Halloween 2021 IF

  • Halloween 2021 IF,  Interactive Fiction

    Halloween I.F – “That Which Lingers” – Day 42

    [ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ] 

    That night, for the first time in over ten years, Webb didn’t dream of the hunt.

    The forest was quiet and still. Pale moonlight filtered through the heavy canopy, giving the forest an eerie silver glow. Webb found themself curled up in a cradle of gnarled tree roots, half-sunken in a bed of lush moss.

    In the near distance, they could hear the gentle burbling of running water. The rustling of leaves in the wind. The occasional buzz of insects, and the eerie call of birds that Webb didn’t know how to identify, mainly because they didn’t know shit about birds. 

    Despite the tranquility of the scene, Webb’s heart was pounding so hard that it felt like it might split their ribcage open. They tried to sit up, but found that the forest was holding onto them tightly. Vines coiled, snakelike, around their arms; roots shifted and groaned against the earth, trapping their feet into place. Underneath them, the soft ground began to sink, enveloping them, soggy and sucking.

    Before Webb could do more than draw in a sharp breath to scream, a hand slid around their mouth from behind, pressing tightly. A mouth brushed against their ear as their head was tilted unyieldingly to the side, baring the line of their throat. Another sinuous arm eased around their waist before hauling them back, locking around them with a grip like iron.

    “Will you walk into my parlour?” A voice whispered. Their lips were close enough to Webb’s ear that they could feel the warmth of their breath. “‘Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy…” 

    Thrashing in place, Webb tried to bite down on the hand covering their mouth, frantic and furious. A moment later, they felt a sharp, piercing pain in their neck as they felt someone bite down—

    They woke up in bed with a gasp, pawing frantically at their throat with both hands. Next to them, Ariadne stirred but didn’t wake, her cheek squished so hard against her arm that there was a soft red indentation. Faraday, who had had his arm draped over Webb, rolled onto his back and half-roused, blinking and confused, rubbing his eyes.

    “Webb…?” he muttered sleepily. They’d done their best to try to pin the curtains closed before sleeping, but some thin streamers of afternoon light were seeping through, falling in stripes across Faraday’s body. “Is everything alright?”

    “It’s fine,” Webb managed to get out, breathless, heart still racing. “Go back to sleep.”

    Faraday seemed hesitant, but still too asleep to fight it, slowly closing his eyes again. Webb watched him until they were sure that Faraday’s chest was rising and falling rhythmically again, then carefully disentangled themself from between the two of them and made their way to the end of the bed.

    In front of them, their shadow stretched out, long and distorted, rising up against the wall—before oozing into a solid shape with long hair and a heart-shaped face, brows drawn in concern.

    “Webb,” Lore murmured, keeping their distance but hovering nearby, worried. “Another nightmare…?”

    Sitting on the edge of the bed, Webb finally began to feel their breathing slow. They shakily lifted a hand to their neck, half expecting to pull their fingers away dripping with blood. They were both relieved and surprised when it came away dry.

    “Yeah… ” Webb said uneasily. “They happen a lot. It’s fine, though. Don’t worry about it. I’m pretty awake now anyway, so…”

    “Mm,” Lore hummed noncommittally at the instruction not to worry, but after watching Webb for another unsettlingly long moment, they just gave Webb a slight smile and leaned in to kiss the top of their head. “We should be heading out shortly anyway, so…”

    Webb reached out to catch one of Lore’s hands, squeezing. “Let’s give Ariadne and Faraday a little while longer,” they said. “Let’s just… I don’t know. Can you sit with me for a while?”

    “As long as you’d like,” Lore promised.

    Would that it could be, Webb thought. They knew very fucking well that they had no time left at all.

    The dream still clung to Webb throughout the remainder of the afternoon, though by the time Ariadne and Faraday had woken up and arrangements were had to eat food and brew coffee and make plans, it had faded mostly to an uncomfortable background hum.

    “So, we try to find this Niall fellow,” said Ariadne in between bites of takeout, cross-legged on the bed, “and just have a pleasant little chat with him. Then head up Bloodstone and juuust… see what we find?”

    “I mean, I was kind of hoping you’d have more of an idea of what to expect, given that you were there before,” Webb pointed out.

    Ariadne wrinkled her nose. “It’s been a really long time,” she said. “I don’t know how much has changed. But… from what I can remember, basically you can only get up there via gondola, or by, I guess, travelling up the super long way using the access roads.”

    “Or by magical means,” Faraday pointed out.

    “I’m not sure we have magical means that would be helpful in that case, do we?” Webb asked. “Actually, now that I think about it, what can the lot of you actually do? Given that we’re plunging into unknown waters here together, I figure that might be relevant? Like obviously Ariadne’s a hard-hitting bloodsucker, Faraday does a mean cross-stitch, and Lore is spooky as shit…”

    Lore made a small noise; Webb couldn’t tell if it was protest or approval. Faraday sighed, running his hands back through his hair.

    “The easiest magics for me to do are those that let me channel through threads,” he said. “But as for what I can do with them, it can be pretty flexible. Just, the further outside what resonates with me personally, the more difficult and draining it is.”

    “Faraday can do a lot of creative things to get us out of a pinch, if needed,” Ariadne said agreeably, glowing with a little bit of pride as she gazed at him. “But something like flying us up a mountain is not really…”

    Faraday ducked his head, squeezing her hand. “Yeah, no. But, I can continue to weave some spells that’ll help us from being detected, or to sneak past locked areas…”

    Webb nodded. “So we’ll just keep that in our back pocket as needed.” They sighed, rubbing their face. They had their own abilities, of course, but there were only limited situations where they thought those might be relevant. Even among those, they didn’t really want to think too hard about it. “Great. I’m feeling more confident about all of this by the second.”

    “Webb… ” Ariadne murmured sympathetically.

    “And what about Grimm?” Webb asked her. “And the other vampires, I guess. Whether or not Grimm himself is actually going to be making an appearance, under the circumstances. What’s he like? What should we be watching out for?”

    Ariadne worried at her lower lip. “I mean, as a person, I remember Grimm being… kind of egotistical. Hedonistic, self-centered. Not constantly cruel, I mean, not to the people around him. If you were his, he wasn’t exactly kind, but he liked to see his clan enjoying themselves. It’s just that his loyalty to anybody else was very conditional, so it’s not like anybody could ever trust him, they’d just try to stay on his good side.”

    “So that’s probably going to be the sort of people he surrounded himself with?” Webb wagered, trying to wash the sour taste of that thought out of their mouth with a sip of coffee. “The general, I don’t know. Vampire sex party vibe.”

    Ariadne made a face. “I mean, not everybody, obviously. But I guess. You’re likely to see a lot of people just trying to have a good time, no matter the cost. And potentially with very bad taste.”

    “Though it’s not like we’re immediately going to be walking into a heavily-guarded fortress or anything,” Faraday pointed out. “It’s an actual functioning ski resort. Normal people go up there all the time.”

    “Just not everyone always comes back,” Webb said wryly. “Fuck. Skiing vampires.” They looked at Ariadne. “They do ski, right? Like, these are actually vampires who live there and engage regularly in winter sports?”

    “I prefer snowboarding?” she hazarded.

    Webb groaned. “Of course you do.” Heaving themself to their feet, they raked both hands back through their hair. “Let’s just get this over with. I am so resigned to heading into the spooky fucking wilderness and making my way to vampire fuck mansion. This might as well happen.”

    As a group, they had nothing to speak of in the sense of baggage or belongings—regrettably, Webb had realized, when they had to wash their boxers and tank top in the sink, earlier—so there was no point in not checking out of the inn. The desk clerk, the same one from earlier, favored them with an easy smile as the three of them (plus Lore, hidden) made their way into the lobby.

    “Ah, good evening,” they said. “I trust you slept well?”

    “It was fine,” said Webb.

    “And the room? How did you find it?”

    “It was so cute,” Ariadne enthused, her eyes bright.

    “The bear robes were a big hit,” Webb said dryly.

    The desk clerk pressed their hands together, smile turning foxlike, pleased. “I’m so happy to hear it,” they said. “Business has been somewhat slow lately, so if it wouldn’t trouble you to leave reviews in all of the usual places, you know, Welp, Fourscare…”

    Webb exchanged a look with Faraday. “Slow, huh?”

    The clerk—Ibis, Webb noticed from a little placard on their desk—let out a little sigh, before favoring them with a curious look, resting their chin on one hand.

    “Ohhh, yes,” they said. “Had you not heard? It’s been quite… contentious out there as of late. Really impacting my bottom line, if you know what I mean.”

    They said it like it should be some kind of innuendo, but Webb either couldn’t understand it, or couldn’t be bothered, under the circumstances. “We’d heard some things about people going missing,” they said. “Our, uh, our ride up here told us not to go wandering off alone.”

    “Do you know anything more about that?” Faraday asked, thoughtful.

    Ibis tapped a long fingernail against their lips. “I don’t know if I should say,” they said. “Are you the type to stay out of trouble because I warned you about it, or the type to go haring off after it?” They grinned, leaning forward on both bony elbows, folding in on themself somewhat as they looked the group over, thoughtfully.

    Webb fought not to glance too obviously towards the door, a little antsy. A few questions were rising to their mind: about the vampires and the fae, the disappearances, the Hallow Society, the various people they were keeping an eye out for—Jenny, Lekha, Sia…

    But on the other hand, they couldn’t be sure of the ulterior motives of anybody they met, not really. Especially not this close to one of Grimm’s strongholds. What if Ibis already knew who they were? What was safe to say, or ask about? Not to mention that Ibis seemed to want some kind of convincing…

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

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

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  • Halloween 2021 IF,  Interactive Fiction

    Halloween I.F – “That Which Lingers” – Day 41

    [ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ] 

    Compared to the number of strange things that had happened to Webb in this single wild, feverish night, they expected the salmon faucet to be a little bit of a letdown. And yet, somehow, it didn’t disappoint.

    Maybe it wasn’t the faucet itself, exactly, that left Webb feeling content and indulgent as they sank into the newly-filled bath. It could have been Ariadne’s glee, or Lore’s quiet fascination, or Faraday’s wry amusement. The ease with which the four of them seemed to have fallen into some kind of approachable, easy pattern.

    But that all seemed much more complicated than it needed to be. Maybe Webb was just enjoying west coast nautical décor in all its splendid simplicity.

    They closed their eyes and just let themself drift, enjoying the moment with all its ridiculousness. Through the door, they could hear Ariadne and Faraday chattering, with the occasional barely-audible murmur from Lore. They were watching the cooking channel, which was the only valid thing to watch in a hotel room. Ariadne seemed to be getting a bit heated about it.

    Life, for just this brief and trembling moment, was good. Webb tried not to think too much about the night yet to come.

    [ Just a teaser tonight since I was writing the 18+ interlude from last section.

    Which you can read here (NSFW) ♥

    Tomorrow: back to the plot with your comments from last night! ]

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  • Halloween 2021 IF,  Interactive Fiction

    Halloween I.F – “That Which Lingers” – Day 40

    [ Please read the kickoff post before commenting! ] 

    “We… did say we’d pick up where we left off, last time,” Webb said, trying for nonchalant, but their heart was beating very fast and it came out a bit breathless. “Though, I mean, the circumstances aren’t exactly…”

    “I’m not in a rush,” Lore said, a little flustered. “I mean—in terms of that sort of thing. I really just wanted to know if you wanted time with them, or…”

    Webb wrinkled their nose, knuckles bumping up against Lore’s cheek. “I’m not sure what impression you’re working with, here.” They lowered their voice somewhat, rolling onto their back, coaxing Lore to ease back with them. “I’m not—I mean, I like them, obviously, but—”

    Webb was in no way equipped or qualified to be having this conversation or confronting their feelings about their companions in any way. And yet, and yet…

    “I see,” Lore hummed, pouring over Webb like an exhalation of smoke. Their expression was  soft, fond and patient and a little teasing. But apprehensive, too; Webb could see concern in the way their brows creased, the light indentation of their teeth as they worried at their lower lip. “Well… either way, it’s fine. Though, keep in mind, I was shadowing you when you kissed Faraday in the truck—”

    “Don’t remind me!” Webb protested, swatting at the coils of hair that were winding their way around their wrists.

    “And when you and Ariadne got bitey in my sitting room…”

    Webb blew at them, which did absolutely nothing. It seemed Lore had control over what their amorphous body was doing at all times, which made Webb feel all sorts of ways. They settled on flustered, grabbing a pillow and yanking it over their own face.

    “I’m sort of getting this impression,” Webb said, muffled into the pillow, “that you like to watch.”

    Lore was quiet for so long that Webb immediately lifted the pillow back up to search for them, suddenly worried that they’d said the wrong thing. Lore hadn’t gone far, but they were sitting back, arms wrapped around their legs, chin resting on their knees as their hair pulsed behind them like the tendrils of a jellyfish.

    “I… do,” Lore mumbled shyly. “I do like to—observe people. I won’t, obviously, without your permission, not for… not for anything you’d rather I not. And there’s things I want to experience for myself, of course, but I just—”

    Webb sighed, reaching out their hands to try to coax Lore closer again. “Is that a you-thing, or a shadowfolk thing, or…?”

    “A little bit of both,” Lore hazarded. This time when they leaned down, they stayed more corporeal, a surprisingly warm weight against Webb’s side. Webb hesitantly leaned in and pressed their face into Lore’s hair, feeling it stir against their cheek. “Is that… alright?”

    “I like you,” Webb said simply, finding that the words came with surprising ease, even though it came out a little hoarse. “I’m… not really sure what to do with all this, but I’ve liked you for a long time. I’d look forward to your letters, our visits. Also, what you did to me earlier tonight was simultaneously the hottest and most terrifying thing that’s ever happened to me, and I’m into it?”

    Lore let out a choked, horrified little laugh. “The most terrifying? After what you just told us? I’m so sorry…”

    “No, no, I meant, I was both horny and afraid,” Webb assured them hastily. “Not mutually exclusive. It’s a good thing.” They drew in a deep breath. “But it felt nice. I… I’d like to do that again. If you liked it. That… going inside me—and also, I mean. If you want to watch… whatever, it’s fine, as long as you get the consent of everybody involved?”

    Lore’s eyes widened. “I see,” they said, eyes wide. They looked shy, amazed, a little overwhelmed. “That’s…”

    “Only if you want to!” Webb said immediately, feeling their cheeks burn and wondering if they’d just majorly overstepped. “Fuck, I mean, it’s been a really long night for everyone, and emotions are running high, and my experience with and capacity for emotional relationships of literally any kind has long since rusted, so—”

    Lore leaned in to kiss them again, framing Webb’s face with both hands. “That all sounds very, very nice,” they said softly, against Webb’s mouth, smoke licking at Webb’s tongue and lips, coiling under their nose. “I don’t… have a lot of experience with relationships, either. But I value… you. And this. I’ve tasted what you’re made of and I’m hungry for more.”

    Webb felt a sensation rush through them that they were very sure was something violently short-circuiting, a heated rush of electricity that left them gasping a little weak. “Oh, wow,” they breathed out, stammering, trying frantically to remember how to string words together in ways that made sense and weren’t just some variation of hello, yes, please, more.

    At the back of their mind, they knew they probably shouldn’t commit to too much. Even now, some part of them was frantically sending up warning bells, making their breath come fast and their chest tighten. Years and years of don’t get involved, don’t let them close. Whatever they were plunging into with Lore seemed the antithesis of that in every way, but—

    They’d been empty and alone for so long that as much as the rush of warmth and heat felt like they’d drown in it, if they were running around risking their life and dashing their personal comfort zone to pieces, they might as well get something nice out of it along the way, not just the miserable parts.

    Lore was watching them with heavy-lidded eyes, their lashes heavy, waiting for Webb’s reaction. Idly, Webb wondered what the long-term effects might be of having let Lore in—could they tell what Webb was thinking or feeling right now? Did they have to let them fully inside again? Or were they, like Webb, relying on expressions and words and actions?

    Webb decided to err on the side of the latter, leaning in to give Lore a gentle kiss, a little teasing. “You are quite intense for someone that seems so mousy.”

    Lore made a soft noise, shoulders shaking with laughter. “You like it, though.” They managed to make it mostly sound like a confident statement rather than a prompting question, which just earned a laugh out of Webb in return.

    “I like it,” Webb agreed. They brushed Lore’s hair back again, leaning back in, then stopped suddenly, turning their head towards the front hall. “Fuck, I forgot about—”

    Ariadne and Faraday were nowhere to be seen. After a moment, Webb realized that they could hear the muffled sound of running water coming from the bathroom, beyond the closed door. Two bathrobes were laid out on a nearby chair.

    “Ah,” Lore said softly. “I think they saw that we were… talking… and decided to. Give us some space.”

    Webb let their head fall back on the pillow, letting out a muffled laugh as they dragged their hands down their face. “That’s probably for the best,” they muttered. “I think trying to deal with my feelings for you and them at the same time is way beyond my current level.”

    Lore stroked Webb’s hair lightly. “There will be time,” they said softly. “For this. For them. For… everything. I’m very determined to get you out of this alive.”

    Something twisted in Webb’s chest. They left their hands over their face for another beat, taking a deep breath, then reached out both arms to Lore again.

    “I don’t have the heart to believe in promises,” they said, voice rough and raw. “But I’ll accept that in the spirit it was meant. Still, there’s this very nice moment that I’ve been afforded with you, and I’d really like to live in it fully.”

    Lore’s eyes, dark in their shadowy face, still seemed to brighten somewhat as they leaned back down into Webb’s embrace.

    “I did feel bad about leaving you wanting, earlier,” Lore said softly. “Let me make it up to you…”


    Interlude: 18+ (NSFW)


    Afterwards, Webb lay panting on the bed, still half-clothed and feeling like they’d run a marathon. Although Lore had pulled back enough that Webb was no longer feeling them along every nerve and with every breath, they still remained pressed close, cradling Webb in their arms and pressing lazy kisses against their temple.

    “Fuck,” Webb breathed out, trying to nip at Lore’s ear and just getting a mouthful of smoke instead. They let it loll around their tongue indulgently before exhaling. “Did you—you’re amazing. Are you—was that…?”

    “Shh,” Lore murmured, bumping their nose against Webb’s. “That was wonderful. That was perfect.” A bit shy, then: “Not… too weird?”

    “It was incredibly weird,” Webb said fervently. “In the best possible way. Fuck. I have to go make eye contact with Ariadne and Faraday, now. I need to use the bath. I need to kick them out of there and they’re going to know that you just railed me on the bed that we’re all going to sleep in together.”

    Lore’s hair was squirming like a nest of snakes, which Webb was beginning to identify as a sign of amusement on their part. “Oh no,” they said seriously, not sounding sorry at all. “Poor Webb.”

    “Poor Webb!” Webb grumbled, rolling over with great effort, groping around until they found their discarded binder, shirt, and Ariadne’s sweater. They stared at them all balefully for a moment, then tossed them off the side of the bed, shimmying down to their boxers and hauling a bear robe on overtop of it.

    They made it partway to the bathroom, then abruptly doubled back, running back over to give Lore a brief, urgent kiss.


    “I’m complaining, but it’s happy complaining,” Webb assured them quickly.

    Lore blinked, then eased into another wide grin, resting their foreheads together. “I know,” they murmured. “I know you.”

    Webb closed their eyes tightly, drawing in a few deep breaths before easing back away again, making a second attempt to head towards the bathroom. They stood outside the door for a moment, cheeks flushed, weighing the pros and cons of listening in before knocking—after all, Faraday and Ariadne had clearly done them a solid by making themself scarce for a bit. If they were busy—

    They heard a sudden laugh from the other side of the door. “Webb, I can smell you,” Ariadne called out, sounding far too chipper. “Are you going to come in, or what?”

    Webb let their head thunk against the door. “Ariadne, you’re killing me. Every single one of you is on thin fucking ice.”

    They were smiling, though, still buzzing with a sleepy, warm sense of satisfaction—even as wisps of thought and worry about the day started to creep in again unbidden, like shadows. They knew they’d have to start planning again soon. Was there anything else they needed to talk about with the others before setting out once again? Any preparations they needed to make, or any questions that they’d left unanswered?

    Still, sleep would come first, and whatever that brought with it. At least tonight they wouldn’t be alone.

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

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

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  • 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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