Charlie stepped out of the limo her father sent for her, chewing her lip nervously. Her nerves were already wracked with having to fib to everyone else as to where she was going for the evening, especially considering her father didn't want Alastor to know.
She sighed, walking along the lit pathway and up to the door, not even having to raise her hand to knock before it was opened for her. "...I think I'm actually expected this time?" she half-joked to the reptilian butler, who only nodded in acknowledgement and showed her through the halls into the dining room.
The obscenely large dinner table only had the tail end set up, and her father was already seated. He looked up when she walked in, giving her a smile that was both genuine but a little forced. "Hello Charlotte dear," he said, standing and holding his hand out to her. She took it and reveled somewhat in the warm hug her father gave her. "How is my little apple seed doing?"
"...okay enough," she said. "A little confused though."
"I suppose that's understandable," Lucifer said, snapping his fingers to have a maid walk up with an empty basket. "Put your things aside, Charlotte, I'd like to catch up with no distractions."
Charlie's brow furrowed a little, but she conceded and handed over her handbag which she realized contained her phone. The maid inclined her head and took the basket out of the room as Lucifer pulled out a chair for Charlie to sit. "...Dad. What's this about?" she asked seriously. "Because I've been sitting on so many things being kept from me despite them having to DO with me." Her hands flexed on the table. "I might not be the daughter you really wanted, but I think I am entitled to know if something is coming between my Hotel and my family."
Lucifer gave her a calculating look that lasted far too long to be considered passive before he sat himself down too, folding his hands in front of him. "...you're right," he finally said. "And this is something that can and WILL come between your work and family. Because you are going to have to choose between the two."
Charlie sat up straight in her chair. "...excuse me?" she demanded weakly.
"I miscalculated earlier, when I told you to contain the problem," Lucifer continued. "It was presumptuous of me to not expect the worst from happening -"
"Oh goddamn it Dad!" Charlie snapped, smacking the table with her hands. "Why is it nothing but riddles with you and damn overlords!? Why can't anyone just give me a proper answer for once!? Just TELL me, WHAT is going on!? WHY do I have to choose?! I know I'm supposed to 'learn a lesson' or whatever it is you and Mom have been trying to get me to do for the past decade or so but how can I even make an informed decision if I'm given NO details!?"
Lucifer gave her a calm, level stare before sitting back in his chair. "No sugarcoating then," he said, mostly to himself before his expression went bitter. "Alastor associated himself with your Hotel for the sole purpose of getting to me through you."
Charlie's jaw dropped. "...what?"
"Tell me, what would be more 'entertaining' to a creature like that than to trick the Princess of Hell into a soul-binding deal that when time came to collect, he would have devoured your heart and gained power from it?" Lucifer's eyes glowed angrily. "Easy. Since you declined any deals, that did not come to pass. But what were your words specifically in your order to him, Charlotte?"
Charlie swallowed hard, thinking back. "'As Princess of Hell, and heir to the throne...I hereby order you to help with this hotel, for...'" She paused. "'...for as long as you desire'."
"Exactly. And whether you want him to leave or not, your order only ended up a boon for HIS favor. He could run that place into the ground and as long as there was a foundation remaining, as long as you kept your ideals for that redemption hotel, he can stay. He can play with you as long as he wants and you CAN'T banish him. And why would he want to leave, when he can keep playing with you?"
"...that's not true," Charlie said thickly, clenching her fists. "I know he's bad and he can be completely cruel and sadistic, but something's changed -"
"Of course something changed," Lucifer snapped. "Because his first plan failed, he worked on a second, one that I wasn't concerned with considering your close relationship with the little sinner girl, but he was planning on seducing you instead."
Charlie felt a reflexive flare of fire in her gut, glowering at her father. "That is not true."
"It is. Naturally, it didn't work out, especially when he began a relationship with that whore -"
"I'm going to stop you right now," Charlie said firmly, her eyes turning red. "You can tell me whatever it is you think you know about Alastor, but if you're going to be talking about ANY of my friends, I at least want you to show them basic decency. Angel's been through more than enough to have EARNED his status!" She crossed her arms, her glower intensifying. "And at this point...what you're saying about Alastor...I don't care!"
Lucifer gave her a sharp look. "You don't CARE?"
"No. Alastor told me from the start that he didn't believe in my goals for the Hotel. That it was nonsense, that he was in it for his own entertainment. He hasn't lied to me about anything important, and I am willing to bet my claim to the throne that if I asked him straight out, he would tell me the truth. But none of that MATTERS anymore!" She slammed a fist on the table. "YOU haven't been a part of the Hotel at all since its conception, but Angel Dust HAS. YOU haven't been a sponsor for it, but Alastor HAS. Those two have been there, living there, long enough for me to see a CHANGE in them. They might not have any ideals or plans for redemption in mind, but they found something that makes them better people, and STILL they both endorse and encourage me and my Hotel!"
She ran a hand through her hair, pulling at it lightly in frustration. "You think Alastor has plans for your throne? Right now, all he's planning is what color tie to wear at his wedding! A wedding I'm officiating! A wedding with someone he's found love with! At OUR Hotel! And Alastor might be ruthless and opportunistic but he wouldn't throw away a good thing!"
"Charlotte, if you would get your head out of the rainbows for FIVE MINUTES and look around, you would remember that YOU. ARE. IN. HELL!" Lucifer's aura flared, shadows of wings splaying dangerously at his sides. "Finding love does not take away that he is a serial-killing cannibal who has slaughtered THOUSANDS of denizens and Hellborn alike in the near-ninety years he's been dead! Getting married does not erase his ambition for the ultimate entertainment for no one but himself!
"And on the other side of things, do you even know the atrocities these two committed even BEFORE they were sent here? They came here for a REASON. Their souls are stained red with blood of the innocent and guilty alike, slaughters they committed with smiles on their faces and no guilty conscience. You heard as well as I did the GLEE they had in devouring Vox's body and soul, and that debauchery that came after was an honest echo of the beasts they truly are inside. Mortal souls that attain that level of unholy depravity should tell you plenty about the humans they used to be! There is NO redemption for souls like that!"
"I KNOW THAT!"
Charlie felt her horns unsheathe as she shot to her feet, tears springing at her eyes. "I KNOW that, Dad! Angel and Alastor BOTH told me they don't plan on redemption anymore, in any way! Angel ESPECIALLY even apologized to me for being a failure for it! Alastor even made me see that there are people here beyond redemption entirely, as if it wasn't obvious with what Vox was trying to do!"
She stood back from the table, shaking her head. "Whatever it is you're trying to make me do to get me to give up and come home, I won't have it. I know what kind of people Angel and Alastor are. They might not be good people, but they're good to ME. Isn't that enough for you, someone who only puts stock in allies no matter what they've done to Hell's denizens?"
Lucifer's jaw tightened, his pupils slitting. "You are not LISTENING to me, Charlotte," he hissed.
"If I'm here just for you to make me choose a side, you're making it VERY easy for me."
The two stared at one another in heated silence before Lucifer took a breath and let it out, pulling his aura back in. "...Alastor and his...and Angel Dust are a threat to this family," he said, picking his words carefully. "A marriage will only turn that threat into something even worse."
"You have no proof," Charlie said darkly. "I HAVE been listening, but all you've given me are secondhand accounts or things I already know." She ran a hand over her face, feeling a dampness on her cheeks. "Shit...and here I thought I could actually have a real conversation and dinner with you. Is it REALLY that bad of a thing I'm trying to do that it would come down to you trying to tear two friends of mine away from me just because YOU'RE afraid of what they can do? Of what YOUR friends are afraid they can do?"
Her aura flared out, snapping her fingers sharply, her handbag reappearing in front of her in a ball of fire. "Well I hope you're proud of your baby girl, Dad, I'm HAPPY with my allies because they're ACTUALLY my friends instead of bootlickers like YOURS." She stalked for the door, hearing her father stand up behind her.
"Charlotte, I am only saying this out of the preservation of the Magne line, you included. If you walk out that door, then you will not be welcome back."
Charlie stood still for the longest time before she slung her handbag over her shoulder. "...goodbye then," she said, not looking back as she walked out of the house, down the path that snuffed itself out in her wake, and past the car that brought her there.
Her heartbeat pounded in her ears for what seemed like hours as she cried herself out on her long walk, reaching the border of Pentagram City. She kept her focus forward, refusing to let her father's words sink into her mind and put doubt there. She had too much doubt in her life leading up to now, and she swore with all her might that she would hold onto the truths that mattered. She barely even noticed a car pulling up next to her until she heard her name being spoken.
"Huh?" she said, looking up and seeing a spider demon staring at her from the open backseat window. He had eight red eyes and a no-nonsense face, all businesslike. "...hello?"
"You need a ride back to th' Hotel," he stated, it not even being a question. "Even for th' princess it's dangerous in th' Wrath Circuit. We can take ya back."
Charlie drew back ever-so-slightly. "Uhm...I don't -"
"Ah, right. Angelo probably didn't even bother to mention me. Name's Arackniss -"
"Oh, Angel's brother," she sighed, giving him a smile. "You don't have to, really..."
Arackniss just opened the door, holding it out. "Bad form if we didn't," he said. "And th' Hotel is hours away on foot. Angel would probably skin me alive if I didn't take ya."
Charlie sighed, nodding and climbing in, the car moving on as soon as the door was closed. She wiped any residual dampness from her face with her sleeve. "Thank you," she said honestly. Arackniss nodded, his red eyes glowing in the dimness of the car.
"Not a problem," he replied. "You were lucky to be on our route."
"...route for what?"
Arackniss's left set of eyes narrowed as though giving her a half-smirk without actually moving his mouth. "You really wanna know all that?"
"...point. Sorry if it was rude to ask."
"Oh, we got no problem tellin' people what's what. I was bein' vague for yer sake. Angel's made mention of your..." He searched for a word. "...sensitivity to all that."
Charlie nodded, seeing more familiar sights of the city pass quickly in the car. "Still. Thank you for stopping." Arackniss nodded back, the two lapsing into silence for the rest of the half-hour drive to the Hotel. Charlie opened the door and stepped out. "You wanna come in? I'm sure Angel would love to see you."
"Ugh, spare me, I know what he's up to in there right now," Arackniss muttered. "Just tell him I said hi, it'll be enough."
"Alright. Bye then, have a safe night!" Charlie shut the door and headed into the Hotel, feeling a little lighter than she had been before.
Almost immediately, she caught sight of the lobby alive in a flurry of activity with Niffty rushing between different wedding decor ideas while Husk and Alastor argued between wines to drink at the reception party and Angel Dust holding up two color swatches for Cherri and Vaggie to decide between for their dresses.
She smiled, the rest of the weight lifted from her shoulders as she took in the smiles, the laughter, the genuine camaraderie.
'You were wrong, Dad,' she thought as she tossed her handbag on a table to go put her two cents into the fray. 'So, so wrong.'
Of THAT she was definitely certain.
"He's sent someone out to watch her already."
"Shit. Any way t' off it?"
"Angelo, please. Don't insult me." Arackniss crawled to the ceiling of his car for a more comfortable view out of his barely-cracked window, the silenced tip of his rifle not even visible as he kept a practiced steady hold on the trigger as the car drove off back toward the Ragno compound. A quick look through the scope at two kilometers away and a pull of the trigger had the shadowy batlike creature sniped right out of the air, the holy bullet making the death quick and an added solvent turning it to mere dust in moments. "Aaaand done. That'll be five-thousand bucks."
"Yeah, I've only got one an' he's on massage duty tonight."
"I hate you."
"Love ya too, big bro. Meet tomorrow for tux fitting?"
"Sure thing." Arackniss crawled down to his seat, packing his sniper rifle away in the case that the princess hadn't even noticed in the car when he picked her up and dropped her off just an hour ago. "I'll have my a-team on stakeout for more in th' meantime."
"You got the groomsmen all set up too?"
"Done an' done." Arackniss lit up a cigar. "Got th' Ushers assembled too."
"God, how did I ever get by without you?" The wistful tone actually made Arackniss crack a smile.
"Had a shitty life, I'd imagine. Time t' make up for it, Boss. Occhi Ovunque.
"Occhi Ovunque, fratello."
Angel smiled at his phone as he hung up, giving Alastor a smile. "So...about that massage, dolcezza?"
"And my book was gettin' so interesting before y' volunteered me fer such a service jus' t' spite yer brother," Alastor replied, closing his book anyway and walking over to the bed, leaning down to kiss Angel's head. "Everythin' set up?"
"Ready an' waitin'." Angel reached up, curling his arms around Alastor's shoulders. "Ain't nothin' gonna spoil our special day."
"I should hope not. You've been so behaved so far, I would hate t' see what a 'groomzilla' y'd be should anythin' happen."
"First off, I ain't gonna be no 'groomzilla'. Second, fuck Cherri for teachin' ya that word."
Alastor laughed. "It's an amusin' thought anyway," he said. "You decided on a dress?"
"Oh yeah. You won't be able t' resist me. Hope you can choke yer way through th' vows after seein' me in it."
"I'm sure I'll manage," Alastor replied mockingly. "Now, you gon' let yer smart mouth keep runnin', or are ya gonna tell me where y'keep yer oil?"
"You love it."
"You betcha, Smiles."