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inhale. exhale.

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“McCreary.”

“Diyoza.”

Murphy waits for the requisite, “Welcome back,” or “It’s good to see you,” or even a, “Glad you’re alive,” but it never comes. Which is a pretty ballsy move on Diyoza’s part, but also smart. After all, she’d been willing to leave him to Murphy’s mercy and McCreary damn well knows it.

Best to leave the insincere platitudes at the gate, by the not-so welcome mat.

He lets his eyes wander from Diyoza to McCreary and back again. The intense stare off is bordering ridiculous now and he thinks that maybe there’s more going on between these two than your average power struggle.

He chances a sideways glance at Emori. She’s watching them with the same level of interest and knows she can sense it too. His gaze drops then to the rope cutting into her wrists – his subconscious never one to shy away from an opportunity to kick himself in the solar plexus – and is rewarded with the familiar, painful twinges of guilt.

He smothers it and tries not to think about what made him agree to such a reckless, idiotic plan in the first place. Because the longer they wait here with their hands tied, gags in their mouths, and knees pressing into cold, wet mud, the more he thinks he’s made a mistake.

But then he remembers.

Raven.

This is for Raven.

And he doesn’t fucking care how this goes, so long as it ends with her safe and by his -their side.

The seconds stretch into a minute of awkward, tension filled silence, until Diyoza finally makes the first move and breaks the never-ending stand-off. Her voice is clear and steady as she gives her order. “Put them with the rest.” She tilts her head with the words in the direction of one of McCreary’s men – because that, Murphy realises, is exactly what they are. McCreary’s men. And it’s only confirmed with the subtle glance between lackey and master, before Diyoza’s instructions are heeded, and he feels himself being yanked to his feet and shoved forwards.

And just like that, Murphy’s beginning to understand why Diyoza had been so quick to leave McCreary to fend for himself. And if there’s any doubt? She does away with it with the ice-cold glare, and the painful curl of her fingers around his upper arm just as he passes by. “Good thing I didn’t take the bait, huh?” she murmurs low enough to avoid McCreary’s attention.

But Murphy hears her. Loud and clear.

She’s pissed.

He doesn’t get the chance to retort. She lets go just as quickly as she caught him, and he’s pushed once more, stumbling over his feet and just about managing to stay upright. He ignores the worried look Emori shoots his way and keeps moving.

They’re led some way into the village, past the mean glares and heckling of the Eligius crew and towards what looks like an old, derelict church. Once they’re through the doors, they’re needlessly thrown to the floor, and just for good measure, he feels a heavy boot colliding with his side and he grunts with the impact.

He groans into the ground, rolling to his side, before he feels the slide of cold, jagged metal pressing against the ties around his wrists, and with a tug, they’re free. He yanks at the gag around his mouth, cursing under his breath as he does. He turns towards Emori, but she doesn’t need any help. She’s already free and staggering to her feet.

It happens then in a blink of an eye.

A figure bulldozes into her at that same moment – rocking her back on her heels, before pulling her into a fierce hug, and Murphy recognises Emori’s assailant instantly.

It’s hard not to.

Not when he’s spent days worrying about her, breath held on an inhale all that time, berating himself for leaving her behind (even though it was her idea and he trusted her and her plan implicitly), and praying to whatever deity (and he’s really not the praying kind) that she’s safe.

His eyes flutter close at the sight of one Raven Reyes, alive and still standing, and it’s relief that floods him.

“Emori?” he hears her say. “How-”

She doesn’t finish her question, because someone else is asking another one at the same time. Hushed and furious, as he’s pulled to his feet. “What the hell are you doing here?”

He opens his eyes.

It’s Echo.

“I could ask you the same thing,” he bats back as he steadies himself.

He feels Raven’s gaze turn now towards him, as she steps back from Emori.

Because, of course, he’d be the one greeted by the tirade instead of the hug. Typical.

Echo’s gaze flickers around them, and he sees what she sees – several pairs of watchful Eligius eyes on them. “Come on,” she says, lowering her voice, and subtly tilting her head backwards.

They move towards the unmade cots in the corner, and as the other people inside – who Murphy realises must be members of Wonkru – start to talk back up amongst themselves, Echo explains herself. Explains how she’d been sent in as a spy to hack their surveillance to give Octavia and Wonkru the advantage. He listens to her as she brings them up to speed, and although he does his best to pay attention, he can’t help the way his eyes keep drifting over to Raven. Again, and again.

Because that initial relief has given way to nagging worry.

There’s something off about her.

And it’s not him being an asshole, but she looks like hell.

Like someone’s literally and metaphorically drained the life out of her, like she could keel over at any moment.

“Raven?” he calls out, cutting Echo off. “You okay?”

She blinks, looks back at him and it takes a moment for his words to register, before she shrugs it off with a curt and unconvincing, “I’m fine.”

She changes the subject, easily shifting the spotlight back on them with a pointed: “What happened to you guys?”

Emori shakes her head. “Don’t look at me, this was all John’s bright idea.”

“Yeah well, I didn’t know Echo was here when I agreed to McCreary’s plan, so -”

“Hang on,” Raven interrupts, “you’re working with McCreary? That same asshole who held a knife to your throat? Who tortured you? Tortured me?!”

He grits his teeth. “He said he had a plan to help us get you out.”

“And you believed him?”

She gapes at him, like he’s an utter moron and it irritates, lighting a fire under him. “It’s not like we had a choice!”

“Yeah you did! You could have just left me here and taken the bastard out!”

“Except leaving you behind again was not an option, Raven!”

She stares back at him, and where her eyes had been steely and bright just moments ago, they soften now. And shit, he thinks. He really hadn’t meant to say that.

He makes the mistake of looking away and meets Emori’s gaze. And damn it, he shouldn’t have done that either. Because Emori’s looking at him like she’s put the pieces of a jigsaw into place – except, he has no idea what this puzzle is even supposed to look like. Only knows he’s somehow admitted to something, but no idea what.

“What’s going on?” Another voice adds his hat into the ring, and Murphy is almost relieved at the interruption, until he realises who it belongs to.

Even with the swollen eye and split lip, he recognises Shaw, and his instincts are to step forward with a belligerent, “what the hell is he doing here?!”

Raven steps up between them; a hand pressing against Murphy’s chest, keeping him back. Protecting Shaw from him. Which, yep, he’s not ashamed to admit to himself, definitely stings.

“It’s okay. He’s on our side.”

The words barely register as he continues to glare at the man in front of him. And he thinks maybe Shaw’s returning the sentiment, though it’s difficult to tell with that busted face of his. What a fucking shame.

There’s a sudden increase of noise and chatter around them then, and Murphy has no idea what’s going on.

But then he’s not paying any attention; his glare remaining steadfast on the man in front of him. The man Raven turns to and says in a soft, beseeching manner that twists his gut, and presses heavy against his chest in a way that makes him think there’s more going on here and he hates it and hates that he does. “They’ve brought dinner. You should go.” She turns to Emori and Echo and urges the same. “You guys too.”

Echo glances between the two of them and nods, Emori turns to look at him but he doesn’t meet her eyes, and Shaw? Well, he just squeezes down on Raven’s shoulder with a touch that lingers a little too long before reluctantly walking away.

Murphy swallows, twisting his head to follow the three of them over his shoulder as he says, “I don’t trust him.”

“You just got here, Murphy. You’ve missed a few things.”

He turns back to look at her. And it must be the expression on his face that has her lowering her voice and sighing. “Just, trust me. Please.”

And its checkmate to Raven Reyes, because if there’s one person he trusts on this godforsaken planet, it’s her. And she knows it. After all, here he is, back in enemy territory, when all instincts should have been to turn around and run in the opposite direction. And yet, somehow, for her, he’s made deals with the devil twice over.

And one of them, apparently, is now on their side.

And if he’s judging the lingering looks and the body language right, there’s more to what’s going on between Raven and Shaw than she’ll confess to, and he doesn’t know why that bothers him as much as it does. And it’s not something he wants to confront now either and so he relents, and lets it go. Allows his eyes to search her face instead, dropping to the collar still sitting there around her neck.

“You sure you’re okay?” he asks once more.

She nods, lips curving up into a small smile, and for a moment he can see a little glimmer of life back in her eyes and the pressure against his chest loosens. “Yeah, I’m okay.”

And Murphy thinks maybe that’s the end of that. Awkward reunion over and done. And if a little part of him is disappointed, had maybe for a fleeting moment imagined it going differently? He stamps it down, crushes it to dust under his feet, and tries to move on.

But then, Raven isn’t done.

No, because she’s still staring at him; eyes soft, lips twitching up into the beginnings of a smile, and he feels a whole new kind of anxiety as he shifts uncomfortably under her gaze – breath stuck once more on an inhale.

“What?” he spits out reflexively.

She doesn’t answer him. Steps forward instead, and in a blink has her arms wrapped around his neck.

She’s warm, and heavy, pressing into him. Real.

He flounders for a second, before he stops thinking so damn hard, and gives in, letting his arms come around her waist and hold her back like he’s been itching to do the second he saw her.

She breathes out against his neck, voice small, but words clear and heart-felt as he feels them shudder through him. “Thank you.”

He swallows thickly, barely managing to keep his words even. “Told you I’d come back for you, Reyes.”

Her lips curl into a smile against his skin. “Yeah,” she breathes out. “Yeah you did.”

And finally, he exhales.

 

End.