Halloween 2021 IF,  Interactive Fiction

Halloween I.F – “That Which Lingers” – Day 39

[ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ] 

“Okay, fine!” Ariadne said loudly, crossing her arms. “You win. No problem. What’s the plan?”

Webb, still spiralling, snapped their jaw shut as they scrambled to understand what she was asking. “I, what?”

“I said, that’s fine,” Ariadne said, polite but firm this time. “You’re right. This is all a big scary mess, and I can’t guarantee that we’re going to be alright. We might decide to do something and get killed, and if you don’t want to be party to that, I understand.”

Webb grimaced. “I’m not… I’m not bailing on you…”

“I’m not saying you are,” Ariadne said, matter-of-fact. “I’m just agreeing with you. We’ll do whatever you want to do. You want me and Faraday to stay here in the hotel? Book a plane ticket to the Bahamas and forget all about this? I know a guy that can get you a fake passport if you want to come with us.”

“I have extended family in India that I’ve been meaning to visit…” Faraday offered helpfully.

“Or we could just lie low for a while. Wait for a more secure chance.” Ariadne tugged at the drawstrings of her robe again. “I’m just not sure what you were hoping for us to say under the circumstances, so if you have any ideas…”

Webb dragged both hands down their face, letting out an irritated sound and falling heavily back onto the bed. “Shut up,” they muttered. “I’m—being serious…”

But the damage had been done, or undone, as Ariadne had obviously intended. Webb felt the tension and anger and fear draining out of them like a punctured balloon, leaving them instead just feeling exhausted and depressed and a little bit ludicrous.

They felt the bed shift as Ariadne sat next to them, her fingers carefully brushing through Webb’s hair.

“Hey,” she said gently. “I wasn’t actually making fun of you—”

“You were a little.

“I wasn’t!” she protested. “I mean, I was exaggerating slightly, but I just—you were sort of getting yourself into a state where there was no right answer. And I get it. You know what you don’t want, and what you don’t want is for us to get hurt. I appreciate that. But… at the end of the day, we’re choosing to be here, you know?”

“It’s an awful position to be in,” Faraday said quietly. “You probably don’t feel like you have a lot of choice. But… I think we do have more choices than we realize. It’s just that you start pretty quickly discounting the ones that don’t make any sense, morally and emotionally.”

Webb sighed, turning their face to press into Ariadne’s hand, muttering. “I don’t want the it-makes-sense choice to be… this. Dangerous and uncertain and full of spiteful fae and vampires.”

“Hey,” Ariadne mock-chided, pinching Webb’s cheek. “You weren’t complaining about the vampire part earlier tonight…”

“Then that was a miss on my part, I have been trying to complain about everything—” Webb muttered, batting Ariadne’s hand away. “I just wish… fuck, I just wish none of us had even been put in this situation in the first place.”

Lore folded themself down close to Webb, wisping over them like a blanket of fog. “So do all who live to see such times,” they whispered very solemnly next to Webb’s ear. “But that is not for them to decide—”

Webb let out a noise of amused outrage, trying to grab for Lore and cursing as their hands passed right through Lore’s suddenly semi-corporeal form, sending smoke gushing over their fingers like water. “Don’t you dare quote Tolkien at me, you—”

The ridiculousness of the situation started to sink in. Faraday grinning, his mouth hidden behind one hand. Ariadne in her bear hood, one fang lightly indenting her lower lip. Lore playing keep-away with… themself. And Webb in the middle strung somewhere between a panic attack and a temper tantrum because they had no idea what they wanted—only what they didn’t.

They groaned, dropping their arm over their eyes and letting out a reluctant laugh. “You’re all the worst,” they said, horrified to find their breath hitching, their voice coming out a little rough, their eyes stinging. “There I was, baring my heart and soul, and—”

“Bear-ing…” Ariadne whispered urgently, then clapped her hands over her mouth, voice rising in pitch. “No! I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!”

Webb dissolved into choked laughter, a little hysterical, grabbing Ariadne and tugging her down with them onto the bed. She continued to stammer apologies in between her own breathless giggles, wrapping her arms around Webb in return, squirming and trying to kiss the top of Webb’s head.

“I mean it,” Webb complained, after they managed to catch their breath. They pulled Ariadne close, pressing their face into her shoulder, inhaling the laundry-soap smell of the fresh robe, the copper-and-flowers of her hair and skin. They rubbed at their face with one sleeve, perplexed to find it coming away damp. “I… I’d never told anybody any of that before.”

“Oh, Webb…” Ariadne said gently, brushing some of the white strands of hair back from their forehead. “I know. And… I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to make a joke out of it. It just seemed like you had gotten yourself into a bad spot, and—sometimes, for me at least, people just being kind about it makes you want to dig your heels in worse, right?”

“We’re so sorry that that happened to you, Webb,” Faraday said quietly, finally rising up from the chair and making his way over to the bed, sitting cross-legged at the foot of it. “And… grateful, that you shared it with us. I know it can’t have been easy.”

Words rose up, then caught in Webb’s throat, choking. They blinked a few times, vision blurring briefly, then cleared their throat. “Actually,” they said, “I changed my mind. I liked the bullying better.”

Faraday made a face. Ariadne just laughed, kissing Webb’s forehead. Lore drew themself back into a more solid form again, their long dark hair drifting like spiderwebs as they looked down at Webb, gaze even.

“I can sympathize,” Lore murmured. “Feeling like you’re letting your life pass you by out of… mm. Fear, maybe. Of the unknown. Of being burned. And… maybe things won’t go well. Then again, maybe they will…?”

“Both seem kind of alarming when you think about it,” Webb muttered. “At least if everything crashed and burned I could just, I don’t know. Lie back and yell, I told you so and feel vindicated in my misery. If I risked it all and put myself out there and everything was sort of okay, then I’d just have to, I don’t know… be emotionally vulnerable. Confront the mortifying ordeal of being known.”

Ariadne wrinkled her nose, her expression fond and soft and teasing. “Is that scarier than going toe-to-toe with a vampire lord?” she asked.

Webb pretended to think about it. No, actually, they actually had to think about it. “The vampire lord is sort of a nebulous factor, here,” they said after a moment. “Schrödinger’s vampire lord. I am both afraid and yet have not personally been made to fear them, so it’s easy for me to not be locked in the visceral vice of dread…”

“Also,” Faraday reminded Ariadne gently, reaching out to gather her into his arms and trying to haul her back like a recalcitrant kitten, “we are not currently planning to throw hands with Grimm, or whoever’s in his place, remember? This is a reconnaissance mission.”

“Speaking of which…” Webb, temporarily free of Ariadne’s weight, shifted to free their phone from their pocket. “I should see if we got anything from Pax…”

They were feeling… better. Tired, and drained, but the feeling of emptiness left inside of them felt more like a balm than a wound. Their hands were no longer shaking, and the idea of hearing back from Pax—or not hearing back from Pax—no longer felt like an insurmountable obstacle to be avoided or put out of their mind at all costs.

Webb opened their messages, feeling their heart leap at the sight of the notification badge next to Pax’s name, and opened it hastily. “He—… ah.”

Webb stared for a moment, then snapped their phone closed again.

“What??” Ariadne gasped, alarmed. “What happened? Did something happen? What did he say?”

“He sent me a dick pic.”

“… oh,” Ariadne said. A beat later: “Well, can I see?”

“No!” Webb dug their heels in and shifted a little further up the bed, putting a pillow between themself and Ariadne. With an aggravated sigh, they opened up their phone again, scrolling up to the actual message Pax had sent. “He’s—he’s fine,” they muttered, trying not to sound too relieved. “He got away from the Inquisitors, and Veracity’s vampires have been trying to question Vyo.”

“What have they learned?” Faraday asked quietly, still looking a little amused, but relieved nonetheless.

“He says Vyo wasn’t actually a harpy at all. She’s fae. A changeling,” Webb says grimly. “We were right. Veracity’s pulling some strings now to try to find out more, but that’s our confirmation, huh? The fae want something from me, and the vampires are involved.”

Somehow, saying it out loud felt a little less daunting than it had ten minutes prior. They still weren’t happy about it, but now they knew for sure—and unlike earlier in the evening, at least knowing there was a potential reason for Webb, personally, to be involved made things seem a little less bewildering.

You’re a menace, they texted back. That matches what we learned. Fucked up. We’re up north. Taking a break, then heading after another lead.

They stared down at the message for a long moment after sending it, hesitating. Before they could talk themself out of it, they added:

It was good to see you again. I told them more about what happened. I told them everything. When I come back—

They deleted and retyped those words a few times. When. If. When…

When we see each other again, let’s catch up properly this time, alright? Thanks for sticking by me, all these years.

They hastily closed their phone and shoved it in the bedside drawer. They could deal with the ramifications of that later, or maybe never.

“So,” they said, clearing their throat. “Pax is fine. Nobody is immediately bearing down on us, probably, and if they are, fuck it, we’ll burn that bridge when we come to it. We can go find this Niall guy later in the afternoon. I’m in no shape to go anywhere, and we made Faraday pay a lot of money for this room. I want to see the salmon faucet.”

Ariadne’s expression lit up. “I’ll get you a bear robe,” she exclaimed, scrambling off the bed.

“Only if Faraday wears one too,” Webb countered, earning a laugh in return.

Rolling over to their side, Webb found themself face-to-face with Lore, who curled closer, flowing across the tartan duvet like water. Lore touched Webb’s lips with their fingertips, giving them a hesitant smile.

“Do you want me to give you three some space?” they murmured. “I can… keep watch, or do some, um, information-gathering around the town. Or—if you’d rather I stick around, do you want me like this, physical, I mean, or…?”

Webb abruptly remembered their farewell to Lore back in the Drawing Dead, and found their cheeks flushing. They licked their lips, breath hitching softly as they felt Lore’s fingertips dissolve slightly against their tongue. They weren’t entirely sure they knew what Lore was suggesting, or implying, or what the options were. But as for what Webb wanted—

[Please suggest or +1 an action in the comments.

As a reminder, it can be thoughts, words, deeds, or curiosities!]

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