[ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ]
Webb let out an embarrassingly loud yell of shock, taking a hasty step back and hearing a crunch as their back pressed against a display hung with potato chip bags. Their reflection’s eyes widened in return—before it vanished entirely, leaving behind a much paler, vaguer silhouette in the glass.
There was sound of footsteps on linoleum, then Faraday’s hands were firm on Webb’s shoulders, bracing them, helping them stand upright.
“Webb, what happened?” Faraday asked, concerned and alarmed, pulling Webb close and glancing back out the window, gaze searching. “Was there something there—?”
“I, no…” Webb stammered, mortified at how their heart was still hammering, their fingers clutching at Faraday’s jacket. “I mean yes? I just thought I saw…”
The gnome behind the counter cleared her throat. “If you’re fucked up, I’m gonna have to ask you to leave…” she said, before immediately seeming to lose interest again.
“We’re fine!” Webb snapped, then stiffened again as they felt a cool touch at the back of their neck, and heard a soft voice whisper:
“Webb? I’m sorry… did I surprise you?”
“Lore!” Webb felt their knees weaken, their head thunking against Faraday’s chest in a combination of relief and exasperation. “Fuck! You almost killed me. I almost died. Holy fuck, you’re here, you’re alright!”
“Lore’s back?” Faraday murmured quietly against Webb’s hair, arms wrapped around them tightly. Webb distantly realized that he was kindly hiding the fact that Webb was talking to someone invisible from the judgemental gaze of the cashier, which was both very thoughtful and extremely embarrassing, and he continued to smell spitefully good.
“Yes,” they mumbled, still too relieved to do anything except breathe deeply and focus on their heart racing. “Let’s… damn. Get Ariadne, get your coffee or whatever, and let’s go.”
Faraday obligingly gave them a little squeeze and stepped back, also looking a strange combination between flustered and relieved, a crooked smile softening his expression for a moment. “Try to stay out of trouble for, say, a literal minute,” he suggested quietly. “I’ll be right back.”
Webb made a face, but couldn’t really fault him for that. They watched him go, then quickly turned, pretending to carefully examine one of the fridges on the far side of the store, as though mesmerized by the unnecessary array of flavored milks.
“Lore, what happened?” they murmured under their breath, closing their eyes. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine,” Lore said gently, a little rueful. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I’d just been trying to catch up with you for a little while…”
“A little while?” Webb demanded under their breath. “It’s hardly been any time at all! I mean, I’m not complaining—”
“You sound a little bit like you’re complaining,” Lore whispered, but it was fond, and Webb felt shadowy hands running along their arms, inside their sweater. They let out an aborted, flustered little noise, hunching down.
“Fuck you,” Webb breathed out. “Fucking hell. Alright. We need to get out of here. We’re heading north. You can tell me more about it along the way. I don’t suppose you brought a car?”
“I… no,” Lore admitted, their quiet voice seeming to just wash over Webb. “I wasn’t… aware that was… I mean, how do you get out here?”
Webb hugged their own elbows closer, as if that would let them hug Lore, somehow, and let out a shaky laugh. “Again, long fucking story. Let’s go see if Ariadne came up with any other ideas, and just… go from there.”
It turned out that although Ariadne hadn’t come up with a new idea, she had started up a conversation with a friendly, burly-looking minotaur who was stocking up on snacks for her hiking trip up north, and, wouldn’t you know it? She was driving in an extended-cab pickup all on her own, and her gear didn’t take up that much room in the back, so…
Webb exchanged a glance with Ariadne as they made their way to the truck, pressing close to her and murmuring under their breath. “I can’t tell if you actually needed to mesmer her or not,” they whispered.
Ariadne just gave them a toothy grin in response and took a sip of her coffee. “Sometimes there are just nice people in the world!” she chided gently.
“Well, something might as well go right tonight,” Webb muttered, climbing up into the back seat.
Even as the words had come out of Webb’s mouth, they realized that they didn’t actually mean them. The night had been terrifying and distressing in a lot of ways. They’d lost their job and home, possibly permanently, and there was some kind of warrant or bounty out for their capture. They were fleeing up north to try to track down and get the dirt on some super-powerful entity that had usurped a vampire lord, and it all had something to do with the painful past that Webb had been doing their desperate best to outrun.
But… they were still alive, and somehow more well-supported than they could have ever imagined. They felt Lore’s shadowy presence clinging to their hair and coiling up in their hood, and had to shift aside as Faraday folded himself into the back seat next to Webb, leaving Ariadne in the front to continue charming their driver.
Webb was tired, but they weren’t cold; they were frightened, but they weren’t alone. This was all a big mess, but rather than wanting to flee, Webb felt a quiet sort of determination thrumming in their chest—to figure this out. To see it through.
It felt very strange, and they weren’t altogether sure they liked it.
There wasn’t a lot of room in the back; the minotaur had most of her gear stashed in the cargo bed, but there were a couple bags sharing the passenger bench. Grumbling, Webb shoved themself up against Faraday’s side, resting their head against his shoulder.
“Put your arm around me,” they muttered sullenly as the truck headed out onto the highway. “I’m going to sleep.”
“I, oh,” Faraday stammered, immediately and automatically obliging. He grinned after a moment, ducking his head slightly, voice dropping a little lower. “You’re a menace, you know that, Webb?”
“They know,” Ariadne called back in the rear view mirror, grinning. She was wiping down her helmet before tugging it back on. The minotaur made a disappointed little noise. “—eyes on the road,” Ariadne teased. “The clouds look like they’re breaking up a little, and I don’t want a deeply unpleasant sunrise.” To Webb and Faraday, she added: “Get some rest. I’ll wake you up when we get there.”
Webb stifled a yawn. “Where is there, exactly?” they asked. “Where are we headed?”
“I’m on my way up to Shadewick,” the minotaur offered. “If you’re going past there, I can’t be of much help, but you’re welcome to go that far with me.”
Ariadne nodded. “That’s about two hours from here. It’s a fair-sized place. Pretty nice. Close enough to where we want to go. We can rest up there for a bit.”
She kept her tone purposefully light and vague, which Webb appreciated. There was no need letting their new friend know any more than strictly necessary. If anything, Webb hoped that Faraday’s magic might make it so that the minotaur remembered as little about them as possible once they got out of her hair—for her sake as well as their own.
Webb wondered why the thought suddenly struck them as a little lonely. They, who had mesmerized every one of their one night stands into forgetting about them over the years. This shouldn’t be anything new. It was obviously just the traumatized exhaustion talking.
They turned their head and got a little more comfortable against Faraday’s side, feeling the rise and fall of his chest, listening to the soft undercurrent of the radio and the rhythmic hum of tires on wet concrete as they headed north and let a fitful sleep claim them.
They were always running, in their dreams. They’d often quipped that this was the reason for the shock of white in their hair, the ever-present dark circles under their eyes, but they knew that they actually meant it.
Rest was a time for fear, and was never truly restful.
They scrambled through the underbrush, their hands scratched up by brambles, their feet slipping on moss and leaves. This time, when they glanced behind them at their pursuer, something seemed even more sinister than usual. A knowing look, and mocking laughter. He was close, closer than he’d ever been before, close enough that Webb could see the cruel curve of his lips, the brittle brightness of his eyes.
“When will you finally give up on this charade?” coaxed the Erl-King, astride his mount of a thousand shifting faces, each more unsettling than the last. It reared and stamped its hooves, its splintering antlers casting ominous shadows. “We both know you long to be caught.”
Webb jerked awake with a gasp, scrambling. They felt their elbows impact something soft, and struggled to free themself—
“Oh, fuck,” they stammered, realizing that they’d just jammed an elbow directly into Faraday. “You’re—oh, we’re still…”
They were still in the truck, though they were clearly no longer on the highway, parked just outside of a rustic little motel. They could see Ariadne and the minotaur outside, stretching and taking a look at the deep, clustered pines and the thin, glittering layer of snow.
Faraday rubbed his jaw ruefully as Webb drew back. “I think you’d been dreaming,” he said apologetically. “I was trying to wake you gently…”
Webb pressed their eyes tightly closed. “No, it’s alright,” they said, their voice sounding rough and strange to their own ears. “I mean, I was. I always do. Sorry about your… everything. That I impacted with the sharp bits of me.”
Faraday’s expression softened. “You seem to be all made of sharp bits,” he commented, then hesitated, reaching out to nudge Webb’s glasses up, thumb brushing their cheekbone. He gave Webb a rueful smile. “That’s… not a bad thing.”
He hesitated, leaning in a little closer, giving Webb a searching, curious look. What do you want? It seemed to say. How can I help?
[Please suggest or +1 an action in the comments.
As a reminder, it can be thoughts, words, deeds, or curiosities!]