[ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ]
It took a moment for the sheer horrified and confused paralysis to fade. Drawing in a sharp breath, nerves jangling, Webb tried to fill their chest with enough to get out—something. A yell. A scream. Maybe hollering DEAD EX ALERT! as loud as possible to summon the others from the adjacent room, so close and yet so far away.
Webb barely managed to inhale before they sensed a sudden rush of movement and felt a body impact them hard enough to wind them. A hand slid over their mouth, ice cold. Their yell came out more like a choked wheeze as they were yanked backwards.
They felt their back hit something soft—the couch, they realized after a feverish moment of confusion. They struggled to try to sit up, but Jasper’s grip was like iron, and a strange sort of heaviness was sweeping over Webb, leaving them dazed.
“You always were so dramatic,” Jasper murmured, leaning over into view. “Calm down, kitten. I just want to catch up.”
In many ways, Jasper looked exactly as Webb remembered him: tall and angular, with brilliantly bright blue eyes and long, straight hair dyed a shocking candy apple red. Of the two of them, he’d always been the one to turn heads—a fact that was probably vastly amplified these days.
“I’d say I like what you’ve done with your look,” Webb managed, choked and breathless, “but I’d be fucking lying.”
Jasper gave Webb a toothy, fanged grin in response. He’d always had a way of smiling with his whole face. When he was being kind, that had always been charming, bringing mischief or delight into his bright eyes. Under the current circumstances, it looked jaw-splittingly menacing.
“Oh, you know,” Jasper murmured. “A few things happened.”
“I’ll bet,” Webb croaked.
They spared a thought, staring up at the face of the man that they’d loved and mourned for well over a decade, that it was possible this was some kind of trick. They knew intimately at this point how Shadowfolk could mimic both a person’s appearance and their mannerisms, sampling their memories. They also knew about rumors of doppelgangers, or witches who could use spells to modify shape or memory.
Some of that uncertainty seemed to show on their face, because Jasper sat down next to them on the couch, reaching out to brush Webb’s hair back and lightly tug their hat off. Pinned like a butterfly under Jasper’s gaze, Webb found they literally couldn’t resist, their arms leaden and unresponsive.
“Before you ask,” Jasper said, “of course this is the real me.” His eyes glittered. “I’d be happy to prove it, if you like. We have all sorts of experiences that I could recount…”
“No, I’m good,” Webb stressed through gritted teeth. “Nobody else is quite a shit like you are.” That was true enough, even in the times when the two of them had been thick as thieves. “Though, if you’re in the mood for talking, I could stand to know what the fuck is going on.”
Jasper faked a hurt expression, his eyes still cool, heavy-lidded. “Oh, my dear—it’s Webb you’re going by these days, yes?—I’m so disappointed. I was expecting a tearful reunion, open arms…”
“At the very least not such open hostility.”
Webb shifted, narrowing their eyes. “Give me back the use of my body and let me call my friends, and I’m sure we can have much more pleasant chat—”
Webb recognized their mistake instantly as Jasper’s gaze grew hard and a bit manic.
“Ohhh, yes. Your new friends…” he purred.
“Give me a fucking break, Jas,” Webb said, a burning heat starting to swell in their chest. Their breathing was coming sharp and shallow, and they felt despair and anger both starting to well up, making their eyes sting. “I—grieved. I mourned you. For years. I finally started to let myself live a little again, and you’re the one… I don’t know, apparently lording it about in a mountaintop castle? Alive, aware that I was out there, but—but what? You’re not the victim, here!”
“I was the victim, Webb,” Jasper said with a pleasant nonchalance that made Webb very nervous. Jasper was endlessly combative. The sweetness was the kind that always rang false on his foxlike face. “You left me behind in the clutches of the Erl-King. I watched as you ran and didn’t turn back.”
“Would you rather I had stayed behind to die, too?” Webb demanded. “You were the one that intervened to save me!”
“And look at how I was repaid.”
Webb stared up at Jasper and had the distressing realization that if they’d had this conversation a mere few days ago, Webb’s response would have been shockingly different. They had been forcing themself to live with that guilt for years. What if, I should have, I could have… They’d blamed themself, and questioned themself, and told themself that they didn’t deserve to have anything good after what they’d let happen to Jasper.
But now, hearing those words from Jasper’s mouth, and knowing—even for such a short time—what it felt like to have people around them that actually cared for them and supported them and would never even have a thought like that cross their mind…
“Go fuck yourself,” Webb said calmly. They closed their eyes briefly, then—as they had on the gondola—opened their eyes again and willed Jasper away from them as fiercely as possible, fuelled by all of their heartbreak and betrayal and sheer, miserable spite.
For a heart-sinking moment, Webb was sure it hadn’t worked, and kicked themself for even trying. Jasper had clearly become incredibly powerful—when? how?—and Webb had experienced difficulties dealing with birds.
But then a faint look of surprise crossed Jasper’s features, and Webb felt Jasper’s hold on them weaken, just for a moment. Just long enough.
“HELP!” Webb hollered as loudly as possible, shoving Jasper with both hands.
He didn’t go far—Webb hadn’t expected him to—but he did overbalance slightly and stand up, which meant that when Lore’s shadowy form launched over the back of the couch like an avenging blur, they struck Jasper dead-on, sending him reeling back towards the wall.
“Oh,” Jasper breathed out, staggering as Lore pooled down in front of him. Lore planted themself bodily between Jasper and Webb, shadowy hair roiling like a medusa. “I’d heard you’d gotten yourself involved with the Shadowfolk, yes. How interesting.”
Fast, heavy footsteps heralded the arrival of Ariadne and Faraday in the doorway, both of them also rushing to Webb’s aid.
“Who the hell are you?” Ariadne demanded. She looked like she wasn’t going to wait for an answer before launching herself directly into his face with teeth and claws at the ready, so Webb hastily sat up, grabbing her elbow.
“He’s—someone I used to know,” Webb said roughly, their voice coming out hoarser than they’d like. “And honestly, I’d really like to know why he’s here right now and what the fuck is going on, so if you could hold off on going for his jugular for thirty seconds…”
Ariadne looked very hard-pressed to agree to that, but she managed to rein herself in. Lore, too, was shifting restlessly, still half-pinning Jasper to the wall with shadowy appendages on his arms and legs.
“Go on,” Lore murmured softly, with an ominous undertone Webb hadn’t heard before. “We’re listening.”
Jasper stretched out underneath Lore’s grip, idly testing the bonds, and sighed. “Kitten, you don’t really expect me to do the whole evil-overlord-explains-all-his-plans bit, do you? I can’t really see that playing out the way you want it to, realistically.”
Webb rose shakily to their feet, leaning heavily against Faraday when he immediately reached out to brace them. “Don’t be ridiculous, Jasper. Of course I do. You love dramatically pontificating.”
Jasper tilted his head to the side and looked thoughtful. “Oh,” he murmured. “You are right about that…”
“Jasper…” Faraday echoed quietly, his grip tightening on Webb.
Ariadne hissed in a soft breath of recognition as well. “What happened to Grimm?” she insisted.
“Oh, him…” Jasper said dismissively, despite the fact that he was talking about a prolific, rich, and powerful vampire lord. “He decided after a while that he was sick of all the people crawling around him. So needy, always wanting. He was looking for a worthy successor to take over… management of the day-to-day, so he could retire in peace. I’m not sure where he is now, but good on him for following his dreams.”
Ariadne had an expression a little like she’d bitten into a lemon, gaze flickering briefly over to Webb. “Alright,” she said slowly. “Even if we believe that, how did you end up in that position? I don’t recognize you…”
Jasper gave her a thoughtful once-over that quickly turned dismissive. “Oh, you’re one of Grimm’s spawn, too.” At Ariadne’s continued insistent glare, he continued, sounding put-upon: “Well, you see, despite being someone that was growing tired of the rabble, he and his did like to grow the clan. They picked me up one day, wandering the forest and quite delirious, and thought I’d be quite fun to play with. But the old man took quite a shine to me, made me a successor instead of a snack, and after that, the rest was history.”
“Like hell it was that easy—”
“You’d gotten away from the Erl-King?” Webb interrupted. “You escaped?”
For the first time, Jasper’s gaze turned dark—something about that question had hit home. It was subtle enough that Webb didn’t think the others noticed anything at all, but Webb picked up the slight tensing of Jasper’s jaw, the dull anger that pulsed in his gaze.
He smiled, a rictus grin. “Oh, not right away,” he said with feigned nonchalance. “Not for… some years. And you know, Webb, when I finally got out—I couldn’t find you, much as I looked. And when I finally heard about you from Sia… well, honestly, I was surprised that I was able to play with you as long as I did before you noticed that it was happening.” He paused. “Though, I’m not sure I should give you credit for even that much…”
Webb stiffened. Next to him, Ariadne let out a growl under their breath. Frantically trying to piece this all together, Webb put a hand on Ariadne’s arm again and squeezed, even as their mind was racing a mile a minute.
“You were the one seeding my contacts with misinformation,” they said slowly. “To… punish me? Some sort of misguided way of getting my attention like a cat leaving dead rats at my door?”
Jasper’s haughtily amused expression turned into a faint scowl at that. “I thought you’d have caught on more quickly,” he said, looking smug again after a moment. But it wasn’t a no—just a deflection. “After a while, I really just wanted to see how long I could make it last.”
“You’re right, I didn’t figure it out,” Webb said. “Until the Inquisitors showed up, and Ariadne and Faraday. But you didn’t send them.” Not based on what Vyo the changeling had said, and the information Pax had shared. “The Erl-King was looking for me, too. The one that got away. They were sent by him.”
Faraday looked a bit horrified. “The Inquisitors are in league with the Erl-King…?”
Webb nodded. “They’re all some kind of fey,” they said. “They’ve got to be. Jasper wouldn’t have had any reason to call out his own game and try to take me by force, not after all this time. But the Erl-King was trying to find me, and wanted to try to steal me away before Jasper got me. Before Jasper realized that the Erl-King had picked up my trail, maybe.”
“It meant I did have to snatch those most recent kids of yours quickly so you’d be sure to come this way,” Jasper said lazily, seeming pleased with himself. “But you came to me obediently like a good little lamb. Which reminds me…”
Webb, still thinking hard and trying to tie together the last threads, reacted much too slowly as Jasper moved sharply, ripping away from Lore’s shadowy grip. He was inhumanly fast, faster even than Ariadne, as he all but teleported directly in front of Webb, his hand grabbing Webb’s throat.
“Nothing personal,” Jasper said brightly. “But we have one more thing to do to make sure the Erl-King knows you’re mine, not his, once and for all.”
Everyone seemed to move at once, then. Ariadne launched herself at Jasper, only to be slammed back with one quick, sharp movement of his fist, catching her hard in the chest and leaving her winded and snarling. Faraday caught her as she stumbled. Lore pummelled into Jasper from behind, but seemed startled to be repelled by some kind of magic that shimmered around him briefly, causing Lore to slide off like an oil slick on water.
Webb’s vision had already started to blur as Jasper tightened his grip. They tried to blink, tried to refocus their gaze, to do something, but Jasper just gave them a self-assured smile, brittle and cruel.
“Oh, kitten,” Jasper said, “that’s not going to work a second time. Now, do stay still, unless you want this to hurt.”
Webb tried to draw in a shuddering breath and squirm away as Jasper moved his grip from their neck to their waist, pulling Webb’s hair to the side to bare their neck. Webb felt their heart racing helplessly, their blood pounding. Helpless, useless—
An enormous rumbling bang shook the building so hard that both Webb and Jasper staggered in place. Jasper’s head snapped up in surprise, eyes wide.
Close your eyes, Webb heard-slash-felt Lore’s soft voice reverberating through them. They obeyed instinctively, closing their eyes tightly.
Even through their closed lids, the sudden flare of light and heat in the room was palpable. A heartbeat later, Webb flinched back at Jasper’s sudden shriek of pain and the sudden scent of smoke and searing flesh. Falling heavily backwards, cursing as their elbows hit the ground, Webb squinted one eye open as the bright light seemed to fade, trying frantically to get stock of the situation.
Jasper had reeled back several steps towards the back of the room, both hands pressed over his face, which was streaming viscous smoke. His hands were mottled and burned, flaking away in dusty fragments.
Suddenly panicked, Webb looked around for Ariadne—just in time to see her crawling out safely from within the safe embrace of Faraday’s coat, which had expanded to cover both of them. Without missing a step, Ariadne charged forward, slamming into Jasper bodily and sending him staggering backwards towards the open window.
Jasper looked for a second like he was about to catch his footing and lash back out at Ariadne, despite being blinded and in searing pain. Webb saw Ariadne brace for impact, her fists swinging up to deflect—
But Jasper’s foot became ensnared in the curtains that entwined around him as though they had a mind of their own, hauling him backwards as his momentum carried him over the edge of the frosty windowsill, pitching him out towards the forbidding, frozen ground with one final, infuriated scream.
Webb braced themself for the crunch of impact, but another heavy boom rattled the chateau, along with a cacophonous rising of screams and shouts from down below.
“What—the fuck is that noise?” Webb hauled themself shakily to their feet, feeling bruised and battered both physically and otherwise, but without the reprieve to even begin processing those feelings or treating those hurts. “Ariadne, Faraday, are you okay? Lore—??”
Webb felt a soft whispering movement next to their ear. “I’m here,” Lore said, voice softer than usual. “I used up a lot of energy there, but I’ll be fine after I rest.”
“Did I know you could erupt into a fiery pulse of sunlight?” Webb demanded. They whirled on Faraday. “Did you??”
Faraday was striding over to the window, taking a moment to look down and get a view of the situation down below. “Lore whispered it to me right beforehand so I could protect Ariadne,” he said. “… it looks like we have—guests? There’s some kind of fighting. Something’s on fire.”
“Fighting with who?”
As if on cue, there was a soft pop behind them. All of them whirled as one, ready for trouble—and saw a high-heeled and soot-smudged Pax pop out of a portal, looking worried and alarmed.
“Webb!” Pax took a few slightly wavering steps forward on impulse, his eyes going wide. “Thank the nine hells, you’re alright!”
Webb stared back at him. “Pax? What happened to you? Is that—is what’s going on down there your doing?”
Pax flashed them an eager grin, tail lashing. “Oh, yeah. Veracity really got to thinking after we got more information outta Vyo, and did some digging. I’ll fill you in more later on how those talks went, but basically she decided that maybe right now was the most opportune time to make a move on Grimm’s stronghold, here.” He crossed his arms, glancing aside and looking suddenly, uncharacteristically flustered. “Especially after you sent me that… last somewhat cryptic text, I may have… strongly advocated for us taking advantage of the opportunity to—”
Webb took a few shaky strides across the room and gathered Pax up in a tight hug, pressing their face into Pax’s brimstone-and-strawberry smelling hair and inhaling deeply.
“Thanks,” Webb said quietly. “I owe you one.”
Pax seemed to be reeling somewhat. “I, um,” he stammered. “It’s nothing—I mean, actually, it was pretty outstanding, you’re right, but—”
“This is really cute,” Ariadne said very loudly, “and I am here for it, but I think the building is on fire and we still have people to rescue??”
“We should probably do that!” Pax agreed, taking a hasty hop back out of Webb’s arms. “I think we’ve got some people working on freeing the unwilling guests, but it couldn’t hurt for us to start helping from the top down, especially if there’s someone in particular you’re looking for.”
Webb nodded. “There is, yeah,” they said quietly. “I made a promise to someone that we were going to rescue his friends, and I plan to make good on that.”
They cast an uneasy glance back at the open window, but nothing ominous was materializing there. Snow had started to drift in, and the heavy curtains slowly drifted in the cold night air.
Ariadne approached Webb’s side, giving their arm a little squeeze. “Webb…?” she murmured gently. “Are you gonna be okay?”
Webb tore his gaze away, giving her a little smile. “I think some therapy is probably in my near future,” they said. “And also, we’re currently on a mountain in a burning building that’s full of warring vampire clans. Objectively, I’ve been in better situations. Rarely in worse ones, actually. But—”
They paused, hesitating as their gaze fell on their hat, cast aside where Jasper had dropped it. They thought about symbolically leaving it behind, then immediately reconsidered because they were still on a fucking mountain and even pointy ears they were no longer ashamed of could still get frostbite. One had to be realistic about these things. They grabbed it.
“I’ll be alright,” Webb said, taking Ariadne’s hand and tugging her along as they followed Faraday and Pax back out into the hall.
An epilogue will be posted tomorrow evening ♥ For today’s comments, please let me know any lingering questions that you’d like to see addressed in the epilogue or any scenes or specific things you’d like to see resolved or touched on onscreen. I can’t promise to fit everything in, but I’ll do my best to grant as many wishes as possible. I’ll host a Q&A this upcoming week to answer any additional curiosities you may have that might not necessarily be onscreen-worthy or able to be worked in.
Again, thank you so so much for coming along with me on this ride that took longer than originally planned for (wheeze). I really hope you enjoyed it! And yes, there will be a sequel to deal with the Erl-King and other outstanding mysteries… some day. But I promised my cats normal bedtimes from now until the end of the year at the very least.