screamed at Alby, elbowed Gally in the stomach; she even slapped Thomas once. Even though she was failing, the attempt at holding it all in was manifesting itself physically. Thomas knew she was hurting, but he had no idea just how bad it was. She felt like she hadn't slept in days; she was never hungry, but when she did try to force some food down, it would come right back up again; she was shaky and confused and just wanted to feel normal again.
That's when she made the mistake of looking for Minho. Emily was trying to force herself through another sleepless – or worse, horror-filled – night when she slipped from Thomas's grasp and padded over to the Homestead. She stood in the doorway of what was once her room. She could count on two hands the number of days since she'd slept in that bed, but it seemed like a lifetime ago.
Minho, though he now had the bed to himself, still only filled up the left half. He was a deep sleeper, and Emily fantasized that she could slip into the right side – into his warmth, into his arms – and slip out before dawn with no one the wiser. Perhaps she could finally find some rest.
Her first step caused the floorboard to squeak and Minho started awake. Emily didn't know, but he couldn't sleep without her by his side. His unguarded, half-asleep part of his brain caused him to flash a smile before the awake part reminded him that he was pissed at her. "What do you want, Em?" he croaked, running a hand along his face and scowling at the interruption to his modicum of sleep.
"I just… I thought I might…" she trailed off, but gestured in the general direction of the bed.
"Do you want to move back in?" he asked. The question sounded sleepy and casual, but Minho was wide awake and his heart was racing in anticipation and hope.
Now Emily frowned. "No," she responded before she really thought about it. She missed Minho. Missed his hands around her waist, missed waking up to the deep timbre of his voice. They still ran together, but they never spoke, barely even looked at each other, and never felt like the team they used to be.
Hurt by her immediate rejection, Minho went back on the offensive and his words came out harsher than he intended. It was Minho's way of begging, but Emily was too distraught to wade through his emotional complexities to find the kernel of truth at the center of his words. "You can't have it both ways. Either stay – for good – or get out." Another ultimatum. Hadn't he learned his lesson?
She turned on her heel and scurried back out the door, slamming it shut behind her. Even outside, Emily could hear the vague mumbling of curses and a loud crash as something was thrown out the window. Once again sleep eluded her, but the box was coming up tomorrow. At least she'd have a break from running and a new Greenie to distract everyone from their histrionics.