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Nothing Sweeter

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Looking back, you were one of very few fortunate people who had a good and loving childhood. Growing up on a small homestead, your parents were deeply in love and doted on you, their only child. Your little home was often filled with the heady scent of your mother’s cooking and the many candles she would light. Your father would often take you hunting for jackrabbits and you’d spend long days bonding and rolling around in the forest before returning to your mother covered in dirt. More often than not the evenings were spent laughing as your mother would “force” your dad to dance with her to the same old records she’d inherited from your grandfather, who’d died many years before.

Your early years were filled with warm memories and the only sort of trouble you’d get into was taking too long to come in from the woods for dinner. Then when you were seven, your mom fell ill. What seemed like a normal cold slowly morphed into an unceasing breakdown of your mother’s health. Her spirit was undiminished, but those nightly dance sessions became evenings of sitting by her side on the couch, playing board games as the records played away softly in the background. Her smile grew frail, and as the years ticked by, you watched her fade away.

It was a cozy autumn night when it happened. She was resting on her bed as you sat beside her. She squeezed your hand and said, “Honey bun?”

“Yes, mama,” you answered.

“We both know I’m heading somewhere you ain’t allowed to follow,” she whispered wryly, “So promise me somethin’ won’t you, pumpkin.”

“You’re not gonna go anywhere,” you answered, ten years old and stubborn enough to fight death itself if it’d spare your mom.

She laughed and her eyes flashed with the intensity that you thought had been taken from her already. Your mom loved to prove people wrong.

“Well, you’re gonna promise me anyways,” she said. “You’re gonna promise me that you won’t end up like your momma. When you know that some sorta end is comin’ your way, you stand tall and go down swingin’.” She then sat up and gripped your shoulders, her expression feverish with abrupt passion.

“You don’t let anyone bring you down, honey. And if you ever gotta burn some bridges, burn ‘em down with the people who would hurt you still crossin’.”

Her words were as confusing to you as they were frightening, but under her fierce gaze you couldn’t do anything but nod. Satisfied, your mother kissed your forehead and sent you off to bed. By morning she was gone.

To your father’s credit, though he mourned deeply he kept himself together for your sake. Your days were quieter, the house less warm, but every night he'd bring out your mom’s records and let the crackling sounds of old time-y jazz fill the void she's left behind. Years passed, and everything seemed to settle. You were graduating from the local high school a year early with the class of 1996, but planned to get a job in town to keep your dad company rather than head off to college right away. He tried to convince you otherwise, but ultimately not very hard. Finally, you put your foot down and said if he wanted you to go he’d have to kick you out of the house himself.

He laughed, with a look of bittersweet fondness on his face and conceded. “You remind me too much of your mother sometimes, honey. But you worry twice as much as she ever did.”

You make a point to sound over the top offended and shoot back, “Well, I’m worrying for the both of us then, pops!” and stomp back inside. You can’t hide your smile as your dad’s laughter follows you all the way back.


Overall, despite the minor tragedy of your mother’s death, you lived an average life as a small town southern girl whose worst offense was reflexively hitting a classmate after he’d stepped on your foot; Which is why it made no sense that you were waking up in a dank basement with your hands bound behind your back and the taste of copper on your tongue.

The last thing you can remember is catching a ride from someone in town. Your memory is fuzzy, but you get flashes of what appears to be a large man. There’s an argument when he drives past your stop, a struggle, which you'd lost (which you'd made him bleed over). You think you remember being hit in the head, but past that there’s nothing. Honestly, you’re straight up the stereotypical southern bimbo who doesn’t know better than to get in a car with a stranger. Given that you’ve probably been kidnapped, you decide to scream internally later and try to escape now.

Just as you start to twist at the rope behind you, the door to the basement opens and floods the room with light. You wince as your vision adjusts, and once it does you’re met with the leering visage of the middle aged trucker who’d kidnapped you.

“Hey there lil’ lady,” he smirks, looming over you. Trembling with a heady cocktail of fear, rage, and confusion, you work on autopilot.

“Eat shit, creep,” you snarl, and spit in his face. He rears back in disgust and wipes red away from his face. He backhands you a split second later and sends you to the floor. You realize somewhat dazedly that the copper taste in your mouth before must’ve been your own blood. Your surroundings are swimming around you and hear the man sneer out insults and depraved descriptions of his plans for your body and eventual corpse.

You think you ought to be paying more attention, but everything is distant, as if you were underwater trying to make out sounds. You probably have a concussion, you decide. The plus side is that you don’t have to hear this creepy jackass threaten to rape you. The downside is that you can’t concentrate for shit and that’s really important when escaping creepy jackass rapists. Eventually the guy seems to realize you’re not in any position to give a crap about his threats and leaves, presumably to come back later once you’re able to “put on a real show”, he says.

The moment the door above slams shut, you shift onto your knees, and, ignoring the pain and disorientation, start looking around for something to cut the ropes binding you. It takes you maybe ten minutes of crawling around quietly looking for something sharp before you realize you’re actually in handcuffs, not ropes. This concussion sucks.

Thankfully, there’s an easy solution to being handcuffed. Ideally, you’d have something to pick these cuffs with. Also, in an ideal world you’d have the first clue on how to pick handcuffs. Instead, you spend several excruciating moments dislocating your left thumb through brute force. You muffled your scream by biting down on your cheek, inevitably flooding your mouth with more blood. Slipping the cuff off, you bring your hands around front and grit your teeth as you forcibly relocate the thumb. On a rack nearby are various implements, probably intended for some kind of sexual torture, but they looked metal and sturdy. With one hand now free, you bash one into your ankle cuffs until they broke. The second the link breaks, you drag yourself onto your feet and stumble quickly up the stairs.

The door is latched from the outside but frankly you’re tired and in pain and you’ll be damned before you let a a wooden door get in your way. You take off your shirt and wrap your knuckles. If the guy hasn’t heard you before, he’ll definitely hear you now, but you still wind your fist back and smash into the wood above the handle. You bang into the wood with loud repeated thuds and you hear distant swearing, but it proves to be the push you need. You finally smash right through the wood and fumble to unlatch the door from the other side.

You stagger through the doorway and know you have probably seconds to get away before the man gets to you. Rather than take your chances fleeing with a concussion, you let instinct guide you to the kitchen. The man is stomping down the stairs at full speed as your eyes latch on to the knife block. He’s at the doorway and flings himself at you in rage. You don’t feel anything at all as you whirl around and sink a kitchen knife deep into his chest.

He yells and falls to his knees. It feels as though you’re watching your actions through a screen. As if it was somebody else’s arm who pulls the knife out of the man with a wet sound. As if it were someone else driving the knife back into him over and over. You could pretend you were watching a horror movie where someone else has been taken and tied up and has to stab and stab and stab until what lay in front of them more resembles a freshly skinned deer carcass than a human.

With a soundless gasp, you come back to yourself and fling yourself away from the corpse. You’re trembling so hard you can barely stay standing and you can’t bring yourself to let go of the knife. It takes minutes of you drawing in deep sobs of air before you can calm yourself. The years of immersing yourself in the hunt alongside your father come in handy and you force your nerves to settle. You take stock of your situation. Injury-wise you have a nasty concussion, your thumb is bruised badly, deep splinters are gouged into your right hand, and your teeth are red with blood that is mostly yours, but there is nothing immediately life threatening.

The body in front of you has been slashed and stabbed beyond recognition. Habit seems to have taken over when you were locked into your panic; the man has been skinned in some areas and you’d targeted places with major organs. You realize that nobody will look at that body and call it self-defense; it looked too clinical, premeditated.

You can’t call the police, even to get home. You’re covered in blood and holding the murder weapon in a tight grip. No, you’ll have to get home yourself. You rifle through the cabinets in a daze, hoping to find some kind of indication of where you are. You manage to find some takeout menus and nearly cry. All the addresses are for places in Ohio, states away from your home in Southern Texas. Still, you have to persevere, so you wash off as much of the blood as you can and try to make yourself look presentable. You steal a jacket off the living room couch, and though you’re disgusted by the necessity there’s nothing for it. Deciding to be pragmatic, you rifle through the man's house for his cash and valuables and stash it all in an old rucksack.

Finally, after rifling through paper junk for a while, you find the business card for a taxi service. You call a cab using the receiver in the kitchen to pick you up down the street. Looking back at the puddle of blood that had stopped growing and the slowly cooling corpse above it, you harden your resolve and step over it, making your way out the door. You take the knife with you.


It’s been a week, and you’re going out of your mind. When you first stepped out of that taxi at the nearest pawn shop, you thought your kidnapper’s valuables would be worth enough to get you home. You were dead wrong, and now you have to choose between rationing what’s left of your cash on food, or spend that last bit on bus tickets and motel rooms. It’s already nerve wracking knowing that each place you visit is one more crumb left for cops to trace back to you. You’ve taken to signing into places under the name Honey. Your mother used to call you her “honey bunny” and the nickname is something small that helps you get through the days.

Still, you won’t be signing in anywhere anymore if you can’t figure out your money issue. With a sigh you come to the conclusion that food is more important than shelter. You could always hitchhike, you guess. Though given how that ended for you last time, you might put that off.

Your first night sleeping rough lives up to the term. You’ve found a nice dry alleyway and shelled out some extra cash for a thick shawl from a thrift store and settle in for the night. You haven’t been resting for an hour before a drunk passing by sees you and approaches your sleeping form. For reasons unknown, he decides to kick at you. Woken up abruptly and in pain, you lash out at his legs, knife in hand. With a yell, he falls down.

“Th’ fuck you do tha’ for, you bish,” he slurs angrily, reaching out to you, possibly to hit you.

Still in the foggy state of being half-awake and thoroughly frightened, your sluggish mind struggles to process what’s happening. The man hit you, you think, and you’ve stabbed him. He’s still yelling. He needs to be quiet, or people will see, they’ll know. You react on autopilot and silence the man. There’s some gurgling before the alley falls silent once more.

You heave a sigh of relief while your mind catches up. A moment later you realize what you’ve done. “Oh, shit,” you whisper to yourself. You just killed another guy. By accident. Sort of. Who even does that? You start laughing hysterically, because it’s either that or scream, but you shut up really quick in case that draws any more attention.

It seems your subconscious has made the decision for you. You’ve killed again, and you really can’t afford any kind of trail right now. That means buses are out, ergo, hitchhiking is the only option left to you. You get to your feet and look over at the second corpse you’ve made out of someone. It’s really really scummy, but you can’t help it, you need cash. Before you can convince yourself otherwise, you strip the body of its valuables (twenty bucks in loose change and some scratch cards), and shuffle out of the alley as nonchalantly as you can manage.

You walk until the city falls behind you and there is only the highway illuminated by the waning moon above. Sighing, you stick out your thumb and wait.


 August 2nd, 1996, you read off the newspaper. Six months since you were taken. You should be graduating by now. Instead, you’re slumming it in Illinois, eighteen years old and smothered by the guilt of the twelve bodies you’ve left in your wake so far. Thankfully, the cops haven’t really been connecting the dots on the string of corpses. You’ve been reading newspapers religiously, making sure that any investigations stay pointed in the wrong directions. You’ve stopped staying in motels entirely. Sleeping on the streets is pretty terrible, but the mere thought of being caught by police because you got complacent terrifies you.

It’s not the best situation, because being a homeless teenage girl makes you a target for a lot of creeps. You tell yourself it’s fine, because you can ignore most of them. You hardly ever stab anybody, really, only if they startle you or grab you from behind, and then you just react instinctively. It’s always an accident, you tell yourself. And so what if you loot their corpses? You need their stuff way more than they will.

Besides, you’ve never killed someone who didn’t deserve it. They’ve all been terrible people, violent drunks and thugs who frequented the same alleys you’d sleep in and truckers looking to take advantage of a young girl looking for a ride. It’s not like you’d ever kill an innocent.


“Oh, fuck,” you say in disbelief. Your grip on your trusty kitchen knife is firm as you look down on the helpful bystander you’ve just stabbed. The man had seen you in the alley and stepped in to ask if you were alright, startling you into a reflexive stabbing.

He’s groaning on the floor now, his pressed slacks and quickly reddening button-up a hint that he’d been heading home from work. He’s working to stifle the blood flow, and part of you feels like you should be down there, doing your best to help the Good Samaritan you’ve just injured. Most of you realizes that there’s only one thing to be done now.

You step forward slowly. It’s been a year and a half since Illinois, roughly two years since you were taken. You’re nineteen and your body count is in the dozens. Cops have been catching on, seeing the pattern, what little of one there is. They’ve been tracing the mysterious “Highway Butcher”, whose victims are cut up just a bit too expertly, and they’re only ever a month’s kills behind you lately. You can’t afford an eyewitness.

Kneeling beside the man, you notice he’s young, maybe early twenties. He looks up at your face, hopeful that you’re there to help. Silly, considering you’re the one who stabbed him.

“I’m sorry,” you say, and find yourself meaning it. You really don’t want to do this. As it stands, he’s not fatally injured, you’d just lashed out and caught his side.

“It’s alright, you didn’t mean to, right?” he says earnestly. His voice is strained. This is just the worst situation. You don’t deserve this.

“Yeah,” you give a mirthless smile, your best attempt at comfort. No point in dragging this out. You close your eyes and slash. Blood spills down his throat and you stand smoothly to avoid staining your ratty clothes. You ignore his gasping and keep your eyes down as you rummage through his pockets. You take a nicely thick wallet and leave. He had a fancy watch, but stealing it off of his wrist as he slowly died felt a bit rude.

You leave the alley, lingering outside it until you can’t hear any more wet gasps for breath. Satisfied, though not really satisfied at all, you consider splurging your new cash on some nicer clothes and a good coffee. Far from the crime scene of course, since the alternative would be to dispose of the body. You’d tried once or twice, but lugging around a heavy corpse through the city was neither easy nor subtle. Better to just leave it be.

A week later you end up at a thrift store halfway across the city, you thought to treat yourself to a nice bag and some nicer clothes, all the better to blend in. A button-up, skirt, long socks, and some ankle boots and suspenders completed the look. You tried to stick to black and red; it'd hide bloodstains the best, and really, it was a matter of time before that became relevant again). On a happier note, the outfit reminds you of your mom, and frankly you could use what little comfort you can get.

A bit more upbeat in clean clothes and sporting a nice messenger bag filled with your old clothes and your trusty knife, you ask directions to the nearest cafe. Upon arrival, you ordered the fanciest drink on the menu and a sandwich and sit down in a corner booth. Eating slowly, you savor the feel of a warm meal and the familiar sounds of jazz playing softly in the background. Across the room is a small TV set on a local new channel. This is a cozy little cafe, and you’ve found that in your slow cross-country trek, Louisiana is your favorite state, if only for the great atmosphere and music.

The door bell jingles and you look up to see a young girl dragging her father along by the hand. “Hot chocolate!” she cries. “Hot chocolate, daddy, you promised!”

“Alright, alright,” he says with begrudging fondness, as he ordered at the register. His daughter chatters away at him happily while he tried merrily to keep up. The two get their hot chocolates and leave within a few minutes.

You look away, good mood forgotten. Two years is a long time. By no means should you have taken this long to get home. Honestly, hitchhiking alone would have gotten you home before two months’ end. You tried to tell yourself you were only being careful with your funds, but it was too big a lie. The fact was, you were afraid.

Afraid of what your father would say of your absence, of your sins. But more than that, you were afraid for him. With every kill, the incentive for police to track you down grew. They were determined already, and closer than anyone knew. If you headed home, you’d lead police straight to him and he’d either turn you in or die protecting you. Either would be too much for you to bear. No, it was better to stay away and keep the both of you safe.

In an effort to distract yourself from that train of thought, you take a sip of coffee and focus on the TV. They’d just moved to the crime segment.

“Breaking News,” says the news anchor. “A major break in the case against the Highway Butcher.”

You freeze, and the cashier turns up the volume in interest. The anchor goes on, miles away and unconcerned with just how inconveniently timed this little segment is for you.

“Contrary to their moniker, it’s a lesser known fact that this killer’s victims are not limited to those unfortunate enough to offer them a lift. Many victims fitting this serial killer’s M.O, have been found across alleyways and city outskirts throughout the Eastern United States. Police have attributed roughly forty-seven murders to this person over the course of two years.”

“Unfortunately, the isolated locations an distance between each murder have left no eye-witnesses and too wide a pool of potential suspects, leaving police scrambling to keep up.”

You start to relax, thinking that’s the end of it, besides maybe an update on a month-old death newly attributed to 'The Highway Butcher'.

“Shockingly enough, however, police have found their first lead, right here in Louisiana- an eyewitness who has survived a vicious assault! Robert Santos, 25, was attacked and presumed dead by the serial killer, making him the only known survivor of this monster.”

A picture of the Good Samaritan you’d been losing sleep over pops up on the screen. You choke on your coffee, trying not to spit-take. The image of him is much paler, with dark circles under his eyes and a hideous wound across his throat stitched up with thick thread, but it’s definitely him.

“Miraculously, despite his injuries, Santos was able to describe the killer in detail and helped provide a police sketch of his attacker.” A sketch of you comes on screen. In it, your hair is tangled and your clothes are ratty, but the face is unnervingly accurate.

“Yes, that’s right! It appears that a young woman has become the most prolific serial killer to hit Louisiana since the early 30s,” the anchor drones on, but his words are like white noise in your ears.

You’re so screwed, this is what you get for sloppy work. Next time you won’t waste time feeling bad; from now on, if you stab someone, you’re going to finish the job and make eye contact the whole damn time if necessary. This is terrible.

“Wow, that’s terrible,” you’re unknowingly mimicked by the waiter, while he leans to clean the booth in front of yours. “What kind of chick kills, like, fifty people so brutally? Glad the poor guy was lucky enough to survive that monster.”

“Yeah,” you say, mouth dry, “how lucky.” You pay for your meal and head out, mind spinning.

The cops have you pinpointed to this city. You can’t stay, but you don’t know where else to go. This isn’t sustainable, and sooner or later, your crimes are going to catch up with you. As you stroll aimlessly, you catch sight of the father-daughter pair down the street and pause.

If you’re going to get caught eventually, probably sooner rather than later, you want to see your dad at least once before then. You never wanted to involve him in this, but you’re selfish and now that everything is coming to a head, you don’t have the heart to stay away from home any longer. You turn and head towards the nearest bus stop. It’s only a two-day trip home.


 You’ve been walking for roughly an hour. Buses don’t go all the way out to your homestead and hitchhiking would probably get you recognized by the locals who’ve known you all your life. This is meant to be an in and out goodbye. You’ll reunite with your dad, tell him what happened to you and what you’ve done and face his judgment. If he doesn’t turn you in, you’ll get closure, then leave. It’s a simple plan, but still, you can’t bring yourself to turn that last corner that will lead up to your house.

After pacing for nearly half an hour, you finally steel yourself. It’s late afternoon, your father will definitely be home. Better to get this over with, like ripping off a band-aid. You force yourself to go around the bend (in a literal sense, though likely long since the metaphorical one as well) and up to the front porch. One moment’s more hesitation is all you allow yourself before you suck it up and knock, shave-and-a-haircut style, as you’ve always done.

There’s shuffling inside as someone approaches the door. It swings open, revealing your father, scruffy and bedraggled with obvious sleeplessness.

“Hi, dad,” you rasp, overcome with emotion. He’s silent for a a second that feel more like an eternity. That must be the time it takes for him to work out who’s in front of him, because then he’s swooping you up into his arms in a bear hug. You find you’re too busy sobbing into his chest for your hands to even twitch towards your knife.


 That night, as you eat a home-cooked meal for the first time in two years, you find yourself warmed in a way you'd not known for so long that you’d forgotten to miss it. So far, your dad had listened silently as you babbled out everything that had happened to you since your unwilling departure so long ago. Tears in your eyes, you had confessed in gory detail your every crime.

But when you finish speaking, he only gripped your shoulders, held you with a steady gaze, and said, “Honey, I’d lost you. I’ve lost your mother and then I thought I lost you, too. But you’re back now. That’s all that matters.”

“But what about all the people I killed,” you'd sniffled.

“Honey, I’m sorry but I just don’t give a damn. You could’ve killed half the town for all I care, as long as you’re here it’ll be alright.”

That was a few hours ago and now that the emotional roller-coaster of your homecoming is over, you feel it's time to bring up an unwelcome topic- the fact that you had to leave. The problem was, every time you mention it, your dad only glares you into silence or pretends not to hear you.

“Listen, dad,” you try again, “If I stay, the police will definitely find me. And then they’ll come and find you.”

Your father is unphased.

“That’s too bad,” he says, “Because then they’d have to find the business end of my shotgun.” And he keeps on eating dinner as if the last minute hadn’t happened. You sigh and decide to bring it up again in the morning. You couldn’t bear to break your dad’s heart right now.


 It’s been almost a week and you’re crawling out of your skin. You’ve missed home with all your heart, but staying in one place for more than a couple days is making you twitchy and paranoid; more so than usual, that is. Your dad pretends that everything's fine, but you’ve noticed how he knocks at doorways ever since you nearly flipped off the back of the couch at his sudden entry.

Family meals are in the living room, now. All the better to catch the news on your small tv, paying close attention to the crime segment, just in case. So far, nothing has been said, either on the news or between you and your dad on the topic of your impeding arrest. It’s simple cause and effect- if you stop running, the people chasing you will eventually catch up. Still, the subject has stayed as the elephant in the room, though not for your lack of trying. For all his griping at the stubbornness you’d supposedly inherited from your mom, he could out-stubborn a bull.

If only you could settle in and enjoy these last few days with your loving father, who’d clearly gone out of his mind with stress while you were gone, but you find yourself jumping at shadows and small sounds. The day before, your father convinced you to go hunting with him, just like old times.

Your senses honed by years on the run, letting your ears catch the footfalls of even the smallest animal, you managed to take down five jackrabbits alone, a personal record. You also blew holes into several unsuspecting trees, but to save face to your dad, you pretended those were just to let off steam. As proud as he was of your haul, it’s just one more reminder that things had changed. You no longer belong in this cozy little burrow your family had carved for itself as shelter against the world. You weren’t a hunter right now, you were prey, fight-or-flight triggered so hard it ached. Every bone in your body is begging to give into it and take flight. Unfortunately, your dad's fallen hard on the ‘fight’ side of the spectrum and refuses to see reason.

That night, the other shoe finally drops. You're cooking up some of the meat from your last hunt when your dad enters the kitchen unannounced.

“Yum! That looks delicious, hun,” he says, popping up over your shoulder. You shriek and react on instinct; you stab him.

There’s a moment’s pause, as both of you look down at the blade embedded about an inch deep into your father’s bicep. You scream again and drop the knife.

“Oh my god! Dad are you okay, I’m so sorry,” you rush out in total panic. Your hands flutter uselessly in his direction as he winces and goes to the sink.

“It’s alright, honey, I shouldn’t’ve surprised you, is all,” he waves away through gritted teeth.

You watch in fretful silence as he cleans the wound, only stepping close to help him wrap it. An hour later, you’ve finished up dinner in silence and helped your dad to the dining room. He clears his throat awkwardly as you eat.

“I’m not mad,” he starts, but you cut him off.

“That ain’t the issue here, pops. I hurt you, bad, and if there’s a next time, we both know it’ll be worse.”

He disagrees, saying it's only a little cut, but you’re unmoved. You won’t budge on this.

“It’s only luck that has you here, alive and mostly whole. The longer I stay, the worse you’ll be hurt.” Your words are quiet, reluctant, but steady and sure nonetheless. “And you don’t wanna talk about it, but I can’t stay anyways. If I go into town, the folks there will turn me in- that police sketch is everywhere. And if I stay locked up, you’re the only one around to get hurt, and the cops’ll come for me anyways.”

A hard look enters your father’s eyes. He’s always been the immovable object in the face of you and your mothers unstoppable force.

“They’ll be taking you over my dead body.”

He’s serious, and you know with a terrible certainty that his words aren’t a threat; they’re a prediction. You let the subject drop, knowing that it’s pointless to try and convince him otherwise. You finish the meal, the mournful croon of those scratchy old records a static-y backdrop to your troubled thoughts. In the end, you tell your dad goodnight, hug him carefully, but hard, and head into your room. You pack only what you can carry.


You decide you’ll leave a note this time. Your poor, undyingly loyal father deserves as much. You could’ve sworn your heart ripped in two as you look down at the form of your injured dad. Something tells you it’s the last time you’ll see him. You leave seconds later. Most of you is numb in a way that you haven’t felt since your first kill, but more than anything, you find yourself filled with a grim determination. You pace the once familiar path to town. It’s night, and the only people out are those who know better than to get up in others’ business, so you figure it’s safe enough.

You’ve just passed the old run-down bar near the outskirts, paying no mind to the old drunkard on its steps. You keep walking, one boot in front of the other and humming one of those jazzy songs that’ve been ingrained deep into your memory by now. You won’t risk hitchhiking this close to your dad’s place, so it’ll be a long walk to the next town over. You’re so deep in thought, you never notice the old man staggering behind you at a distance, slowly gaining.

You’ve never been a good singer, your voice too raspy by every measure. But with the moon casting deep shadows across the woods lining the endless highway road, you feel compelled to give some kind of meaningful farewell to what you’re leaving behind you.

Sunday is gloomy, my hours are slumberless. Dearest, the shadows I live with are numberless. Little white flowers will never awaken you. Not where the black coach of sorrow has taken you.” If you sing loud enough, you could almost hear the phantom sounds of brass instruments on the wind.

Angels have no thought of ever returning you. Would they be angry if I thought of joining you? Gloomy Sunday,” your voice echoes eerily down the highway, and you hope the static filling your thoughts would have the decency to fill your heart as well.

Gloomy is Sunday, with shadows I spend it all. My heart and I have decided to end it all. Soon there'll be candles and prayers that are sad, I know. Let them not weep, let them know that I'm glad to go.

You spin you knife to the tune of an invisible jazz band and let your wavering voice rise to meet the crescendo only you could hear. Your mournful rasp would have sent shivers down the spine of anyone who heard. The man behind you feels deep unease as he lumbers along in your wake.

"Death is no dream, for in death I'm caressing you. With the last breath of my soul I'll be blessing you. Gloomy Sunday," you finish, and this time as you twirl your blade it catches the moonlight, gleaming.

The sight of it pulls a gasp from the old drunk, and you whirl around, yanked from your reverie. When he notices you’ve caught on to him, he straightens up best he can and shoots you a look of pure disdain. You tense up, on your guard.

“So,” he drawls, “it’s you, then, is it? The Highway Butcher turned out ta be lil miss Lockwood from down the road. Who’da thunk?” He sneered at you as he sways, unsteady. The strong smell of cheap booze wafting off of him has you curling your upper lip.

“What’s it to you?” You don’t deny it. You’ve left a witness alive before; you won’t make the same mistake twice. The nonchalant answer seems to enrage him.

“What’s it to me?!” he screams, spittle flying. “You killed my boy, you bitch! My son, off to college and found dead in a ditch by the side of a road. Ripped to pieces, they said! Butchered! My son was a good man!”

“Your son was a creep and a coward,” you snarl back. The man gives a guttural scream of rage, but doesn’t charge at you like you’d hoped. He’s eyeing your knife warily, but he's not sober enough to do the smart thing and run. Tired of the theatrics, you approach him with purpose. Best to get this over with and get some distance between you and this damn town.

The man backs up a few steps, stumbling, but not running. Good, you don’t feel up to a chase right now. You rush him on autopilot, letting your subconscious take over and target vital points. By now it’s muscle memory that has you sinking your knife deep into his chest cavity, between the ribs.

Your tunnel vision costs you. You never see the glint of silver at his side, only the flash of a muzzle aimed at your chest. You gasp, ears ringing, and stumble back. The man is groaning on the floor, a smoking pistol at his side. His wound is fatal, but you can’t focus on that. You feel cold, and when you raise a hand to your chest, it comes away wet with blood. You’re in shock, you think, but you were already so numb before that it’s hard to tell. You can only manage to stumble into the woods before you collapse.

Coughing wetly, you dimly realize the bullet must have pierced your lung. There’s nothing you can do for an injury like that. The old bastard’s not long for this world, but he’s gotten his fair due outta you. You drag yourself into the underbrush and hope that the wildlife find your body before the cops do. The foxes would actually get some use out of you, you think, somewhat hysterically. You don’t feel the pain, yet. You don’t feel anything at all, though your limbs tremble with exertion and blood loss.

Feeling cold, you curl up in within the shelter of the bush, wrapped around your knife like a teddy bear, and gasp for breath. Your eyes close without permission, and you’re shivering and struggling to take in air past the blood filling your lungs. You’re too numb to feel afraid of what comes next.

It’s 1997, you are nineteen years old, and you’ve killed forty-nine people, counting yourself, because really you have only yourself to blame. You are suffocating to death in the cold woods, body left for the predators that roam the night. It’s a fitting end, you think, as the lack of oxygen finally grants you the mercy of unconsciousness. You don’t live long enough to dream.


You wake up surrounded by red. Screams fill the air and smoke is rising over a distant skyline. Sitting up, you look around yourself and see that you’ve appeared in the mouth of a wide alleyway. Down the street are what you can only describe as demons, running for cover for some reason, shoving each other as they try to force their way into the shops. You lay back down, overcome.

This can only be one place. You’ve died and literally gone to Hell. You take a deep steadying breath and let it out. A single thought occupies the whole of your mind. This is such bullshit!

Chapter Text

The first thing you do after your internal tantrum ends is sit up. Unfortunately, your head is suddenly more top-heavy than usual, which is disorienting enough that you nearly fall back down again. Your eyebrow twitches at whatever fresh bullshit is happening now, and you feel something twitch atop your skull with it. Ears? You look into a nearby puddle of unknown liquid and see your distorted face looking back.

Your hair is short and curly, and it’s burgundy now, as are the massive bunny ears you’re now sporting. On closer inspection, they’re actually jackrabbit ears, and the distinction makes you feel better. Beyond that, your eyes were now red and your teeth sharp and needle-like. You rounded off your shocked inspection by noting that your skin was a soft shade of taupe. Reeling at the changes, but mostly just aggravated, you finally move your attention to the screams and distant explosions happening outside the alley.

Well, if this is hell, you might as well embrace damnation and go see what the fuss is about. Getting to your feet, you move to the mouth of the alley, but are interrupted by a hissing voice.

“Psst! Kid!”

You turn around to see a bear of a man calling out to you. Quite literally a bear, from what little of him you could see not crouched behind a dumpster. You decide to ignore him and turn away.

“Hey!” he calls out in a weird sort of shouty-whisper. “Get back here, are you crazy?”

With a huff you whip around a third time and head towards him. He motions you to crouch down behind the dumpster with him and for lack of anything better to do, you comply.

“What do you want?’

“I want to know what the hell you’re doing! Are you trying to get us killed?” he cries. You’re silent in your confusion, not sure what it is you did that was so dangerous. Instead of answering, you observe the weird stranger. His features are blocky, and his ears and nose are clearly based off a bear’s, but the long dreads he has tied back lend him a human touch. His skin and eyes are both pitch black, as are his clothes, except where the dust and grime of the alley have clearly stained them. He picks up on your confusion and sighs.

“Look, you’re new right? Don’t answer that, I saw you manifest. Point is, now was a really shitty time to die, so you best hunker down for tonight before you start wandering around like a moron.”

Offended and even more confused than before, you start to stand.

“Thanks for the advice,” you say with as much insincerity as you can muster, “but I think I’m gonna go and wander around like a moron now.”

His panicked expression gives you pause (ha, paws) as he grips your wrist. You notice absently that your own hands are changed now, fingers a bit stockier, like a hare’s, and you have small but sharp claws on the end.

“Listen, you can go out there and be another hunk of meat for the Exterminators to tear into another day, but right now, if you leave this alley, you’ll lead ‘em right to me. So sit down and be quiet before you kill us both, little bunny.”

His voice trembles with terror as well as a surprising ferocity and you find yourself sitting back down behind the shelter of the dumpster.

“I’m pretty sure I’m a jackrabbit, actually. Not a a rabbit,” you sulk, not ready to give up the last word. One of them is significantly less fluffy and fragile than the other and suddenly the difference has become much more personal. The bear-man laughs quietly, looking relieved that you weren’t about to rush out of the alley out of spite.

“I’m sure you are, little bunny. Tell ya what, hunker down with me all silent-like for a few hours and I’ll let you educate me on the difference.”

He’s clearly humoring you, but for the first demon you’ve met, you guess you could’ve done worse. You just huff and settle in, ignoring the way the nasty dumpster fluid was seeping into your clothes.

“The name’s Artie, by the way, since I might’ve forgot to mention.” He holds a massive clawed hand for you to shake. You’ve decided you like Artie and you take his massive paw and shake it without hesitation.

“I’m Honey,” you introduce yourself, and he’s clearly struggling not to laugh. You’re annoyed until you get the connection between bears and honey, and yeah okay, that’s pretty funny.

“Yeah, yeah, laugh it up big guy,” you say. He chuckles briefly but keeps it down, likely to keep whatever those ‘Exterminators’ were from hearing. You’d have to be pretty loud to be heard over the general chaos happening outside the alley, but better safe than sorry, you guess.

“That’s one hell of a coincidence, little bunny,” he says, ignoring your scowl. “Say, how’d a little thing like you end up down here. If you’re as twitchy and flighty as your form suggests, shouldn’t you be hopping around up top?” he’s clearly just curious, but the implication that you resemble prey grates on you. It’s upsetting, but you decide not to give into the outrage you’re feeling.

“I was a serial killer, actually,” you say a second later, absolutely giving into your outrage, and the shock on his face spurs you on.

“I had a pretty high body count going and the cops were on my trail, so I went to my Pop’s for a final farewell. Trouble is, the old man of some guy I killed got the jump on me. At least I took the bastard down with me,” you finished, tone as vicious as it was bittersweet. It feels liberating, in a way, to put everything out there like that. There’s a long pause while Artie looks down at you, but then he shakes his head and grins widely.

“Damn, kid, I wasn’t expecting that! Don’t serial killers have an m.o. or something? How’d you even find that many specific people to knock off?”

“Well, pretty much all of them were an accident,” you admit, blushing, to his disbelief. The two of you chat for hours as the sounds of violence slowly peter out. Only once did you have to fall silent; a shadow had fallen down the length of the alley and lingered, before what looked like a bloodied mechanical angel moved on with stilted, glitchy motions.

Finally Artie got up and stretched, towering over you. “Looks like the coast is clear, little bunny. Doesn’t get safer than this,” he said, helping you up.

There was still the occasional scream in the distance, but you figured that probably wasn’t uncommon in Hell. You follow behind Artie, unsure of what to do now.

“So I guess now we part ways, huh?”

He looks back at you in confusion. “What gave you that idea? We’re friends aren’t we, little bunny-”

“I’m a jackrabbit,” you interrupt again, but he waves you off.

“Yes, that. So seeing as you’re fresh off the funeral boat, I’ll do you a solid and help you get on your feet.”

Your dad always told you not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but you’ve always taken after your mother more. You can almost hear her voice saying, “Nothing in life is free, child. Anyone tell you otherwise, you’re what they’re sellin’.” Suspicion wars with your tentative trust in your new friend. You ask why he’s bothering to stick his neck out for you, not sure what to expect.

Artie just grins at you in response as you stroll down the street, dodging rubble and avoiding corpses. “Tell you the truth, kid, it’s a matter of me paying it forward. When I first woke up down here a few years back, some lady took me in, helped me get settled.”

He shrugs and then admits, “Turns out she was just luring me into a false sense of security so she could knock me out and sell my organs, but it’s the principle of it don’t you think?”

You let out a surprised laugh and nod. You’re wary still, of course, but as long as you don’t think too hard on the circumstances of your life and death, you think you might come to like it here in Hell.


 Years pass by in a blur. For all that it’s full of violence and bloodshed, Hell isn’t so bad compared to the fast-paced anxious scramble of your last few years alive. You might even call it boring, now that you’ve settled in. Without needing to worry about the consequences of an occasional stabbing or two, your jittery nerves have actually served you well, since you use your “winnings” for pocket change. Besides Artie having helped set you up with a cozy little apartment, you’ve gotten a job at a cafe that you enjoy.

You can’t say you never thought about being a cook when you were alive, but you’d accepted it as an impossibility after you’d found yourself on the wrong end of the law. Now, everything was looking up.

You walked into the cafe, a charming little place with a misleadingly shitty exterior. If you were honest with yourself, the inside looked like crap, too. All the chairs were mismatched and the paint was peeling off the walls. But you were a sucker for a place with a warm atmosphere and good food.

“Heya, Honey,” greeted the cashier. “Boss wanted to speak wit’chu bout something. Sounded important.”

You nodded and made your way to the back, thankful that you’d made it to work before opening so that you didn’t have to sidestep any customers. A quick visit to your boss’ office later revealed he’d only wanted to remind you weren’t being paid for overtime, so could you please give it a rest with the experimental midnight cooking. You thanked him for the reminder and blatantly refused to stop. Thankfully, he was just amused and waved you off to the kitchens.

It was a long and difficult day at work, like every other day. You were the only cook there, since anyone else in the kitchen with you tended to meet the sharp end of your knife eventually, to everyone’s dismay. You didn’t mind, though, you found it fun and rewarding in a way, even though nearly all the ingredients in Hell were off-brand knockoffs and sub-ideal to work with. You really needed to set some time aside to hunt some fresh meat. Hell wasn’t lacking in wildlife if you knew where to look.

You considered potential places to hunt as you hung up your apron and clocked out, leaving the kitchen. All the regulars still there made sure to stay very still as you passed. You’ve worked here for the better part of a decade, and the ones smart enough not to startle you were the ones who stayed intact long enough to enjoy your cooking. From a distance of course.

As you walked home, you took a moment to appreciate your boss for not having fired you a hundred times over. Accidental stabbings weren’t great for business, even in Hell. But when you’d mustered up the guts to ask him about it once, he’d admitted that you were “a damn good cook”. He also said that no one else really wants to work in this part of of town, ‘cause it sucks and gets more and more damaged with each consecutive extermination. He only made you put up a sign above the kitchen door, which read “Knock Before Entering”. You loved that sign. Everyone was happier and less bloody because of that sign.

You open the door to your apartment with a sigh. You set up your record player before heading to the kitchen. Today called for a hot chocolate. Once it’s ready, you kick back on the couch and sip at your drink, eyes closed. Sat comfortably in a decent apartment, surrounding by warmth and good music, you smile wryly and toast to your job security.


 “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

You’re looking out at the city from your balcony. The streets are in chaos, explosions and screams filling the air, so thick with dust that it was hard to breathe. This had to be the worst extermination since you woke up in Hell roughly a decade ago.

Deciding to hunker down in your bedroom with your knife, you find yourself shaking in stress. From the relative safety of your closet, you send a text to Artie to check if he’s alright. It’s still weird for you how small and useful cellphones have gotten. You’re not complaining, but you can’t deny you’re a little bitter over dying before you could experience twenty-first century technology at its finest. If this was Hell’s cheap knockoff stuff, you can only imagine the reception topside.

Artie thankfully texted you back, likewise hiding in his place. You sent an obligatory text asking why he didn’t find a comfortable and secure dumpster instead, but your heart wasn’t in it. You couldn’t help but feel worried over the cafe. It’d barely weathered the past few exterminations and sooner or later it’d bite the dust from the fallout.

The next day, you stood in front of the rubble that used to be your dream job. Just this once, you were pissed at being proved right. You climb over the remains towards the kitchen, stepping over a heavy chunk of debris with an arm that looked suspiciously like your boss’ sticking out from below. Poor bastard must have stayed late and paid the price.

As you stand in the completely demolished kitchen, something catches your eye. It’s your sign, the one which had marked the kitchen as your own little safe slice of home. You pick it up and take it with you as you wander away. You have no idea what to do now. You’ve got some cash saved up, but not enough for more than a month or so of rent. And while exterminations tended to stimulate the job market and all, since all the shops were scrambling to replace employees, you didn’t have the first clue where to look.

You still had time before it became an issue, so you decided to walk for a bit and ask around at any restaurants that are still standing. Hopefully they were hiring.


 You have decided that job searching sucks. In fact, you've decided you'd rather just die, starving and broke, and spare yourself the headache of putting up with annoying and twitchy managers. Everyone was still jittery from the whole murder spree yesterday, which would be fine, except their jerky movements kept setting you off. So what if you stabbed them a couple times? Suck it up, buttercup, your old boss never minded much. But no, apparently minor flesh wounds were a deal breaker for these people, and you were turned away every time.

Groaning in frustration, your ears fell back against your head and you barely managed to keep from screaming at the sky like a maniac. You were starting to think you should have waited until things had settled down before you went around into crowded spaces. Fed up with being rejected to your face, you snatch an armful of newspapers off a half-destroyed cart and head home. Job hunting via newspaper ads seems like a good alternative. You’d rather be rejected over the phone.

Hours later and the sky was starting to dim outside your apartment. So far you’d gone through all the papers and been rejected from every promising opening. Apparently, the nicer establishments had mostly gotten through the extermination with their employees intact and only wanted waiters or busboys. You felt above washing dishes for a living, but you were desperate, so you’d gone over everything a second time with lower standards, to no avail.

In a fit of rage, you fling the papers off the table and scream into your hands. Once you’ve calmed down, you reluctantly bend down to pick up the mess. As you do, an ad catches your eye. It was brightly colored and had been slipped into the last pages of the paper. You have no idea how you missed it before. It read “Happy Hotel: The Hotel That Rehabilitates Sinners. Now Hiring!” as well as a list of open positions.

That seemed like kind of a weird business to run in Hell, but frankly you didn’t care if you were cooking food for a troop of Executioners as long as you got paid a decent amount. You cross your fingers and call the number. It rings for a long time and just as you’re considering hanging up the receiver clicks and you hear air whoosh on the other line, like somebody slammed the phone onto their ear.

“This is the Happy Hotel, howmaywebeofservicetoday!” a voice chatters at full speed and volume, and you nearly drop your phone in surprise.

“Um.” you say. “I’m calling to ask about your help wanted ad. Do you still have an opening for a chef position?” There’s a high pitched squeal on their end, making you wince and flick your ears back.

“Vaggie, oh my gosh, get over here!” you hear distantly, and the phone passes hands. A new voice speaks up, thankfully at less of an ear shattering volume.

“Hi, this is Vaggie. I’m the hotel manager. Who is this and why are you calling again?”

“Oh, sorry, yeah. I’m Honey and I wanted to apply for a position in your kitchen.”

There’s a pause before she responds, confusion evident in her tone. “Wait, really? Why?”

Now you’re confused. Is this a test? A weird question to weed out applicants? You try for the right answer.

“I, uh, need money.” Nailed it.

“No yeah, I get that,” answers Vaggie, mild annoyance in her voice, “But if you’re sure about applying here I’ll need to ask a few questions first.”

Finally, the interview portion of the call, where things made sense. After a ridiculously long series of questions from a strangely suspicious interviewer– which ranged from your opinion on redemption (you were neutral) to your ability to handle “fucking annoying spiders” (very high, you were a country girl, after all) and only barely on your prior kitchen experience– you were done.

“Alright, so you seem to check out,” Vaggie reluctantly allows. “The job includes room and board, so bring your things by anytime in the next day and we’ll set up your room. As head chef, and technically the only chef, the starting pay is pretty high but we can negotiate in person.”

Wait what? You have so many questions but thankfully the most important one is what comes out.

“How high are we talking here?”

The sheer figures in her answer send your head spinning and your mouth starts moving without your permission, southern accent thicker from your surprise. “How the hell am I the head chef if you’re shellin’ out that much cash? Shouldn’t you have half of Pentagram City fighting for this position?”

“You were the only applicant, and we’re hungry,” she grits out in response. Oh. Fair enough.

You thank Vaggie for the job and hang up, still not entirely sure what had just happened. Because you could’ve sworn you just scored a high paying job as a chef, are being given a new place, rent-free, and the only catch is that the hotel you work at has a crappy reputation. You couldn’t give less of a shit about that, so you let out a disbelieving laugh and decide to call up Artie to brag about your fantastic job scoring skills.

“Hey, Artie, have I got some news for you!” you crow into your phone. “What? Your place got wrecked? That’s cool, you can have mine.”

“Yes, I’m serious; I’m moving out. Help me move my shit over and we’ll call it square.”

As soon as you hang up, you start packing. You also change into the nicer variation of your usual outfit, a black button up and burgundy skirt, paired with red suspenders and black knee socks and your favorite dark red ankle boots. You want to dress to impress for your new job, even if that means wearing your fancy clothes. Of course, your regular clothes are almost exactly the same, but it’s the thought that counts. It seems like things are looking up for once.


 Giddy with excitement, you watch as Artie drops the last of your bags off in the hotel lobby. He waves off your thanks and heads out, leaving you to focus back on Charlie and Vaggie, who were going over the requirements of your position. As far as you could tell, given that Charlie was too excited for you to follow along, and Vaggie was too busy mooning over her apparent girlfriend to go into detail, your job was actually pretty simple.

It basically boiled down to: feed everyone, please, we don’t care what it is, just make it more edible than the takeout down the street, we’ll cover all the ingredients if you’ll just make good food. At least, that’s the general vibe you were getting here. As Charlie– who you still couldn’t believe was the Princess of Hell, she was so nice– finished cheerfully describing all the perks to working here, you were finally left to get settled in.

By the time you finished unpacking in what turned out to be a sizable suite, it was late enough to start work on dinner. With your new budget being what it was, you felt no guilt in heading out and buying what felt like half the meat and groceries in the city. You were sparing no expense, but still, it was kind of frustrating that none of the meat in the city was fresh enough for your tastes.

Regardless, it’s late afternoon when you get to stocking your new kitchen. Familiarizing yourself with all the equipment takes a bit, but you find yourself feeling comfortable in the large clean space. You start filling cabinets with your own cooking implements but it’s not until you hang up your little “Knock Before Entering” sign that the space really feels yours.

“What to make, what to make,” you wonder to yourself as you look at your cold storage room. You’ve definitely gone a bit overboard there, to the point where every rack is packed from floor to ceiling. Filled with the housewarming spirit, you decide to go with a taste of home and pull out some venison. In your opinion, nothing beats some good old deer meat.

You crank up some jazz music on your phone and get to work, chopping meat and potatoes as you sway to the beat. Humming to yourself, you barely notice the hours pass by, and you’re trying to finish up a shrimp jambalaya alongside  your mother’s old venison steak recipe. It wasn’t hers originally, she’d apparently gotten it from an old friend that she refused to name, presumably so that you wouldn’t go harass them for recipes, but it’d been decades since you’d last made it. Your memory of it is fuzzy at best, and your intense concentration and loud music kept you from noticing anything happening outside your kitchen.

The sounds of the massive front doors opening and the discussion slowly turning into an argument in the parlor were blocked out entirely. The sound of the kitchen door creaking open and the low snuffling and pattering of hooves behind you would’ve been equally disregarded if not for the wet press of a nose against your leg. You jumped straight into the air with a squeak and fling your arm out to slash.

Thankfully, the thing behind you was too small to be stabbed. You look down and are faced with the smallest, most adorable pig you’ve ever seen. It’s pink with small lavender splotches all over and squeals back at you cutely. You are overcome with the need to pet it. You refuse to repress the urge and immediately scritch at its ears. The little snort it makes nearly makes you cry.

Still, you’re kind of in chef mode at the moment; your knife is in hand, you’re desperate for fresh meat, and a very chunky and delicious looking pig is right there. You lift the knife, but pause, realizing how out of place it is for a pig to show up in a hotel. Maybe it was someone’s pet?

“Hey, has anyone seen Fat Nuggets? Fat Nuggets, c’mere sweetums!” croons an unfamiliar male voice.

Looking closer, you spot a collar around the pig. The tag reads Fat Nuggets. You don’t have time to process that before a weirdly sexy spider demon busts through the kitchen door. You assume this was that Angel Dust guy that Vaggie had mentioned earlier.

“Hey, newbie, you seen a pig aroun- Oh my god what are you doing to Fat Nuggets?!” he screams.

In his defense, you were crouched over his pet, knife raised and apron covered in blood from the venison earlier. That still didn’t stop you from reacting instinctively to someone busting into your space and screaming, so before you know it your knife is already deeply embedded in his shoulder. There’s a pause.

“Did you just STAB ME?!” he demands. Before either of you can react further, the pig, clearly startled by all the yelling, oinks in distress and skitters out of the kitchen at full speed. The spider guy un-stabs himself by stepping back and runs after his pet.

“Nuggets, come here sweetie, what did she do to you?” he cries dramatically. Seeing as all you ended up doing was give the pig a damn ear scratch, you’re offended at his insinuation. You feel righteous indignation selling up, compelling you to defend your honor.

“I didn’t do anything!” you yell, following behind.

“You stabbed me!” Angel screeches, “And you tried to eat my pig!”

The pig in question is booking it into the parlor, skidding on the wood floors as he turns the corner.

“Well, maybe if you’d knocked, I wouldn’t’ve stabbed you! There was a sign, you know!” you shoot back. “And I wasn’t trying to eat it, but maybe you should think twice about letting your walking pork-chop into people’s kitchens!”

He only screams back at you in frustration as the pig runs behind someone’s legs. It’s only now that you realize you have an audience. Charlie and Vaggie are looking at you in stunned silence, and the third person, who is bending down to pick up Fat Nuggets, stops you in your tracks.

The man is dressed in a dapper red pinstripe suit, with black accents. He seems to be some sort of deer demon, going by the antlers and distressingly soft-looking ears. He grins a maw full of sharp teeth at the pig, who has stopped squirming and appears to be frozen in fear. You can’t see why it would; he has a lovely smile.

“What a charming pet,” he says, and wait, is his voice crackling with static? That’s neat. Vaggie glares at the demon, who ignores her as he passes the animal to Angel, who has also gone deathly still for some reason. He reaches out and hugs the pig, who snuffles happily into his fluffy chest. The “fucking annoying spider” skitters back out of immediate reach of the newcomer before using his lower arms to examine every inch of his squirming pet.

“Poor baby, did the mean chef hurt you? How’s my little Fat Nugget?” Angel fusses. Your audience instantly forgotten in a fresh wave of annoyance, you turn to your soon-to-be repeat stab victim.

“I said I didn’t hurt the damn pig, give it a rest already.”

“Yeah, like I’ll buy that,” he snarks back, clutching the pig even tighter. “You stabbed me in the shoulder!”

Fed up and suddenly understanding Vaggie’s previous half hour rant on the Hotel’s first patient, you snap at him. “You have at least three more of those, so quit whining. And stay out of my kitchen!”

With a huff, he turns on his heel and leaves. Seething, you turn and then promptly flush in embarrassment. Charlie and Vaggie are still staring at you, while the stranger just smiles at you with an eyebrow raised in curiosity. Man, what a way to start your first day on the job.

“Sorry about that,” you apologize to your boss (bosses? You can’t figure out if you work for Vaggie or Charlie, or both).

“It was unprofessional of me to yell.” You deliberately avoid apologizing for the stabbing. You’re not sorry about that at all right now.

Vaggie opens her mouth to respond, but is cut off by the deer demon as he steps forward.

“I hardly see why a young lady defending herself would be worthy of apology. The name’s Alastor, dear, and I have to say, that was quite the spectacle just now! I assume you’re the new chef?” he asks boisterously, stepping into your space and extending a hand. Your hand twitches out of both instinct and habit at the sudden movement, ready to summon your knife. Judging by the way his grin stretches, Alastor clearly noticed.

You take his hand anyways. “You assume correctly. My name’s Honey,” you say. "It’s a pleasure to meet you," you then add, because your mother raised you to be a proper southern lady.

He blinks, as though you’ve surprised him, then somehow smiles wider. Instead of shaking your hand, he swoops in dramatically to kiss your knuckles and you feel your face heat up in a blush. Dapper gentlemen– your only weakness. It doesn't help that his fluffy ears are now much closer to your face. Your fingers twitch again as you restrain yourself from assaulting the man with pets. The urge fades somewhat as he straightens and pulls away to respond.

“Likewise, my dear. It’s a rare treat to see such manners in so young a demon,” he tells you, and the permanent undercurrent of static in his voice is light and airy.

Suddenly Vaggie cuts in, apparently having recovered from her surprise. “What the hell is happening right now?”

You open your mouth to answer but she cuts you off. “You know what, I don’t care. Alastor, you were just leaving, right?” she grits out, staring him down. He looks at her implacably, his expression fixed and suddenly his smile looks a lot less friendly.

“Was I?” he asks neutrally, but the atmosphere turns heavy. You feel as though the shadows in the room are growing longer, and a faint crackling can be heard, as though someone was turning up the volume on a vintage radio. You think you can see faded symbols floating in and out of your peripheral vision, which is restricted as a stifling darkness starts to press in on your senses. You don’t really know what to do about any of that, so you just ignore it and turn to face Alastor.

You pause briefly, seeing the way his form seems to flicker, showing hints of something truly demonic. The sight flicks every mental switch that should have you on high alert, and there’s no denying the innate sense of predator coming off him in waves. But you stopped being prey yourself decades ago, and while you felt the prickling discomfort of facing a threat, something about the rising sound static reminded you of your mom’s crackly old records and your father’s own refusal to just replace his grandfather’s slowly failing radio and the association is messing with your instincts.

Then you notice how his hair is very subtly floofier from the presumed static and you lose your entire fucking mind. In an effort to keep things from escalating, you clear your throat. Alastor blinks and turns to face you, eyes dark and smile bloody. He tilts his head at you in question, and you feel the responsibility of preventing an all out brawl settle heavy on your shoulders. You search for something to say.

“Dinner should be done in a few minutes if you’d like to stay for it,” your traitorous mouth offers. Vaggie glares at you and Charlie is just biting her nails and looking back and forth between everyone. You find that despite your internal screaming, you can’t really regret pissing off your boss, seeing as the weird activity dies down almost instantly. Alastor blinks once before resuming his cheerful demeanor.

“Certainly, sweetheart, though I’d hate to impose!” Despite his words, he’s already moving further into the house, to Vaggie’s clear distaste.

“Full disclosure,” you say, walking with him. “Tonight’s meal is venison. I hope that’s not a problem, given that, you know,” you say, gesturing towards his antlers. To your surprise he shakes his head and the crackling picks up in pitch as he laughs.

"Quite the opposite, dear. I'm rather fond of venison, though I prefer it somewhat under-cooked,” he says.

“Of course you do, you fucking cannibal,” mutters Vaggie from behind you, but Alastor walks on as though he didn’t hear her. Once you all reach the dining room, you excuse yourself to the kitchen so you could serve up dinner while Charlie leaves to round up the rest of the Hotel’s inhabitants.

You don’t stop to ask yourself if leaving Vaggie and Alastor alone is a bad idea. Your mind is focused on serving a meal good enough to keep Vaggie from firing you for being so much trouble on your first day.


 By the time you start bringing out the food with the help of Charlie’s delightful little goat servants, just about everyone is seated in the dining room. There are a few people you don’t recognize, like the cat with wings who seems painfully hungover, and a cute little cyclops demon who jitters in place as she chats with Angel Dust. The spider in question shoots you a nasty glare as you enter, but you ignore him for now.

“Ooh, who’s this?” asks the dainty cyclops, whose voice is pitched cutely if not a bit shrill.

“Who cares?” mutters the cat demon as he takes a swig from a bottle you swore hadn’t been there a second ago.

Charlie jumps on the chance to introduce you to everyone, and you smile and nod as you begin serving the dishes. You make idle chit chat as you serve dinner and find yourself genuinely charmed by Nifty, who was a sweet little chatterbox, and amused by Husk, who bristled at your attempts at small talk and was crassly defensive in the face of your persistent politeness. You didn’t have the heart to tell him you were only needling him because he reminded you of a gruff old barn cat you’d been fond of in your youth.

“About time, toots, I’m starving here,” goads Angel Dust as you walk up with his food, clearly trying to get a rise out of you. You’d hate to disappoint, so you “accidentally” drop his plate from about an inch up, making him jump at the clatter and glare at you. You shoot him a smile that displays every one of your sharp teeth, and dare him to say something. He doesn’t, but only because Vaggie, who’s seated next to him, jabs him when he opens his mouth. You decide to move on before hunting down that adorable pig out of sheer spite becomes too strong of a temptation. You grab Alastor’s plate off the tray the little goat butlers were holding and approach.

“Here you are, hon. Venison, served rare with shrimp jambalaya. Just let me know if you want it cooked a bit more, you hear?”

You bend to place Alastor’s plate in front of him, placing a hand on his shoulder to steady yourself as you straighten up. You feel him tense beneath your grip, but before you can let go and apologize, he relaxes and gives you a Cheshire grin.

“It smells delightful, dear. Was this a family recipe?” he asks as you serve yourself and sit at the last open seat beside him.

“The venison was, yes. But I picked up the recipe for jambalaya while, er, traveling, though Louisiana. It was one of my favorite dishes from the area,” you answer, always happy to discuss food. Alastor tries the dish and his ears perk straight up at the first bite.

“It’s delicious. A real taste of home,” he says sincerely. You feel yourself preening at the compliment but decide to focus on the other part of the statement.

“Oh? Are you from Louisiana, Alastor?” you ask politely as you pick at your own food. Before he can can answer Vaggie cuts in.

“Sure he is. And so are the countless victims he got in his first murder spree, the bastard,” she sneers.

“That’s pretty rude, Vaggie,” Nifty pipes in.

You don’t notice, too busy looking at Alastor for confirmation. He shrugs as if to say “what can ya do” and yeah, you need details. His gaze as he looks at you is almost expectant, which you take as the go ahead for insensitive questions.

“Were the victims actually countless, or do you remember the number?” you ask conversationally, tearing into a particularly tough bite of venison.

By his surprised pause and hesitation, you venture that maybe Alastor wasn’t actually expecting that at all. Whoops. Still, you’re curious, despite the weird looks the other people at the table are giving you before they return to their food and conversations.

“Well by my count, I had a tally of forty-five before I came down here, give or take a couple orphans. Not all of them in Louisiana, though. New Orleans was a charming city to hunt in,” he chirped at you, then tried the venison.

This information sounds familiar to you, and you mull it over for a moment. You’re watching the gratifying scene of everyone moaning over your cooking when it hits you. Alastor was that serial killer from the 30s. The one that news anchor was comparing you to all those years ago. You totally beat his body count, ha!

“That’s impressive,” you say sincerely, keeping your gloating to yourself. You try for some small talk while you eat. “Personally I preferred Lake Charles. The museums and nature trails had their own charm. Plus, the police force was less effective and the casinos drew enough crime that it’s easy to pin any bodies on locals.”

You realize that it’s gotten pretty quiet all of a sudden. You look up to see most of the table looking at you incredulously.

“Whut?” you ask around a mouthful of jambalaya. Slowly their expressions seem to become visibly disturbed and your words catch up to you. You chance a glance at Alastor who is beaming at you, but seems to be sizing you up in a way he hadn’t before. You’re not sure if that means he’s reevaluating you as a threat or as a future meal. You think there might not be a difference.

“What the fuck?” Vaggie glares at you from across the table.

“Hmm?” you say, aiming for nonchalance. “Oh, I was just talking about this lovely little city up topside. Anyways, Angel, where did you get such a cute pig? I’m sure that’s quite a story.”

Your blatant attempt to redirect the conversation fails miserably.

“Nice try, babe, but we meant the bit where you were hiding bodies.”

“I was hardly hiding them,” you snark at Angel Dust, then internally wince. Your past wasn’t something you wanted to bring up at work, but given the hole you’ve just dug yourself, you don’t seem to have much choice

You pick at your food and try to figure out how to put this delicately. You draw a blank and decide to just bite the bullet.

“I was a serial killer when I was alive, though not entirely on purpose,” you concede, then turn to Alastor and tell him, “You were my predecessor actually. They never did catch you, but most of the South-Eastern states still mentioned your work on TV. At least they still did during the late 90s, not sure about now obviously.”

You see him preening out of the corner of your eye as you wait for everyone to digest this information. Alastor looks like he’s about to ask you to elaborate, but is beaten to the punch. Damn. You were hoping he’d take the bait and keep attention off your slip up for a while longer.

“Whaddya mean it wasn’t on purpose?” asks Angel, bewildered. “Didya go around accidentally stabbin’ people, like ‘whoops sorry, guess I killed ya. My bad?’”

You shoot him a cold stare. “Yes, actually.”

“Oh.”

“Well I don’t really give a fuck,” Husk states, spearing meat on his fork and pointing it at you, “as long as you keep up the food. This beats shitty take-out by miles, ya could’a killed the President for all I care.”

“Thanks, Husk,” you beam.

“Wait, no that’s not okay. When were you going to tell us?” Vaggie demands, slamming her hand down on the table. You notice that she’s still scooping up food with her other hand, though. “Don’t you think that’s kind of important information to give your employer?”

“No, not really.” You slice at your venison demurely and ignore her immediate rage. As Vaggie sputters to respond, Charlie puts a hand on her arm to calm her down. She smiles at you uncertainly.

“Well, we’re happy to have you. Besides, this Hotel is meant for second chances. It’s not like you’re planning on stabbing us in our sleep,” she laughs awkwardly, but seems genuine.

“Of course not,” you say smiling back in reassurance, “Just make sure not to startle me and there shouldn’t be any accidents.”

Everyone looks less than reassured, but frankly you’re done with this conversation. You strike up a chat with Nifty, who cheerfully obliges. Eventually everyone settles back into snarking at one another and enjoying the meal. Alastor joins in on your conversation with gusto, gesticulating gleefully and making both you and Nifty giggle at his antics and bloodthirsty anecdotes.

At one point Alastor makes a well-timed cannibalism joke that had you snorting and choking on your shrimp. It was pretty embarrassing at the time, but along with your twitchy tendency to drop food from your fork whenever someone moved too fast, you seemed to have convinced most of the room of your harmlessness. By the end of the meal even Vaggie didn’t look like she found you remotely threatening, which was great. A little upsetting, granted, seeing as you were a very capable serial killer brought down in your prime. But that’s fine. You’re fine with being underestimated. It doesn’t get to you at all.

You rip into the last bit of venison with more force than necessary, then dab delicately at your mouth with a napkin. Around you people are groaning in satisfaction over the meal, which flatters you into a much better mood. You smile as you get up to start putting away plates, and excuse yourself from the table.

By the time you finish washing up and putting the kitchen to rights, most everyone has headed to their rooms for the night, with the exception of your bosses and Alastor.

“Ah, Honey. I was hoping to catch you before I left.”

“Consider me caught,” you smile at him.

He laughs loudly, the sound crackling pleasantly. Vaggie and Charlie wince off to the side, covering their ears, the former glowering at Alastor in displeasure.

“I merely wanted to complement you on the delicious meal.” He offers his hand, and you place your own in his, this time expecting the kiss to your knuckles. You’re still flustered, but manage to keep it off your face. You figure he doesn’t mean anything by it, seeing as he’d acted about as charming and polite to everyone throughout dinner, but you can’t help but be affected. Your accent slips out as a result, but you’re not too fussed about it for once.

“It was my pleasure, and well worth the excellent company,” you offer sincerely with a grin. It’s been some time since you’ve had any real reminders of home, and Alastor has managed to get you properly nostalgic a few times this evening. It’s a good feeling, if a little bittersweet.

Alastor coughs lightly and looked away, straightening his lapels. “Yes, well, I’d best be off. Things to do, people to eat, you know how it is.”

You snicker at his wording, missing Vaggie and Charlie’s shared look of disbelief.

“Ugh,” Vaggie’s huff of distaste brings you back to yourself. You figure you’d better make yourself scarce before anyone gets mauled unnecessarily.

You say a quick goodbye and head off to your room. It’s been a long week and that comfy hotel bed is calling your name. You flop face-first into the covers and let the sweet bliss of oblivion take you. You can hear a faint conversation carry on below you. The faint sound of static soothes you, following you into sleep.


Alastor collects himself as he watches the small rabbit demon leave the room. Usually his excessive charm was off-putting to lesser demons, or failing that outright ignored. It had been a while since he’d had someone respond to him with a similar demeanor without missing a beat. You were disarmingly genuine, and he wondered at the kind of demon that would smile at him so easily, fully aware of what lay beneath the veneer of civility he displayed.

His first impression of you was of a defensive chef unafraid to confront that uncomfortably sexual spider, something he’d appreciated, however distantly. Your initial skitishness told him you were in possession of some excellent survival instincts. He assumed you’d shy away, and was pleasantly surprised when you took his hand, and further impressed by your politeness. Then he’d lost a bit of his grip on his temper towards that overprotective pest of a demon, and he’d readied himself to deal with the aftermath of a fearful little bunny faced with a predator far above its paygrade.

When you stood unflinching in the wake of his reality-warping display of intimidation, and then invited him to dinner to boot, he wasn’t sure what to think. He thought he’d been mistaken and that maybe you were simply too oblivious to be afraid, or that you were too taken in by his superficial charm to recognize him. His moniker hadn’t come up yet, so he figured he’d wait and see your reaction upon realizing that he was the Radio Demon.

But then the dinner happened and gave him whiplash trying to keep up. You were completely at ease around him, putting your hand on his shoulder and getting in his space without hesitation. Then you had recognized him, not for his carnage in Hell, but for his carnage in life. That alone would have given him pause, much less the fact that you’d only recognized him because you were a serial killer in life yourself!

An accidental one at that, whatever that meant. Perhaps it was slang for something, Alastor really didn’t keep up with what the kids were saying these days. He’d leave that for the try-hards like Sir Pentious.

Regardless, he was at something of a loss for what to think. Especially given the way you kept up with his conversation and sense of humor. Normally Alastor would assume you were trying to ingratiate yourself with him, but you seemed too genuine. He could admit, to himself, at least, that you’d flustered him when you praised his company. He’s brought out of his musing by Vaggie clearing her throat pointedly.

“Charlie, you can head up if you want. I’ll see Alastor out,” she suggested, though her tone brooked no argument. Charlie shot her a grateful look and left the room.

“There’s no need, I’ll be on my way, dear.”

“Yeah, I don’t think so,” she sneers, blocking his way as he turns to exit.

Alastor has done very well for himself in the decades since he came to Hell. No small part of that is due to his ability to smile through frustrating situations in order reap the benefits of his carefully laid plans. This twig of a demon, however, made it very difficult for him to keep his cool. He thinks he’s made it clear to the defensive little manager that he has no intentions of harming her or her girlfriend’s band of miscreants and yet she keeps tempting him to violence.

“The hell kind of game are you playing, puta cabrón?” she demands the second they’re left alone.

“This again, dear? I’m not playing games at the moment,” he lied, head tilting as if confused. Of course he was, but certainly none that would affect anyone at the hotel one way or another. This little venture was a means to an end, but for once not one that would likely end in blood. The Hotel’s inhabitants had nothing to fear from him at the moment, as it would be counterproductive to his own interests.

“Right, sure. I don’t know what’s up between you and our new employee, but I’m warning you to back off. You won’t be laying a hand on anyone here,” snarls the irate Latina.

Alastor supposes he should give her credit for her sheer tenacity and stubborn protectiveness, but frankly he’s tired of repeating himself. He can feel his voice distort heavily as he responds, though his tone remains polite.

“I won’t be, no, but then again that’s what I’ve been saying for some time now. I’m beginning to think you don’t listen to me, Vaggie.”

She eyes him warily but seems to accept his answer. He’s sure that won’t last, so he brushes past her, leaving at last. He opens the door and steps out, pausing on the threshold when Vaggie calls out.

“I meant it. Don’t harass my employee.”

His grin is anything but friendly as he turns to face her. “No promises. I’ll be seeing you, sweetheart.”

The door shuts behind him with a click. He has work to do.

 

Chapter Text

You wake up feeling largely refreshed. You have a clock on your nightstand that you’re going to avoid looking at because as well-rested as you feel, you’ve definitely overslept. Once you’ve rolled out of bed and freshened up in the en-suite bathroom, you finally give it a glance. To your shock, it’s still relatively early in the morning. This is not a miracle you plan on wasting, so you take a moment to ensure you look put together before you head down to prepare breakfast.

Despite the absolutely overflowing pantry, you decide to keep it simple, seeing as you don’t know how many people will be up. You settle on eggs and toast, and you’re debating on whether or not it’ll set off Angel if you make bacon when a knock sounds at the entryway. You jump, but appreciate the forewarning.

“Come in!”

Charlie pops her head in, then smiles and steps inside once it’s clear you won’t be flinging knives at her.

“Good morning! I thought I heard someone else up and about.”

Her cheerful manner tells you she’s a morning person. Under normal circumstances you’re deathly allergic to these people, but for today at least you’re functional enough to smile back.

“Yep! Just working out how much to cook, hon. Do you know how many’ll be up in time for scrambled eggs?”

She taps a finger on her chin, considering. “Well, normally it’ll be just Vaggie and me, but sometimes Nifty wakes up around now. Is that what you’re making? Eggs?”

Her eager tone and obvious curiosity towards your cooking is obvious in how she’s nearly vibrating in place watching you set up various utensils and ingredients. You laugh lightly and nod, and the way she smiles sweetly is far too endearing for someone related to Hell’s head honcho.

“Alright, I’ll be sure to make enough for at least four. Thanks for the heads up, you’re a peach.”

You expect that to be the end of your interaction, but seeing the way she bites her lip and looks longingly back at your counter while slinking out gets to you.

“Alright, I can tell you’re curious. Get in here.” You tilt your head with a wry smile as she squeals and practically glues herself to your side.

“So! What’re you doing?”

You grab a couple eggs in one hand and crack them over a bowl. Charlie oohs and brightens when you offer her a second bowl and her own eggs.

“It’s nothing fancy, but it’s a fun trick. Here, let me show you how.”

It wasn’t often that you shared a kitchen, and for good reason, but there are no knives involved in scrambled eggs. You figure making breakfast with Charlie should be pretty straightforward.

 


 

 

“What the hell happened here?”

You and Charlie flinch in unison, covered in yolk and pancake batter, both of which liberally coat nearly every surface in your kitchen. Vaggie raises an eyebrow at the sheepish smiles on both your faces.

“We made breakfast!” Charlie chirps, and scoops some of the actually edible stuff of a pan onto a plate and holds it out like a peace offering.

“Want some?” she asks hopefully, and your smile become more genuine at the way your boss visibly softens when looking at her girlfriend.

“Yeah, okay. But I’m not trying anything until this mess is gone.”

Charlie squeals and does a dramatic little fist pump that has the both of you fighting off a grin. You set yourself to salvaging what remained in the pans, while Vaggie helped Charlie to wipe off the messier bits from the counters and stove tops.

You go into autopilot as a comfortable silence falls between the three of you, though it doesn’t last for more than a few minutes.

“Say, Honey,” Charlie says, getting your attention, “I’ve only known you for a day or so, but you seem like a really sweet gal. I mean you let me help out in the kitchen and taught me how to make eggs and pancakes...” she trails off, distracted as a small bit of aforementioned eggs and pancakes dribble off the ceiling with a splat.

“Shucks,” you blush, “That’s kind of you to say Charlie, but you don’t need to make it big deal or anything.”

“See!” She gestures at you wildly, rag in hand. “You’re a sweetheart!”

“And apparently a serial killer,” interjects Vaggie, though her tone is significantly warmer towards you than yesterday.

“Who gets along great with everyone!” Charlie argues, tongue stuck out at her girlfriend.

“Except Angel, who she stabbed. Not that I don’t get it, but come on!”

You’re getting whiplash looking back and forth between your bosses as they debate your merits for no real reason.

“Uhhh.” Neither of them turn to look at you. Instead Charlie leans halfway over your steel kitchen island to point her finger at Vaggie.

“She kept you and Alastor from fighting! That’s a miracle if I’ve ever seen one.”

“Actually yeah, what’s up with that?” Vaggie asks, putting you on the spot. “You were like, creepily not creeped out by him.”

Uncomfortable with the question, you feel your neck heat up as you turn back to the stove. You fiddle with the knobs to keep everything warm and put off answering.

“He’s sweet, is all,” you mumble. Your bosses react instantly, so you guess your mumbling needs some work.

“Ummmm?”

“The fuck?!”

Your face burns as you grab a spare wash rag and turn to scrub out some pancake batter from a counter. One on the other side of the kitchen.

“Also he looks really good in that suit,” you add, just to be a shit. You chance a peek over your shoulder and Vaggie looks like she’s torn between tears of frustrated confusion and outright violence.

“HE’S A SERIAL KILLER! THE FUCKING RADIO DEMON! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!”

“I ended up in Hell, so I honestly don’t know what to tell you.” You then shut up because you don’t think you’re helping your case here.

Charlie manages to soothe her girlfriend into some semblance of calm by placing a hand on her shoulder and exchanging a series of looks that you consciously ignore. You just keep scrubbing and remind yourself not to antagonize the people responsible for your paychecks.

“That’s actually what I wanted to talk to you about,” Charlie continues after a bit.

“What? Me ending up in Hell?” You’re flattered by the notion that you don’t belong here, but you were proof that manners don’t make up for the moral flaw inherent to regularly stabbing people. You say as much to her, though not unkindly. To your surprise, the princess just beams at you, getting in your space and grabbing your hands in hers. You violently suppress the urge to stab someone being in close proximity.

“But that’s the point! That’s an involuntary behavior! This hotel is meant to help rehabilitate people, and fatal taste in men aside, we can help you achieve redemption.”

The next few minutes are spent with you in a one armed hug as Charlie gestures grandly with her other hand, outlining the possibilities ahead for you. Vaggie glares at you when you open your mouth to interrupt, so you suffer through the most earnest and enthusiastic sales-pitch of your afterlife.

“So give us a shot, because Heaven is a-waiting!” Charlie promises, sharp teeth in a perfect row. A showman’s grin. She’s finally stopped rambling, probably more out of a need to breathe than anything else.

You gently step out from under her arm and really look at her. She doesn’t look like she’s pulling your leg. Her expression is genuine and hopeful, as if you’re really someone worthy of being redeemed.

“I appreciate,” you start off carefully, “your belief that I’m a good person, maybe even not that deep down. But I’m sorry Charlie, I can’t be redeemed.”

She starts to argue, but you raise a hand and sigh. “Okay, maybe I can, but I won’t.”

“What the hell?” Vaggie demands, deep in Protect Gf Mode. “In your interview you said you were alright with redemption. Were you lying, then?”

“Actually I said I was neutral. And I am. Neutral, that is. Charlie,” you address her seriously, “I know you said Heaven is awaiting, but frankly I don’t know what’s waiting for me there. Or who, I guess. My mom is- she died when I was a kid. But my pops-” you stop, suddenly choked up.

“My pops would’a fought the world for me. And now I’m dead, and it ain’t been so long that he’d for sure be, too. So I’ll wait a few more decades. Make sure he ain’t coming down here for some stupid stunt like avenging me or some shit. Because if I try and make a run for those pearly gates like you’re asking me to, Charlie,” you say looking her in the eyes and ignoring your suddenly blurry vision, “And he ends up down here, all alone and on my behalf… Well, that’s not something I reckon I can live with. So go ahead and ask me again in thirty years, Princess, and not a day sooner.”

You nod decisively and turn back to cleaning the last bit of dirty counter top. You blink away the moisture in your eyes and then promptly refuse to acknowledge it was ever there.

“Oh shit,” Vaggie says faintly. You see Charlie turn to her in your peripheral, but decide to cut this line of conversation off before it goes any further.

“So!” you chirp, whirling around with the warm breakfast pans. “Breakfast’s not gettin’ any more ready, gals.”

“But-”

You cut her right off, rambling up a storm on the different ways to make scrambled eggs and how fun each would be for Charlie to try. Placing dishes in each of their hands and herding them off to the dining room takes all your considerable skill in practiced avoidance of uncomfortable topics, and while at first they seem hesitant, soon Charlie is swept up in your excitement. It’s not like you’re faking it either; cooking with other people turns out to be pretty fun. But it’d probably be best reserved for dishes that don’t need sharp utensils to make.

Just in case.

Breakfast ends up being a lively affair, with lots of idle upbeat chatter and appreciative noises aimed towards the food. To your surprise Angel joins you within a few minutes holding a jumbo sized mug of coffee, amusingly disgruntled and drowsy.

He only grunts at you and squints over his mug. You decide to keep the peace and politely say good morning but otherwise keep to yourself. He slops a serving of eggs on an empty plate and absentmindedly goes for a bite. To your gratification his eyes widen, pupils huge, and he gobbles it down with sloppy ferocity.

The uncomfortably sexual noises he makes as he slips his tongue around the fork on his last bite has you cringing into the table, but still. It’s nice.

Even better was the way Charlie seemed to brighten every time anyone took an extra serving from the batch she’d made. They were simple, but very good, and you’d taught her how to add things like butter and chopped veggies in. The second-hand pride guarantees your good mood for a while, especially since everyone has one for seconds and thirds.

Some time later, you’ve already left and come back with a fresh batch of eggs, assuming more people would be down soon. Nifty is awake by now and seems to have dragged Husk out of the toilet seat you’re assuming he’d passed out over. The winged cat has his ears flicked completely back and both arms over his head, which is plastered firmly to the table. Every few seconds or so he groans in pain and flicks his tail in distress. Nifty chatters on excitedly next to him, occasionally shaking him in emphasis.

You decide to take pity on him, in part out of kindness, but mostly because he’s clearly too nauseous to try your food. He’s lifted his wings up in a futile attempt to shield his upper body from Nifty, abandoning all pretenses as to willingly being here at this table. She absently pulls on his feathers instead. A few minutes later you’ve returned and slide a glass over to him.

He reacts to the sound of it in a way that can only be described as Pavlovian, halting its glide with one hand without looking, then sitting up to toss it back in one gulp. He splutters immediately, clearly having expected it to be alocholic.

“What the fuck?! I take back what I said yesterday, you’re a monster! Are ya tryin’ ta kill me?!”

You can’t help but giggle at his expression of disgust. His teeth are bared in a snarl and his eyebrows are so furrowed it’s downright comical.

“I’m sorry, sugar, I didn’t think you’d just down it like that. That’s a hangover cure.” You try to placate him as you take a seat. It may taste bad, but it was near instant, relying on odds and ends native to hell and imbued with magic. You always kept some on hand for this express purpose.

“How’re you feelin'?” you ask, smug.

Husk narrows his eyes, clearly about to shout, but cuts himself off with a huff.

“Pretty great, actually. It was still disgustin’,” he grumbles, finally reaching across to serve himself some breakfast.

You completely agree. The recipe is particularly nasty, but you'd learned it from Artie a while back. The bear demon had convinced you to get blackout drunk the night before an extermination and nearly gotten the both of you killed. His apology was to make you this miracle cure in the morning. You still think dying would’ve been a kinder alternative.

In hindsight, that's a fond memory, and it’s with thoughts of friendship in mind that you settle in for what’s sure to be a lively morning surrounded by interesting demons. You have a good feeling about this day.

 


 

You were right, it was a good day. A good week, even. You half thought you’d jinxed yourself with your earlier optimism, but so far you’ve adapted to your new life here with remarkable smoothness. Living in a fancy hotel is in fact all that it’s cracked up to be and your food has been a big hit with your fellow residents. All of whom you are on relatively good terms with.

Even Angel has warmed up to you bit, especially once you got him some specialty coffee beans as a peace offering. It helps that Fat Nuggets has seen fit to regularly follow you around for scritches and come out unscathed. You also haven’t stabbed a single person so far, which might be a new record for you.

That last thought was a bit depressing actually, so you resolve to distract yourself.

It’s evening now, and dinner is still hours away. You resolve to use your free time to the fullest and set to exploring the under utilized areas of the hotel. Hallway after hallway is lined with little snippets of Charlie’s life and family. It’s a curious insight into Hell’s royal family, but frankly after a week the novelty has worn off. You just want something to do, damn it!

You end up in a smaller parlor/ living room combo on the first floor. It’s nearly empty except for some fainting couches and smaller bits of furniture up against the walls. What really catches your interest is the gramophone placed on an end table near the entrance.

It was a short walk back to your room to scavenge some records. Then it was only a matter of sliding the first disc out of its frankly disintegrating cover sleeve and collapsing into the couch to bask in some well-deserved me time. You while away at least an hour like this, just letting crackling and scratchy sounds of jazz pull you along in a brassy beat.

You’re nearing the end of your record collection sooner than you’d like, but you’d saved the best for last. You still have a handful of discs that were clear and catchy. A couple were even identical to some of your mother’s old vinyls. They made you think of better days, dancing happily with your family; your father laughing as you’d stumble on those old steps, only for your mother to swoop in with a smile and show your clumsy kid feet how to do the Charleston for the tenth time in an afternoon.

You’ve only just stepped back from swapping disc, a wide if bittersweet grin on your face, when someone knocks on the door frame.

“You know, I thought for certain you were a demon of good taste,” says Alastor, moving over to you in long strides. “As usual, I am completely correct!”

An old laugh track sounds faintly outside the edge of your perception, which is never not going to pull a chuckle from you. Now that you’re paying attention, you realize some of the distortion you’d chalked up to scratched records must’ve actually been the radio demon’s presence in the hotel.

You smile up at him, bashful. You've seen him here and there over the past few days, and speaking with him is always a breath of fresh, highly electrified air.

“Haha, hiya Alastor. I hope I wasn’t playing this too loud.”

He scoffs at you, eyes bright, and leans in.

“Too loud? There’s no such thing when it comes to a good tune!”

You beam back at him, then move to turn the dial up as far as it will go. You’re riding some sort of emotional high right now- you’re nostalgic in a good way for once, you’ve been having the time of your afterlife since you came to the hotel, and today’s been a slow day filled with good food and music. Maybe that’s why when faced with good company, you suddenly feel daring.

You fill the room with a loud stomping crescendo of a song, move towards the open space away from the furniture and extend a hand to Alastor.

“Wanna dance, hon?”

He’s been grinning wide and amused since your hand moved to the dial, but something in his expression jolts and turns unreadable for a a single beat. Then suddenly he’s in front of you, your hand in his, and with a snap of his free hand, you can see little creatures slink out of the shadows below the furniture, braying trumpets and cellos and yanking the tune into something immediate and LOUD.

“Try and keep up my dear.”

You bare your teeth at each other, wild and ecstatic, and then you’re off. You haven’t danced in ages, but something about this moment seizes you by your bones and has you moving with confidence as you whirl and stomp to the beat.

It’s delightful, the way the near screech of a fiddle has you sliding into Alastor’s space, only for a booming drum beat to impel you into a spin away from him. The record clicks and transitions into a new song, but neither of you miss a beat. The music shifts into something more fit for a Charleston, and you find yourself admiring the way Alastor pulls you into insane maneuvers with smooth skill, matching and challenging you step for step.

You don’t feel out of your depth. You probably should, you think, as Alastor’s shadow slinks apart from him and shifts you into a dizzying spin, only for the demon himself to intercept you with a manic smile. You match it, feeling exhilarated and filled with reckless abandon, letting him lead you into what feels like a frenzy of noise and movement (it’s not until much later that either of you will wonder at how carelessly and sharply you'd moved, not a thought spared towards your ever-present knife).

You can feel your blood pumping in your ears, but you lean into the feeling and into your dance partner’s lithe chest and let the band of small creatures crackle along with your favorite records without a care. The song ends as Alastor lifts you into a fun maneuver you’d only ever tried once with your dad when you’d been feeling silly, but rather than end with bruised shins and good-natured curses, you both pull it off smoothly.

Another click of his fingers and a pair of those voodoo doll minions switch out the disc for another. The beat for this is smoother, more jazzy, but you’re still feeling reckless, so you shift your grip and rather than be pulled along, you push.

Alastor raises an eyebrow in question, but you move a hand to his waist and lean into the pressure, a wordless and daring request to lead. You feel the reverb crackle through the air as he gives a sharp laugh and lets you tug him along.

You laugh with him, delighted, and settle into a simpler but still fast paced swing. You’re used to being the lead the rare few times you’d visit some of the clubs in Hell, and though you can’t claim to be as fantastic a dancer as your partner here, you know what you’re doing.

It’s a thrill in of itself, to dance with this sharply dressed and charming demon, but here, surrounded by a full band playing along to your record, Alastor playing along to your tune and your steps, you want to cackle and dance forever and also maybe try and stab something, just to add to this rush of sensation.

It’s pretty clear that he’s only humoring you, you think wryly, barely able to think at all. But it’s undeniable that he’s having a good time, and that he wants to be here, doing this, if only because nothing can make Alastor do something he doesn’t want to be doing.

That’s why, as the song crests to its conclusion, you send him into a spin, step into his space, and dip him dramatically. By some miracle you catch him smoothly, though the angle is harsh.

Alastor’s minions dispel themselves immediately, and the record comes to a clicking halt. Your faces are inches apart and you’re both breathing heavily, chests heaving. You can feel a feral smile nearly splitting your face, though it turns to confusion as you look at Alastor’s deer-in-the-headlights (you’re hilarious) expression. You tilt your head and start to ask.

“What-”

“The fuck is goin’ on in here?!”

Angel’s voice has your head whipping around to see the whole damn crew looking in from the hallway. You instantly react. As usual, instinct takes over; you try and summon your knife, but your stabbing hand is full of Alastor. Your moronic subconscious attempts to solve this problem by freeing up your stabbing hand.

You drop Alastor.

“Shit! Sorry!”

 


 

Alastor has a great many irons in a great many fires at all times. Or at least he used to. Lately, he’s been allowing some of his greater ambitions to stay on the backburner, so to speak. It’s been necessary if only to keep him from collapsing under the sheer amount of boredom he’s felt for the last decade or so.

Because really, there’s only so much territory to go around down here, and expanding his influence right now would mean stepping on the toes of very, very high ranking demons. Not something to be done lightly. Of course, he’s going to do it (with a smile), but rushing things at this stage will only court trouble of a more tedious kind.

The point is, Alastor thinks, as he walks back into the Hazbin Hotel (he’ll convince Charlie to change the name eventually, he’s sure of it, his version is much more accurate) is that there’s nothing else for him to do. He’s the business partner to the Princess of Hell, and certainly that’s an in with the Royal Family, however tentative, but frankly there’s no real need for him to come around this often.

No, he has resorted to lingering around the halls and parlors of the hotel just to harass this medley of sinners for as long as he can get away with it.

So forever, basically. He lets a laugh track crackle through his microphone at the thought, if only to see Angel flinch at the reverb as Alastor walks past his room. That draws a real laugh out of him. It’s always fun to be the one making the spider uncomfortable rather than the other way around.

If he has to deal with one more sexual innuendo about his “impressive rack”, he’s going to gore that demon and damn the consequences. Namely, that he would likely be unwelcome to return in Charlie’s eyes, which would ruin all his fun. Still, short of severe bodily harm, there’s a lot of wiggle room here for him to make some trouble.

His grin is malicious as he stalks the halls, but it’s only when Alastor notices the curling and wide shadow of his antlers stretching wall to wall that he realizes he’s overdoing it a bit. Dialing back the heavy buzzing from his microphone, he gets rid of it for the moment and tries to think of something, anything (he’s serious, anything at all) to do. Suddenly, his ears twitch and swivel around.

Pausing mid-stride, he hears it: a faint but familiar tune coming from near the stairwell. It’s jazz, and from his era, he’s surprised to note.

Finally, something worth his attention! Alastor moves for the stairs, following the brassy tones, literally music to his ears. To his delight, the source is the hotel’s newest resident- the chef, Honey.

A curious little thing, he’d call you brave, but there’s no bluster to this demon, not really. Just a disarmingly genuine personality, not unlike Charlie in sincerity and politeness, but certainly with a more prevalent temper. To his disappointment, even when Angel would set you off by being aggravating, you haven’t stabbed a single person since that first day.

Quite frankly, he’s not sure what to make of you, so fretful and yet apparently fearless. Still, so far, the little bunny has proven excellent company. He decides to speak up as you put in a new record.

“You know, I thought for certain you were a demon of good taste,” he declares. A little flattery has never hurt anybody. “As usual, I am completely correct!”

He’s not even lying. You, somewhat perplexingly, seem to prefer his company, which is already a sign of impeccable taste. Having what looks like a pile of records from the Roaring Twenties (and oh how the streets of his city had truly roared with music and violence and magic) is just more proof that Alastor is never wrong.

The rabbit demon is flustered, but pleased, which is good. You even laughed at the laugh track that he manifested for emphasis. Yes, playing nice around the hotel denizens has been a good call.

When you ask if your record is too loud, he can’t help but be offended. This sort of music is meant to be loud, to be heard blocks away and still felt in the lungs.

“Too loud?” he scoffs, “There’s no such thing when it comes to a good tune!”

You seem to understand, since you turn to the gramophone and twist the dial as high as it will go. That is incredibly charming, more so when you turn to him with a rebellious grin, outstretch a hand, and- wait.

“Wanna dance, hon?”

He freezes. He loves to dance, has dragged more than one demon into a loud and fast whirl on the dance floor, for fun and profit and often both. But he count on one hand the occasions where he’s been asked to dance by a demon he both knows and doesn’t dislike, much less to music he knows- really knows- music that reminds him of the great and terrible days of his time among the living).

Your smile is confident and daring, but entirely genuine. You seem to truly only desire his company, just for the sake of dancing to a jazzy tune.

Alastor’s heart skips a beat. He processes all this in a single moment, and then feels a grin come over him that’s a wide as the one he wears deep in the throes of bloodlust. In a literal snap, he has some souls handling live accompaniment and a fascinating little marvel of a sinner in hand.

The next hour is a too vivid and exhilarating to be a blur, but it certainly is nearly as much of a rush as a massacre. Between the booming music, the strange familiarity of an old crackling sound system that isn’t coming from him, and the ever present and surprisingly talented dance partner, Alastor hasn’t has this much fun in ages.

He’s certainly danced with people much more technically skilled, but none as heatedly, recklessly passionate, or who enjoyed the music itself by even half as much.

Alastor throws power around without a care, spinning you between his shadow and himself unthinkingly. You don’t even blink, just settle back into the rhythm as he keeps the records spinning and you along with it.

The last record is seamlessly swapped out by a pair of souls, when you surprise him once again. Though small and feminine and seemingly raised traditionally Southern, you were still pushing to lead. He quirks a brow, incredulous, but potentially willing to play along. If you were asking to lead for a laugh, he’d ignore your silent request and keep on.

But no, as you slide into his space and tug again, he realizes as usual you’re being sincere. You were delighted and swept up in the moment (him too) and honestly just asking, requesting a turn.

Well, Alastor is nothing if not a gentleman! He concedes the lead, if only out of curiosity and good humor. You beam up at him, and tug him into a surprisingly (he should start expecting more from you, but he’s so rarely surprised these days that it sends a thrill through him whenever you manage to do so) adept swing.

It’s fast and it’s fun, and before he knows it, the song is reaching its peak and you’ve spun him into a twirl and wowza! That’s much more dizzying and exhilarating than the other way around; he suddenly sees why ladies giggle and smile when he throws in a twirl or two.

He’s finishing the spin as the song ends on a loud blaring saxophone when you’re suddenly in his space, hand on the small of his back, other supporting his neck- that’s a lot of contact- and he loses his concentration on the souls and on his static and he’s falling except no, you’ve caught him in a dip, grin wicked with delight and near savage and suddenly Alastor can’t breathe (It’s the contact, there’s too much contact that he didn’t initiate. He ignores the corner of his mind that reminds him you’ve been initiating all sorts of contact for over an hour without his concern).

Then Angel opens his mouth and he’s actually falling this time. Alastor just slips into his shadow and appears standing upright several feet away.

He waves off your apologies and composes himself. Foreseeing a tedious conversation based on the expression on Vaggie’s face as she storms in, finger raised at him, he thanks you for the excellent evening and quickly extricates himself from the situation.

He’s not running away. He’s not.

 


 

 

In a dark room draped with rich fabrics and filled with smoke, a figure curls a lip over a fanged grin, as dark and oozing as tar, sweet and sickening as molasses. The striking silhouette is broken only by glowing golden eyes. The demon sits facing a mirror, thin veils separating them from the rest of the room. A small lantern sits at their hip, shedding faint golden light. It illuminates no part of it’s holder (the demon doesn’t want it to).

“This is gonna’ a much bigger target than my usual contracts. What makes you think your request is worth all tha’ trouble you’ll be putting me and mine through, dear?”

A wealthy patron cowers near the entrance of the room, unwilling to walk deeper inside. He’s cowardly, but in possession of good instincts.

“I can make it worth your while. You know I’m good for it.” His voice wavers, but not so much as to cover up the inherent arrogance, offended at the idea that he couldn’t afford something.

“Hm. My usual going rates won’t even be a tenth of whatchu’ll owe me, pumpkin. And you’ll be leavin’ half of that up front with one of my girls before I even think of liftin’ a finger, you hear?”

The demon grimaces, but nods. The figure finally breaks off their gaze through the mirror, letting him scarper off.

There is an unlit fireplace alongside one wall. The lantern-bearer contemplates the mantelpiece. A pair of antlers would look lovely as a centerpiece, they think. It’d make for a nice trophy.

 

Chapter Text

It’s been a couple of weeks since you were left baffled and embarrassed in that impromptu ball room. You figure you might’ve overstepped your bounds with Alastor, but you can’t know for sure. It’s entirely possible that he just wanted to avoid Vaggie. She’s actually pretty funny when she’s not feeling defensive towards you, but still, you’ve had your fair share of awkward and over-the-top exits trying to avoid her on the warpath.

One time you managed to escape her wrath at accidentally embedding your knife in the wall by literally picking Angel up and chucking him at her, then bolting. That took a few days to smooth over. You’re not too proud of that one.

The point is, you’ve run into Alastor more than a few times since then and he’s acted like nothing was amiss. If anything he’s been weirdly more tactile than usual (thankfully you’ve avoided pulling your knife on him), so maybe you were reading into things too much. You don’t think so, but honestly you’re in no position to comment on people avoiding their problems.

Case in point: Vaggie.

A Second Example: You stabbed a pillow by accident (the stabbing was the accident, you hit the pillow on purpose at the last second to avoid giving Angel a new face hole). Turns out, Nifty had just finished sewing that thing. She'd looked at you, blinked once, pupil contracting to a pinprick, and hopped up onto her feet, needle in hand and tiny smile in place.

So anyways, you’re not going home for at least four hours; there’s a very real chance that you’ll find yourself sewn into a new pillowcase. Hence, field trip! You’ve decided to get some shopping out of the way while you’re out, and maybe pick up a peace offering while you’re at it.

What does Nifty like besides, you know, cleaning and sewing? You realize you have no idea and proceed to feel very bad about that for about two seconds. The moment passes and you settle on buying a new pillowcase. Maybe you'll make some apology cookies for dessert tonight.

Plan set, you step out of the hotel for the first real time in weeks. You move quickly through the midday foot traffic, keeping your ears perked at attention. You’ve been spoiled by the relative peace of your new home; the streets are no busier than usual, but you find yourself whipping around at every shout and skidding tire.

Considering the location, that happens about once every other minute. This is really not good. You’d finally gotten accustomed to the chaos of Hell about a decade back, and while your tolerance took a hit for a while after every extermination you’ve not been on such high alert in years.

Torn between staying alert in order to prevent any incidents and forcing yourself to not react to try and start dulling down your reactions again, you settle on the latter. As uncomfortable as it feels, the only way to be safe out in public is to be in control of yourself, even if it means sacrificing a tiny margin of vigilance.

You reach the less edgy area of the shopping district with minimal false starts and only a handful of aborted stabbings, courtesy of being jostled around by passerby. They didn’t even notice your knife before you’d put it away, so you’ll count it as a success.

Taking a deep breath, you steel yourself, looking up at the boutique before you. You’ve gotten your first paycheck from Charlie and the number of zeroes brought tears to your eyes. For once, you’ve got the cash to spare, and the thought of all the useless bullshit you’re about to purchase has you welling up with indescribable emotion. People say money talks. They’re right, and it’s saying “spend me, right now.” Frankly, you're not inclined to argue.

 


 

Forget all the bitter thoughts you’d had in life, being rich is fucking awesome. It’s been a couple of hours since you hit the shopping district like a tornado of cash. You only set aside a small portion of your check to use today, and it’s only been for two weeks worth of work, but you think it’s the most money you’ve ever had at once, alive or dead.

Your mad budgeting skills, when combined with your haggling expertise (consisting of holding the shop owner at knife point when they tried overcharging you) had netted you a massive haul of new records and trinkets galore.

It’s later in the afternoon now, and the crowds have gotten a bit heavier. Despite this, you’re cheerful- distracted, even, as you head to a particularly fancy store front that’s caught your eye. You’re half a block away when someone grabs your arm in a crushing grip, wrenching you around.

You scream, blade flashing, but your wrist is knocked away. Your vision blurs as you’re shoved backwards onto the curb. The bags impact the ground with a distant crunch- you'd dropped them immediately on instinct.

YOU.”

You lay your eyes on the perpetrator, snarling down at you. This demon is massive compared to you, at least seven feet tall and broad as a door. Reptilian, you think, rolling to dodge a fist aimed at your head. And he’s clearly pissed as hell.

“What the fuck is your problem?!” you say, skittering to your feet and out of his reach, knife already in hand. You adjust your grip, carefully angling the flat of the blade to cover your front. The demon hisses at with surprising rage.

“My problem?!” he attempts to flank you, but you keep him in your sights, leaving you circling each other warily.

“You’re my problem, you fucking bitch! Literally the source of all my problems!” he calls out hysterically, lunging again.

You catch his arm in a nasty slice, twisting around behind him as he stumbles forwards, trying for a clean slice to his neck. He's too quick and you’re forced to back up before you can do more than nick his collarbone. Distantly, you can register a faint buzzing, like a swarm of flies (or static). You brush it off, eyes narrowing as with calculation, and decide to stall for an opening.

“What the hell are you talking about, you lunatic? I’ve never seen you before in my life.” You don’t actually give a shit who this guy is, but the more you can distract him, the faster you can put him down. This asshole might’ve wrecked your new stuff, so you’re not feeling real sympathetic right now.

“HA! That’s exactly when you’ve seen me, you monster,” the demon snarls, lashing a long tail at you like a whip. Your reaction is a split second too slow and he catches you across the cheek, leaving a thin line of scored flesh.

“He told me- told all of us you were here now, that he’d finally managed to find you.” He rambles, voice pitched high with nervous anger. “I thought he’d lost it. I mean, c’mon, a bunny? What a fucking joke!”

You snarl back at him, raising your free hand to the cut. It comes away wet with blood, and you can feel its warm stickiness smeared across your face.

Okay, now you’re pissed. You don’t know what he’s talking about and you really don’t care. This fucker dies. Now. You spot an opening and let your vision bleed r e d, body running on adrenaline and long-ingrained muscle memory. You roll your shoulders once, and the thin veneer of civilization slips off your skin.

Your pulse settles, a slow and deafening pound across all your senses. You drawl out a response, words dri p p i ng off your tongue like poIson, lips creepiNg slowly into a sINister sMile.

Shut. The fuck. Up.

You lunge. Dimly you notice him stumble backwards.

A beat .

Your knife is at his jugular. You feel a dull pain as he swats you away. The rough scrape of concrete as you hit the ground, already rolling into position for a second strike.

A beat.

You’ve slipped behind the demon, knife deeply embedded at the base of his tail (he won’t be hitting you with that twice) . He curses, whirling around, claws bared.

A beat.

Your right arm is bleeding freely, dripping on the concrete. You ignore it and duck below the next swing.

Beat.

The enemy throws himself at you with a snap of his gaping crocodilian maw. A knife wedges its way between cartilage and bone.

Beat.

The victim? clutches his jaw, thick ribbons of flesh sliced away and dangling, exposing muscle. You have a tooth embedded in your arm.

Beat.

You move to press the advantage, but slip on the growing puddle of blood. The knife is knocked away as you adjust.The price it- he paid was a hand, crimson with gore and speckled with white- you ripped it down to bone. The hand is yanked away, clutched to a chest.

Beat.

An opening. You lunge at the prey teeth first, going for the windpipe. You half succeed, and rip away a chunk of throat and shoulder.

A beat.

The prey is attempting to retreat, moving away quickly- too quickly. Not acceptable. You manifest your backup weapon.

A beat.

You stare down the scope of your rifle.

Inhale.

You squeeze the trigger, rolling with the recoil. The prey falls mid-scream, back of its skull utterly obliterated- and reality rushes back to hit you like a freight train. Your ears are suddenly ringing from the gunshot, blood whooshing in your ears, but no longer driving you forward with its primal impetus.

You gulp down air like a drowning man, chest heaving, letting your rifle dissipate. The street is empty. In the distance you see the attacker’s body twitch feebly, struggling to reform despite copious injury (It’s hard to permanently kill a demon, Heaven’s Exorcists aside). Yeah, he’ll be there a while.

Fuck this. You just wanted to go shopping. You yank the tooth from your arm and stumble towards your knife, spitting a bit to try and get rid of the horrible taste in your mouth. It takes you a few minutes to collect your fallen bags and cover the worst of your injuries with torn bits of the other demon’s shirt (as gross as the body is right now, you’re certainly not going to damage your stuff even more).

By the time you’ve gotten all your shit together, the streets are filling up with people again. You’re bloody and injured which would normally have you panicking out in public, but nobody’s stupid enough to push their luck- not when the last demon who tried is clearly splattered over the sidewalk.

You know what, you might as well keep on with your shopping trip. This is Hell, who said a little bloodshed should interrupt a perfectly good day? You're feeling particularly spiteful, so you figure you'll browse at least one more store. After that, the blood loss might have you feeling too woozy.

Composing yourself as best you can, you suppress the entire last hour from your memory (you can figure out what the fuck just happened later), and move towards the storefront that’d initially caught your eye. ‘Rosie’s Emporium’ seems as good a place as any to round off today’s shopping. You step inside.

-And are immediately swept up in the arm of a tall, elegant demon. Her skin and hair is pale as bone, eyes black bottomless voids, and she’s dressed in fine garb from the 1890s, jaunty feather hat tilted just so.

“Why hello there, little one! And oh dear, aren’t you a scrappy one, bless your heart,” she titters. A chorus of answering giggles comes from small souls scattered about the entrance- their features are similar, with tight curls and bowler hats galore. You let yourself be pulled along and off to the side, a bit shell-shocked.

“So what brings you to my fine establishment? Rest assured, we can cater to your every need! For a price, of course.” She delivers the last line with a curling smile, voice echoing with emphasis. You think you’re in love.

You gape soundlessly up at her for a split second before composing yourself. This must be Rosie, the owner.

“I was just curious, I guess. I wasn’t sure what you carried here-”

She cuts you off, “Why everything, of course. Tell me, what do you desire?” She continues before you get a chance to answer. “No, no, never mind that, you’re an easy case, love. Lets do something about this mess!”

You’re once again swept away, deeper into what you realize is essentially a really decadent warehouse, until you reach an area full of clothing racks and formal wear. Rosie ushers you onto a stand in front of a three part mirror, then clicks her fingers expectantly. Little monochrome demons peek out from a curtained back room. One waves at you from its place near a fitting area.

“Um, not to be rude Miss Rosie, but I’m bleedin’ all over your store. Now’s prob’ly not a good time for me to try on a new getup.” You curse the sudden heaviness of your accent; you’re too flustered.

Miss Rosie, ha! How charming, oh I could just eat you up! Just call me Rosie, love.” You feel your cheeks heat up.

“My name’s Honey-”

“That’s nice, dear. And don’t worry about your little scrapes-”

You are literally trailing blood in a steady drip, but okay.

“-I have just the thing for it! Money is no object, I presume?” She leans in, porcelain smile broad and gleaming like a deep-sea creature. You’re pissed at how smitten you are. You’re also pissed that it looks like you’re going to be bled dry of every cent you’ve earned. It’s incredibly sexy of her, you think, fuming.

“Not within reason,” you answer, sure to be carefully polite.

“Hm, that’ll do.”

She clicks her fingers impatiently, and a small crew of her assistants suddenly surround the two of you.

“I’ll take care of that, then. In the meantime, these little darlings will get your measurements. Be back in a tiff!”

She’s off, heels clicking softly on the marble floor. You turn to the little demons surrounding you, holding up pins and measuring tapes. Your ears go flat against your skull and you bare your bloody teeth at them. You don’t like the look of those beady eyes.

They approach menacingly from all sides, undeterred, and start to glow red. Damn, time for Plan B then.

 


 

Plan B fails entirely, which is surprising because Plan B's always boiled down to just stabbing everything in range. You’re hilt deep in one of the bowler hat assistants- he’s unconcerned, gnawing at your wrist with those needle-sharp teeth, the little shit- when Rosie comes clicking back, holding a small wooden box. She giggles, covering her mouth daintily with one hand.

You must look ridiculous; You’ve got three demons crawling all over you with measuring tapes, two more sticking you with pins just because, and one mid-stab who’s treating your arm like a three-course meal, all of you covered in blood splatters and tiny needle pricks/ stab wounds.

You clear your throat and vanish the knife, settling into as refined a pose as you can manage with what’s basically a piranha on your wrist. Judging by the look of amused pity, you fail pretty badly.

“Sorry, they got a little too intense for me. I’ll go ahead and let them finish.”

Rosie waves away your concern, then calls off her tiny mongrels. The one on your arm gives one last mournful grind of it’s teeth before popping off. You roll your wrist, trying to ignore the sharp pain the movement sends through you. Pretty much every movement is painful right now, so whatever.

“Don’t fret, dearie. Those little rascals got your measurements long ago, I guarantee it.”

While you process that outrageous statement, mouth wide in offended disbelief, Rosie presents the box to you.

You take it gingerly and open it. Inside is a single ring, gleaming with gemstones and wafting an aura of light and airy power. You slam it shut. Suspicious jewelry is suspicious.

“How much would this cost me?” You cut right to the chase. “Also, what is this?”

Rosie gently retrieves the box, taking the ring out and placing it right on her finger. Nothing happens, and you breathe a little easier.

“This little trinket is a fine bit of work by one of my more magically talented associates,” she explains. “It’s glamour magic- Makes you look spic and span and without flaw to those around you. They'll see you looking at what they think is your best.”

“You look the same to me,” you say, tilting your head uncertainly. To your confusion, her cheeks darken to a soft grey, and she quickly slips off the ring and presses it into your palm. Coughing politely, Rosie then circles around you, placing her hands over your shoulders and making eye contact through the mirror.

“Well? Try it on, then.” She smiles at you encouragingly, probably eager to sucker you into a massive purchase. If this really works, it won’t come cheap. You slip on the ring and nearly fall over from relief.

Your reflection shows you hale and whole; you're healthy and glowing and entirely free of grievous injury (a bit of blood still speckling your teeth for some reason). What’s more surprising is the way you feel, a bit terrible, still, but suddenly you shoulders are lighter, injuries a dull throb rather than stinging with agony. You think you might’ve actually stopped bleeding, which, what the hell- glamour magic doesn’t work that way.

“How-”

“Are you feeling better, then? This has an extra bit of kick. Healing is a rarity down here, as you know, and this little trinket will be sure to come in handy; wouldn’t you agree?”

She’s right, but you must look unconvinced. Rosie leans in and whispers enticingly into your ear.

“Oh, did I forget to mention? The longer you wear this piece, the more it will heal- an invaluable asset for any demon.”

You knew it. You’re being swindled and you can’t even be mad about it. It’s exactly what you need right now, at least until you can get back to the hotel and patch yourself up properly.

“It’s practically perfect, isn’t it?” Rosie smiles expectantly, prim and smug as a house cat.

“Yeah,” you sigh, defeated. “How much?”

She tells you and your knees nearly give out. That’s about half your ridiculous paycheck, but subsequent attempts at bartering are given no quarter, and you’re eventually forced to concede (you’re not nearly dumb enough to use your other negotiation tactic here, on her own turf).

That done with, Rosie brings your attention back to the formal wear lining the walls near you. Thoroughly bested, and with repeated assurance that the outfits presented will not be nearly as costly, you agree to try on a couple things, if only to replace your current wrecked outfit. Apparently the ring can't affect clothing, which is kind of disappointing.

“So what will it be? I think purple for the skirt will look lovely with your coloring! Or perhaps burgundy. Any particular preference?”

You think on it, picturing yourself wearing a get-up not unlike Rosie’s. Incredibly elegant. Also incredibly restrictive.

“I was actually thinking of something with a bit more, um, range of movement.”

Her eyes gleam, and she clicks a couple of demons (assholes) to her side. You jitter with restraint, itching to get even, but ultimately stifle the urge. They smirk at you. One has the audacity to stick out its tongue. You try very hard to think stab-free thoughts.

Rosie pulls your attention back to her with a tap below your chin.

“Of course, darling! Just leave it all to me!”

 


 

Alastor has had an upsettingly busy month. Certainly, he’d been bored, but what he wanted was entertainment, not a bevy of problems cropping up all along the borders of his territory. Apparently, there’s a new player on the board, and they’ve been poaching the souls on his turf, stealing away clients, and overall prodding at the edge of his holdings.

The attempts had gotten more blatant in the last week or so, until yesterday the unthinkable had happened! A full two blocks that he’d kept gleefully clenched beneath his fist for more than a decade was suddenly bereft of his markings. Sure, he hadn’t personally checked up in a few years, but still. He’d had to re-introduce himself to those particular denizens when they’d stopped paying their dues; they were under the impression the territory now belonged to this upstart. The Radio Demon was quick to correct them- there were no complaints past the first one, which was dealt with ecstatically. The following dozen maulings were just for emphasis.

Honestly, though- rude! And utterly unacceptable. Normally Alastor would simply talk things out civilly, and- impress- the severity of the faux pas upon the would-be usurper. Those bones usually grew back, no harm done, and that particular sinner learned better than to be within the same circle of Hell as him for the rest of its existence.

This time though, they were playing it smart, never challenging him directly. Never showing their face to those loyal (fearful) enough of Alastor to talk. A good game of hide-and-seek was nostalgic in a way- (quick steps cracking unevenly through underbrush, panting through panicked heaves of thick bayou air, their petrified expressions upon spotting him, his rifle aimed, teeth gleaming)- but this hunt had dragged on too long.

The novelty had worn off, and the Radio Demon demanded a name.

So he’s following up on some information; an avian-looking demon was mentioned a few times during Alastor’s successful reclamation of territory. Apparently this unfortunate waste of breath was seen in the company of Alastor’s new “rival”, so he’ll be paying him a short visit.

He’s currently strolling down one of the busier streets downtown, demons parting around him in at least a four foot radius as always, when suddenly a shriek pierces the air.

Normally, he’d shrug it off with nothing but a wider grin of appreciation for Hell’s perpetual cycle of violence. But, no- he knows that scream. Alastor’s pretty sure he’s heard you make that exact sound when Nifty popped over your shoulder once with a tray of cookies. And another time when you didn’t notice Vaggie until the two of you had bumped in the hallway.

Ah, that had been amusing; you'd pulled that knife of yours as usual, and Vaggie had automatically reacted in kind, leaving each of you standing in startled confusion with a blade to the throat. What a hilariously awkward stand-off that was. He fondly recalls making it even worse a moment later, but waves away his train of thought in favor of seeking you out.

He finds you quickly, your ears perked in alarm as you roll away from a reptilian demon swinging down at you. For a brief moment Alastor considers intervening on your behalf, if only to secure a favor from you down the line (he’s certain that’s his only motivation behind the impulse). Instead, he sinks into a shadow across the street and waits to see how this plays out.

He can hear you confront the demon, but no angle of head tilt or ear swiveling seems to help make out the words. Unfortunately if he gets any closer, the (un)natural interference he has on reality would give the game away.

Alastor has to settle for reading your body language- alert, poised for fight-or-flight, knife expertly wielded to protect your more vulnerable parts. He raises a brow.

You always seemed such a defensive little thing, for all that you were rather stab-happy, so that was nothing new. This gleam in your eyes, full of predatory intent, now that was different. He risks coming closer, dropping down and into another shadow- this one from an alleyway directly behind you. Alastor was banking on you being too distracted to pick up on the sudden feedback in the air.

The deer demon watches as you duck below another swipe of a thick, scaled arm, and go for the throat. He forces down the sharp laughter that wells up at your literal cut-throat tactics, but can’t quite stifle a loud crackle of static in time- thankfully neither of the fighting souls take notice. To his disappointment, you miss your target, but recover quickly.

Your eyes flicker back and forth, narrowed as you contemplate your opponent. Alastor is fascinated at the coldness of your eyes, the juxtaposition of predator and prey in your bearing.

“What the hell are you talking about, you lunatic? I’ve never seen you before in my life,” you goad, pacing measured steps along in a wide arc.

The rabbit is searching for openings, Alastor realizes, ready to strike at a demon nearly twice her size. He feels satisfied in his decision to stay in the sidelines; this is a fascinating insight on an already rather perplexing specimen.

“HA! That’s exactly when you’ve seen me, you monster.”

Alastor doesn’t have time to process that strange statement before he’s arrested by the sight of a tail whipping you across the cheek, slicing a line of red into your flesh. He feels the shadows around him writhe, and leans in to better catch the way you brush your free hand over the oozing wound, spreading dark blood in a striking smear over your face and knuckles.

He pays no mind to whatever irrelevant nonsense the other demon is raving about, transfixed on the way you suddenly draw up your shoulders into a slow roll, straightening to your full height. Your pupils expand to fill nearly the whole of your eye, beady and gleaming with a red sheen, leaving only very corners of your eyes untouched.

Your expression loses even its previous frigidity, now displaying only a raw animalistic intensity- the insatiable, driving need to come out the victor. It’s in your stance, your sudden stillness, the single slow rolling step forward. Then you bare a smile that gashes across your face like a wound, all blood and teeth and impersonal malevolence-

Alastor jolts himself backwards. Of all Hell’s temptations, this was in the running among the hardest to resist; the promise of pain, your near invitation to join in primal violence of the most reckless kind- well, it catches him off guard. He shuts his eyes for a brief moment, wresting back control against his every impulse, which threatened to drive him forward and into the chaos.

It wasn’t often he felt the inclination to deny his more sadistic nature, but Alastor refuses to ignore his better sense just for a pretty smile. He opens his eyes just as you lunge forward, your knife blurring towards the demon’s throat.

You’re knocked away, rolling smoothly into position for a second strike, all coiled muscle and trembling ferocity. You move almost too fast to follow, but the deer demon’s eyes are glued to your frame, seeing the way you duck behind and stab into the stranger’s tail, twisting the knife deep to disable movement completely.

You take another hit, to your arm this time, but show no reaction. Blood pools on the concrete, nearly black, reaching the soles of Alastor’s shoes. Most of it belongs to the reptile, but it’s difficult to tell; he’s distracted by the way you take a sharp crocodilian tooth to the arm, taking your pound of flesh in return by slicing away most of the demon’s jaw in juicy stripes. It’s been too long since Alastor’s sampled any alligator. Perhaps this will be his chance.

He shakes himself out of his reverie yet again, already two steps out of the alleyway. He vanishes back across the street to avoid temptation- distancing himself, but still able to witness the carnage.

It’s easier now, to stifle the worst of his bloodlust, but when you slip and lose the knife, he’s gripped by an impossibly strong urge to add to the reptile’s many grievous injuries (obviously out of the desire to prolong the entertainment). It’s muffled a bit as he watches the demon curse, clutching his hand to his chest, where it’s been mangled nearly beyond recognition.

You take the opportunity to lunge forward, and he wonders just what it is you plan to do to such a comparatively large foe without your knife- o h. You land in a crouch, mouth bubbling up with blood, bits of cartilage dangling from your teeth- you’d ripped out a chunk of throat and shoulder.

Alastor watches your throat bob in a swallow, expression unchanged (did you even notice? you must have noticed what you'd just done), and shudders from head to toe. There is a wave of sheer crushing need welling up in his chest, bubbling over with a level of unhinged ferocity and he can't, he has to leave, has to go over and show you how it's done (he wants to kill something, he wants to see you set loose on an unsuspecting populace- he wants to be there, to rip into viscera and bone and then hand-feed you the m a r r o w).

The other demon stumbles into a run, trying to escape. Alastor hardly notices, too busy holding back the floodgates of dark power coursing through his veins, literally itching with pressure and electricity. He feels his hair lift in the rising static, gritting his teeth into a over-compensatory smile, but what little concentration he can spare notices the way you stand, shifting one leg back and to the side, and sling a rifle (since when did you have a rifle?) out of the ether and into a loose but steady grip.

He inhales sharply at the crack of your weapon, and sees the m e a t the demon fall with a scream of terror. The shot was perfect, splitting the skull down the center (a hounds baying cry, the flash of a muzzle- NO). Alastor turns away, pinching the bridge of his nose to try and relieve the pressure. The moment passes. The street is silent but for the sound of your heavy breathing.

Well, that’s that, then! Alastor's magic settles begrudgingly over the next few minutes, clearly sensing the opportunity for fun had come and gone. A glance back at the street shows you’ve returned to your usual state of nervous energy, eyes back to their typical coloring.

The only sign of your discomfort is a grimace as you remove the tooth still embedded in your arm, but soon you’ve wrapped your worst injuries and retrieved your scattered belongings.

There’s no need for him to linger now that the show’s over, but Alastor finds himself curious as to how you’ll manage the aftermath of this incident.

You nod decisively to yourself, features set with determination, and set down the street. It appears you’ve decided to continue shopping. He chuckles in appreciation, then looks closer at the storefront you’ve stopped in front of.

Rosie’s Emporium.

Alastor strongly considers interfering, but before he can decide, you’ve already stepped inside.

That-

That was a tremendously foolish decision on your part.

Oh well. The Radio Demon brushes himself off, then turns the corner; there’s a little birdie he’s been meaning to squeeze some songs out of. His shoes clack sharply on the concrete, leaving bloody footprints in their wake.

 


 

Alastor looms over the trembling miscreant about to take the brunt of his repressed bloodthirst. He slams open the door in front of him, sending the feathered demon sprawling from where he’d tried fruitlessly to shut it upon seeing the Radio Demon. Alastor hums out a light tune, rolling up his sleeves with a smile. He feels like getting his hands dirty.

“Well?” he chirps, eyes inverting with a flash. “Aren’t you going to invite me in?”

 


 

“STOP, please I don’t know anything, I swear!” The bird demon sobs, curling into himself as much as he can, trying to cover the worst of his injuries.

“Are you feeling alright?” Alastor asks cheerfully, “You might’ve gone a bit deaf.” He hums in false concern, belied by the way his gleaming smile seems to grow wider.

“Not to worry, my good fellow! Allow me to check for you.” He flares sound through his microphone, spiking the air with reverb. The demon cries out, attempting to cover his ears. Alastor absentmindedly smacks his hands away with a twirl of a mic.

“Never mind, you’re clearly fine. Which means you’re just avoiding the question, my friend.” A shadow drags the miserable demon up by the scruff and holds him level with Alastor’s face.

“Give me their name and I’ll make this quick and painful.”

“D-don’t you mean or else you’ll make it quick and painful?”

Alastor throws his head back and guffaws.

“HA! No no no, you’ve been rather unhelpful so far, so it’ll be over-lickety split,” he snaps his fingers, “or it’ll last until I get bored; either way, there will be blood.”

The demon whimpers.

“She’ll kill me.”

“She! Finally, we’re getting somewhere,” the Radio Demon beams, stepping back and letting the soul before him crumple to the ground. “She, who?”

“I don’t want to die.”

He scoffs lightly. "Oh don’t be so dramatic; ‘She’ is one sinner among countless others. So there’s nothing she can do to you that I can’t do worse, right now.”

He absently inspects his nails, picking out a speck of blood, and waits.

“Lantern,” the troubled sinner whispers.

“Pardon?” Alastor leans in, head tilted.

“Her name is Madame Lantern.”

“Excellent! And where can I find this Madame Lantern?” he presses.

“I don’t know.”

Alastor tuts and raises his mic to swing down like a blunt weapon.

“WAIT-”

He halts.

“I- I can tell you who does.”

“You really should have led with that, you know,” smirks the deer demon, and rolls his sleeves back down.

“So?” he asks, tugging on his coat and adjusting it to cover any unfortunate stains.

“Rosie- from Franklin and Rosie’s Emporium.”

This brings Alastor pause, but he just brushes off nonexistent dust from his shoulders and answers.

“It’s just Rosie’s Emporium these days, but yes I’m familiar.” He turns to leave, hearing the demon struggle to his knees behind him.

“Does this mean I’m off the hook?” he ventures hopefully. Alastor grins.

“Oh, most certainly not.”

A snap of his fingers lets loose all that pent up energy. The room s h a k e s- reality pulling at the seams, struggling to accommodate the atrocities pushing their way through the veil.

Alastor steps out, humming, and lets power thrum over him and whisk him off. A blink and rush of interference later and he's standing beneath the awning of Rosie’s Emporium. He steps inside confidently, aware she’d sense his presence the instant he crossed her door.

 


 

Never in your life have you so deeply regretted agreeing to something. It’s been hours, and you’re still feeling whiplash from the last dozen or so outfits you’ve been forced into and then politely insulted out of. Rosie seems to finally be more or less satisfied, since you’ve been allowed more than two seconds to breathe in between changing.

“Yes,” nods the demon who has kept you captive for what has become most of the afternoon. “Yes, I think this will do nicely, dearie.”

It’s all you can do not to sink to your knees and scream like an unhinged football coach after a winning touchdown. You feel a single tear of relief prick the corner of your eye and nod wordlessly.

“Excellent! Let’s get it fitted properly, then.”

You take it back- you have never known more true despair. It’s as you’re once more swarmed by tiny malicious tailors that you see Rosie suddenly whip her head around to face to what you assume is the direction of the entrance. The sudden movement from a demon who has so far been the epitome of propriety catches you off guard; the immediate and sprawling grin on her face even more so.

“Apologies, but I have to see to a visitor. Feel free to come up front once you’ve finished, love.”

A geyser of darkness flares up around her with a rushing hiss and suddenly she’s vanished, leaving only a faint scent of floral perfume in her wake.

Just like that, you have apparently been left in favor of another customer. At the “tender” mercies of a swarm of dapper piranhas. Fuck your life.

Compared to your previous torment, the seams and trims are done surprisingly quickly and you are soon left standing alone before a mirror.

...Okay, fine, you look pretty rad. The shirt you wear is similar in color and style to your usual fare, only made from nicer material. The fitted trousers are definitely a change, but you jump in place and stretch a bit to test whether they’d let you move well- they’re perfect. You ignore the judgmental stares from your horrible tailors.

What really seals the deal for you is the waistcoat; slim and cinched at the waist, it’s done up in deep reds and dark greys and overall makes you look about a hundred times classier than usual. Despite your soon to be empty bank account, you refuse to regret your terrible spending decisions if it means walking around looking this good.

In fact, you think you understand now why most of Hell’s highest ranking demons go around dressed to the nines; it’s a bit uncomfortable- this outfit will realistically spend the rest of it’s days hanging in your closet- but you look like a boss.

Satisfied, you take a minute to collect your previous purchases from earlier in the day and attempt to find Rosie. It takes some time, especially since one of Rosie’s little demons is following behind you staring at your wrist with unsettling hunger. It’s the same jerk from earlier, you realize, struggling to ignore him (you’re so close to escape, you refuse to be goaded into more bullshit by something a third of your size).

As you near the entrance, you notice a growing distortion in the air. Huh. Alastor’s here for some reason. Walking towards the buzzing, you begin to pick up voices.

“But really, what’s kept you away for so long? The townsfolk have been asking for you again. They’re keen on another delightful performance!”

You are completely lost, but somehow you’re not surprised these two know each other.

“At least say you’ll be staying for tea, dearie. It’s been some time since I’ve had company.”

A familiar laugh crackles through the air, light and amused.

“Apologies my dear friend, but I’ve been kept rather busy as of late. My visit today is strictly business, I’m afraid, or I’d love to stay for a bite.”

Now you’re curious. Instead of heading straight out to pay, you find yourself lingering around the corner trying to pick up more of the conversation.

The demon beside you shoots you a dirty look and opens its mouth, presumably to alert the others. You shush it sharply and after a brief hesitation, bribe it with the only thing you can think of.

You bite your lip to stifle a shout as the delighted little monster clamps back down on your hand, gnawing your bones in satisfaction. This better be a juicy conversation.

“I see,” Rosie answers, “So what is it you require? If it’s a new suit I’m afraid I have a customer getting all gussied up in the back, though I’m sure they’ll be done soon. Or are you hear for some ingredients?”

“Nothing of the sort, though I’ll be sure to come by for both later this week. No, I find myself in need of information.”

“Gossip, you say?” You can hear her smile. “Why of course! On whom?”

“A sinner by the name of Madame Lantern.”

There’s a beat of silence and you perk your ears forward in interest. That’s not a name you’re at all familiar with. Alastor continues, tone suddenly darker.

“You see, I’ve a vested interest in seeing this upstart served on a platter, so imagine my surprise when I hear of her association with you, my dear.”

Rosie answers wryly. “Why Alastor, have you been having trouble keeping hold of what’s yours?”

He doesn’t answer, which is disturbing to you in a way you can’t nail down. Rosie follows up, serious.

“Because you wouldn’t be the first, old chap. Not to rumor-monger, but the name of Madame Lantern has been trickling into certain circles over the past several decades. People talk, you know,” she adds conspiratorially.

“That they do, my friend! But I’m interested in what they’re saying. More specifically I need relevant information on her associates, your lovely self excluded obviously, and a location. Just to have a chat, of course.”

“Oh is that all?” she titters. “I haven’t met her face to face, mind. Her little coven-mates sell me trinkets and charms to purvey to my more posh customers.”

There’s a sharp crack of reverb, and you blink in surprise as well. There’s a demon out there causing trouble? With ‘coven-mates’? Power is hard to come by in Hell, and magic even more so- whoever this is has managed to grow in power and influence along with an entire group of sinners, and all apparently under the radar of Hell’s more influential players.

You have no interest in politics, but you find yourself impressed and uneasy at the prospect (and also by how quickly the soul on your hand has managed to tear you up despite the ring on your finger), but Rosie’s voice snaps you back to the conversation.

“But if it’s an address you desire, I've heard tell of an occult shop she runs on the outskirts of Pentagram City. I have the calling card for it around here. It’s yours on the condition you drop by next week for a proper chat.”

Okay, this is fascinating and all, but you’ve about reached your limit with the chewing. You try shaking off the demon on your arm. It fails, and you resort for hopefully the last time that day to wrestling with a determined bundle of cannibalistic fury.

“Excellent! Though I wonder-”

Alastor is cut off by the demon’s small form smacking into the wall beside him, bleeding profusely. You walk in, smiling triumphantly and adjusting your cuffs. You’re a bit flushed from the exertion, but you poof away your knife and try not to look as bone-tired as you truly are.

“Hey, Alastor!”

“Honey! Why hello there, sweetheart,” he greets you, getting in your space and making a show of spinning you around. “You look stunning, my dear- I suppose you were the customer Rosie mentioned. Say, is there a reason you’re utterly drenched in blood?”

Rosie interrupts, smile curling with absolute delight. “Oh? Do you two know each other, Alastor?”

You huff in amusement, by now used to not getting a word in edgewise, and raise a brow.

“We do indeed! This little spitfire is Honey! She’s quite the accomplished chef. More than one meal she's made down at the hotel has been to die for.”

You smirk at the pun and turn to him.

“Aw, you flatterer. I’m not all that great. Not without fresh meat, anyways,” you frown. “I don’t know any good huntin’ spots round here, so it’s all been store-bought.”

That’s been an ongoing frustration for some time, actually. Your previous site burned down about six months prior to the latest extermination and you haven’t found the time to go searching for any wooded areas outside of town.

Rosie looks at you with sharp interest at the comment.

“A hunter? Now that’s an interesting hobby. Useful, too,” she says, circling around you. You don’t pick up on the way Alastor zeroes in on her movements.

“Not that interesting for a chef,” you reply, but she waves you off.

“Pish-posh,” Rosie states, “You know, I’ve several acquaintances who would be interested in higher caliber cuisine. Tell you what, dearie, I can share a few locations absolutely brimming with wildlife. I’d only require a small portion of your labors in return.”

You consider it for a moment, then shrug. Her smile is smooth and dark, and you are overcome with the pungent floral scent of what can only be described as a funeral bouquet. Rosie extends a dainty hand.

“Do we have an accord, then?”

You don’t get the chance to answer before Alastor has pulled you away and to his side with an arm about your waist.

No, that won’t be necessary,” he laughs, eyes slightly aglow. The lighting is flattering across the bridge of his nose. “I’m more than capable of directing her to some of my favored hunting grounds.”

Rosie grins wider somehow, looking back and forth between you. She presses forward, looking sly.

“There’s no need to trouble yourself, dear. I would be delighted to take this one off your hands.” There’s a beat where the two demons just watch each other and you feel claws prick your side as Alastor clenches his hand. You feel a little bit like a carcass being eyed by two equally famished hyenas.

Rosie’s Cheshire smile grows all the more smug and wicked, but she looks away first.

“Well, never mind then. I’ll just leave you lovebirds to it,” she says, moving towards the register. Alastor drops his hand immediately and steps away.

“Um!”

“That’s not-”

Rosie ignores your protests, cutting them off and turning to you.

“Will that be cash or card, love?”

You part mournfully with the remains of your paycheck, paying little attention as Rosie calls over a shop worker to give Alastor that calling card you’d overheard them talking about. When you finish up and pick up your bags, Rosie opens her mouth for one last remark, but Alastor intervenes.

“Okay then, we’re leaving!”

You are firmly but gently pushed out the door, Rosie’s tinkling laughter following you out. The deer demon slams the door shut behind himself with a sigh, taking a moment to brush off his suit.

You blink, bemused at the rushed exit and turn to your companion. He’s distracted, clearly lost in thought.

“Hey Al, quick question: what the hell?”

“Apologies, dear. Rosie got it into her head to play matchmaker with me a couple decades ago and has been insufferable ever since. Feel free to ignore her.”

Right. Because that was the bit that needed clarification. You don’t actually want to think about all the stressful bullshit that’s happened today so you accept the answer with an amused huff.

“I guess I’ll just head back to the hotel. I’ll see you around, hon.”

Alastor nods absentmindedly, but then says “Perhaps you could accompany me on one final errand before you turn in.”

You turn to him, surprised, only to see him looking briefly startled at his own suggestion. But given the choice between yet another distraction and having to head back and deal with your problems like an adult, it’s no contest.

“I’d love to”, you say, then think for a second and frown, “But my bags-”

“No worries, darling, I can take care of that.”

A snap of his fingers and a swarm of shadow-like demons cram themselves out of a sudden void and snatch up your purchases. They vanish just as quickly in a whirl of echoing hysterical laughter. Alastor doesn’t even blink, just holds out his arm for you to take.

You’re frozen in place for a second, then shake it off. Yeah, with the way today’s been going that might as well happen, who are you to question his over-the-top application of reality-warping power? You refuse to contemplate any more weird fuckery on any scale. For the rest of today you are unshakable. You lack the ability to be shook.

With that in mind, you link your elbow with Alastor’s and gesture for him to lead the way. He grins at you, steps forward and- what the fuck.

Everything tints green and neon, bits of teeth and entrails dance around alongside glowing symbols and deafening static edges along the entirety of your line of sight. Every one of your senses goes haywire, sending goosebumps along your arms and spine.

Nope! You shut your eyes and ignore what’s happening with all the practiced skill you’ve acquired at repressing a lifetime of issues. After a brief moment, the sinister pressure squeezing in on you seems to die down.

“Ah! We’re here!”

 


 

Your surroundings have shifted to a rundown cobbled street. Small shops are packed along either side of the narrow road and the sidewalks are cracked. You’ve appeared in front of a small storefront with blacked out windows crammed in between a cobbler and a barber shop.

Above you is a sign that reads “Lantern’s” in stylized gold lettering. It’s mirrored on a tarnished plaque set into the door, along with the words “For a Demon’s Every Need”.

That seems daringly close to Rosie’s business model; you guess that’s why they sell her some of their products. You don’t imagine those in direct competition with her last very long.

Alastor steps past you, pulling the door open and stepping inside without hesitation. The expression on his face is one of eager anticipation and the usual disruptive crackle around him raises to a near piercing screech. You follow close behind, blinking as the door shuts behind you.

For some reason, you’re instantly on edge. You can’t quite pin down the cause but something about this place has you wanting to turn tail and run.

Inside, the store is mostly dark. A light shines dimly past layers and layers of draped cloth hung from exposed rafters. It glints sharp and blinding off gold trinkets that spin and whirl slowly in mid-air. If you squint, you can see minuscule runes carved into every surface.

Smoke wafts lazily through the air from no discernible source, smelling strongly of harsh herbs and spices. It settles in your lungs thickly, and you cough discreetly to try and clear them.

Overall this place reminds you of a kitschy fortune teller tent, except the walls thrum with power, glistening softly through the haze. A voice cuts through the room, coming from deeper within the shop.

“I see we have guests! Come in, come in! Stay for a spell, won’tcha?”

Alastor moves towards the sound with deadly intent, brushing aside cloth as he goes. You hesitate, wanting to do anything but venture further. Ultimately you dash after him in quick steps and press close behind, palming your knife.

He doesn’t seem to notice you, as you stand before what looks like a parlor. There are thick rugs along the cold stone floor, and a brick fireplace takes up the majority of one wall. But those details are summarily ignored in favor of the figure lounging on a seat before a mirror.

“Madame Lantern, I presume?” Alastor asks, stepping closer. Something about his voice has unease welling up in you well past your usual tolerance levels.

“You presume correctly,” she says, pinning you in place with eyes filled completely with molten gold.

You take in the sinner before you. She’s tall, with skin tinted an ashy purple, but her hair and ears are a mixture of dull red and tan. Her ears get your attention as you realize that before you sits another jackrabbit demon- no, a jackalope. Her antlers stretch upwards like twin gnarled branches, and are crowned with golden rings. All of her is draped in gold, you realize, from the piercings on her long drooped ears to the bangles and chains around her wrists and neck. You find yourself struggling to place her time period, much less her particular accent. It’s rural, slow and thick, but the familiarity of the tones could’ve been from any of the dozen or so states you’d been by in life.

You feel a seeping wave of envy well up in you at the sight of her, disrupting some of your apprehension. How dare she pull off a look so similar to yours, only legitimately better and more sinister? The completely irrational outrage welling up in you is interrupted before you can do something stupid like open your mouth.

“So you’re the one that’s been poaching my territory, then. A bit daring for a no-name sinner, wouldn’t you say?”

There it is again- something about the way he’s talking now isn’t right, but you can’t put your finger on it.

Madame Lantern raises a brow, then stands to meet Alastor’s eyes. She’s of a height with him, and so has about half a foot or so on you. As she moves your gaze is drawn to a lantern that swings at her hip. You have no idea how you missed that; it’s the single source of light in the room, pulsing with unnatural golden light that burns into your retinas if you stare straight on.

“Bold words for a man what loses a whole block to me wit’out a drop of blood spilled.”

Oh shit. You turn to Alastor, certain that this is it, he’s going to lose his temper. His smile is in fact taking up most of his face, rigid and full of barely contained fury- but he is containing it.

“Trust me, my dear, there was plenty of blood spilled. Unfortunately for you, would-be conqueror that you are, I hardly had to stretch my abilities to retake that miserable stretch of city slum.”

You’re not surprised, except by the idea that Alastor lost that small portion of turf for even an instant. Judging by her condescending stretch of fangs, neither is Madame Lantern. Her shoulders shake once in silent laughter before answering, self-assured.

“I’ll be getting that back, don’t you worry none.”

“And how do you figure that, sweetheart?” he asks, voice dripping with menace. The jackalope just stabs a clawed finger at his chest, pushing him back.

“Because I can do this, pumpkin. And would you look at that? No blood in sight. Not a scream from my own lips. Won’t you give your “abilities” a stretch for me, deer?” she sneers, and the lantern at her hip flares for a long moment, illuminating figures you hadn’t noticed lingering silent and hidden throughout the store. The light burns your skin a bit, but you just grip your knife tighter in preparation for a fight.

Alastor brushes her hand away brusquely, but says nothing. That’s not- what? Then it hits you.

Fuck.

Fuck.

You realize what’s off about your companion’s voice. There’s no static. Not a hint of distortion or glitch in the room around you. There’s no flickering bloody visage or microphone feedback and not a single wisp of his shadow remains in the sudden flood of golden light.

“Oh but I would hate to rip your intestines out in front of your quaint little coven, Madame. That’s just poor manners.”

As close as you are to him, you feel malice radiating off of him, but it extends at most a few inches from his person. The magic is there, somewhat familiar and incomprehensibly massive, but it feels as though the air itself is dissolving it- like acid burning away at flesh. Impressively, you hear a sudden burst of radio noise before it too is squashed beneath whatever strange force occupies this eerie space.

The sinner before you laughs, smug, and sits back down dismissively.

“That’s what I thought. There’s no inch of this space what ain’t mine, just like there’s no inch ‘a your turf that’ll stay yours once I get around to it. And not a thing happens here wit’out my say.”

She leans forward a bit and her eyes burn with the same blinding gold as that damned lantern. The other demons, which you assume are the coven you’ve heard about, start inching closer in anticipation.

“So as much as we’d love to have you for dinner, I say it’s time for you to be leavin’.”

Alastor suddenly straightens up, expression completely polite and passive, and you get the feeling he’s going to try and tear everyone in this place apart with his bare hands. Without his magic you don’t like those odds.

But there’s no magic involved in a good old fashioned stabbing, so you steel yourself, pull away and step forward, body angled slightly in front of him (you can guarantee that anything trying to get past you will get a knife in the gut instead). You try not to think about the demons that are already circling behind you and hold your head high and gaze steady.

For the first time since you’d walked in, Madame Lantern looks at you. There’s a pause as she flicks her eyes down your form and back up again. You can tell the second she sees the knife at your side by the mocking curl of her lip.

“And who might you be?”

“None of your business, Lantern.”

Your voice is firm, but not confrontational- not yet, anyways. At the edge of your vision you can see Alastor looking down at you with a surprised flash of his eyes before he settles his tense attention back on the enemy before you.

Said enemy just tuts at you, head tilting in a way that’s half curiosity and half implied threat- given the way her horns are angled at you, in any case. There’s no concern in her posture or bearing. Only thinly-veiled amusement at your bravado.

You can call me Jackie, girly.” she says, then squints a bit at your hand. “I thought I felt something familiar. I see you’re wearing one of our little trinkets. And I can’t help but wonder just how brave you’d be without relying on our fine work.”

For a brief second you stumble as the ring on your finger glitches out on you, leaving you to bear the full weight of your injuries. You right yourself immediately, failing to notice the contemplative stare she levels on you in the mean time. You don’t answer her, just bare your teeth and adjust your knife as the magic fades back in like an afterthought.

Alastor hasn’t looked away from the sinner across from you for a second, but you feel him tense up even more as if in preparation to strike. The others narrow in on the movement and you make a split second decision to try and avoid an outright brawl.

“There’s no need for that, Madame,” you say stiffly, “We were just leaving.”

She laughs, jewelry clinking loudly at the movement and waves you off.

You move backwards, tugging Alastor along with you, and despite a brief initial resistance he allows it. You can still feel his power crackling furiously along his form (though no further) and decide not to dwell on how screwed you might be if anyone changes their mind about fighting at the last minute.

You’re almost at the door, having never turned your back to the most concerning threat, when she calls out one more time from the parlor.

“You’ve got no small amount of potential, honey. Come back anytime once you get tired ‘a luggin’ around that roadkill.”

You turn and pull Alastor out the door immediately, ignoring the cackle that follows you out. The second he crosses the threshold every streetlamp in sight bursts beneath a colossal release of power. Your vision blanks out for a moment and you feel reality buckle underneath the pressure, creaking ominously as you sense the ground beneath you bulge and warp, before your senses rush back to you in a flood of screeching neon.

Alastor stands in place, grinning madly, his eyes turned to radio dials and glowing voodoo symbols swarming him so closely its almost impossible to see through them to his silhouette. After a minute or so, he shakes it off, though you can hear what sounds like a hundred different stations fighting for dominance emanating from his microphone in indecipherable bursts of noise.

“Are we gonna talk about what just happened?” you venture carefully.

Nope!” he answers- his voice is so heavily distorted you could barely understand him.

“Okay.” You look around at the completely destroyed street. “We should probably get out of here, though.”

Alastor clears his throat and with visible effort shoves down his palpable fury. In the blink of an eye it’s as though nothing at all has happened. He links his arm through yours again and sets off down a demolished sidewalk.

“Of course, my dear! I’d hate to keep you out too late, especially given your miserable condition.”

He nods to where the worst of your injuries is, though you hardly feel it beneath the magic of the ring. The ring made by the demons who posed a serious threat to the most dangerous individual you’ve ever met. Damn it, you paid good money for this ring. You’re keeping it.

“It’s not so bad underneath all the healing magic,” is all you say. He just hums noncommittally and sweeps the two of you off in another wave of otherworldly static.

 


 

You stand in the hotel lobby, having said a faint farewell to Alastor. He let you know that your bags were safely deposited in your room; he had some urgent matters to deal with and it'd likely be some time before he'd drop by. You honestly barely registered any part of that conversation; you were trying not to throw up.

That last little shortcut through whatever fucked up dimension he had access to was pretty close to your tipping point when it came to vertigo-induced puking. You can feel the ring on your finger fighting to keep up with the toll you’ve been placing on it. At this point the glamour must be wearing thin, only able to handle the worst of the damage and little else.

“Wow, you look like shit!”

You look to see Angel and Husk sitting at one of the tables by the bar, drinking with a deck of cards between them. You can’t tell which one said that so just hedge your bets and flip both of them off.

“I’ve had a long fucking day, alright. Cut me some slack,” you huff, and make your way over.

“Sucks to be you,” Husk says, clearly not giving a fuck. “Let me guess, Alastor dragged you into a brutal round of mindless violence against some randos just fer the hell of it. Welcome to the club.”

You shake your head and collapse into a seat across from him. You steal Angel’s drink and slam it down. You ignore his offended ‘hey!’ and slide the empty glass back to him.

“Actually all the actual violence happened before I ran into Alastor. I just tagged along to what I think was a territory dispute for a bit, but that was just the icing on the shitty stressful cake that’s been my day so far.”

Husk looks at you incredulously before furrowing his brow.

“Great, there’s two of ‘em now.”

He takes a deep swig of booze, and goes back to shuffling the deck with enviable skill.

“So what the hell do you want, anyways?” Angel asks, less confrontational than he is curious.

You think about it for a second. It’d be nice to be too drunk to feel like shit, and there was no better company for that than the two demons at this table.

“Mostly I just wanna get wasted and play some cards.”

Angel gives a whoop and toasts to that, muttering something about ‘at least one chick here not being a buzzkill’.

“Now that’s a plan I can get behind,” Husk grins and splits the deck into three.

You smile back. Maybe you can actually make back some of your dearly departed paycheck.

 


 

“HA! Get fucked!” Husk crows, brandishing a Royal Flush.

“You offering?” Angel leers as you groan into the table. Husk narrows his eyes, but just snatches up a new bottle and pours out shots, sliding them your way.

“Drink up, assholes, and give me your money.”

Angel just smirks, tossing his shot back smoothly before paying up. You’re much less graceful. You fling some bills at Husk’s smug face and take the shot. Your entire face contorts.

“FUCK, that’s disgusting! What is that, battery acid?!”

The half-wasted sinners across from you cackle at your expression. Husk leans in with a mocking grin.

“What, can’t handle a bit ‘a booze? I had ya pegged for a lightweight.”

Angel, still laughing, makes a noise of agreement. You brandish a finger at the two of them, outraged.

“Booze?! That’s not booze, that’s motor oil!”

You turn to Husk.

“And I can handle my drink just fine, ‘ya ornery motherfucker! I just have standards.” Your accent comes out thick and strangled. He flicks his ears back, unimpressed, and raises a brow.

Angel gets in your face and says, “Aw, yeah? Prove it! I’ll bet you’re all talk. I mean, look ‘atcha, you’re like the cross between a repressed hick and a stuffed animal!”

In a fit of tipsy bravado, you decide you will prove it. You slam your hands on the table and stand, making your way behind the bar. There’s some top-shelf rum you’ve been eyeing for a while; you swipe it eagerly.

“Check this shit, bitches.”

You throw your head back ninety degrees and start swiggin’ straight from the bottle. Husk and Angel share a look- then suddenly they’re at the bar, Angel thumping his lower arms on the counter and fist pumping with another.

“CHUG! CHUG! CHUG! CHUG!”

You chug. There’s no way you’re gonna regret this decision. You finish off the rum to Angel and Husk’s respective cheering and sarcastic applause. Brandishing the empty bottle like a trophy, you bow dramatically.

“Thank you, thank you! I’m here all night, ya’ fuckin’ jerks,” you huff out the last bit, smiling wryly.

You straighten back up, only to stagger as the room spins dramatically.

“ I stand corrected,” Husk says gruffly. “But yer still shit at poker.”

“Like, really shit,” adds Angel. “Seriously, I’ve never seen someone get so many crap hands in a row before.”

You shove him good-naturedly. “Yeah, well, I bet I can kick your ass at pool.”

“You’re on, toots.”

 


 

You’re on tiptoe, one knee up with your upper body stretched over the pool table, expression scrunched in absolute concentration. You adjust your angle with a twitch of your finger. Then you stab at the cue ball, sharp and confident. It ricochets flawlessly once, twice, four times. Every remaining ball clunks into a hole. You move back, pleased as punch.

“How the fuck?”

You grin over at Husk, twirling the pool cue like a baton.

“Iss all about the dentition, no sorry, the petiti-FUCK! The pre-cis-sionn,” you slur. You accidentally smack yourself with the cue stick.

“Ow.”

“Yeah sure, yer just fulla precision right now.”

You flip him off, realize halfway through that you’re using the wrong finger, and take a few painstaking seconds to correct yourself with the appropriate gesture.

“Fug you,” you tell Husk, proudly.

“How could this happen?” Angel is muttering to himself, still staring at the pool table. The game only lasted three turns- you’re just that baller.

“Yer a sore loser,” you inform him solemnly. He doesn’t seem to hear you, just stares blankly at his hands.

“I literally have six fuckin’ arms- I can’t lose at pool,” he’s getting more upset now, and seems to be patting himself down as if to reassure himself that he does, in fact, have six arms. He gasps in drunken panic when he only finds four, but after a couple seconds remembers how to bring out his lower pair.

The spider’s relief is short lived- now he’s staring up at the ceiling, pulling on his hair.

“But how?

Husk thumps a hand on his shoulder. “It’s the precision.”

You nod in agreement, and both of you ignore Angel as he starts to wail in distress.

“Say, Hussker,” you chime slyly, stumbling against his shoulder.

“No.”

You press on. “Play a round ‘a pool wif me!”

Fuck no.”

Taking a moment to think, you linger half draped over the winged feline. He flicks his tail at your face, making you sneeze.

“Get offa me.”

You huff, make a half-assed attempt to carry your own weight, and nearly pass out. Nope, you live here now, you’re changing your mailing address to Husk’s hunched over shoulders.

Your thoughts drift off in a tangent. You wonder if Husk would charge you rent. Probably. Suddenly you brighten, an idea seeping through the fog smothering your brain.

“Ah’ll make you some bang- shit, wait- hangover cure f’you fer a fulll week!”

“Fuck you,” he says, and snatches the pool cue from Angel’s loose grasp.

You grin. Drunk you is a genius.

 

Chapter Text

Drunk you is an abomination and a crime against nature. Waking up has been an exercise in self-inflicted agony. All attempts to reach your bathroom to puke up your guts have failed miserably. You’ve ended up prone on the floor, cheek pressed to the carpet, when you hear a series of rapid knocks at your bedroom door.

You groan loudly as the sound ricochets painfully through your skull.

“Whuddisit?” you respond in a muffled slur.

There’s no response besides the sound of the door creaking open. You hear skittering footsteps and crack open an eye to see Nifty looming curiously over your prone form.

“Oh hey Nifty,” you tell the carpet.

She squeaks out a barely discernible greeting. The next few minutes are a painful blur as you struggle to make out her one-sided chatter. It gets easier when she leans down a bit, and you manage to flick your ears up enough to start putting together complete sentences. You regret it almost immediate because she’s making no effort to slow her speech or lower her volume.

“- I was kinda looking forward to breakfast, so first I was disappointed when I didn’t wake up to smell anything real tasty like usual, ya know? But then I thought about it some more and remembered how you and the boys were up late making a mess and that got me real fucking irritated.”

There’s a pause where her tiny pupil focuses on you, and when matched with her manic rapid-fire words and threatening smile it’s a little much to deal with when you’re this hungover.

Except!” she chirps, making you wince and press yourself harder into the floor. “I got to thinking- whenever Husk gets Alastor to drink with him, the next morning I have to deal with a whole lotta grumpiness and they’ll get absolutely nothing done. It sure would suck if that happened to you.”

Oh man, what you’d pay to see that. You don’t get to dwell on the mental picture for long before Nifty starts up again.

“So anyways I was hungry and sorta worried you’d be too grumpy to cook. But look, you’re already up! Which means I was just being silly and you’ll be making breakfast soon, right?” She leans in closer with every word, and by the time she’s done talking Nifty's smiling face is taking up the majority of your field of vision.

You don’t have the first clue how to respond to that. You quickly realize the question was more rhetorical than anything as she turns to leave.

“Wait!”

“Hmm?” she asks cutely, turning to you. You strain your arms and manage to brace yourself into a position that approximates sitting. Waving her over has you swaying as you explain.

“I’m not in the best state to be cookin’ right now, sugar. But an extra pair of hands might make a difference.”

“I don’t know, I’m kinda busy trying to remove that pool cue you guys got stuck in ceiling last night. And patch up all the holes in the walls. And get rid of all the empty bottles you balanced on the ceiling fans.”

You have no memory of this. That’s probably for the best, so you decide to ignore that last bit and skip straight to pleading for mercy.

“Nifty- sweat pea, darling- c’mon, I’m not sure if I can make it to the toilet before I chuck up yesterday’s lunch. I really don’t wanna make a mess.”

It seems those were the magic words. Nifty hums in thought for less than a second before sweeping you up in a dizzying rush of motion and plopping you down in your bathroom.

You would thank her, but the wave of nausea that overtakes you at the motion has you immediately retching into the porcelain throne before you. Your tiny savior taps her foot next to you for the next few minutes as you hack and retch miserably into the toilet bowl. At one point you toss up what looks like a strip of raw meat (the origins of which you refuse to contemplate).

By the time your insides have settled down a bit, Nifty looks significantly more sympathetic. You reach up to flush away the gross and slightly bloody mess you’ve made and shakily get to your feet.

“Tell ya what, Nif,” you say to her. “If you don’t mind helping me whip up a handful a’ hangover cures, I’ll cook anything you want today, no matter how fancy.”

“Ooh! Okay, but you’re making me crepes!”

“Works for me.”

 


 

Nifty watches you with distaste and curiosity as you mash up a series of increasingly disgusting substances. It doesn’t help that you’re preparing this while still hungover, either, because the smell is doing nothing or your nausea.

“Why didn’t you make a bunch all at once last time? Y’know, stockpile them and stuff?”

Yeah, you wish that was an option. You waft away some smoke and pinch your nose, voice coming out a bit nasally.

“Unfortunately, if it’s not brewed the day-of it turns incredibly toxic.”

She hums in understanding, and scoots further away from the table to avoid the smell. Nice try, but Nifty’ going to earn those crepes. As a general rule of thumb, you refuse to be the only one suffering at any given time.

“Be a dear and pass me some ingredients, please?”

“Oki doki! Whatcha need?”

“The latched cabinet behind you should have a bunch of jars. I need the smaller jar labeled ‘eyeballs’ and the little vial on the bottom left that has a hazard sign painted on it.”

Nifty scrunches up her face but grabs the jars regardless.

“That’s gross,” she says cheerfully, and scales your torso to peer over your shoulder. “So what’s in the jar?”

Your reactions are still dulled from your hangover, so you don’t show how unsettling it is to have what feels like a giant bug skittering up your back. Thankfully your voice is only slightly strained when you answer.

“It’s just powdered plant root. But you know how everything grown in Hell gets really fucked up? Yeah, this stuff sometimes explodes in your face for no reason.”

“D’you think that can still happen after you eat it?” Nifty asks, leaning in with morbid curiosity.

You hold the jar away from yourself and squint at it in suspicion. It wouldn’t surprise you if that shit was sentient and started getting ideas about timing its explosions more inconveniently. Fortunately it doesn’t seem to be and you just come across looking like a moron.

Of course that’s when Vaggie knocks and enters the kitchen. She looks at you standing there glaring at a tiny jar while Nifty perches on your shoulder jittering in anticipation and raises an eyebrow.

“What are you doing?”

Nifty tears her eye away to beam at Vaggie.

“Morning, Vaggie! We’re trying to make a plant explode inside of someone,” she chirps.

You flinch back in alarm and set the jar away from you.

“Um, no! No no, we are not doing that, we’re doing the opposite of that, actually- because, y’know,” you say, glaring pointedly at the sinner on your shoulder, “they’re called in -testines for a reason. I’d like them to stay inside of me.”

“We’re not exploding anybody with plants,” you state decisively. Vaggie appears unconvinced.

“There’s something really wrong with you,” she says, and okay, fair enough.

You shrug at her and add the last few bits you need to a mortar and get to mashing. Vaggie approaches hesitantly as you dump the last of it into a sieve and wring out all the dubiously sourced “juice” into a jug.

“What even is that?” she asks as you pour the completed mixture into three separate vials: one for Husk, Angel, and yourself each.

“Hangover cure,” you and Nifty say in unison. “Oooh, jinx!”

“Okay, whatever. That’s kinda what I’m here to talk about actually. I know we’re not really close or anything, but I don’t think it’s like you to get wasted and trash part of the hotel. So what gives?”

Ah, there it is. The moment you’ve been putting off since midday yesterday. You try and put it off a little longer by coughing back one of the vials. You shudder head to toe at the taste, dislodging Nifty. She pops up quickly and perches on the counter next to you. It takes a moment, but once the tincture kicks in you manage to straighten up and tweak your clothes into looking less ruffled.

“I just had some, uh, personal stuff come up yesterday. Sorry about the damage, guys, it won’t happen again.”

“Or, well,” you amend, “it probably won’t happen again.”

Vaggie growls in frustration.

“I swear, getting straight answers out of you is like pulling teeth.”

You think back to yesterday when you managed to get a tooth embedded in your arm with very little effort on your part. You hum absently.

“Pulling teeth ain’t all that hard sometimes, just saying.”

Vaggie looks at you like you’ve just proven her point and she’s pissed about it. In the end she just sighs and pinches the bridge of her nose.

“Listen, can you just- I don’t know, not be so fucking evasive and explain yourself so that we can all move on.”

Nifty pipes in, “Yeah, whatever it is, it’s probably not that big of a deal.”

You look back and forth between each of their faces and make a decision the only (non-violent) way you know how. You say ‘fuck it’ and go all in.

“I got jumped by some random demon yesterday-”

Nifty cuts you off with a huff, looking disappointed that your reasoning wasn’t that juicy. “Oh that’s not so bad- that happens to everyone, like all the time!”

You shake your head and elaborate, not meeting anyone’s eyes.

“He knew me. I think I killed him.”

There’s a brief silence.

“Oh.”

Vaggie looks like she’s torn between sympathy and righteous vindication. The latter seems to win out.

“Are you telling me you seriously didn’t expect that to come back to bite you? I mean, you said you murdered a lot of people. At least a few of them probably ended up in Hell.”

You push away form the counter and tug at your hair in agitation.

“Ha! A few ? It’s probably all of ‘em. I did what I hadta’ do to survive, and so what if a sinner here or there’s got some unfinished business? I’m not sorry ‘bout what I did, but if they wanna try’n get even they can give it their best shot.”

“No,” you bite out, accent thick. “The issue is this guy said that he’d found me; that some asshole- probably some other scum I ‘murdered’,” you snarl sardonically at Vaggie, “was going around telling people all about me.”

It’s too hard to hold her gaze, so you turn and pace as words spill past sharp teeth without your permission. “He said ‘finally’, which means someone’s probl’y been out to get me from the moment I hit the literally damned ground and they’ve only just caught up. And suddenly there’s a “them”?! So there’s a- a whole posse of sinners out there who know I killed them, who know what I look like. They know how to find me, and I can’t- I can’t live like that again, always on the run and being hunted like a fucking animal and looking over my shoulder all of the time.”

Your voice is shaking now and you can’t seem to stop talking. It’s getting harder to breathe but it barely registers beneath the flood of panic that’s taking over your soul. Despite being technically sober you think you might throw up again. Your body doesn’t know how to deal with anxiety towards something you can’t stab and it’s leaving you trembling with growing despair. (Is this what a panic attack feels like? You don’t know, you don’t care, you just need everything to STOP- )

“I’m just s-so SICK of being scared all the time, but I don’t know what to do-” your near wail of distress and frustration is cut off as you feel arms wrap around you.

You freeze, fingers twitching idly, ears pressed flat against your skull. Vaggie is holding you in a frankly awkward and tense embrace, with Nifty hugging your legs from behind. You shudder and stand there stiffly, just heaving deep shaky breaths.

After a moment you just huff out a laugh and return the hug with equal awkwardness. Nifty climbs up to stand on your shoulder and hang over your head face to face.

“You feelin’ better now?” Her voice is more chidingly curious than seriously concerned, and the chipper callousness pulls a sincere laugh out of you. You can see why Alastor seems to like her so much.

“A little,” you sniffle, and pull away. Your cheeks heat up a bit from embarrassment, and now that you’re paying attention, there’s some wetness there (when did that happen?). You wipe your face absently and try to compose yourself.

“Sorry,” you say, grinning self-deprecatingly. “There’s a reason I didn’t really wanna think about anything at all yesterday, but still. I shouldn’t ‘ve unloaded everything on y’all like that.”

“I mean, we did ask,” Nifty reassures and hops off of you to tidy up the kitchen a bit. You guess the mess from making the hangover cure was starting to bother her.

Vaggie, however, is looking at you with an indecipherable expression.

Finally, she says, “I shouldn’t have pressed. You’re not the only one with a past not worth dwelling on. It just figures that’ll always come back to haunt you.”

She looks away, seemingly absorbed in her own memories for a brief moment. They don’t seem like happy ones.

You’ve never asked what Vaggie’s deal is. You’ve heard bits and pieces here and there, mostly thanks to Angel making insensitive comments, but the more complete of a picture you got the less pretty it looked. It’s nice, you guess, to know Vaggie at least sort of gets it. You’re still going to ask her about her issues approximately never, though.

It seems you’re not the only one who doesn’t want to linger on this topic much longer. Vaggie clears her throat before giving you an out.

“I still don’t buy that you had no choice but to murder a ridiculous number of people, but I guess I’ve known you long enough to give you the benefit of the doubt.”

She pauses to squint at you.

“But seriously. Don’t trash the hotel again. How’d you even manage to get playing cards embedded in the ceiling?”

Oh yeah, you think you can remember that. Vaguely. If you focus really hard you get the impression of sitting on Angel’s shoulders as he stumble-ran from a very aggravated Husk.

For once the cat had a reason to be pissed, because you’re pretty sure the reason Angel was running was because you’d stolen Husk’s personal deck, climbed the spider like a tree, and played keep-away while demanding a turn at shuffling the cards.

Of course, being pretty much black-out drunk by that point, said shuffling consisted mostly of mashing the deck between your hands and sending the cards flying every which way. You smile, half-proud that even when barely conscious you managed to be such an incredible pain in the ass.

Vaggie and Nifty both look at you expectantly, correctly interpreting your expression as you remembering that particular feat of drunken talent.

“You know, I have no idea,” you lie.

Vaggie snorts and shakes her head before Nifty pipes in.

“Hey, I was promised crepes! Cough ‘em up, Honey!”

Hell yes, what a perfectly timed change of subject. You move to clear a space out and start rustling up the necessary ingredients. Out of the corner of your eye you see Vaggie heading for the door. You hesitate, then decide to offer an olive branch.

“Hold up, hon! I wouldn’t mind a bit of help with breakfast. You know, if you’re up for it.”

She pauses at the threshold.

“You sure that’s gonna end well?” she asks, brow raised. Her head tilts towards your knife. You brush it off- this is meant to be a touching gesture extended in friendship. You’re not going to let a little bit of potential stabbing get in the way.

“I’m sure it’ll be fine. I don’t need a knife to prepare crepes since they’re all flour. Sort of. Except for everything on the inside.”

Vaggie shoots you an exasperated smile and joins you. Nifty gives a soft cheer from where she’s moved on to polishing all the metal surfaces for some reason.

“Here,” you say, banishing your knife and handing a different one to Vaggie. “You can do all the chopping.”

 


 

Despite your considerable anxiety regarding the situation with your assailant, the next couple of weeks pass without incident. It could have something to do with the fact that you’ve refused to step foot outside the hotel for fear of being recognized. Okay, yeah, that’s probably it.

At the very least Vaggie seems to have warmed up to you lately, and you get yelled at for nearly stabbing people a whole lot less.

It’s not really that’s she’s less upset about it. She just hasn’t been keeping as close of an eye on you, and therefore isn’t around as much to see it happen. Still, you’ll count that as progress!

Nifty was pretty excited by the new pillowcase, too. She’d already forgotten that you’d ruined her last one by then so it just earned you more brownie points. Overall, things have been pretty calm.

Too calm.

Boring, even.

You groan in frustration and flop an arm over your eyes. The couch below you has started to mold to your body from how often you’ve lounged on it over the last few days. You’ve cooked the next few days’ meals in advance for sheer lack of things to do otherwise. And it’s getting to the point you’ll need to head out for more ingredients soon.

At this point even getting jumped again would be better than this terrible monotony. The hotel was empty right now, so you couldn’t even count on the others for entertainment. Charlie and Vaggie were off picking up Angel from whatever den of sin he’d ended up in last night. You hadn’t seen much of Alastor lately, but he’d stopped by earlier today to whisk off Husk and Nifty for a “spot of fun”. By the sound of Husks’ curse-filled tirade as they were swept off in a rush of shadow, that was code for using them as backup as he tore up another circle of hell in search of dirt on Madame Lantern.

The Radio Demon has been single-minded in his quest to get one over on her, which is understandable. Personally, you were more than happy to stay far, far away from that situation. Territory disputes are above your paygrade.

In short, you’ve once again been left to your own devices. You huff and make a decision. Enough is enough, and the slowly emptying fridge was getting to you more than the prospect of facing your past demons (in an uncomfortably literal sense). It’s high time you got some groceries.

You’ve just been paranoid. You’re sure it’ll be fine.

 


 

“Hey! Turn around and face us, bitch!”

You were so close. You stare defeatedly at the front door, your hand dropping from the key you’d just inserted. True, you’d made it to the store and back, but by now it’s clear that your luck had run out.

You turn around and are confronted with a small mob of sinners of various shapes and sizes. You place the groceries on the ground gently to free up your hands as you try and get the measure of the crowd before you.

“The hell do you want, assholes?”

By your count there are nine people, all of them pissed. But maybe they’re just a rude bunch in need of directions (please just be a harmless gaggle of jackasses). A different demon answers you, sneering so hard that their jaunty hat starts to slip forward.

“Revenge, you fucking monster! Everything that’s happened to us is your fault, so it’s high time we returned the favor.”

Yeah, that sounds about right. You sigh as they all press forwards in preparation to rush you. Most of them have animal-based forms, though a few of them are clearly electronic in nature. You can handle this. Well, you don’t really have a choice, but if you can get them off balance you might have a chance.

“Really?” you ask, feigning confusion. “I don’t recognize any of you. Except maybe you with the hat. You were a whiny little bitch as a human, too.”

That’ll do it. The sinner in question lunges forward with a scream of rage, the rest following suit. You’re way ahead of them, dropping into that state of being that lends itself so well to blood and instinct.

You dodge with a roll, coming up with your blade already flashing and wet with blood. Your opponents don’t hesitate, coming at you from multiple angles. Throwing stars embed themselves where your head was a moment ago, but their owner is already clutching his side where you’re ripping out your knife. A blink later and you’re stabbing into a glitching screen of a face and ripping cables out with your other hand in a shower of sparks and black blood.

There is nothing elegant about the way you fight. You don’t dodge and weave with grace or brandish your knife with a flourish. Instead you drop heavily to the ground again and again, taking and avoiding hits in turn. You lunge and throw yourself into the meat of your opponents with brutal efficiency, hacking and carving away with a precision that’s out of place with the feral expression you wear.

No, there’s nothing beautiful about the way you fight. But there’s something akin to beauty in the way the arterial spray of your prey splits the air like a ribbon. There’s something artistic in the curve of exposed bone that you carve into being; something symphonic in the layered screeching of the sinners that find themselves down a limb or two in your frenzied wake. You note these things the way someone notes the scene of a nature documentary they’re narrating- distantly, with the detached interest of someone utterly unaffected by the carnage on the other side of the screen; death and violence lose their impact when viewed through that sort of lens. The script calls it the circle of life and suddenly that vivid shade of red is more fascinating than disturbing (and boy does that artificial distinction sure help in compartmentalizing the rush of satisfaction as another body hits the floor).

Time is meaningless, its passage measured by the rapid pounding of your heart- the iron tang of your own fear and desperation to survive are blurring your senses. What remains in focus is this: the knife in your hand, the bodies at your feet, and the enemies still before you.

AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

What the-

You flinch and stumble as a high pitched cackle pierces the air. Thankfully the five or so demons still standing are likewise too startled to capitalize on your slip.

Everyone stands in listless shock as a giant mechanical blimp casts a looming shadow over the hotel. A figure approaches the window while maintaining a surprisingly long-winded maniacal laugh.

“It is I, Sir Pentious, back to take my revenge! And this time you’ll find yourselves no match for the prowess of my mechanical ingenuity!”

“What the fuck?” rasps one of the sinners from their prone position on the floor. You couldn’t agree more, startled entirely out of your murderous haze.

You gape incredulously as a snazzily dressed snake leers from the window and yanks a lever dramatically. A large cannon whirs and clanks into place with the screech of grinding wheels and cogs. It’s pointed directly at the hotel. Nope! Time to intervene.

“Hi! Yeah, excuse me?” you call out, waving your arm, bloodied knife in hand, until you get his attention.

“Yes, what is it? Surrendering already? It figures you would be quick to acknowledge defeat in the face of my impressive machinery!”

“Uh, no not really-” He cuts you off almost instantly.

“Actually wait, who are you?” he asks, flicking his tongue out and squinting as if to ascertain your identity. “Where are the others? Because I have some unfinissshhed busssinessss with the foolish sinners who dared challenge me.”

You try not to snicker at the way he elongates his s’s in annoyance. But there’s a time and a place and you can’t count on the shock to keep your past (future?) victims at bay for much longer.

“Mhm, if you say so! I’m Honey, I work here. What’s the issue, hon?”

“The “issue”,” he says, making finger quotes that radiate near fatal levels of sass, “is I have a score to settle with the whore known as Angel Dust. And your resident Radio Demon owes me a new zeppelin, though he’ll find this one will be more than a match for his freakish powers!”

A sudden rush of murmurs comes from the sinners surrounding you. They seem to be arguing among themselves, but you can’t concentrate. A question weighs on you too heavily to ignore.

“What the hell is a zeppelin?”

Pentious sputters before gesturing helplessly. “You’re looking at one!”

Squinting at him in suspicion gains you no additional clarity.

“Do you mean your blimp?”

“It’s not a blimp!”

A small sentient egg butts in from next to him.

“It’s kind of like a blimp, boss.”

The snake screeches in aggravation and smacks it away. “It is a zeppelin and it’s the pinnacle of modern transportation! This is the largest and most impressive of my creations yet, which makes it significantly more radical than a mere blimp!”

You laugh, but it’s strained. The five remaining sinners are starting to regroup.

“Are you telling me that Alastor wrecked your blimp-”

“ZEPPELIN!”

“Sorry, zeppelin- and your response was just to go out and build another, bigger zeppelin?”

A pause.

“Yes.”

You can respect that. But apparently the enemies you’ve been pretending to ignore are done respecting the weird unspoken halt of hostilities.

“Hey! We’re not done here, slut,” the hat-wearing demon spits, stalking towards you with what sure sure is meant to be an intimidating expression. He doesn’t get far before his arm is snatched by one of his cohorts.

“Listen, man, let’s just go. The snake guy said some shit about the Radio Demon being here and I ain’t sign up to mess with no overlords.”

“Fuck off, pussy, I don’t see any overlords here. It’s still five on one so get yer shit together and lets teach her a lesson. C’mon, it’d be six on one if Spitz would stop crying over his leg. It’s just a flesh wound, ya useless sack a- SHIT!

He’s interrupted as a bright beam takes him off his feet and blasts him across the street. Smoke wafts off the end of Sir Pentious’ cannon. He’s hissing in annoyance at the interruption.

“Excuse me! I was having a conversation here! Youths these days ought to learn to respect their superiors.”

The cannon whirs mechanically once more, clearly charging up for a second shot. This seems to do away with the last of the group’s resolve. They scatter immediately, leaving their fallen companions behind in their rush. You watch incredulously, unable to believe your luck.

You might have been able to come out the victor even without this intervention, but it definitely would’ve cost you. It seems you owe this Pentious guy your thanks.

You turn back to where he’s jeering out indecipherably mangled slang and throwing parting shots after the retreating figures. He settles down, still snickering.

“Now where was I? Ah yes- I was about to demolish this decrepit establishment and everyone inside!” He takes in a deep breath and you sense another round of maniacal laughter welling up.

Oh boy, this could get really bad. You like to think you’re a pretty capable gal, but you know where your strengths lie. And, unfortunately, in a game of ‘Knife-Paper-Cannon’, the cannon probably wins every time. You might need to fall back on Plan C. You break him out of his reverie.

“Hey, Pentious!”

“What? What is it now?” He seems put-out at your interruption.

“Just wanted to say thanks for the save! Also, I live here so maybe don’t wreck my place, yeah?”

“Er,” he stutters, blinking once with his hood flared back, clearly wrong-footed (haha, get it? ... you might just be a little loopy from blood loss). He recovers quickly, all bluster. “Don’t thank me! We’re enemies by association you fool!”

“You just did me a solid, hon. Personally, I don’t have any beef with you,” you tilt you head to the side, really playing up the sugar-sweet cadence of your accent. You blink up at him for emphasis and try to look cute and harmless. It’s probably not super effective considering you’re covered in blood and entrails and that guy (Spitz?) is still ineffectively crawling away from the scene without any legs, but you figure it’s worth a shot. There’s a brief pause.

“Well, fine!”

You stifle a smirk, though the urge drops as he continues.

“Simply fetch the foolish demons who do “have beef” with me-” his tongue flicks uncertainly, as if the slang sits awkwardly in his mouth, but his eyes seem to spark at the new addition to his vocabulary.

“-and I will destroy them out here! Never let it be said I don’t award those who surrender to my obvious superiority. Of course I'll be claiming this building as part of my territory, but I suppose you could stay.” He flicks his hood like he’s tossing back hair, trying and failing at aloofness.

It’s really hard not to snort with laughter and you’re pretty proud of keeping your face from doing more than twitch. This would be a genuinely hilarious situation if you weren’t so fucking stressed out, but even so it’s kinda funny how full of himself this guy is.

Even if you were inclined to listen to him, if only to sit back and make this everyone else’s problem, you can’t. Because nobody is home.

“Sorry, sugar, but that’s not gonna happen.”

Sir Pentious looks a bit hurt, but then mostly incredibly offended. His hat sneers at your audacity (wow, this guy is a riot).

“Hmph! No matter. If those cowardly sinners are so rightfully afraid of my power, then I will simply bring the fight to them.”

The cannon whirs back to life as a manic smile curves his face, cobra hood flared wide and threatening. This is the expression of a mad inventor, ready to unleash the might of his machines on his foes. Or more accurately, the wall of a hotel. Where your room and all your hard-earned belongings are located. Hell no. Plan C is a go.

OR-!

He flinches back at your sheer volume. His hand slips off the controls.

Or, you could use the front door. Like a normal person. You know, because no one else is home, so there’s no point in you blowing holes into walls when there’s no one to fight you over it.”

“Pardon?”

The poor snake probably has whiplash from how aggressively disarming you’re being. Good. As long as he’s confused he’s not going to be breaking your shit.

“You wanted to come in, right?”

“No, I-”

Right! Anyways, I was planning on whipping up a quick lunch and it’s no trouble making a bit extra. You can consider this my gesture of gratitude.” You tilt your head in faux innocence and scrunch your nose (harmless harmless harmless, it shouldn’t grate on you this much to play up the whole “non-threatening” angle). You drive it home.

“Or are you really turning down the opportunity to snoop around ‘enemy territory’ without consequences?”

You see his tongue flick the air in sudden interest. When you put it like that, how could he say no?

 


 

Plan C is foolproof- it’s a back-up plan that has never failed you, a weapon wielded by generations of your ancestors: Southern Hospitality.

Sir Pentious sits across from you, for a given definition of “sit”, seeing as he has no legs. The two of you munch on little egg salad sandwiches as his minions (who call themselves the Egg Bois, isn’t that just darling) run around the parlor and attached hallways.

One of them manages to topple an expensive vase and splatter one of his companions with his own yolk as it crushes him. The eggs proceed to collectively lose their shit. One begins reciting an impromptu eulogy. Cute.

“To clarify: you’re saying I should shorten the word ‘radical’ to ‘rad’?”

Your attention falls back on Sir Pentious. You’ve spent the last few hours explaining modern slang to him. You’d absentmindedly corrected him once, only for him to latch on to you as if you were some sort of authority on “hip teen-speak” as he’d called it.

The temptation to mess with him was high, and you’ve given into it a little bit, but honestly no matter what you do his speech patterns really couldn’t get any worse or more embarrassing. Several times you’ve actually physically cringed at what’s come out of his mouth.

So here you are, playing the part of meme expert extraordinaire (as if you didn’t die decades ago yourself. It was hard enough keeping up with 21st century slang, and you wouldn’t have bothered at all if it weren’t for how easy hellphones and social media made it these days).

“Yep! Though that’s still a bit outdated these days. But as a general rule, the shortened versions of anything will sound better than the original saying.”

“Mhmm mhm,” he hums, scribbling down notes. He’s taking this so seriously, and you think you missed your calling as an actress because somehow you haven’t let on how hysterical you’re finding this.

“I just have one question.”

You pick up a cup of tea and blow gently across its surface. “Shoot, hon.”

“What exactly is the past tense of ‘yeet’?”

You choke on your tea, quickly waving off his concern. In the distance you hear the front door creak open, but you ignore it in favor of this incredible opportunity. You can’t help yourself; the urge to spit bullshit goes soul-deep. You affix a serious and studious expression, trying to channel the vibes of a college professor.

“There are basically two schools of thought. A common interpretation is that it conjugates to ‘yote’, much like the way speak becomes ‘spoke’. Alternatively, as yeet is a four letter word sharing a suffix with words like ‘greet’ and ‘tweet’, it follows that its past tense would be yeeted, like ‘greeted’ or ‘tweeted’.”

He nods like he’s following along. You briefly sip your tea to keep from bursting into laughter. Your ears twitch at the sounds of several sets of footsteps approaching. It doesn’t matter, you’re seeing this nonsense through until the last possible moment.

“However, that doesn’t hold up as another word that fits the criteria is ‘meet’, which becomes ‘met’, so actually the proper tense for yeet could be ‘yet’.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Vaggie says, entering the room, Charlie and Angel on her heels. They all freeze as they take in the scene.

A dozen or so Egg Bois are running around causing havoc and several more are having a tearful funeral beside the cracked body of their companion. The broken vase has rolled across the room, smearing yolk everywhere. And amidst it all, you sit with Sir Pentious (looking like someone's stepped on his tail), clothes and skin bathed in crimson from your earlier altercation and sipping tea.

Charlie beams at him. “Oh hey, Pen!”

The others don’t react as favorably.

“WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU DO?!”

“WHY THE FUCK IS HE HERE?!”

Vaggie and Angel yell over each other. Looks like the fun is over. You sigh as Sir Pentious slides off the chair with a dull thump before stretching to his full height. His minions fall in behind him in v-formation as he points dramatically at the trio.

“As you can see, your feeble security was no match for the likes of I! I have the tactical advantage, catching you unawares in this brilliant and definitely planned ambush, and defeating you will be as simple as invading your- OW!”

Angel reached into one of Nifty’s cleaning supply alcoves and snatched a broom, thwacking Pentious over the head.

“Get out, motherfucker!”

The Egg Bois charge him, shrieking gobbling noises all the way and knocking into Charlie in the process. She lets out an ‘oof’ but otherwise seems fine.

Hey!” Vaggie rushes to her defense, and starts slashing away with a magical-girl-esque sword and really it’s just all downhill from there.

You sit back and sip your tea as a battle breaks out in front of you. It’d be pretty short if not for the sheer numbers on Sir Pentious’ side, alongside with the various weapons and contraptions he keeps pulling out of seemingly nowhere.

A sudden movement in your peripheral has your knife flying before you even register it completely. Alastor dodges it easily as he materializes out of a shadow, Husk and Nifty in his wake. The latter is fussing at the bloodstains on a corner of Alastor’s coat.

“Oh, welcome back fellas!”

Nifty opens her mouth.

“And Nifty, who I know is not a fella.”

She closes her mouth.

“Hello, dear,” Alastor says, somewhat absently as the three of them take in the chaos.

Husk grunts in indifference and heads over to the bar. Nothing phases that guy. Nifty is still for about half a second before rushing into the fray and picking up frantically behind everyone as furniture is thrown and destroyed. She screams in anger as an egg explodes and splatters yolk on her skirt. Antennae peak up from beneath her hair and a second pair of arms come out, brandishing a massive needle like a javelin. There’s resulting bloodbath would look horrifying if it weren’t all yolk.

You pat the empty seat beside you in invitation. Alastor takes you up on it and you pour out some tea for him. You skip the sugar, used to just about everyone’s tastes by now, and offer the mug. He thanks you, and you both kick back to bask in the confusion and havoc raging around you.

You sip slowly and take note of the way Alastor’s shoulders drop imperceptibly lower, his smile losing just a hint of its edge as the sound of smashing wood and screaming builds. It’s clear to you by now that Alastor doesn’t really broadcast his stress, or tension, or any “weak” emotion at all really (Angel was somehow the exception to the rule, making him visibly uncomfortable on the regular- it’s as funny as it is concerning).

Looking for signs that he’s upset is pointless, because he’ll always keep his body language neutral at most. But the absence of certain things cue you in far better than the presence of them. Judging by the way his buzzing static is only now letting small clips of show-tunes slip through, and his ears are slowly losing their initial stiff posture, he wasn’t having too good of a time earlier. The whole information hunt was probably as unsuccessful as ever.

It makes you feel better knowing you weren’t the only one having a shitty day.

“So how was the recon?” you ask, trying for some small talk. And also to dig at him a little, just for fun.

Alastor takes a long drink, and there’s the slightest tightness at the corners of his eyes. Nice, looks like you hit the nail on the head.

“Dragged out and bloody.”

“So not a total loss, then.”

That pulls a genuine smile out of him and he throws his head back in a laugh. He grins down at you and it’s just as satisfying as his irritation.

“Indeed it wasn’t, sweetheart. Though judging by the fetching shade of red you’re wearing you’ve had quite the busy day as well!”

You look down at your clothes. You can’t even see the black in some places below the thick caking of gore. There’s no way you’re getting all those stains out. You sigh dramatically and look up at the ceiling.

“That’s one way to frame it. There’s not enough peroxide in the world to salvage this outfit.”

He hums in commiseration, though its mostly swallowed under his passive static. You return to sitting in companionable silence and watching the rest of the room.

The tides are turning on Sir Pentious as the Egg Bois drop like flies, and the view is like something out of Tom and Jerry (or watching an alley cat being shooed away by a broom-wielding shopkeep). Except with more guns. And plasma blasts.

Eventually a hail of bullets has more or less herded him back towards the door. There are no minions left and, judging by the way his hood is pressed tightly closed and his hat’s eye is flicking left and right, Sir Pentious is well aware that he’s out of convenient meat shields.

He pulls off a tactical retreat with impressively absent levels of grace.

“You may have won today’s battle, but rest assured I will win the war! You will rue the day-”

He yelps as a knife hits the floor by his tail. It looks like one of Vaggie’s. He slithers quickly out the door and you decide to be a decent host and give him a proper farewell.

“Bye, Pen! Thanks again for the assist!”

Angel interrupts his response.

“Get the fuck out!” He slams the door shut with extreme prejudice. His fluffy chest is heaving and now that you’re looking closer you see dark circles under his eyes. Oof, you think Angel might still be hungover. You sure wouldn’t want to be him right now.

Alastor must be thinking the same because he looks like the cat that caught the canary once he spots Angel’s miserable expression. Of course that’d brighten his day, you think fondly.

Your good mood by proxy doesn’t last long, because Vaggie almost immediately whirls on you. You thought you were on better terms these days, but you guess this situation bears explaining. You’re really not looking forward to this conversation.

“What. Gives?!

“Listen I can explain-”

Angel’s the one who cuts you off for a change.

“Yeah, why don’t you start by explainin’ why you’re having fuckin’ tea and crumpets or some shit with Pentious of all demons? Why’d you even let that guy inside?!”

Oh good, an easy question.

“He did me a solid, so I figured I’d thank him with lunch and also keep him from trashing the place.”

Everyone starts talking over each other all at once. You hold up a hand to clarify and also to keep anyone at bay before you got too twitchy and started spilling tea.

“I uh, was in a bit of bind while scrapping with some thugs outside and he lent me a hand. He was still gonna try and wreck the hotel though, so inviting him in seemed like a good way to get rid of a debt and also do some damage control.”

“He helped you?” Charlie asks, suddenly up in your face, eyes shining with excitement. You dig your claws into your seat cushion to keep from summoning your knife. Charlie, much like Alastor and Nifty, finds other people’s personal space to be an alien concept.

Vaggie thankfully distracts you from your twitching hand, though you’re not too jazzed with how she goes about it.

“Damage control?! The whole reception area is trashed!” she shouts, gesturing at the mess around you.

It’s pretty bad, but you’re sure between you and Nifty it’d take less than a week to fix back up. You don’t see the big deal here; shit happens, and Pentious would’ve wrecked the hotel with or without your interference. Angel has already slunk away to nurse his hangover at the bar with Husk, so clearly he’s not that fussed over the situation. Or more likely he’s just too hungover to give shit.

You stand up casually and try to pace away the jittering in your fingers and wrist. Sitting where people could loom over you when you were already twitchy was a really bad idea. Vaggie steps towards you, not finished.

“And your little “scrap” looks like a murder scene! There was a detached leg on the door mat, like you’re a, a cat leaving ‘presents’, except instead of dead birds it’s a pile of bodies!”

You snap back, irritated by the third degree you’re getting. Especially because this is Hell and those guys wouldn’t get any more dead than they were before confronting you, not without an angel blade. Given enough time they’d end up in more or less one piece again.

“You know what, if that’s the metaphor we’re going with here then that pile of bodies would be a gift and coming from a place of love, so technically you’re the one being inconsiderate right now.”

Vaggie did Not like that, and is clearly gearing up for a terrifying rebuttal. Alastor is suddenly beside you, and you relax as she misses a beat.

“Speaking of the carnage out front,” Alastor interjects shamelessly, “that’s quite the technique you’ve got there, Honey!”

“Oh, you saw that?” you flush, embarrassed. Alastor nods.

“We arrived on the front steps, but Nifty kicked up a fuss, so I whisked us on inside rather than make the poor dear walk through that.”

You interpret that as him not wanting to get Nifty started on another cleaning rampage if they tracked blood into the hotel. It’s kind of a moot point now given the hotel’s current state.

“But never mind that!” he says, spinning you into a twirl as music blares from his microphone. You let out a startled laugh, successfully distracted.

“I’m curious as to who taught you those flashy knife skills of yours, dear! I’d swear you took the time to butcher those demons, because they almost looked ready to eat.” Alastor leers that last bit, voice heavy with distorted bass and eyes glowing slightly. His grin is wicked and conspiratory.

Your ears flick forward in flattery, and you can help but preen a bit at the compliment to your knife wielding. You can chalk it down to a lifetime’s worth of practice.

“Haha yeah, that was kinda my calling-card up topside; the “Highway Butcher”,” you explain, revealing your moniker with distaste, “It’s not usually something I do consciously, but autopilot is a hell of a thing. It’s the hunting background. Learned how to skin and prep a day’s haul pretty young and I guess the muscle memory stuck around.”

Alastor tilts his head in interest, and though he’s tamped down on the rest of his flashy displays of excitement, there’s a cruel spark in his eye as he leans slightly to croon to you.

“Fascinating! If I were to provide a,” he pauses, choosing his words wisely, “volunteer, so to speak, you’d be amenable to a demonstration, I’m sure?”

Charlie makes a strangled noise of disapproval from somewhere off behind Vaggie. It’s clear he means unwilling victim, because there’s being subtle and there’s being Alastor and you can always count on Alastor to be his terrible self.

“Hypothetically!” Alastor assures her, straightening up and looking chipper and not a bit bloodthirsty. He doesn’t fool anyone, especially seeing as he’s waiting for your answer.

You catch his eye, amused and feeling daring despite yourself.

“Why? You offerin’, sugar?” you purr, leaning in close. Close enough to see the way his breath hitches, and his eyes flash into dials, hair fluffing up as if he’d been electrocuted.

It lasts less then a split second, but you back off, bemused. You were joking, but hey, if that’s the sort of reaction you’d get then maybe you should offer to carve Alastor up more often.

That was also a joke. You think (it’s hard to think when he’s looking at you that way; like he’s not sure if he wants to kill and eat you or let you take a bite instead). You blink away your train of thought. You’re probably getting a little delusional from stress and minor blood-loss. Which reminds you, that healing ring sure would come in handy right now. It’s probably a good idea to go fetch it soon.

You realize that you and Alastor have been making silent, intense eye contact for at least a few seconds, both clearly in mild shock and trying (failing) to get a read on each other. Before either of you can figure out how to proceed, Vaggie swoops in, presumably due to a pause in what most people would consider as a distressing conversation topic. In hindsight, talking shop with Alastor regarding murder techniques probably wasn’t a smart move when trying to convince Vaggie of your relative innocence.

“If you two would stop your creepy pseudo-flirting for one second that’d be great, thanks! Because you still haven’t explained why you attacked a crowd of people and left them on our porch!”

“Hey, it was self-defense!” you argue, ears flat against your skull. You’d forgotten Vaggie was still on the war-path.

“Bullshit!” she snarls, “You know, I was actually worried about you when we walked up and saw all the bodies out front. But what do you know, we walk in and not only are you fine, you’re covered in blood and inviting enemies over for tea!”

If you were capable of exercising your admittedly limited empathy right then, it’d be clear to you that Vaggie’s just feeling worried and protective. It’s an understandable reaction to having her home invaded and its denizens put at risk by a self-admitted murderer. But you’re not feeling particularly charitable or empathetic and being put on the spot like this is not helping; instead, you do what you do best- deflect attacks and dish them back with disproportionate force.

“Since when are your enemies my enemies? Because as far as I’m concerned, people don’t interrogate their allies, much less their friends. Back off, Vaggie, before your enemies start looking friendlier than you do.”

Shit, that’s not what you meant to say at all.

She draws herself up, shifting her grip deliberately on that sword of hers.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means, my dear,” Alastor cuts in, “that perhaps you should listen to your employee and back off.”

You hadn’t picked up on the rising static before, but now it’s impossible to ignore. The scene is reminiscent of your first day in the hotel, as reality starts to glitch out around the demon by your side. He’s looming forward with a rictus grin, eyes like spinning dials and voodoo symbols impressing themselves into the air around you. You notice flecks of dried blood in between his teeth, likely from his earlier excursion. Everyone startles, staring at him with wide eyes.

You take it all in with a sense of detachment, because Alastor is standing right next to you which means his soft looking hair and ears are right next to you and looking fluffier by the second under all that crackling static. Sure, he looks intimidating but holy shit that’s cute.

Everyone freezes, and the deafening white noise cuts out with a sudden screech of sound. Alastor looks at you blankly and your confusion is slowly fading to complete mortification. You think maybe that last bit might’ve slipped out.

What.”

You scramble to do some damage control.

“Sorry! Sorry I did not mean to think that out loud- er, I mean say! I didn’t mean to say it out loud!”

“Why would you say that at all?” Vaggie asks, horrified.

Husk makes a noise of agreement from the bar. Unfortunately, you’re in the same boat and you can feel your face flaming up (why are you such an idiot, why can’t you have a functioning brain-to-mouth filter, what the hell).

Alastor still hasn’t reacted, other than to repeat himself, voice completely flat.

What.”

“Seriously, hon, sorry- it just slipped out! It’s only that, well, your hair just does this thing” you explain, gesticulating helplessly with your hands, and to your horror the words just keep coming, where it fluffs up a bunch with all the static and it looks really really soft and sort of cute and- and you know what, I’m gonna stop talking now.”

“...”

Though the noise and glitches have died down, the radio dials in his eyes are still spinning slowly, like a loading icon on a monitor.

After a long moment you embarrassment passes and you’ve landed on genuine concern. You move around to face him head on, peering up at his face with furrowed brows.

“Um, Alastor? You doing alright in there?”

He finally blinks, shaking off the lingering symbols and microphone feedback hurriedly, like he’s swatting at flies. He clears his throat once, then again a second time with the usual accompanying buzzing.

“Er, yes, certainly dear. Um. What were you- that is to say- what?

You can’t help but smile, and it’s probably not a wholly kind expression. You’re almost always the one being flustered and getting messed with between the two of you. It’s pretty great being on the other side of the equation.

And is it just you, or are Alastor’s cheekbones turning a darker grey? Well, you’ve already dug this hole for yourself pretty deep, so it’s with no small amount of mischief and uncharitable good humor that you figure you may as well lie in it.

“I was just saying your hair looks nice like that, sugar.”

A high pitched crackle spikes from his general direction, and yeah now that you’re looking closely his face is looking a little flushed. It’s faint, but still, you’ll count it a victory.

“Well thank you, dear,” he says, not making eye contact.

As fun as this is, you think you might want to quit while you’re ahead. Also Vaggie looks like she’s gearing up again and you really don’t have the energy for that right now. Time to retreat. You edge your way to the door, trying to look casual.

“So... I should probably go get myself fixed up before I track blood everywhere.”

Before Vaggie can protest Nifty is rushing forwards and shooing you towards the stairs.

Yes! Go go go! Stop dripping everywhere!”

Honestly, bless Nifty. You follow her as she rambles, kicking aside debris as you go.

“This is like the third time you’ve gotten blood all over the halls, ya know. The boys always leave a huge mess, but I figured that’s ‘cuz they’re men and they don’t know any better. But you’re a lady so it’s kinda weird that you’re just as bad!”

You laugh and answer, “C’mon Nif, get with the times! Ladies can track blood on the walls if they want to. Y’know, feminism!”

She thwacks you with a feather duster. It kinda hurts because she’s disproportionately strong for her tiny frame. You don’t really mind; as she chides you at length with a cheerful and wavering attention span, you find yourself finally at ease. It’s been one hell of a day.

 


 

Alastor has had one hell of a day. More like several weeks, really! There’s very little that can phase him, both as an Overlord and an individual, but that broad by the name of Jackie Lantern certainly hit the mark on both counts.

So far there’s been no further encroachment on his territory, but that’s no surprise. She has to know he’d be expecting it. Instead, it seems every one of her associates has gone to ground. Weeks of reconnaissance (bloodshed) have divulged nothing. Not ‘nothing useful’, not even ‘nothing relevant’, but absolutely nothing at all.

Knowledge is power down in Hell, and the smallest piece of gossip falling into the wrong hands has domino-ed into the fall of more than one powerful demon. It’s impossible that nobody has any dirt on the coven and its leader. Clearly she has built a reputation, and at the very least her customers would have something to say.

But Alastor has run into a problem he’s never faced before. The sinners he’s cornered have information, and are simply unwilling to give it, no matter how nicely he asks (and his definition of nice may not match theirs, but that’s no matter). It’s, for lack of a better word, unsettling the way they would fear the wrath of a sinner, one without any true status, over himself.

From what piecemeal crumbs Rosie provided over lunch some days ago, the woman wasn’t in possession of an angel blade. And still the captive audience he’d interrogated would only ever insist that she’d kill them for speaking and then say no more.

It bore looking into. One more thing on the to-do list. But his inner monologue could only distract him from Husk’s complaining for so long, so he concedes temporary defeat and pulls the three of them back through space and onto the Hotel’s front steps.

Nifty gasps, hopping away from where a pool of blood nearly reached her heels.

“Ohhh I am not cleaning that up!”

It looks like Alastor hasn’t been the only one doling out their share of carnage. He can see several dismembered bodies splayed over the sidewalk. One twitches weakly, but its clear that certain tendons necessary for movement had been slashed at.

He feels inexplicably hungry in a literal sense and it takes a few moments to realize why. Most of the damage looks precise, as if following invisible butcher lines. Those demons were cut up the way one would prepare a skinned buck for eating. He steps forward eagerly to get a closer look, but Nifty screeches in disapproval.

FUCK! Th’ hell d’you gotta yell like that for?” Husk hisses at her, ears plastered to his head. Alastor winces and very much agrees with the sentiment, though he steps back anyways.

“Like hell is Alastor tracking that all over the floors! If you step in that you’re going to smear it everywhere. And I know you do it on purpose, Al, because you like leaving bloody hoof prints everywhere ‘cause you think it looks cool or sinister or something. It doesn’t! You look like a nerd-”

Alastor sputters, flushing in offense.

Yes, thank you for that, Nifty, point taken,” he cuts in, and transports them inside in a rush of shadow. A knife comes flying towards his face immediately (predictably; this happened more often than not and was half the reason he’d started using the front door). He shifts a bit to the side and lets the blade embed harmlessly into the wall.

Nifty is thankfully distracted from her earlier train of thought when she notices a stain on his coat. She fusses over it for a moment and he lets her, busy taking in the room at large.

That try-hard inventor was here for some reason, as were a small troop of his subordinates. Alastor thinks having minions that are literal food items is hardly a glowing reflection on one’s place in the food chain. Either way, with his bloodlust mostly slated from earlier he finds little need to focus on that ridiculous snake.

It appears everyone else disagrees, fully entrenched in pointless battle as bullets and furniture alike go flying across the room, turning the parlor into a war zone.

“Oh, welcome back fellas!”

He stands corrected. Almost everyone is fighting, whereas you’re sitting calmly, caked with gore and sipping tea in the midst of the chaos. He greets you absently, watching Nifty charge at a terrified egg like a berserker. It’s a delightful visual and he privately forgives her earlier mockery (which was absolutely unfounded; his footwear is both aesthetically and thematically above reproach).

His attention is grabbed once more as you pat the seat beside you in invitation. It’s no hardship for him to sit back and accept some tea from you. He sips at is and is unsurprised to find it’s been over-steeped and left sugar-less; you took pride in your attention to detail, especially when it came to food and drink.

The sounds of smashing wood and layered screaming wash over him pleasantly. He hums and lets himself bask in the mayhem for a moment. He supposes he has you to thank for this bit of entertainment. The majority of the interesting (violent) shenanigans around the hotel could be attributed to the chaos and destruction you tended to leave in your wake. The fact that it seemed to come to you effortlessly, even unwillingly, was as admirable as it was diverting.

“So how was the recon?” you ask, eyes glinting.

Suddenly Alastor is feeling significantly less fond towards you. He takes a long sip and tries to think happy thoughts. A dying scream from one of Sir Pentious’ minions soothes his aggravation enough to answer.

“Dragged out and bloody,” he answers, curtly.

“So not a total loss, then.”

And what else can he do but laugh? Your tone is dry but it’s clear you’re only half kidding, and your shared grins are crooked and a touch cruel (a genuine grin on his behalf, more honest than he’s comfortable admitting). He thinks you wear cruelty very nicely, but there’s a hint of something else he can’t identify in your eyes. He doesn’t dwell on it, instead choosing to prod at the cracks of your composure in retaliation.

It’s not a stretch to assume the bodies outside are your own work, and you don’t strike Alastor as the type to initiate a conflict like that (he acknowledges the possibility, however, as your impulsiveness and paranoia often combine to hilarious and violent effect). It seems he’s correct, as you flop back in your own chair and groan at the ceiling, bemoaning the state of your clothes at his reminder.

He hums, commiserating. Alastor is more than familiar with the struggle to get blood out of fabric. He feels no immediate need to respond beyond that, and simply settles back into his plush seat. The two of you sit in comfortable silence for some time, watching the battle turn more and more one-sided.

Peaceful moments like this- where he doesn’t feel the need to perform, where there’s entertainment and violence that doesn’t necessitate his interference- are rare for him. The closest he gets are the occasional quiet drink with Husk when he’s feeling particularly maudlin. To his mild disappointment, it eventually comes to an end as the intruder is run out of the hotel.

You bid Sir Pentious farewell and Alastor almost chokes on his drink at your chipper audacity. He’s sure Vaggie won’t appreciate that show of hospitality. She doesn’t.

As usual, the others react completely predictably. Alastor tunes out of the resulting conversation, finishing his tea in relative mirth as an argument commences. He’ll admit his appreciation regarding your presence at the hotel, if only because when you’re around he hardly has to lift a finger to get some decent conflict going. He still does, of course, but it’s nice to sit back and let someone else do the work once in a while.

Alastor checks back into the conversation when you suddenly get to your feet and start pacing. Your fingers are twitching with the effort not to summon your knife, but Vaggie presses into your space anyways. His eyes narrow as she rants about you leaving dismembered limbs on the welcome mat (he’d personally felt very welcomed by it). He decides to interfere before Vaggie could gain traction in her quest to make you repentant and less than lethal; it was directly in opposition to his quest to wring every last bit of entertainment from the hotel and its inhabitants.

“Speaking of the carnage out front,” Alastor says, making sure to block Vaggie’s access to you, “that’s quite the technique you’ve got there, Honey!”

He proceeds to lay the flattery on thick. Positive reinforcement is important! It’s in his own best interests that you keep being charming and spontaneous, and nothing fits the bill quite like those gifts, served ‘alley-cat style’ as per your risible metaphor.

It helps that the demon is genuinely curious about your skill set. All knowledge eventually comes in handy down the line (whether for persuasive purposes or otherwise), and the insight on your hunting background and past life is more than welcome. He takes in the the information with keen interest, setting it aside to mull over later.

Still, nothing beats a hands on demonstration, which is why he risks setting back his goodwill with Charlie to request one from you (his vivid recollection of your conflict a few weeks ago has nothing to do with it- the fact that your face, snarling and bloodstained played through his mind whenever he let his thoughts wander; the deliberate way you’d prowled and the expression of savage delight as your knife dug into flesh, the way it echoed and tugged at the rotten, fundamental parts of him that went soul deep-).

Well! Suffice to say Alastor was always curious to watch a kindred spirit at work. He dials up his charm as far it will go and leans down to croon in your ear.

“Fascinating! If I were to provide a volunteer, so to speak, you’d be amenable to a demonstration, I’m sure?”

He would have said victim, but Alastor felt perhaps the subtle route may be preferable given present company. Charlie is riled up regardless, so he rolls his eyes and attempts to pacify her.

“Hypothetically!”

She doesn’t seem particularly convinced, but that’s about as much effort as the demon is willing to expend on the matter. He turns back to you, awaiting your answer.

You catch his gaze and grin roguishly. Alastor watches as you lean up into his space, eyes half lidded and fixed on his own.

“Why? You offerin’, sugar?” you purr, voice raspy and laced with wicked humor.

He freezes, cursing the way his breath hitches and his power spikes outside of his iron grip for a split moment (and he’s not picturing it, he isn’t, won’t allow his mind to go there for a moment, but the concept alone is enough to affect his composure and what if he did offer).

Alastor stares at you, unsure how to respond. He recovered from his slip almost instantly, but you clearly caught his slip, and now watch him dazedly. He curses himself again for his brief weakness, trying fruitlessly to make heads or tails of your expression.

Vaggie starts up again before he can; she’s worse than a dog with a bone. The Radio Demon takes the opportunity to collect himself fully. He shoves back at the spirits pushing up against his awareness; they must have picked up on his brief flare of power. As they start tugging at his attention, the yawing void they inhabit stirs in response. His power starts itching within his veins in a Pavlovian response because obviously what Alastor needs right now is additional irritation.

He distantly notes Vaggie getting louder as she tries futilely to pull satisfying answers from an unwilling Honey. He allows his passive broadcasting to increase in volume, hoping it will serve as an outlet for the power crackling impatiently beneath his skin. It’s frustratingly ineffective.

“-Back off, Vaggie, before your enemies start looking friendlier than you do.”

Alastor snaps back the majority of his attention to the sinners in front of him. Those are some bold words; the glee he feels at hearing them is maybe a little too strong, however, and his half-assed attempt at restraint begins to chafe more than the demon is willing to tolerate.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Vaggie demands.

Alastor considers his interference a public service at this point, because he doesn’t think anybody cares to listen to this argument for a second longer.

“It means, my dear,” Alastor cuts in, “that perhaps you should listen to your employee and back off.”

He slackens his metaphorical grip and grins as reality warps and buckles under the weight of the corrupted energies he channels. The urge to sigh in relief at the abated pressure falls back as sadistic, half-foreign entities press up at the edges of his consciousness, cheering his display of intimidation, baying for more, snarling at the bit for blood, for s a c rif ic e-

Holy shit that’s cute.”

Alastor freezes; the power rushing through him likewise grinds to a halt, cutting through his broadcast with a splitting screech of reverb. The spirits stirring up his bloodlust back off briefly, falling silent.

What.”

Cute? He doesn’t- what in the hell? The words were said at a whisper, but with utter conviction. That’s- what? He barely registers your words as you attempt to backtrack.

“Sorry! Sorry I did not mean to think that out loud- er, I mean say! I didn’t mean to say it out loud!”

“Why would you say that at all?”

Alastor’s never agreed with Vaggie on anything before, and he finds it distasteful to do so now, but the point stands. The Radio Demon has been called many things, he’s even been called ‘cute’ before (there’s always a fair few sinners out in town who will say anything to try and snare his attention), but never in this sort of context.

What.”

When he lets his power loose like this the results are predictably and deliberately monstrous, meant to intimidate the likes of proper demons. There is absolutely nothing ‘cute’ about him. Unfortunately a certain jackrabbit demon feels the need to ramble on about something that could be succinctly explained by the sudden stroke you likely just had and then- most importantly- never mentioned again.

“Seriously, hon, sorry- it just slipped out! It’s only that, well, your hair just does this thing” you explain, gesturing at Alastor’s hair as if that would clarify anything.

The Radio Demon listens in a horrified stupor as you keep talking.

“-where it fluffs up a bunch with all the static and it looks really really soft and sort of cute and- and you know what, I’m gonna stop talking now.”

Alastor has never felt more thankful for the concept silence in his afterlife. He stares vacantly ahead and tries to forget the last few minutes ever happened. This is going to haunt him (does his hair “fluff” up when he lets his power loose? Is this a consistent issue? His distress rises as he considers the possibility that decades of intimidation are now marred by the “thing his hair does” which is apparently cute).

Um, Alastor? You doing alright in there?”

He realizes you’ve moved to stand in front of him at some point. You’re staring up at him in obvious concern and that more than anything snaps him back to attention. The thought of exactly how long he’s been standing here frozen in place, blaring his shock like a neon sign has him feeling uncomfortably exposed (he might as well have bared his throat and pinned his ears back, his reaction was that undignified).

He blinks away the static still edging his vision and swats at the lingering veves that cling to his aura, feeling flustered under your intent gaze.

Alastor clears his throat, only realize with a startle that he’d dropped his guard so much as to lose the usual filter on his voice. His face feels slightly warm as he clears it again, but he tries valiantly to regain some of his usual poise despite it.

“Er, yes, certainly dear. Um. What were you- that is to say- what?

Alastor is going to crawl into his shadow and never come out (this interaction can never leave these four walls- forget his plans for entertainment, he'll burn this establishment to the ground if it'd spare him the damage to his reputation).

Your concern visibly fades. Alastor watches helplessly as your lips slowly curl into a sly grin, exposing every one of your sharp teeth. The glint in your eyes is something he’s starting to associate with anticipation dread. You look at Alastor like a hunter stares down cornered prey; all languid satisfaction, slowing to savor the moment with all the surety entitled to a predator who’s prey is essentially already dead, it’s merely being given a moment to realize it.

Alastor has never related to his past victims quite so closely before and the sudden dissonance has him blinking away the foreign sensation (the flash of forced empathy is brief, but disturbing down to his core). He also feels the urgent need to make good on his promise to show you his prime hunting spots, for entirely unrelated reasons.

“I was just saying your hair looks nice like that, sugar.”

His passive broadcasting spikes before he can wrestle the crackling energy under control and he feels his face burning; Alastor hasn’t felt this much self-directed anger and frustration since he was alive and half-starving, empty-handed from a fruitless hunt.

For some reason, now is when you choose to let up. Usually on the other end of the the equation, Alastor had been entirely unprepared for your skillful wielding of a weapon he’d forgotten he was susceptible to; there were so few others with such a grasp on the tactical applications of Southern charm, he’d never realized it could be turned back on him so effectively.

Alastor watches with thinly veiled relief as you excuse yourself, cleverly invoking the might of Nifty to keep Vaggie off your back. As he hears your voices fade up the stairwell he slips into a bar stool via shadow, slumping minutely with relief as Husk wordlessly slides him a glass of bourbon. He downs it in a single gulp, and lets his ears and spine ease out of the rigid position he’d locked them into (thankfully, otherwise he would have blared his distress so obviously he would have to slaughter any witnesses on principle).

Within seconds he feels the alcohol at work, warming him from the inside out and settling his nerves. Which is of course when Angel Dust would choose to lean into his space and undo his tentative stability.

“Tha’ fuck was that?”

“Drop it, Angel,” Husk warns. This is why he’s Alastor’s favorite, besides Nifty (when she asks, Nifty is his favorite, excepting Husk, of course- because there’s nothing quite as fun as pitting ones’ friends against each other).

Angel predictably ignores the warning.

“No seriously, what was that? I compliment you all the time and you ain’t affected, but when Honey threatens ta’ stab you and says your hair looks nice ya’ get flustered enough to stutter and blush and shit.”

Alastor reminds himself of all the reasons that tossing Angel into the void would be reckless and impulsive. He drains another glass of bourbon and gestures to Husk to make sure he keeps them coming. Angel goes on, his impressive lack of self-preservation instincts on full display.

“Is it the knife-play? Or is the blood that got to ya? Because I can work with that, I mean if that’s all it takes to get you acting like a virgin on prom night I woulda tried that ages ago.”

Alastor feels his strained patience pulling tight as elastic, and decides engaging with Angel is the lesser of two evils if it means interrupting that particular train of thought. He wants to head it off before the Radio Demon starts feeling too homicidal again.

“I can assure you, Angel, that your “compliments” certainly have an effect on me. Just about every word out of your mouth makes me want to commit gratuitous violence to your person-”

“Oh, do you promise? I like it rough.”

“-and effectively fills me with great disgust.”

The spider grins, undeterred, and slides and arm up the deer demon’s shoulder in an attempt at seduction. “Ya know what else I could fill ya with- hEY!

Alastor grins as a tentacle fades back into the shadow of the bar, having fulfilled its purpose of pulling Angel onto the floor with excessive force. It quickly turns strained and he resists the urge to bang his head on the counter as Vaggie and Charlie both circle the bar, clearly intending to interrogate him. Angel huffs in the background and wanders off, finally.

“Yes, dear?” he addresses Charlie, hoping she’ll get the hint and keep her lover from ruining his evening any further. Said lover immediately steamrolls the idea and Alastor tosses back a third glass for strength. He hardly made a habit of drinking- aside from the occasional glass at a social function- but this particular group of sinners seemed determined to make an alcoholic out of him. Husk would probably appreciate the company, at least.

“I thought I told you to stay away from my employee.”

“Vaggie! That wasn’t what we were going to ask him!” Charlie hisses, then smiles reassuringly at Alastor. He’s sure he wouldn’t have liked their ‘agreed on’ questions regardless, but he waves off her concern.

“It’s alright, darling. And I recall making no promises to that extent, Vaggie. Though even if I had, I can hardly take responsibility for Honey’s decisions. And we’ve established she’s the one at fault for this little debacle.”

They hadn’t established that actually, but Alastor had no compunctions throwing you under the bus if it meant getting a moment to catch his breath (conflict was much less entertaining when he was the one bearing the brunt of it). He’s resigns himself to driving them off one way or another.

“Yeah, right! As if you weren’t egging her on every step of the way.”

Alastor takes a second to picture Vox in his mind, channeling as much hatred and disdain as he’s capable of holding- which is quite a bit- before fixing Vaggie with the most condescending look he can manage. He considers it a miracle that she doesn’t instantly try to punch him in the face (Charlie’s fast reaction in putting a soothing hand on her shoulder may have had something to do with this), but he’s sure if he could push that slightest bit more-

“I’m afraid I can’t help having a charming and magnetic personality, though I understand this is a difficult concept for you to grasp, Vaggie, given your own miserable and aggravating-”

That’s as far as he gets before she lunges at him, fist first. He dodges, laughing, and ignores her cursing in Spanish as Charlie leads her away, soothing her with kind words and soft reassurance. It’s sickening to watch.

Vaggie seems to pick up on his thoughts as she turns to flip him off.

Puta pendejo!

He withholds a sneer, but allows himself to flip her off once Charlie is turned away.

Beck moi tchew .

Vaggie glares at him with palpable rage, but ultimately lets her girlfriend lead her away. Once she turns the corner, Alastor allows his head to gently thump the counter, exhausted. Husk slides another glass his way unasked.

“You know, Husker, this is why you’re my favorite.”

“I don’t give a shit.”

Alastor waits.

“Still telling Nifty, though.”

Ah, friendship.