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Aiden's Highway to Hell

Chapter Text

It was a cold February morning in the city of St. Louis; a perfect day to start cleaning up the streets and getting back into the swing of things.

At least, that’s what Aiden thought as he got in his car and began to head towards Indigo Drive, where his Profiler was informing him of a crime in progress.

‘Another day, another assault…’, thought Aiden as he floored the gas, tearing down the highway. ‘I’ll get this over with and then try out that new diner. Nothing beats a good omelet.’ As he got closer and closer to his destination, a sense of uneasiness began to creep up on the battle-hardened vigilante. Why did he suddenly feel this way? He took down many an armored soldier before this with relative ease. This was going to be no different.

3 miles to the crime scene.

The unsettling feeling only grew worse. Shaking his head in disbelief, Aiden did his best to ignore the fear. Fear is what gets people killed in this line of work. Although he realized the importance of trusting his gut, Aiden knew damn well that he was merely overreacting. Perhaps he could use a vacation, he had endured quite a bit over the past few months. That’s it, the work was just getting to his head. Nothing to be worried about.

1 mile to the crime scene.

Aiden started to have second thoughts about interfering with this one. He couldn’t put a finger on it, but something felt seriously off. ‘No, I must. I can’t stop now, not after everything I’ve sacrificed’ he almost pleaded to himself. ‘I’ll do it, even if it kills me’. The anxiety was starting to peak at this moment; Aiden could swear his hands were starting to sweat. Embarrassing. How could someone who was so used to dropping the hammer on every person who came in between him and his niece’s killers suddenly be so timid? He NEVER had second thoughts before in his entire life. He couldn’t imagine what Jordi would ever say to him if he could read his mind. Thankfully, he never had to find out. All he needed to worry about was incapacitating his target and getting the hell outta Dodge.

“You have arrived.”

The robotic sound of his GPS snapped him out of his thoughts, prompting him to hit the brakes in order to study his surroundings. Under the bridge, perfect. His target wouldn’t even see him coming. As Aiden exited the car and screwed the silencer onto his pistol, he felt a cold chill blow over him. Gotta love that brisk Missouri weather.

He powered up his Profiler and started searching the docks where the giant blue circle he had come to know and (not) love glowed back at him on the screen. After around 5 minutes of searching, he finally found his target: a tall, slender man in a black hoodie with the hood raised. It didn’t get any easier than this. Aiden hid behind a bridge support, keeping a close but safe distance between him and his potential prey. The man was clearly not in a hurry; he had no idea what was waiting for him just 10 feet away. As Aiden continued to tail the man, he saw it: a woman and child were tied up and were squirming around on the deck of a red and white boat that was sloppily docked about 25 yards away by Aiden’s prediction.

Easy pickings.

Aiden holstered his pistol and prepped his baton. He was gonna make this one hurt. He pulled his mask up and quickly approached the man. With a few well-placed swings and a liver shot for the cherry on top, the man went down onto the muddy grass with a satisfying thud.

‘See? Not even remotely a problem.’, thought Aiden as he ran over to the boat to free the hostages. He couldn’t help but feel proud of himself; not only did he get to save a couple of lives, he also didn’t have to break his back to get the few joys of being The Fox. That was all fine and dandy, up until the part where Aiden realized he made a gigantic tactical error.

“See you in HELL, scumbag!” came the sharp, high pitched voice of a second person that Aiden didn’t even account for. Before he could even turn around to confront the ambusher, it was too late. There was a bang, a flash of blinding white light, so bright that even the blind would have to shield their eyes from it. It was strangely beautiful, not even the slightest bit annoying. No pain, no blood… nothing. After what seemed like hours of this, he could hear the faint sounds of sirens and yelling, before suddenly feeling like he was falling. Not just falling, but freefalling. As in, going down a rollercoaster with nothing but your own body, hurtling towards a seemingly endless void. His speed and velocity only seemed to be increasing. Holy shit, this was REALLY fast. How was he not on fire from this much speed?
Aiden, too terrified to scream or flail, simply closed his eyes and braced himself for what was inevitably coming. This was the end, he knew it. He should’ve trusted his gut and just went to that stupid diner. For a brief moment, he regretted everything he ever did. The Fixer contracts he carried out, the convoys he destroyed, the cars he had stolen, but most of all, the people he put in danger… Nicky, Jacks… no, don’t think about her again…. dammit… even Lena, his own niece. He regretted ever becoming a criminal in the first place. He never should have worked for the Fixers, not for Damien, the damn bastard, or Jordi or anyone else. He never should have gotten into the business. None of this would have happened if he had just decided to live a normal life. For the first time in what felt like forever, The Fox, his new alias, felt tears coming on. The intense speed at which he was falling didn’t even bother him anymore. The regret was heavy, burdensome. So much so that he began to wonder if that was what was making him feel like he was falling so quickly. All of his past sins came to haunt him one last time before he met his fate. He supposed he deserved it. What a bitter pill regret is.

WHAM!

Aiden felt an impact so hard, he thought all of his body parts disconnected at once. All of the wind was instantly knocked out of him, the beautiful white light now gone. He was dead. But wait… he could still feel his arms and legs. He could still feel pain. So much pain…

All of the energy once within his shaken bones instantly disappeared. He felt like he could sleep forever. Isn’t that what he was doing? He honestly didn’t know anymore. All he knew was, he was splayed all across some hard surface… asphalt? It felt rocky, like asphalt. He tried moving his left arm slightly. It hurt a bit, but he managed to get the appendage out from under his body.

So far, so good.

He tried moving his right leg and was greeted by a tremendous amount of pain that rippled throughout his entire body.

Not good. Horrible idea.

Clearly, he wasn’t dead. At least, he didn’t think so. Also, what a nice warm atmosphere he was feeling. Wait… atmosphere? He was dead! He started hearing other ambiance sounds. Cars passing by, the distant chatter of human sounding voices… what the hell was going on? Only one way to find out. He tried to pick his head up to moderate success, managing to catch a glimpse of a very dark sky and what seemed like a wall of neon before letting his head smack against the pavement-like surface again.

‘Ow.’

It was bad enough he got shot in the damn head, now he had to be reckless and let his skull drop like that. He lifted his head again, this time getting a clear view of what was right in front of him. Aiden couldn’t believe it: he somehow ended up in a city! But not just any city; it was a city bathed in an eerie red fog, with a brightly lit sign around every corner. The buildings were tall and strangely shaped, some tipping to the side, others having jagged edges that jutted out at very peculiar angles. He also couldn't help but notice how much red and yellow was present. It was EVERYWHERE. Every building he laid eyes on had a noticeable shade of red light shining through every window. It was a bizarre and, frankly, unnerving sight.

‘Where the fuck am I?’, thought Aiden as he very slowly managed to get to a sitting up position, every muscle he moved screaming out in pain. After a couple minutes of scanning his surroundings in more detail, Aiden noticed something else: nobody else looked human. Well, they did, but they somewhat resembled some kind of animal or something. He quickly looked at his own hands, his eyes trailing down his chest and eventually stopping at his legs and feet. Somehow, Aiden looked completely unchanged. Everything about him was completely normal from before. Breathing a sigh of relief, he started to try and get to a standing position. This time around, he managed to get it right the first time. He felt some cracking here and there, which, compared to the previous attempt at moving, was a welcome sensation. Anything was better than pain at this point. Spotting a vending machine nearby, Aiden decided, against his better judgment, to throw himself towards it to at least have something to hold on to.

That didn’t happen at all.

Aiden ended up almost rag dolling right past the machine as he awkwardly plummeted to another painful and embarrassing defeat.

“Well… that went well”, scoffed the vigilante bitterly. After spending another seemingly long time to get back on his feet, it finally hit him: this was no ordinary vending machine. “Heroin… acid… cocaine… molly… what the hell?”

He was beyond confused at this point. A vending machine that dispensed drugs?

Before he could ponder the situation any further, Aiden’s thought process was interrupted by a long scream followed by a what sounded like a laser blast. Adrenaline now kicking in, Aiden headed towards the general direction of the noise. It didn’t take him very long to pinpoint the source: a pair of humanoid creatures, grey in color with jet black ram horns and bloody faces adorning their heads, topped with an icy halo, open firing on some person vaguely resembling a frog. They had large matching grey wings that had to span at least several feet wide, with their snow white facial features showing an extreme contrast to their much darker bodies. Their laughter was very chilling, half robotic and half distorted with a moderate amount of static. The sound cut through the air like a hot knife through butter.

Suddenly feeling mortal again and terrified beyond rational thought for the first time in his life, Aiden bolted for the closest street as one of the creatures turned to face him with a menacing smile and a horrifying shriek of anger. They didn't just turn to face him, however; they twitched and jerked in very unnatural ways, making them all the more terrifying as they gave chase to Aiden. He could hear the creatures gaining on him. Aiden could feel the warm air whistling by his ears as he kept moving with all of might, although it still wasn't enough to drown out the sickening siren-like noises coming from his pursuers. Aiden started to feel sick, but as long as he had breath in his lungs, there was no chance of him stopping. Heart pounding, Aiden managed to quickly limp a couple blocks down before the adrenaline left his body, forcing him to come to a screeching halt under a small overhanging roof, slumping against the wall to catch his breath.

Aiden quickly scanned the building. “Looks like a hotel. Perfect.”

Without further delay, he opened the door, which was strangely unlocked, and quickly stumbled inside, slamming the door shut. He couldn't see them, but he heard the two beings run straight past the giant doors, screeching and cackling feverishly as they went by. Finally feeling safe, he let all of his weight rest against the hefty metal frame as his body started shaking violently from exhaustion and pain. His entire bdy felt like it was going to explode in a fiery mess.

The air was very still and dead. The seconds seemed like hours as Aiden tried his best to keep his breath under control and to stop himself from vomiting. He thanked his lucky stars that the place was abandoned, at least until he suddenly felt something extremely sharp and extremely metal stick him right above his spine, followed by an intense and hostile female voice coming from behind him.

“Don’t move a muscle, asshole, or I’ll end you.”

Chapter Text

It was at this point that Aiden realized he was royally screwed. Upon peeking back in his peripheral vision, he observed a short but angry looking woman with a… spear? Whatever it was, it was REALLY sharp and Aiden was pretty sure he was about to get a spinal tap if he moved an inch more.

“If you think you can just barge into our hotel and steal shit, you got another thing coming!” the woman almost screamed, prompting Aiden to raise his arms in surrender. Before he could respond, the slim grey-skinned demon pulled the spear back for another attack. Reflexively, Aiden swung his left leg around and made solid contact with the body of the spear just as it was being thrust forward, launching it clean out of the woman’s hands and sending it skidding across the floor. The scraping sounds it made as it traveled were deafening and piercing as it came to a sudden halt near a gigantic staircase.

“God dammit!” the little demon yelled, taking a few steps back as Aiden put up his mask again and turned to face her, adrenaline kicking back into high gear.

‘One eye missing, extremely long hair… potential weak points’, Aiden deduced to himself, sizing up his opponent as he got into a combat stance. ‘No idea if I can take her, but if this is how I go out, I’m going down swinging.’

Starting to panic, the girl started throwing tiny knives. Aiden, riding purely on adrenaline and fury, dodged them with relative ease and closed the gap between them. As a last-ditch attempt to get away, the girl threw a wild haymaker, which Aiden was prepared for. He promptly ducked under the punch and returned with a clothesline of his own, instantly flooring his attacker. He raised a fist and attempted to punch out her good eye, but she blocked his arm as it came down.

“HUSK!!!!” she screamed, causing Aiden to briefly look behind him. In that moment of pause, Aiden felt two small feet impact his chest with a surprising amount of force, sending him stumbling back. Just as Aiden got his footing back to make a second attempt at the young girl, he felt someone grab him from behind in what felt like a death grip of a bear hug, lifting the vigilante off the floor effortlessly as he felt the air being squeezed out of him. Aiden struggled, but couldn’t break the grip of the second attacker, who felt very furry and soft despite his malicious intent. Finally, he got enough height to whip his head back, cracking Husk right in the jaw, causing him to yell out in pain and loosen his grip enough for Aiden to repeat the bash a second time.

“AUGH!” Husk yelled again, releasing Aiden, who took a second to analyze his new opponent.

‘A cat with wings? Really?’ thought Aiden as he hit Husk with a thunderous punch to the gut followed by a hook to the head, knocking off the cat’s hat in the process. “Nice eyebrows” said Aiden mockingly as he grabbed the cat by his wings and threw him with all his might. Husk flew with speed over the bar counter that was nearby and slammed into the wall of liquor, causing everything to shatter under his weight and whatever was left to crash on top of him.

“GAHHHHH FUCK! IT’S ALL OVER ME! YOU PIECE OF SHIT! DAMMIT!”

‘Classy’ thought Aiden as he returned his attention to the still stunned goth demon. He only managed to take a couple steps towards her.

BANG!

Aiden went down to his knees, feeling a sharp pain in his left thigh.

“Look what the cat couldn’t drag in!” said a third voice, this one sounding a little softer in tone. Aiden looked towards a door to the right of the bar, which was normally obscured from where he was kneeling. He saw a very tall and white fluffy demon strutting towards him, revolver in hand and pointing right at him. The first thing Aiden noticed besides the strange striped outfit this spider looking demon was wearing was his four arms. He guessed he had more… somewhere. He wasn't quite sure where the demon's hair ended and his head started. Everything about him was white except for the little dots and splotches of pinkish purple peppered all over his head and under his eyes. He had a medium-length red evening glove on each hand, complimented by a black and red bowtie. Like his first attacker, this demon also had an abnormal eye; his left eye had their colors reversed, a pink pupil surrounded by black sclera. Unlike his first attacker, however, this eye still looked functional. The demon wasn't scary, but actually rather nice looking. Sensuous, even. Aiden assumed the demon was female due to the bulge of fluff coming from his chest, but his voice quickly cleared that up for him.

“How many of you freaks are there?” Aiden asked, attempting to lift himself up using the countertop.

“Freaks? Come on now, toots, I’m only a freak between the sheets!” the third demon replied as he got uncomfortably close to The Fox, pretty much kissing distance. “Go ahead, tough guy. Try and take me down. See what happens.” He grinned at Aiden daringly, who noticed the demon’s sharp looking teeth with a single gold tooth gleaming back at him. Aiden stared at the demon straight in the eyes for a few seconds before using his last burst of energy to quickly disarm him and performing a sweeping kick, which brought both Aiden and the spider demon to the floor. “Watch where you tread, you little shit!” growled the white creature, staring daggers as the vigilante beat him to the punch and pinned him to the floor with his good foot. Aiden grew tense as the spider’s scowl turned back into a teasing smile. “I like men who are rough, ya know…”

Not even remotely phased by this, Aiden moved his foot from the demon’s fluffy chest up to his neck, attempting to try and choke him out. The creature gagged and sputtered, flailing all of his limbs wildly. Aiden never lost his stone-cold look as he watched the demon struggle in vain.

Suddenly, Aiden felt a surge of electricity shoot up through his spine, causing his arms and legs to go numb as he flopped onto the hard floor. He banged his head on the way down, further deterring the already injured Aiden from getting back up again.

This was it. This was the end. He had no energy left. He was going to die in this strange hellhole he found himself in.

The Fox quickly tried to glance around to see where the sensation came from but couldn’t see anyone. Try as he might, a third wave of strength was just not in him. He looked up in defeat, simply staring at the ceiling, waiting for something to come up and mercy kill him. Time seemed to slow back down to a crawl again as nobody moved. Not Aiden, not the little knife thrower, not the kinky white spider, nor Husk. At least he could still breathe, not that that was of any real comfort. He blinked once.

Twice.

There he was.

Aiden’s heart stopped for a moment as he stared at the face of a fourth demon, this one by far the scariest looking out of everyone he had encountered so far. He was dressed almost completely in red, with a red suit, a red staff looking device, red-tipped gloves and even red hair with black accents on the top of his ears and bottom of his hair. He had a disturbing smile, one that reminded the vigilante of those creepy humanoid monsters that were chasing him just minutes ago. It was wide and completely yellow, even sharper looking than the spider demon’s teeth. He honestly looked like he could swallow Aiden in one bite, maybe two. Aiden did his best not to show any fear. If it wasn’t for his mask, he’s not sure he would have been able to keep his stoic look.

“Well, that’s enough of THAT”, came the strange sounding voice of the strawberry colored monster. Why did he sound like he was talking through a vacuum tube radio? The more time Aiden spent in this screwed up world, the more questions he developed and the more frightened he started to feel. This was not good. He was completely out of his element, and this demon towering over him knew it.

“Nighty night, Mr. Pearce.”

The Fox didn’t have too much time to feel terrified that this thing somehow knew his name before suddenly blacking out, drifting off to a peaceful slumber.

*****************************************************************************************************************************************************
“Hey, wake up.”

He didn’t feel like opening his eyes. There was no point anymore. Plus, whatever sofa-like thing he was laying on was super soft and comfortable. He just wanted to be left in peace to reflect on his bleak situation, but clearly this wasn’t going to happen.

“Wake up!”

The Fox turned his head away from the voice.

‘Stupid bitch, go away…’ thought Aiden bitterly as he instantly recognized who was, once again, barking orders at him.

“Vaggie, stop! He needs time to get his bearings!”

Hm, a new voice. He liked the sound of this one. This one sounded very sweet, like sugar coated bananas. He still didn’t dare open his eyes, the vigilante hardly was in the mood for socializing with the demons who tried to take him out.

“Fuck that!” returned the harsher sounding voice, who Aiden probably figured was Vaggie. “GET UP, YOU SON OF A BITCH!” Aiden felt a solid punch to his face, jerking him fully awake and glaring coldly at the angry white-haired demon, ready to pounce on her a second time.

“STOP!” yelled the sweet voice. It was amazing to Aiden how this other woman, whom he could now see, sounded so angelic despite her anger. The new figure gently pulled the pastel one-eyed goth away from Aiden and eased her towards the door. “Let me talk to him. Go grab something to eat.”

“Fine” huffed the angry little demon reluctantly, shooting one final look at Aiden before finally leaving and slamming the door shut. Aiden took a moment to study this new character: blonde hair, pale complexion, rosy cheeks that looked strangely mime-like, similar height to Vaggie (which was pretty short), dressed to kill. They were clearly connected somehow. Once Vaggie had disappeared, he simply rubbed his eyes and took a survey of his surroundings. It was a very large office, somewhat barren, but it had the essentials: a desk, some filing cabinets, the usual stuff. The room gave off the illusion of being made mostly of wood, but Aiden, understanding full well that this new world he was in was never what it appeared to be at first glance, didn’t know for sure. He saw a vending machine in the corner, probably for more drugs or something, and a fish tank in the opposite corner near the door. A little red and white piranha was swimming about aimlessly, occasionally tapping the glass as it made laps around the little castle that it slept in. Right above the main desk was a beautiful stained-glass window, depicting what appeared to be the lady right in front of him with what looked like her parents on either side of her in a very serious looking family portrait. It looked rather sinister with the way the red light seeped through the window. He shifted to an upright sitting position on the sofa he was on, which had a bright red velvety feel to it. He secretly loved the way it felt, warm and inviting, unlike everything (and everyone) else he has run into in this horrible place. Sighing deeply, the young woman walked over and sat down next to him, instantly causing Aiden to tense up and scoot away.

“It’s okay, I’m not going to hurt you. My name is Charlie!” she introduced cheerily, extending her hand and smiling sweetly. “I run the Happy Hotel here!” Aiden simply stared at her, then at her hand, then back at Charlie again. He wasn’t sure about her, he was fairly certain this was another trap. Despite his distrust, he slowly felt his anxiety and anger melting away as he looked at her friendly smile and open body language. Against his common sense, he reached out his own hand and shook hers. Boy, did she have a firm grip. “What’s your name?” Charlie asked, watching Aiden with youthful and innocent eyes. Should he tell her? The last thing he needed was for everyone to know his real name, although something told him that ultimately, it didn’t matter. That red creep knew his name, so he supposed the cat was already out of the bag.

“Aiden.”

“Aiden what?” The vigilante paused for a moment. He couldn’t. It felt so wrong to just freely give away his real name like this. Too late now.

“Aiden Pearce.”

“Ohhhhhhhhh, that’s a cool name!” beamed Charlie, standing up and straightening her hair a bit.

“You’re not the least bit angry that I just got in a scrap with your minions and pretty much trashed your hotel lobby?” Aiden asked bluntly, instantly regretting that he asked the question.

“Eh, all of those things can be replaced.” the blonde shrugged, walking over to her desk and taking a seat behind it. “Vaggie told me what happened. I honestly don’t blame you for doing what you did, you were probably scared out of your wits! Also, I'm REALLY sorry about Vaggie. She... has a lot to work on. I gave her a stern talking to about her behavior, don’t you worry!”

“Right.” Aiden tried to get up but his left leg started throbbing with pain, so he went back to sitting on the couch again. Charlie heard him grunt from the pain and looked up, gasping.

“Oh my gosh, I’m sorry! I forgot to tell you, I bandaged your leg up! Try to relax for now.” Grunting in annoyance, Aiden leaned back against the couch cushions, taking deep breaths to help stabilize the pain. “Are you new here? You don’t look anything like a demon…”

Demon? What the hell was she talking about? Aiden stared at her with a blank expression. Charlie grinned again. “You must be! I suppose I owe you an explanation for all of this.”

“That would be nice”, Aiden sarcastically remarked, keeping his eyes on Charlie.

“Well, I don’t really know how to put this nicely, but… you’re in hell.” Charlie explained slowly, her smile slowly fading as she began playing with her hands absentmindedly. The words hit Aiden like a semi-truck. Hell? As in, THE hell? He simply couldn’t believe it. Well, he could, but at the same time, he couldn’t. He was in the city of the eternally damned. The color drained from his face as the thought sunk in. He looked away from Charlie and opted to stare at the floor instead. Truly, he was lost now. “But listen! I’m here to help!” Aiden couldn’t help but scoff at her. Help? Everyone knows that once you end up here, nobody ever escapes. This is his final destination.

“Is this some kind of joke?” asked Aiden, staring at her with newfound anger.

“No, never!” squeaked Charlie, shrinking back a bit. “I would never lie to you!” Aiden wanted to scream at her, but realized that ultimately, it wasn’t her fault that he was where he is right now. He took a deep breath and regained his composure.

“Then how are you gonna be able to help me?” Charlie’s smile returned, much to Aiden’s surprise.

“I’m the princess of hell! I want to help everyone!”

“So, your father is Satan?” Charlie’s eyes widened, then narrowed at Aiden.

“His name is Lucifer, Aiden”, she replied crossly.

‘Hit a nerve, eh?”, thought The Fox as he suppressed a grin. ‘Duly noted.’

“Anyway!” piped up Charlie again, her smile returning as if nothing happened. “The whole reason I opened this hotel was so that I could help get everyone who ends up here back on the right track!” Aiden perked up at this. So there really was a chance at redemption? This couldn’t be possible. This was HELL, after all. After not saying anything for a few moments, Charlie continued. “You see, here in hell we have a bit of an… overpopulation problem. People have been coming here in droves and we just can’t hold everyone at once. So, every so often, we have… exterminations… to help keep the population in check.” Aiden started to feel nauseous hearing this. So long as he was here in hell, he was never truly safe. “I, of course, don’t like dealing with my fellow citizens like that, so I came up with the idea of this hotel! With some hard work and dedication, we can fix you up, too! Doesn’t that sound great?” the young blonde girl asked as she rested her head in her hands. “And to think, you might even be the first one to make it!” Aiden’s heart sunk in his chest. He was stuck in hell, in a hotel full of lost souls trying to somehow be good enough to get out of here and not a SINGLE success story to date.

‘Fucking wonderful’, thought The Fox, disappointed. He might as well just end it all now and save himself the trouble. He was gonna be stuck here forever. Charlie, picking up on his defeated expression, stood up and walked over to him again.

“Listen, I know it’s really tough right now. This is totally normal, Mr. Pearce. Most demons don’t handle the news very well. But… the thing is, you’re not really a demon…” She scanned Aiden’s body and clothes, double checking his hands and face. “You still look human.” This gave the hardened vigilante a slight glimmer of hope. Perhaps he still had a chance if he never truly turned into a demon.

“So?” Aiden replied, sounding annoyed but trying to hide his curiosity.

“So…” Charlie began, twirling her hair in thought. “I’ll have to figure out what’s going on! I’ve never seen this happen before!"

“You’re the princess of hell. Don’t you just know these things?” Charlie shook her head.

“Nope! My father oversees all that jazz. I just take demons in who want to change and help them get there!” Aiden rolled his eyes. This girl might be the princess of hell, but he was no idiot; she seemed very naïve for someone running such a huge operation in hell. Either that or it was a front. He couldn’t quite figure this girl out, but he didn’t like it either way.

“So… what now?” asked Aiden, somewhat nervous about what Charlie was going to suggest next.

“Let’s get you to a room and let you rest some more until that leg injury heals. I’ll call a meeting tonight and I’ll introduce you to the other guests here at the Happy Hotel! I’m sure they’ll love to meet you!”

“No, they won’t”, replied Aiden flatly. “I just finished beating them up and destroying their bar. I’m probably marked for death.”

“Don’t be silly! You're already dead!” exclaimed Charlie. Aiden stared at her, clearly not amused. “I’ve got it all under control! Consider this your first step towards redemption, learning how to trust people.” Aiden rolled his eyes again. He already wasn’t looking forward to this. It was going to be a giant exercise in futility. Charlie walked over and helped Aiden get back on his feet again. “Here, let me take you to the top floor. Since you’re one of the first people to arrive, you have most of the rooms to pick from! I’ll give you an official tour once your leg is feeling better.”

“Thanks.” They limped down the long corridor together towards the elevator, the little princess supporting the six foot two vigilante as they went. Aiden once again noticed that his uneasiness towards her started to dissipate again. There was something about her that seemed so sincere, so welcoming… and she was the PRINCESS OF HELL! Something felt totally wrong about this to Aiden, but just this once he would brush the feeling aside. He supposed it wouldn’t hurt to have some help just this once. Maybe she wasn’t so shady, after all.

As they rode the elevator up, Charlie let go of Aiden to let him try and stand on his own. He wobbled a little bit, but ultimately managed to keep himself steady. Finally, they reached the 6th floor and the elevator doors slid open as a peaceful dinging sound greeted them.

“Floor 6, luxury suites. Welcome.”

“I love our super friendly elevator!” Charlie said, guiding Aiden down the long golden halls of the grandiose 6th floor. “She reminds me of myself!”

“I guess.” He peeked through several different doors, getting a feel for the different rooms available. He was astonished at how unique every room was. One room was very rustic in nature, with the feel of an authentic log cabin, complete with a roaring campfire and a giant moose head hanging on the wall just above the fireplace. Another room had more of a desert landscape, with a relaxing sand pit and cacti in different places around the room with a comfy looking hammock bed.

“Every room has their own feel and environment…”, observed Aiden, simply staring in awe at the different rooms. “This is quite incredible.”

“Thank you!” Charlie’s lovely smile returned once more, more than happy about the impression Aiden was getting. “Being the princess of hell is not without its perks, you know!” As soon as Aiden poked his head in room number 777, he knew where he wanted to stay. It had a big city penthouse aesthetic, with a king-sized bed, a full-sized waterfall, beautiful white carpeting covering the floor, and sleek marble countertops with modern looking chairs to accompany them. It was a sight to behold. On top of that, there was a giant glass door that allowed Aiden to get a scenic view of hell, complete with an outside balcony he could relax on if he so wished. As soon as he entered the room, he completely forgot that he had ever stepped foot in hell for a moment. As a matter of fact, he felt like he was back in Chicago, except with a much better lifestyle. He loved the room, but he was not about to make that known to Charlie.

“I’ll take this one”, stated Aiden, hobbling over to one of the snow white couches and gently sitting down.

“Perfect! Room 777 is yours!”

“Okay.”

“I’ll send someone up to get you when the new member meeting starts!” said Charlie, her hair flowing with every step she took. “In the meantime, I’ll talk to my father about your case and how you ended up here. We’ll have some answers soon enough!” She was about to head through the doorway when Aiden stopped her in her tracks.

“Charlie?”

“Yes, Aiden?”

“…thanks. For everything.”

Charlie merely smiled at him as she left, humming to herself as she almost skipped down the hall. Aiden could hear her lovely melody for a good couple minutes before the tune melted into the air.
“I still have questions, but I suppose they can wait for now”, Aiden said to himself, shifting his position on the couch so that he could be in a good position to get some shut eye. “I still can’t believe this is all happening. I’m literally in hell, talking to Sata- I mean, Lucifer’s daughter. This is insane, the kind of thing you only read about in fictional stories, and I’m living it.” He leaned his head against one of the cushions, slowly feeling himself succumbing to sweet, sweet rest. “I still don’t understand how she’s so… happy all… the time…” His eyes slowly closed as he let sleep overtake him.

A sudden knock at the door awakened Aiden. He slowly sat up and rubbed his eyes, looking around his new room. Right, he was in hell, but with a lovely new hotel room to stay in. The red light of hell had dimmed quite a bit, so he guessed it was now nighttime, not that it made too much of a difference here. He flinched as another sharp knock rattled him out of his thoughts.

“Hey, you in there, new guy?” Shit. The new member meeting. Aiden put a hand to his face in anxiety. There was no worse feeling than walking into a room full of people you just finished getting into a barroom brawl with. He had been feeling so vulnerable ever since his arrival in hell, and he didn’t like it one bit. He had never felt this way in his waking life and now suddenly he was afraid to go around every corner down here. No matter, he didn’t have a choice now.

“Come in." The door slowly opened and in walked a very tall, fluffy white spider demon. Aiden’s heart leaped into his throat.

“Hey there, sweetheart. Ya ready for the meetin’?” Aiden didn’t know what to say.

“Yeah.” He slowly got up, keeping his eyes on the very tall creature.

“Easy, bud. I ain’t gonna shoot ya again. You gotta name, pal?”

“Aiden Pearce. Yours?”

“They call me Angel Dust, sweetie. I can’t WAIT to get to know ya better…”

Chapter Text

The two criminals slowly walked down the golden halls of the luxurious 6th floor of the Happy Hotel, not daring to make eye contact with each other. They were both nervous around each other, although Aiden was considerably more so. Neither showed it, however. The business they both were in gave both men very solid poker faces.

“Aiden Pearce, huh?” asked Angel, finally breaking the silence. “I like that name. It’s got spunk, just like you, kid.” Aiden didn’t answer him. He didn’t exactly know what to say and he also didn’t trust the fact that the demon he nearly choked out was suddenly being friendly and sociable. That kind of behavior was exactly fitting of the backstabbing kind. “Nothin’ to say, eh? Come on, boy, don’t leave me hangin'!” Aiden turned to look at Angel to find that Angel was staring back, smiling once again. He paused before breaking his silence.

“I don’t have anything to say to you.” Angel sighed, looking away and pressing the call button on the elevator.

“Don’t be like that, Pearce. I’m just tryna be friendly.” The elevator doors slid open and both Aiden and Angel stepped in at the same time, their motions almost identical. Aiden found this odd, although Angel didn’t seem to notice, so he quickly dismissed it. Now having an awkward silence to deal with, the vigilante used this moment to get a better look at this spider demon. Damn, he was tall. He must have been at least a foot taller than him, if not more. Aiden wondered how he kept his balance so well with those oddly shaped feet of his. They were sort of shaped like hooves, but had a small space missing towards the back that gave off the illusion of high heels. Were his legs REALLY that long? His boots went all the way up the demon’s legs, just short of his unmentionables. His fashion choice sure made a statement, that’s for sure. Aiden figured that was probably on purpose, this creep didn’t strike him as someone who liked being ignored.

“How was ya fall?”

“What?” Aiden blinked, taken off guard by Angel’s sudden and direct question.

“You didn’t get here through a bullet train, sweetheart. Everybody arrives in hell with that long ass drop. Hurts like HELL.” Angel laughed at his own pun, causing Aiden to roll his eyes.

“Yeah.”

“Did ya get ta meet the exterminators?” Aiden recalled his little chase with those bat creatures earlier. What an enjoyable experience THAT was.

“Is that what they’re called?”

“Yup. They pop up every so often to try and take out whoever they can grab.” This was starting to sound like something straight out of the movies, although The Fox couldn’t exactly remember which series it was. Perhaps this guy could be useful in getting around hell…

“Interesting.”

“Sure. So, what got ya here?” The elevator dinged again and the doors slid open. Aiden looked at Angel again, following his lead as they continued their conversation.

“I don’t know”, Aiden lied blatantly. Angel raised an eyebrow and looked at The Fox, knowing this full well.

“Look, kid, you’re not gonna get outta here actin’ all stoic and shit. That crap works on Earth, but it’s gonna get your ass in trouble down here.” Angel stopped walking and stared at the vigilante, his tone turning more serious. “I dunno what you did to get down here, but there’s always someone who knows about you, so there’s really no point’n hiding.”

“Just take me to the meeting”, Aiden replied coolly, already growing tired of Angel’s presence.

“Whatever ya say, doll.” Angel lead the rest of the way in silence, going through the same door he originally came out of to shoot Aiden when he first entered the hotel. After going down another short hallway, Angel started looking at the different doors until he found a pair of double doors and swung them open with gusto. “Here he is, everyone! Our newest patient: Mr. Grumpy Stone-Face!” Aiden flushed as he walked in behind Angel, finding himself in a classroom-looking room, with everyone he had already met sitting in a half-circle of chairs, looking right at him. The Fox recognized most of them from the little scrap he had had earlier, but there were a couple of new faces, as well. Among the new faces he saw, The Fox observed a woman, resembling a flapper back from the 1920s and a tall and skinny fish demon wearing a grey lab coat and yellow goggles. God, these demons were so strange looking. Being the only human really put Aiden on edge. He could already feel the animosity in the room. Although Husk was busy with a bottle of whiskey, Vaggie was staring at The Fox with more than malicious intent. She looked pissed.

There he was again. Shit. The demon who knew his name. The demon in red stood in the corner of the room, never letting his eyes off the vigilante and donning his usual wide grin. Aiden felt his heartbeat speed up a bit as he made eye contact. There was something very wrong about this guy, but Aiden had no idea why he felt that way. Maybe it was his ominous smile? He never stopped smiling. He didn’t have a smile like Charlie, no. He had the smile of incoming death, a smile that was threatening and fear-inducing. He felt himself starting to sweat as he felt the red demon’s piercing gaze, never leaving him for even a second. It felt like a demonic missile had a lock on him and was ready to hit him.

“Aiden! You made it!”

The sound of Charlie’s voice brought The Fox back to reality, his fear lowering back down again as the hotel leader came into view, waving excitedly and sitting down in the middle chair, doing a quick headcount to make sure everyone was present. “Alright, everyone! This is our newest guest, Aiden Pearce! Why don’t we all introduce ourselves, hm? Husk, let’s start with you. Just stand up and tell Mr. Pearce a thing or two about yourself. Go ahead!” Husk staggered to a standing pose, taking another swig of whiskey.

“My name’s Husk and I’m an alcoholic.” He flopped back down on his chair and promptly passed out, causing the other demons to laugh and Charlie to laugh uncomfortably.

“Okay, next demon! Also, put in some effort this time!” Aiden noticed that the fish with the grey lab coat started to fidget a lot. He seemed pretty nervous, which made Aiden feel slightly better. It was nice to know that even demons didn’t always feel bulletproof. Angel Dust was next, and he stood up to his full height and smiled.

“I’m Angel Dust, but you already knew that. Let’s see, something interesting about myself… well, I’m Italian! I also like drugs.” Everyone except Charlie and Vaggie laughed while Angel sat back down, amused with himself.

‘What a load of crap’, thought Aiden, eyeing every single demon in the room. ‘It’s like none of them actually care. I don’t think they have faith in Charlie, either.’ The feeling of hopelessness started to wash over the vigilante again. If this was how the rest of his existence was going to go, he wasn’t sure how long he would last shacked up in this demon asylum.

“Alright, who’s next?” asked Charlie, trying to hide her frustration that she was looking incompetent in front of her newest patient. But it was too late. The other demons had started to talk to and joke with each other out of boredom and Aiden had no idea what to do or say next. “Guys, please!” Charlie pleaded, attempting yet again to get everyone’s attention. This also failed, as the joking around now turned into roughhousing as Angel, the flapper demon and Vaggie, who had tried to discipline Angel, were all on top of each other, Vaggie wrestling for control, the others for fun. Husk was still sound asleep in his chair and the anglerfish demon started to shake uncontrollably, clearly scared of the quickly escalating situation. “Seriously you guys, cut it out!” As the roughhousing quickly turned into actual fighting, Aiden found it somewhat surprising that the taller red demon was not stepping in at all. He just stared at the chaos unfolding around him, continuing to smile as if nothing crazy was going on. “Angel, stop… Vaggie, wait! Oh no…” Aiden knew this was going to end badly when Vaggie punched Angel in the face, who then grabbed his chair in retaliation and broke it over Vaggie’s skull. This woke up a very drunk Husk, who jumped back in surprise and fell backwards off his chair. The anglerfish grew so anxious that he jumped up and left the room. “Everyone…” Charlie’s voice could barely be heard over the sound of Vaggie and Angel cursing at each other and throwing any object that wasn’t bolted down at each other. The flapper looking woman just giggled incessantly at the scuffle that was going on between the grey lady and the fluffy spider. Aiden wanted to get involved, but his leg was still hurting, so he decided to just stay put. He suddenly heard the sound of shattering glass as Angel threw Husk’s half-empty bottle of alcohol at Vaggie, which completely missed and ended up shattering all over the plain white wall. Husk, completely incensed by this, got back up with lightning speed and tackled Angel to the floor, scratching his back as hard as he could and causing Angel to yell in agony as Vaggie charged in with her spear, whacking Husk with it and sending him crashing into the opposite wall.

“STOOOOOOOP!!!!!!!!!!”

A booming and demonic sounding voice echoed throughout the hotel. As if by magic, everything came to a screeching halt. For a few painful seconds, the room was completely silent and still except for the now labored breathing of Charlie, who now looked very different from her usual self. Her head grew a pair of evil looking horns, her eyes glowed a blood red, the cute little fangs she had suddenly all turned into razor sharp needles, and a ring of fire surrounded her like an aura. Aiden never thought anger could ever be so perfectly defined by something physical, and yet here he was, staring at what true rage looked like. Even Vaggie seemed to shrink a bit as Charlie’s fierce eyes quickly scanned the room, her heavily distorted voice striking fear into the hearts of all, even the battle-hardened vigilante himself. “All I wanted to do was introduce all of you to our newest patient, and NONE OF YOU can take this seriously! I’m trying to HELP people here, not run a freaking CIRCUS! You’ve made me look like an IDIOT! LEAVE, ALL OF YOU! NOW!”

Without hesitation, the remaining demons, including the creepy red demon, disappeared from Charlie’s sight, scrambling through the large double doors, leaving just Aiden, who slowly got up and headed towards the door. As he reached for the doorknob, the soft sound of sobbing stopped him short. He turned around and glanced towards the now crying princess, back towards him and sitting on the floor, her legs pointing straight ahead of her. She had returned too her normal self again, her heaving sobs sounding strangely sweet despite the exasperation behind them. Normally, he wouldn’t care, he didn’t have much faith in this woman giving him redemption like she promised, but just watching her sitting there in absolute anguish reminded the vigilante of himself when he was younger, before he decided to dabble in crime. He knew what it was like to feel so helpless, so out of control, as if the wind was the only thing controlling his fate. He knew that feeling all too well. Aiden sighed and turned around, looking at the trembling Charlie as he took his hand off the doorknob.

‘I can’t just leave her like this…’, thought the troubled Aiden as he took slow footsteps towards her. “At least I can TRY and be good… she did help me, after all.’ At this point, Charlie’s sobs had now turned into full on bawling, which, despite it’s almost melodic sound, tortured Aiden to hear. What a beautiful ugliness he was experiencing right now! Out of all the people here in hell, the one person who didn’t deserve this was her. Perhaps she was right; maybe he really did need to trust people more, even if that meant he had to trust himself in lowering his guard for once. He had to do it for her, it was the least he could do.

He slowly sat down next to the distraught princess, who paused briefly to look at him. Aiden only felt worse as he saw the tears running down her cheeks. He almost wanted to cry himself, she reminded him of his own sister Nicky when he used to make fun of her with his “gross” friends. Nicky… how ashamed she must be of him now. He was sure she knew he was dead at this point, and although she was probably sad, the vigilante guessed that she probably wasn’t surprised, either. She had warned him so many times, begged him constantly to not got involved with the shady things he did in his waking life, even when he wanted so desperately to seek vengeance on those monsters who killed his own flesh and blood, little Lena, his beloved niece. Lena… oh, Lena! If she knows where her uncle is, she’s probably ashamed of him, too. He should have just let it go and just tried to grieve like everyone else… what a fool he had been all these years, thinking his rampage in Chicago would have changed anything. No. He couldn’t do this anymore, he really did need to change. No more starting trouble, no more picking fights, no more spying on people, no more revenge. It was all going to start here, regardless of what it might lead to.

“A-Aiden?” stuttered Charlie, finally managing to get some words out in between her bursts of crying. “Y-you’re still here?” The vigilante nodded, softening his expression and doing his best to try and smile at her, although it ended up looking more like a nervous gawk than anything else. Charlie looked away from him, pulling her blonde locks over her face. “This is so embarrassing… you were right, this didn’t go well at all. Aiden… I’m so sorry. I can’t even IMAGINE what you think of me and this hotel right now, it’s all a giant joke! I have no idea what I’m doing and nobody except maybe Vaggie is listening to me! I have no idea if I can get anyone here redemption, I- “

“It’s okay.”

“What?” Charlie stopped her rambling and looked back at Aiden again, tilting her head to the side.

“It’s okay. I know you’re trying to do the right thing. You’re right, I have no idea if you can really get me out of here or not. You’re really trying to perform some big miracles here, no doubt about it.” Charlie took a deep breath and wiped the tears from her eyes. “But please, don’t give up.” Charlie’s expression changed to one of surprise. “Even though I’m having a hard time believing the promises you make, I…I still want them to be true. If what you say is true, you’re my only shot at fixing myself. Please, don’t let me rot down here…” The vigilante felt tears of his own brimming at his eyes. “I’ve done a lot of terrible things in my life, Charlie. I probably totally deserve to be down here. I totally fucked up my whole life. I’m almost certain that my own family gave up on me.” He finally made eye contact with the little princess as her lip began to quiver again. “If you asked anyone still alive if anyone could ever recover from that, they would just laugh at you, say you were crazy.” Charlie nodded silently, not taking her eyes off Aiden and holding back more tears. “But, thanks to you, it doesn’t have to be that way. People CAN have a second chance. I’m just starting to realize it now, but… that’s such a beautiful thing, to have that chance to try again. It was a chance I never gave to anyone else, but now that it’s being offered to me… I now understand…” He stood up to his full height, letting a single tear fall as he rose. He extended a rough hand to her. “Don’t let me go down like this. Heal me, Charlie.”

The small girl accepted the large hand before her, grabbing it as Aiden pulled her back up. The smile that Aiden took comfort in came back again as Charlie’s face lit up like a Christmas tree. Her eyes teared up again as she embraced the vigilante in a loving hug, her face completely buried in The Fox’s trench coat as she cried not tears of sadness, but rather of joy and hope.

“I won’t give up on you, Aiden. I promise.” Hell was a place of many firsts for Aiden, and he was now experiencing yet another. As he finally returned the hug to Charlie, he too started to cry, albeit silently. The two hugged each other as tightly as they could, taking solace in the newfound hope they both now felt, even if it was just a glimmer at this moment. Aiden slowly felt Charlie stop shaking as her crying quieted down, not letting her go for a moment. Charlie returned the feeling, taking a moment to peek up at Aiden, still smiling. She suddenly gasped.

“Aiden, are you… smiling?” Indeed, he was. The vigilante, for the first time in decades, finally allowed himself to smile for a moment. Aiden felt very uncomfortable with this new sensation he felt, quickly frowning again. No, this was not who he was. This was so unlike him. Why the hell was he doing that?

“No!” shouted Charlie, tugging on his coat. “Smile! Do it again!”

Aiden shook his head.

“Please? For me?”

He shook his head again, but somehow, couldn’t stop himself. He smiled again for another moment as Charlie squealed with excitement. Aiden started to feel lighter, as if he suddenly dropped 100 pounds. All those years of hiding his emotions and carrying massive amounts of guilt around suddenly vanished for a whole blissful minute. Dear God, it was such an awesome feeling! Is this what true freedom felt like? He couldn’t believe it. Nobody, not even his own family, could coax this side of him out into the open, yet here was the princess of hell herself, breaking through his walls as if they were paper. Could she really help him after all? “Yes! There IS hope for you! I knew it the whole time!”

“I can only hope.”

They embraced once again as a scowling grey demon watched them through the clear glass square on the door. She bit on her lip hard, drawing blood as jealousy surged through her veins. It took every ounce of willpower she had left to not kick the door down and stab The Fox repeatedly.

This was the final straw.

“So, you think you can fool everyone, even my girlfriend… I don’t think so. I know the game you play, Aiden, and I won’t stand for it. Enjoy that fucking hug, because it’ll be your last. You’re a dead man walking…”

Chapter Text

The rest of the night went by like a warm summer breeze. Aiden had been escorted back to his room by Charlie and was now taking some time to really get a feel for his new dwelling. He took a seat in front of the flowing waterfall that came with his room. It certainly stood out from the rest of the room, no doubt, but it felt very serene and peaceful. He put his hand under the flowing water, relishing in how cold it was compared to the rest of blistering hot hell. He slowly rubbed his face with the cold water, feeling the chill of the water relax him as he closed his eyes. He was still amazed at how much he could suspend his disbelief; if he kept his eyes shut and just focused on the rushing water, he literally felt like he was back near the old fountain in Chicago. He supposed he had Charlie to thank for all this, even if he still had a couple reservations about the whole situation.

He got up and walked over to the glass door leading to the balcony, sliding it open and peering out over the railing stopping him from an extremely long drop.

Long falls were no good for the vigilante.

He peered out into the looming city, hesitating to admire the view. Red, red, and more red. Yellow, too. Lots of reds and yellows, he felt like he was living in a traffic light. Despite this, the vigilante took a deep breath in and felt the hot air warm up his insides as he exhaled again. He looked up and observed something he hasn’t seen before: the outline of a five-sided star dominated the sky. A pentagram? Well, of course, he was in HELL. But what was it for? The vigilante tried to reason it out, coming to the conclusion that either it was like a map similar to those old directories you’d see at the mall or it was simply a barrier preventing demons from simply flying back up the way they came. Simple, yet effective.

But what the hell was he going to do? How do sinners redeem themselves? He couldn’t possibly imagine it being that easy. This wasn’t like Earth where he could mask his personality all the time and fool people with his intentions. He was now in a whole different realm, a realm where the heart can be read like a book by the highest powers. He supposed that no amount of pretend kindness would get him anywhere. He needed to change… for real.

As he was starting to get anxious again, a knock at his door made him jump a bit. Normally, this would irritate The Fox; who the hell would be bothering him at this hour? Then again, what time was it? It was quite difficult to tell time down here in the underworld, the weather didn’t change much. The only thing that varied was how red the sky was, starting with a bright red in the “morning” and simmering down to a deep maroon at “night”, eventually settling to a deep black in the darkest hours.

Another knock made the vigilante jump a second time. Damn, he was jumpy. He really needed to stop thinking so much, hesitation got him killed the first time, it might get him killed for real if he wasn’t careful. As much as he wanted to change, The Fox found that old feelings could never be buried for too long.

“Who is it?” he called out, walking back inside and sliding the big glass door shut.

“Room service!” answered a high-pitched and unusually cheerful voice. At first, he thought it was Charlie, but soon realized that that voice was even cheerier sounding than her, which he didn’t even think was remotely possible.

“Come in”, Aiden instructed, laying down on his bed as the door swung open. A smaller demon walked in excitedly, doing a double take before finally spotting Aiden and opening her mouth in excitement.

“Oh my, a new face! Yay!” she exclaimed, running up to Aiden and looking him up and down, hungry for more knowledge about the 6-foot 2-inch vigilante in front of her. Hm, another one-eyed demon. Nobody ever seems to have normal eyes down here. Mostly pink fluffy hair, with some yellow undertone, although the colors looked more like red and orange due to the strange lighting of the hotel. The vigilante found it almost amusing how much the happy little demon contrasted from the white carpeting and walls of his room. She donned a yellow-spotted pink scarf on top of a white shirt with pink dots. Her skirt was also pink with yellow dots on the side, which sported a dripping effect like melting ice cream scoops. Everything about her screamed ‘50s, slightly before the vigilante’s time. Her sharp yellow teeth didn’t make him nervous; he was well used to everyone having shark fangs down here.

“You must be our newest patient! Oh dear, this is so exciting! It’s always great to see new people here, you have no idea! Aiden, right? Oh, my goodness, I just can’t contain myself right now!” The demon spoke fast to the point where even Aiden struggled to keep up with her pace. “Wow look at you! You look like a human! I wonder why THAT is! Gosh, it’s such an honor to meet you!” Aiden, completely not prepared for any of this, simply stared at her, not sure whether to be flattered or creeped out. This was the second demon who knew who he was right off the bat, which was incredibly off-putting for The Fox. At least this one seemed friendly.

“Uh… thanks”, returned Aiden, reaching out his hand as the demon grabbed it and shook it wildly.

“My name’s Niffty! I apologize for the sudden appearance, but I couldn’t make last night’s meeting because I was a bit under the weather. These heat waves are not good for this old soul. Charlie told me all about you!” Niffty giggled, grinning at Aiden. Aiden couldn't help but smirk back.

"All good things, I imagine."

"Of course!" replied Niffty, still looking at the vigilante in awe. "She has a lot of faith in you!" Aiden secretly wondered why she was so excited to meet him. Nobody ever wanted to meet him, it usually ended up being hazardous to their health.

“Listen, I'd love to chat some more, but I gotta clean your room now. Good news is, dinner’s ready! Take the elevator down to the first floor and turn right, you’ll see signs for the cafeteria! Hey, guess what? I made the main course myself!” Aiden got up and walked towards the door.

“I'll leave you to it, then. Thanks, Niffty. I'll try your cooking, it's been a long time since I've had a real meal...” As he walked through the door and headed towards the elevator, Aiden smiled to himself as he heard Niffty giggle again and sigh dreamily. Dammit, not again. Hell was stressful to be in, but every nice demon he had encountered so far really struck a chord with him. He hated to admit it, but he found himself somewhat fond of Niffty’s energy and demeanor. Perhaps she was someone he could confide in soon? He would wait and see. Perhaps she knew about that red guy who’s been keeping him on edge ever since his arrival…

*******************************************************************************************************
“Dear God…”

Aiden couldn’t believe how big the café was. It was a gigantic room, shaded in a very relaxing blue with gold trim scaling the edges of the walls and doorways. It literally felt like its own restaurant complex: there was a section for any kind of food you could think of. Milkshakes, salads, parfaits, burgers… all of it was there for the taking. At the very end of the ballroom-like area was a large table with a sign reading “Featured Meal of The Night”, which tonight was linguini in a rich clam sauce. The smell was nothing short of magical. It was quite surreal being surrounded by so much food and being completely by yourself!

‘I can’t imagine how much this must cost to keep up’, thought the vigilante, scooping up some of the linguini and grabbing a breadstick along with a soda. ‘It’s a wonder how this place is so empty.’ After taking a seat in one of the booths out of view of the front door, he took a forkful of the pasta and started eating it. The butter and the sauce complimented each other so well, Aiden had never tasted anything so good in his life. Unlike the other patients, everything here was kept up to immaculate shape and the food was cooked and prepared to absolute perfection. If Niffty did all of this herself, surely, she must be a goddess! As he continued to enjoy his pasta and crack open his soda, he heard a whooshing sound from behind him.

“What the hell?” Aiden turned around in the direction he heard the sound, but nobody was there. He knew he heard something but went back to eating his linguini again. Damn, this pasta was so good. He reminded himself to give his compliments to the cook later.

“Is this seat taken?”

Aiden nearly choked on his food. That voice. He was back again.

“…no”, replied Aiden, staring blankly as the red man himself appeared and sat down in the seat opposite him, staring back with his usual giant grin and piercing red eyes.

“Are you… enjoying your stay here at the Happy Hotel?” came the demon’s bizarre voice, tilting his head to the side as he awaited the vigilante’s answer. Aiden thought about what to say. If this guy knows as much as he suspects, lying would be futile. He had to just play it cool and see what the demon would offer.

“Yeah. It’s nice.”, replied The Fox, never taking his eyes off that unnerving smile.

“Excellent, sir. Call me Alastor, I’m here to help around here, you see. I suppose I’m unofficially running security. I’ve broken up a good number of fisticuffs around here…”

“Nice to meet you, Alastor.”

“The pleasure is ALL mine, Mr. Pearce.” Alastor’s smile never once faltered, not even a little.

“How do you know who I am?” asked Aiden instantly, swallowing his mouthful of pasta and putting his fork down.

“Aiden, I know many things down here in hell. Why, I think I know most demons down here!” Aiden wasn’t buying that answer, but he hid his suspicion rather well. After that disabling move that Alastor used on him during that barfight, Aiden was aware of what this demon might be capable of. Starting a fight would pretty foolish.

“Right. Any particular reason you decided to sit here?” Although he didn’t mean to sound snarky, Alastor stressed The Fox out in a way that nobody else ever did. He had a presence about him that made Aiden extremely vigilant and even a bit paranoid. He still couldn’t quite figure out the reason.

“I wanted to get to know you a little more… personally. No need to get defensive.” Aiden felt his blood freeze. What the hell did THAT mean?

“It sounds like you know a lot already,” started Aiden, suddenly losing his appetite. He needed to find an excuse to leave, and fast.

“I plead the fifth on that one, Mr. Pearce. Sometimes it’s better not to make assumptions and simply go about your business. This is not a place you want to stay in, you know. So long as you don’t cause any trouble and stay on my good side, we won’t have any problems.” Aiden’s adrenaline started ramping up again. This entire conversation was only raising red flags in his mind and he was not about to be threatened, subtly or not, by this ominous red being. He was going to get to the bottom of this.

“If you say so,” said Aiden coolly, picking up his soda can and walking towards the exit.

“A word of warning, if I may…” began Alastor as Aiden turned to look at him again. “I’m not one to be taken lightly, Aiden. I know about everything you did. I would strongly suggest that you refrain from doing such things down here in hell. Once you die down here, you cease to exist. You don’t have the justice system or your silly little Fixers to save you down here. You only have yourself. Seeing as how you’re already on thin ice and have just this one chance to fix things, it would be very unwise to make an enemy out of me. You don’t want to make me… angry.” Aiden started feeling a sense of panic as he found himself unable to look away from Alastor’s stare as if his neck was frozen solid. As Alastor spoke, the vigilante began to hear static and white noise as his surroundings started to turn grainy like a tv channel that wasn’t broadcasting anything. Slowly, his whole body began to stop responding to the instinct to run. All he could do was stand there as the anxiety grew worse and Alastor’s voice got louder, even though he didn’t get any closer nor did he raise his voice at all.

“I have the reputation I do for a reason, young man. I know demons… very powerful demons.”

The anxiety reached peak levels now and Aiden began seeing strange symbols floating by in his vision as Alastor’s stare continued to hold him in a trance, the red demon’s eyes now turning into… radio dials? Just who the fuck WAS this guy? Aiden swore that he saw the red monster’s face change for a split second into something much scarier and sinister looking, but he couldn’t be sure. He couldn’t be sure about anything this demon did or said. The white noise and static continued to get louder as the grainy surroundings in Aiden’s peripheral vision began to darken. He wanted to scream, but he just couldn’t bring himself to move at all. He wasn’t even sure if his heart was still beating. He felt like he was starting to drown in all the noise and chaos around him.

“Don’t think you can be sneaky about it, either. I ALWAYS have eyes and ears everywhere down here. Charlie may own this hotel, but you’re in MY yard now.” Holy shit, Aiden was legitimately scared now. He had no idea how Alastor was keeping him in place like this, but he felt completely powerless. He was completely at the mercy of this horrifying creature. The static was getting so loud he could now barely hear Alastor’s menacing voice.

“Now, run along and be the good little patient I know you are.” The final thing Aiden heard was Alastor’s ungodly terrifying laughter as he slowly succumbed to sleep once again and his vision faded to black.

When he awoke again, Aiden found himself back in his room, lying on his bed with his arms crossed over his chest. He jolted awake, sitting upright and looking around as that eerie red fog was once again seeping through his giant glass door. It was morning in hell once again, and Aiden was completely drenched in his own sweat, his heart hammering in his chest. Was this all a nightmare? No, it couldn’t be. He clearly remembered everything.

It was official: Aiden hated Alastor. He needed to get to the bottom of this, not only for his sake but also for the hotel’s. Who was this demon really? Why did someone like him develop a sudden interest to help this hotel to help demons when he seemed to be in the business of threatening them? Why did Charlie ever let someone like him join her team? How the HELL does he know his real name when everyone else had to ask? There was no way this creep really wanted to help out Charlie, nor was he going to scare The Fox out of his chances of getting out of here, nor was he going to do it to anyone else. He sighed, feeling those old feelings awaken once more. That urge to get out there and clean house, take out the trash. It was nagging at him, eating away at his defenses. The lure of vigilantism was a juggernaut of a force, indeed. Despite this, he knew that minding his own business was the right thing to do, but he couldn’t rest knowing that this powerful entity was keeping a close eye on him and the others 24/7 with his cryptic goals. This can’t happen. It won’t happen. If there’s one thing the vigilante would never stand for, it was feeling controlled by someone else. Blume was the exact same way as Alastor: cryptic and secretive. There was no way in HELL Aiden was going through THAT again. Clearly, something needed to be done. At the very least, he should investigate a little and see what this powerful demon was up to.

He slowly got out of bed and limped over to his full-size mirror, staring at his reflection. No matter how much he tried to suppress it, he couldn’t ignore that look in his eyes. The thirst for justice, the desire for retribution… it was all there, hidden under the blanket of his new self, trying to go clean and walk away from the lifestyle. He was on the right path, he just had to do what he needed to and then he could be on his way. Screw the other demons, nobody else was trying to turn themselves around. Half of them even wanted him dead! Alastor is THEIR problem, not his….

Dammit.

The vigilante was clearly torn between two very different sides of himself: one side wanted to stay low and just do what he needed to do to change. Alastor was right in one regard: this was certainly not somewhere Aiden wanted to spend any more time in than he needed to. He could just make his own life easier and just play it by the book, do it Alastor's way. The other side, however, vehemently rejected that idea: there was a control freak down here in the Valley of the Damned, and history was threatening to repeat itself. He had no proof to Alastor's crimes, but Aiden remembered how well not listening to his instincts went last time. He had to do SOMETHING. Anything.

That's it.

He'll just investigate the situation, not directly intervene. Perfect. That way, he could quietly get some answers and not, as Jordi would put in, piss in everyone's beer. If he couldn't find anything incriminating, he would just keep to himself. He would only take action if he had to. The only thing stopping The Fox now was his lack of equipment: he lost all of his weapons, his baton, his phone, and his Profiler during his long fall to the fiery depths. He couldn't do much with just his bare hands. Hmm...

Perhaps a certain genius anglerfish would be able to help him out.

Chapter Text

As Aiden walked to the door of his giant room to head down for breakfast, he noticed a sticky note right on the gold-plated doorknob:

“Aiden, I’ll be out and about today. Hotel business, you know! I’ll be back tonight. Until then, Vaggie is in charge. I know you two don’t get along very well, but please, just do what she asks of you, okay? We can sort all of this out at a later time. I want you to keep the peace until then. Toodles!

 

-xo Charlie”

“Wonderful,” Aiden muttered, opening the door and heading down towards the elevator. “The Ice Queen is on the throne today.”
*********************************************************************************************************************
The little anglerfish sat at his table in the café quietly, carefully and systematically eating his pancakes and sausage. Naturally, he started on the pancakes first; he would get to the sausage later, but not until the pancakes were completely gone. Mixing flavors was simply illogical… and gross. Every forkful had to be as close to a perfect square as possible, no longer than a couple inches in width. As for the syrup, it couldn’t have too much sugar, but also couldn’t be too bland in taste. Same goes for the butter and-

“WAH!”

The fish demon squawked and jumped in surprise as he suddenly noticed a tall human in a hat and trench coat sitting opposite him, a small smirk on his face.

“Don’t scare me like that!” exclaimed the nasally sounding demon, glaring at Aiden before returning to his pancakes in that same formulaic way he did everything, including eating meals. “Is there something I can help you with, sir?”

“Yeah.” Aiden shifted in his chair slightly. “How good are you at building things?” The fish looked up at Aiden, trying to figure out his angle.

“Pretty exceptional, if I do say so myself,” he replied. “Why, do you want something built?”

“Yes. I used to have… special equipment with me before I died, and they all went missing after I arrived here. You seem technically savvy, so I figured I’d ask for your help in maybe recreating those things for me.”

“Look…” began the fish, growing agitated. “I have a ton of experiments to do today, 86 to be exact. I don’t have time to build your little toys, whatever they may be. Besides, the items you had with you before you died probably still exist, they probably just got confiscated when you entered the hotel.”

Well shit, luck may finally be coming around, after all.

“Any idea where they might store such items?” inquired Aiden, leaning closer.

“Um, probably on the roof or something. Charlie and Vaggie keep some crates up there that hold everybody’s belongings that, uh… aren’t suitable for redemption…” the fish answered, doing a double take to make sure nobody else was in earshot. “What did you have, anyway?” Aiden paused at that question. If he told the little anglerfish about what was going on, he might squeal to Charlie, or, even worse, Alastor himself. The Fox had no idea how alliances lined up down here, although something told him this particular demon wasn’t very social, which increased the odds he wasn’t close with anyone else here. If he didn’t answer the question, however, the anglerfish might grow suspicious and tell someone. He couldn’t have THAT happening.

“I had a few things… a telescopic baton, a cell phone, a device that could give me info on anybody it scanned and could also let me hack pretty much anything with electronics in it, some weapons…”

“What?? INCONCEIVABLE!!” the fish demon shouted loudly before quickly covering his mouth in embarrassment. “Sorry…” Aiden shot him a look of annoyance before letting the fish continue. “Look, if you get my chemicals back from the roof, I’ll upgrade your equipment to better function here in Hell. You look like someone who uses weapons, and it’s much harder to kill demons with “normal” human weapons. I’m quite intrigued about this… hacking device… that you speak of.”

“It’s quite useful,” responded the vigilante, standing up. “What floor are you on?”

“Bring the chemicals to the basement. It’s where I keep all of my… experiments.”

“You have a name?”

“Oh, uh… Baxter. And you?”

“Aiden. I’ll see you soon.” As the vigilante grabbed some cereal bars and headed towards the elevator, he did a quick double take just to make sure that Alastor (or any device that might be watching for him) wasn’t around. He was still a bit paranoid from his last encounter with the bastard. He really needed to get that red dude out of his head, and fast. Fear would only prove to be a liability down the road. He quickly hit the “R” button on the elevator, which he assumed was a direct route to the roof.

This was too easy. What was the catch that awaited him?

“Roof. Authorized personnel only.”

The doors to the elevator slid open and sure enough, The Fox found himself right on the roof of the entire hotel. As he walked out and began looking for the crates, he couldn’t help but take in the panoramic view before him: it was simply astounding. It almost felt surreal, those old feelings of Chicago and his former life flooded through the vigilante as he took a long gaze at the outline of the city in the background. If it wasn’t for all this red fog, he would have felt right at home. Suddenly catching himself, Aiden shook it off and continued searching. He had a job to do.
It didn’t take long before he found them, separated only by a chain link fence with a padlock and topped with barbed wire.

“They invested quite a bit in security,” Aiden remarked to himself, doing another double take to make sure there were no cameras or anything similar. Within 5 minutes, he had already climbed the fence, grabbed the goods, hid them in his coat pocket, and climbed back over the fence a second time, running to the elevator door and quickly pushing “B”. He was astonished at how easy it was to just waltz in and get all his old stuff back. The boxes were even labeled with his and Baxter’s names! Judging by how both of their belongings were the only ones he could find on the roof, Aiden also assumed that the other demons probably got the same idea and retrieved their contraband, as well.

For a moment, he felt a twinge of pity for Charlie: here she was, trying her absolute hardest to keep everyone clean and honest, and here he was, not only taking his own stuff back but also stealing someone ELSE’S stuff back, too. Perhaps she really was influencing him. His guilt had been weighing on him far more heavily than normal recently, especially after that tender moment he shared with the princess. Things that normally didn’t bother him suddenly started feeling wrong, or at the very least questionable, to do. He really didn’t want to hurt the woman, but he reminded himself of the goal. This was all just a means to an end, and one day he hoped that maybe Charlie would understand. It would all make sense soon enough.

“Basement. Welcome.”

The doors slid open once more and Aiden instantly noticed a horrible smell coming from down the long and dark corridor, making him wretch. He slowly traversed the narrow hall, his eyes eventually landing on a large metal door that read “Baxter’s Lab: Keep Out!” written in what the vigilante could only guess was blood of some sort. He felt like he was in one of those old laboratories from old movies from the 1920s, expecting a crazy old bald guy to burst through the door at any moment, cackling wildly.

He knocked on the dented metal door twice. The sound of Aiden’s fist against the metal echoed throughout the entire corridor without too much effort. He started to wonder if this was really a basement or just a dungeon where Vaggie kept the demons who pissed her off the most for her to torture later with her incessant nagging. Within seconds of the knocks, a very thin slider that the vigilante hadn’t noticed before slid open, revealing the unique yellow goggles of the emotionally unstable fish peering through it.

“Did you bring it… undamaged?”

“Yeah.” Aiden held up Baxter’s package full of chemicals as proof, causing the anglerfish to close the slider and pull open the giant metal door, allowing Aiden to see the living quarters before him. It was surprisingly large, with machines of different shapes and sizes littered around the area, each with different colored lights and noises coming from them. It was almost instant sensory overload. In sharp contrast to the stone floor he was still standing on, the floor of Baxter’s area sported a metal floor, immaculately looking and shiny as if the material was just installed yesterday. Aiden stared at the shelves upon shelves of different vials, each holding different liquids of different colors and smells, meticulously organized both alphabetically and by exact shades of color. What a neat freak.
Baxter quickly snatched the package from The Fox and immediately began inspecting the contents inside, muttering to himself occasionally. After what felt like hours, Baxter set the box aside, seemingly content with the condition of his precious chemicals.

“Let me see your items.” Aiden walked over to the workbench Baxter was standing at and set down his unloaded pistol, his baton, and his cell phone, which now had a medium-sized crack on the screen. “Hm… primitive, but I can work with them.”

“Glad to hear it. It would not be a good idea to ruin any of them…”

“Oh yeah? And why’s that?” asked Baxter, a surge of confidence washing over him.

“Because I’ll beat the shit out of you if you destroy anything.”

“Oh… point taken… heh,” answered Baxter, courage now deflated. He knew better than to pick fight with beings almost triple his size. “It will take me at least a couple of hours to get everything ready. Come back later, it’ll all be ready by tonight.”

“Okay. Nice doing business- “

“Don’t touch me!”

Aiden, who had extended his hand as a show of gratitude, quickly drew it back as Baxter flinched and backed away. Staring at the poor fish for a second while suppressing a smirk, Aiden shrugged and walked out of the lab and back down the long hall again. What a strange creature. He never would have made it in Chicago. **************************************************************************************************************************************

Later that evening, Aiden decided to just spend the rest of the night in his room as he waited for Baxter to finish up with his equipment. Vaggie had announced that everyone was on lockdown rules while Charlie was away, which basically meant nobody was allowed to leave their rooms. Typical bitch move. The vigilante knew she did that in order to keep him contained without directly singling him out. As he sat down and looked for the remote to the TV, he saw a poster on one of his walls: a map of Pentagram City.

Huh, so that’s what the city’s name was.

Not surprisingly, the city itself was in the shape of a pentagram, with the middle of the star and each side representing a different territory, cleverly named North, South, East, West, and Central Pentagram City. Boy, was Lucifer creative. The surrounding area outside the star was simply labeled “Badlands” and “Brimstone and Fire”.

‘Stay within the city limits, got it,’ thought The Fox as he finally found the damn remote. Even in Hell, remote controls are easy to lose. He flipped on the TV to find himself just in time for the afternoon news report as 666 News’ logo flashed on the screen.

“Gooooooooooooood afternoon, I’m Katie Killjoy!”

“And I’m Tom Trench!”

Aiden watched the broadcast with piqued interest as he studied the two news anchors: the one who called herself Katie looked surprisingly human, despite her red eyes and unusually long fingers and neck. The same went for the other reporter, who also looked human, although that might have been due to the gas mask he was wearing covering up any demonic features. Suddenly, Katie picked up her mug and smashed it over Tom’s head, catching Aiden completely by surprise. Did she really just do that on live television? He wasn’t listening to the conversation between them, but holy shit, this woman was violent! Then again, considering where he was, this shouldn’t have been THAT surprising.

“…and THAT’S for that little comment you made earlier, you prick!” Katie said with a very hostile tone before instantly switching it back to her happier “professional” voice and facing the camera. “Now, onto our next story…”

Aiden was pretty familiar with two-faced people like her. The kinds of people who acted sweet and charming when the situation called for it but were otherwise cold and heartless. It was always amazing to the vigilante how much people with good looks could get away with things. Hell just exaggerated that idea about tenfold. Those kinds of people almost always ended up getting their comeuppance in the end, Aiden was often the driving force behind them. Still, he certainly didn’t envy Tom’s position.

A light knocking on the door pulled Aiden away from his thoughts as the door creaked open slowly. A smile slowly formed on The Fox’s face as one of his favorite demons poked her head in, grinning and waving.

“Aiden, hi!” came the lovely sound of Niffty’s voice as she walked in. She, much like Charlie, had an infectious way about her, capable of melting even the most frozen of hearts. “I didn’t come to clean your room. I did that yesterday! Wait, you already knew that… right? Ah, well! I just wanted to see how you were holding up! Pretty well, right? Isn’t awesome down here in the Happy Hotel?" Aiden nodded, his feeling of wanting isolation fading away like a warm summer day. He started feeling uncomfortable at the thought of this; he always taught as a child about how deceitful and dangerous demons are, yet here he was, being visited by one who was seemingly didn’t want to hurt him at all. Worse yet, he actually… appreciated her company. She talked faster than a bullet train sometimes, but in a way, it was actually endearing. “Hey, watcha watchin’ there? Anything good? Lemme see!” She quickly ran over and sat next to Aiden on his sofa, only to frown a bit as she watched Katie and Tom continue to talk about some liquor store stickup that just took place moments earlier. “Oh… them. I hate them. Bunch of rich snobby "celebrities" who think they’re cool and crap. God, they’re so annoying!” Niffty went off, waving her hands in the air dramatically. Upon finishing her little diatribe, she looked Aiden and grinned again. “It’s so good to see you! Ever since you showed up, I’ve been thinking about you! I mean, I’m super curious as to why you still look human and stuff. You don’t have ANY features of a demon at all! It’s almost like- “

“Niffty…”

“Yes?”

“Is there a reason you decided to see me? I get the feeling you didn’t just develop the idea out of the clear blue.” Niffty’s smile faded a little, as she looked down and fiddled with her snake-like hands.

“I just wanted to see how you were doing, that’s all.” Her words slowed down considerably, and her pitch lowered, as well, catching the vigilante’s attention. “I’m a little worried, too.”

Worried? Why would Niffty, of all demons, be concerned about him?

“Oh?” asked Aiden, starting to worry a bit himself.

“Yeah…” responded Niffty, continuing to play with her hands and not making eye contact with the vigilante. “You see, Vaggie has been on the warpath lately, and I’ve overheard a few conversations between her and Charlie. She REALLY does not like you. I’m worried that she’s gonna actually try and kill you.”

Aiden didn’t know how to respond to this. Of course, it was no surprise that Vaggie disliked him, but to murder one of her own patients? That was despicable.

“I just don’t want anything to happen to you.” Her face was now fully frowning as she finally looked back up at Aiden. “Please… just be careful. I know you’re good at all that kung fu stuff, but down here in Hell, it’s so easy to get caught in situations that are impossible to escape from. Before this hotel started, I used to work as a maid for the Red Room, a big…”

“Strip club?”

“Yes, thank you. I’ve seen people like you walk in and make the wrong enemies… the things I’ve seen demons do to other demons… it’s just horrible…. absolutely horrible.” She scooted closer and put her hands on Aiden’s shoulders as they both looked into each other’s eye(s). The Fox started to feel a little flushed. Was she really about to do this? “Aiden, please don’t be like them. I can see it in your eyes, you don’t say much but I can feel your pain. I don’t know what your story is, but I know you’re hurting, especially after how some of the other demons treated you. I know you're not the villain that Vaggie makes you out to be. I believe in you. I just want you to know that I’m in your corner. Promise me that you’ll make it through this alive and take this seriously.”

Their faces were close now, close enough that Aiden started to feel uncomfortable again. He swallowed and nodded silently, not breaking his stare with the little demon, but not pulling away, either.

“Don’t worry about Vaggie and I. I already had her reeling the first time we met, she’s not a huge threat to me.”

“She’s better than you think, love. But if that situation ever arises, don’t kill her. I know you want to sometimes, but trust me, hurting Charlie is a good way to stay here for the rest of eternity.” The Fox thought that Niffty was about to cry as she spoke, her voice shaking along with the rest of her body. It broke Aiden’s heart to see Niffty go from happy and joyful to absolutely distraught like this. "I've lost so many people down here, Mr. Pearce. They let their anger get to them for things that happened to them while they were still alive and they paid the ultimate price for it. I know you don't deserve that, you really don't. I want to help- "

“Niffty…” Aiden repeated, cupping a hand on her face gently. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be okay. Charlie knows that I’m doing my best, what I think is right. As for Vaggie, well, hopefully one day we can put our differences aside. I won’t do anything reckless and I will do my best to get better. I promise.”

“O-okay. Good.”

A single tear fell from Nifty’s eye as she quickly hugged Aiden in a loving squeeze and pulled away, slowly walking towards the door. “I have to go clean Charlie’s office now. I’m... I'm sorry about everything. I don’t know what came over me, I…. sleep well, Mr. Aiden.” Her best attempt at a smile came back as she left, closing the door behind her.

Aiden slowly got up, staring at the door for a long while. His heart was still racing from what happened. Wait, what just happened? That’s now two demons that seem to not hate The Fox, and he never imagined he would the young cleaner the way he saw her tonight. He thought about following her, but figured it was better to just leave a tender moment alone. A good power nap would help him get his bearings straight as he waited for Baxter to upgrade his belongings. Then again, after everything he was told and promised, he started having second thoughts about going after Alastor. Was it really worth all this trouble? He remembered having these same thoughts before starting his little rampage in Chicago. He didn’t listen, and although he succeeded in his little crusade, it ultimately cost him his life. If the same thing happened down here in Hell, he would truly be gone forever. All of these feelings were starting to act up at once within the vigilante as he laid down on his silky bed and tried to close his eyes and forget life for awhile. No matter how hard he tried, he just couldn’t get to sleep.

It was going to be a very long night.

Chapter Text

Aiden awoke several hours later, still a bit groggy from his strained attempts to get some shuteye. He kept replaying the previous night in his head over and over. Why would Niffty care about his well-being? She doesn’t even know him! The vigilante wondered how someone like her ever ended up in Hell in the first place. She didn’t give off even the slightest hint of shadiness to The Fox, what could she have possibly done to deserve being down here? Maybe that was her game… being nice until you let your guard down, then stabbing you right in the back and twisting the blade. Those were the worst kind of people. Perhaps she was running undercover for Alastor.

‘Wait. Stop.’

Aiden put a hand to his forehead in anxiety again. He was overthinking everything again. This whole trust thing wasn’t working very well. He wanted to believe Niffty’s intentions, but this was Hell. Everybody is a demon. Nobody can be trusted. Nobody who had a good heart would ever end up down here. But what about Niffty? Maybe she was really trying to get back on the straight and narrow.

Aiden never considered that.

If that was the case, she really did deserve the benefit of the doubt, especially if she was trying her best among a group of others who clearly couldn’t care less.

‘Give the girl a chance. She hasn’t done anything to me.’

Aiden blinked. Did he really just form that thought? His knee-jerk reaction to everything suspicious was to go out and “fix” it. It was just his nature, and now here he was, showing mercy for one of the first times in his life. Charlie must really rub off on people.

He slowly rose from his bed, walking over to the bathroom and splashing cold water on his face. It was a matter for another time. Right now, he had a little fishie he had to visit.
****************************************************************
“Yes, everything’s ready! I swear! Don’t hurt me!” Baxter said in a panic as he scurried up some metal stairs into a square-shaped compartment in his laboratory and walked out with several objects in his hands, all of which Aiden instantly recognized. The little anglerfish carefully sorted all of the objects by size and laid them out across his workbench. “Here…” began Baxter, starting with the pistol and handing it to Aiden. “The only thing I modified with your firearm was the ammunition; if you’re hunting demons, your caliber will need an additional… erm… punch. The bullets are laced with a special serum that spontaneously combusts upon impact, and- “

“Explosive rounds.”

Baxter stopped mid-sentence, glaring at Aiden for a second before nodding and moving on to the baton, handing it gingerly to the vigilante.

“I had quite a bit of fun with this device. I vulcanized the rubber on the handle, so you have a better grip when you use it. Along with it expanding and retracting like a normal baton, I also installed little generators inside that allow different elements to be harnessed and weaponized!” Aiden stared at him blankly.

“Ugh, simpleton. It means you can twist the handle. It has different settings that will give your swings more power. It’s in normal mode right now, but it also has electric, flame, and freeze modes, too.” As Aiden twisted the handle as Baxter said, he felt the handle click into place as he turned it. The baton suddenly started arcing with electricity, surging with what The Fox could only imagine was hundreds upon hundreds of volts. It felt like true power right in the palm of his hand. Baxter lit up as he watched Aiden’s surprised expression. “Yes, YES! I KNEW YOU’D LIKE IT!”

Boy, was this fish unhinged. Aiden silently wondered how he became this way, or if he was just dropped on his head a couple times after his birth. He twisted the handle back to normal and tucked the baton away in his pocket as Baxter handed him his trusty cell phone. “This device was… fascinating. So much ingenuity! Such processing power! I’m in the process of making my own.”

“Get on with it, Baxter.”

“Right. I put in a special battery that will never, EVER run out of charge. Anything with electronics in it is vulnerable, so you can bend almost any piece of technology to your every whim with this masterpiece. I figured out how that Profiler program works. Completely genius design, by the way. I recalibrated the device to be able to profile demons, the only problem is it can’t yet since I don’t personally have everyone’s information in some giant database or anything of the sort. You’ll have to extract the data from someone who does, and even then, it may not be able to tell you everything about every single demon, but it should at least give you something…” Aiden frowned, staring blankly at Baxter once again, making the little fish demon cower. “Dammit, please don’t hurt me! I’m not a miracle worker!!!”

“Any idea where I could find that database?”

“Um… well… you probably have three choices. You can either try your luck at Lucifer’s headquarters, which is a REALLY HORRIBLE IDEA, PLEASE DON’T DO THAT, you can get it from 666 News’ station because they have close ties with Lucifer and spy on everyone, or you can see if Alastor possibly has all of that information himself. Other than that, I haven’t the slightest clue. Anyway, once you download the info, the Profiler will just start working right away when you point it at a demon, no extra steps needed. Depending on who you steal the information from, it may even alert you to anything major that might be going on down here in Pentagram City! Heh heh.”

Aiden couldn’t help but be impressed by the little demon’s handiwork. He managed to not only make the vigilante’s gear just like it once was when he was alive, but was also able to improve it, which Aiden didn’t even think was possible. For such a crazed little fellow, he really was an intelligent and resourceful demon. He reminded himself to add Baxter to his “go out of way to protect” list. He definitely earned it.

“You did a hell of a job, Baxter. If you ever need anything, just ask.”

“And how the hell am I supposed to do that??”

“You’re a smart guy. I have faith you’ll find a way.” As he turned to leave, a thought suddenly struck Aiden that made him stop in his tracks. He turned back around and faced Baxter again. “What do you know about Alastor?”

Baxter turned a noticeably lighter shade of blue. Whenever the mere mention of someone’s name sparks that kind of reaction out of people, it’s usually never good. Lucky Quinn was the same way; people always tensed up whenever he was mentioned. Then again, Baxter was always like this. A giraffe balloon would probably set him off if it touched him.

“He’s colloquially known as the “Radio Demon”. I’ve never listened to it, but he owns the only radio station here in Pentagram City. It’s quite mysterious, really.”

Perfect. If he’s got a signal, he can be traced. At this rate, he should be able to find the red creep’s base of operations without him knowing. Still, caution needs to be taken… tracers work both ways.
“He has a reputation for being one of the most powerful demons around. He has supposedly toppled overlords and other huge names down here in Hell, and he’s quickly rising to the top! HE’S A MADMAN, ABSOLUTELY BRUTAL AND HEARTLESS!”

That’s all the vigilante needed to know.

“I’ll keep that in mind. See ya later, Baxter.” The neurotic anglerfish didn’t even answer Aiden, already deeply engaged in making another one of those “hacking phones” for himself.
************************************************************
By the time the elevator reached the main floor and slid its doors open, Aiden saw a tall and fluffy white spider demon waiting for him.

“Aiden! Just the man I wanted ta see!” shouted Angel Dust, strolling towards the now annoyed vigilante excitedly. Aiden brushed by Angel without uttering a word.

“Um, hello? Aiden?” persisted the spider demon, determined to not be ignored. “I’m right here!”

“What do you want?” Aiden didn’t stop walking as they spoke.

“What’s ya problem, doll? Still mad I shot ya in the leg?” Aiden continued walking down the long hall towards the lobby in silence, not even looking at Angel. Sighing, Angel walked ahead of Aiden and positioned himself in front of the doorway, blocking Aiden’s path. He stopped moving but remained mute, simply glaring at Angel and wondering if he should reach for his baton or not. “Listen, I know we haven’t exactly gotten off on the right foot, but I wanna make it up to ya, see? I think a night out on the town would be a good way to get ta know each other and for you ta blow off some steam-”

“No.”

Aiden gently pushed Angel aside as he continued his way into the main hall, deciding instead to start an impromptu tour of the hotel.

“What the FUCK, Pearce?” This question convinced Aiden to stop walking away and turn around to look at Angel. “Why d’ya gotta be like that? Do you enjoy being such a dick to people? No wonder ya such a lone wolf!”

Aiden let that remark sink in for a moment, a comeback not immediately coming to him. Being cold was not enjoyable, but it was a necessary evil for the lifestyle people like him live. The last time he let someone get this close to him, they ended up either betraying him or dying before anything could blossom. There was no way in…hell… he was going through that again, and Angel Dust was no exception. Especially Angel Dust.

“I just wanted to extend the olive branch, dammit! I’m sorry about the shot and embarrassin’ you at the new member meeting!” Aiden studied the spider’s expression carefully. His usual sultry smirk was long gone and he could detect the genuine frustration on his face and tone of voice as he attempted to reach out to the vigilante. “Come on, I’m not askin’ ya to make whoopee, ya gotta pay for that anyhow. I just wanna show ya around, get outta the hotel for awhile. Vaggie is drivin’ me nuts and everyone else doesn’t know how to have fun. Frankly, I could use a new face around here. Besiiiiiiides, you’re so angry and dark all the time, you clearly need to have a good time and loosen up a bit. It’ll be fun! Whaddya say?”

Ugh. A night out with Angel, one of the most irritating demons in Hell thus far? It sounded like a contract for a few hours of being bored watching the spider get sloshed and making a fool of himself. He’d seen Angel’s kind before, and this was exactly the kind of thing they did, stringing along as many people as they could to keep their egos intact and not look lonely. Still, it did sound nice to get out of the Happy Hotel for a short while and relax a bit. He could get familiar with his new surroundings and get Angel off his back, a lovely win-win scenario. The Fox breathed in and sighed himself, not believing what he was about to agree to.

“Fine. When?”

“Right now, sweetheart! This young spider ain’t waitin’ for nothin’! Come on, I gotta Cadillac we can ride in, complete with body armor and bulletproof glass!” Aiden stared at Angel for a moment, a look of slight confusion and apprehension on his face.

“You’re telling me this why?”

The towering spider smiled devilishly. “It’s Hell, sweetie. You can never be too protected.”
*************************************************************************************************************************************
Husk was cleaning a beer mug behind the newly-built bar as a small white-haired demon walked up to the counter, her usual pout plastered on her face as she stiffly sat on a stool, ringing the bell nearby repeatedly, making the cat demon jump and nearly dropping the glassware as the fur on his neck stood up sharply.

“Ya know, calling my name would have sufficed…”

“Whatever. Give me a Long Island iced tea and make it snappy.”

“Yeah, sure… bitch.” Husk muttered the last word to himself as he went straight to work in filling Vaggie’s order. “What brings you here, anyway? You never drink.”

“There’s a first time for everything.”

“Right.” The next words out of Vaggie’s mouth gave the bartender pause.

“I need a favor.”

Instantly uncomfortable, Husk went back to cleaning the mug even though it already sparkled despite the dim lighting of the hotel lobby.

“I don’t do that shit anymore, Vaggie. Consider me retired.” The goth demon stared at Husk for a second, her grumpy expression turning thoughtful briefly before returning to irritated again.

“You don’t have to do anything. I just need you to turn a blind eye…” The cat’s eyes widened, slowly turning to look at Vaggie.

“What the hell… are you really gonna- “

“Yes. You know just as much as I do that that man is a fucking threat to the hotel. I can’t believe YOU don’t wanna bash his brains in, he beat you up and smashed all of the damn liquor!” Husk put the mug he was washing on the shelf and started inspecting the other ones.

“Look Vaggie, there’s something about that guy that’s just… different. He’s not like anyone else I’ve met down here. He doesn’t even look like a demon. Hell, I bet even Al is worried about him at least a lil’ bit.”

“That little punk doesn’t scare me!”

“So what? You think Charlie is gonna let this slide? I hate the guy too but killing him is a terrible idea. If anyone found out somehow that you killed one of your own patients, the hotel is screwed.” Husk slid the drink over to Vaggie, who immediately started sucking up the drink greedily, stopping only to catch her breath once the glass was empty.

“Don’t pretend you have a moral compass, Husk. You’re just afraid of him. Nobody will even notice, let alone care, that one of our patients “mysteriously” died. There’s even worse shit going on all over Hell. We even have Alastor, a known serial killer and cannibal, on our fucking security team! It’ll look like an accident. Besides, Aiden is clearly manipulating her to make her think he’s innocent. I’ve seen this shit a million and a half times and I KNOW a fucking scumbag when I see one. I’m also pretty sure he’s hitting on her, too!”

The bartender snorted, finishing his inspection of the glasses and refilling Vaggie’s mug. “Aiden? Hitting on Charlie?” He started laughing, much to the ire of Charlie’s vengeful girlfriend. “Now THAT’S just stupid. The guy’s old enough to be her father, for cryin’ out loud!” Without warning, Vaggie drew her spear with amazing speed, sticking the tip of the blade just under Husk’s jaw.

“Listen here, furball. I’m gonna take out the trash, whether you approve of it or not. All you have to do is look away. If anyone else asks, just tell them it was a tragic freak of nature. I don’t care if it’s Charlie or those freaks over at 666 News or Niffty or even Lucifer himself! If anyone asks, it was a FUCKING accident! Got it?”

Husk put up his hands in surrender reflexively. “I got it, I got it! Just put the damn spear away, shit!” Vaggie did so, proceeding to chug down her second drink in a matter of seconds as she stood up to leave.

“Put it… on my tab,” commanded Vaggie, putting a fist to her mouth to stifle a belch as she stomped off.

“Crazy bitch…” said Husk to himself as he poured himself some brandy. “She’s gonna get us all killed out here, I swear.”

Chapter Text

“Would it kill ya to smile for once?”

Aiden didn’t look at Angel as he cruised down the road, opting to instead stare out the window at the quickly approaching wall of neon known as Pentagram City. Agreeing to hang out with the spider was a terrible idea. It was ultimately going to be a waste of time. Watching Angel succumb to his vices for the 314th time was not exactly at the top of The Fox’s list, not that he really had one at the moment.

“What’s the real reason?” asked Aiden, causing the spider demon to look at him with a perplexed look.

“Reason for what? I don’t understand your native tongue of stoically vague, Batman.”

“What’s the real reason you want me to tag along?” Angel sighed, moving his eyes back to the road and swerving around a white van recklessly as he blew a red light at over 50 MPH.

“I already told ya, I want ya to have a good time and stop bein’ so damn angry all the time. Why d’ya hafta be so suspicious of everything?” Aiden stared at the spider for a moment before finally relenting.

“Fine, fair enough. Where are we going?” Angel’s signature wide and sultry smile returned.

“Why, Sinnerz, of course! The best damn club down here in this shithole! Not only are their Flaming Devil shots amazing, their Glutton Burger Deluxe is to DIE for! Plus, it’s happy hour, and happy hour means that Uncle Angel gets to pound down shots for free for a couple’a hours without being nagged to death by Moody Moth Who’s Mad Because She Was Named After Her Own Genitals.” Aiden held back a smirk and a chuckle, which was quite the challenge due to Angel’s smooth and biting delivery. He never gave thought to the rather strange sound of the goth demon’s name. At least now he had something to use if he decided to shoot his mouth off at her.

The vigilante looked at Angel again, who gave him a quick smile before making a two-wheeled left turn onto the next street. It just didn’t make sense. Their first encounter had The Fox almost asphyxiating the floofy spider. Surely, Angel must secretly be planning to get even somehow. He’s a DEMON, after all. He gave off the vibe that he was a talented liar, able to bullshit his way through almost anything if he really had to. He has absolutely no reason to treat Aiden to a night out on the city at all. And yet, here they were, about to do just that. As they sped by another street corner, the vigilante saw a demon being brutally tortured with meat cleavers and cattle prods. Just as quickly as he noticed the gruesome scene, it disappeared in the rearview mirror as Angel’s lead foot got heavier. A feeling of agitation swirled up in The Fox, considering asking Angel to turn back before ultimately deciding against it. He couldn’t do that anymore. His vigilante days were over, minus the Alastor investigation. Still, the scene refused to leave his mind as Angel blew through yet another red light, this time finding amusement in it as he laughed at the diving coyote demon who almost became roadkill. The urge to punch Angel in his stupid face was only getting stronger.

“Here we are!” announced Angel, swooping into a handicapped parking space and stopping the Cadillac mere inches from the barrier. “Before you say anything, yes, I am handicapped. I’m fucking psychotic.”

“Whatever you say.”

As both men got out of the car, Aiden immediately felt the air thicken around him. Memories of the fall and hitting the pavement started flooding back to him as well as being chased by the exterminators. He started to feel queasy as he leaned against the side of the Cadillac for support.

“Aiden! You okay, bud?” called the spider from the other side, quickly rushing over to check on the vigilante.

“Yeah, I just need- “

“Booze? Got it!"

“No, you idiot. Water… get me… water….” Aiden succumbed to the anxiety and collapsed onto the pavement, feeling his chest constrict as he attempted to breathe deeply and stare at the sky. This was becoming too much. He was never going to make it down here. The idea of being down here in Hell was overwhelming to the highest degree. Between the feeling that Alastor was constantly watching to the fact he had to fundamentally change himself from the ground up to even have a shot at getting out, The Fox felt completely helpless. He needed to get his confidence back… somehow.

No.

Control was no longer a necessity. It wasn’t about that anymore. He needed to just worry about himself. There are no room for heroes in Hell. His thoughts were suddenly interrupted rudely as the feeling of ice-cold water splashed on his face roughly, causing Aiden to cough violently as the water went up his nose and down his throat.

“How was that?” asked Angel, who could now be seen holding a giant metal bucket as he grinned at Aiden, who was now getting back to his feet.

“I meant to drink, you moron, not nearly drown me with it,” Aiden remarked snidely, still sputtering a bit from the sudden intake of water.

“Aw, come on ya big baby,” cooed Angel, interlocking his arm with the vigilante’s. “Let’s go have some fun!” As they entered the giant building, a giant bull demon blocked their way before stepping aside as Angel whispered something in the bouncer’s ear, causing him to smile and lead the pair towards a private booth. The club itself was almost a comical imitation of Hell itself: gothic pillars were scattered about the place, a deep orange haze enveloping the entire scene. Some heavy dance music was playing, the bass pounding through Aiden like a sledgehammer. The room was jam packed full of demons dancing, some solo and some almost perfectly 90 degrees with a partner. Everywhere the vigilante looked, someone was either dancing or playing tonsil hockey with another demon. Exquisite dancers could be seen on a raised silver platform, performing rather inviting routines to explosive pyrotechnics every so often. Angel had to tug on Aiden’s arm to keep him moving towards their booth. “Yeah, yeah, look at the pretty lights when we get to our table, Casanova.”

Aiden couldn’t help but notice that every demon they passed stared at him intently. The reactions that followed were mixed; some would simply stare in shock, others would laugh. Aiden pulled his hat down to cover his eyes, suddenly feeling very vulnerable and self-conscious.

“Why are they all staring at me like I have three heads?”
Angel looked around and started noticing this, as well. He ushered Aiden into the corner booth and leaned over to shout over the blaring music.

“Demons here aren’t used ta seeing humans except for that bitch Killjoy from the news. You kinda stick out like a hookah in church!”

“Fucking great.”

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“I’m gonna go flag down a waitress. Be right back!”

Angel quickly got up and left, leaving Aiden to his own devices. At least the anxiety was gone for now. Aiden took a moment to really take in his surroundings. He started to regret ever agreeing to come out here; places like this were definitely not the vigilante’s style. Although he would often visit bars back in Chicago, he tended to stay away from full blown clubs. Most major criminals he had hunted back then either frequented or straight up owned these cesspools. The worst kinds of activities happened here, mob hits, human trafficking, the works. Aiden figured Hell was no exception.
On his second look around the room, a figure at the opposite side of the dance floor caught his attention: a demon of tall stature, snow white in complexion. She almost looked corpse-like with her skin starkly contrasting with the rest of the aesthetics of the club. She sported a long vintage black and white dress, long enough to cover her feet. Atop her head was a large dress hat, adorned with an entire row of thick red feathers traveling horizontally along the middle of the headpiece with a decorative skull in the center. She held what looked to be a black and white parasol in her right hand, almost leaning on it like a cane. Her eyes were nothing more than black holes, dead and void, piercing the vigilante’s soul as she stared right at him from afar, her mouth in a stony frown, not moving an inch as Aiden stared back at her with his usual expressionless glance. His once dormant anxiety was now starting to rise again as neither individual looked away from each other. Aiden felt time starting to slow down as he focused on her, waiting for her to do something. Seconds passed, which turned into minutes.

What the hell is this lady’s problem?

As Aiden started to consider the option of approaching her, the woman suddenly started to smile, almost in slow motion. It started as a smirk and gradually grew into a wicked grin, her sharp demon teeth now starting to bare. It was a truly intimidating sight. The Fox felt a vicious rush of adrenaline, ready for her to strike at any moment. He reached for his baton before the sight of Angel carrying an entire tray of flaming shots flooded the vigilante’s vision. The spider demon plopped down on the seat opposite of Aiden and grinned, setting the tray down with his upper arms while rubbing his hands together with the lower ones.

“Finally! The alcohol is here!” cheerily exclaimed Angel, who immediately began downing shots. “Go ahead, Pearce. Try some.”

“I thought you were looking for a waitress…” questioned Aiden, downing a shot of his own and watching Angel as he grabbed another 4 shots, one in each hand.

“I was, until a lovely table of gentlemen bought me Airway to Hell flight! A hundred Flaming Devil shots, just for us! It pays to be sexy, y’know.” He motioned over to another booth a couple rows down, which Aiden saw as 4 other demons, who all waved back.

“Hm,” replied Aiden, watching one of the demons closely. He looked familiar; he looked like a dog or maybe even a jackal, an unsettling smile and a small goatee rested on his chin. The 4 demons turned back around and went back to their business as Aiden returned his glance back to the mystery lady. She was gone.

“What the hell?” Aiden muttered to himself, pulling up his mask in a moment of insecurity.

“What’s your problem now, Pearce?” came Angel’s now slurred voice, lifting yet another glass, which Aiden counted as number 27. Damn, he got drunk quick. He’s pretty much plastered and it’s only been half an hour. “You look like ya seen a ghost or somethin’.” Aiden didn’t answer Angel, looking around for the lady again. “Eh, whateva. I’m too drunk to really care right now,” Angel said to himself as he continued pounding down the shots. Finally giving up his search, Aiden picked up a shot of his own and downed it in one go, instantly feeling the burning sensation as the alcohol slid down his throat. It was HOT. It felt like straight ignited gasoline fresh out of the oven during a heat wave. The Fox had to grip the table with both hands to prevent himself from rolling out of the booth, much to his surprise. He couldn’t possibly imagine how Angel was sucking down those shots that fast.

Wait, this was Angel Dust. Of course he could do this.

Aiden picked up a second shot and only got the glass to his lips before realizing that the 4 demons who had supposedly bought the flight were now staring back at him and Angel once again as the spider demon wrapped his upper arms around his head and slowly closed his eyes. “That was… mm… pleasant,” sighed a content Angel, letting the alcohol do its work with a small hiccup. Within minutes, Angel was asleep and snoring. Aiden had no idea what to do at this point. The idea of searching for that woman again crossed his mind, but that quickly got scrubbed as his eyes darted back to the table of 4, who were now getting up and walking towards his table.

Shit. This felt like trouble.

As the 4 men got within 10 yards, realization smacked the vigilante in the face. He knew EXACTLY who that last demon was.

“Well, well, well… look who finally decided to join the party!” exclaimed the probably jackal demon, walking right up to Aiden and grinning mischievously. “I knew I’d find you down here one of these days.”

“Up yours, Damien,” instantly replied the vigilante, not even bothering to look at him.

“Come now, is this the proper way to greet your tutor? The man who taught you everything you know? I even bought your slutty friend here a buncha drinks so you could have a nice little date tonight, doesn’t that count for anything?” The Fox could feel the venom dripping from Damien’s voice. He just wanted him to go away so he could leave and hide out at the hotel again. He felt some ancient feelings awakening as the man talked. “So, you decided to hang out with THIS crew, huh? That must mean you’re shacked up at that little shithole on the outskirts of Pentagram. Real cute, Pearce, thinking YOU of all people can change.”

“What do you want? I’m trying to have a good time here.” Damien laughed, thumping Aiden on the shoulder as Angel slowly opened his eyes again and stretched, still too drowsy to understand what was going on.

“Oh, nothing much. Just your head on a platter, which would make a GREAT headliner for tomorrow morning’s report as the cherry on top. It’s the least I could do considering everything else you’ve done..."
Angel’s inebriated eyes suddenly shot open, watching Damien as he pulled a gun on The Fox, gathering the attention of the entire bar.

“Hey, jackass! You said you didn’t wanna hurt him!”

“I lied.”

Aiden shot a cold look at Angel, his eyes flaring up. “You two know each other?”

“…shit.” Angel sank back into his seat, fully understanding that he was now cornered.

“Blowing our cover, eh, Angel? That’s a breach of contract, my friend. Take him out back, boys. He’s just as useless as his sister.” Angel’s features started to darken a bit as a tense silence fell over the group. Without warning, the spider demon lunged at Damien, knocking him over and swinging at Damien’s face wildly. “YOU LEAVE MY SISTA OUTTA THIS YA FUCKIN’ JERKOFF! AGH!” Angel grunted as the other three demons ran up and started kicking and stomping Angel for a bit before dragging the lanky spider out towards the rear exit. Two bouncers quickly approached the men before they all concentrated their own weapons on them. “You assholes stay out of this!” yelled Damien as he kept his own weapon on Aiden. The security team reached for their own weapons but Damien’s men were much faster, pulling out their own guns and firing on them, sending the guards to the floor instantly. Screaming and mass panic ensued. Two of the three men dragged Angel out towards the parking lot among the chaos while the remaining demon came back towards Damien. “Listen, Aiden, I didn’t wanna have to do this, but A. you really do deserve everything you’re about to get and B. you need to know the truth about that hotel. You are REALLY backing the wrong horse.”

“Why should I trust you and anything you tell me?”

“Because working for Lucifer has its perks, pal. I’ve been here way longer than you, buddy, and I can see the bigger picture here. You may have gotten the better of me back on Earth, but it ain’t happening here!”

Those old feelings were getting harder and harder to restrain. He couldn’t ruin all his progress, not now. The vigilante started seeing red as that awful smile returned to Damien’s face.

No. Fuck it. He was done playing the nice guy. This guy was gonna get more than his feelings hurt.

Aiden regained his focus as time started to slow down to a crawl again. He quickly got to his feet and grabbed Damien’s wrist, swinging it to the right as he fired, causing the bullet to hit the other demon’s head instead, killing him instantly. He then twisted Damien’s arm to an extreme angle and kicked out his legs, forcing the jackal to kneel as The Fox then kneed him in the face, sending him crashing to the floor. Before Damien knew it, he was face to face with Aiden’s own pistol with the hammer cocked back. He was staring death right in the face.

Time still seemed very slow for Aiden, who was trying to get himself to pull the trigger. He had never been more torn in life until this very moment.

‘Let him go, Aiden. Let Charlie help you…’ thought the vigilante, his fingers staying on the trigger.

“Go on, tough guy! Do it already! Pop me in the head! I fucking dare you!” yelled Damien, defiantly flipping off the vigilante.

Well, he asked for it.

BANG!

BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG!

The place was so silent you could hear a pin drop. Nobody moved for a moment. Aiden walked off towards the parking lot as a bunch of demons holding cameras stormed the club.

“You owe me one,” said Aiden flatly as he disappeared out the rear exit. Damien slowly opened his eyes, frantically checking his body for any wounds. He was about halfway done when he noticed the bullet holes, in a perfect circle around where his head was. Breathing a huge sigh of relief, he quickly scrambled to his feet and headed towards the opposite exit. As he flung the door open, Damien was greeted by an extremely tall demon. He was instantly taken aback by her looks; big red eyes, neatly prepped blonde hair, sizable bust, slim waistline, decent posterior, and long legs. The woman towered over Damien, her smile as dazzling as anyone could fake sincerity.

“Hi there! Katie Killjoy, head anchor at 666 News. We wanted to interview you about what just happened here at Sinnerz- “

“No, I gotta go.”

“We’ll make it worth your while. I’ve been DYING to know about that mysterious human, and now that I’ve seen what he can do, I NEED him. We’ll give you ANY price you ask for.” Her sickeningly sweet tone gave Damien pause, thinking over the offer quickly before smiling devilishly in response.

“Very well, Miss… Killjoy, is it? Where do we start?” Katie’s smile turned from sweet to ominous, her large red eyes glowing a bit in anticipation.

“Follow me…”
*****************************************************************************************************************************
“AGH!”

“OOF!”

“GAAAAAAAAAGH!”

“AAAAAAAAAAAAOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!”

The vigilante made quick work of Damien’s other two henchmen, deciding to take out his frustrations further by sticking his electrified baton on the last one. Both demons were completely incapacitated, neither one moving too much as The Fox took a couple seconds to catch his breath. He looked over towards the battered and bruised Angel over by the Cadillac, who drunkenly smiled at Aiden as he slowly walked over.

“Pearce! I’m so glad to see ya, pal! Ya saved my ass! Boy, I oughta introduce ya to- “

He couldn’t finish his sentence before Aiden roughly grabbed him by the neck and slammed his face into the Cadillac’s hood repeatedly. “NOT THE FACE!!!!!!!!” Angel screamed as Aiden continued to slam Angel’s face into the metal frame. The vigilante eventually stopped, letting Angel catch his breath before flipping the spider on his back and putting his telescopic baton right at his neck, threatening to charge it up again with his thumb.

“You work for that man?? You set me up!” yelled Aiden, not bothering to mask his anger this time.

“It’s not what you think!” Angel pleaded. “He was a client of mine, he told what happened between you two while we were doin’ it and I promised to take ya to Sinnerz so that he could talk to ya! He promised me it wasn’t a setup! Don’t fuckin’ zap me, he wasn’t that great. I shoulda charged more!" Aiden simply stared at Angel as he kept him pinned against the car. He wanted to believe that the spider’s story was true, it’s not easy to make up stories like that on the fly AND sell it like Angel. Still, he could never be too sure with demons. Angel Dust is a very talented liar and The Fox knew this.

“Okay, I’ll believe you… for now.” He retracted the baton and hid it back in his pocket. “Get your stupid ass in the car. We gotta move.” Within seconds, both men were in the car and Aiden floored it, peeling out of the parking and speeding down the interstate, driving arguably worse than Angel the whole way back.
***************************************************************************************************************
Aiden sat on his bed that night, staring at the flowing water coming from the fountain in his room, attempting to ease his mind on everything that just happened.

What DID just happen?

He ran into Damien Brenks, one of the main contributors to his misery when he was still alive, and discovered that he potentially has someone else, possibly a friend of Damien’s or worse, Alastor’s, watching him closely. Not to mention, he just drew a bunch of attention and possibly heat upon himself and Angel, the conniving bastard.

‘Easy does it. We don’t know if he truly did that on purpose,’ thought the vigilante as he laid down on his back, staring at the ceiling instead of the fountain. Wait, was he really trying to cut Angel some slack? That idiot almost got them both killed! Well, kind of. Aiden reluctantly admitted to himself that he had a part in it, too, albeit a smaller one. Still, he never would have shown someone like Angel mercy back when he was back on Earth. Then again, he just spared his biggest enemy, which was also completely out of character for him, as well. Maybe Charlie figured out how to brainwash people. She IS the devil’s daughter, after all.

A couple of soft knocks on his door made Aiden bolt upright, still edgy from the events that transpired earlier. The door sheepishly opened to reveal Charlie standing there, a wide smile adorning her face.
“Aiden, we need to talk! Right now!”

Speak of the devil's daughter and she shall appear, hopefully not with her psycho partner.

“Ugh, why?” answered a less-than-enthusiastic Aiden.

“I just got back from my trip! I talked to my dad about your specific case, and we definitely have some answers now!” She bounced up and down excitedly, much to the annoyance of Aiden.

“Well? What is it?”

Charlie squealed with excitement.

“Aiden… you’re not really dead!”

Chapter Text

“What?”

“YES! Isn’t that exciting??” exclaimed the demon princess, nearly screeching in delight. “Quick, come down to my office! I have to check your bandage, anyway!” The Fox could hear Charlie’s excited giggles from all the way down the hall as a weight was suddenly lifted off his shoulders.

So… this is what hope felt like.

Perhaps that’s what Aiden really wanted this whole time, just a little slice of hope. A similar feeling, one that he felt when he first arrived in Hell, slithered its way into his nerves. Once again, he simply could not believe it. The little glimmer of hope the vigilante once had now started burning once more, so much so that he almost feel the heat within his own chest.He quickly hopped off his bed and almost sprinted towards the elevator. He almost felt like he was in a dream, every step he took feeling effortless and gliding. He felt like he could run a marathon and wrestle a bear in the same day. Nothing was impossible anymore!

“Hold it right there.”

Well, almost anything. Staying away from bitchy moth demons was apparently not on that list.

Aiden slowly came to a stop, turning to look at Vaggie, who approached him with blinding speed as she shouldered him into the wall and drew her spear, resting the blade right on his chest, mere inches away from his heart.

Where the hell does she pull that spear from? The weapon is longer than her entire body! The vigilante had no idea why this question suddenly popped into his head, but quickly came to the conclusion that either she could summon it out of thin air or she pulled it right out of her-

“Asshole!” yelled Vaggie as Aiden shot his hands up in surrender. This scenario was starting to feel familiar to him. “I KNOW that was you in that barroom brawl last night! I saw the footage on the news! You and Angel are going to FUCKING COMPROMISE the hotel!!!”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” replied Aiden coolly, staring at the incensed demon with a blank stare. “I was asleep the whole time.”

“Don’t bullshit me, you little hack!” spat Vaggie. “I KNOW THAT STUPID LITTLE NECKWARMER YOU HIDE YOUR STUPID FACE WITH! They mentioned YOUR name and the fact that you’re staying HERE at the Happy Hotel! How stupid can you be?!?!“

“Smarter than the girl who can’t even wear matching leggings.”

“You little son of a- “

“Mister Aiden!”

Both Aiden and Vaggie turned their heads to find little Niffty, standing right next to them with a smile on her face.

How long had she been standing there?

“Stay out of this, Niffty!” commanded Vaggie, digging the blade deeper into the vigilante’s chest. He could feel a thin trail of warmth trickling down his skin. Blood. He had no idea how a gentle prod could draw blood so easily. There’s something special about that spear…

“Why are you hurting him like that?” asked Niffty sweetly, her smile only growing wider as Aiden’s adrenaline started shifting into second gear. “You can’t touch him. He’s a patient here at the Happy Hotel and they are guaranteed protection as per Charlie’s mission statement!”

“No, he isn’t.” replied Vaggie, her voice dripping with venom. “He hasn’t signed the Contract.”

“You know very well that he’s going to. Please let him go.”

“Dammit, go away! This is personal!”

“I strongly advise that you not continue this behavior, Vaggie.” The pastel moth blinked at Niffty, her facial features scrunching up in rage.

“I’m sorry, are you telling me what to do? Need I remind you that I hired YOU and not the other way around? Beat it before I bring you in for insubordination!”

“Who, me? I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m simply reminding you of company policy.”

“You better walk away before you have a repeat of what happened at the Red Room…”

A pregnant pause filled the air as a tense and uncomfortable silence pierced the spacious golden hallway. Nifty’s smile disappeared into a look of pure shock for a moment before rapidly changing expression multiple times, her facial features twitching and contorting randomly.

Aiden wondered if she was having a stroke.

The cleaner’s expression eventually settled on a toothy grin once again, responding with nothing more than a cute giggle, which escalated into a hearty laugh as her head tilted to the side, focusing on the little moth demon. Aiden had no idea what was going on, but this was creepy as shit. He never pictured Niffty being the rebellious type or the laughing-in-the-face-of-an-angry-demon-with-a-spear type, yet here she was, seemingly mocking Vaggie right to her face. The noise coming from her was melodious and serene, but Aiden felt something much more evil and poisonous underneath that playful laughter which now developed even further into an uncontrollable cackle. Aiden instantly recognized it: the sound of intense hurt being masked by borrowed courage, a temporary insanity begging to be released as the locks of stability began to break loose. Vaggie looked at Niffty with a perplexed look, unsure of what to do as the tiny demon continued to howl with laughter, her single tilted eye never losing focus on the moth demon as their surroundings started to disappear, slowly transforming into an all-encompassing black void.

Aiden, despite still having a spear directly pointing at his heart, slowly started to reach for his baton. He wasn’t exactly sure why he was reaching for it, but he wasn’t going to doubt his instincts; last time he did that, he ended up here in Hell.

In the blink of an eye, Niffty was suddenly gigantic, much bigger than Vaggie and even The Fox himself. Now completely surrounded by darkness, Vaggie withdrew her spear and began backing away as Niffty bared her much sharper looking fangs, her laughter becoming distorted and demonic. Aiden’s arm was frozen, although the vigilante still wasn’t sure if it was fear or relief.

“GET AWAY FROM HIM YOU LITTLE WHORE! I WILL CUT OFF YOUR HEAD AND STICK IT ON YOUR SPEAR BEFORE FEEDING IT TO RAZZLE AND DAZZLE!”

With that, Vaggie bolted down the hallway, cowering in the elevator as it went down. As the vigilante turned to get a better look at the frenzied Niffty, he blinked again and found himself back in the hallway of the hotel’s 5th floor, Niffty having returned back to her normal size. She was looking at Aiden, a fin-like hand over her mouth and her cheeks flushed with a deep red. “Oh my… Mister Aiden, I’m so sorry, it just slipped out! I didn’t mean to… no… I don’t know… it was just, wait… she really… you…. AHHHH!” she yelled, flapping her arms frantically as she tried to justify what just happened. Aiden couldn’t do anything but stand there, mouth open in disbelief. On one hand, the demon he never imagined could hurt a fly just threatened and straight up scared the shit out of the angriest moth in Hell. On the other hand, she WAS a demon, and everybody has their reasons for being here. It was only a matter of time before he learned what her little flaw was. “Just forget… don’t… GAH, DON’T LOOK AT ME!” she screamed, covering her eye with both hands as she ran back down the way she came.

“Niffty, wait!” Aiden called after her. Was she ashamed of showing that side of herself? Did she think she offended or scared him? Logical assumptions, The Fox reasoned, but after seeing everyone else in Hell, nothing much really surprised him anymore. He ran down the hall after her but stopped at the intersection to the next section of rooms. He managed to catch a glimpse of Niffty slamming the janitor’s closet shut. He stared at the door, giving some thought towards trying to comfort her. She needed to know that he didn’t think any differently of her and was actually quite grateful that she pretty much saved his life.

“Aiden, I know you’re out there. Please… let me be. I need time to think.” Her tone of voice broke the vigilante’s heart. Her speech had slowed down considerably and shook with every word she spoke. The woman was distraught, and he didn’t want to just leave her like this. Charlie could wait.

“Are you sure, Niffty?”

“Yes. I’ll be okay. Please.... go.”

With that, Aiden reluctantly walked toward the elevator. He made a mental note to himself to talk to her later. His vigilante tendencies didn’t just involve punishing the guilty, the realization hitting Aiden like a runaway freight train. It also meant stopping to care for the suffering, to help and heal the wounded. Maybe that’s what being the vigilante was all about this whole time… protecting the innocent. Sure, beating up baddies and squashing criminals had its satisfactions, but this urge of Aiden’s to retreat back and check on Niffty really was speaking to him in ways he never thought imaginable. Outside of his own flesh and blood, The Fox never imagined he would one day find himself being this protective over strangers of the demon variety. He let that thought marinate for awhile as he rode the elevator down to learn of the wonderful news he was about to hear from Hell’s own princess.
***********************************************************************************************************
“Aiden! Please have a seat!” Charlie instructed excitedly.

The vigilante had no idea what he was about to hear, but he found it awfully strange that he could somehow be in Hell and not be dead. Either something went wrong, or he was being held hostage, he assumed, and either situation hardly sounded pleasant.

Relax. Just listen to what she has to say.

“Soooooooooo…” began Charlie, sitting down at her desk and motioning Aiden to sit down in front of her. “I bet you’re wondering why I summoned you here today!”

“You told me already. What’s going on?” bluntly questioned Aiden, not in the mood for the demon princess’ theatrics.

“Right! I want you to see this…” Charlie stuck two fingers in her mouth and sharply whistled as a yellow eye that Aiden had never noticed before appeared just above the entryway to Charlie’s office, now projecting what appeared to be a live video on the opposite wall, just above the princess’ head.

The vigilante’s blood chilled at what he saw.

He was looking at himself, lying in a hospital bed, with a handful of different tubes and needles stuck into him. The only movement he could notice was a very slow and labored breathing, his head completely wrapped up in blood-soaked bandages. A couple of figures were standing by his side, the taller of the two sitting in a chair and holding his hand, sobbing quietly as the nearby heartbeat monitor slowly droned on with it’s one note song. The other figure, a young teenager, just looked back and forth between his mother and Aiden’s barely moving body, keeping his face covered with his hands.

No… it couldn’t possibly be. Nicky and Jacks? Was it really them?

Aiden felt his entire body suddenly grow heavy again, the once almost unbearable feeling of raw sorrow covering him like a lead blanket. It was them, his own sister and nephew, the very people who promised to never follow him again after putting their lives in danger chasing down the Chicago South Club. The very people who had absolutely no reason to forgive the vigilante for all of the grief he put them both through, between provoking that fucking scumbag Damien to capture Nicky and the forced relocation once the Fixers started looking for them… they were here, mourning The Fox’s condition. Aiden couldn’t bring himself to do anything except watch, holding back tears as he watched the only family he had left carry the weight of what he had sown. What the hell had he done?

“Is… is he going to be okay?” Aiden heard Jacks ask his mother, who had stopped crying briefly. She turned and looked at her quiet son with glossed over eyes, squeezing Aiden’s limp hand as she did so.

“We don’t know, honey. We just have to wait and see.” She turned back and looked at Aiden once more as she started to tear up again. “God dammit, I knew this was going to happen one day. Why didn’t he just LISTEN to me?” The little boy looked back at Aiden, slowly lowering his hands. He walked over and hugged his mother, starting to cry himself.

“He’s gonna be okay, Mom. He always comes back.”

Aiden pulled his hat over his eyes. He couldn’t watch this anymore. He bit his lower lip as hard as he could, trying his almighty hardest not to break down, but this was just too much. What a total disaster this existence has been. He inhaled shakily, finally letting a single tear roll down his cheek. Before he could take another breath, however, he felt a small pair of arms encircle him, squeezing gently with compassion.

“It’s okay, Aiden. I promise.” He felt a small head rest itself on his shoulder. He had totally forgotten that Charlie was even there. “It’s okay to cry. I know this is a lot to take in.” She paused a moment to see if the vigilante would respond. After a few seconds of silence, she continued. “Dad let me review the footage of what happened to you. You survived that shot to the head because the bullet went right through one end of your skull and out the other, only hitting the left hemisphere and missing the stem entirely. Nothing else really took a lot of damage and a local bystander heard the gunshot and managed to get you to a level one trauma center within half an hour after your shooter fled the scene. Like I said, you’re stuck in a coma, but you’re still very much alive.”
The vigilante’s silent sadness turned into heaving sighs, which only prompted Charlie to tighten her hug on the much bigger man.
“Don’t cry! This is good news, I swear! If you just follow my lead and turn yourself around here at the Happy Hotel, you’ll return to your life back on Earth and you’ll get a second chance. You can see them again! That’s why you still look human, after all! It simply means that your soul is in limbo, but you’re being held here because, well, if you were to die, this is where you were going to go. As long as you’re alive and breathing, there’s time for you to make things right and get back to living, Mr. Pearce. Apparently, anyone who has demonic features has already truly died and redemption will only send them to Heaven. It would be too late for them to come alive again, but not you!”

The vigilante continued to weep silently but was hanging onto every word that Charlie spoke to him. What a relief. Bittersweet tears are better than sad ones.

“Okay,” Aiden finally said, breaking his long and miserable silence. “Where do I start?”

Charlie broke her hug and quickly scrambled to her desk as the yellow eye stopped projecting the live feed of The Fox’s comatose state. The vigilante took a moment to study it; it was strange looking, indeed, but it certainly fit the overall creepy aesthetic of Hell. The Fox guessed that it had multiple uses, one of which was being a projector of sorts. Perhaps it could be used for anything Charlie or any other authority figure wanted it to be used for? Maybe they could also be used as cameras, which is how Alastor could always have a close watch on him…

No.

No more of that shit.

He just got finished watching himself be on the brink of death with the only two people he deeply cared about being heartbroken over him. He couldn’t continue this behavior. He just had to keep his head down and avoid Alastor until he was ready to “graduate”. He tried to make a promise to himself to stay out of that big red creep’s business so that he could get out of here as quickly as possible but for some reason, he just couldn’t feel completely comfortable with that decision. With someone as powerful as the Radio Demon walking around and possibly pulling strings, the vigilante never truly felt safe in the Happy Hotel despite Charlie’s word. Aside from that, Alastor wasn’t the only demon who wanted a piece of The Fox, it seemed.

“Here.”

“Huh?”

Aiden’s thoughts were interrupted as he looked down at Charlie’s desk, which now had a giant black book atop of it, opened to a page containing the rules of the hotel and a bunch of other legal nonsense with a dotted line at the very bottom, eagerly awaiting the vigilante’s signature.

“This is the Contract,” stated Charlie, tapping the dotted signature line with a dainty index finger. “By signing it, you agree to abide by the rules of the Happy Hotel and that you will do everything in your power to stay in the program and earn your redemption. If you follow the rules and try your hardest, you are guaranteed protection within the hotel grounds. Those effects can be removed by me if I think you’re taking advantage of me or the hotel or any of my staff. Go ahead, Aiden… take the first step towards redemption!” She held her hand out, offering the vigilante a jet-black pen. Aiden took the pen and clicked it, but upon getting the tip close to the paper, he hesitated. He froze for a couple seconds, simply staring at the page.

“Is something wrong?”

The Fox honestly had no idea how to answer that question. What concerned him the most was rule number four: “Showing aggression towards or otherwise threatening any of the staff members is strictly prohibited”. If he indeed signed this form, it would mean that not only would he have to abandon his quest to investigate Alastor, but he may also become a victim of Vaggie’s violent temper and clear distaste towards him. A crucial question popped into the vigilante’s mind: what was more important? A quick escape, or possibly risking his very existence so that others may redeem themselves free of potential danger?

Damn it.

At least with Vaggie, it’s just a bad first impression that stuck; Aiden knew her heart was in the right place, she was just extremely suspicious and easily angered, and if he was being honest with himself, he wouldn’t want to have to deal with someone like himself, either.

Alastor, though? That was a whole different ballgame. Although he couldn’t even come close to proving it, The Fox was almost certain that Alastor was not even remotely interested in helping Charlie. He’s clearly using her. Even Vaggie doesn’t seem to like him that much, but then again she didn’t really like anyone outside of her rosy-cheeked lover. If it WERE true that the Radio Demon wanted to really help, surely, he would have been a lot more open about himself, right? He keeps a lot of secrets and has the reputation to boot. Not a good combination. Nobody with the power that Alastor has would want to waste time on a little experiment in Hell. He wanted something, The Fox was sure of that. Signing this contract was going to make finding that out a LOT harder, and if something shady IS in fact going on, he was going to essentially sign away all of his power to do anything about it.

“Aiden!”

“Yeah, sorry. I was just reading the Terms and Conditions…”

Charlie narrowed her eyes at Aiden.

“No, you aren’t.” Aiden tensed up for a moment. Could she read his mind? Did she know about his plans on his Alastor recon mission? If so, his chances at redemption were about to vanish faster than a wagon full of fat kids rolling down a hill.

“How do you know?” asked Aiden, sounding a lot braver than he really felt.

After a second or so of Charlie staring at him coldly, her cheerful grin reappeared just as quickly as it had disappeared.

“Because nobody reads the Terms and Conditions of anything, silly! Go on, sign it!”

Welp, screw it. He was really doing this.

As soon as Aiden started signing his name, he noticed two things, the first of which being that even though the pen itself was black, the ink was showing up as a dark red on the paper itself. The second thing he noticed was the intense pain he was now feeling on the top of the hand he was writing with.

What the hell?

As he looked down at the source of the pain, he noticed that every letter he wrote was also being etched right into his own skin. Wait, does that mean…

“It’s going to hurt, sorry about that…” said Charlie, looking down awkwardly.

“Am I signing this with my own blood?” asked the vigilante, a bit panicked now. “Is that REALLY necessary?”

“Of course, it is!” replied Charlie, doing an exaggerated motion with her arms. “This is Hell, remember?”

Shaking his head in annoyance, Aiden powered through writing the rest of his name on the form, resulting in both the book and the pen to glow a bright golden hue before disappearing in a bright flash of light. The demon princess grinned widely and hugged Aiden once more before shaking his hand.

“Welcome to the Happy Family, Mr. Pearce! Your journey to redemption starts now!”

Chapter Text

The next few weeks were rather uneventful for The Fox. Attending “goodness” classes here and there, doing group activities with the other residents (community service with Husk was NEVER fun), typical rehab stuff. Angel, while still moderately irritating, has at least grown bearable to an extent. Hell, sometimes he’s even fun to talk to, not that Aiden would ever admit that to the spider. Things were starting to look up for the vigilante, who was still spooked by what he saw in Charlie’s office that day. Although he could never fully bury that feeling of needing to be the hero, he managed to at least keep it at bay… for now.

The ivory phone in Aiden’s room suddenly rang, startling the vigilante as he slowly stretched and rubbed his eyes.

Who the hell was calling him in his own room? He didn’t know anyone outside of the hotel...

No. Was it Damien? Maybe Alastor playing more games?

Only one way to find out.

Aiden leapt from his bed fast enough to pick up the phone on the second ring.

“Hello?”

“Hi, is this, uh… Aiden?” came a rather familiar voice over the other end of the line.

“Yeah. Who’s asking?”

“Tom Trench from 666 News. We’re interested in having you on our show for tomorrow morning’s segment, if you’re interested. We would love to know about the shootout at Sinnerz and of course, your experience at the hotel. Also, we’d love to hear about why you still look so human! You’re quite a spectacle here in Hell, you know.”

Aiden felt rage boil in his gut. How the hell did this demon not only know it was him, but also that he was staying at the Happy Hotel? This absolutely reeked of foul play. Damn it, three weeks in and he's aleady got the attention of an A-list actor! Three suspects instantly came to mind: Damien, Angel, and fucking Alastor. Damien ran off after they’re little struggle… didn’t he? Angel might have squealed, but he never seemed too fond of either newscaster whenever their show came on.

Alastor… it had to be him.

This smells like something of his doing, for sure. He probably has close ties with them. It makes sense; it’s a pretty good way to keep The Fox away if the entire public is watching and paying attention to the "big bad vigilante" instead of the "charming" Radio Demon. Being bound by the Contract on hotel grounds and being watched by everyone else outside of it didn’t give The Fox a whole lot of options for retaliation.

Clever move, Strawberry Drizzle.

“I don’t think I can really reveal too much.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that. We have the paperwork to… protect you, if necessary. We would REALLY love to have on the show and…. hold on…”

Was this a scam? Why did he sound like he was walking on eggshells?

“Okay, she’s gone. Sorry about that. Look, the truth is, I need you on the show because if I don’t get you on the set, Katie is going to skin me alive.”

Ah, the truth comes out.

“Why should I care? And how do you know about me?”

“Confidential informants are everywhere, my friend. We’ve got eyes and ears all over the place.”

Interesting piece of information, that was. With the new and improved Profiler ready to go, all the vigilante needed was someplace with a nice big juicy server he could place a backdoor in and boom, he had full access to the entire underworld. What could possibly go wrong?

“Alright, I’ll bite. When should I be at the studio?”

“Don’t bother. Just be outside the hotel tomorrow morning.”

Before he could ask any more questions, the line went dead. So much for going in prepared. The vigilante now felt a buzzing in his pocket. Was that his other phone? Who else could possibly be calling him? He felt his blood run cold once again as he looked at the ID on his screen. It was coming from within the hotel.

It better not be who he thinks it is.

“Yeah?”

“YOU’RE BONKERS FOR AGREEING TO THAT!” There was absolutely no mistaking that neurotic tone.

“Baxter, how are you calling me right now?”

“I made my own rectangular signal summoner! It was quite simple, you see. Also, uh, I heard the whole conversation…”

The Fox paused. That little fish was full of surprises. If Baxter was able to listen in on that conversation, he must already be hooked into the hotel’s network already. His anger quickly turned into anticipation as he started pacing around his room.

“Did you even bother to ask Charlie if it would be okay?!?! You could really get your goose cooked by those two!”

“I know what I’m doing, Baxter.”

“Yeah, and I know what YOU’RE doing too!” His voice lowered to an almost whisper, which confused the vigilante because he was most likely in his lab where nobody else could hear him anyway. “You’re trying to hack into 666 News’ servers, aren't you?"

Boy, was the anglerfish astute. He should be a detective.

“Yeah, and? The Profiler is mostly useless until I can get in there.”

“Have you formulated a plan of attack?”

“Yeah. Walk in, plant the program while waiting to go on, do the segment, then grab the phone on my way out. Simple.”

“Not quite, my meddling masked menace. Security will confiscate your weapons before you even get inside. Plus, the place is crawling with demons. Your human appearance will stick out like Angel in a church!”

Props to Baxter for actually being funny.

“I’ve got it covered. I’ve done this before.”

“I’m sure you have…”

There was a slight pause as Aiden thought about how to ask about access to the hotel. He still wasn’t quite sure if he was an ally or not and the last thing the vigilante wanted was for Baxter to reveal any of this to the other demons as leverage.

“Baxter, do you have access to- “

“The entirety of the hotel? Of course I do, nincompoop. I need to know when someone’s coming so that I can hide my… “less ethical” experiments if I need to. PLEASE DON’T TELL ANYONE!”

Scratch that last thought. Whatever leverage Aiden thought he had was now gone.

“Is there any way you can patch me in, as well?”

“Affirmative, but it will take me a couple of hours to get you in, as well. The hotel’s network is quite colossal. Being the princess of Hell means you can get the big toys, I suppose.”

Aiden reminded himself to pay back Baxter later. As quirky as the little guy was, the vigilante started to trust the anxious demon. It’s funny how two people can bond over a distrust of others.

“Thanks a bunch, Bax. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Thank you. Goodbye.”
**************************************************************************************************************
“You’re cut off.”

“Fuck you, get me another shot!”

“No. I’m not cleaning up more spider vomit off the counter. You’re done.”

“I’m done when I say I’m done, ya prick. Pour me another.”

“Don’t make me angry, bub. These claws ain’t just for show…”

Aiden, who had been taking a nap on a nearby couch, slowly opened one eye as he did a quick scan of the main lobby from the lounge he was in. The commotion was seemingly coming from the bar, with Angel Dust and Husk starting to bicker again. This was nothing new; at least once every week Angel and Husk would get in a spat about how much alcohol Angel was consuming, which was an impressive amount considering how skinny he was. Husk usually had two good reasons for cutting Angel off, one being he didn’t like catching flak from Vaggie about overpouring. The other reason was that Angel was not exactly the nicest drunk. This particular argument started off pretty normally, but the more they argued, the more wary The Fox grew.

“I’m the one with the damn revolva, Husk. I’m not gonna ask ya again, pour me a FUCKING DRINK!”

“Get outta here, freak, before I kick your slutty ass back to your room.”

Aiden felt his phone buzz in his pocket again, much to his surprise.

“Potential crime detected: assault with a deadly weapon. 24 yards.”

Looks like the Profiler works in the hotel now. Baxter wasted no time at all.

“I’m done talkin’,” Angel growled as he pulled out a revolver, wobbling a bit. “I’ll do it, you son of a bitch! I’ll blow your fuckin’ hat right through your ass! That doesn’t make sense, fuck, but still, I’m gonna- “

He couldn’t even finish his half-baked threat before he got a rather unpleasant sensation throughout his many limbs.

“AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!! SHIT!!!!” screamed the spider as his body spasmed violently for a few seconds before collapsing onto the hard marble floor, his skull connecting flush with the counter as he fell. The revolver clattered to the ground as well, traveling a few feet before coming to a stop at a pillar. A surprised Husk looked up from the fallen Angel and saw a pair of piercing green eyes staring back at him, electrified baton in hand.

“Uh… thanks,” was all the cat managed to get out before Aiden put the weapon away, walking over to collect the firearm, as well.

“HEY! BREAK IT UP!” came the shrill voice of Vaggie, her footsteps growing louder as she dashed up to the bar. “What the fuck happened here??” Her eyes instantly shot to the vigilante, who simply stared back at her. “Did you do this to Angel, you little degenerate?”

“He did! It was horrible!” slurred Angel, waving all four of his visible arms wildly. “He… did something… he zapped me! Yeah, he electrified me, the fucker!” Vaggie drew her spear, keeping it right under Aiden’s chin, narrowing her eyes at him.

“You’re violating rule #2 of the Contract: keep your hands OFF the other residents! You’re really pissing me off. It doesn’t help you’re already on thin ice, either. I should have taken you out when I had the chance.”

“Easy, Vag…” Husk started. “Angel had me at gunpoint in a fit of drunken rage. Aiden just knocked him down as he was about to try and shoot me.” Vaggie stared at Husk for a few seconds, switching over to Aiden, then back to Husk again. Aiden considered trying to disarm her with Angel’s revolver, which was already in his hand, but decided against it.

Just stay calm and don’t start any more trouble. She’s not worth the bullet to the face.

“Gah, fine,” she relented, retracting her spear. “Just clean this shit up and get the drag queen back to his room. And I don’t wanna hear another damn peep out of you again, dickhead!” She poked an accusing finger into the vigilante’s chest before turning on her heel and walking back down the main hallway, disappearing into the dim lighting. A long pause ensued as Husk and Aiden stared at the groaning Angel before looking back at each other. What a pitiful sight Angel was. A normally cocky and bold demon reduced to a twitching and swearing tangle of limbs as he tried to get up but simply couldn’t.

“Thanks again, pal,” offered Husk, taking a swig of his own bottle of whatever. “I owe ya one. Big time.”

“Damn right you do,” returned Aiden, slowly helping a disoriented Angel Dust off the floor, putting one of the spider’s arms around his shoulder. Husk huffed in response, shaking his head as Angel continued to pepper both Husk and Aiden with horrible names and idle threats. “Come on, dumbass. You’re going back to your room.”

“Like fuck I am!”

It was almost cute how much resistance Angel put up with his words but how little he did so physically. The vigilante found himself able to influence Angel’s limbs to better help him guide the smashed spider. He secretly wondered if Angel was doing this on purpose just to screw with him. It definitely seemed like a game the shithead would play. It took almost an hour, what with getting lost twice and stopping another time for Angel to empty his guts, but The Fox eventually managed to get the spider demon to his room, number 420 on the fourth floor. Upon entering the room, an overwhelming scent of lavender assaulted the vigilante’s sense of smell almost right away. The room was mostly pink and white, with a gigantic bed that was encircled by blood red curtains.

Clearly, Angel liked his privacy under the sheets.

The entire square footage of the spider’s room had the feeling of stardom and luxury. A giant mirror rimmed with big glowing lights adorned one of the walls, while another sported shelf upon shelf of various care products: shampoos, mascaras, makeups, lipsticks… there wasn’t much that Angel didn’t have in here. In the one corner of the room that wasn’t taken up by furniture, a big pink and red sign labeled the “Kink Korner” could clearly be seen. Aiden stared at the assortment of different toys and devices the kinky spider had in his possession: alongside the standard apparel like handcuffs and chains were more… unique items like tasers and… is that an iron maiden?

The vigilante did NOT want to know what that was for.

“Heh heh, did ya like cleanin’ up afta me?” taunted Angel, accomplishing nothing but spiking Aiden’s blood pressure. The cocksucker was THIS close to getting a beating. “Kinda kinky, if ya think about it. Ha!”

The Fox remained silent, reminding himself to remain calm; he nearly blew it earlier playing superhero protecting Husk. All he had to do was put Angel into bed and he could go grab some food.

“Still won’t talk to me, huh? You know, you’re such a prick! I treated ya to a nice night on the town and this is how you treat me? All you ever do is beat me up and skulk around in the fuckin’ shadows like Alastor! Do you two have a thing goin’ on, because I WANT IN ON IT!”

Breathe. Keep walking. He wasn’t worth blowing a fuse over. He’s drunk and angry, nothing personal.

“Say something, dammit! Stop ignorin’ me!”

Finally, Angel’s bed. At this point, the vigilante just wanted to go back to sleep in his room and listen to the fountain, food just wasn’t worth the energy to go get anymore.

“This is your stop,” the vigilante stated, pointing to Angel’s messy sleeping quarters and starting to walk back out of the room.

“I’m not tired.”

“Too bad. Go to sleep.”

“No!”

Aiden stopped walking as Angel stumbled around aimlessly. He was a flaming wreck… literally. He could just leave him there, but the odds of the spider demon hurting himself were much higher. He was already in hot water with some of the staff, as well. The way he saw it, The Fox had no choice but to do good by Angel, even if he was being an obnoxious little shit. Maybe then Vaggie would ease off the anger a bit.

Sighing, Aiden walked back to the still stumbling Angel Dust, trying to keep him steady before he took another header on some more furniture. He couldn’t quite believe he was putting this much effort into helping out hot garbage like this demon, but ever since his arrival here in Hell, once again, nothing really surprised him anymore. He grabbed Angel by the shoulders, which was a bit of a struggle because of his eight feet of stupidity, stopping him from toppling over into one of his oversized dressers. Aiden was rewarded for his efforts with a gloved backhand to the jaw, sending him stumbling back a bit.

“HEY! Hands off the merchandise, pal! Ya gotta pay for that!”

“Come on, Angel, you’re plastered and cranky. Let’s get you to your nice warm bed and- “

“Screw you, ya… featherbrain…. fuckhead,” Angel cut him off, laughing at his own insult. Aiden took a deep breath before walking back and once again trying to guide the smashed demon back to the bed. It was a balancing act of using enough force to get Angel to move but not too much or else he would fall. He secretly found it impressive the spider could even stay standing on those stilts for legs despite how intoxicated he was. He was rewarded yet again for his efforts, this time with a swift punch to the chest. Taking another very deep breath, Aiden returned to Angel once more, who was starting to wobble again as he continued his search for nothing.

“Come on, Angel. Let’s go to sleep.”

“For the last time, NO!”

Aiden carefully put an arm around the adult film star’s waist as he started towards the bed for the third time. The vigilante felt a surge of relief as Angel started taking steps with him, only to feel that old anger come back as the spider suddenly screamed and started flailing all four of his visible arms at once, going all out in trying to knock the vigilante out. Thankfully, due to his inebriation and wild temper, his punches were sloppy. Aiden put up his arms to block Angel’s frenzied punches, backing up until he was up against the wall of cosmetics. He was finally experiencing Angel Dust’s chaotic side, and it was not pretty.

“You stupid asshole! I’ll kill you! Me and Cherri’ll find your fuckin’ family and kill ‘em all! I’ll have extra fun with your niece, too!”

One of Angel’s many punches found its way through The Fox’s defense and hit him squarely in the nose, temporarily stunning him as blood trickled down his face and onto his jacket.

“Big mistake,” Aiden said in a low voice as he let his adrenaline kick in, threatening to lose all control on his now boiling temper.

Fuck it. Angel was gonna learn a hard lesson.

Aiden pushed back with great force, sending the spider stumbling across the room and landing on his bed. Not a single item was broken throughout the entire exchange.

That was quickly about to change.

“YOU’RE FINISHED!” Aiden’s normally low and gravelly voice suddenly had a lot more power behind it, causing Angel to suddenly stop moving and just stare in disbelief at what he just heard.

“You’ve been a thorn in my side ever since I first got here! You shot me in the fucking leg, then you set me up right into Damien’s hands, then you proceed to get in a fight with Husk and LIE to Vaggie to put the blame on ME, which put my chances of getting out of here in danger, and NOW… now you’re sitting there, drunk as HELL, threatening ME AND MY FAMILY! YOU WILL NOT FUCK ME OVER ANYMORE!” Aiden clenched a fist and threw it right at the mirror, smashing it. He didn’t even look at his hand as he pointed his finger at the demon, bloody and full of shards. “You better stay away from my fucking family, because I have NO problems killing scumbags like you. I used to HUNT your kind back when I was on Earth and I can do it just as well down here!” The vigilante lost all control over himself, proceeding to wreck Angel’s room piece by piece. Nothing was safe: dressers? Toppled over. Chairs? Broken. Tables? Flipped. Toys? Crushed. He even went as far as knocking all of the care products off of their carefully organized shelves, the vigilante taking huge swipes at it to really spread them all over the place before outright destroying the shelves themselves with well-placed elbows. Angel could only stare in horror as The Fox showed his own ugly side and continued to destroy anything he could get his hands on.

Amidst the rampage, Aiden spotted a picture on the floor and stopped to look at it. After looking at it for a moment, he noticed that it showed another spider demon that looked very similar to Angel, only prettier.

Perfect.

The vigilante grabbed the picture and showed it to the demon opposite him. “Who’s this? Your mother? Sister?” Angel opened his mouth but couldn’t get himself to make any noise to answer him. He didn’t have time to say anything anyhow. “You do something like that, and I’ll find HER and they’ll find pieces of her in TEN DIFFERENT DUMPSTERS AROUND HELL!” He threw the picture, smacking Angel Dust right in the face with it, the frame of the picture now hanging around his neck as the glass shattered everywhere. The vigilante stormed out of the room and marched angrily to the elevator. He was sick of all of this. Angel, Vaggie, Alastor, Husk…they're all hopeless. This project was never going to get off the ground by The Fox’s prediction. Just hours earlier, Aiden was ready to show off Charlie’s ambition to those pompous demons over at 666 News. But now?

Katie and Tom were gonna get the best story of their careers. This was no longer going to be an advertisement… this was headed towards being an expose.

Aiden couldn't do much except stare at his now shredded hand and try to stop his nose from bleeding with his good hand as he waited for his floor. “Damien was right. Maybe I AM backing the wrong horse...”

Chapter Text

The vigilante’s room was quiet as the distraught Aiden gently put his injured in the cold fountain before quickly yanking it back out again.

Stupid idea.

After inspecting his hand for any remaining glass shards, he slowly walked to the bathroom and rolled up some toilet paper and wrapped his injured hand with it. It was basic and crude, but it was all he could really afford right now. It would have to do. Walking back to his bed, he wasn’t sure what else to do while he waited for someone to pick him up for the morning segment at 666 News. Sitting back on his bed, he stared out the large glass door leading out to the balcony, his mind wandering off as he watched the red sky slowly leak into the dark confines of his room. Before he knew it, the vigilante felt tears welling up in his eyes.

Dammit, not again. At least nobody else was there to see him.

What a ride this had been… losing all hope, then regaining it, then losing it all over again. He should have known from the start this this whole thing was a giant façade, an exercise in futility. This is HELL, the place where every horrible soul goes when they pass on. The place where evil returns to and, eventually, fades away in. Or dies horribly in. Nobody here cared about being good anymore. The Fox was sure most of the demons down here were never good people to start with. If anyone had told him that one day he would end up in Hell being pestered by a big gay spider, harassed by an angry goth moth, hunting a big red deer, and teaming up with a borderline crazy anglerfish, he would have laughed. Hysterically. Yet, here he was… with all of those things pretty much being true. A single tear slid down The Fox’s cheek.

He screwed up. He screwed up royally. Vaggie was already foaming at the mouth trying to get rid of him and now she had another reason. Angel, with his erratic and impulsive behavior, was probably now resentful towards him as well. Who knew what HE was gonna do. Not a single ounce of progress had been made in going after Alastor, who may or may not have seen what just went down in Angel Dust’s room. On top of all that, he found out that he was actually still alive and was on the verge of death, threatening to strand him here in Hell for possibly all of eternity if he didn’t find the light and change his vindictive ways. To put the cherry on top, he agreed to an interview with 666 News and couldn’t back out.

What a shit hand he got dealt.

Actually, he more or less did it to himself.

Okay, it was totally his fault. If he had just decided to give it up after fleeing Chicago, none of this would have happened. With the initial rage wearing off, Aiden was starting to question whether fully outing the hotel was the best idea. Losing his only shelter would spell doom for The Fox, not to mention he already had enough enemies as it was. But what about the news anchors? If he flaked out on them, they might want to have an unfriendly word with him, as well.

Katie hardly looked like the kind of person to let things go peacefully.

The only way this was going to work was if he was able to hack their servers as originally planned. That way, he’d have some sensitive material to leverage if they decided to give him trouble. Otherwise, he was just going to have to let the chips fall where they may. This was troubling to the vigilante; if there was one thing he didn’t like, it was a situation he had absolutely no control over, which seemed to be a common occurrence here in Hell.

The ringing of the in-room phone caused Aiden to flinch. It seemed like every little sound was getting to him now.

“Yeah?”

“We’re almost there. Be outside.” It wasn’t Tom Trench this time; it was another demon with a very deep voice. Aiden assumed it was probably a security guard. Without answering, he hung up and got back on his feet. Time to bite the bullet, hopefully not literally.
*******************************************************************************************************
“Vaggie, can you go fetch Aiden for me? I want to check up on him after what happened.”

“I’m afraid that won’t be possible.”

“What do you mean?” Charlie turned her attention to Alastor, who was reading a newspaper on her big red couch as the demons conversed.

“Why, he’s not here right now. He went out.” His smile never lessened, much to Charlie’s delight and Vaggie’s disgust.

“Silly me! I never made an appointment with him! Where do you suppose he headed off to?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe he went on holiday. Or perhaps he hitched a ride to 666 News where he’s about to be on the morning picture show!”

“WHAT?!?!” Vaggie screamed, gripping her long white hair with both hands, nearly white knuckling it.

“Are you sure, Alastor?” Charlie asked, hurt lacing her voice.

“Quite, dear,” replied the Radio Demon, chuckling a bit before going back to his newspaper.

“And you didn’t do anything to stop him??” questioned a now steaming Vaggie who quickly stomped up to him and stared at him with ferocious intensity.

“Did you really assume I would be able to predict he was going to be needed, Miss Vaggie? Residents are free to roam as they please unless they have an appointment scheduled. Who am I to take away someone’s freedom?”

“Fuck you! It sounds like you knew about this the whole time!”

“I don’t suppose I need to remind you about what happens when you assume, sweetheart.”

“Are you hearing him right now, Charlie?”

As the three demons argued and bickered, they failed to notice one small detail: a single eye peering curiously through the crack in the doorway. It blinked once before little footsteps scurried away from the door before anyone could notice.

“Now, if you would kindly take your leave…”

“GAH! HIJO DE PUTA! I HATE ALL OF YOU!”

The infuriated moth kicked the door clean off its hinges, muttering inaudibly to herself angrily as she stormed down the hallway. Charlie and Alastor looked at each other for a moment before the princess let her head fall flat on her desk.

“What have I gotten myself into?”
******************************************************************************************
“Well, here we are!” exclaimed Tom Trench cheerily as he and Aiden stepped out of the large black limo carrying them. Aiden looked up and stared at the humungous sign before him. “666 News: Hell’s Finest” glowed brightly with a mesmerizing shade of turquoise followed by a smaller sign showing Tom and Katie as their featured news anchors. The building was big, but to The Fox’s surprise, not quite as big as the hotel. A feeling of uneasiness started to brew inside Aiden once more as the two men walked into the studio, plunging right into the zoo that was the news station.

Demons were everywhere, not a single one staying in the same place for more than five seconds. Commands were being thrown around all about as every worker fulfilled their role dutifully and without question. It almost felt like a military school with how regimented everything was being handled.

From what he saw of Katie Killjoy, Aiden figured it might as well be one.

Aiden’s heart stopped as he watched Tom step through the one thing he completely forgot about. How could he possibly forget about the metal detector? It beeped as the guard cleared Tom for entry, motioning for The Fox to come forward. He felt his adrenaline skyrocket with each step he took, not hesitating at all. This was about to end REALLY badly.

Welp… at least he was ready for a fight.

He kept his eyes on the massive bull-like guard as he approached the gate, feeling his heart speed up tenfold as he got right to the edge and started holding his head.

“Hey. You okay, bud?”

Aiden took a couple steps back and put his other hand on his head, closing his eyes. That dizziness was returning, the same feeling he had when he first went with Angel to Sinnerz. His ears felt like someone was banging a pan right next to them.

This was horrible. Absolutely horrible. He felt his chest constrict as his vision was starting to black out.

WHUMP!

The next thing Aiden knew, he was staring at the ceiling lights being held by the huge guard.

“I gotcha. Just stand up slowly, okay? I’ll help ya through the gate…” Aiden felt himself being let back down on his feet as the guard slowly walked him to the very device that was about to undo him. He clenched an unseen fist as he sheepishly stumbled through the gate, trying to regain his bearings.

Beep.

“You’re good to go. Next!”

As if like water, the tension throughout the vigilante’s entire body lifted. Holy shit… that was WAY too close. That glorious bastard Baxter somehow made the weapons undetectable!

He stabilized his breathing as he turned around to notice Tom giving him a quizzical look through his gas mask.

“Uh… what happened back there? You alright?”

“Yeah… just pre-show nerves. I don’t usually like being on television.”

Tom nodded. “Understandable. It’s not for everybody. Follow me, I’ll show you the green room where you’ll be hanging out until your segment. You’ll get to meet Katie there, too!”

“I can’t wait…” replied Aiden flatly, rolling his eyes.

“Yeah… me neither.”

The two men walked down an extremely long hallway, eventually coming to a big wooden door on the left.

“Alright, I gotta run for the weather report. Just hang out here and we’ll let you know when you’re on.”

“Thanks.”

As soon as he opened the door, the vigilante was hit with a delightful smell: fresh coffee and just-baked apple cider doughnuts. As good of a cook as Niffty was, fresh baked goods was a refreshing change of pace for the vigilante, who took a seat on one of the couches and immediately grabbed a doughnut. His nerves started to come back as he could hear the muffled intro to 666 News’ theme song in the distance.

This was it. He was about to attempt one of the biggest hacks in his entire existence.

Before he could ponder his plan any further, he could feel a vibrating sensation in his coat pocket. He quickly pulled out his new Profiler and answered it.

“Watcha got for me, Baxter?”

“The server room is on the second floor. As soon as you get within close proximity to it, the backdoor virus will automatically execute. Just keep it near the servers without interruption and control will be yours.”

“How long will it take?”

A slight pause from Baxter told The Fox he knew he wasn’t gonna like his answer.

“Um… heh heh… those servers are absolutely enormous. I actually have no idea. My best assumption is anywhere between 30 minutes and two hours.”

Fantastic.

“Baxter, I can’t hang around the studio all day.”

“I KNOW, I’m SORRY! WAH!” The Fox had to pull the phone away from his ear for a moment as Baxter screeched on the other side of the line. He started to feel sorry for the unstable fish; he really was trying to help with activities he knew he’d get in trouble for if he got caught.

“Alright, calm down. Look, are there cameras in here?”

“Yeah. Just jam them, that’s what I always do- I MEAN WHAT A SMART PERSON WOULD DO. The Profiler already can detect their frequencies and- “

“Good. I’ve got it from here.” Aiden hung up and pulled up his mask.

“It’s go time.”

Powering the Profiler on, The Fox quickly poked his head out of the green room door, immediately noticing a camera.

“Let’s see what you gave me, Bax.”

The vigilante went straight to work, tapping the screen a couple times and returning his gaze to the camera. A very faint buzzing noise emitted from the camera, the green light on top of it flickering out.

“We’re in business.”

He quickly crept down the hallway, making sure nobody else saw him. It didn’t take long for Aiden to find the elevator, which looked like it had gotten more than its fair deal of use. As he stepped foot inside the corroded rust bucket of a lift, another wave of anxiety crept its way through the vigilante’s body. This felt wrong, very wrong.

Why was he doing this? He promised Charlie he was going to stop. He was most likely violating the Contract. He was 90% sure Vaggie already knew what he was up to, and if the princess herself ever caught wind of it, he would be done for. He needed to just turn back, do the interview, and make amends to everyone.

No.

He had come too far to let this go. Alastor was still out there, up to no good no doubt. Everybody feared him. The people who everyone feared were always the most dangerous and they needed to be removed for the safety of everyone else, even if this was Hell.

Didn’t that describe himself back in Chicago, though?

Aiden shook that thought off as the elevator door opened. Now was not the time to get philosophical, he had a server room to find. The second floor of the news station was a great deal quieter, the entire aesthetic of the place reminded Aiden of his old middle school once everybody had left for summer vacation: dead and empty, a stark contrast to the chaos going on down on the first floor. The only sound he could hear was the monotone humming from a nearby drug machine. A fluorescent tube flickered weakly as The Fox scanned the area. As he stared down the long and narrow hallway, his heart nearly leapt into his throat.

It was her.

That same ghostly figure from Sinnerz… with the parasol and dead black eyes. It was just the two of them, staring at each other from a good 50 yards away, both frozen in time as the vigilante was at a loss as to what to do. The woman started to smile again, her fangs digging into her lower lip, drawing jet black blood that slowly flowed in perfectly parallel lines down her lips and chin, dripping on her snow-white dress.

A severe wave of nausea hit the vigilante, causing him to take a couple steps back, but never keeping his eyes off the terrifying figure in front of him.

Who the fuck is this woman??

Her smile never faltered, not even a little. She gently shook her head and silently mouthed a chilling message to The Fox:

“I’m watching you.”

As the vigilante swallowed a painful lump back down his throat, he blinked, and she was gone. It took the vigilante a few seconds before he summoned the courage to keep going. He was never one to be frightened by much, but this… this was starting to get scary.

He pulled out his gun as he continued down the hallway, looking for more cameras but strangely enough not finding any. He was approaching the glowing room and reaching for the doorknob when a piercing scream shattered the silence harshly. The hairs on Aiden’s neck stood up as if snapping to attention.

That wasn’t just any scream. That was the yell of anguish, the cry of being tortured slowly. It had the edge of being ripe with pain but the weariness of a grueling trial. No other sound could perfectly straddle the line between disturbing and heartbreaking, and it shook Aiden to the core. He paused as his hand touched the cool brass, turning his head towards the sound of the shriek.

Don’t do it. Do what you came here to do, get the info off the servers for the Profiler and get the hell out.

He started twisting the knob as another bloodcurdling scream once again pierced the otherwise dead air. He needed to just let it go. He was already in enough trouble.

No. This was not going to stand. He was the fucking vigilante.

Aiden whipped around and ran in the direction of the horrifying screams, firearm in hand, crouching down a bit and peering through the glass window of each door as he passed them. He was starting to feel alive again as his adrenaline started ramping up. He was finally serving a purpose again off the sidelines. After searching a handful of rooms, Aiden finally found the source of the noises. It was a gruesome sight to behold.

It was a spacious room with white walls, blood spattered everywhere. Nothing else was in the room except for a single table and two chairs, one of which was occupied, along with a camera, which Aiden remotely disabled. He could see two silhouettes, a muscular looking enforcer-type ox demon pointing a cattle prod menacingly at… was that another human sitting in that chair?

No, it couldn’t be… but it was!

By Aiden’s estimation, she looked to be about average height (which, compared to demons, was rather small), average build, with long flowing blonde hair. She appeared to be pretty badly injured, sporting many cuts and lacerations along her face and torso. From what Aiden could deduce, she was being forced to sit in the chair and just draw incessantly, being punished with the cattle prod if she screwed up.

“You ain’t leavin’ ‘till you draw Miss Killjoy PERFECTLY! You know how she’s SUPPOSED to look for da poster! Now GET IT RIGHT! And DON’T mess up da shoulders dis time!”

If this girl was really human, perhaps the Profiler would give the vigilante some info on her. It was worth a shot. He scanned her discreetly from outside the room.

“VM: All Hazbin Hotel Characters Belong To Her,” was the only thing the Profiler could say. The Fox scanned her again and got the exact same result.

“What the hell does that mean?” Aiden asked himself, now thoroughly confused.

Before he had time to think about it any longer, the ox demon yelled in frustration, grabbing the paper the woman was drawing on and ripped it up before pulling out a machete and winding up for a swing.

“That’s it, I’m gonna fire ya… PERMANENTLY!”

Time slowed down for the Fox as he kicked the door open.

BANG! BANG!

The giant ox froze for a moment before slowly collapsing onto the cold stone floor, blood pooling around his head.

“Nice… nice shot!” the woman congratulated with tired enthusiasm. “Thank you for saving me. These assholes have been keeping me up all damn night drawing the same things over and over again for almost four days now…”

The vigilante quickly rushed over, helping the lady to her feet and holding her up as she steadied herself. “Who are you, exactly?”

“They call me The Fox,” replied Aiden. “But you can call me Aiden.”

“Nice to meet ya… AIDEN!!!!” the woman suddenly yelled as Aiden turned around to find the ox had already gotten back to his feet and was preparing to attack once again with the giant blade in his hands. Aiden backed up and aimed his pistol again but soon found out that he didn’t need to: the blonde woman had already yanked out what appeared to be a pen and fired a dart right at the ox’s chest, killing him instantly as he fell over backwards with a deafening crash. Aiden was absolutely dumbfounded.

“Shit… sorry, I should have warned you about that. I knew he was gonna get back up. The only way you can guarantee a killing blow to a demon is through the heart! Unless of course you have angelic weapons, in which case you can hit them almost anywhere and do tons of damage. By the way, we’re even now.”

“Wait, you’re human, aren’t you?

“Sure am!”

“How do you know all this?”

“Um… because I created all of this?”

What in the world was she talking about?

“I wish I could explain everything to you, Aiden, but I have to run. I have an October deadline to meet, ya know!” She gave the vigilante a quick embrace before pocketing her killer pen and running out the door. “Don’t give up on your road to redemption! I believe in you!” And with that, she was gone. The Fox took a quick moment to try and analyze everything that had just happened but for whatever reason just couldn’t fathom any of it. So many questions unanswered. No matter, the important thing was that he saved a valuable life, and that was good enough for him.

He dashed back into the hallway and returned to the door with the blue glow coming from the window and opened the door, running into the one person he didn’t want to see right now.

“Aiden! Good to see ya, buddy! We need to talk- “

Before he could even finish his sentence, Aiden took out his baton and cracked Damien over the head with it, sending him tumbling into one of the server towers before flopping onto the floor, knocked out cold.

Jackpot. All of 666 News’ servers… there for the taking.

Aiden pulled out the Profiler and, sure enough, it buzzed a few times in a pattern to inform The Fox that the backdoor virus was being installed. Within mere seconds, the progress meter filled completely to 100% and played a short 8-bit tune along with the words “Download Successful” displayed on the screen. The Fox breathed a sigh of relief as he put the phone back in his pocket only to once again tense up as he heard what sounded like an air raid siren in the distance. That was probably his cue to get the hell out of there.

He could only get a couple steps towards the door before the pumping of a shotgun stopped him dead in his tracks. Aiden swore to himself that that sound had just as much stopping power as the shot itself.

“You slimy son of a bitch,” came the voice of Katie Killjoy, now blocking the doorway with her slender frame, smoking a cigarette, grinning evilly, and aiming a double-barrel right at Aiden’s face.

“I'm going to make a fucking headline out of your death!”

Chapter Text

“So, you thought you could sneak one past me, did ya?”

“Yeah. I kinda did.”

“Don’t get cute with me, shithead. I’ve killed more hackers than you have fingers and toes. You’ll just be another notch on my belt.”

“Look! It’s a bitch sandwich!”

Katie spun around to see Niffty running towards her at full speed, her tongue flopping around as she charged at the lanky news anchor with gusto. She managed to lift the barrel but couldn’t pull the trigger before Niffty took a long leap and tackled her to the floor, taking an excited bite into her shoulder as she shrieked in both surprise and agony.

“What the FUCK! Get off me, you little bitch!”

Aiden instantly ran for the shotgun that Katie dropped but couldn’t make it before she took a wide swing, cracking Niffty right in the jaw and sending her stumbling back as she scooped up the gun once again and fired.

BOOM!

Aiden’s eyes widened as he watched the blast tear up the little demon as she went soaring back down the opposite end of the hallway. Her body slammed against the floor and bounced a couple times, causing a sickening crack to be heard as her skull slid across the floor until she came to an eventual stop near the emergency exit at the very end of the hallway. Niffty didn’t move at all, not even a twitch.

He stared at Katie as she returned her eyes to him, pointing the firearm right back at him again.

“Would you like to see what’s in Mr. Right Barrel? I hear he’s just a BUNDLE of FUCKING joy!” The vigilante just stared at Katie as she smiled at him that stupid plastic smile of hers. He felt his adrenaline spike dramatically as his vision turned to a very deep red, as did his pupils. “Get on the fucking floor! NOW!”

This woman was about to enter a world of pain.

“Fuck you.”

He tapped the screen of his Profiler and held it. About half a second later, an explosion could be heard from outside and the room went completely dark. Katie paused for a moment in the pitch-black darkness, gasping as she unloaded the other barrel in Aiden’s direction. After a few more seconds of silence, she exhaled, relieved.

“That was fucking close.”

She took a step forward to see if she could see the body, but what she got instead was a haymaker to her now blackened left eye followed by an extremely sharp twisting of her neck, creating a gut-wrenching cracking sound as she went crashing to the floor. Aiden examined his work as the lights came back on: not only did he manage to break her neck, her entire head was dangling by a thread as the bone protruded from her skinny neck, her face frozen in a silent scream. It took every ounce of willpower he had to not continue to beat on the reporter, his blood surging was anger, almost enough to make him pass out himself.

He ran as hard as he could to where Niffty was laying, perfectly still, her single eye closed. He quickly scanned her body, instantly noticing that the brunt of the shot seemed to be in the shoulder and upper arm area. The rest of her body was sprinkled with black spots, showing all the area the pellets hit, which was quite extensive considering how close she was when Katie fired.

Still, it was better than being shot in the chest, or worse, the head. After checking to see if she was breathing, Aiden breathed a sigh of relief as he gently picked up Niffty, who was indeed still breathing and started moaning in pain. This was incredibly unsafe, but the vigilante didn’t have much choice and he sure as hell wasn’t going to leave Niffty behind. He quickly left through the emergency exit, praying to himself that demons were more resilient than humans, which he assumed was true if that mysterious V.M. lady was at all telling the truth.

As he disappeared through the doorway with the little demon, Katie’s horrified expression slowly shifted back to an eerie, vengeful smile. “Big mistake, Aiden. I will fucking BURY you.”

The vigilante felt his heart sink as he made his way down the long metal staircase and opened the bottom door with his back. It was absolute pandemonium in the streets of Hell: demons were screaming and running in random directions, cars were exploding and being flipped over, airships in the sky were dropping bombs everywhere that emitted colorful smoke upon detonation, and the sound of death filled the air as… oh no, not those damn things again.

The Exterminators were back.

Aiden looked around as he watched demons being chased and eventually slaughtered by those giant dark angel-looking beings, the same beings that nearly took him out when he first arrived in Hell. He felt his anxiety starting to come back but he pushed forward, looking around for any kind of getaway vehicle. He was not going out like this.

A loud screeching noise prompted Aiden to run in the first direction he saw, turning his head around as he watched an Exterminator give chase, its face turning from white to red as it noticed the vigilante.

Shit, not good.

Niffty moaned again as Aiden rushed down a side street, giving her a small reassuring squeeze as he ran. The Exterminator didn’t give up, continuing to hound the vigilante as he bobbed and weaved between buildings and streets. The vigilante eventually found himself running back onto main roads as he started passing drug stores and weapon shops. The Exterminator, still hot on his tail, gave a horrifying distorted yell as it drew a spear and threw it, narrowly missing Aiden’s leg by a few inches. The Fox banked a right, nearly getting flattened by a car that rushed by in a panic as he sprinted his way across the street. He was starting to feel winded, but he couldn’t stop now.

As angry as he was with Niffty for putting herself in danger by following him, he couldn’t help but also feel a twinge of admiration for the little one. She’s got guts, there’s no denying that, and she put it all on the line for him. He knew he liked her for a reason.

He continued running down the sidewalk until he found a side alley, which he turned sharply into. He quickly laid Niffty down on the ground out of view of any passersby as he hid behind a dumpster. The Exterminator bolted into the alley a few seconds later, running right by both Aiden and Niffty as it continued its frenzied search for more victims. Slowly exhaling, the vigilante sat down and leaned against the brick wall, struggling to get his breath back. The crazy heat was not doing him any favors.

He listened to the sound of distant explosions and screaming. It sounded like a warzone out there. No doubt this was one of Hell’s periodical exterminations, which was going to make getting back to the hotel even more difficult. Thankfully, he had technology. He pulled out the Profiler and traced Baxter’s location, hoping against hope that he was still in the hotel.

“Signal found. 1.5 miles to target.”

Perfect. The GPS works now. He studied the route back to the hotel, reviewing it over and over until he could recite at least the first half of it to himself on the fly, which was rather difficult because the chaos around him made it challenging to concentrate.

“Alright, I’ve got it. Time to move, Niffty.” He walked over to the injured demon, who was breathing in heaving sighs. “Niffty?” Aiden slowly slid his hands under her back, lifting her up as gently as he could. He could feel body jerk around as she breathed in, her eye now wide open but leaking with tears. “Niffty…” Aiden looked at her, unsure of what to say. He wanted to both reprimand her and hug her… intensely.

“I’m sorry… Mr. Aiden….” was all she could utter.

“No, stay awake. Don’t fall asleep.” He started jogging again, knowing he had a lot of ground to cover to get to safety. “Stay with me, Niffty. You’re gonna make it.” As he reached the end of the alley, a red Corvette with black racing stripes came to a screeching halt right in front of him. He stopped walking and watched as the window rolled down and a blonde demon with pinkish white accents and one eye poked her head out, grinning wildly at the vigilante as she draped a purple satin-gloved arm over the car door. By Aiden’s estimation, she seemed considerably younger than the rest of the demons he had previously encountered.

“You Aiden Pearce?” she asked, her yellow X for a pupil locked onto Aiden like a crosshair. Why can’t anybody have normal looking eyes around here? Was she Niffty’s estranged daughter or something?

“What’s it to ya?” asked Aiden, instantly suspicious.

“I got a call from your buddy Angel Dust, said you might need some help, but…” Her smile quickly disappeared as she looked the moaning Niffty in the vigilante’s hands. “Um, I only got room for one of ya.”

Gotta love fancy cars. Clearly designed for people who want a partner in crime and absolutely no children. To be fair, this lady gave off that impression, anyway; a real wild child.

“Take her back to the hotel,” ordered Aiden, quickly running around to the other side of the car, carefully positioning Niffty in the passenger seat after the girl opened the door.

“Whatever you say, cap’n. Toodles!” With that, the car peeled off into the distance, leaving a cloud of dust and smoke behind as another demon almost ended up in the Corvette’s grill. No time to waste. The vigilante really needed to get back to the hotel.

He spent the next five minutes or so jogging down the path he memorized earlier, trying his best to stay out of the wide-open city and sticking to alleyways and side streets. Every corner The Fox went around showed him atrocious acts of violence as Exterminators brutally extinguished the lives of demons one by one almost methodically before going back to running and/or gliding around the city, seeking their next prey. Stabbings, beheadings, dismemberments, guttings… there was no limit on what these creatures were seemingly willing to do.

Wait, was that demon being EATEN? These things are fucking crazy.

The vigilante felt himself growing tired as he continued his journey. Although he was getting further and further away from the insanity, he still didn’t feel safe at all. He still spotted the occasional Exterminator around some corners and demon corpses around others. At last, his heart leapt in excitement as the hotel’s bright lights came into view. He was almost there. It was just a straight shot from here.He started sprinting as he saw the hotel getting bigger and bigger. He guessed he was a couple hundred yards away and counting.

That’s when disaster struck.

The vigilante felt himself suddenly airborne, sharp claws dug into his back as a soul-shattering scream invaded his left ear. He quickly turned to see that his worst fear was confirmed: an Exterminator, probably the same one from before, had gotten ahold of him and was attempting to fly off. Aiden felt his blood start to pump hard again as time slowed to a crawl once more.

No more running. This thing was going to fucking die tonight.

He swung a fist upward, somehow managing to hit the Exterminator right in the face, which turned out to be a terrible decision as immense pain coursed through Aiden’s entire arm as he realized he used his mirror-smashing hand.

Ouch.

On the plus side, the Exterminator was caught off guard by the blow, causing it sink in altitude and loosen its grip a bit. The impact of the punch felt solid instead of fleshy; it felt more like trying to punch a computer screen instead of someone’s actual face. Aiden cleared that thought from his mind as he attempted another swing with his good hand but missed entirely, causing him to further slip out of the Exterminator’s grip as it tried to soar up again. He had to get out of the creature’s grasp before they got too high up.

Time was beginning to run out.

In a desperate act, he pulled out his pistol and fired a bullet nearly point-blank into the creature’s chest, causing it to howl in pain and finally let go of The Fox, who took a roughly 15 foot drop onto a patch of dead grass as he rolled to a stop about half a mile or so (by his prediction) behind the hotel. He now found himself in a wide-open field, noticing how barren Hell looked beyond the Happy Hotel’s grounds. It was a whole bunch of nothing except for dead grass and uncomfortably silent air with the rare chilling breeze sailing through under an ominous maroon sky.

At least the Exterminator was gone now.

Wait, no it wasn’t.

The vigilante braced himself as a long and distorted screech got closer and closer. He quickly turned around, having just enough time to pull out his baton and sidestep the dive-bombing Exterminator, turning the freeze ability on and swinging with every ounce of strength he had left, bashing the Exterminator’s wings as it passed by and encasing them in a solid layer of ice. The creature, now unable to control its landing, managed to gain a small amount of height before nosediving to the ground, its face grinding against the scorched earth from the heavy momentum of the dive. The Exterminator finally came to a stop, not moving an inch as the vigilante kept a close eye on the being, waiting for it to pop back up again. He slowly counted to ten, hand on his pistol and ready to draw, but the creature remained face down in the dirt, not making a sound.

“Fuck me,” Aiden muttered to himself, now realizing how dire his situation was now that he had had time to actually stop and think about it. It was all he could manage to say before he heard an odd grunting sound.

Son of a bitch, the Exterminator was getting back up again. He was going to fix that right now.

He pulled out his handgun, keeping his sight trained on the creature as it slowly got up and turned around, showcasing that slasher smile that Aiden had grown to absolutely despise. It wouldn’t be smiling for long.

As soon as he saw the creature’s face turn red, the vigilante emptied the entire clip into the Exterminator, making sure to vary his shots between chest shots and head shots, hoping at least one of them would kill it. The creature stumbled back quite a bit from the bullets, but ultimately shook it off as the creepy smile returned. Aiden felt a horrible feeling of helplessness as he stared at the angel-like demon, his gun doing nothing more than making that useless clicking sound as the Exterminator positioned itself for a ground attack. If all of that didn’t work, how the hell was he going to kill this thing? The way he saw it, The Fox only had two choices: fight this thing to the death or try and make a break for the hotel. Seeing as how he knew he couldn’t outrun them anymore, his only choice was to fight.

At least he was gonna go down swinging.

The demon did not hesitate before drawing a spear and charging at Aiden with another bloodcurdling scream, twitching unnaturally as it ran. He didn’t exactly know why, but the vigilante ran towards the creature himself, switching his baton to burning mode and winding up for a swing.

This was insane. He was going to get himself killed doing this!

The Exterminator took a couple of reckless swings at The Fox with its spear, leaving itself open for a counterattack to the neck with the white-hot baton. The creature roared in anguish as the baton left a gruesome mark where it had struck the Exterminator’s neck with extreme force. This did not deter the being, however, as it managed to swat away Aiden’s baton with the spear before putting it away and instead tackled him to the ground, claws now digging into his chest and through his zip-neck sweater. This thing seemed to be unstoppable, he had targeted every single part he could think of, except… that’s it.

That’s gotta be it.

Aiden struggled with the beast some more as he strained to keep the Exterminator’s claws away from his own body. His adrenaline, finally, kicked into fifth gear as Aiden found his second wind, fully pushing the creature off him and diving for the baton, which was still piping hot. The Exterminator once again charged at Aiden, but he was ready. He grabbed the creature by the neck, instantly killing any momentum it had and started wailing on the white halo just above its head, his eyes once again turning a deep red as he mercilessly hit the halo.

WHACK! BANG!

The halo made a ringing metallic sound as it collided with the vigilante’s baton, causing the Exterminator to tense up and suddenly claw ferociously at Aiden’s face. It REALLY took offense to that.

BANG! SMASH!

There it was.

The baton finally broke the halo, causing it to disappear and the Exterminator to yell as loud as it possibly could, slowly sizzling and smoking as it rolled around on the ground helplessly as if it were on fire, slowly starting to self-destruct. Its body lit up, glowing brighter and brighter until a gigantic boom sent the vigilante flying backwards as the pile of glowing mass disappeared into the crimson sky, the strained screaming tapering off into the distance.

Aiden’s eyes returned to their usual shade of piercing green as he got back to his feet and looked around him, suddenly noticing that a small crowd had gathered to his left.

Shit. They must have seen the whole thing.

Demons of all different shapes and sizes just stared at Aiden, their expressions difficult to decipher. The vigilante couldn’t tell if they were all amazed or mortified. Regardless, this was just what the vigilante didn’t need: a reputation. If he kept the spotlight on himself like this, it was going to become impossible to stay in the hotel, let alone chase Alastor. This was going to draw SO much heat on him if anyone figured out he just killed a damn Exterminator and broke Katie Killjoy’s unusually long neck. He bolted away from the crowd with the little bit of second wind he had left, not bothering to try and hear any of their frantic whispers to each other. He was just thankful that he had kept his mask up the whole time; nobody outside the hotel needed to know what he really looked like.

Despite it being his only current safe haven, The Fox was dreading the moment he knocked on the hotel's doors. He thought about making up a story for Charlie, but at this rate, there was a decent chance that they all knew what he was up to. He knew that the big red menace was probably the one who would tip them off to his whereabouts. As for Niffty, he was still puzzled as to how she found out about his little stint with the news and also why she had come to save him. How did she know what was going on? Did Baxter tell her? Is she okay? Did she hate him after all of this? There were so many questions floating around in Aiden's head and he was much too exhausted to deal with it, so he eventually settled on waiting to see who answered the door and getting a read on them before deciding whether to try and cover his tracks or not. After much labored traveling, he finally made it back under the overhang of the Happy Hotel, stumbling his way up to the giant metal doors of the front entrance, pounding on the door with his good hand a few times.

He was praying that Charlie would be the one to answer the door.

Chapter Text

“Aiden!!!!”

Thank GOD… it was Charlie. The vigilante had never been so happy to see her before until now. She quickly wrapped The Fox in a hug, squeezing him as hard as she possibly could as if she were trying to hide from the distant booms of gunfire and bombs in the distance. “I thought you were DEAD!”

“I am. I’m just his ghost coming to visit you.”

The princess stared at Aiden, clearly not amused. Suddenly sprouting horns and fiery eyes, she clenched both fists with an unholy rage as she put her face uncomfortably close to Aiden, who could feel what could only be described as an open flame right next to him. He could feel puffs of rage coming from Charlie’s nose, nearly touching his own nose as the two stared at each other.

“You think this is FUNNY?? I just heard that you went off to 666 News for reasons unknown! On top of that, an unplanned extermination went underway and somehow… SOMEHOW Niffty got involved! Now she’s in my infirmary with a GUNSHOT wound to the SHOULDER! HOW DID THAT HAPPEN? WHY DID YOU SECRETLY GO TO THE NEWS STATION, AIDEN?? DID IT EVEN CROSS YOUR MIND THAT THE HOTEL MAY BE AT RISK IF THEY KNOW YOU’RE HERE?? YOU COULD HAVE ASKED ME FIRST!” Her breathing sped up as her voice grew more and more demonic. “You had me worried…FUCKING…SICK!!!!” The next thing Aiden knew, he was on the ground, jaw searing with pain. The demon princess stood right where she was, right hand in the air still clenched in a fist, a look of disbelief spreading over her mime-like face. The vigilante couldn’t believe it.

Charlie just punched him… and with enough force to knock him out for a couple seconds. Even worse, the vigilante suspected that that was a minimal effort hook; he didn’t want to be on the receiving end of a haymaker.

He slowly rose to his feet and drew the baton, adrenaline once again rushing through his veins as he took slow and methodical steps towards her.

“Aiden… I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to!” Charlie started to plead, her normal features and voice returning as she walked backwards leaning against the large metal door. “That was totally wrong of me! I’m REALLY sorry!” Aiden didn’t say anything, only continuing his slow march towards the now cowering Charlie, who was shielding her face with her hands and trembling. “Please don’t do it. I was wrong! Very wrong! Don’t hurt me!” The vigilante continued his slow steps until he was in striking distance, ceasing his walking altogether and swinging back as far as he could go.

He froze in position as the princess started to bawl, trembling violently. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” Charlie continued crying, only able to repeat those two words over and over in an anguished and strained loop. Aiden simply stared at her for a few seconds before finally deciding to put away the baton and enter the hotel, gently nudging the princess aside as he did so.

“You broke the Contract, Charlie.”

The Fox briskly walked back to the elevators, not even bothering to look back at the still sobbing demon as the doors slid open. He just wanted to get the hell out of there before Vaggie showed up.
***********************************************************************************************************
A few hours had passed since the vigilante’s return to the hotel. He sat on the edge of the fountain in his room, gently splashing the ice cold water onto his face as his mind swarmed furiously with his own thoughts. He was mindlessly listening to the TV as 666 News came on for the evening news.

“Good afternoon, I’m Tom Trench!”

“And I’m… Katie Killjoy...”

What the hell was he doing? He promised Charlie that he was going to clean up his act and turn his life around! And what has he accomplished so far? Giving Charlie and Vaggie huge emotional migraines, kicking the hornet’s nest known as 666 News, and nearly getting Niffty wiped out of existence forever. Who knows who he going to anger by killing that Exterminator.
And all of this for what? To go after the elusive Radio Demon?

Pathetic.

“And now, for our top story- “

“Fuck that. I have an offer for every single fucking sinner out there!”

“Uh…”

“That fucking asshole gave me a black eye, broke my FUCKING neck, was a GOD DAMN no show, and HACKED MY MOTHERFUCKING SERVERS!” Katie exclaimed, slamming the news desk with both fists, absolutely steaming.

“Heh heh… he got ya good!” Katie proceeded to bash Tom with a furious uppercut, sending him completely out of his chair and off-screen.

The Fox knew he needed to let Alastor go, but he just couldn’t dismiss the gnawing feeling in his gut. Was that mysterious woman at Sinnerz and the news building Alastor’s eyes and ears when he was off hotel property? Was Alastor watching him right now?

No… it didn’t matter. He needed to stop this madness before he dug himself into too deep a hole. He felt his insides clench in a burst of sadness as the image of his sister and nephew holding his nearly lifeless hand in the hospital came screaming back into his mind. As much as he hated to admit it, Jordi was completely right back they were working together in Chicago; he was too sentimental and one day someone WAS going to use it against him again. If someone like Damien could do it, what was stopping someone triply as dangerous, say Alastor, from not only doing it again but also twice as badly?

“Listen up, motherfuckers!” began Katie, staring directly at the camera and pointing an enraged index finger at it. “I’m offering a ten million dollar bounty to bring that dickhead Aiden Pearce in to me, DEAD OR ALIVE!” Aiden's blood surged in a sudden flash of anger.

How the hell did she survive that? Fuck!

The Fox threw Katie onto the list of people currently pissed at him. He’d get back to her later, and with a vengeance.

As for Alastor… he just knew that bid red bastard was up to something, he just HAD to be. Why else would he constantly be keeping tabs on him?
But even Alastor couldn’t be blamed for anything The Fox did himself, and he knew it.

Since he couldn’t take any action now, Aiden decided to engage in the other activity he did best: discreet recon. He pulled out the Profiler, shutting off the television and tapping the phone’s screen as different command prompts popped up. Within minutes, he was tapped into the Happy Hotel’s WiFi, not surprisingly called “HAPPYHAPPYHAPPY!”.

It was obvious who came up with THAT network name.

As he entered the camera feeds, the vigilante observed right away that all the yellow-eyed “cameras” linked to a specific room. He decided to start in Charlie’s office. It took a few seconds for the feed to load, but once it did, the vigilante was greeted with the sight of a hysterical Charlie sobbing into Vaggie’s shoulder, the moth’s eyes closed as she lovingly rubbing the princess’ back as her weeping slowly but surely lost momentum, quieting down to a saccharine whimper. It was a strange sight for Aiden; it was the first time he had ever laid eyes on Vaggie not angry or cross. She almost seemed human the way she soothed her partner, cradling Charlie’s head as if it were a newborn child while humming a sweet and pleasant tune into her ear.

A flicker of admiration lit up in the vigilante as he watched a completely new side of the normally grumpy demon blossom in spectacular fashion. If only she was like this towards everyone else, she could possibly run the hotel better than Charlie.

Wait, did he REALLY just think that?

Moving on, the vigilante slowly went through the cameras in each room, taking a few moments to stare in amazement at the uniqueness and distinction each room had once again. Eventually, he reached Angel’s room as he reached the fourth column of cameras on the grid. Much to the vigilante’s surprise, the spider demon was still sitting on his bed, a thousand-yard stare locked onto the very picture Aiden had thrown at him just the night before. It was that female spider that was related to him, the vigilante guessed. She was lovely, having big playful eyes that were… actually normal. The Fox squinted at the picture just to be sure.

Yep. Two big, normal eyes.

A more concerning thought struck the vigilante, however: had Angel moved from that spot at all since he had been the victim of Aiden’s white-hot temper? He wasn’t exactly sure if demons needed to eat or stay hydrated, but surely it didn’t feel good to stay in the same position for that long, demon or not.

He’ll check in with him later.

The Fox continued looking through the different camera feeds, at one point passing Husk drinking by himself behind the bar in the main lobby. Did the cat ever leave that spot?
Reaching the basement, Aiden took a peek at Baxter, who looked up at his security camera after hearing a sharp beep from his “signal summoner”. He smirked and waved, causing Aiden to chuckle a bit before noticing something strange. There was an entire row of cameras on the grid labeled “Sub Basement”, but they were all greyed out and inaccessible. Just for grins, the vigilante selected one, causing a dialog box to appear on the screen of the Profiler.

“Enter password.”

Aiden attempted to bypass it but to no avail. Clearly, someone didn’t want these rooms viewed under any circumstances. Now that he thought about it, The Fox never recalled seeing any extra stairs or doors that could possibly hint at a sub-basement. He made a mental note to call Baxter about that later. His curiously was completely piqued. This was about to get interesting.

Exiting the hotel’s camera feeds, The Fox decided to rummage briefly through the juicy information Katie’s servers may or may not have. He began scrolling through file after file, searching for anything that may give him some answers. After finally realizing just how big Hell was, he decided to start using names he knew, starting with Angel Dust. He tapped on his profile and the Profiler told the vigilante the story:

“Angel Dust
Died: 1947
Cause of Death: Overdose
Status: Still in existence
Has Mafia ties.
Very much gay.
Occupation: world’s oldest profession.
Relatives: Molly
See also: Cherri Bomb”

Bingo.

Upon pulling up her profile, Aiden’s suspicions were confirmed: this Molly character was indeed the spider’s sister. There was no denying the similarities between them. He even found a picture of the two spiders hugging each other tightly, smiling as if they had just won the lottery. Aiden felt his insides tie up in knots again as he stared at the picture. He suddenly remembered how much he missed his own sister, Nicky. The sound of her quiet crying filled his ears again. Managing to shake it off, he observed something that else that stuck out like a sore thumb.

“Status: Missing”

Ouch.

Perhaps in hindsight, that threat he made towards Angel struck a nerve, even if it was deserved. Hey, that rhymed.

Next, the vigilante pulled up Cherri Bomb’s profile and smirked. It was the same girl who rescued Niffty during the extermination. Now able to see her more clearly, The Fox studied her: flowing blonde hair with pinkish white accents and wrapped up in a messy ponytail, extremely pale white skin, loads of mascara, and of course, her single eye with a bright yellow X for a pupil, a burning ferocity seemingly behind it. She donned an off-shoulder red crop top with torn up black leggings with mismatching shoes; a red boot with white stripes on her left foot and a red sock on her right. Her left arm had a dark purple satin glove while her right arm sported a complete tattoo sleeve, holding a little red bomb. Everything about her screamed rebel, a fighter with an inextinguishable spirit and could kill most people in 50 different ways. No wonder she was tied up with Angel.

Under normal circumstances, Aiden would never trust a wildcard like Cherri, but considering her actions down in Pentagram City, he decided he would be willing to give her a chance if their paths ever crossed again.

Maybe.

As he went back to the main menu and laid eyes on Alastor’s file, he was interrupted by a light knocking at his door, causing Aiden to jump and quickly shut off the Profiler as the short flapper demon entered his room, a shy smile on her face as she looked around before finally settling her gaze on The Fox.

“Aiden, right? Gosh, I’m sorry! Didn’t mean to catch you by surprise there!” She quickly walked in and shook his hand with a dainty grip but firm shake. “My name’s Mimzy! It’s great to finally meet you!”

“Thanks.” Her high-pitched voice took some getting used to. The vigilante didn’t often encounter people whose register was higher than Niffty’s.

“Yes, of course! Anyway, Charlie wants to see you when you’re free! We’re doing a community service project next week and we’re gonna find out who our partners are!”

Really? Community service? In Hell? With PARTNERS? What the hell was Charlie thinking with this stupid idea? What was this, high school??

“Okay.”

“Great! See you later, dearie!” Mimzy scurried out of Aiden’s room as he heaved a heavy sigh. He didn’t have anything better to do but he did want to make a quick detour first. Firing up the GPS, Aiden made his way to down to the infirmary, which turned out to be located on the first floor of the hotel right across from the pool just past Charlie’s office.

He poked his head in, taking a quick look around the worn room before noticing the little demon quietly snoozing on the bed she was assigned to. She was attached to a couple of tubes with a water bag on top that slowly drained as the minutes crept by. The vigilante took a moment to look at the tragedy before him; although he didn’t know how or why, he still felt deeply responsible for everything that happened to her.

She didn’t deserve this.

The Fox slowly walked up to the bed, pulling up an old folding chair and taking a seat beside Niffty, continuing to watch her steady rhythm of breathing as she dreamt away the time, slowly creeping by for the vigilante. He never thought in his entire existence that he would ever feel so terrible about putting a demon in danger, but here he was, on the verge of tears. He debated waking her up to ask her what her motivation was for sticking her neck out for him like that but decided against it. She needed to rest.

He instead opted to simply pull up his mask and silently weep, slowly sheltering her hand in his, squeezing gently with each inaudible sob that oozed out of him. At least the injury didn’t look too serious.
The soft sound of approaching footsteps instantly gave Aiden pause as he froze in place, not wanting to turn around and see who it was.

“How sweet.”

The vigilante felt a firm hand on his shoulder, each finger longer than normal, almost like a claw. It was him.

“Showing support for our staff in their times of need. Quite the admirable gesture, Mr. Pearce!” The vigilante felt his blood start to boil.

One dodgy move and this fucker was going down.

“It’s such a relief that she’s going to come through this just fine…,” Alastor started, slowly walking to Aiden’s other side without removing his gloved hand from the The Fox’s shoulder. “I think it would be in both of our best interests if it stayed that way." Aiden slowly turned to look at the Radio Demon, who was grinning almost wider than usual.

This smug asshole was really asking for it now.

“Yeah? What’s that supposed to mean?” challenged Aiden, rising to his full height and standing toe to toe with the towering red demon. He felt his heart start jackhammering as time started to slow down once more. Alastor chuckled for a moment, his features darkening as his voice became lower and distorted.

“I know what you’ve been up to, my sneaky little cockroach. You’ve been doing some digging, haven’t you? I suggest you don’t go any further. Be careful where you tread, lest someone ends up dead.” Aiden slowly reached into his coat.

“You don’t scare me, Alastor.”

The Radio Demon burst into a hearty laugh as he summoned his microphone staff and casually strutted by Aiden, making his way towards the main lobby again. “Bravado does not a wise man make, Mr. Pearce. Consider yourself warned.”

“Likewise.”

Aiden waited for the menacing laughter to trail off before catching his breath again. That demon just spared his own life.

No time to dwell on it now, The Fox had a meeting to attend.
*************************************************************************************************
The phone rang as a long slender-armed woman picked up the receiver.

“Talk to me.”

“I’m here to cash in on the bounty.”

An evil smile spread across the woman’s face.

“Excellent. Bring me his head on a pike and you’ll get the full ten million in cash. Call me back when the job is done. Get crackin’, sweetheart.”

“Yeah, yeah. I got it.”

She hung up the phone and sighed contentedly, taking a sip of her black coffee and singing cheerily.

“A spoonful of money helps the vigilante go down!”

Chapter Text

“H-hey Aiden. Have a seat…” came the princess’ sweet voice as the meaningless chatter between the other demons ceased. Charlie wiped her red and puffy eyes as she took a seat, unable to make eye contact with the Fox.

Aiden slowly walked into Charlie’s office, looking around at the other demons who were all seated in a semicircular pattern around Charlie’s large desk. Every one of them eyeballed the vigilante blankly, piercing his courage as he took the chair on the end next to Baxter. The anglerfish smiled awkwardly in acknowledgement to which Aiden responded with a simple nod. Upon sitting down, the vigilante also noticed Alastor once again standing in the corner of the office, smiling a silent but menacing grin as always. Aiden felt his blood surge for a split second as the two made eye contact. He couldn’t wait to wipe that awful expression off that fucker’s face.

At least it was Baxter on the end. Sitting next to anyone else would have been terribly uncomfortable.

“Alright, guys,” Charlie started. “As you all know, today is community project day. You will each get a partner and will have a task to complete. You MUST work together. If I hear about anybody not doing their fair share of helping, you’ll be banned from the bar for a week.” This elicited a groan from everyone except Baxter and Aiden, who both chuckled to themselves.

“Can we at least pick our partners?” asked Husk.

“No,” replied Charlie flatly, waving him off with her hand. “I have already chosen your partners for you.” This elicited another groan from the demons, this time twice as audible as the first. Vaggie, who was standing next to Charlie, opened her mouth to respond to this.

“Listen, all of you! You’re here to GET BETTER! You all signed the damn Contract, which states that you are ALL going to PARTICIPATE in the program. This is part of it, so SUCK IT UP AND DO WHAT YOU’RE FUCKING TOLD WITHOUT COMPLAINING FOR ONCE!” Vaggie stood there with her mouth open, slowly turning in shock to face Charlie, who was surrounded by fire with her horns protruding at full length, her eyes a deep red with fury. “Now shut your mouths and LISTEN!” Upon uttering the last word, her voice became extremely demonic, taking everyone else except the vigilante by surprise as she slammed her desk with both fists, sending her pencil sharpener tumbling to the floor and shattering upon impact.

A pregnant pause filled the air as Charlie took a slow and deep breath, her normal appearance returning once more as the fire surrounding her dissipated. She smiled, although she wasn’t fooling anybody: it was forced. Vaggie was still staring at Charlie with her mouth open. “Alright, Husk and Mimzy! You two are going to be on trash duty. Walk along the streets of Pentagram City and pick up any garbage you find. Those streets need to be actually passable without wrecking car tires, okay?”

“Fuck me,” huffed Husk, leaning back in his chair a bit before almost losing balance and crashing back down on all fours. “There’s needles and shit everywhere!”

“Watch your step, then!” replied Charlie, her cheerful voice starting to return. “Okay, Baxter and… Vaggie? Wow!”

Baxter’s expression quickly changed from mild amusement to horror. “She’s gonna fucking murder me…” he violently whispered to himself, covering his face with both hands and trembling slightly.

“You two are going to be caring for the sick on an eight hour shift down at Brimstone Central Hospital. No medical experience needed, you’re just there to help the nurses and clean up the bodily fluids!”

“YUCK!” the anglerfish suddenly yelled, quickly covering up his mouth in embarrassment. “I mean, heh… okay… EW!” The Fox started to tense up; it was down to the last few residents and only one was a bearable option since Niffty was still out of action.

If he ended up with Alastor, it wasn’t going to end well.

“Alastor and I are going to perform in the streets to raise some money for charity, so- “

“What exactly are ya performing in the street?” piped up Angel Dust, a sly grin creeping across his face.

“Can it, spider whore,” commanded Vaggie, glaring daggers at the now snickering Angel.

“ANYway…” started Charlie again, regaining control of the conversation. “That leaves Angel and Aiden!” The vigilante’s heart dropped into his stomach.

Great. He was now stuck doing a largely pointless task with an angry spider demon who could hold at least twice as many weapons as him at any given time. What could possibly go wrong?

“You two will be delivering special care packages put together by yours truly! These are demons who have reached out anonymously to the hotel who are considering coming here to redeem themselves at some point. It’s your job to ensure these introductory packages reach these potential customers.” Angel shot a quick glance at Aiden, turning his nose up and folding all four of his visible arms in defiance.

“No.”

“No?”

“I ain’t workin’ with that abusive mothafucka. That prick can do it himself.”

“The Contract, Angel…”

“No. Put me with someone else.” Vaggie stormed up to the spider and put her face right up close to Angel’s as Aiden simply stared at the two demons.

“Get the fuck over it. Charlie is the boss, fuckface, and if she says you’re working with Aiden, you’re gonna cooperate with Aiden. That’s the bottom line.”

“Go fuck yaself!”

“You are such a little shit!” Charlie gently laid her hands on the moth’s shoulders as Vaggie clenched both of her hands in fists. She huffed in annoyance as she turned to look at her lover, their eyes locking for a few seconds as Charlie slowly gave her a reassuring smile and nodded. Vaggie sighed, slowly unclenching her fists and giving a small smile back to Charlie as she headed back to her seat. The vigilante, although not hugely interested in romance, once again found himself enamored by how the princess and the moth interacted with each other. It seemed that when it came to comforting each other, both demons knew exactly how to approach their partner to calm each other down. It struck Aiden as strange, but at the same time… beautiful?

Something like that.

For a moment, a mere second, the Fox felt a twinge of loneliness ripple through him. Some strange feelings were starting to bubble up within him, feelings that he never wanted to admit to himself back during his bloodbath in the windy city. Watching Charlie and Vaggie coaxed out a painful truth that Aiden wasn’t quite ready to accept but was about to smack him right in the face whether he wanted it or not.

He was lonely. And it was starting to catch up to him.

Before he could examine his new torturous realization any further, Charlie walked up to Angel, extending an understanding hand out to the stubborn spider.

“Come on, Angel. You know it has to be done.”

“No, it doesn’t. Fuck him.”

“Angel- “

“For the last time, NO! I’m not gonna work with him!”

“Okay, but you’re gonna be banned from the bar for seven whole days.” This gave Angel pause.

“Fine. I can not drink for a week. It’ll be worth it to stay away from that fuckin’ lunatic.”

The Fox gradually found himself feeling more and more anxious as the conversation went on.

“Angel, I don’t want to have to do this, but I’m not afraid to give you a permanent ban if you keep this up.” Angel’s eyes widened. After going through a handful of rather strange facial expressions, Angel threw up his arms in defeat.

“FUCK!” He opened his mouth in an attempt to argue with the princess, but instead chose to look down and away from the Charlie and everyone else, who were staring at him intently, awaiting his answer. He knew he was cornered. His response was quiet but firm.

“Okay… I’ll do it.” Charlie grinned and patted his shoulder comfortingly.

Aiden was starting to get very distressed at this point. He managed to keep his stony expression and stillness under control on the outside but on the inside, he was suffering his own personal hell, a hell that came in the form of a painful epiphany.

“Good! I know you don’t want to, Angel, but we all have to pay our dues here, as do you. Don’t look at this as a punishment, but rather a lesson. Don’t just do it because I’m asking you to, do it for you, your redemption.” Angel slowly unfolded his arms and finally made eye contact with the princess, sighing deeply.

“I know, Char. I just… I just don’t wanna. But if that’s what it takes to get me back on the right track, I guess I gotta.”

“I’m so proud of you, Angel. Keep going. We’re all on a better road now.”

At this point, Aiden couldn’t take it anymore. This was simply too much.

“Shit… SHIT!” the vigilante shouted, holding his head in anguish and kicking his chair across the room, surprising even himself with his own strength. He stormed out of the room, this new feeling that was now absolutely consuming him showing now signs of relenting. Was it shame? Guilt? Stress? Being overwhelmed? All of the above? He was too distraught to really figure it out. All he knew was he needed to be alone and somehow get his head back on straight. He stumbled his way through the long and winding hallways as a feeling of dizziness and nausea crept over him. After what felt like an eternity of navigating hallways and tall flights of stairs, the vigilante found himself in a brand new area he never imagined would have existed in the Happy Hotel: a courtyard. Not only that, it was quite a beautiful outdoor courtyard with a serene garden, beautifully manicured bushes and other floral masterpieces standing tall and proud, with a single square-shaped fountain in the center, sprinkling the bluest water Aiden had ever laid eyes on. Almost right away, the vigilante felt as though he could breathe again as he continued to stumble to the black fence surrounding the fountain, collapsing against it as he tried to stabilize his breathing to a manageable pace again. His heart rate slowed back down as he took hungry, deep breaths of the new fresh air he was now filling his lungs with.
It was nothing short of surreal.

As he let the newfound feeling of tranquility overtake him for that very sweet moment, Aiden carefully got back on his feet and made his way over to a nearby bench, also black in color, sitting down and staring at the magnificent fountain before him. There was just something mesmerizing about the almost electric blue water shooting out in fantastic patterns from the exquisite stone base of the fountain which, along with the rest of the greens and purples of the garden itself, was a refreshing change of pace from the harsh reds and yellows present throughout the rest of the underworld. The vigilante, having never been taken so aback by the beauty of anything before, was so entranced by the garden that, just for a moment, he was able to completely forget about what was just ailing him moments before.

That was, until the moment of bliss wore off and everything came back to him, running over his weary spirit like a runaway freight train. The guilt, the anxiety… it was all coming back to kick the vigilante deep into the dirt of his despair. He felt himself ready to cry again for the third time since his arrival in this awful realm, his entire situation overwhelming him completely. Despite the terror and panic that was now running through his veins, the Fox could only manage to continue looking at the fountain, hoping against hope that somehow, someway that fountain could bring him back to that inner peace he had just been robbed of.

No. This was not the time to run away from his fears. He needed to reflect, truly reflect, and take accountability for where he was right now. This was starting to turn into a repeat of Chicago. The vigilante once again found himself getting in way over his head, no matter how much he wanted to suppress the thought.

It was bad enough he found himself here in Hell, it was even worse that he was now feeling himself slowly becoming ostracized from the other demons. He felt like such a failure, he didn’t even deserve a chance at redemption. He had broken numerous promises to both himself and Charlie that he would give up his vigilante ways, but for some reason he just couldn’t. That didn’t even include everything else, like the Alastor situation, the mysterious woman who kept following him, Niffty’s condition, and Katie Killjoy’s fresh bounty that was now resting comfortably atop his hardened head, not to mention Damien (that son of a bitch) skulking around with intentions that were almost as mysterious as Alastor’s goals. All of these things had one common denominator: The Fox.
Aiden felt his heartbeat quicken and his chest tighten as the intense anxiety looped around for another pass, tears filling his eyes. He was so unbelievably fucked. What if Charlie found out what really happened at 666 News? What if Alastor really does know everything about him? What if he dies in that hospital bed and gets stranded in Hell forever? What if someone cashes in on that bounty and takes his stupid ass out? What if-

“Mister Aiden?”

Oh no. This was it. Niffty was going to figure out how vulnerable he really was.

Aiden didn’t even bother looking backwards as the pitter patter of Niffty’s little feet could be heard on the flat stone path leading to the fountain. They were slow, but steady. It sounded to the vigilante that she was quickly improving, much to his relief.

“Mister Aiden!” Her worried frown quickly turned into a gleeful smile as she enthusiastically limped towards the Fox and sat down next to him. Aiden looked away as he quickly wiped the tears from his eyes, unable to bring himself to look at the little demon’s single eye, which was studying him up and down rapidly.

“Oh, I’m so happy to see you! You practically saved my life! I can’t believe you carried me all the way back to the hotel. ALL…THE…WAY! You just never stop moving, you just keep going and going and going and going! Like, wow! I don’t know how you do it! You must be a superhero or something! But then, why would you be here in Hell? That doesn’t make any sense at all! Then again, does anything truly make sense? What a confusing world we exist in, huh? I felt the same way back when I was- “ She suddenly halted her lightning fast rambling and excited feet wiggling as she took a closer look at Aiden, who had turned his head back to staring at the fountain, not a single part of his body moving as if he were made of stone. “Mister Aiden, are… are you crying?” Aiden responded with deafening silence. Not because he wanted to, but because he simply didn’t know what to say.

One part of him wanted to freeze out Niffty entirely: he still wasn’t sure if she could really be trusted (she was a demon, after all) and frankly, his misery wasn’t her business, anyhow. She needed to learn to mind her own damn business, she almost fucking died, for crying out loud!

The other part wanted to completely open up to the pint-sized demon: when it really came down to it, she was the only one the vigilante really felt comfortable, or even… safe with. Safe?

Yes, safe.

Perhaps she really could be trusted. No other demon was going to put in the effort to somehow figure out where he had snuck off to and put their own life on the line to take a shotgun blast from “Hell’s finest”. Who else had ever done that? Nobody. Not Jordi, not Clara (God rest her soul), not T-Bone, not Charlie… just little Niffty, the very woman sitting beside him as she probably was violating her healing regimen just to be with him.

“Aiden don’t shut me out. You look horrible, like someone killed your dog and then burned your house down. What’s going on?” The vigilante continued to stare at the fountain, not saying anything. He still couldn’t figure out if it was because he just didn’t have the energy or because he was uncertain… no, he was scared to reveal anything. It was never in his nature back on Earth and it wasn’t about to change now.

But she’s different. Just tell her.

The anxiety started to spike again as the Fox’s face paled, finally moving as he covered his face with his hands and hunching over a bit on the bench.

“Aiden! I know you can hear me! Why did you go to 666 News? Don’t do this, you may fool everyone else, but you’re not going to fool me. You’re hiding all of your pain and suffering. You can’t keep doing this, love. I’m not leaving until you tell me why you’re like this! I don’t even care if it takes the rest of eternity!”

He just couldn’t bear it. The vigilante was on the verge of a breakdown and the one person in all of existence that he didn’t want to see it was Niffty. He knew she meant every word she said, that she wasn’t going to leave and that she had the persistence to quite possibly stay there until Hell froze over. All he had to do was open his mouth and say something, anything. That ended up not happening; he merely shook his head and slumped back in the bench, going right back to where he was before and staring at the fountain once more.

As the Fox would soon learn, that was very much the wrong decision.

“AIDEN!”

He suddenly felt two fins on his shoulders, forcing his entire body to sit up straight against the back of the bench, taking Aiden by surprise.

Damn, she was strong.

What followed was the sensation of weight on his lap as Niffty proceeded to sit on it, her hands never leaving his shoulders. The vigilante felt himself being shaken violently along with an angry expression on Niffty’s face as she did so. This wasn’t a “you’re so cute when you’re angry” face, either. This was the “I’m going to do ANYTHING to get you to talk” face, a face that even the Fox felt uneasy looking at.
“Look at me! Don’t look away!” Aiden felt more tears welling up in his eyes again, once again feeling shame and vulnerability as he looked away from Niffty to his right. He knew what he had to do, but he just couldn’t risk it. He didn’t want Niffty to see who he really was.

“Look at me, Mister Aiden! LOOK AT ME!!!” She inched her face closer to Aiden’s, continuing to shake him, causing Aiden to move his head to his left, still managing to avoid Niffty’s near desperate stare. “Aiden… please…” She stopped shaking him, her voice cracking. As if by magic, Aiden felt his muscles able to respond again, the sound of Niffty’s distressed voice drawing his eyes to hers, finally allowing a connection to flood through. Upon looking at her directly, however, Aiden’s heart nearly shattered: she was crying, too. Aiden felt a wave of raw emotion jolt through him as he watched a single tear fall from her single eye and trail down her cheek, eventually dripping onto the stone underneath the bench. It hurt Aiden so much to see her try so hard to not cry. Almost by an instinct he didn’t know he had, he started to reach an arm out but decided against it and started to retract it.

What the fuck was he doing?

“It’s okay, Aiden.” He didn’t understand at first, but eventually figured it out. He reached out and wiped away her tears, pulling her in close and wrapping a loving arm around her shoulders, blanketing the tiny girl with her own sense of security as well as the vigilante himself. She smiled softly, allowing her head to rest gently on Aiden’s chest as she wrapped her arms around his back. “Talk to me. Tell me everything. What’s going on, your fears, your situation, your story… everything. Don’t do it for me. Do it for you.”

He took a very deep breath, as deep as his lungs would allow, and did just that. He told her everything. His hunt for the mob in Chicago back when he was alive, the ongoing tension between him and Alastor, the state of limbo he found himself in, the hacking of 666 News’ servers and the kill/capture placed on him… all of it. The Fox just sat there, cradling the ever attentive Niffty, slowly describing everything that came to his mind as the tiny demon would occasionally nod to show she was still listening. He couldn’t believe he was doing this, giving away so much about himself to a demon he had only known for a couple of months now. He felt so terrified, yet at the same time… so relieved. A giant burden, one that Aiden had been carrying with him for over 30 years, was slowly melting away as he opened the floodgates to his new pink-haired confidant. As he finished, he turned his gaze back to Niffty, who was now silently weeping and hugging him as tightly as she could without breaking his ribcage.

“You buried all of that for decades?” she asked, absolutely dumbfounded at what she had just heard. “Why would you DO that?? No wonder you’re so angry all the time!” Aiden continued looking at her, once again at a loss for words. He just wished she would stop talking, not because he wanted her to, but simply because the sound of her shaken voice was just so heart wrenching to listen to. With every sentence she uttered, the vigilante found himself subconsciously pulling her closer and closer to him like a frightened child with his teddy bear. He never wanted to let go. So close, even, that Niffty now found herself able to rest her head on Aiden’s shoulder, which she happily did, moving her skinny arms up to around the vigilante’s collar. “Aiden… you remind me of myself.”

How could she possibly think that? As far as the Fox was concerned, they were polar opposites.

“How?” was the only word Aiden can force out of himself, still reviewing in his mind repeatedly whether telling Niffty everything was such a great idea.

“I guess it’s my turn…” began Niffty, giving the vigilante a gentle squeeze as she closed her eye. “I died back in the 50s. When I was a little girl, I always dreamed of finding a wonderful man in my life, someone who could take care of me and my family, if I ever had one. It was the only thing I ever wanted, nothing else. How foolish I was. I thought I had found that person when I met my ex-husband in my senior year of high school. Gosh, what a wonderful time that was. We had everything planned out: the marriage, the names of our babies, the works. I finally found love and we were married a few years later. Then, he slowly started to reveal the despicable person he was.”

Aiden nodded in acknowledgement, hanging onto her every word.

“He decided not to tell me he had no interest in starting a family until after our honeymoon. We had discussed it SO much after we got engaged… then he pulled that on me. Somehow, I just accepted it. My family was strictly Catholic, divorce was NEVER an option. So, I took it. I let him boss me around and abuse me for 14 years. Even though it was the 50s, where the ladies always just cooked and cleaned, my ex took it a step further: he stifled my dreams. I’m really good with sewing and clothes ‘cause I fixed up his suits and pants a lot, and I wanted to do something with it. I wanted a CAREER. A fashion designer, costumer, anything! But he forbid me from doing it. That asshole just wanted me at home like a hostage, waiting for his beckoning to get in bed and fuck him silly. Until then, all I could do was cook, clean, and sew.” Aiden could feel a rather tight grip forming on his arms, only getting tighter as Niffty spoke. “Whenever I tried to go out and try something new, I would get such a thrashing…” Aiden’s eyes widened as Niffty squeezed his arms as hard as she could. “Well, verbally, at least. So, I started making my own little costumes in secret. I had nothing else to do, nowhere to go and all day to get there! I hid them all in the storage closet when he came home, but while he was gone, I used to dress up in my creations and make my own little plays. It was all I could do to stop myself from going insane. I didn’t have any children to attend to, just little old me. The nights were longer than the days. He found them in my secret closet and thought it was so funny and childish that he took them into his job so that his stupid buddies could laugh at my pieces.”

Aiden nodded, continuing to listen to Niffty’s story.

“I was so embarrassed, until I got a call from a show director on Broadway. I guess one of his coworkers had a connection or something and really liked my work. He offered me a HUGE salary and a big fat pension. I couldn’t believe it! Stupid me, I told my husband about it that night and…” She paused, looking away from Aiden for a moment. “…he said no.”

“What? Why?”

“He didn’t want to move into the big city, and my opinion didn’t hold any weight. None at all. He also was jealous of me and the opportunity that pretty much fell in my lap, he couldn’t even fathom his own wife possibly having a more glamorous job than HIM! He was SO angry that I even considered such a thing, plus all the other times I tried to do something for myself, he cut the phone line so I couldn’t answer when the producer called back. My husband kept me locked up in my own room for almost a month. I- I never fought back because I was just so scared of him. He was a huge man and he had hit me before. One time, he hit me right in the back of the head, causing me to go blind in my left eye. Because I was always in my room, nobody ever saw me to question it. I just thought that’s how it was. One day, I decided I had had enough and I went out to the bar to go out and just be around people. I felt so isolated… I couldn’t take it anymore! I didn’t plan on my husband being there with his friends, and when they saw me, they started asking questions about whether he abused me and all that because they could see my bruises and my damaged eye. He knew he was caught, the bastard. He was so pissed that he dragged me back home and beat me senseless. He put a gun to my head… a GUN! He threatened me to keep quiet or else I was a goner. I cried all night, and I just kinda… snapped.”

Aiden perked up at this. He knew EXACTLY what she was talking about.

“I reached a point where I was delirious… he ruined my chance at wonderful things, not just for me but for both of us. The only way I was getting out of this nightmare was one way…” At this point, Niffty started to shake, her entire demeanor falling apart as the horrible memories came back to her. “He woke up real early in the morning and grabbed his gun again. He was really smashed from drinking all night, I could hear him coming to my door and loading the gun. I just… grabbed the biggest needle I could find and when he opened the door…” Niffty started bawling, her words barely intelligible between sobs. “I sliced open his throat with that FUCKING NEEDLE! I GAVE HIM WHAT HE DESERVED!” She was now absolutely beside herself, gripping her now fiery hair with both hands and hyperventilating. The Fox could feel the intense heat coming from her. “I knew there wasn’t anything else I could do… so I took his gun, went down to the basement, and finished the fucking job!” Niffty covered her eye as she wailed, unable to control herself. “I’M A HORRIBLE CREATURE, AIDEN! HORRIBLE!” she shrieked, collapsing onto Aiden as she continued crying.

“Niffty…” started Aiden, wrapping her in a huge hug that Niffty quickly reciprocated. He had never felt more alive than he did right in this moment. “Listen to me, Niffty. You’re not in danger anymore. He’s gone. You’re here with me. I won’t…” He swallowed the lump in his throat, preventing him from having a second breakdown of his own. “I won’t let anything happen to you.”

She started to simmer down and locked eyes with the vigilante, taken aback. “Aiden…” she started but never got a chance to finish as the two could no longer look away from each other. Normally, this would have been uncomfortable for Aiden, but this was very different. It was almost addicting, just staring at Niffty as the magical feeling swept both of them away from their existence and bringing them to a whole new one, a world with just them. Slowly, they both closed their eye(s) and slowly leaned towards each other. Aiden felt time slow down once more, which was strange considering that he wasn’t feeling focused at all.

Quite the opposite, actually.

Their lips finally met in what turned into a slow but sweet kiss. Aiden’s fear and anxiety instantly disappeared, delivering unto him a moment of pure bliss, letting the excitement and passion overtake him as he gently placed a hand behind Niffty’s head as she wrapped her arms around his neck. The kiss felt like an eternity, and that was nothing short of perfect. As a moment of doubt passed the vigilante by, he opened his eyes for a moment before he witnessed something remarkable. For just a second, he saw Niffty had completely changed appearance: her normally done up pink hair was now a beautiful golden color and flowing freely, her clothes had changed from her usual skirt and top to fluffy white robes, her once sharp feeling fangs now felt incredibly smooth, and… did she have both eyes now?

God, was she beautiful.

Just as quickly as the moment came, it disappeared as Aiden blinked and the kiss finally broke, Niffty and his surroundings coming back to reality as they turned normal again. Niffty opened her eye once more and grinned at the Fox, who gave a soft smile back.

“Niffty, you… you looked- “

“Yes! I saw it, too!” exclaimed Niffty giddily, hugging Aiden once more and nuzzling her nose into the crook of his neck. “It was like you were an angel… or… somethin’….” Aiden couldn’t help but crack a grin as Niffty began to drift off. “Aiden, don’t… let me go, okay? Don’t go anywhere.”

The vigilante held the little demon as close as he could, wrapping her up tight with both arms as Niffty settled down and stopped shifting around. “Don’t worry Niffty, I’m right here.”

Aiden went back to watching the fountain and its beautiful rhythms once more, sporting the biggest and most sincere smile he ever had. He took this beautiful point in time to feel true freedom; enjoying Niffty’s company and simply soaking in the beautiful sounds of nature surrounding him. Although he knew it wouldn’t last forever, Aiden made sure he made the most of it. Despite where he was, Aiden momentarily forgot where he was.

For now, as far as he knew, it felt like Heaven.

Chapter Text

Aiden laid on his bed that morning, still riding off the high that was known as Niffty. He still couldn’t believe what happened. If he was being honest with himself, it still didn’t feel normal, but damn did it feel right. He never felt anything so invigorating, so electrifying! He was absolutely on cloud nine right now.

That was, until a sharp knocking made the vigilante jump out of his skin. He just couldn’t adjust to people wanting to visit him without wanting to blow his brains out.

“Hey tall, dark, and nothin’ else! Drop ya cock and grab ya socks! We gotta go spend some quality time togetha! Well, you don’t HAVE to do the former…” Suddenly, Angel turned into the atomic bomb. Here was Aiden, finally getting to enjoy himself and having a great time and then BOOM! Angel Dust showed up and everything died in a mushroom cloud of fake breasts and excessive limbs.

Angel knocked again, this time much harder, motivating the Fox to scramble to his feet and open the door, staring coldly at the lanky spider. “Hey, pal!” started Angel, grinning widely. “Ya ready for our ‘community service’?” Aiden said nothing, staring in disbelief at Angel.

The vigilante didn’t know what was worse, the way Angel said “community service” or the fact that he was suddenly so chipper after getting his room trashed and having his sister threatened. That bastard had something in mind.

“Sure…” replied the vigilante, keeping his eyes on Angel.

“Good!” returned Angel. “Follow me. You’re gonna get ta earn some real cash today if you’re a good boy.”

The two men headed towards the elevators, Angel strutting his usual unique style while Aiden tagged along behind him, hands in his pockets and eyes right in front of him.
He really wasn’t in the mood for whatever bullshit Angel had planned, but he supposed he didn’t really have a choice in the matter.

“What’s your deal?” questioned Aiden immediately, glaring at the spider as he pushed the down arrow button to call the elevator.

“Huh?”

“Yesterday you were throwing a tantrum about working with me and now suddenly you’re all smiles. I’m not an idiot.” The elevator doors slid open as they both stepped inside. “I’ve known your crazy ass long enough to know when you’re up to something. Better fess up if you want me to join.” The spider demon tensed up for a moment and sighed.

“Look, ‘m sorry ‘bout that. I get like that sometimes. As far as you tearin’ my room apart, well, I deserved it. I told Charlie what happened… I was angry at ya hardcore, but I knew you didn’t deserve ta get kicked out. I was drunk and fulla rage.” The elevator doors slid open once again, announcing their arrival to the ground floor. “Besides, I love men who stand up ta me. It shows ya got some balls, and nothing is sexier than a man with guts…” Angel winked at the Fox, causing him to shudder as they both left the elevator and proceeded towards the front entrance of the hotel.

“Right… so what are we doing, exactly?”

“Just walk with me, sunshine. I’ll tell ya in the car.” Aiden’s alarm bells started ringing at this. Angel probably didn’t want to tell him anything until they were out of earshot of Charlie’s cameras… not suspicious at all.

They walked the rest of the way to Angel’s lightly used Cadillac in silence, Aiden trying to make predictions in his head as to what Angel could possibly be scheming.

Whatever it was, it clearly wasn’t going to be Charlie’s assignment, he was sure of it.

Aiden hopped into the passenger side as Angel took the wheel and fired up the engine, his wild grin returning. “Okay, let’s do this.” He winked again at Aiden as he put the Cadillac in reverse and started pulling out of the parking lot.

“You wanna tell me what we’re really doing?”

“Yeah. Not Charlie’s stupid fuckin’ project. I’d ratha be celibate for a month.” Angel chuckled to himself, flooring it as the car ripped away from the Happy Hotel and skidded onto the highway, nearly colliding with another vehicle as Angel violently swerved out of the way, sending Aiden’s skull bouncing off the passenger window.

“Hey take it easy, asshole. What’s wrong with you?”

“What isn’t?” Aiden turned to glare at the white spider, not amused. “You should be thankin’ me, by the way. You’re gonna help me with somethin’ much more wholesome and fun!”

“And what would that be?”

“We’re just gonna make some… deliveries. That’s all.” Aiden looked at the spider again, still not amused. “Look, my friend Cherri’s in a bit of a bind, ‘kay? She’s got a buncha goods that people ordered and she’s not in a position ta deliver ‘em right now. So, bein’ the great guy I am, I offered ta do it for her if she split the cash with me. I'll split my take with you 70/30 my way.”

“Goods?”

“Yeah… drugs and booze. The good stuff. Part of the five food groups, ya know!”

“Do you even care about redeeming yourself?”

“I am redeeming myself! Helpin’ ya buddies is a good deed, which is why YOU’RE doin’ this, too. Consider it making up for your violent escapade in my bedroom, ya little loose cannon, you.”

“Real cute, Angel.”

“Thank ya!” Aiden rolled his eyes as the Cadillac took the next exit off the highway and started entering a seemingly more residential area. Aiden felt a twinge of nervousness as the Cadillac rolled to a stop in front of an average looking house.

“Look, I’ll help you, but under one condition.”

“What’s that, hotshot?”

“No killing.” Angel blinked at the vigilante.

“You serious?”

“Did I stutter, Angel?”

“Oh boy, gettin’ all tough on me again,” said Angel, laughing half out of amusement and half out of intimidation. “Since when did you get all high and mighty, Saint Aiden?”

“I’m already in enough trouble as it is. I don’t need any more action.”

“Well you’re no fun at all.”

“Promise me, Angel. Promise me this will stay peaceful. You’re lucky I’m not gonna rat you out to Charlie.” Angel Dust heaved a heavy sigh, annoyance creeping over his face.

“Fiiiiiiiiiine, I won’t kill anyone. Sheesh.” The demon put the car in park as he hopped out and headed towards the trunk. “Get in the driver’s seat, Pearce. I’ll do the deliverin’, you just gotta get me from point A ta point B without gettin’ us both killed. Ya got that?”

“Whatever you say. I hope you have insurance on this thing.”

“Real cute, Aiden.”

After rummaging around for a moment, Aiden felt the trunk slam shut as Angel walked towards the door of the house holding a box and a… bouquet of roses? The Fox stared in disbelief as the lanky spider knocked on the door with a free hand and smoothed over his hair. What the hell was going on?

Maybe he judged Angel too quickly.

He continued watching as a small lavender rabbit answered the door, talking with Angel briefly before being handed the flowers and box and being softly pet on the head. After another brief moment of talking, Angel did something that caught the Fox completely by surprise: he bent down (which was quite a long way due to the massive height difference between them) and cupped the little rabbit’s face, kissing her gently on the cheek as she blushed intensely.

What was going on? Wasn’t Angel delivering goods? As in, the illegal kind? This was totally not normal for him.

Aiden looked away from the pair, not wanting to make it any more awkward than it already was. He peered down and turned on the radio, hoping that maybe something interesting would keep him occupied while he waited. He fiddled with the tuner, going through a myriad of radio stations playing AC/DC and Ghost until a certain sound bite caught his ear.

“…Alastor, and…”

Aiden’s blood chilled. Was that really him?

He started turning the dial back, hoping he could locate the station again. He didn’t have to go back too far as, sure enough, Alastor’s signature voice came pouring through the speakers of the Cadillac. It looked like Aiden caught him just in time.

“Welcome back, dear listeners! I hope you enjoyed that lovely song Fly Me to the Moon, a personal favorite of mine from the wonderful Frank Sinatra. I certainly wish I had a voice like his! Some people say I do, as a matter of fact! Ho ho!” The vigilante checked the frequency and made a mental note in his head: 66.6.

Really? At least it was easy to remember.

“And now, back to our Sinatra Power Hour, where our next song- “

Aiden panicked as the front door to the Cadillac swung open, quickly swiping at the dial to change the station to anything else.

“Alright, grumpy pants, I’m back,” announced Angel, hopping into the passenger seat and shutting the door behind him. “Ya ready ta-” He suddenly stopped as the sounds of intense moaning filled both of their ears. All either one could do was stare at each other, Aiden turning a deep shade of red while Angel started giggling uncontrollably.

“Hehehehe… I see ya found the Sodomy Station!” Angel squealed, now howling with laughter as he slapped his thighs hysterically with all four hands.

“Just tell me where to go,” snapped back Aiden, tuning the radio to something less sexual and started heading back out onto residential streets.

“Get back on the highway and keep followin’ it. You’ll be there awhile.” The vigilante eventually found his way back onto the Lucifer Expressway (how thoughtful), finally brushing away his embarrassment long enough to look at Angel again, who had finally stopped laughing but was still smirking as he mindlessly watched the billboards that passed by.

“Who was that?” asked Aiden, trying to turn the conversation in a new direction as fast as humanly possible.

“That was Ashley!” replied Angel cheerily, smiling dreamily. “Why d’ya ask?”

“Uh…” Aiden started, suddenly at a loss for words. “I just thought, maybe… I don’t know, forget it.”

“What? Ya never saw me kiss someone before? I have feelings too, ya know! Quit bein’ so judgmental ya little nosy rosy!”

“I was just curious…”

Angel’s scowl turned into a teasing smile, sending a wave of relief through the Fox. “Chill, sweetie. ‘M just bustin’ ya balls, heh heh. We’re jus’ really good friends, that’s all. We met after I first arrived here in Hell. She’s gotta thing fa me, but sadly, I can’t return those feelings, obviously. Not in this lifetime, anyways.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, in another dimension, we are TOTALLY togetha and madly in love! Right now!”

Strange, but okay.

“If you insist. So… how’s Molly?” Angel’s smile quickly disappeared and was rapidly replaced with a scowl as he looked at Aiden angrily.

“Go fuck yahself!” replied Angel, gripping his seatbelt with a newfound rage. “Why the fuck do you care, anyway?”

“Just asking.”

Angel sighed, crossing his arms and looking away from Aiden. “I dunno. I haven’t seen her in months. She disappeared without a fuckin’ trace.” Despite already knowing this, Aiden felt a wave of guilt crash over him. It was a pretty low blow to threaten her like that.

“Oh…” replied the Fox, feigning shock for a moment so as not to give away his knowledge of the situation.

“Yeah. I still rememba the last time I spoke ta her… it was the weirdest convasation of my life….”

“What happened?”

Angel eyed him suspiciously for a moment before continuing. “She was cryin’… hard. Told me she was in major trouble and knew too much, had ta disappear for awhile, said her goodbyes and all that, yadda yadda… then just hung up. Neva’ heard from her again.” The last couple sentences caught the vigilante’s attention.

Knowing too much? Clearly, she had some valuable insight on something big if someone was willing to go out of their way to make her disappear. Before he could think about it any further, he peeked into his rearview mirror and saw a dark blue Sedan that had been following them for the last few miles. Paranoia started creeping in again as he watched the vehicle, picking up some speed and passing a few cars to try and lose it.

He needed to relax. It was just a coincidence. He supposed that Hell was really starting to get to him.

“I hope she’s okay,” came Angel’s voice, much softer in tone. “I… I really miss her.” Aiden looked at the demon, who was now frowning and leaning his head against the very window Aiden whacked his head on earlier. “Look, I can’t talk ‘bout her right now. Pull off here, this is our next stop.”

The vigilante obeyed, taking the next exit off the expressway. A feeling started to creep over Aiden; should he do it? Was it worth it? He quickly dismissed the thought, shoving it to the back of his mind.

He’ll return to it later.
***************************************************************************************************************
A couple hours later, with most of the deliveries done, the vigilante pulled Angel’s Cadillac up to quite possibly one of the fanciest looking mansions he had ever laid eyes on. Clearly, their final stop was in the richer part of Hell.

“Alright, Aiden,” began Angel, putting his last collected envelope from the previous stop into his chest fluff. “This last guy is kinda a big deal ‘round here, so uh… don’t say nothin’ stupid.” He hopped out of the car and popped open the trunk, fishing out a large black briefcase before closing the trunk again. “Also, uh… can you come with me this time? Some of this guy’s buddies are rather big fans of my other works, if ya catch ma drift.” Aiden nodded and pulled up his mask, hopping out of the driver’s seat and escorting Angel along the long and winding cobblestone path leading to the gigantic structure in front of them, passing by both an Olympic-sized swimming pool and a tennis court before finally reaching a large pair of ornate mahogany doors. The now-nervous spider took a deep breath and knocked twice.

Aiden watched in anticipation as one of the doors slowly opened, revealing a wolf demon wearing a red dress shirt covered by a white blazer along with similarly shaded white dress pants and shiny black shoes. On either side of him were beefy bull demons, staring at Angel and the Fox with cold expressions.

“Ah, Angel Dust, my friend!” came a thick Cuban accent from the sharply dressed wolf demon, puffing on his cigar and giving the spider demon a quick hug. “It is good to see you again! You got the yeyo I asked for?” Angel hoisted the briefcase up in the air, allowing the wolf to take it.

“Anythin’ for you, mistah Montana!” laughed Angel uncomfortably as Aiden watched both bull demons staring at the spider as if he were fresh meat. The wolf opened the briefcase, briefly inspecting the contents inside. Satisfied, he clicked the suitcase shut and nodded in approval. Aiden studied him; he looked and sounded REALLY familiar.

“Excellent work, amigo.” He reached into the inside pocket of his jacket, pulling out a fat stack of money and handing it to Angel before shifting his gaze to Aiden, his eyes lighting up. “Ooh, Angel! Is this the fuckin’ vigilante from Chicago??”

“Uh, yep. That’s him… heh. I’m gonna head to the car, Aiden. See ya there.”

Aiden nodded as Angel quickly scurried away from the bodyguards and back towards the cobblestone path. The wolf demon approached Aiden, putting a hand on the Fox’s shoulder.

“I saw your handiwork back when you were still breathing, muchacho. I really admire your style. You’re like a killing machine, man! And how you took out that fuckin’ Exterminator? BAM! Truly fantastic.” He extended his hand excitedly, which the vigilante hesitantly grabbed and shook. The vigilante felt a surge of nausea cross him as he shook the demon’s hand.

That little stunt behind the hotel got him a lot more attention than he thought. He really hoped he didn’t have connections with Katie Killjoy or, even worse, Alastor.

“I appreciate that, mister… Montana.”

“Please, call me Tony,” said the wolf, puffing on his cigar. “Here, take my card. I could use men like you. If you ever get tired of working for the itsy bitsy spider, give me a call. I’ll pay you good money.” He drew a business card from his breast pocket, which Aiden accepted.

“I’ll be sure to do that. Good meeting you, Tony.”

“Same to you, chico. I best be going now but keep my offer in mind. If you ever decide to accept it… the world could be yours.” Aiden nodded as Tony and his two bodyguards re-entered the house, closing the door behind them.

Aiden walked in stunned silence back down the way he came. He just got a bona fide offer from someone who the Fox could only presume was a drug lord, and a powerful one, at that. Ironic, considering all the mobsters he sent to Hell back when he was roaming the streets of the windy city. Still, Aiden couldn’t help but find it flattering that someone with such an intimidating presence like Tony would be willing to offer Aiden an opportunity so quickly.

It was almost surreal when he finally figured out who he really was.

The Fox started walking back towards the car, only to find a sleazy looking goat demon and Angel Dust were standing about 20 feet apart, hurling insults at each other. Aiden managed to catch the very end of the conversation.

“Why don’t you just smile and blow me?” said the goat, snarling. Before Aiden could even try to intervene, Angel whipped out his sidearm and shot the other demon right between the eyes.

“Go to hell! Wait…” Aiden finally reached the spider, slowly climbing into the passenger seat of the Cadillac.

“Angel!” the vigilante shouted, smacking his own face in frustration. “I said no killing!”

“Whaddya want from me??” returned Angel, folding his arms as Aiden hopped into the driver’s seat and hauled ass out of the gated community and back onto the expressway.

“He told me to blow him, so I did!”

Chapter Text

“Hah! Look at that little shitbox comin’ up behind us!” laughed Angel, pointing a single arm at the worn blue Sedan now following them. Aiden’s heart stopped.

It was that car again.

Without saying a word, Aiden floored the gas and the Cadillac took off like a rocket.

“Hey, what the fuck is ya problem??” yelled Angel, bouncing off the window, the dashboard, and Aiden like a pinball machine as the vigilante violently swerved to avoid the other cars on the road. “All I said was that a little- oof! A little shit- OW! A little fucking shit car was followin’ us!” Aiden suddenly hit the brakes, sending the spider demon straight into the windshield, his four arms a tangled mess. “Can ya drive a little more dangerously?? I don’t have a fuckin’ concussion yet!!”

“That’s why we wear seatbelts, Angel.” The Cadillac suddenly lurched right, taking the next exit off the Lucifer Expressway.

“Aiden, take it easy on the tires, pal,” said Angel, turning a light shade of green as they approached a long and straight road devoid of any other vehicles. “I just got new ones on it… oh fuck me!” Angel quickly began turning the lever to lower his window, causing Aiden to smirk to himself as the spider hung his head outside for a moment.

“You never would have made it in Chicago.”

“Ya from Chicago?? HA!” Angel pulled his fluffy head back in the car, pointing a mocking gloved finger at the vigilante. “No wonder ya so angry! You don’t know what it’s like ta have a winnin’ sports team like us New Yorkers!” Aiden stared at the spider demon for a moment, letting Angel revel in his short-lived victory, his golden tooth gleaming back at him. “Did the Cubs ever break that curse?”

Alright, now he was asking for it.

Aiden tapped the e-brake as he started driving in wild and violent S-turns along the deserted road, once again bouncing Angel around the passenger cabin. “Cut that shit out! HEY! What the fuck’s wrong with you? Oh shit…” Angel stuck his head back outside the window again, his lower two arms holding his stomach while his upper arms dangled out the window alongside his head. “Aiden, fuck you! Enough with the turns!”

“Okay.”

The Fox was now grinning underneath his mask as he started doing donuts with the Cadillac, rocks kicking up everywhere.

“OH MY GOD, STOP! I’M GONNA- “

The spider couldn’t even finish his sentence before projectile vomiting onto the pavement, which, by some miracle, lined up perfectly with the skid marks that the tires made from the loops the Cadillac was making.

Markings of a job well done.

Aiden finally let go of the gas, allowing the car to come to a complete stop as Angel slumped back into his seat, the spider’s entire body trembling.

“Are you going to shut up now?”

“…yes.” Aiden’s heart nearly leapt into his throat as he looked into his rearview and saw the blue Sedan, coming towards them at full speed, it’s supercharged engine loud and ominous in the background.

“Good. Now put on your seatbelt and arm yourself.” He quickly pulled the Cadillac back onto the highway and again slammed on the gas, much to Angel’s annoyance.

“Why do I need a gun again?”

Aiden pulled the car to the side suddenly as the Sedan whizzed past them.

“That’s why.”

“Stalker, huh? I’ll fix that!” said Angel, his eyes lighting up as he popped open the glove compartment and put a fresh drum mag into his Thompson. “Get close and I’ll finish him.” The Cadillac roared back to life as it began to chase the Sedan, the vigilante’s eyes never leaving it. “Little closer… little closer… GOT HIM!” The spider open fired on the blue Sedan, managing to shatter the back windshield but not much else. “Get to the side, I’ll shoot ‘em directly!” Before Aiden could comply, a steady stream of bullets chewed up the hood, causing it to fall off entirely.

“GOD DAMMIT!” shouted Angel, returning fire. “I JUST GOT THIS FUCKIN’ THING PAINTED!”

The Sedan suddenly slowed down, whizzing past the Cadillac again as it waited until it was firmly behind until it started speeding up again. Angel continued firing at the blue car until he ran out of ammo, swearing profusely as he reached for another drum mag in the glove compartment. Aiden kept his eye on the car but wasn’t ready for it to suddenly zoom forward with incredible power, lining up its front tires with the Cadillac’s rear ones, and turning sharply, instantly causing Aiden to lose some control over his vehicle.

“Son of a bitch,” muttered the vigilante, pulsing his foot on the brake and preventing a spinout while still maintaining his speed. “You’re not gonna PIT me, asshole.”

“I’m reloaded!”

“I got this one.”

As the Sedan approached from the left and started lining itself up for another back bumper slam, Aiden quickly pinned the wheel right, seemingly much to the other driver’s surprise, slamming the Sedan brutally into a Cadillac and guard rail sandwich.

“Fucking SHIT, Pearce! That’s my car!”

“I know.”

With the Sedan completely trapped, Aiden pulled away and swerved left again, this time crashing into his opponent so hard that it rolled over the guard rail and tumbled onto the grass field, flipping a few times before being sent straight into a very large tree, causing the body of the Sedan to slightly wrap around it.

“Holy shit, that was awesome! YEAHHHHHHHH!” yelled Angel, firing a few rounds of the new magazine into the air in celebration. “I knew I liked ya for a reason!”

“Look, we need to get back to the hotel,” said Aiden, clearly in no mood to celebrate. “If anyone sees the car like this, they’ll get suspicious.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know, sourpuss,” replied Angel, putting a flirty arm around the Fox’s shoulders, his voice growing sultry. “I know the perfect place we can park…” The vigilante hit the e-brake and made another S-turn, sending Angel straight into the passenger side window again.

“Fuck! Don’t be such a prude, Aiden! Ya name ain’t Baxter… HOLY FUCKIN’ SHIT, LOOK OUT!”

Aiden looked back out onto the road to find the ghostly woman from the studio and Sinnerz standing right in the middle of the road, that same awful smile glistening in the head lights. The vigilante reflexively swerved around the woman, nearly hitting her as they continued down the desolate road they were still on.

“Who the fuck was that?” asked Angel, knowing full well that the Fox would have absolutely no idea.

“Someone who’s been following me for awhile now,” said Aiden honestly. “I don’t know who she is, she keeps disappearing before I have a chance to talk to her.”

“Aw, that’s cute! You gotta admirer!” joked the spider, putting his upper arms to his face in faux pleasure. “I don’t blame her! She has good taste!” Aiden peeked in his side mirror and much to his horror, he could still see her, just standing there on the road. Not only that, but she was also facing his direction as well, waving daintily as she slowly faded away from view, sending chills up the vigilante’s spine.

This was worth investigating now. She was starting to get annoying.

“She’s screwing with me, I know it.”

“Aw, don’t be that way, Pearce,” said Angel Dust. “People stand in the middle of the road in Hell all the time! She just might be a little… special, that’s all.”

“That’s definitely not it,” replied Aiden, shaking his head in irritation. He almost started explaining his theory about how she was secretly Alastor’s eyes and ears outside Happy Hotel grounds, but he still wasn’t sure if he trusted Angel THAT much.

“Whatever. Just tell me how to get back to the hotel. And put your damn seatbelt on.”
**************************************************************************************
“Oh, Mister Aiden!” squealed Niffty, casually crunching on a cockroach as the vigilante reached the top of the stairs. “Where have you been all this time? I thought maybe you died! Or maybe just got slightly impaled. Oh, where are my manners? I shouldn’t be talking with my mouth full! I’m sorry, I’m just so excited to see you again and- GAH!” The little demon cut off her own rambling as she hopped with impressive vertical height towards Aiden, who reflexively caught her as she wrapped her little arms around his neck and nuzzled her head into his shoulder.

“I’ve never had someone so excited to see me.”

“Of course, silly!” Niffty flashed her fangs in delight at the Fox, glistening from the lighting of the hotel. “Also, you smell like shit. Go clean yourself up, okay? I have dinner planned for us!”

“Uh… okay.”

“Great! See you in an hour, come to the roof!” Before Aiden could utter a word of protest, his new date scurried off back down the staircase, giggling as she ran. Sighing, he headed back towards his room.

“What an odd demon she is. Eccentric.” As he reached for the doorknob to his room, he felt a buzzing in his pocket. Realization struck Aiden like lightning as he stared at the screen on his phone. It wasn’t Baxter, nor was it the studio’s number.

Who the hell could it possibly be? Only one way to find out.

“Yeah?”
“Aiden, buddy ol’ pal!” came the voice of everything Aiden hated about people. His heart started to race as he clenched the Profiler in his hands.

“What do you want, Damien?”

“Listen, what you did back at the studio was rather rude, don’t you think? I just wanted to talk- “

“How did you get this number?”

“It was quite simple, really, but a magician never gives away his secrets.”

“What do you want?”

“I told you what I want. We need to talk, urgently. You need to understand what’s really going on here with this hotel. Don’t make me force your hand, Pearce. I did it once and I can definitely do it again with Luci on my side.” The vigilante bit hard onto his bottom lip, restraining himself from throwing the Profiler right into the fountain.

“Do your worst, asshole.” With that, the Fox hung up the phone and walked out to the back balcony, contemplating his life once more as he stared off into the red skyline.

What the fuck was he going to do? He had a bounty on his head with multiple people chasing him, he wasn’t making any progress at all in the Happy Hotel and, if he was going to be honest with himself, he’s still doing the exact same vigilante tactics he used back in Chicago, which was probably seriously jeopardizing his chances of ever seeing his sister and nephew again.

God, how he missed them so. Regret started to course through him as he took a trip down memory lane. The day Jacks was born, his sister’s birthday party, all the gross things his friends did to freak Nicky out, taking Lena out for ice cream on Friday nights… he missed all of it. Badly.

At the same time, however, he couldn’t shake the satisfaction he got from his antics. Shaking down Maurice, his niece’s killer, and stopping the pacemaker on that rat bastard Lucky Quinn felt SO good. They deserved every last ounce of pain they both received; nobody else was gonna do it. He did what he had to… right?

Maybe not.

A lot of it was rather unnecessary, especially the destroyed police cars and ruptured steam pipes that ended up occurring while he was on his little rampage. That wasn’t even considering all the innocent bystanders and even his own allies… no, friends that took bullets and died, all because of him.

The crushing guilt came back with a vengeance, making the Fox feel like gravity had suddenly tripled. He leaned against the balcony railing, unable to fully stand. He hadn’t felt this horrible since he started his descent towards the fiery pits and it was probably the worst feeling he had ever experienced. Nothing, not even getting tazed by T-Bone or having a head on collision with a garbage truck, felt this bad.

He just wanted it to stop. The pain and headache of trying to be the hero was beginning to outweigh the price of what he really wanted: peace.

The vigilante’s phone buzzed again, once again causing his blood pressure to skyrocket as he grabbed the phone and answered it without hesitation.

“Give it up, Damien! Go fuck yourself!” There was a slight pause before Aiden fully realized his mistake.

“Hey, wait a minute! It’s BAXTER, you…. you chowderhead!” He never thought he would be so relieved to hear the nasally fish’s voice, but damn was it nice to hear from him again.

“Sorry…” said Aiden instantly, shaking his head in anger at himself. Normally the vigilante looked down on unstable and, well, weaker individuals, but it was different with Baxter. Sure, he was important to him and was one of the few demons Aiden fully trusted, but there was something more to him than first meets the eye; he wasn’t just your average kook.

He was very bright, knew his way around anything even remotely tech related. Hell, he managed to keep an entire lab full of “unethical experiments” right under Charlie and Vaggie’s nose. He knew things even the Fox couldn’t fathom, not to mention the fact that he adapted to modern technology as if he had lived with it his entire life (the vigilante guessed that Baxter was much older than the others). What the anglerfish lacked in brawn he more than made up for in elusiveness and stealth. Indeed, he was a very hard person to find and keep tabs on, and whether the vigilante wanted to admit it or not, he couldn’t help but be impressed. If he wasn’t so erratic and such a live wire, the Fox mused that maybe, just maybe, Baxter could have been a world class hacker, perhaps even better than Aiden himself.

Yeah right, that’ll be the day.

Still, as useful as the little demon was for his cause, Aiden cared for him more than a wrench in his toolbox. He’s more like the son Aiden never got to have. He didn’t just need to be protected, he DESERVED to be protected.

“I’ll forgive you this time,” said Baxter, the confidence slowly returning to his voice. “What the heck is your problem?”

“It’s… really complicated. Why are you calling me?”

“I just want to know something. Why are you so hellbent on scoping out Alastor?” The vigilante paused, not entirely sure how to answer him.

If he was being completely honest with himself, at this point he wasn’t sure why he was still putting in so much effort to solve the enigma that was the Radio Demon. He hadn’t really done anything, all the crimson demon had on him was a checkered past and a reputation, something that the vigilante also possessed. Maybe it was time to start showing some empathy towards him.

Wait… did he really just think that? Who was he kidding, Alastor was shadier than a Yankee Stadium bathroom at midnight. Beings like him brought out the absolute worst in Aiden, and he just KNEW he deserved to be punished, especially for threatening Niffty earlier.

“…hello?” came the confused voice of Baxter, yanking Aiden away from his perpetually rambling thoughts and back in Hell.

“I know his kind,” Aiden quickly said, not quite sure how to explain his hunches to the fish, knowing full well that they wouldn’t hold up to his microscopic level observations.

“Look,” said Baxter, his voice softening a little. “I understand Alastor’s… peculiar behavior justifies your suspicion, but, if I’m going to be frank with you, there’s nothing you can adequately prove, and even if you could, who’s going to care? We’re in HELL!” Aiden remained silent on his end of the line.
Baxter was completely right, and he knew it.

“Just let it go, Aiden. Do your own self a favor. Don’t spend the rest of your existence here. FIX YOURSELF BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!” Aiden hung up and threw the phone across the room, producing a loud CLACK as it hit the wall and tumbled to the floor landing face down.

It was too much. He had never been so torn in his entire life. The only thing he had ever known was that sweet feeling of settling a vendetta. He knew what he had to do to get back home, but for some reason it just wasn’t clicking in his mind, and that infuriated the vigilante. Why couldn’t he just let it go? It was so confusing how he wanted to ignore Alastor and his possible female companion so that he could get back to St. Louis while at the same time wanting to absolutely tear the Radio Demon apart, even if it meant that the Fox would end up perishing in the process.

Aiden felt his chest tighten as he slowly felt his stress levels peak. It was as if a switch had been flipped; he helplessly felt the grip on his emotions quickly slip from his mental grasp as his heart reached speeds that the vigilante had no idea human hearts could reach. Slowly, his eyes slid shut. Eventually, it happened.

He completely lost control.

“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” The Fox screamed as loud as he possibly could, a sickening primal scream that by the end started to not sound human anymore. His eyes shot open as he fell to his knees in exasperation, pupils turning a blood red as his entire body felt white hot to the touch. Is this what spontaneous combustion feels like? He wasn’t sure if could clench his fists any tighter.

It was such a horrible feeling, as if all of humanity’s hope and despair suddenly crashed down on him all at once. For a moment, the thought of crashing through the glass door and jumping off the balcony crossed his mind, but before any action could be taken, something else happened.

The crash.

As if another switch has been flipped, the vigilante suddenly found himself with no energy whatsoever. His body slowly sunk to the floor, a deep drowsiness enveloping him. He honestly felt like he could just blissfully sleep for the rest of eternity, right here on the floor. As his temperature cooled down and his eyes returned to normal, a feeling of tranquility washed over the vigilante as his eyes once again slid closed and a gentle smile found its way onto his face.

The frantic sound of Charlie and Vaggie’s screaming were the last thing Aiden heard before finally being pulled under.

Chapter Text

“He’s awake…”

“AIDEN, ARE YOU OKAY??”

“Calm down, you’re gonna scare him…”

“AIDEN! COME BACK TO THE LIGHT!”

“Seriously, stop yelling. He’s fine.”

The vigilante gently felt himself land back in reality as two distinct voices were talking on either side of him, both instantly recognizable. He just needed to open his eyes, but the strength to do so was simply not there.

“This is terrible! I can’t lose a patient! AIDEN- “

“Stop it! You’re only gonna make things worse!”

“AIIIIIIIDDDDDDENNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN!”

“ENOUGH, CHARLIE! LEAVE, NOW!”

A brief silence followed. It was only a couple seconds but to the vigilante, it felt like an eon as he attempted to open his eyes even a little bit.

God, it was so hard to move anything, anything at all.

His hearing was still fine, as a matter of fact it seemed sharper than ever. The drowsiness, however, would not relent. As the sound of the princess’ wailing followed by a slamming door filled his ears, the vigilante suddenly felt alive again as the tempo of his heartbeat shot up. He managed to let out a soft grunt of effort as he turned his head slightly left, which was instantly responded to with a hand-like pressure on his chest, preventing what little movement he could now muster.

“Don’t move. Just rest.”

Was he going crazy? Was this really happening? Was that really… Vaggie, taking care of him? Being the voice of reason? Being the calm one in the heat of the moment? Using the same voice with him that she used to console a hysterical Charlie just weeks earlier?

“You had a demonic flare, you need to stay down and let your energy come back to you. Don’t force anything, just let it come back naturally. It will.”

Her voice was somehow, much to Aiden’s surprise, very comforting. He couldn’t recall ever hearing the moth demon speak softly and compassionately to anyone other than her girlfriend. For an angry demon, Vaggie was surprisingly human compared to everyone else.

“Look, I know you can hear me, so while I know you can’t really say anything, I’ll take the time to tell you what’s going on.”

Oh great. What’s it going to be this time? A lecture about how he really needs to clean up his act? A tirade about how much of an asshole that he was because he’s hurting Charlie by not taking this program seriously? Go ahead, bitch. She could do her worst.

“The fact that you had all of those symptoms, the reason you completely lost control of yourself, was because you’re letting yourself slide back. You’re becoming so consumed by your own emotions that you’re literally transforming into a real demon for short bursts. You must have been told this a million thousand times, you fucking idiot, but I guess I’ll say it again: if you don’t end this bullshit, you’re going to turn into a full demon and your human form back on Earth will die. The more you sink, the worse shape your real body ends up being.”

Aiden heard Vaggie sigh, some pressure near his right foot forming as the moth perched herself at the foot of his bed. At least, that’s what he guessed she did.

“Aiden…” said Vaggie, her voice softening even further, once again catching Aiden off guard. “I know it seems cowardly that I’m saying this now, but… I’m sorry for how I treated you earlier. I thought you were some straggler just trying to steal stuff. After we fought, I just had it in my mind that you were a complete menace.”

In all honesty, she wasn’t entirely wrong.

“I…. I have a huge problem with rage, and I can feel it in you, too.” Vaggie paused for a moment as Aiden listened to her take a deep breath. “I heard about what happened with Angel, how you two had that little scuffle in his room. I wanted SO MUCH for Charlie to get rid of you, and she almost did, but Angel… he stood up for you. He told Charlie and I how he started it and all that. I still couldn’t shake the thought of you being some kind of saboteur, some kinda secret hitman or something like that.”

Again, she wasn’t entirely wrong.

“Everything changed when I heard what happened to you. Charlie showed me the footage from her dad’s archives…”

Fuck. She knows now, too? So much for patient confidentiality. Nice to know that Hell’s royalty gives away personal info like candy.

“What happened with your niece… those other hackers… that weird Asian guy… that creepy old fuck who ordered the hit on you… I had no idea that you went through all that. We’re not so different, you know.”

What the fuck was that supposed to mean? They couldn’t be any more different!

“I wasn’t a criminal my whole life exactly, but I was a prostitute in El Salvador, hustling for the cartels. I wasn’t a high earner, everyone loved the blondes where I was from and I was as brunette as they came. Since I couldn’t really make money there, I ended up doing… other jobs for the cartels. Smuggling drugs with very personal parts of mine, for the most part. They didn’t let me have guns and I needed some a weapon to make up for my smaller size, so I used to build my own knives out of whatever materials I could scrounge up and hide from the others. It had to be discreet and throwaway in case I needed to defend myself and make a quick escape…”

The vigilante, finally being able to open his eyes slowly, directed his gaze directly to Vaggie, who was indeed sitting on the corner of his bed. Her voice was starting to shake now, producing a surge of empathy from the vigilante.

“It was a really bad neighborhood, so I had to craft and use them quite often. That’s how I got so good at using throwing knives. I used those things so God damn much that I eventually made a small spear that I always kept on me. I kept it hidden in my boots since they were tall enough to hold it. It was the only way I was going to survive over there. Eventually I made the handle longer and I just kept it hidden in the corner of my room.”

The Fox slowly nodded. He was both impressed with and sad for the grey moth. It was clear from her demeanor that things had gone horribly wrong in her life; everyone lets that manifest differently, but Vaggie’s general attitude was typical of someone who had never gotten to experience luxury and constantly struggled in her living years. As sad as it was to listen to, Aiden couldn’t help but feel honored that someone as closely guarded as Vaggie was suddenly willing to open herself up at least partially, even if it meant that it had to be done where the vigilante was in no place to respond.

“They always kept close tabs on me, kept me cooped up with the other prostitutes. Some of them knew how good I was with a blade, so there was almost always someone watching me at all times. Eventually, I said fuck it, I’m bustin’ out of this shithole. I had a friend with a helicopter who was gonna fly me over to America and start a new life away from this shit. That was, until everything went down the shitter when I got in a fight with one of the guards who spotted me as I was trying to leave.”

Aiden turned his head slowly to face Vaggie directly, listening closely to every word she said. A curiosity started to arise, causing Aiden to wonder if Vaggie would reveal what happened to her eye. He had a feeling he was finally going to get that answer.

“I managed to steal his gun, but he grabbed my spear and impaled my fucking eye with it. He stabbed it so hard it actually poked out the back of my damn head.” Vaggie started gripping the sheets of the in curled up fists, squeezing as tightly as she could. “Somehow I managed to get back up and shoot the fucker. I remember running on those grassy fields towards the chopper, waving my arms because I didn’t know what else the fuck to do…” A single tear brimmed her good eye, the moth’s shoulders now trembling. “I didn’t get far… that shot alerted everyone and they turned me into swiss cheese before I could even get halfway.”

The pastel demon fell silent, the Fox trying to reach out a comforting hand only to find that he had enough energy to get his arm a few inches off the bed. Damn this demonic crash.

“Aiden… don’t do this. Don’t fucking do this to yourself. I know this is about Alastor. I also know you’re in limbo right now, and you’re one of the first ones in limbo to ever to make it to the hotel here, which kind of makes you a celebrity here in Hell. Not to mention that your hacking skills are pretty much unrivaled down here.” She turned her head, looking Aiden dead in the eyes. “THAT’S why you went over to 666 News, wasn’t it? So you could steal their money? Their information?”

Aiden didn’t respond in any way, just continuing to stare at her with a stony expression.

“Thought so. As for Alastor, I don’t like him, either. But you must understand, he’s bigger and stronger than any of us, even you. Just leave him alone and do what you need to go back home. Don’t burn all of this to the ground for us, we’re just demons here. This is HELL, man. Nobody here deserves to be saved.”

Without another word, Vaggie hopped up from the bed and walked briskly out of the room, gently closing the door once again behind her, leaving the vigilante once again to his own thoughts.

That last sentence hit the vigilante hard. How could she possibly say that? He could only imagine how Charlie would feel if she had heard the absolute lack of faith her own lover had in the Happy Hotel. Vaggie definitely WANTED to have faith that things were going to pan out, the Fox mused, but it seemed like, for the most part, that hope was gone.

No wonder she was so angry.

Exhaustion once again started to embrace Aiden as he let his head fall back against the pillow, staring at the wooden ceiling absentmindedly. The feeling of being absolutely deadlocked in his thoughts returned, his chest tightening in strife. To chase Alastor or to not chase Alastor? Indeed, that was the question.
****************************************************************************************************************************************
After what felt like hours just laying around in the bed, the vigilante came to the conclusion that it was a question that could be reflected on further after another power nap. His piercing green eyes steadily grew more and more weary until they had no choice but to slide closed, the boredom of lying in bed overtaking him.

The bliss of incoming sleep did not last long, however, as a loud bang plus the sound of the infirmary door creaking open slowly stirred Aiden half awake. He felt strange: as his eyes re-opened, the first thing the Fox noticed was how shadowy everything looked. It was if everything had turned into a silhouette of its former self. The vigilante was completely disoriented; he couldn’t tell if he was truly awake or if he was in a second limbo between dreaming and twilight.

But that was far from the biggest problem in the room.

As Aiden adjusted his vision to the right, he noticed a tall, slender, and equally shadowy figure slowly approaching him. Intense fear and loathing quickly seeped into him, but for some reason, he couldn’t move again. Every digit and limb were unresponsive. He couldn’t even scream. All he could do was move his eyes, watching helplessly as the figure seemed to almost float to his side. It didn’t take Aiden long to figure out who it was.

The figure slowly leaned down towards the vigilante, methodically and ominously, still a complete shadow as it moved. As it’s face slowly came into view, the Fox’s worst fears had been confirmed.
Alastor’s bloodied face, combined with a matching unnerving grin much wider than what seemed possible even for a demon, suddenly shone brightly within the otherwise unlit room. Aiden’s heart was thumping extremely violently, the feeling of panic threatening to not only overwhelm him but also to kill him.

Nothing… NOTHING was more terrifying than being paralyzed from the nose down and staring into what the vigilante could only assume was the Radio Demon’s demonic form.

Aiden couldn’t even close his eyes as the demon’s radio dial eyes formed into small circular pools of static, mesmerizing the vigilante into a panic-stricken trance as the rest of his surroundings also succumbed to the grainy background of Alastor’s eyes. Without warning, the Radio Demon opened his mouth extremely wide, wider than, again, what seemed to be possible for anything to accomplish.

This was it, this was the end… again. Aiden felt like he was REALLY screwed this time and he was going to be brutally murdered by this mysterious crimson clad demon overlord right here, right now. It wasn’t the first time he had felt this hopeless dread, but that didn’t make this time any less real.

Nothing came out of Alastor’s open mouth; no laughter, no taunting, no screaming, not even a whisper, just an open mouth gaze as if he was preparing to take a chunk right out of the vigilante’s arm.

Which is exactly what he did as the demon lined up his fangs and chomped down with extreme force, sending massive shockwaves of pain searing through the vigilante’s entire body as he clenched his eyes shut and tried in vain to shout out. The pain only got worse as the vigilante’s breathing quickened, escalating more and more until…

BANG!

Aiden’s entire body seemed to have a gigantic twitch as his eyes shot open again, his surroundings returning to normal in an instant. It was as if nothing had ever happened. The only evidence of what just happened remaining was the near hyperventilation from the adrenaline still rushing through the Fox’s body and the feeling of a decent sized weight on his chest.

Was Alastor really there? Was it all just a huge nightmare?

It took a moment for Aiden to regain his bearings as he looked around the room. Sure enough, everything was indeed the same as that familiar eerie red glow filled up the infirmary. At least all his body parts were now functional again.

As he directed his vision to the mound that was directly in front of him and prepared to fight, he paused for a moment before gently smiling as he felt his blood pressure drop in sweet relief.

The source of the pressure on his chest was nothing more than sweet little Niffty, curled up in a ball and dozing away. Aiden gently reached a loving arm over and ever so gently pulled the little demon in close to him, wrapping both arms around her waist and squeezing her like a teddy bear, causing Niffty to purr in reply.

At long last, he felt safe once more.

Chapter Text

It was now three weeks later. Aiden had had some time to reflect on his situation once again and it was becoming clear to him now how impactful Charlie’s attitude towards him was. It had only taken a day or two to recover and the rest of the time was spent getting used to his new treatment plan, which he now was starting to embrace: group therapy on Mondays and Wednesdays, individual therapy and hotel activities on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and then check in with Charlie on Fridays, followed by more individual therapy. This left him with free weekends, which he would often spend with Niffty if she wasn’t busy cleaning the hotel or cooking dinner.

As he headed into the cafeteria to grab some breakfast before stopping in to see Charlie, he saw Angel Dust sitting at a table by his lonesome, happily munching on some scrambled eggs. Smirking, the vigilante quickly grabbed an omelet with buttered toast and took the seat opposite the spider. He slammed the tray down as hard as he could, causing Angel to launch himself upwards in fright.

That will never get old.

“Go fuck yaself, Pearce!”

“Angel! Language!” came Vaggie’s scolding voice from the other end of the room.

“Fuck you, too!” replied Angel, twitching a bit as he waved the moth off with both of his left hands. Sighing and grinning again, he returned his attention to Aiden. “What’s shakin’, bacon?”

“You’re awfully happy today.”

“A’course I am, doll! I’m a pretty cheerful guy, ya know.”

“Not like this.” Even though Aiden was feeling pretty relaxed, he found that breaking his usually monotone tone of voice was difficult.

He secretly resented his resting bitch voice.

“Alright, alright… ya got me,” relented Angel, folding his upper hands and resting his chin on them. “I guess I oughta keep ya in the loop, eh? I got myself a man!”
The vigilante perked up at this. Angel never struck him as the type to want to tie down to anyone, especially given his choice of career. Still, seeing the spider happy was way more enjoyable than seeing him drunk.

“Wow. Congrats,” was all Aiden could come up with. He felt bad for having so little to say, despite most of that being from surprise rather than a lack of interest.

“Thanks,” replied Angel, his tone suddenly flattening out as his eyes moved away from the Fox.

“Everything okay?” Angel looked at the vigilante for a moment, seemingly shocked that the dark and brooding Aiden actually showed genuine concern every blue moon or so.

“Yeah, yeah… heh. Shit just makes me nervous. I don’t like bein’ so… vulnerable.”

Yeah, not buying that at all.

“You’re in bed with every other demon…”

Angel narrowed his eyes at the vigilante. “No feelins there, bud. Strictly business. This is different.”

“I hope it works out for you.”

“Yeah.” The two stared at each other for a moment, Aiden’s expression remaining unchanged as Angel once again looked away. Not wanting to push a clearly awkward situation further, the vigilante decided to put a pin in this situation and cut to the chase.

“Your sister… what was her name, again?”

“Molly.”

“Right. You said she told you she knew too much and was going off the grid for a while- “

“No.” The Fox blinked.

“What?”

“I know wucha tryna do, Pearce. Don’t even botha. I dunno shit about her situation and I don’t want ya gettin’ involved with this. I just…don’t wanna talk about it.” Angel slid his chair back and got up, dumping nearly all his uneaten food into the garbage as he suddenly made haste in leaving.

A strange reaction, but not an unjustified one. The vigilante figured that this had been bothering the spider for quite some time and, well… his own threatening of Molly didn’t help the situation. Still, now knowing that Angel prevented him from getting kicked out of the hotel and possibly keeping him stranded in Hell forever, a debt was definitely owed.

He had to do this. At the very least he had to figure out if she was still alive or not, even if it only gave Angel some much needed closure.

As he quickly finished his breakfast and stood up to put his tray back, Aiden noticed in his peripheral vision Husk and Alastor talking to each other at a table all the way in the back corner of the cafeteria. He stopped to watch them briefly as they chatted and laughed like two old buddies from college having a couple drinks together. A feeling of uneasiness washed over the Fox; was Husk someone to worry about as well? He had been pretty sure Alastor was a loner, but apparently he wasn’t.

Some further recon would need to be done.

Both demons stopped talking as Alastor gestured with his eyes to Husk, causing the alcoholic cat to turn around in his seat as they both stared at the Fox.

Shit.

The vigilante broke eye contact and rapidly walked through the huge double doors leading back to the foyer, swearing under his breath profusely. How could he have been so sloppy as to give away the fact that he was watching them?

It was amateur hour in the Happy Hotel.
********************************************************************************************************************************************
“After the break, we have an exclusive interview with the ugly motherfucker himself, Freddy Krueger! And later, what is a T-800? Have you seen them? What are they doing here and how can you prevent them from fucking up your day? Is Lucifer planning on using them as his OWN Exterminators? The answers may surprise you! All that and more, coming up!”

“Annnnnnnnnnnnnnd, cut!” yelled the director as everyone in the studio started scurrying away for lunch. Within minutes, the only demons left were Katie Killjoy and her punching bag Tom Trench.

“Those robots creep me the hell out,” started Tom, shuffling his papers and neatly tucking them away in his briefcase. “I haven’t been that terrified of machines since the first time I saw a tank!”

“Tom, you screamed like a little bitch when you saw that video of the Mothman.”

“Screw you, I did not!” said Tom defensively, quickly glancing at Katie before getting up to leave.

“Yeah, you did. Grab me some flapjacks and a black coffee while you’re out.”

“That’s gonna go right to your hips…” Tom muttered under his breath.

“What was that?”

“Nothing, nothing.”

“Keep that shit up and my FOOT is gonna go right to your ASS, Trench!” She suddenly felt a buzzing sensation coming from her gold-trimmed black handbag as her cell phone started ringing, the high-pitched tone echoing throughout the now empty studio despite being tucked away. The blonde newscaster quickly took it out and answered without missing a beat.

“Talk to me.”

There was a pause as Katie’s eyes widened.

“He WHAT?!? How the fuck did that happen? You had one job! ONE JOB! No, I don’t give a fuck that your car got totaled! He never should have gotten away!” She clenched her teeth, some sparks flying as she did so. “Listen, you useless piece of shit, you’re not getting a CENT of that fucking money unless you bring him to me dead or alive. Now get going, and don’t call me again until you’ve got a vigilante to show me!” She threw her phone across the studio, the phone catching fire for a brief second before smashing against the door Tom had exited through, shattering into hundreds of tiny pieces.

“Fuck you, Aiden Pearce!” screamed the incensed newscaster, slamming both fists on the desk. “FUCK YOU HARD!”
****************************************************************************************************************************************************
‘System booting… please wait.’

The Fox looked at his Profiler, hoping that somehow looking at it would make the phone wake up faster. Charlie had done a good job of keeping him busy for the past few weeks, but now he finally had some downtime to do his favorite activity: spying. A wave of guilt spread through the vigilante as he entered his password and loaded up the camera feeds within the hotel; he knew he shouldn’t have been doing this, but he just couldn’t help himself.

As much as he hated to admit it, the vigilante had discovered something of a family with the residents of the Happy Hotel minus a select couple. It all felt strange, he couldn’t remember the last time he had felt a closeness that wasn’t quite as possessive as it was Nicky. Still, at least now he was snooping around for the sake of the hotel residents instead of trying to clean up Hell, which was just silly.

It was the little victories that counted, right?

He stuck with his usual routine of cameras, starting at the top and working his way down. He began with Mimzy’s room: nothing to speak of, just the flapper demon applying some makeup and singing the opening theme of Chicago to herself.

Next was Angel’s room, where he found the spider snoozing on his bed, the picture of Molly tightly held to his fluffy chest with all four of his arms like a blanket. The guilt being felt by the Fox quickly started to mix with sadness as he watched Angel toss and turn ceaselessly, his running mascara becoming more and more apparent with each new position he shifted to.

‘Just hold on, Angel,’ thought Aiden, trying not to shed a tear himself. ‘Joy will find you again soon. I promise. Just hold on…’

Sighing, he moved on to Charlie and Vaggie’s room, both of which were empty. Probably in the main office.

The bar area was also empty, much to Aiden’s surprise. Out of the 4 months he had been here in Hell, he had never once seen Husk away from the counter. He still wasn’t entirely sure if the eccentric cat actually lived there or not. He wasn’t sure why, but that all too familiar uneasiness crept its way back to the Fox’s head.

Was it paranoia or intuition? At this point, it was near impossible to tell.

Niffty’s room was no different: just the little demon sewing away on a boisterously colored costume. He took a moment to smile at his lover as she labored on the incredibly sparkly jacket, her tongue half hanging out in concentration.

She was so cute when she was focused.

A quick scan of the upper 5 floors showed nothing.

He directed his attention to Charlie’s office and, as predicted, the princess and her girlfriend were both there. It was always good to see Vaggie smiling, she really lit up a room when she wasn’t being her usual feisty self. She was chatting with Charlie, giggling occasionally as the two reminisced about their earlier years before the Happy Hotel. Aiden started to zone out at this point, simply enjoying the interactions between the two demons until…

“Vaggie, can I ask you something?”

“Sure!”

“Um… are you still mad at Aiden? I think you should really talk to him and clear the air. I know you think he’s a scumbag trying to leech off the hotel and he’s stirring up trouble with the 666 News crew, but I really think- “

“Shhh. It’s okay. I already took care of it. We… sorted things out last night.”

“You did??”

“Yeah. I did it for you, Char. I still don’t entirely trust him, he seems really shady to me, but I’m willing to let it go if you really think you can save him.”

Charlie immediately wrapped the moth up in a crushing bear hug, squealing in delight as she swayed her goth girlfriend from side to side like a child receiving her favorite gift on Christmas morning.

“Ohhhhhhhhhh, thank you, thank you, thank you!!!! I knew you had it in you to forgive people!” She finally let go of Vaggie, her smile still wide and shiny. “I’ll show you he can change! I promise, he’ll get back to his family back on Earth! Just give me a chance!”

“Okay, Charlie. I trust your judgment.” The two demons embraced once more, kissing passionately as they exchanged their “I love you”s and “thank you”s. Aiden’s smirk turned into a full on grin against his will. He had no idea what was coming over him, but it just felt so empowering to see Charlie, with the odds clearly stacked against her, prove to her stubborn and cynical partner that she was going to overcome them and fully convince her that it was going to happen.

It was so surreal to not only have someone completely believe in you, but also to come to the realization that maybe that’s what he really needed this whole time… someone to show him that being happy and nice did not denote weakness and how much time he had wasted trying to be ‘The Vigilante’, which only resulted in him ending up here in Hell.
A different feeling enveloped the Fox this time, not of fear or anger, but of hope and determination. He now wanted to get better, he had never felt more alive than this very moment. Not just for him and his family, but also for Niffty, who was also in his redemption corner more than anyone else.

It all made sense now.

He decided to check the rest of the bottom floor rooms and the basement one last time, just to be sure, and then put the Profiler down… for good. It took him a long time to get here, but he now fully understood what he needed to do. He had a recovery to make.

As he moved the feed along the final row of rooms, the last room on the corner caught his eye as two figures, one red and one black, zoomed by his phone screen as he flipped through the different feeds. Feeling his heart speed up again, he flipped back and saw both Husk and Alastor together once more, this time in a strange looking room, number 13, to be exact.

It almost looked like two separate rooms, one half of it a classy Southern style apartment with white walls and fabric on every piece of furniture, the other half nothing short of a literal bog. Red and black candles were scattered about the apartment side of the room, lit with ominous black flames that, somehow, produced light. The swampy side of the room reminded Aiden heavily of the bayous down in New Orleans, and he was also sure that was no coincidence.

This was undoubtedly Alastor’s room.

Both the cat and the Radio Demon were sitting at the ends of a very long table, Husk wildly devouring a large drumstick while Alastor carefully cut his venison with a fork and knife, taking much smaller bites and thoroughly enjoying every bite he took.

Wait… venison? Wasn’t Alastor a deer demon?

At this point, Aiden wasn’t even remotely surprised. He supposed next he would discover that the Radio Demon was executing demons live on his radio show late at night, too.

“Look Al, I told you I don’t wanna do this no more, why are you keeping that bitch on ice? This has been going on way longer than we agreed to.”

“Patience, kitty,” replied the crimson killdozer, his smile widening slightly as he sliced carefully yet enthusiastically into the slab of meat he was working on. “She is a valuable bargaining chip, you see. Also, as I've said before, she knows too much. Everything is at stake with that knowledge she has.”

“Bargaining chip? F'what? What could she possibly know? Why can't we put her on the Killing Floor tonight and be done with it? I did everythin' you asked.” Little bits of chicken splattered everywhere as Husk spoke, mildly annoying the Radio Demon.

“Why don’t you enjoy your meal and not ask so many questions? You never know who might be watching…”

Aiden felt his blood chill. Did Alastor know?

No, there’s no way. He’s just being his usual calculating self. The vigilante took a deep breath as the conversation continued.

“Pfft, please. Nobody else knows about this, not even Angel. And if you’re worried about Aiden, well, he’ll never find out, neither. He looks tough, but he’s all talk. ‘Sides, he don’t even know Molly…”

“Please, Husk, keep your voice down. The hotel is quite large, yes, but, as I stated earlier, you NEVER know- “

“No, fuck that!” returned Husk, slowly rising from his seat and cutting Alastor off at the pass. “You’re such a prick! I told ya my criminal days are way behind me and that I’m getting too old for this shit, and what do ya do? You drag me back into another fuckin’ mysterious scheme that you won’t tell me SHIT about! I wanna fuckin’ know what the FUCK is goin’ on if ya want me to continue helpin’ ya out. NOW!”

Husk sank back into his seat, seemingly satisfied that he finally found an opportunity to chew the crimson crusader out. Alastor answered only with a smile, staring at the gambler for a few seconds and tilting his head to the side before silently returning to his meal.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” said Husk, returning to wolfing down what remained of his gigantic chicken leg. “Screw you, Al. I should never have gone back to you, you’re just… too much.” The cat’s voice was losing intensity and confidence as Alastor’s grin only grew wider. Husk’s chewing started to slow down as he put a paw to his chest, his breath hitching as he struggled to take a full breath.

The camera feed started to darken on the Profiler’s screen as the vigilante watched Alastor’s figure slowly darken to a shadow, the slender demon slowly rising to his full height as Husk fell backwards off his chair, hitting the marble with a sickening thud, desperately wheezing as he tried to suck up any air he could. The Radio Demon’s eyes and teeth shone brightly in the darkness as Husk writhed in panic, helpless to whatever was ailing him.

Part of Aiden wanted to look away; this whole scene was starting to feel like watching a car crash in slow motion as Alastor slowly picked up his knife and made his way towards Husk, the Profiler’s screen darkening even further.

No. He needed to see his methods. He needed to see what this monster could do.

“Listen carefully, my furry compatriot,” said Alastor, creeping towards the alcoholic cat at a painfully slow and methodic pace, completely ignoring Husk’s cries for help and face, which was now turning a dark shade of blueish purple. “I have warned you on many occasions not to cross me, did I not?”

As he reached the squirming Husk, he squatted down to his level and again tilted his head to the side as he stared directly into Husk’s eyes, smile never wavering, causing the feline to tremble as a puddle slowly formed on the floor surrounding him.

Aiden found it harder and harder to watch as Alastor poised the knife threateningly in Husk’s general direction.

“I got you out of that little jam with Lucifer, didn’t I? You did that first job for me to repay that debt you owed me. Then, like the little cockroach you are, you went and got in trouble AGAIN, this time with Exterminators, did you not? I once again stepped in and pulled a few strings, so, I reiterate good sir, that you once again owe me. And so, here we are, me at a crucial point in my existence and you… YOU… being an ungrateful little brat! I have no choice but to punish you, Husk.”

“No… please…,” was all Husk could squeak out before Alastor pressed his foot against the grifter’s throat, raising his knife hand and slowly turning his head away from Husk.

“Please don’t take this personally Husk, but I have to make sure one hundred and ten percent that you understand what is at stake here.”

The demon continued turning his head a full 180 degrees until his glowing eyes and mouth were directly facing the camera, the very one that Aiden was watching them both through. Alastor’s eyes never left the camera, nothing else moving except for his knife-wielding arm, which only continued to raise before suddenly stopping at the limit of his reach.

“NOOOOOOOO- “

The panicked screaming of Husk was cut short as the Profiler suddenly lost connection with the camera feed, leaving the vigilante with nothing but a ‘Connection Lost’ message, which blinked tauntingly at him as he tried to get back to the feed with no success.

“Come on, you fucker. Get in there!” Aiden yelled at his phone, trying to desperately to reconnect as his fingers flew around the Profiler’s screen, utilizing every workaround and code exploit he could think of.

‘Connection Unavailable’

‘Connection Unavailable’

‘Connection Unavailable’

‘Connection Unavailable’

Nothing.

“GOD DAMMIT!” roared the vigilante, pounding the Profiler out of frustration and miraculously not cracking the screen at all. “HUSK!”

The vigilante was at a loss as to what to do. He certainly didn’t want to go down to that room personally, even he knew where his limitations were. All he could do was stare at the grid of available cameras in front of him, the one he wanted sporting a big red X over it as God knows whatever the hell was going on between the Radio Demon and Husk.

By the time he had gotten his breath back under a control, a soft beep shattered the silence, causing Aiden to nearly jump out of his skin.

‘New Camera Feed Available’

The vigilante quickly tapped the camera icon that reappeared.

‘Loading Feed…’

It took a few seconds for the camera to broadcast a clear picture to the Profiler. The room was now empty and back to its normal lighting, both Alastor and Husk nowhere to be found, neither in the apartment nor the swamp. Not a single object was disturbed except for the candles, their black flames now extinguished. Even the food and plates previously on the long table were now gone. No blood stains anywhere to be seen on the floors or walls. The room looked as if nobody had ever stepped foot in it.

That’s it, enough snooping.

Aiden nervously got up from his bed, palms sweating waterfalls, briskly walking to his bedroom door to lock it. He double checked the lock for good measure before returning to his bed and quickly logging off.

Aiden slept with one eye open the entire night.

Chapter Text

The red fog of the underworld slowly filled the room as Aiden’s eyes slowly opened. It had been a very long night; he had only managed to fall asleep for a few hours in the early morning. Despite this, the Fox felt strangely wired and full of energy. That feeling of dread was starting to return.

What the hell happened last night?

The entire scene played through the vigilante’s head like a cinema: the darkening of the room, Husk choking, Alastor lifting the knife, looking directly at Aiden seemingly through his soul, the lost connection…

“HI, MISTER AIDEN!” A reflexive (and quite surprised) hand swung back, accidentally striking a bright eyed Niffty, who proceeded to tumble to the floor only to be undeterred and hop back on the bed as if nothing had happened. “Where were you? You missed breakfast and group therapy today! It was really weird because Angel and Vaggie started fighting about stuff and then Husk fell asleep and Charlie yelled at him and then- “

“Niffty.”

“Sorry!” The little demon ceased her rambling as Aiden slowly sat up, rubbing his eyes. “We were all worried about you, that’s all!”

“I’m fine.” Niffty narrowed her eyes, looking her partner up and down a few times with her single eye before folding her arms.

“You look like shit. You sound like you’ve been drugged for a century. Did you sleep? Like, at all? Why did you miss today’s session? Are you still going to eat something? Why? Why, why, why why…” A finger pressed itself against Niffty’s lips, silencing her immediately.

“It’s okay, Niffty. I just had a hard time sleeping last night and I overslept.”

“Oh… okay!” replied Niffty, pondering for a moment before perking back up and squeezing the Fox lovingly. “Come on, I made your favorite lava cakes just for you!” Before Aiden could protest, Niffty grabbed his hand and, with a surprising amount of force, yanked him up and lead him out of bed, heading towards the cafeteria. “I even took out the roaches for you this time!”
**********************************************************************************************************************************
A black cab approached the front entrance of the hotel, being watched eagerly by a dressed to the nines Angel Dust. The spider smirked as the vehicle grew bigger and bigger within his view, doing a final smoothing out of his now luscious blonde hair.

He had to look as perfectly as he felt, after all. Well, at least close.

Angel glanced down at his long and flowing maroon dress, double checking every crease and corner for absolute perfection, which of course, it was. He gave the dress a small twirl, enjoying the feel of the fabric as it elegantly floated back to the ground. His eyes blinked twice to make sure his beautiful lashes were still intact, his crimson gloved hands brushing them gently as the ghost of a smirk crept across his lips. Damn, he looked good. If only he could make money fucking himself, he could compete with the royal family in wealth!

That thought sounded better on paper, now that he thought about it.

As the car pulled up to the front entrance of the hotel, the passenger door flew open as the horn honked a couple times, catching Angel by surprise.

“Hey there, sweetums,” came a sultry voice from the car, a grey hand with talon-like black fingers beckoning the spider inside. “Are you ready?”

“A’course I am, babe,” replied Angel, swallowing down the knot of nerves in his throat as he daintily sat in the seat and closed the door.

“Good. Because you and I are gonna finish that deal tonight, and then we’re gonna have some real fun tonight. Isn’t that right… sweetheart?”

“Yeah… yeah, a gay old time.”

“Don’t get cute with me, Angel. Just do what you’re told and everything will be just fine.”

“Heh… if ya say so.”

The window slowly rolled up, a faint cackling penetrating the silence as the locks on the doors clicked shut and the cab peeled off through the giant gate of the Happy Hotel and into the horizon towards Pentagram City, eventually disappearing into the thick red fog.
************************************************************************************************************************
“Let me clarify…,” started Baxter, adjusting the golden goggles on his face. “You’re terminating your mission to exterminate Alastor but you still wish to rescue Angel Dust’s sister?”

Aiden nodded in response.

“Why? You DO understand that you’re giving up all your progress, right? RIGHT?”

The question caught the vigilante completely off guard. If anything, he assumed that Baxter didn’t like doing all the behind the scenes prep work that he did for him, but judging by the tone of his nasally voice…

It also seemed like the fish was eager for Aiden to follow through.

“Yeah, I know,” said Aiden, still not entirely convinced that changing the mission from seek and destroy to search and rescue would really step on anyone’s toes at this point. “I really owe Angel this favor. If it weren’t for him, I’d be out in Pentagram City working for someone else and not getting the chance to get out of here. It’ll be the last thing I do, I promise.”

Baxter furrowed his brows, folding his arms as he pondered over the Fox’s words for a moment. “A likely story, Mr. Pearce. You might be able to fool the princess with those sentiments, but you are certainly not pulling a fast one on me!” He paused for a moment before walking back to his workbench and beginning to what could only be described as violently washing his vials and beakers thoroughly.

“Why do you even care? You’re the one who kept preaching to me about how overpowered Alastor is and now that I’m giving up on that, you’re suddenly disappointed.”

“Your assumption would be correct.” Aiden stopped for a moment and returned his gaze to the anglerfish, still cleaning his supplies viciously.

“What? You- “

“Yes, Aiden. I was hoping you would be the one to snuff the Radio Demon’s flame.” The vigilante could only continue staring at Baxter, unsure of what to say. He never imagined Baxter of all demons being so vengeful, albeit passively. “You’re a smart man. Surely, you must have discovered that radio station Alastor fronts, right?”

“66.6? Yeah, that was a dead end.”

“Oh no. No, no, no, no, no, no, NO!” Baxter had stopped cleaning his vials and threw the ones in his hands onto the ground, shattering them. “That radio station, wherever the hell it is, is the key to putting an end to him! I’ve been meaning to triangulate its position but I cannot continue listening to that horrible channel! IT’S SO HORRIBLE! I secretly hoped that you, with all of your strength and kung fu shit, would go in there and clean house, but I guess that’s just a FUCKING PIPE DREAM! Alastor… that bastard executed my dearest friend LIVE on that station! SLAUGHTERED him! He… he…”

The anglerfish had given up his theatrics and plopped himself straight down onto his patterned metal floor, covering his face with his hands. “He’s gone.”

It was absolutely haunting to the vigilante how quietly Baxter uttered those last two words. It was more than just a whisper, it was the desperate broken cry of someone who had lost someone near and dear to him. It brought Aiden back to his niece’s funeral, several days after the hit squad had attacked him and took the life of Lena. Nicky had had that same tone, the exact same tone, and it greatly bothered him.

As the fish demon began crying, Aiden just stayed in his seat, unable to force his body to do anything except sit still. An old feeling returned to the vigilante in this moment: one of confusion, of being torn between two ideals. Torn between letting this all go and restarting his hunt on the mysterious Radio Demon.

No doubt, all these stories that he had heard about Alastor were true. The mysterious disappearances, his ominous reputation, his disturbing personality, and now, the very radio station he had was supposedly being used to broadcast torturous executions of demons live?

Never did the thought once cross the vigilante’s mind that one day he would cross paths with someone even worse than Lucky Quinn. This demon needed to be put down.
But what about himself? He had been making so much progress that even Aiden himself couldn’t believe it. Not a single weapon had reached his hands in almost a month and he was feeling significantly better as time went on. He hadn’t had any run-ins with Alastor nor had he caught sight of the woman in white wo had been following him. He was finally starting to feel… human, for once. Vaggie’s words still rattled around in his mind.

‘None of us deserve to be saved.’

Now that he knew there was a possibility to turn himself around, that there was some hope, there was no way he was going to give that up. He had come too far in both directions to give either mission up. It was infinitely more stressful than any other moment he could recall.

Baxter’s crying intensified into short bursts of heavy heaving, causing even more distress within the Fox. Aiden could feel his chest tightening, indecision and uncertainty drowning him. He felt like he was going to pass out again, the mere thought of pulling the trigger on either decision simply too much to handle. The room began to spin in Aiden’s vision, prompting him to pull up his mask for any kind of comfort he could find. As his dizziness reached its peak, something snapped within his mind as everything suddenly snapped back to normal.

He had made his decision. There was no other way.

“I’m sorry, Baxter…,” was all the Fox could manage to say before unsteadily getting back to his feet. Taking out his pistol and baton along with any extra ammunition he had, the vigilante put them on the table next to the anglerfish demon’s workbench and slowly walked out through the giant steel door, a sense of immense guilt pummeling him.

“You’re nothing but a coward, Aiden! A STUPID…FUCKING…COWARD!”
The vigilante stopped just short of the steel door upon hearing the insult, briefly glancing at Baxter through his peripheral vision before finally stepping through back to the basement, letting the door slide closed behind him as he left Baxter to wallow in his sorrow.
***********************************************************************************************************************************
It was 5:48 PM at St. Louis Medical Center. The sunset pouring in through the window to the vigilante’s hospital room was beautiful as it lit up Aiden’s entire sleeping space. All was calm and tranquil, the only noises aside from the hustling nurses and doctors was the steady rhythm of the heart monitor and fluid tubes keeping the Fox alive. Aiden remained motionless on the bed, his eyes closed and his breathing steady.

A woman with blonde hair walked in, her neatly done ponytail bouncing with each excited step as she looked at her brother’s vitals, the numbers and visuals all being shown in a glowing bright green.

“Hey, Aiden!” she exclaimed, sitting down in the same chair next to Aiden’s bed that she had become accustomed to every day for the past five months. “I’m so happy to see you, as always!” The woman looked at her brother, a smile slowly forming as she kept glancing back at the monitor. “I just talked to Doctor Andrews. He told me you’re getting better! Your blood pressure is stabilizing, and your injuries are healing exactly as they should. They even managed to remove the bullet without doing any extra damage! He thinks you’ll be awake very soon, Aiden. Or, at least, there’s a very good chance you’ll come back to us.”

She held back tears as she looked at the resting vigilante, checking his wrist pulse out of instinct just to be sure he was really okay. It felt stronger this time, livelier.
Perhaps it was just her imagination, but the atmosphere of the room was different today. It felt wonderful, a ray of hope making itself present within her spirit.

“I love you, Aiden.”

She gently grabbed his limp right hand and squeezed it gently, gasping as she noticed that for the first time, it wasn’t all that limp at all.

Could it be?

“If you can hear me, just grab my hand. Anything, do something. Let me know you’re still here. Let me know you forgive me, that you still love me.”
Her heart jumped as a sensation enveloped her hand. There was a very loose but ever-present grip as she laid her hand in his.

“Oh… oh my God! Doctor! I need a doctor right now! Doctor!!!”

Chapter Text

The red mist of Hell slowly crept in through the windows of the hotel as morning made its presence known within the underworld. All was quiet, not a sound could be heard except for the occasional car that passed by. If it weren’t for the fog and the giant pentagram in the sky, nobody would have been the wiser as to where they actually were in that moment.

The vigilante’s eyes slowly opened, a small smile visible on his face as he sat up and stretched his arms and legs before sliding out of his bed and heading for his shower.

He had never imagined getting to a point where he felt… comfortable?... in Hell. Upon first smacking the pavement from that long drop almost five months ago, it seemed as though all was lost, hopeless. He could still recall the feeling perfectly; not being able to move much, the mental anguish of trying to figure out exactly where he was… it was possibly the worst feeling he had ever experienced, second only to losing his niece.

But now? Things were beginning to come together, something which seemed impossible just weeks ago. The heat could be adjusted to over time. The other Happy Hotel residents, although seriously flawed, were (for the most part) good people that were just a little lost, as was he. That could be forgiven, right? Hell, he had even managed to get a girlfriend in the process and even drummed up the courage to give up his weapons. He even shaved regularly now!

Aiden still couldn’t figure out which one of the three was the biggest miracle.

As he continued to reflect on his current situation and take inventory, a realization crossed the Fox’s mind.

He was feeling better. A lot better. Maybe Charlie wasn’t so delusional, after all.

The thought of Charlie caused the Fox to suddenly remember what today was: it was Friday, which meant a check in with the princess herself. He quickly got up and dressed into some nicer looking clothes that Niffty had crafted just for him, consisting of some brown dress slacks and a sharp white collared polo shirt.

As he briskly made his way down to Charlie’s office, he couldn’t help but feel just a little bit excited. He would never admit this aloud, but Charlie always knew exactly what to say and, despite her image, was not a pushover in the slightest. If she found a problem in his way of thinking, she would most certainly point it out and correct it immediately. There were even moments of anger that arise from the princess, and they were quite frightening, but the vigilante knew that she did it with the most pure intentions possible.

She could definitely be trusted.

Even Vaggie, who was still prone to outbursts every so often, was starting to show a warmer side to her, a side that Aiden guessed was a much more genuine version of herself. She even gave Baxter a hug at one point, much to Charlie’s delight and Baxter’s disgust. The moth was quite pleasant underneath all of that anger and overprotectiveness.

Look at him, being all hopeful and optimistic. Charlie really does rub off on people.

Wait… was he whistling a happy tune? Actually, no… it was just Highway to Hell. He was starting to get WAY too comfortable here.

As he exited the elevator on the ground floor, a crashing sound reached the vigilante’s ears. Eh, it was probably just Husk dropping another crate of alcohol. Wait, Husk… he still looked and acted perfectly normal. It was if NOTHING had happened between him and the Radio Demon.

Did it really happen? Were the two demons working together just to screw with his head?

‘No, Aiden,’ thought the Fox, chiding himself. ‘I’m not going back there again’.

A second crashing sound rang through the main foyer, once again snapping the vigilante out of his snowballing thoughts. He continued down the main hallway towards Charlie’s office when a tall and lanky figure stumbled past him, wobbling with each step, going out of his way to avoid eye contact and instead staring intently at the empty maroon walls.

“Uh… Angel?”

“Hi.” Aiden stopped immediately upon hearing the spider’s voice, noticing an uncharacteristic crack as the demon quickly picked up his pace, not even sparing a passing glance. As the vigilante turned to call out to Angel, he noticed that the pink and white striped suit Angel normally sported had tears in random places, his hair all ruffled and messy.

Was he… trembling? Aiden watched as Angel’s limbs seemed to jerk and twitch uncontrollably, which appeared to be affecting how he walked. The steps were slow and long, almost too long for even the spider to handle, leading to awkward steps that would end up in near falls as he approached the elevator. A feeling of tension manifested itself in Aiden, wanting to follow him and intervene, but he found his mind completely locked up.

‘Mind your own business. It’s not your problem,” thought the Fox as he finally made it to the main office and knocked gently on the ornate wooden door.

Silence.

After waiting a few seconds, he decided to just enter the room. The office was empty, showing no signs of Charlie or Vaggie. The only sounds that could be heard were the humming of the piranha tank and the television quietly playing in the background. Upon first glance, it appeared to be a rerun of Desperate Demonesses. Vaggie was completely obsessed with that show.

Quickly looking around the spacious office, Aiden took a seat on the red couch he had come to know and love over the past few months, grabbing the remote off of Vaggie’s side desk as he went. The knot in his gut grew tighter as he eyed the clock on the wall, the time reading 11:58.

‘No. Don’t do it. It doesn’t concern you anymore. Just let it be, dammit.’

His eyes returned to the TV, slowly grabbing the remote. He could feel his hands clamming up.

11:59.

‘It’s not worth it. Let sleeping dogs lie.’ The anticipation was killing the vigilante as he gripped the controller tighter in his left hand, starting to feel the plastic bend as his hand enveloped the controller. He had come so far in his transformation, but the creeping sensation of helplessness was always lingering in the background, slowly eating away at his resolve. No matter how hard he tried to suppress it, no matter how deep he buried it, that feeling, that burning desire to take back control of fate, always returned. It just didn’t feel natural to Aiden, no matter how many times Charlie reasoned with him.

Secretly, he wished that vengeful side would return. He just needed a reason.

12:00. Fuck it.

Aiden slowly lifted the remote, punching in 13 to change the channel. Right on cue, the 666 News theme began playing as his two favorite newscasters appeared on the screen, doing their normal intros and heading into their first story of the day.

As the report went on without mention of the bounty, one of the many things still chewing on his sanity, the vigilante’s blood pressure lowered. He hadn’t forgotten about the price Katie had put on his head, but he supposed that as long as he stayed within the grounds of the hotel, demons wouldn’t be able to harm him.

The Fox pulled out his phone, the only remaining item keeping him attached to his grey hat hacking past. He easily accessed Katie’s website without an ounce of trouble. Sure enough, despite having deleted the contract just the day prior, it reappeared once more.

Shit, this clearly was not going to work.

“Any closing thoughts before we go to commercial break, Katie?”

“Definitely, Tom.”

Oh. Shit.

“Before we get a word from our sponsors, I just want to give an update on my vigilante situation!”

“Katie, we need to- “

“Shut the FUCK up, Trench!” Aiden’s eyes darted to the screen as Katie turned and snarled at Tom, jabbing his hand with her pen as her eyes glowed a brighter shade of red. Tom shrieked in pain and quickly went off camera as Katie returned her attention to the front, the camera zooming in on her face.

“As I was saying, it seems that every single of one of you sinners are completely spineless!” Her plastic smile quickly flipped to an intense frown. Aiden could have sworn he heard thunder upon the newscaster changing expressions. “NONE of you apparently know how to capture ONE FUCKING HUMAN! What the hell is the matter with you?? Are you all scared of the wittle boy who killed a wittle Exterminator? Is that it??”

A long pause filled the air as the entire studio went quiet, anxiously awaiting the reporter’s next word.

“Well… I see that you cowardly shitheads need some more motivation. So! I’m gonna raise the bounty by ten thousand every day, until one of you fuckers kill and/or capture this bastard and bring him to me… PERSONALLY!”

Aiden’s heart sunk in his chest. The anxiety came in like a tidal wave, blanching the vigilante’s face. What the hell was he gonna do now? Either he had to stay holed up in the hotel for the rest of his existence here or he had to take her out. He just couldn’t see any other way to escape.

Fuck this. Fuck all of this.

“Aiden, if you’re watching right now, I hope you- “

Before she could finish her sentence, the television blacked out as Aiden hit the power button on the remote with a shaky hand. It was simply too much.

That old familiar feeling of hopelessness washed over the vigilante, causing him to reach for his mask, only to realize that he had left it back in his room, stuffed in his drawers somewhere for awhile now. Perhaps things were not as good as he had thought. Things were not okay. Was he just lying to himself in order to stay low and please Charlie?

He didn’t want to admit it to himself, but… he was.

Between the two choices he now had, the vigilante concluded that staying within the grounds of the hotel was the best (and easiest) plan of action for the time being. As much as he disliked Killjoy, she just wasn’t worth the trouble of ruining his chances of redemption.

A vibrating sensation in his pants pocket suddenly jolted the Fox from his thoughts, scrambling quickly to answer it before Charlie returned. Upon looking at the screen, a second wave of dread hit the vigilante like a ton of bricks.

That number looked eerily familiar.

Against his better judgment, Aiden answered the call.

“Yeah?”

“Hey there, partner. Glad to hear you’re still alive.”

“Whatever you want, I’m not interested. Stop calling me.”

“Pearce, hear me out. Forget what happened at Sinnerz, okay? Things are different now. I actually NEED you.”

Gee, where had he heard this before?

“Flattering, but I think you’ll have more success fucking yourself.”

“AIDEN! I’m serious! We really need your help! Don’t force my hand…”

The vigilante paused, swallowing a flaming knot of anger in his throat. Was it worth hearing Damien out? Probably not, but hey, everybody deserves at least ONE chance, right?

“We? Who else knows about me?”

“Don’t play stupid with me, Pearce. You’re nothing short of a celebrity down here in Hell now and you know it. As for the “we”, that’s on a need to know basis. Let’s just say that a very powerful being would like a word with you.”

Aiden’s heart stopped. No, it couldn’t be. Who else could he be talking about?

“Who, Damien? Tell me or I’m out.”

“I can’t tell you yet, dammit. I can’t reveal anything else unless you agree to help us with our little problem.”

Aiden huffed in irritation, trying his absolute best to not completely lose his temper right then and there.

“Look, Damien… even if I did believe you actually needed help and weren’t about to either lead me to my death or rope me into some dead end scam, I still have zero reason to trust anything damn thing you do or say. You were pat of the reason I lost Lena and why I almost died again here in this shithole. So, you know what? Eat shit and die.”

“We're running out of fucking time, Pearce. This is your last chance to let me in.”

The grip Aiden had on his Profiler tightened drastically.

“Or else what, tough guy?”

“Or else I’ll have to resort to drastic measures.”

Whatever feelings peace and serenity that Aiden once had that morning were now entirely gone. An unbridled rage was bubbling up from underneath the surface as his former tranquility shattered with violent force. That much missed feeling of the old-fashioned adrenaline rush starting shooting through him once more, threatening to burst out with a bang.

“Do your worst, asshole. I killed you once, and I’ll happily do it again.” With that, he aggressively tapped the screen with his thumb, terminating the call.

So, Damien was one of Alastor’s puppets. Swell. Real swell. He just knew that something fishy was going on here and it was all starting to come together. First threatening the only person outside of his own family he ever loved, then brutally murdering Baxter’s friend on the Killing Floor, and NOW he was teaming up with the Fox’s old rival who had given him his own version of Hell up in Chicago?

No. This was not going to fly. If any moves were made against him, both Alastor and Damien were going to fucking suffer for this. For ALL of this.

“Hi, Aiden!”

The sound of Charlie’s saccharine voice filled the dead air as the door to the office swung open with feeling, the princess seeming to almost glide in as she moved. “I’m so excited to see you!”

“Uh… thanks.”

Charlie walked over to her desk, waving a manila folder in her hand that the vigilante took until now to notice. “I have great news!!!” Charlie almost screamed these words, bouncing up and down as she said them. Aiden could have sworn he heard squeaky toy noises with each bounce that she made.

This place is fucking weird. He wondered sometimes if this place actually was Hell or not.

“You’ve been a REAL good boy lately!” started Charlie, pulling out a small stack of papers from the folders. “Vaggie has been noticing super awesome behavior. You haven’t punched another demon in almost two weeks starting tomorrow, you haven’t made any threats, verbal, physical, emotional, or otherwise, in three weeks, you also haven’t done anything… creepy in a month and, best of all, it’s been almost three whole months since you were last convicted of any crimes outside of the Happy Hotel! Isn’t that fantastic??”

Aiden could only stare at her as her excited bouncing continued. Damn, this girl was so happy for someone who probably was the closest thing to an Anti-Anti-Christ Aiden had ever known. Where the hell did all of this energy come from?

“And?”

“I think this could be it!”

That was either very good or very bad.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, you’re close to graduation!” Aiden’s jaw dropped.

“What?”

“Yes! Aiden, you have improved SO much over these past few months! Everyone in the hotel has given you outstanding peer reviews and Vaggie and I both agree that you’re getting ready to turn the corner!”

A smile couldn’t help but manifest itself on Aiden’s face. He did it, he was finally starting to make a better life for himself and he was going to enjoy every moment of it. A feeling of lightness suddenly drowned out the boiling anger that was inside of him just moments ago.

Dare he think it, it actually felt… blissful.

“And if you need hard proof, I have the hospital reports right here! See?” The mime-like demon handed the bottom two pages of the stack to Aiden, whose jaw dropped as he slowly read the contents, sifting through the mess of useless numbers and medical jargon.

Name: Pearce, Aiden

Height: 6’ 2”

Weight: 210 lbs.

BP: 178/71

Condition: Stable

A single tear found its way up to Aiden’s eye, slowly trickling down his cheek. The feeling of joy, almost completely foreign to the vigilante at this point, hit him so quickly that he had absolutely no time to try and suppress it. An intense feeling of admiration and love for the princess quickly followed the joy, rendering Aiden both speechless and motionless as he had no idea how to make any part of his body work with all these emotions yanking him around at once.

“Charlie, I- “

Before he could finish his sentence, the blonde princess already had one arm around him, the other one silencing him with her finger to his mouth before leaning into a full hug, which the vigilante slowly returned.

She was very warm to the touch, almost unnaturally so, until he realized that a very light fiery aura surrounded Charlie, giving some extra body heat to her hug without burning him. Whether it was on purpose or just happened naturally, Aiden couldn’t be sure.

All he knew was, it felt so wonderful.

Before he knew it, more tears began to follow the first, and within moments Aiden had completely lost control. He was a blubbering mess, at least he thought so, anyway. The more he cried, the tighter Charlie squeezed him.

“Aiden.”

Amidst the tears, the vigilante finally looked at her, that elusive smile still plastered on his face. As soon as they made eye contact, Charlie grabbed his face with both hands and wrenched his face up to hers, so close that their noses were just barely touching.

“Remember when I told you you were gonna make it when you first arrived here?”

The vigilante nodded in response.

“Well, I love to say this, but… I told ya so.” The demon’s voice lowered to a soft whisper. “I always knew you’d make it.” The two stared in each other’s eyes for a moment before Charlie patted the Fox on the back before breaking the hug but still grabbing his arms.

“Thank you, Charlie. For everything.”

“This is why I do what I do, Aiden,” replied Charlie, giving the vigilante a wink. “All of this humiliation and sadness… it was all worth it, just to see you smile. Just to see you succeed. Just keep your head down and keep on the straight and narrow for another couple weeks and I think… I-I think you’ll be our first ever patient to make it out the other side. Nobody else has ever gotten this close. The link between your soul and your body is opening back up… it’s not all the way there yet, but it’s starting. I’m just… so proud of you.”

Aiden nodded, giving Charlie one last squeeze before heading back to his room. “I’ll do my best Charlie. I promise.”

The walk back to his room was surreal. Every step the Fox took felt like he was walking on air. The elevator ride up felt as if he were floating to the heavens. As if by magic, the deep, dark reds and pinks suddenly seemed to glow with happiness as if they were lit by neon.

By the time the doors slid open, the vigilante felt a rush of exuberance wash over him, causing him to close his eyes and stand still just to be able to fully experience the wonderful sensation he was feeling. As he opened his eyes, he noticed, for a split second, that he was wearing what looked like…

White robes? A gentle breeze peacefully whirling around him?

He blinked again and it all disappeared. Although disappointed at the feeling's departure, his small smile returned as he began walking again. It felt very similar to when he shared his first kiss with Niffty, and he would never forget that moment.

As he made his way back towards his room, the images of Angel walking through the main hall in a stupor suddenly popped up in his mind. He was probably okay, he always was… right? It wasn’t any of the vigilante’s business what Angel Dust did in his spare time, sure, but his demeanor was very… different. Odd. Confusing. Concerning.

Perhaps a quick peek would be alright, if nothing else other than to put Aiden’s mind at ease. Surely, if he was going to be checking out soon, he had to make sure his buddies were doing okay, too.
As he approached Angel’s room, 469 (a fitting number, indeed), he gently rested his hand on the doorknob, not even bothering to knock as he gently twisted. To his surprise, the door was unlocked. As he opened the door and slowly walked in, his peace and contentment would once again be shattered as his jaw dropped, trying to process the sight that was now in front of him.

There laid Angel Dust, on the floor, makeup running, needles scattered about the room, and barely conscious.