[ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ]
“Absolutely not,” Webb said immediately. “Under no circumstances. No.”
Lore’s brows creased; they flinched back, looking visibly hurt. “I—I won’t look like you for anything except this, I promise. I understand it’s—strange…”
Shit. Webb reached out and seized Lore’s face in their hands, the presence of an intimidating vampire lord looming over them be damned. “No, you ridiculous creature, I’m not worried about that. I’m worried about something happening to you.”
Lore’s expression still looked troubled, but softened somewhat. They lifted one hand and placed it over Webb’s, their touch cool and strangely yielding. “Oh,” they murmured. “No, that’s… I promise I wouldn’t suggest it if I wasn’t equally sure I could get away again.”
“Shadowfolk do have… particularly unnatural abilities,” Veracity said, watching this exchange dispassionately. “Their suggestion does solve the problem quite efficiently.”
“I don’t—” Webb choked on their outburst, clawing back their temper again, reminding themself that snapping at the giant tetchy vampire lady who they were trying to woo for information was probably not going to improve the situation any. They drew in a deep breath, then exhaled, focusing on Lore. “… maybe. Are you sure it’s safe, and you can get away with it? Like, 100%, we won’t have to pull off a stressful rescue mission later level of confident? What happens if we lose track of you? What if they just stab you immediately?”
They’d seized Lore’s shoulders by this point and were shaking them gently. Little bits of inky blackness drifted away from Lore’s hair, like bubbles.
“Webb…” Faraday stepped in a little closer, but didn’t try to reach out, possibly sensing the real and present risk that Webb might chomp his hand off. “I could—go with them, if that would help—”
“That doesn’t help! Then I’ll have two of you to chase after!”
“We could track them—” Faraday protested helplessly.
“It will be fine,” Lore said, low and breathless and steady, leaning in to bonk their forehead gently against Webb’s. “I can’t… tell you everything I’m capable of, but I can promise you. I wouldn’t do that to you. Make you worry. Leave you alone.”
Webb squeezed their eyes shut tightly, trying to will themself to calm down. Why were they getting so worked up, anyway? They liked Lore, obviously, but surely they could trust them to manage themself. They’d seen Lore morph through walls and doors and vanish into shadows. If they said it was alright…
“… fine,” they muttered reluctantly, glancing over at Veracity. “If—if her lordship here thinks that’ll suit her purposes, and if the rest of us can get out of here while there’s a distraction, and you’ll be fine, and we get something actually useful in terms of going after Grimm, which is what we came for—”
“Oh, I have something I think you’ll find interesting,” Veracity said with one of her cool smiles, drawing everyone’s attention back to her. “At a price, of course. But one I’m sure you’ll find fair.”
Webb wasn’t as sure as Veracity sounded, but they took a step back away from Lore, looking over at her warily. “What do you have in mind?”
Veracity inclined her head. “I want access to Grimm’s spy within the Drawing Dead, first of all. Which it seems like your little drama here may help provide. Aside from that… I want more information about Grimm, and what he’s planning. And I’m not just talking about sniffing around in Hallow Point—I’ve already uncovered those stones, I can assure you. Someone needs to go up north. Right to his doorstep. You were already planning on it. I won’t provide you with additional support right now, not with so little to go off, but… if you return with something interesting…”
Ariadne made a little noise in the back of her throat. “So what you’re saying is, we should be going out there without the expectation that we’re going to be doing anything other than, what? Spying? Observing?”
“I can see the logic in that,” Webb said slowly. They didn’t really know what they were getting into, and Veracity was cautious—unlikely to make a big move without feeling very sure of her strategy. “We scope things out, and then work together to make a move when we have all the pieces.”
Veracity tsked softly. “I’m not promising further action,” she murmured. “I’m simply saying that I will be willing to consider more… material assistance, if and when you have something that compels me to do so.”
Ariadne looked unhappy about the idea, impatient and frustrated and scared, but Faraday was nodding slowly, and Pax was staring at Webb with a fixed intensity, as though willing them to understand this is about as good as it gets.
“Fine,” Webb said, gritting his teeth. Then, at Veracity’s raised eyebrows, they added more politely: “Yes. That sound reasonable. You help us get out of here safely, we help give you a decoy and keep your public face on while helping you sniff out some vermin in your backyard. You’ll tell us what you know right now about Grimm, and we’ll head up north and…” And what? Pretend to be selling Ghoul Guide cookies? Mug and mesmer a couple of après ski vampires? “… and see what else we can uncover. If and when we have more to go off, we’ll get in touch, and negotiate further from there.”
“Just so.” Veracity smiled, fangs dimpling her full lower lip. She extended a hand to Webb.
Webb glanced back at the others. Ariadne’s lips were pressed tightly together, but at Webb’s look, she let out a sigh and nodded reluctantly.
“… it’s reasonable,” Faraday agreed. Lore nodded as well, hugging their own elbows.
Webb had brokered plenty of deals with powerful creatures in the past, but this one felt particularly heart-pounding as they reached out and shook Veracity’s hand. There was so much in the air; so much they were unsure of. So much to lose.
They’d never intended to find themselves in this position again—rushing headlong into danger with so much potentially at stake. Not after last time. And yet, here they were.
Veracity’s grip was cool and firm and final.
Pax clapped his hands together, making Webb startle slightly at the abrupt sound as they drew their hand back hastily. “I’m so glad we got that worked out!” he said brightly, a little on the edge of manic. “And may I remind my good companions here that I am not sure how long until the Inquisitors start making even more of a ruckus trying to get in?”
Webb turned to Lore. “What exactly do you need in order to… do your thing?”
Lore looked slightly furtive, their lashes dipping as they glanced over at Veracity and Pax. “I…” they trailed off, then stepped a little closer to Webb. “Nothing special. Just—a moment with you. Alone. Before I go. Please?”
Veracity’s expression seemed heavily disinclined to agree to that, but shifted to an annoyed sort of thoughtfulness after a moment, pensive. “Very well,” she said, gesturing to the far back of the room where there was a door into an adjacent room. “But do be quick about it.”
“Like, very quick, extremely quick,” Pax added, tapping his foot and glancing out the window. “If you’re not back in five minutes I’m going to start screaming.”
Webb grabbed Lore’s wrist and tugged, spitefully walking across the room at a leisurely pace. They could hear Pax behind them making a noise a little like a sotto voce shrieking teakettle.
The room beyond the door was a dimly-lit private chamber with plush furnishings, heavy carpet, and a fully luxurious bed. Webb stopped just inside the door, closing it behind them. The click of the latch seemed exceedingly loud in the silence.
“Well?” they prompted, leaning against the door and turning to look at Lore uneasily, finding that they were having trouble meeting their eyes. “Is this—are you wanting to say a dramatic farewell? Do you wear me like a skinsuit? What?”
As soon as the words were out of their mouth, Webb flinched. They were frightened and anxious, but there was no need to take it out on Lore, who looked so nakedly miserable at the comments that they visibly started to come apart at the seams, bits of shadow drifting every which way
“No, I—” Lore stammered. “I just need—I’m sorry, Webb, I didn’t want…”
Webb swallowed heavily, then reached out with both arms to try to haul Lore close, dragging them into a tight hug. Or trying to. They managed to pull most of them in, but some bits seemed more corporal than others. It was like trying to hug something that was half Jell-O, half wood smoke, with an edge of squirming cat.
“Oh, for the love of all that’s horny, pull yourself together!” Webb exhaled in a rush, torn between laughing and crying. “I’m sorry, alright? I’m just—scared. I feel like I’ve just—” Fuck, hell, damn. “Feel like I’ve just found something, someone I want to keep around, and now I might be losing you already? I mean, it’s fucking typical, but it’s not fair…”
Lore stopped chaotically disintegrating all over Ariadne’s sweater, coagulating again into an fretful person shape with their lovely, anxious face looking so sad and so near. “Things are going to be alright,” they promised, earnest and soft. “I’ll catch up with you again before you know it. I’ll be able to find you. Don’t worry.”
“You’d better,” Webb said. They tried to make it sound threatening, but it ended up sounding a little desperate instead.
Lore’s lips curved into a faint smile, their brow creasing. “And think of It this way,” they murmured. “Maybe I’ll be able to learn something more from the Inquisitors before I get away. I’m sure that could be useful…”
Webb gently took Lore by the shoulders and shook them again. “Only if it doesn’t put you in more danger,” they insisted. “Don’t—don’t you dare risk anything trying to be useful.”
“I won’t, I won’t, I won’t!” Lore gasped, wobbly. “I won’t, alright?”
Webb fell still, just looking at them, touching a hand lightly to Lore’s strangely silky hair. “Good,” they said, low-voiced. “… now. What is that you need to do to do your—thing? I assume you didn’t just drag me in here for, uh, whatever this has been.”
Lore shook their head, looking uncertain. “No… mm. Webb, you have to understand, the Shadowfolk are very private. Very protective over our abilities and secrets. What I’ve already shared is almost too much, especially in front of someone like Veracity, and Pax, but…” They shook their head as if to clear it. “But I wanted to. I needed to. I’m alright with that. But… the real thing is…” They reached up to gently pull Webb’s glasses off, hanging them from the collar of Webb’s sweater. “I need your permission for the next part.”
Webb licked their lips nervously, forcing themself not to look away, gaze darting around Lore’s face. “Okay,” they said. “I mean… I won’t tell anybody. What do you need to do?”
Lore met Webb’s gaze. “I can… become anybody that I’ve experienced,” they said slowly. “If I choose to, I can… feel some of the things that you feel. Taste your memories. Not all of them,” they added hastily, as Webb blanched. “And I don’t have to! I don’t need to go that deep at all. Really, I just need to be close. To… understand you in a way that’s unique to me.”
“Oh, sweetheart, I am so afraid of the mortifying ordeal of being known,” Webb stammered. “That’s like sixth base. We are playing nine-dimensional baseball, here—”
Some part of Webb just seized up at the very thought, shaky and afraid and hollering no, no, no directly into the tantrum hole. That was the part that made their hands feel clammy, their heart pound, their thoughts spin in dizzy circles. They didn’t have to give this to Lore. They didn’t have to let Lore go ahead with this. They didn’t have any better ideas, but there was always the option to run.
Some other, much more alien and alarming part of them took control. They reached up and slid their shaking hands lightly into Lore’s long hair, feeling it cascade and flow like water through their fingers.
“I’m so sick of running,” they said.
Lore’s brow creased in confusion before it smoothed out into a small smile. They touched one hand to Webb’s cheek.
“You don’t have to run,” Lore said quietly. “You can choose. What… what do you want to do?”
[Please suggest or +1 an action in the comments.
As a reminder, it can be thoughts, words, deeds, or curiosities!]