Witching Hour

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Christmas Eve, and all it Entails

5450

Samantha’s alarm rang. And, as per usual, was left to ring. Let it sing its song. Let it fill that hollow void with its mocking tone. It was a far cry better than the misery and despair that had seeped in and weighed her down like a thick, sodden quilt.

That, and her phone was on the desk.

Her body didn’t have the strength to toss aside the covers. Even then, it was little more than a tinny sound in comparison to the maelstrom swirling in her mind. Why did it matter, anyways? Her class was doing arts and music, things they didn’t necessarily need her for. There was nothing like a war to be had, no battle to be fought, aside the one she was waging herself, and, even if there was, she wouldn’t show up to it anyways.

Let the world burn, and take me with it. I’m already in Hell, so it can only be an improvement.

However.... her cell continued to chime away. It did not give up hope. It continued to ring its rallying song, trying to pull her from the mire she sunk into, going so far as to drag her back through the sludge, sucking, slurping her into its miasma. The harder it pulled, the heavier the slop became, dragging her into its brackish depths, keeping her ever from the surface. She gulped down what cleaner air she could before tasting the fetid murk she was forced to labor through, but it fought for her, even if she wanted to drown in the bog.

Oh, and the true cherry icing on top of the shit cake? Her period decided to show up a few days early... Couldn’t... couldn’t that twat understand the pain she was in, her misery- THEIR despair? And she wasn’t talking about the literal seeping exit wound below but that trumpeting bimbo on the desk. It must have at least understood her confusion, even if simply wondering why it hadn’t been answered yet, why it hasn’t received an inkling of attention. YET it continued to soldier on, and even seemed to rise on the edges of her hearing, whistling against that storm still billowing. A note underneath seemed to surface, a high-pitched whine, a familiar whine. An unwelcome whine.

“All right. You win, you pieces of shit,” she grumbled, and left it to ring its triumph as she rolled out of bed and wormed her way to the bathroom. Literally. One by one, her covers were shed, until she was before the sink, clawing open the bottom cupboard. Praise be to Midol and Ibuprofen; she popped quadruple. It was double what she usually took, but it should be enough to keep everyone else alive. Win-freakin-win... Sadly.

She gulped them down dry, and remained curled on the floor, waiting for them to take effect, wanting her cramps to die down even a touch –or at least finish the job and take her away. It was at least one ache that would go away- and they did. Much to her dissatisfaction. She sort of hoped she would be proven wrong, but now she had no choice but to stand and stare at that bitch in the mirror.

And saw another behind her.

“Sup?” Minos said, and chortled as she squeaked. He rubbed her shoulders, humming yet still laughing as she gave him an evil look. It was split between him and that other thing that was in front of him. It looked somewhat living, but that could easily be changed. So... so easily... As could his, if his hands went any lower. “Was that girly little scream for me?”

“Yeah. Sure. Okay.” She shrugged him off, and wheeled, digging her finger into his front. Metal started to form a bit too excitedly, splintering into shrapnel that tinkled onto the ground, while the dragon already took flight. What she wouldn’t give for it to tear her head off at that moment, but that was asking way too much. It was her favorite little parasite, after all. “The fuck are you doing here?”

“Oh... you know... suicide watch.”

“Suicide wa... why the hell would I need--” Dammit, Norman! Quit reading my mind!

Minos simply shrugged, though, still laughing. STILL. LAUGHING.

“Well, you never know. You weren’t allowed to roam or go see your boy toy. You may explode from lack of cock.”

“What are you talking about? You’re around all the time.”

He reached down, tugging on his red boxers. “Does that mean-”

“I’m calling you a dick... A comically oversized one, but that makes up for what you’re lacking below.” She huffed, rubbing her brow as she leaned on the sink, finally turning the water on. Its brisk bite eased some more of that typhoon, but it would be a while before the drugs settled into into a storm that didn’t keelhaul her. “I’m not going to kill myself... Not yet, at least, so do you mind?”

He rolled his wrist, bowing, then sidled and backed into the bedroom-

And jumped on the bed.

He winked at her, chortling as she shook her head. He picked up the blankets left in her wake it seems, her path clear as she walked passed and plopped into her chair, turning off her phone at last... and seeing the laptop underneath. The “new” one. She didn’t even tell Lilith –but when has she ever needed to tell her anything. It was... basic compared to her other, an older model with a button to press it open. She did, making the most satisfying click, and found it had both a trackpad and a nub, as well as a long line of LEDs that burst to light when she turned it on, finding it was at full power. There was a note on the desktop, FROMLILITH.

Take better care of this one, all right? A laptop is a valuable tool for teaching; no reason to squander it on petty things.

‘Valuable tool’, huh, she thought, brow twitching. Wonder if she means it.

Samantha groaned, rubbing her forehead. Her head ached even more than it did before- and was continued to persist thanks to a certain annoying... No. No. She wasn’t going to let him have it. She hummed, opened the browser, which, thankfully, IE was NOT the default browser, and looked up some music, wondering how... how W... HOW W-

She couldn’t.

She spun on Minos, catching that foot as it tried to prod into her back again, seeing him smirking.

“What?” She shrieked.

… He held up a tampon and pad. “You don’t want to stain your clothes more, do you?”

Samantha blinked, then growled, stomping into the bathroom again... but had to return for the items and new clothes. She gave him the bird before slamming the door. The wall groaned, seeming to reach out for her, to tend to her when she just wanted to be left the fuck alone. At least it understood. At least it withdrew, and even warned Minos, backing up her “pet” dragon as he leaned against the other side, his chuckles still echoing, bounding, hammering against her head.

She opened it again soon, in a fresh, yellow tee and gray slacks, still glaring at him while he beamed. Down. At her. He bowed again, rolling his wrists to her desk... where an assortment of food awaited on a large, golden dish. Four pancakes, each as thick as three normal plates, were stacked to the brim on one of the plates housed on that golden tray, coated in syrup. It was flanked by long, crisp bacon and sausage on another saucer. Maple, if the smell that ravished and seeped into everything in the room was to be believed. Eggs sat on another, both scrambled and fried, with a bit of toast, buttered to unhealthy perfection.

“When did y-” She began, and Norman and Monica peeked out from the kitchen.

“Norman was the other on watch... while Monica sort of just... showed up,” Minos said, and tousled her hair. He jumped back into the bed again, gesturing to the plate. “Well? Go on and eat.

“As... nice as this all was, you didn’t need to do it,” Samantha grumbled, her temple twitching with the jingle of bells.

Monica whined, shaking her arm as she continued to ring, tugging her towards the plate.

“Come on,” she said, drawing it out. “We worked hard on it.”

“And I thank you... but you guys need to go.”

“No can do,” Minos said, chortling as he smacked her rear. “Have to watch and make sure you don’t give yourself a shotgun facial.”

“But... there are no guns down here. How can I do that withou-”

“Well, that’s not entirely true,” Norman cut her off, frowning at his transgression. “There is that pistol in your desk drawer.”

“The what now?” Samantha rushed over to her desk, a bit too fast for her head’s liking, and sat in its chair. She wheeled it back enough for her to open the only drawer in the entire desk... The only drawer... and she had completely ignored it. Her heart froze, seeing the hand cannon there –not an actual hand cannon as Monica had, as Minos presented, but enough that the barrel looked like it could hold a round that could punch a golf ball through whatever it was aimed at.

She picked it up, hands trembling against the cold grip, trying its best to pull her into the drawer with its sheer weight. Far heavier than she expected a handgun to be. She practically threw it back into the drawer, making such a heavy thump, a wonder the wood didn’t cave around it, and she slammed it shut, panting.

I had that this entire time? She thought, rubbing her arms, feeling... dirty. I had that just sitting in here! With Bella in the room- with Buffy- MONICA! I could have been killed so easily if they knew... or did they know?

“Nobody else knew. I’m so sorry, Sam,” Norman said, approaching her with a glass of milk. He hugged her, squeezed until she squeezed his arms back, and sat behind her on the bed, sighing. “I thought you knew-”

“No you didn’t.”

“Okay, but I assumed you did. Your dossiers told you of using a gun, and you were nonchalant about that detail... I hope you don’t mind no OJ. Wasn’t sure if you wanted to brush your teeth, and that’s just an evil combination.”

“I... it’s fine... the no OJ part I mean... and I guess the other.” She slowly wheeled around, setting the glass of milk on the table as she did, and reached out for him. He froze, stiffened on the bed, but it took only a little goading to have him slip onto her lap, to be held tight in her embrace. She sniffled, crying as she caressed his hair, shaking so much. “Thank you Norman... You don’t know how much this means to me.”

“I kind o... I mean, it’s alright, Sam. J... I need to go get everyone else’s ready.”

“You can skip the pancakes for me, Norm.” Minos said, smiling wide. “I love lots and lots of meat.”

“What a coincidence! Me, too,” Monica said, leaping onto the bed with him.

“Still pissed at you.”

She made sure there was at least two feet between them when she landed, pouting, and giggled. Norman stood during and hurried into the kitchen, the sounds (and smells) of fresh batter and meat hissing and sizzling and reinvigorating the air.

“Are you two going to fuck?” She asked.

“What?” Samantha and Minos both exclaimed.

“I mean, you’re absolutely depressed, he’s just as worried; if you two fuck, you’ll feel better.”

“It’s sound logic-” Minos began.

“Absolutely fucking not!” Samantha cried out, wheeling around to her food... if only to hide the heat that had blossomed in her cheeks. She tried to douse it in fluffy pancake goodness, to wash it down with the milk, but it still burned so hot. “You can have breakfast, but then all of you must leave- wait, you can’t... Fine. Norman can stay. I’d rather have him watch over me than you two any d-”

She gagged. The world flashed as she clenching her throat, her heart racing as the pancake wedged perfectly in her windpipe. She spun around again pointing to it, glaring at Minos, his foot still raised. His smile was gone. As was Monica’s, both bolting from the bed. Minos had her turn around, leaned her on chair, and thrust against. Monica appeared before her, placing a bucket in the chair- just in time to be filled.

Samantha panted, gasping, croaking for air as Minos lifted her into his arms, cradling her as he placed her once more in the chair –not in the bucket, of course.

“You okay?” He said; she nodded... and he biffed the back of her head. “I know you love to take big things into your mouth, but you have to actually chew food.”

“Hah... hah... hahah,” she croaked. Monica returned with a glass of water, chugged down before she returned to the golden platter. “I’ll see you guys in class.”

The last few days of class rolled through without a hitch, once more to Samantha’s dissatisfaction, but... at least it was the holiday break- again. The Black Halls were alive with music. Each room, each nook, every bit of metal echoed the classic tunes of Christmas, playing for its eve.

It started at 9AM on Monday. On the dot. Samantha was trying her best to get in a little bit of sleep, ignoring her phone and her actual alarm... and her live-in alarm as best as she could. Of all people, Ayn had volunteered. Samantha highly doubted she did it out of the goodness of her heart; She simply wanted out of that moldy breadbox.

Regardless, that didn’t change the fact that she was there. And annoying her. Ayn continued to poke and prod her; she even sung along to the music after a time... and, when that wasn’t enough, sang it badly. Either off-tune or out of tune... Both made Samantha more and more agitated by the minute. You could hear the clock ticking down.

Until it hit 00:00.

Both Ayn and her phone were flung out of bed by a shriek that seemed to emanate from the Halls, themselves. It rippled, reverberated, distorted both itself and the world around before squawking to the festive airs it would soon haunt all with. Samantha was panting as she lumbered to her feet, glaring down at Ayn.

“The hell was that?” She said, breathless.

“What was what?” Samantha said, yawning. And finally took notice of the music. “Wow. I thought that was all in my head.

“Give it time. It will” Ayn groaned, cupping her ears. “Every fucking year...” She risked her left, pointing at Samantha’s laptop. “Quick! Put on something else.”

Samantha only half-hardheartedly agreed. She didn’t hate holiday music, but if it caused Ayn that much pain she could only wonder what it was doing to the others. Another thought loomed on her mind, though, an event that was on the brink, waiting to overshadow her. She tried to stay ahead of it, opening her laptop, waiting for it to load, but the golden rings beside, kept in a fine, black box, were making it rather hard to stay that way.

“Does it matter?” Samantha grumbled, scrolling and humming –in time with the song that was on. Ayn could learn a thing or two from me.

“Hell no! Just cover this fucking shit.”

Samantha put on classic rock, turned it up to full, and Ayn sighed as she fell back into bed, welcoming those strums and chords.

“Thank you.”

“You know I can’t keep it on all the time, right?”

Ayn gave Samantha a long, hard look, and simply ignored that statement, grabbing her book off the nightstand. With that, it was Samantha’s cue to leave and start her day. She made a promise to Norman, that they would continue in the game at last, so she headed for Jack’s room. The little ragamuffin (and Norman) was already there, both huddled over their handhelds. Pushed to full volume. A common trend from hereon out, she wagered.

“Sup?” Jack said... eye twitching. Samantha would have asked why, but she could hear it from their games, flushing a little at the degree of yelps and moans that escaped them. It came to a point that Jack finally jerked his head away from the system, glowering at Norman. His character uttered a long, shuddering breath, going into a string of them as he made her enter demon mode. “Did you have to choose hentai mode? Seriously! There were fourteen other voices, and you chose Monica?”

“But of course,” Norman said, sticking out his tongue. “It doesn’t annoy me.”

“You evil little plushy bastard,” Samantha grumbled, and sighed as she sat beside Norman. “I guess it’ll only be the three of us, huh?”

“Yup. Both Marcy and Buffy told us to go to Hell,” Jack said. “Really, I sort of figured it was going to only be Norman and I, but then he assured me you would be joining.”

“Does that bother you?”

He looked up at her. “Should it? You haven’t done wrong by me or hurt Norman in any way, so you are always welcome. Now get your cunt in here.”

She scoffed, and turned her game on at last. The new one. She hadn’t had a chance to play this one yet; although it was very much like her first game, it had several different mechanics, different play styles, different everything that it was enough for her not to relax, for her to crunch the device a little in her hands when they got to their first, big task: a boxing ostrich with feathery dreadlocks.

The room was filled with soft cursings and grumblings. Tension rose as the time got ever closer to its end. It wasn’t even that hard, but all three were trying something new, well out of their comfort zones. Norman seemed the less fazed, using the minimum style that gave the most skills on a weapon that didn’t have many moves to begin with. Jack decided upon a fast, flippy playstyle with the infamous baguette... while Samanatha? What did she do? She picked up a bagpipe and thought, This will be perfect to fly with! She didn’t even like the weapon in the first place, but anything was better when you can fly, right?

Jack dropped his handheld in his lap, groaning as he laid back, carted- but shot up hearing the fanfare. Norman and Samantha stood victorious over the Mike Tyson’s chicken, the final notes of Samantha’s song playing before she holstered it and carved the green punchy bird. Norman bounced on the bed, humming as the room filled with the knives harvesting digital bits, while Jack, finally able to stand up, checked the time in-game. And guffawed.

“49:59,” he said. “You passed by the skins of your teeth.”

Samantha, however, wasn’t as relieved. Her hands ached on the system, taking their sweet time to pry off as she carved it. She heaved a heavy sigh as the reward screen came, huffing.

“My gods, that took forever,” she said.

“What do you expect? ” Jack said. “We’ll be farming something soon, but... nothing has grabbed my attention.”

“Your fault for playing female,” Norman sung.

“Really? Really! That’s what you’re going with, you sonofa- get over here!”

Jack grabbed and reeled him in, tousling his hair as Norman tittered, only stopping for the loot. Samantha groaned, looking at her four rare crests... yet not a single scale. She kept quiet, though, until the others said anything- of which Norman whined, shaking his head.

“This game hates me,” he grumbled. “It gave me nothing but bones.”

“Gave me scales,” Jack grumbled. “Cunt?”

“... Bone as well. Thankfully we don’t have to fight this more than three times-”

“Unless Buffy actually does join us,” Norman said, looking at the empty chair across. Though black silk hung from the walls, it did nothing to cover for its drab wooden plating, eaten away in some areas, reminding all that it was still but a steel box and that there was an empty seat, a wanted place. A welcoming place. Norman pulled out his “phone”, checking the time, and sighed. “Well, it’s almost midnight. What say we call it and... what are we doing for Christmas, Sam?”

“I had a meal planned in the classroom... and a gift giving. Lilith supposedly got everything requested, so... we’ll see how that goes.”

“Oh right. You don’t like Lilith, do you?”

“That’s putting it mildly.”

“She’s... at least pretty.”

“You’re too nice sometimes, Norm,” Jack said, spitting into a can. “She’s the very embodiment of cunthood. If you cut off her arms and legs, she would fit perfectly above a woman’s twat.”

“Aren’t those two statements sort of contradictory?”

“You know what I mean. She’s an awful, vile p- no, being. Calling her a person is like calling Monica chaste.”

“She’s not all bad, you know. She brought us all together, gave us a chance to know each other-”

“Do you know where this is, Norm? Do you know why most of us are here, including myself? We’re killers, rapists... monsters-”

“Yes, but we’re also family. We look out for each other... Isn’t that right, Sam?”

“R-right. Right,” she said, and stood, cracking her back. “Oh gods...”

“Hey,” Jack exclaimed. “Save that for Minos. We don’t want to hear it.”

“At least you two are finally being open with each other,” Norman said. “The tension is gone, and now love is allowed to flourish.”

“Love freak say what now?” Samantha said, and put her hands on her hip. “There’s nothing between us. Nothing, whatsoever.”

“But... the sparks between you two-”

“Are an explosion waiting to happen. And not in a good way.”

Jack scoffed. “Just admit it already. You want to fuck his brains out as badly as he wants to do it to you. It’s all he could talk about with Norman awh-”

“Jack, please!” Norman exclaimed, harsher than what Samantha was used to hearing from the little man. Even his face turned vile a moment, returned to its sweetness as he pawed and patted at Jack’s. Who looked entirely unfazed by what he was doing.

“Oops! Sorry, Norm.”

“I most certainly don’t!” Samantha boomed, though. “I want nothing to do with his ass, or anybody down here –at least, like that. I learned my lesson from Bella-”

“To be fair, that was doomed from the start. That bitch is crazy.”

“Don’t have to tell me twice, but my point still stands-”

“The point is the lady doth protest too much. The more you deny, the more true it is. Besides, from my understanding, you can’t exactly go see your boy toy anymore-”

“He has a name, you know. It’s Mahna. Mahna Dutyaireh.”

“... Did... did you just make up that last name?”

“It’s hard to remember, okay! It sounds so foreign and it simply... doesn’t... stick as well as just calling him Mahna. Doomybareae? Dullyarya? It’s definitely a D word.”

“I can think of another D word that you know him for. And it must have stuck well to forget his name.” He chortled, shaking his head, and blew out, slow. “You know, in your special way, you remind me of my sister. She was so easily flustered, too.”

“Your sister?”

“Kaylee... Well, we’re not exactly brother and sister, but, if you remember back in October, Peter and I had a chat about her. She’s my dark sister, ‘born’ from the same father.”

“Where is she?”

“No idea, but I would love to see her this Christmas. Just so I can give her a piece of pumpkin pie.” He looked away, fast, but not fast enough for Samantha to not catch the glint of a tear in his eye. “Bet she’s living it up, wherever she’s at. She was always resourceful; the brain between us. I, of course, had the looks.”

Norman patted his shoulder, giving him a soft, sad smile.

“I’m sure she’s happy... and looking for you.”

He barked a laugh. “Yeah! Maybe to punch me in the face... I’m going to call it. You guys don’t need to, but you can’t stay here.”

Norman and Samantha both left him to “rest”. Norman followed her to her room, stopping at the stairs, and Samantha looked down at him. He had a worried look engraved on his face, rubbing his hands so. The entire way he had been quiet, even as Samantha’s brain continue to rattle on. Surely, he could have come up with something along the walk. This was Norman, after all.

“Everything okay,” Samantha asked.

“Huh?” He uttered, looking up. “Oh. Y... No. Not everything.”

She turned around, and sat on the steps, holding his hands.

“What is it?”

“Sam...”

“You know you can tell me anything, right? It’s only fair since you can see everything on my mind.”

“I know... and it’s a lot... So much.”

The fact you didn’t deny it... She gulped, creasing his hands, rubbing them more.

“What’s wrong, Norm?”

“W-well... you really don’t love Minos? At all?”

“Norman,” she said, breathed it out with an exasperated sigh. “It’s... for the sake of keeping it simple, I don’t.”

“Not even a little?”

“I like him for one reason right now... and it’s not a really good one... In truth, I don’t think I could love at the moment, given everything going on.”

“I know... I know...” He sobbed, pulling his hands away, and cupped his face. “What have I done? How could I be so... so...”

“Norman? Hey, it’s okay. It’s not your fault.”

She reached for his hands again, but stopped. A cold chill ran down her spine as a light glinted through his creased fingers. As his hands writhed and wreathed before his visage, she could make out small wisps, rising with each breath, turned to pants.

“But it is,” he said... He shook his head, trying to still his breath, taking deep, languishing breaths. It wasn’t working, though, the flames only rising higher. He let his hands fall, and his eyes, those once-warm lavender points had bled into red pits, the center for those purple flames. “Minos is actually a great guy, Sam. Once you get to know him. He really cares about you, too.”

“T...that’s well and good, but that sort of went out the window when he not only sexually assaulted me in my own bathroom but touted that I was his sex toy-”

“He doesn’t mean that stuff, Sam! You should know that by now. He’s nothing but talk.”

“Well, that’s all good, but it still happened-” He mumbled something. Something that didn’t sound very Norman... She chose to ignore it; there was no way something that crass came from sweet little Norman. “Besides, I’m only going to be here until the end of the year. While he will stuck down here. Forever. He has no future whatsoever... Meanwhile, I have a life to live. I can’t be locked down to somebody in the clink.”

“But what if he doesn’t have to be?” He took a step. Just one up the stairs, and Samantha’s entirety screamed and retreated up three. The hair on her nape stood, shrieked at her to run, but she was locked in those smoldering pits. Feeling a raking on the back of her skull. His cute face seemed to melt away, revealing the monstrosity she had originally seen on his dossier, the pale skin given to blued flesh, stretched so tight against his triangular face. His bottom jaw seemed to split, clacking as he continued to shudder and pant, their four teeth chattering away. When he spoke again, his sweet voice was even taken, replaced with a rasping, whispering screech. “If he could, would you be able to love him? Tell me, please- I can hear it in your mind but that does not matter. I need to hear you say it... Could you love him?”

“Norman. You’re scaring me.”

“I need to know... Minos needs to know. He needs to know if you love him. He needs to know!”

The last words washed over her, blowing her back against the steps. She kept her head from slamming into them, but her wrists cracked horribly from the landing, clenching at the steps as she continued to look into Norman’s eyes. Tears fell from those pits, but she could “see” the skull, the one that haunted her since that day. And it was all grins, chattering away, looming ever closer. “So, please, tell me you love him. Please!”

“Norman... I... I do, okay? I do love him, but I can’t accept it.”

“Why? Why can’t you?”

“Because... I told you, I won’t be down here my whole life-”

“Or will you?” The skull said. Not Norman; the skull. It didn’t even move its mouth to speak. There was no warmth in its voice, no compassion, nothing that was Norman in that demonic whisper. “What if I can grant you your happiness?”

Norman mumbled something, sobbing as he seemed to teeter in place. His legs wanted to run away, perfectly straight, his feet turned, but the rest of him was locked, holding him there. The skull allowed its mouth to open, and a long, dark tongue coiled out. It licked her cheek, leaving behind ragged, hollow chatter as she shook underneath its slime.

“You don’t need to worry so much, Samantha,” it said, licking her again. “You don’t have to over-complicate it. You could continue to teach down here, for the rest of your days, with Minos at your side... and in your bed. Isn’t that what you want? Isn’t that what you truly desire?”

“Sam,” Norman mumbled, which only seemed to kindle the blue fire in the skull’s eyes, the purple flames behind them rising higher.

“Imagine. All you have to do is say it. No one can go against my will. Not even Lilith. You and Minos can simply leave, forget everyone here, and live. Happily. You can stay here, teach as you want, and have him. You can be happy, all thanks to me. Just say it... say it... say it... SAY IT-

“No!” Samantha shrieked, and wind and metal blasted into that skull-

Into Norman.

It threw him down the steps, the flames, all of them, finally gone. And, with it, that raking, the numbness. Now terror as she watched him flop through the air like a rag doll. The skull, that demon was gone, leaving only him landing at the far end of the hall. With a solid thump.

Samantha collapsed further onto the steps, clenching her chest with her right hand as her right was taking its time to reform.

From nothing.

She looked at her shoulder, shivering, watching the air return and remold into the bone, flesh, and skin, still whispering as the metal took hold once more, ringing as it dropped like a dead weight. The dragon squawked and flapped as it whirled, making the halls ring with it shrill cry, louder than Samantha’s screams. She had been screaming, and didn’t even notice.

Her door opened, and Ayn rushed out, jumping over her to Norman. She cradled him against, shaking him, her sobs heard through the Hall.

“Norman? Norman, baby? You okay?” She said... and heaved a weary sigh as he nodded. She picked him up, and carried him back to Samantha, glaring at her. “Why? Why did you do it?”

“Don’t blame her,” Norman whispered, panting, as well. “She did the right thing... But.. do you love him, Sam?”

She... nodded, tears welling in her eyes. “I do... but I want it to be my choice. Not anybody else’s.”

Norman smiled, and curled into Ayn’s embrace, yawning. “That’s good... that’s all I needed... I’m just... going to sleep here tonight.”

Ayn rolled her eyes... but carried him up the room all the same, still holding him in her arms in the bed as Samantha finally lumbered after. It took her some time to find the strength to stand, though. So much so that the room was black when she walked in, the room rumbling with snores and sighs.

It wasn’t long before Samantha joined her, but it took her a while to fall asleep. There was a wedding tomorrow, after all, and she could not wait for it to be over. If only it was more than the wedding.

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