Halloween 2021 IF,  Interactive Fiction

Halloween I.F – “That Which Lingers” – Epilogue

[ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ] 

“They’re going to be fine,” Niall said, stepping out of the infirmary and shutting the door gently behind him. “They’re resting now.”

Webb startled, immediately trying to sit up from where they’d curled up on their side, head on Ariadne’s lap. They’d lost track of time and had clearly dozed off. They scrambled to catch Faraday’s coat before it slid off them onto the floor.

“Oh—good,” Webb said. “All of them? How’s Jenny doing?”

They’d made it back to Shadewick with the help of Pax and some of the other demons allied with Veracity and her clan. Pax had ducked out again to go back and, in his words, help everyone finish cleaning up the mess, while Webb and the others took those who were injured to get treated by Niall.

“A bit of blood loss, but we were able to get a transfusion going. A few smaller injuries here and there, but I don’t think I’ll need to call in any outside help.”

Webb exhaled, their shoulders slumping in relief. Niall was a bit cranky and obviously proud of his work, but he also clearly put his patients first and wouldn’t mess around in that regard.

“Thank you,” Faraday told Niall seriously. “Is there anything we can do?”

Niall crossed his arms. “I need you to get out of my hair,” he said gruffly. “You showed up in the middle of the night with a dozen people needing treatment. Go make trouble somewhere else for a bit.” His severe expression softened slightly, and for a moment Webb was sure they saw a hint of a smile. “… you did good out there. Reckless, and crazy. But good.”

Webb ducked their head, cheeks burning slightly. “We got lucky,” they said quietly. “But yeah. I’m relieved, too.”

Niall shrugged a shoulder. “Luck can be a factor. It’s rarely the deciding one as often as people think it is, at times like these.”

“… I think that’s a compliment,” Webb said, “but I think I’m as uncomfortable taking compliments as you are at giving them, so why don’t I just—”

“Yes,” Niall nodded vehemently. “Get out of my house.”

Ariadne snorted, sliding her arm under Webb’s arms and tugging them to their feet. “Come on, come on, everyone,” she said. “Time to go…”

Webb wasn’t altogether certain where they were going after this. Their priority—after making their way around the chateau unlocking doors and freeing people and dealing with the occasional spicy vampire—had just been to get everyone to safety, and to get themselves off of Fuck Mountain before the vampires got really rowdy.

Now—they didn’t know. Was it really time to rest? There was still so much on their mind, so much they were unsure of. So many questions they still didn’t know the answers to.

They headed with Ariadne and Faraday towards the door—Lore still, as usual, present but quiet in Webb’s shadow, contributing the occasional murmur to keep Webb reassured that they were still there.

As they passed through the hall towards the front door, the door to the infirmary opened slightly. Webb could make out one wide gray eye peering through the crack.

Thank you, Artem mouthed at them, giving Webb a shaky smile.

Webb felt their ears burning again and hastily gestured with their fingers for Artem to close the door before Niall caught up with them and noticed him out of bed. Artem gave them a grin in return and nodded, closing the door once more.

Jenny and Eli hadn’t been in amazing shape when they’d found them, but it had been mostly scrapes and bruises from brawling with the vampires in the forest. Eli had a mild concussion, and Jenny some significant blood loss, but they’d made it before anything worse could happen.

Webb was trying not to think about it too hard, because thinking about it made them feel dizzy, and they were already a little shaky on their feet. They bid Niall a final farewell and drew in a deep breath before stepping out into the street.

It was quiet in the village at night, and peaceful—a dramatic contrast to the chaos they’d just fled from. The light dusting of snow crunched softly underfoot as they made their way back down the pathway towards the center of the village. Fresh snow had started to fall at some point while they were inside, fluffy flakes spiralling down, illuminated in every pool of lamplight.

Webb tucked their hands into their sleeves, exhaling a visibly frosty plume of breath. “Now what?” they murmured. They weren’t sure why they felt compelled to keep their voice low, except that raising their voice felt like it would be jarringly out of place. “Back to the inn…?”

Ariadne worried at her lower lip with her teeth, glancing over at Faraday. “It’s a bit late to try to get back out of town.”

“We probably should at least find somewhere quiet to talk and rest for a bit,” Faraday pointed out. “And I’m not sure a small town like this has a lot of late-night spots.”

“The inn is fine,” Webb said. They heard a loud caw from somewhere nearby, and started to pick up their pace a little. They knew there were normal birds around, but they weren’t about to take any chances.

The lights were still on in the inn, though Webb was surprised to see Ibis still sitting at the desk, looking up from their tablet with a smile.

“Oh, welcome back,” they said. “I hope you’re well. I trust you had a fruitful evening?”

“It could have been worse. Yeah, that’s… yeah. Let’s just go with that,” Webb said, well aware that the dark circles under their eyes were close to generating their own gravitational force at this point. “Any chance we can get a room again?”

“Not a trouble at all.” Ibis rested their chin on one hand, twirling their fingers in an idle circle. “If it’s of any interest to you, I typically charge… a little extra for additional services, such as enhanced security.” They blinked, smiling, their gold eyes bright. “But I’ve taken a bit of a shine to you. How about tonight on the house?”

Webb raised their eyebrows, shoving their hands in their pockets and rolling back onto their heels briefly. “That’d be very kind of you,” they said slowly, a bit wary.

Ibis laughed. “Before you ask, my cautious one,” they said, “I did feel a bit of a shift in the wind, shall we say. The situation as it had been was a bit troublesome for me… so really, it’s one good turn for another. This time, anyway.”

“Fair enough,” Webb said. There was a time for paranoia, and there was a time for this might as well be happening. “We’d appreciate that a lot, actually.”

Ibis gave them a wink, handing over the key-cards again, and waved them off to their room.

The three of them took turns washing up—quiet, for the most part—and didn’t bother to turn on most of the lights before just stripping down to their underclothes and piling into the bed. Ariadne fetched a few extra blankets, mumbling something about Faraday getting cold, but then spent most of her efforts piling everything on top of Webb until they were so heavily flattened that they couldn’t move if they wanted to.

Luckily, they didn’t want to. They lay flat on their back as Faraday finished turning out the lights and came to bed with them, sliding in on Webb’s other side and draping an arm around them both.

“Hey…” Ariadne whispered into the silence. “Webb… are you okay?”

Webb closed their eyes, letting out a slow breath. They could hear the soft tick, tick of a clock nearby. Faraday’s hair smelled like lavender. Ariadne’s cheeks smelled like hotel lotion. The sheets made that soft rustling sound that only hotel sheets seemed to make.

“I don’t… know,” they said eventually, reaching up to touch their hand to their neck. They felt a little stirring of cold and shadow there, and felt the sensation of fingers threading between their own. “Do I have to answer that?”

“No,” Faraday said gently. “And no matter how you answer—it’s okay either way. But if there’s anything that we can do…”

“Or anything you want to talk about,” Ariadne added, nodding, pressing her face against Webb’s hair, a quick kiss against their temple. “We’ll listen.”

“I feel like there’s a meltdown just barely being held at bay,” Webb admitted. “Like there’s just too much that happened and I’m going to have to process it and I have no idea how that’s going to go, but right now I’m just… worn out.”

But despite that, they also felt warm. And despite everything, they felt safe—if only for a moment.

Out there in the darkened woods, the Erl-King still lurked. Watching, waiting, with his innumerable spies. Vyo the changeling, the Inquisitors, the birds that attacked the gondola… it had been well over a decade and Webb knew without question that they were still being hunted. The hunt would not end until Webb had been caught, or had dealt with their pursuer once and for all.

Then there was Jasper. As though she’d read Webb’s mind—or more likely, just had her thoughts drift in a similar direction, Ariadne said hesitantly, “I’m sorry for what happened with Jasper. I know you said you two… used to be close.”

That did sting a little. Webb swallowed, feeling tears of mingled grief and anger burning at the back of their throat. “I’m sorry, too,” they said, unable to keep the bitterness out of their tone. “I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him either way. Disney death rules, right? I already made the mistake of assuming he was dead once—can you imagine if I did it again? I’d never hear the end of it.”

Ariadne choked out a horrified laugh. “No, I suppose not.”

“So that’s at least two people after me,” Webb said lightly. “Maybe three, depending on what actually happened to Grimm. I imagine we’ll probably want to find that out, yeah?”

Ariadne seemed slightly surprised. “It’s… on my mind, still,” she admits. “What Jasper said, it could be true, but…”

“But Jasper clearly has the trustworthiness and predictability of a bag of angry squirrels,” Webb said. “So… we can keep that one on the list.”

“Is there going to be a list?” Faraday asked quietly.

Webb tensed up slightly, breath hitching. “I, uh—”

They realized they had been automatically thinking this was going to continue. This… whatever this was. Them, together, doing things. But Ariadne and Faraday had really just wanted to make sure Webb was safe from the Inquisitors, and to interrupt whatever was going on with people being kidnapped by the Grimm clan, and that was all sorted, so maybe they just wanted to go back to their nice life and their nice magic shop and their—

Faraday put a finger on Webb’s lips. “Hush,” he chided gently. “It wasn’t a trick question. If you want to pursue this—Jasper, the Erl-King, Grimm, anything… I’ll be right there with you. Until you decide it’s done. I can’t speak for Lore and Ariadne, of course—”

“I can speak for myself,” Lore interrupted. “I’m going with you.”

“I’m in,” Ariadne agreed instantly.

Webb felt their cheeks heat up and tried to bite Faraday’s hand out of long habit. Faraday just laughed, and let them.

“… I have to do something,” Webb muttered eventually, turning to press a gentle kiss to Faraday’s palm instead. “I don’t think it’s safe to go back home, but… honestly, there’s nothing… nothing really back there for me, anyway. And I can’t just… go on looking over my shoulder for the rest of my life.”

“I want to go back to my tower eventually,” Lore said softly. “But it’s been there for a long time. It can wait a while longer. And maybe you can stay a little longer this time. And properly enjoy it.”

“I want to show you our place someday, too,” Ariadne said with a smile that Webb could feel against their shoulder, even in the darkness. “So maybe it’s less of a going back, and instead, a going forward…?”

Webb couldn’t find anything to say to that. Their throat worked, but all that came out was a little choked breath.

Faraday bumped his forehead against Webb’s. “We can figure that all out… later, perhaps,” he said. “I know there’s a lot looming out there right now, and it feels like you have to solve everything at once, but… you don’t, actually. We can go somewhere for a bit to recover and make some plans. And we’ll deal with everything when the time comes—and no sooner.”

“That sounds… nice,” Webb said helplessly. They felt like there was something, anything else they should say under the circumstances, but they kept rummaging around for words and just pulling up television static instead. Their eyelids felt heavy, their chest tight.

“… he wasn’t right, was he?” they asked hesitantly, after a moment. “That I’d done anything wrong. That I’d abandoned him.”

Both Ariadne and Faraday tightened their arms around them in unison.

“Absolutely not,” Ariadne said fiercely. She sounded like she might try to climb out of bed right the fuck now and go stomping off to find him.

“He was being a real dick,” Webb said, hoarse. “But I did miss him. I grieved for him. I loved him. He was my best friend, and more, so I guess I’m still…”

“I think you’re going to probably feel a bit messed up about that for a while,” Faraday said. “And honestly, we should probably get you a professional to talk to…”

“Multiple professionals,” Ariadne agreed. “Ones that can help you work through trauma. Others that can help us get really good at hunting down intolerable, abusive megalomaniacs and kicking their asses.”

Webb let out a startled laugh, feeling the knot in their chest easing, just a little. “Yeah, okay,” they agreed. “We can… we can look into that.”

They let their eyes drift closed. After a moment, they felt several pairs of lips trying to kiss them all at once—on their temple, their nose, their cheek. They heard Ariadne giggle.

“We can look into that,” Faraday agreed. “But not right now. Right now… you need to rest.”

“And celebrate,” Lore suggested softly. “You did something big, Webb. You should be very proud. You all should be.”

“Yes, let’s celebrate,” Ariadne insisted, wriggling a little closer. “Webb, where do you want to go? What do you want to do? Spa day? Hot springs? Expensive sushi? Oral sex??”

Webb burst out into helpless laughter, blindly trying to put a hand over her mouth. They felt the playful prick of her fangs as she tried to frantically gnaw at them, aching gentle.

Faraday laughed as well. “I did mention that my family has some lakeside property not too far from here,” he said. “It’s not too deep in the woods, and the wards are good, so…”

Webb gently tuned them out as they chattered back and forth about all the ideas they had in mind. As far as Webb was concerned—and they were mortified to realize it even as the thought crossed their mind—they’d already been given something unimaginably rewarding.

They didn’t know what was in store for them in the days, weeks, or months to come—but they felt strangely calm about it. Maybe even a bit excited. For the first time in a very long time, they had a future they actually wanted to bother showing up for. Their life was a story they were in charge of telling; it wasn’t just a story they watched others living while they let their own pass them by.

Lore stirred next to their ear. “Lively…” they whispered disapprovingly, but they sounded a little amused as well. “Should I get them to let you rest?”

“No, I’m good,” Webb said. “I’ve got this all figured out.”

They gave a little tug at Ariadne’s hair, pulling her into a kiss. She made a startled little noise, then smiled against Webb’s mouth in return, kissing back eagerly. In the dim light, it took Faraday a moment to realize what was happening, but when he did, he let out a soft chuckle.

“Alright, alright,” he murmured. “I get the idea—mmph—”

After that, there was no more talking. Outside, the snow was beginning to pick up into a storm, and the wind howled down the mountain and through the trees, dark and cold and forbidding. But inside, Webb was warm, and not alone, and they had everything they needed.

the end

Thank you, thank you, thank you if you’ve made it all this way with me ♥ I’ll follow up tomorrow with a little author’s note and Q&A for a chance to ask any questions you’d like about the story, the process, or the characters! 

I’m very grateful to everyone who commented and helped to drive Webb’s choices, as well as those who just quietly read along! For all those that got here one way or the other (either now or in weeks or months to come), I’d love if you dropped me a comment to let me know. I hope you enjoyed it, and that my not-so-little story about a grumpy gremlin finding their way brought you a lil bit of happiness in these wild times!

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