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 Bleeding Black [closed/solo]

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PostSubject: Bleeding Black [closed/solo]   Mon Oct 31, 2016 8:31 pm

He hated this place, but what could you do?

Ryan rapped his knuckles against the door and swung it open without waiting for a reply, poking his head through the frame. "Boo." His voice was muffled through the blank white mask. He let it slide off his face to hang around his neck, the fixed, stony expression replaced by a soft lopsided grin. "Trick or treat. Can I come in?"

A girl snapped up from her book to stare at him, brown eyes wide as dinner plates. Young, and pretty in a common sort of way, her hair a brown unbrushed tumble around her shoulders. She looked stranded there in the middle of this giant room, all alone on a bed, an island in a sea of spotless red carpet. Despite the ornate detailing along the walls, it was barren except for the bed and an old mahogany dresser tucked away in the corner of the room. He wasn't even sure if she'd touched it. They were waiting on her hand and foot, at her every beck and call, but sometimes it felt like she was the butler, and they were the pampered guests. Her new wardrobe wasn't much, sure. They'd pulled it together on short notice, busting out some old-fashioned dresses out of the back of some unused closets, but every time he saw her, it felt like she'd scrounged up some even older, plainer outfit. A few times, he'd walked in on her trying to clean the place. Was it that bad in here? What kind of kid forced themselves to do chores?

Her face lit up. "Happy Halloween!" she exclaimed, sitting up a bit straighter. "Duh you can come in."

No, she wasn't a maid. She reminded him more of a princess in a tower.

"Perfect."

So what did that make him?

He made his way over and tore the mask off, tossing it at her knees as he plopped down at the foot of the bed, pushing the curtains aside. A canopy draped down from the ceiling, a thin dark red gossamer that didn't ease the fairy tale comparisons. "What are you reading?"

"Just what you gave me last time." She flipped through the yellow pages, flashing him a faded cover. The poor thing looked older and more smacked around than he did. "Nancy Drew. Remember?"

Huh. He'd almost forgotten. Had it been that long? "Rings a bell," he said. "Those were my mom's favorites. I remember her trying to get me to read them."

"And you didn't?"

"I guess I'm not much of a reader." Ryan shrugged. His mom would've disappointed he still hadn't made the time. "I just have a hard time paying attention. You're smarter, so you'll get more use out of them than me."

She scoffed. "Whatever. I'm not that smart either..." Her mouth twisted into a frown, glancing back down to the pages. "It took me forever to get through this..."

"How far are you?" Whatever it was, it was farther than he'd ever gotten. He could sit down and kill time for hours, but if you put a book in front of his face, he couldn't go two paragraphs without all the words blurring together in his head. It killed him. Maybe that's why he'd gone down this road.

"Well, this is my second time through..." She spread open the book again to show her progress, thumb over the spine, about halfway through the book.

Ryan ruffled her hair, making her recoil back, arms flailing with a yelp of protest. "Then bull-freaking-crap to that," he laughed, pulling his hand back to his chest. "You're smart. Admit it."

Her hands flew up to smooth her hair back down, but it was still a tangled mess, the same tangled mess it'd been before he'd even opened the door. "Ugh," she choked. "You're like my sister..."

His smile curdled, just for a second. Sister. That should've been a sweet, innocent word, but all he could see were the flashes of white and blue, those dead eyes, a glowering face wracked with scars. How could it be the same?

She hadn't caught it, and she kept speaking. "And I'm not smart," she murmured, sullen. "It's just been awhile."

And there's nothing else to do, he finished in silence. The rest went unsaid. Not when you're locked up in here. He sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. "I know. I try to visit when I can, it's just... I can't check in back home that often." Even right now, he was on a business call. "Don't be afraid to ask for a book or a game or something. Whatever you want here, it's yours."

She didn't have an answer to that, just picked at the corners of the book with her head down. He rubbed at his face and stood up, brushing the curtains away and slipping his hands into his jacket pockets. Fuck it. What was the worst that could happen? "Tell you what," he said, smirking as she glanced back up. "Why don't we go trick-or-treating? You and me."

Her eyes lit up, and he could see her almost gasp, but she didn't let herself smile. "But—where...?" she asked, fiddling with her fingers. "There aren't any other houses around here..."

"There's a lot of people staying here tonight." He almost stumbled on the word. Friends? Family? Coworkers? 'People' was the safest bet. "They've got all this candy and no one to hand it out too. We can go door to door."

This time she let herself grin, still wringing her hands. "Is that really okay?"

"Duh. You're the boss around here."

"But I don't have a costume." Man, did she have to do that? It was like she wouldn't let herself get excited. Every time he saw that little bit of hope swell up, she squashed it back down, looking for an excuse to deflate herself all over again. She was someone used to being let down. Well, fuck. He wasn't going to be another disappointment. While he was still here, he was going to make up for some lost time and make this the best damn Halloween she'd had in years.

"Don't worry about it. I'll make it happen." He grinned, all too cocksure, and all too fucking clueless of how he'd pull it together. That didn't matter. He'd figure it out. "You start practicing your game face. I'll be back in..." Ryan checked his watch, just for show. "Twenty minutes. It won't be something lame, either. You're gonna scare the shit outta everyone who sees you."

"Language!" She tried to knit her eyebrows together, but that was that thousand-watt smile he'd been looking for.

"Sorry, sorry." He waved his hand, making his way back toward the door. "You're gonna scare the piss outta everyone who sees you."

She eased back down on the bed, clasping her hands together. "Twenty minutes?"

Ryan turned the old brass knob and glanced over his shoulder, grinning. "Twenty minutes. Be ready." He swung the door open and stepped outside with one last smile. "That's a promise, Lain."

Beaming. She was beaming and fuck, that was satisfying enough.

"...Okay!"

He clicked the door behind him, fingering at the red ribbon laced around the knob, and then made his way down the winding halls.
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PostSubject: Re: Bleeding Black [closed/solo]   Mon Nov 14, 2016 6:24 am

Now how the hell was he going to do this?

He traced his finger along the wall, eyes following the red string looped along the light fixtures, stretching all the way down the hall and throughout the mansion like a web. The Patterson Manor sprawled across the plains like a small town, a fortified compound with hundreds of rooms, enough for hundreds of guests. Tonight, and just tonight, they were moving a couple legions of their people through on their way out of Seattle. There'd been some big fuck up at the school nearby, a few dozen of their operatives going rogue, and now the lady up top was throwing a bit of a fit, if the rumors were anything to go by. If anything, they were lucky they hadn't been killed, or worse. He couldn't help but frown imagining the place, a smoking ruin. The school the Pattersons had helped build. A slaughterhouse.

Ryan had been there a few times, but never past the gates. He could only look at it a distance, and imagine the haunted halls crowded with students in blissful ignorance.

Ever felt nostalgic for something you weren't around for?

"You caught all that, right Faith?" he said, letting his voice ring through the empty halls. "Where the hell am I going to get a Halloween costume?"

The shadows didn't answer.

It wasn't long before the sound picked up, a muffled din just on the edge of hearing. Patterson Manor was a bit of a checkpoint, and every once and awhile, people would pass through, maybe recoup a bit before going on their way. But it was rare for there to be this many, like tonight. They were trying to re-arm, regroup, and reorganize a small army. The logistics gave him a headache, but even if it was his house, he wasn't the one worrying about it. That was on his dad's shoulders.

He followed the noise until he was walking through the west wing, retracing the imprints in the expensive carpet. This part of the mansion was more like a dorm hall than guest rooms, crisscrossed corridors with twenty doors each stretching from one end to another, people in black milling between the rooms laughing, shouting, conversing. Unlike Lain's part of the estate, quiet and isolated, this place was full of life. He heard a few hails and shouts of greeting over the ruckus, and Ryan held up his hand in hello as he passed, ducking past open doors and weaving through the busy hallway traffic, people carrying swords or boxes or changes of laundry. Someone with a pink mohawk and a full sleeve of tattoos tossed a handful of candy across the floor as he passed, screaming 'Halloween, bitch!', the room hooting with laughter behind him.

Ryan laughed with them, stepping over the mess, but it was hard to imagine these were the same people who'd burn a town to ash without an ounce of regret. They all have their reasons. He wasn't any different. They came from every corner of the globe, every shape, every size, every sort of gift, some of them so young they still hadn't graduated middle school, some of them so old they needed a cane to walk. You asked ten people in that mansion how they'd gotten into all this, why they'd follow Agrona, and you'd get ten different answers. The only thing that bound them together was that color. All black. Some were in suits and ties, street gear and skinny jeans, muscle shirts or short shorts, but they all wore that color. Black. Ideologues, misfits, freaks, family men and rebels. They'd all been brought together under one person.

He was near the end of the hall when a weight slammed into his back, almost making him lose his balance. Ryan stumbled forward with an 'oomf', black-sleeved arms clinching around his neck, white-socked legs wrapping around his waist. "Wh—! Heyyy...!"

"Ryaaaaaaaannn!"

Ryan grit his teeth, tottering from side to side as he gripped the underside of her thighs, fighting to keep himself upright. "Snow! Jill!" he grunted. "Get your fat ass—...!"

"WHAT?" She pulled her grip around his neck into a stranglehold, and they both went crashing to the floor. Snow released her grip on him as she spilled across the carpet, puffing out her cheeks. "I was trying to surprise you!"

"You surprised me..." he muttered, pulling himself up to slump against the wall with a sigh. A few people dodged around the commotion, ignoring the every day scenario.

Those pale blue eyes were shooting daggers, still sprawled across the ground. "You called me fat!" she sputtered.

He stood up, dusting off his pants and returned her glare. "Anyone your age is too fat for a piggyback ride. Now get off the floor." Snow stuck out her tongue as he bent over to clasp her hand, helping her pull herself to her feet. White gloves, a soft and supple silk that bunched up around her wrists. She broke their brief contact with an indignant 'hmph!', crossing her arms and cocking her hip, head turned away from him.

You'd be an idiot if you thought Snow was fat. Anyone would've told you that. She had a gymnast's body, lean and lithe, shapely legs with just a hint of muscle. Most guys stopped staring when they looked her in the eyes. There wasn't anything wrong there either; long silver hair, a heart-shaped face, skin like porcelain. Her eyes were a steel blue, almost gray in the right light, a striking color that'd caught him off guard more than a few times, even after all the years they'd known each other.

It was just... How did he put it?

She was... expressive.

That was how you could pick out the rookies in a crowd. Veterans knew better than to stare. Agrona's pet. A mad dog. He couldn't help but think she looked more like Agrona's kitten.

"Danny lets me," she muttered, still not looking at him.

He felt his eye twitch. "The man probably fears for his life," he snapped back. "And don't call him Danny. It's Callahan. Mister Callahan."

"Mister Whatever," she snorted, reaching into her cloak. He took a step back, flinching away from the silver flash in her hand. The thing was monstrous, notched teeth cut into a curved machete-like blade. Thick, built for crushing bone and muscle under the weight of steel, not clean cuts. Their warped faces were reflected in the polished metal, a glint of light running down the edge as she hewed it carelessly through the air. "Look, see? They cleaned it up! That's all I wanted to show you, jerk."

I hope you tipped them. Her sword had been a mess the last time he'd saw it, bent and blunted and still dripping when he'd shoved her off toward the armory. "They did a good job," he said, and her grin grew with his, leaning back to avoid another showy slash through the air. Even he still felt a bit queasy remembering it. Working in their house staff had always been a thankless job, but there was only so much anyone would do for what they paid them.

"Your house is super cool!" she beamed, her irritation from a couple moments ago forgotten as she fell in beside him, the both of them moving down the hall. "Like, suuuuuuper cool! Why didn'tcha tell me you had a room like that before? It was just full of so much... stuff!"

She would be a kid in a candy store surrounded by guns and knives, wouldn't she? "You didn't have one of those back home?" he joked.

Snow swatted him over the head. "No duh I didn't have 'one of those back home.'" Her voice dropped into a low, dopey timbre to mock him before fluctuating back to her typical sing-song pitch. "Do you think normal people just have swords hanging on their wall?"

"Do you not do that in Canada?" he muttered dryly.

"No one does that! No one except you!"

It was hard to imagine a normal house in a normal town, a normal Snow with a normal family. Could someone like her really have been a little kid some time? He just couldn't wrap his head around it. Trying to picture her without her gloves and tattered black cloak just gave him a headache, like trying to think up a color he'd never seen before. Just not possible. "You were just the person I was looking for, actually," he said, steering back on track. Before you jumped me. Twenty minutes. He had twenty minutes. "Do you have a Halloween costume, Jill?"

"No..." she mumbled, not even trying to hide her disappointment. "Why?"

Ryan shot her a grin and a sidelong glance. "You can't go trick-or-treating without a costume." He reached out and clasped her by the hand. "You, me, Lain. Are you in?"

Her eyes shot open as wide as dinner plates. Gray pools that caught the light just right. "What? Really? Trick-or-treat where?" The same questions running through her head. Maybe they weren't so different. "And..."

"Is that a yes?"

"No duh it's a yes, but...!"

Shameless. How old was she supposed to be again? He brushed past it with a smirk. "Then I need your help. Race you to the attic?"

"Help with wh—...?!"

They were running short on time. He could explain it on the way. "Ready, set, go!" He let go of her hand and dashed down the corridor without a second glance.

"Urgh! No fair! WAIT UP!"

Less than twenty minutes. He wouldn't let her down.

Her shouts rang after him as she chased him through the mansion.
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PostSubject: Re: Bleeding Black [closed/solo]   Sun Nov 20, 2016 8:42 am

They rushed through the whole west wing, racing after each other heels, tripping and jumping and bumping into people passing through the halls, shouting taunts from across corridors. Snow wasn't just fast, or athletic, she was a natural runner, and down a straight passageway, he couldn't keep up without her loping straight past him with an easy grace that clashed with her giddy skipping and girlish jeering. So he had to cheat. Whenever she'd strip past him, he'd take a hard right down an empty aisle and cut ahead with a cheap shortcut, or step on the back of her ankles to make her shoes slip off her feet. She called that playing dirty, but to him, it was leveling the playing field. It wasn't fair otherwise.

By the time he'd skid to a halt in an empty hall full of leering portraits, he was about ready to sprawl face first across the floor. Ryan panted, hands on knees, slumping next to an old wide set of double doors carved from a rich polished oak, red ribbon strung along the frame like the rest of the house. He could head Snow rounding the corner, sliding like a baseball player across the carpet before scrabbling to her feet and racing to the end of the hall where he sat.

Ryan pushed himself to his feet as she came pounding down the hall, bracing. "Looks like I—..."

"Cheater!"

She slammed into him like a freight train, and they both went flying to the floor to a chorus of grunts and shouts. His head reeled, flat on his back in submission, staring up at her through his bangs. Snow was spitting playground curses at a hundred miles per hour, and he knew better than to tease or argue, not with her on top of him, and not when she had the knife.

Despite all that, she didn't even look out of breath, her flushed cheeks and light pants between mean words the only sign she'd just sprinted across the mansion at all.

"Fine," he grunted, reaching up to massage his chest where she'd laid him out with a full shoulder. Perfect form, as always. "We'll call it a draw, alright?"

She just scrunched up her nose, the way she always did, and slammed a gloved hand in the space past his head. "I want a rematch!" she spluttered, leaning over him. Her long silver hair brushed across his nose, tickling at his cheeks. He was all too conscious of her weight on top of him, trapped between her legs.

Ryan sighed and turned his face away, not letting his sudden uneasiness flicker across his face. "Okay, you win." Whatever made her happy.

Snow gave a low whine of consternation. "That's not what I asked for!"

"You've already got me beat, Jill," he said, avoiding her glare, two chips of dirty ice, gray and gleaming. "I don't have the stamina."

"Whatever," she scoffed. "You're so lazy!~"

He'd never denied it. "Maybe," he said, eyes flicking up to meet hers. Without warning, his hands flashed up, grabbing her by her slim waist and rolled, pulling her down with all his weight. She went lurching over with a squeak, off guard and off balance, flipping onto her back while he went pushing up on his hands and knees, pinning her to the floor. "But when could I deny you anything?" he sighed, a lopsided smirk spreading across his face.

All she could do was pout.

His stomach was doing somersaults. Ryan climbed to his feet and pulled her up by her wrist, turning away and slipping his hands into his pockets as she patted away at her clothes, grumbling under her breath. The blue and lilac eyes of the Patterson portraits seemed to glower in disapproval. He did his best to ignore the flint of heat in his insides, staring out across the hall to some unseen point in the distance. "What I mean is you can have your rematch. Later. We've got a full night ahead of us." Flustered, he almost tripped on the words after he said them. "Trick-or-treating, remember?" he was quick to add.

Her eyes lit up, almost like she'd forgotten in the rush of the race. Considering the whole run-in, maybe it would've wasted less time to have just walked and explained the situation. Oh well. He'd never been the type to think ahead, and Snow wasn't the type to sit still. Bore her and she'd be chasing butterflies before you could finish a sentence.

"But..."

Red string spread across the floor, more of it than he'd seen on the other side of the mansion, maybe eight or nine threads branching off in different directions and all disappearing into the next room.

Here came the questions again. Ryan stepped forward, rapping his knuckles against the thick oak door. "Don't worry about it. Attic. Costumes. Focus." She opened her mouth, as if to protest, but just nodded. He nodded back with a smile. "Good. Let's go."

He turned the brass knob and swung it open, their eyes peering into the yawning darkness. Ryan snapped his fingers, red sparks flying from his thumb, and a burst of flame lit up over his fingers like a lighter. The orange glow stretched out across the room, flickering over old-fashioned dresses and gold-framed mirrors, half-dismantled mannequins and porcelain dolls. After a moment, he stepped inside, searching for a light switch. Snow lagged behind.

"Uegh..."

Ryan hadn't paid it any mind until he realized she hadn't moved. He turned his head to face her, arching an eyebrow. "Hey, what's up?"

She didn't step outside of the safe perimeter of light just outside the door frame. "You know what's up..."

What? Really? He snorted, a chuckle escaping his mouth despite his best efforts. "Don't tell me you're afraid of the dark, Jill."

"I am not afraid of the dark!" she blurted, grinding her toe into the carpet as she leaned forward, hands balls into fists at her side. "It's the room! Look at it!"

"What about it?"

Snow looked at him like he'd grown two heads. "It's full of dolls!" she gasped.

"You're afraid of dolls?" he scoffed right back, flicking out his fingers so the flame grew, expanding like a torch. Light danced across a row of porcelain faces, staring vacantly into nothingness. "Jill, look at us."

"They're creepy!" she shouted.

He couldn't help but look bemused. "They're dolls."

"Exactly!" Incredulity was written across her face. "Why do you have a room full of freaking dolls?"

They had a lot of rooms for a lot of stuff. It was an old house. "Don't ask me." So some great-great-great-great grandmother down the line might have owned a few dolls or something, what about it? It wasn't that weird, but she looked mortified. "It leads to part of the attic."

She recoiled. "The attic," she near spat, shuddering, like the word had taken on a whole new sinister meaning. "Why do we have to go up there?!"

"You want your stupid costume, don't you?" he sighed, waving his hand. The flame followed the motion with a low whoosh, flickering and making shadows dance across the walls. "We came over here to go to the attic, now you're coming with me to the attic. It's Halloween. If you're creeped out, that should be a good thing."

Snow still didn't budge, so he stepped back and snatched her by the hand. He could feel her heat through the glove, an unnatural warmth, like the glow of a stove top. "C'mon. We'll be in and out." She muttered something under her breath, dropping her eyes to the ground, but didn't resist as he led her into the darkness. "I don't want to be alone here either."

"Can't you turn on the light?" she asked once they'd ventured inside, slow steps, their footsteps clacking across the old hardwood floor.

"Couldn't find it," he shrugged. The rafters were lost in gloom, a dark blanket of shadows that even the fire didn't pierce. They were in a hurry anyways; it looked like she might get her rematch on the way back if he wanted to keep his promise.

They were both careful to avoid the streams of red string laid out across the floor, crossing a long hall through cluttered piles of boxes and old clothes. When he stepped on a creaky wooden board, Snow thwapped him across the back of the head. "Ouch! What the hell was that for?"

"Don't scare me!"

"I wasn't trying to!" he snapped back, rubbing where she'd smacked him. Jesus, if she wasn't rough... "Stop being scared!"

"How about you stop hoarding freaking dolls?!"

The two of them argued like that to the end of the room, and his attention only snapped back to the task at hand when he caught a glimpse of the attic door outlined in the ceiling above. A small chain dangled down, looped in red ribbon, but that wasn't what made him freeze. All the threads... Ryan took a step back, and even Snow stopped chattering to stare at it, disquiet filling the room. String draped down like streamers from the gaps, a dozen of them, and when he glanced around him, there were tangles of it everywhere, coiled around the arms of mannequins and snaking across the floor boards toward the other side of the room and the rest of the mansion.

His light seemed to dim, and Snow shrunk closer to him. "Why are there so many...?" she murmured. A web. He bit back a frown and turned his head, toward a doll watching them from a stool, red string choked across its neck, eerily clean and without the film of dust that permeated the rest of the room. Snow didn't notice, and he didn't bring it up. "Maybe we should head back..."

He'd been in that attic hundreds of times as a kid, and that's why this place was the first thing he'd thought of when he'd needed his perfect solution. But this was the first time in years. Had he been stupid, expecting it to be unchanged? Ryan forced a smile that looked more confident than he felt. "Don't be a scaredy-cat, Jill. In and out, remember?"

Here went nothing. Without letting himself think too much on it, he reached up with a small hop and yanked on the chain, bringing the attic door springing open. A ladder folded out to the floor, a sour smell like stale air and mothballs wafting down from the pitch blackness of the attic. The moment his skin brushed against the string entwined with the chain, he jerked his hand back, an unpleasant chill spiking up his arm. When he looked down, it looked like black oil slicked across his palm, but he blinked and it was gone.

Ryan stood, staring into the attic. You could smell the tension, and the longer he looked, the more he wanted to turn tail and sprint back out the way they came. But he couldn't. Not at this point. He'd promised Lain a Halloween costume, and shit, this wasn't exactly Party City, but it was his only option. "Ladies first?" he ventured. Snow raised her hand to smack him for a second time, and he flinched away. "Fine, I get it," he said, his voice barely above a whisper, but it almost echoed in the dead silence. "Just remember I have the light."

With one last breath, he clambered up the ladder, chafing his hands against the rough splintered wood, ascending into the darkness. He heard Snow right behind him, her quickened breathing just on the edge of hearing.

They were standing in darkness. Snow's presence beside him was his only assurance they were still there, clinging to his arm. Even with the fire blazing in his hand, he couldn't see an inch in front of his face. Shadows, a blackness so deep that it drank in the light, thick and heavy and all around them, suffocating like black waves, but there was nothing around them except thin air. Neither of them dared speak, but he could hear his hear thumping in his ears.

Why?

A whisper.

Why?

Was it in his head? Why? A thrumming voice that stirred in the darkness, a hundred thousand miles away, so quiet it had to be his imagination playing tricks on him. Why? But he heard it. Why? The longer he listened for it, the more distinct it became. Why? A mantra, an endless stream, calling to him. Why? Why? Why? On and on and on until it was all he heard. Why? A heartbeat or a lifetime. Why? A crushing cold. Sticky. There were eyes piercing through his back, a moist breath on the back of his neck. Why? Never raised in pitch, never louder, but it might as well have been screamed. Why?

Little by little, his eyes adjusted to the blackness. The shadows seemed to peel back, like a veil.

A small shape was hunched over in the corner of the attic, tangled in red string. Thin as a rail. Lain could've wrapped her whole hand around her arm. Skin as pale as paper, stretched over a gaunt frame, her eyes dull and hollow. She was barefoot, sitting on her knees in a plain black dress, oily black hair hanging over her face. The girl never looked at them; she didn't need to. Ribbon knotted around her neck, her wrists, her ankles, spreading across the attic and behind and below to the rest of the mansion, and she might as well have been another doll on strings, propped up like a marionette.

Why?

So this was the black widow in the middle of the web. Staring at her made it feel like every thought was stripped bare.

Why?

He swallowed, and Jill clasped him tighter. "Hiya, Faith."
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PostSubject: Re: Bleeding Black [closed/solo]   Sat Dec 10, 2016 1:31 am

So there was the monster in the flesh. The shadow that hung over the organization, the darkness that devoured cities, the spider in the center of the web. She was their eyes in every corner of the mansion, watching every man and woman in black for the slightest hint of insubordination. There were a lot of rumors about her, sure. Some people said she was Lady Agrona's niece, or her daughter, or her cousin, or something other than human altogether. But here she was. Faith, their dear Faith, the invisible voice he'd always joked at and teased knowing she'd never answer back.

But now he saw her face to face.

It was an accident, honest.

For a monster, she was frighteningly small. Something tugged at him looking at a little girl tied up and bound like that, just another tool in Agrona's armory. No matter what she was, or who she was related to, they had a girl locked up in an attic all alone.

"Ry..." Snow strained, voice quivering. "W-w-we have to go."

He held up a hand, chewing back the fear. It's alright. Ryan had meant to say it, but it caught in his throat.

Why?

"Happy Halloween."

Silence. Why?

"Didn't mean to disturb your alone time..." He could feel Snow tugging frantically at his sleeve, but he ignored it, creeping forward. "I just used to play up here all the time as a kid, whenever I wanted to get away from Wayland and my dad. They had these freaky cool costumes, and it's kinda embarrassing, but I'd have fun playing dress-up with all the old mannequins..."

Silence. Nothing. She didn't even raise her head. He kept walking.

"I guess that does make me weird, doesn't it? Or maybe Jill's just the scaredy-cat out of the three of us... She always was. How long have you been up here?"

He waited. Fuck it, he'd wait all night if he had to. The word flit across her lips again, thrumming on the ribbons like power lines. Why?

"Don't you wanna come trick-or-treating with us? You're not too old for that, right?" He put one foot in front of the other like he was walking a tight rope, stepping over the coils of red string strewn across the attic floor. "Aren't you bored up here? Are you allowed to leave? It wouldn't hurt, would it...?" They weren't even a foot apart now. The cold aura was overwhelming, wet and sticky, a musty smell spiked with the sharp scent of something like arsenic. "If you're mad, we didn't think we'd run into you up here, so we're sorry..."

Somewhere behind him, he could hear Snow scrabbling down the stairs to make her escape. He waited, a cold bead of sweat running down his cheek. She never answered.

Ryan crouched down, dug into his pocket, and set a chocolate tab just in front of her. "Anyway," he whispered. "Happy Halloween, Faith."

He gathered up some cheesy rubber masks and cloaks out of the first box he saw and headed down after Snow. It was all nice and casual until he was back down out of the attic, but then he was running, sprinting, not caring about the little bits and pieces that fell out from his arms as he made his way to the light on the other side. The dolls seemed to angle themselves to watch him run. Ryan heard the attic door shutter close behind him, but he never looked back.

Jill was waiting for him on the other side, flushed and panting, eyes as wide as dinner plates. "You big dumb stupid jerk idiot—...!"

Even he had to admit he deserve the punch.

"Let's just take your stupid dumb dresses or whatever and get out of here... Ugh! I'm shaking so much I'm gonna, like, puke or something!"

Ryan sat up from the floor, careful not to bleed onto the costumes. Or maybe that'd add to the aesthetic? "That's just the sugar, Jill. You've probably cleaned everybody out as far as candy goes."

"Don't even friggin' talk to me right now!"

Strong language coming from her. Ryan grinned through bloody teeth and stood up, miraculously still holding onto his bundle that had survived the flight from the attic. "Yeah, yeah, I get it," he sighed. She'd be over it in five minutes. "You're right. C'mon. Let's get the fuck outta here."

He needed to lay down with some serious medication after that one.

They both skipped off together.
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