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Webb let out a rough breath, leaning in close and pressing their forehead against Faraday’s, their noses bumping together. They could feel the warmth of his breath, see the shadow cast by his dark lashes as he leaned in slightly, one hand finding Webb’s and squeezing tightly.
“Your face is very close,” Webb muttered inanely, closing the gap to lightly catch at Faraday’s lower lip with their teeth, tongue flicking out briefly before drawing back.
Faraday raised an eyebrow in return, a slight curve to his lips. “You seemed not to mind it there.” His expression was cautious, but warm. With a curious hum, he closed the gap again slowly, carefully, keeping his eyes on Webb the whole time.
This time, the kiss lingered a little longer. Webb shivered as Faraday’s lips brushed at one of their lip rings, and closed their eyes as Faraday’s hand on their cheek guided them closer, callused fingertips firm but gentle under Webb’s chin.
Webb wanted nothing more than to sink into it with abandon, to indulge in the intoxicating sensation of someone holding them close, blocking out the world and their fears and the lingering sour taste of their nightmares in their mouth. They wanted to bury their hands in Faraday’s long, silky hair and feel desired and protected and to not have to think—
When will you finally give up on this charade?
They pulled back with a sharp little noise, breath coming fast and shallow, one hand clutching at Faraday’s shirt and pushing, trying to put a little space between them. Faraday immediately leaned back, expression concerned and apologetic, which Webb hated most of all.
“You’re fine,” they assured him roughly, hastily. “This is—a me problem, not a you problem. You didn’t—you didn’t do anything weird. But I just… I mean, we should probably—”
Faraday squeezed their hand one more time, brows creased. For a moment, Webb thought he was going to press further, and they weren’t altogether sure they didn’t want him to. But he relented, leaning back, opening the door and letting out a visible huff of breath as the cool mountain air rushed inside.
“Let’s get inside somewhere,” Faraday suggested gently. “I suspect there’s a few things we need to talk about.”
Webb felt their gut twisting, uneasy. “Ohhh, no,” they muttered. “I hate talking about things.” They readjusted their sunglasses and tugged their hat down further over their forehead.
Faraday let out a soft laugh, warm and patient, holding up a hand to help Webb down out of the truck. “I know,” he said. “And I won’t force you to say anything before you’re ready. But… I just want you to know that I’m willing to listen. When you’re ready.”
Webb made a face at him, but obligingly took his hand, hopping down. “So gallant,” they said. “I’ll keep it in mind.” They tried to keep their tone as light as possible, because Faraday kept looking at them like he really cared about what they were thinking and feeling and it was absolutely just going to make them scream.
They needed to tell Ariadne and Faraday and Lore about what had really happened back then, ten years ago. What they’d been going through every night since then. And what that might mean for them—for all of them—if the Erl-King really was involved in what was happening right now. Unfortunately, Webb suspected that they’d be supportive and even more determined than ever to protect Webb and stay by their side, which was pretty much the worst scenario they could imagine.
Against their best intentions, and despite ten years of hard work trying to keep everyone at a distance, they’d had one bad night and fucked it all up, and now there were contingencies that Webb desperately wanted to ensure didn’t become casualties.
Not again. Not after last time.
They shivered again—at the thought, at the cold air, at the feeling of Lore slithering against their neck, murmuring in their ear.
“Webb?” Lore whispered softly. “Are you alright?”
“I’m—fuck, Lore, you were there the whole time?” Webb hissed, cheeks flushing as they shuffled across the slick pavement after Faraday.
“Of course I was,” Lore said softly. “I’m not going to leave your side again if I can help it.”
Webb’s heartbeat quickened, that sour and fleeting taste stinging the back of their throat again. “There are probably times when I’m—going to want time to myself,” they muttered, even as they crawled their hand back up to try to touch whatever part of Lore was available to be touched. There was nothing at first, then the sinuous sensation of smoke between their fingers, silky and cool and reassuring.
“I’ll give you space if you want space,” Lore said. “Do you… want me to leave?” They sounded a bit tremulous, uncertain.
“No,” Webb said, terse and a little miserable but trying not to let Lore get the wrong impression. They swallowed, exhaling in a plume of frost. “No, I don’t.”
The two of them fell silent as they approached where Faraday had just joined Ariadne and the minotaur, the latter two still in animated conversation. Ariadne looked up as Webb approached, and although they couldn’t see her face with every inch of her covered up, she still seemed and sounded quite pleased.
“Good morning, sleepyhead,” she teased. “Did you rest well?”
“Well enough,” Webb lied. “Pillow kept trying to cop a feel, though.”
“I did not!” Faraday protested, scandalized. Webb appreciated that. It was important to keep people on their toes, even when you were being a little sweet on them.
Ariadne just laughed. “Well, I’m sure we can find another place to settle in for the day where you can rest a little more peacefully. Octavia here was just telling me a little bit about the town.”
Octavia, the minotaur, gave a firm nod of her head. She had enormous horns that would put Pax’s to shame—no wonder she needed that big ol’ truck, Webb thought. Then, they tried hard not to think about Pax. “Shadewick’s a real nice place,” Octavia commented in a light, low drawl. “Good food. Nice trails. A lake nearby. Short walk to the gondola up to the top of Mount Bloodstone an’ the Devil’s Pass trails—”
“Mount Bloodstone,” Webb echoed brightly. “Was that named for any, uhhh…”
Octavia scratched her neck. “Don’t think it has anything to do with the Valley or anything,” she admitted. “Given that mountains have kinda been there for a while. I think that’s just how humans like to name things sometimes.”
Webb opened their mouth, then closed it again. “You know what, fair enough. You’re right.”
“Though,” Octavia added, her tone suddenly serious. “I was just tellin’ Ariadne here, it ain’t been quite right lately. I’ve been hearin’ a lot about folks hearin’ all manner of strange noises out in the woods. Those goin’ missin’ more often than usual. I reckon there might be some manner of trouble about, so just make sure y’all stick together, alright?”
Ariadne gave Octavia’s arm a little squeeze. “We’ll be sure to,” she assured her, though she sounded a little worried. “You too, alright?”
Webb didn’t blame Ariadne for being concerned. Hearing that wasn’t a surprise, given why they’d come here at all, but it was still, unfortunately, a little chilling to have it confirmed. “I don’t suppose there’s anybody here who would know a little more about that?” they asked casually. “Like, I don’t know… someone who survived an uncanny encounter, or got away from something dangerous?”
Octavia looked thoughtful. “None I know of,” she said apologetically. “I’ve mostly been workin’ down in Hallow Point, so a lot of what I know has just been passed along secondhand by friends in the area.”
“What about a local doctor, or healer?” Faraday suggested. “If anybody was hurt…”
Octavia did brighten slightly at that. “Oh, sure,” she said. “You can probably pop in to see Niall. He’s a witch that runs an infirmary right at the edge of town. Patches us up pretty well when anybody has a tumble or pushes themself a little too much.”
“Good to know.” Webb gave her a nod, then glanced at the others. “Well… thanks, again, for the ride, I guess. We’ll see you around…?”
Octavia grinned. “Yeah, my pleasure to have the company. If y’all are stickin’ around at all…” She gave Ariadne a hopeful, pointed look.
“We’ve… got some things to do, so I’m not sure how long we’ll be in town,” Ariadne said hastily, sounding genuinely apologetic. “But if things all get sorted—we’ll seek you out, for sure!”
She managed to sound way more confident than Webb felt, but she also had the benefit of the motorcycle helmet hiding her expression, which was probably a blessing. Webb hung out next to Faraday while Ariadne and Octavia said a few more polite goodbyes, then beckoned for Ariadne to follow them away from the truck and towards the motel.
“Are we planning to stay here?” Ariadne murmured, falling into step beside them.
“I don’t think we should,” said Webb. “If this is where Octavia’s staying… the more out of sight, out of mind we are with anybody that could be trailing us, or hearing about us, or looking for us…”
“I agree,” Faraday said quietly. “Let’s find another place.” He paused. “How do we want to do this? Some of us got a little bit of rest on the trip, but not much. Ariadne’s not at her best during the day, but…”
“But others are more active at night, too,” Ariadne pointed out quietly. “The chalet on top of Bloodstone Peak is definitely a place we should check out. I’ve been there. I know it’s one of his. But whether or not he’s there at the moment, or at one of the other locations…”
“I’d like a chance to talk,” Lore said softly, though loud enough for all of them to hear. “About what happened back at the Drawing Dead…”
Webb chafed their hands together, fingers a little chilled despite the gentle magical warmth from their sweater. “Right. There’s that, too…” They really wanted to know what had happened with Lore—not to mention the fact that they hadn’t checked to see if they had any messages from Pax… “And as for that witch Octavia mentioned, did we want to try to talk to him right away in case he knows something that majorly changes our plans, or…?”
They trailed off slightly, voice rising in confusion as Faraday and Ariadne, on either side of Webb, both seemed to notice that Webb was feeling cold and stepped in at the same time to try to sling an arm around them. Realizing what they’d done, both of them fumbled in surprise, glanced at each other, then started to laugh.
Webb just stopped walking and buried their face in their hands, feeling their ears starting to burn and redden from more than just the chill.
“I’m happy to do whatever you think is best,” Faraday told Webb quietly, “but try not to push yourself too much, alright? It’s okay to take a bit of time before moving on.”
Spoken like a man who’s not outrunning something at all times, Webb thought sullenly. But then… that wasn’t Faraday’s fault. And despite the anxiety that was beginning to build again in their chest at the very thought, maybe it was about time to just bite the bullet and tell them.
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