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Niall’s expression immediately turned stormy, which Webb took as very much not a great sign.
“You’re responsible for what happened to those kids?” he growled.
Webb raised both their hands immediately, then followed that up by extending an arm to prevent Ariadne from immediately putting herself between the two of them. “Yes and no,” they said hurriedly. “Yes, in that I’m aware that there’s been a compromising situation, but—I didn’t think they’d get hurt. I didn’t get them in trouble on purpose.”
“We learned that there were some… bad-faith actors,” Faraday cut in calmly, moving in to stand a little closer to Webb. “Webb here has been quite desperate to find Artem and his friends. We’d hoped to try to catch them before something happened, but…”
“Obviously we fucked that one up,” Webb said roughly. They’d been trying to keep their gaze steady on Niall’s, like they read you were supposed to do with, like, scary dogs—but something twinged unpleasantly in their chest, and they felt their eyes sting, their breath coming a bit fast. “But if he’s still okay, and if there’s still any chance of rescuing Jenny and Elijah…”
Niall didn’t say anything for a moment, and Webb let the silence linger.
From the other room, a voice called: “… Niall? Is everything alright? I heard raised voices—”
“It’s fine, kid,” Niall called back, mostly sounding tired. Webb flicked their gaze up to see Niall with his glasses off, rubbing the bridge of his nose. To Webb, he said: “I don’t know that I believe that completely, and my responsibility is to those under my care, but… you stay here, and I’ll ask him if he wants to talk to you. And if he says no, you get the hell out of here, you understand me?”
Webb grimaced, but nodded. Even if Artem said no, there could always be a way… As always, there was an uneasy sort of tug towards the various ways that Webb could make it happen, but—
They had something they were committed to doing. But at the end of the day… especially being around Faraday and Ariadne and Lore, and seeing what those around them had been willing to do to help them along their way, Webb was feeling this unsettling urge to be a good person about all this. It seemed like a dangerous, unpleasant, and very uncomfortable idea, but…
“Wait here,” Niall instructed, letting his gaze linger for a moment before he stepped back into the infirmary area and approached Artem’s bedside.
Webb felt Faraday’s arm wrap around their waist, giving them a little squeeze.
“Hey,” Faraday murmured softly. “There’s still a chance the others are alright.”
“I wasn’t—” Webb started to say, then just fell silent. What was the point of protesting? They turned into Faraday’s embrace, pressing their face against his chest, breathing in against his coat. Faraday seemed surprised for a moment, then just lifted both arms, squeezing them tightly around Webb and kissing the top of their head.
Footsteps, then the sound of a throat being cleared. Niall leaned against the doorframe with his arms crossed, still frowning, but looking a little thoughtful as his gaze travelled over them. “Artem says he’ll talk to you,” he said. “Come with me. And nothing weird, you got it?”
“Nothing weird,” Webb agreed, pushing away from Faraday and following Niall into the other room, the others closely behind them.
Artem was sitting up in bed, wearing a faded, oversized t-shirt and clutching at the sheets. Webb was relieved to see that he didn’t appear to be angry, nor grievously injured, though one arm was bandaged from hand to elbow. As Webb had remembered, Artem was a freckle-faced young man in his early twenties with a mop of light brown curls and a skittish sort of attitude. His gray eyes were wide as he looked around the group—from sunglasses-wearing Webb, to Faraday in his vivid coat, and Ariadne still in full motorcycle gear.
“Mx. Webb…” he said uneasily, a bit breathless. “What… what are you doing here?”
Webb stared back at him for a long moment, unsure how to answer that question. What were they doing? What did they want? What had they done?
They settled for cautiously sitting near the foot of Artem’s bed, fingers curling in the sheets, and lowering their gaze.
“I’m sorry,” they said. “I had no idea I was sending you out into a dangerous situation. I thought it would be clean and easy. But I found out that someone had been using me to lure in innocent people just looking to do a bit of good and have some adventures—and that probably you were in danger.”
They drew in a deep breath. “We came as fast as we could, which… obviously wasn’t fast enough, but… I never meant for anything to happen to you, and honestly, feel really fucking shitty to learn that something did. And I’m not good at this kind of thing, but—just… what did happen? Where are Jenny and Elijah? Please, tell me as much as you can.”
Webb fell silent and found that they were staring at their own hands, rather than at Artem. They didn’t really want to look at his face, but snuck an uneasy glance up at him, preparing for the worst.
Artem seemed grim, sober and thoughtful, his breath coming a little fast—but he seemed more worried than anything, looking up at Webb with a pleading gaze. “We headed up this way like you had suggested,” he said in a trembling voice. “You know, part of the job said that there was a little cabin about ten minutes’ walk through the woods that was having some trouble with jackalope infestations in their garden…”
Webb grimaced, just nodding along. They remembered. Small, benign… “Yeah. And you got ambushed, huh?”
“Almost as soon as we went into the woods,” Artem nodded. “It was after dark, but still early evening, so we figured we’d check in once we got there to make sure the work was still needed and it was worth staying the night here. It was a pretty well-lit path, and Eli prefers being out at night, anyway, so… we thought it was fine. Then—we got jumped.”
“By who?” Webb asked. “… or, I guess, by what?”
“Vampires,” Artem said miserably, surprising absolutely nobody in the room, but serving as an unpleasant confirmation, at least. “There were at least six of them, and they moved so quickly. Eli and Jenny put up a bit of a fight, but they…” His voice wavered.
“It’s alright, Artem,” Niall said, voice low and reassuring. “Take your time.”
Artem shook his head as though to clear it, rubbing his face with both hands. “They didn’t seem to want to kill us. I saw one of them tie Eli up and sling him over his shoulder. Jenny tossed up a barrier, but it wasn’t strong enough, and she told me to run, so I…”
Webb had already been feeling sick to their stomach, but at that their chest clenched unpleasantly with memory and distress.
Niall reached over and squeezed Artem’s shoulder as the young man shuddered, his eyes prickling with unshed tears. “It’s alright,” Niall repeated, slow and steady. “You’re doing just fine. There’s nothing wrong with running away. You did the right thing.”
Webb looked down at their own hands again, clenching and unclenching them against their knees. “You—” Their voice caught in their throat. They tried again: “Niall’s right. You were set up, outnumbered. At least now… we know for sure what happened.”
Faraday had turned to Niall. “Did you report this to anybody?” he asked. “If we have Artem’s word that vampires ambushed and kidnapped his friends…”
“Who am I going to tell?” Niall shot back. “Artem’s going to let their friends and family know, but if it’s the Grimm clan that did it—they’ve had a grip on this whole area for years. Nobody is going to confront them about it. Best we can do is just try to keep people from wandering off where they can run into too much trouble. Once they’re gone…”
Artem let out a little sob. Webb, heart beating like a rabbit’s inside their ribcage, rose up and began to pace restlessly.
“Did they say anything to you?” they asked Artem. “The vampires—either when they were grabbing you, or when you were running away?”
Artem swallowed, shaking his head miserably, then paused to consider, hesitating. “I don’t… think so,” he said slowly. “I mean, they were talking a lot between themselves, but they were just—sort of bantering. I wasn’t really paying a lot of attention. They said—something about us being a nice catch.” He hesitated. “One of the vampires seemed… a little worried? Like he kept… looking over his shoulder and telling the others to hurry up.”
Webb exchanged an uneasy look with Faraday. “Did you get an idea of what he was concerned about?” Faraday asked.
“No,” Artem said. “I’m sorry… just… a vague sort of “them” that kept getting referenced. It sounded like the vampires had been really, uh, pissing someone off lately.”
“Well, isn’t that interesting,” Webb said slowly. “… well, it sounds like you were pretty damn lucky, Artem.”
Artem’s cheeks were blotchy with feverish color, and he grimaced. “I… I shouldn’t have… I mean, I’m—I’m a were-deer. I was able to transform, and I ran, because… that’s what I do, that’s all I can do, but I should have stayed with her—”
Letting out a deep, sharp exhalation of breath, Webb came back over to the bed and leaned over it, pushing back their sunglasses and looking directly at Artem, hand braced against the mattress.
“Listen to me,” Webb said. “It’s not your fault. None of this was your fault. You and your friends… yeah, you agreed to do something a bit stupid and reckless, but that’s… that’s okay. We’re all just out here living our lives. We’re not always making the perfect, safe decisions. Sometimes that goes great, and sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, that’s just life. You’re not responsible for the shitty things other people do that end up hurting the people you care about. And in that moment… your friend Jenny told you to run, didn’t she? It’s fucked up, when you can’t save the people that you care about, and survivor’s guilt is a real damn thing, but… you’re allowed to be here. You’re allowed to be alright… even though it’ll probably take some time.”
The room was quiet. Artem stared back at Webb, then let out another shaky sob, leaning his head back against the headboard and closing his eyes. “Maybe,” he said softly. “I’ll think about it. I just…”
“Good,” Webb said, trying to keep their own voice from shaking. “And, I mean, definitely think about that and everything, but also…”
They hesitated. They didn’t want to tell Artem that they were going to try to go rescue Jenny and Eli, and get his hopes up unnecessarily, in case they fucked up. On the other hand, maybe it’d help him feel a little better in the moment. And maybe Niall might have something else to offer or suggest, if he knew…?
One thing was for certain: Webb was going up there. Tonight. Immediately. Glancing at Faraday, they could see the same determination on his face. Ariadne, beside him, reached out to take Webb’s hand, giving it a firm squeeze. If there was still a chance that Jenny and Eli were alive, every second wasted could be precious time sliding between their fingertips.
[Please suggest or +1 an action in the comments.
As a reminder, it can be thoughts, words, deeds, or curiosities!]
Thanks for sticking with me on this, everyone! I hope you’re enjoying the story despite it making itself a liiiittle longer than we originally planned ♥ I’m most likely looking to wrap up within the next 3-5 sections this week. Looking forward to seeing it through to the end with you!