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Gentleman's Wager

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Alastor made his way down to the lobby as he did every evening after his early rounds, pleased at how peaceful it was. The idle sounds of life in the hotel made for a soothing backdrop – footsteps on the floors above, the buzz of idle chatter in nearby rooms and alcoves, the radio softly playing behind the front desk. It all merged together into a pleasantly relaxing hum and Alastor was happy for it.

 

“C’mon, Husky, just one drink. Please? I had a shit day today.”

 

“No points, no drinks, you know the rules.”

 

Alastor could feel his smile shrinking and his eye twitching. Of course Angel Dust had to be around to ruin what should be a pleasant evening. Still, he would not be dissuaded and made his way over the bar himself, settling into his usual seat.

 

“Ayyy, Smiles!” Angel Dust beamed, gold tooth gleaming. “Haven’t seen you in a few days!”

 

“Yes, and what wonderful days they were.” He tilted his head in acknowledgment as Husker placed a drink down in front of him.

 

Angel Dust pouted, “How come he don’t have to trade in points?”

 

“Because he bought all the damn liquor,” Husk replied, spraying some soda water into a glass and setting it in front of Angel Dust with a lime wedge on the rim. “Behave yourself and maybe you’ll actually be able to drink again one day.”

 

“No fun at all,” Angel Dust huffed, slumping onto his elbows but dutifully sucking at the straw in his drink, lips pouted around it.

 

Husk raised a brow, “Weren’t you at the studio the last coupla days? How bad could it have been? You like fuckin’.”

 

“Yeah, I busted ass all day today and yesterday,” Angel Dust sniped back, rolling his eyes. “Val and Chacha finally worked out my schedule, but that just means he works me twice as hard to make up for only having me half the time... everyone was rough with me today, too.”

 

“Poor baby,” Husk snarked but Alastor noticed the cat looking him over surreptitiously, not in a lewd way as he’d seen many patrons looking over the spider, but almost concerned. He seemed satisfied by what he saw, wiping a rag over the counter as Angel Dust sucked at his straw.

 

“Yeah, poor baby,” Angel Dust huffed, “you get strung up like prosciutto while dudes slap you around, see how you like it. Shit, they didn’t even have the decency fuck me, just beat on me before beating off on me Took two showers to get all the shit outta my fur and I didn’t even get an orgasm or any cash out of it.” He sucked at his straw irately, heedless to how Alastor grimaced at the sex talk. “And then I still had to go out and play girlfriend for some dumpy fuck that wanted to come at me with knives and shit. Thank fuck he only paid for an hour and was too busy talkin’ to himself to really get into it, but it’ll take weeks for my fur to grow back right. His rope skills were shit, too, no excuse for that kinda sloppiness when you’re dropping as much cash as you do for my services.”

 

“Must you speak so crassly,” Alastor huffed as Husker refilled the spider’s glass with soda water. Angel Dust made a kissing motion in Alastor’s direction before taking a disappointed sip out of his new drink.

 

“Can you at least put some mint or somethin’ in it, Husky?”

 

Rolling his eyes, Husker moved to muddle up some mint and Alastor looked over Angel Dust as the spider hummed to himself.  “I’m surprised to hear you complain, I thought you… how’s the phrase go? Liked it rough?”

 

Angel Dust looked surprised for a moment before his face morphed into a flirtatious smile, leaning into the Radio Demon’s personal space.

 

“I’d let you treat me rough all you want, dolcezza,” he walked two claws up the cross on Alastor’s shirt, flicking his bow tie at the top, “long as you kiss it better after.”

 

“Why, Angel Dust, I’d no sooner kiss you than you could refrain from speaking crassly for a whole week.”

 

Angel Dust narrowed his eyes, sitting up straight and crossing his arms. “That so? What, you think I can’t shut up for a whole week?”

 

“Oh, I don’t think it. I know it.” Alastor replied, smile sharpening. “You haven’t been quiet since you got here… I don’t think you even know what being quiet is anymore.”

 

The spider crossed both sets of arms, shoulders raised proudly. “You wanna make that a bet?”

 

It was Alastor’s turn to straighten, tilting his head and narrowing his own gaze contemplatively. “A bet?”

 

“You want me to shut up? I’ll be silent for a whole week starting at midnight tonight. Not just not talkin’ to you, but not makin’ a peep to anyone… I manage that and you have to kiss me.”

 

Alastor regarded him coolly, “I fail to see what I would get out this wager should I win?”

 

Angel Dust shrugged. “Whatever you want, babe. Dress me up in a silly outfit, take something away. I’ll already be quiet for a while… if I lose you get to bask in my failure and lord it over me.”

 

“Oh well that’s not enough, I don’t think, I can bask in your failure on any given day.” Alastor turned a keen eye to the bar before returning his gaze to Angel Dust’s. “Should I win, I collect one hundred good points from you. As you earn them, of course, we both know you don’t have any to speak of.”

 

He was almost disappointed when Angel Dust didn’t balk at the steep price, instead the spider demon nodded approvingly, “Sounds fair. Wanna shake on it?”

 

Alastor grinned, “It’s not quite a deal, but a gentleman’s wager should always be sealed with a handshake.” He wasn’t glowing, but Angel Dust could feel a sharp stab of static through his fingers as they shook hands. Glancing at the clock, he rose, stretching an arm over his head.

 

“Well, if it starts at midnight I’ve only got a few more hours to vocalize for the next week… can’t promise I’ll be decent when you send your shadow thing up to creep on me.”

 

Alastor chuckled, “Glad to see you know I’ll be listening.”

 

Angel Dust bounced his eyebrows, “Oh don’t worry, I’ll call your name enough tonight to last me the week, Alastor.” He kissed the tips of his fingers, waving with a wink as he departed.

 

“I’m not sure that was a good idea.” Husker mused, watching as Angel Dust sashayed away.

 

“Whatever do you mean?”

 

Husker leaned forward, resting his elbow onto the bar. “I mean, this time next week you’re gonna have to kiss the kid.”

 

Alastor laughed, head thrown back at the absurdity.  “Oh, Husker, my dear fellow, I sincerely doubt that. No, I’m sure that by this time tomorrow he’ll have cracked and I’ll be basking in the glow of his failure. If there’s one thing I know about Angel Dust it’s his inability to keep his mouth shut.”

 

The cat shook his head, “You’re forgetting one thing,” he straightened, picking up Angel Dust’s discarded glass and moving to empty the dregs and clean it.

 

“And that would be?”

 

“Angel Dust is fueled by spite and you just told him he couldn’t do something.”

 

--

 

The next morning, Alastor awoke to none of his shadows ringing the alarm. Though only a few meager hours had passed since the start of their wager, he knew it wouldn’t take long for him to claim victory and that put a spring in his step as he found himself down in the lobby, smiling widely as he approached Charlie and Vaggie crowding up to Angel Dust.

 

The spider demon grinned, pointing in his direction, drawing the pair’s attention to him. Charlie frowned, “Alastor, did you have something to do with why Angel Dust isn’t talking?”

 

“We simply made a gentleman’s wager, my dear.” Alastor folded his hands behind him, his smile sharp and eyes just shy of glowing. “I challenged Angel Dust here to be silent for the entire week, he simply took me up on the task.”

 

Vaggie snorted, “That’s dumb, this idiot never shuts up.”

 

Angel Dust looked affronted, scowling at the back of her head but made no move to speak. Alastor was impressed as his restraint, but knew it would be short lived.

 

“Oh.” Charlie looked conflicted. “Well… as long as you didn’t actually do anything to him. Angel Dust… could you talk if you wanted to? It’s not magic keeping you quiet?”

 

He nodded, hands on his hips. His upper hands gestured to his throat, fingers running intimately over his jaw in jest as he batted his eyelashes before giving her the okay sign.

 

She grimaced. “What about… work? Are you allowed to make noise when… y’know?” Angel Dust shook his head. “Did you tell Valentino?” He nodded again, pulling out his phone and passing it to her after pulling up a text conversation. She glanced at the messages, frowning. “Angel Dust… that’s… It’s…” she sighed. “Okay. Well, he gave you the week off which was…” she cleared her throat, “very nice of him, but you know next time you work he’ll just…” she trailed off as Angel Dust nodded, shrugging his shoulders in a ‘what can you do?’ expression before accepting his phone back.

 

Charlie sighed, looking to Vaggie for help. “I think it’s a great idea, we’ll get some peace and quiet for as long as he holds out,” Vaggie smirked, looking back at Angel Dust. “I should appreciate it while I can, we all know you won’t last the day, let alone a week.”

 

Angel Dust gripped his bicep, raising his fist at her, sticking his tongue out.

 

“Hey, you’re the dumbass who made the bet. Now I can say all the shit I want without you saying anything back. Alastor, maybe you actually had a good idea for once.” Vaggie grinned, hands on her hips as she looked Angel Dust up and down. “Now do I start with insulting your face, your style, or your intelligence?”

 

“Vaggie!” Charlie interjected. “Don’t be mean!”

 

Angel Dust rolled his eyes, making a talking gesture with his hands. He pointed in the direction of the kitchen, inclining his head in question.

 

“Oh, yes, Nifty made breakfast this morning. I’m sure she’ll let you help yourself.” Angel Dust nodded, folding his hands behind his head as he walked off. Alastor awaited the usual whistled tune that followed the spider’s departure, almost disappointed by the continued silence.

 

“You seem concerned, my dear, I can assure you our wager had harmless consequences.”

 

Charlie worried her lower lip, “It’s not what losing the bet would mean that worries me… Angel Dust offered to do… quiet movies? It was hard to really understand with how many emojis he uses and how he talks to Val, but based on the texts I guess he’s done some before… um…” she trailed off awkwardly, clearing her throat. “Valentino said no and that he could just come back to work when he was ready and he’d… make him be more vocal.”

 

The way she said it meant that wasn’t at all how it had been written in the text conversation. Alastor clenched his fist around his microphone, smile sharpening. “Well. Nothing our arachnid friend hasn’t experienced before, I suppose? And who knows, he may not miss any work at all should he lose our wager.”

 

“Guess it depends on what he gets if he wins,” Charlie replied, relaxing a little bit.

 

“Yeah, he’ll give up unless it’s something he really wants.” Vaggie agreed.

 

Alastor chose not to respond, inclining his head as the ladies continued their discussion.

 

--

 

Two days had passed without a peep from Angel Dust and Alastor found himself seeking out the arachnid around the hotel if not just to confirm his continued presence within its walls. It used to be a simple task to locate the spider as his sharp remarks and boisterous laugh would ring loud and clear through the halls, but with his continued silence he was more dependent on his shadowy minions to alert him to his location. The shadow closest to the spider was in a hallway in the west wing and Alastor made his way down to investigate.

“This is quite the sight,” Alastor commented as he entered the room, the smell of paint thick in the air and a small radio playing music in the corner. Charlie was propped on a stool, carefully stroking paint onto her canvas. If he tilted his head just right it appeared to be a field of flowers, however many of her strokes bled together and much of the greens and oranges were blending into murky brown.

 

The smile on her face didn’t seem upset by her lack of artistic skill. “Hey, Alastor, did you want to paint with us?”

 

Angel Dust didn’t look up from where he was standing in front of his own canvas, a large smock fastened over his clothing and a smear of blue paint coloring the fur on his cheek. He had a palette balanced in one of his main hands, lower pair crossed over his abdomen as he tapped his lip with the end of his brush. Suddenly he burst into movement, smearing paint onto his brush and stroking it onto the canvas with confidence.

 

“I was unaware painting was something you partook in, my dear,” Alastor resisted the urge to peer around and see what Angel Dust was painting so boldly, instead watching as Charlie failed to fully clean the paint off her own brush, smearing brown into the yellow of what he was sure she meant to be another flower.

 

“Oh, well, we were having music therapy before… but since Angel Dust can’t sing this week I figured we’d try art therapy instead.” Charlie beamed proudly as Angel Dust continued to work on his canvas. “Painting is very calming and a wonderful way to express yourself!”

 

Alastor was surprised. “You were doing music therapy before?”

 

Charlie nodded, “Every Monday and Wednesday. It’s a great way to work through emotions you can’t otherwise verbalize, like singing angry songs when you’re angry and sad songs when you’re sad. Angel Dust is a great singer, too! Sometimes he’ll even let me dance with him!” she beamed at the spider who glanced over his canvas and gave her a wink before turning back to his work.

 

“I’m not one for artistic endeavors,” Alastor mused, “does one just paint whatever they want?”

 

Charlie hummed, “Well, we picked a theme. You can just paint whatever you want, but having a focus can help get you started. I picked ‘happy memory’ for today.” She gestured proudly to her canvas. “My mom used to take me into the gardens for lunch when I was little, it was always lots of fun and I wanted to paint that… but it looks more like a mud puddle than a garden. Still, I’m enjoying myself, what about you, Angel?”

 

Alastor finally gave into curiosity, taking the few steps to circle behind Angel Dust and peer at his canvas. He’d expected something similar to Charlie’s, a muddled mass of poorly mixed colors in misshapen blobs, or worse some crude attempt at a nude body. Instead, he was surprised by bursts of color, short strokes and dabs of blues and greens and yellows interspersed with long drags of blacks and browns. Pops of reds and whites highlighted a few areas and, while it seemed to be just a mess of sloppily applied paint at first, after a few moments it began to meld together into a tree lined pathway with figures in the far distance. They were small and not very detailed – Angel Dust was obviously no artist - but for how amateur the piece was he could see obvious forethought in each stroke, especially in how the trees and figures mirrored off the path, giving the illusion of rain soaked pavement in such an abstract amalgamation of color.

 

He looked up to find Angel Dust staring at him, paint brush poised in his fingers and an unreadable expression on his face.

 

He felt the urge to ask what made this memory, what appeared to be a rainy Fall day, happy to him. He wanted to know who the figures in the distance were, what their importance to the spider was, what had inspired him to put them to canvas. What brought forth… this.

 

Instead, he just smiled. “It’s no Norman Rockwell, but it’s quite well done. Beautiful work, my dear, I’m impressed.”

 

There was no self complimenting joke or snarky remark, and Angel Dust’s mouth only quirked up on one side, tilting his head in acknowledgment. He leaned down to clean off his brush, looking at Charlie and gesturing to the clock.

 

“Oh, you’re right, Angel Dust! We’re way over time, guess we were just having too much fun!” she laughed, standing from her stool and tossing her brushes into her own water cup. “I can clean up if you have other things to do… but you did great today. I’m very impressed and can’t wait for you to tell me all about your painting next week.”

 

Angel Dust patted her on the head, ruffling up her hair with a wicked grin before nodding and taking his smock off. He nodded at Alastor as he passed heels clicking against the tile as he disappeared into the hallway.

 

--

 

“I’m still surprised you’re so good in the kitchen because you’re a guy and most guys can’t cook at all!” Nifty chattered as she stood at the stove top, agitating a pan of bacon with her wooden spoon. “Even though you’re a guy, you’re so pretty so you’d still make a great housewife! Hi, Alastor, did you want to help with dinner, too?”

 

Alastor paused in the doorway, watching as Angel Dust sectioned whole chickens into pieces, Charlie’s pink frilly apron over his clothing, hands working with the speed and confidence of a practiced cook. Within seconds the chicken was in eight pieces and he was reaching for another, processing it just as easily.

 

“Oh, no, darling, just curious as to where our resident spider had wandered off to.”

 

“Angel Dust helps me cook sometimes!” Nifty beamed, “It’s great because I don’t have to move my step stool when he’s around because he can reach tall stuff for me! He’s been a big help this week since he hasn’t had to go out!”

 

Angel Dust grinned, finishing with the final chicken in front of him and looking at her expectantly.

 

“Oh yeah, you can’t talk! Now that the chicken is cut up we have to season and brown them! The bacon is almost done so we’ll do it in that pan.” Angel Dust gestured to the chicken carcasses and Nifty huffed. “You can just throw those away, I don’t know why you always make me keep them! We can buy chicken stock at the store!”

 

Angel Dust folded his arms, frowning in disappointment and Nifty mirrored him, tapping her little foot before sighing, throwing her hands up.

 

“Fine! We need vegetables cut up anyway, go get the ones you need out of the pantry but I’m not helping!” she looked over at Alastor and pouted. “He won’t let me throw any food scraps away anymore! He keeps making stock and had Charlie make a compost heap in the back garden!”

 

Alastor watched as Angel Dust gathered a large stock pot, tossing the chicken carcasses inside as he swapped out his knife and cutting board, dicing up vegetables with practiced ease and tossing them into the pot as he went, setting a few in a bowl to the side for their current recipe. “It is quite wasteful to throw them away,” he agreed.  Angel Dust looked up and beamed before shooting a “so there” look in Nifty’s direction. “Though I suppose if you end up with too much stock, you could simply feed leftover scraps to Fat Nuggets, garbage disposal that he is.”

 

“He does that, too!” Nifty proclaimed, taking the bacon off the stove top and quickly transferring it to a paper towel lined plate, pouring the grease into a large glass jar on the counter before transferring some of the chicken in and returning it to the stovetop. She sighed, looking over as Angel Dust filled his pot with water and took the burner behind the one she was using. “I guess yours does taste better than the stuff at the store…”

 

He grinned, bringing his cutting board to the sink and starting to clean up as Nifty worked, a lower hand brushing her back as he walked by to alert her to his presence behind her. Alastor observed what was obviously a well practiced interaction as the two worked in the kitchen and felt a pang of… jealousy? He was surprised to see Angel Dust so comfortable in a kitchen and felt the urge to step in and roll up his sleeves to teach him how to make gumbo or even étoufée.

 

Tamping down the urge, he simply smiled. “What is it that you two are making for us this evening?”

 

Nifty beamed, “Coq au vin! Angel Dust picked the recipe for tonight!” she gestured to the book on the counter, pulling the chicken pieces out of the pan and replacing them with more, starting to brown them as well.

 

Coq au vin? Why I haven’t had that in ages.” Angel Dust smiled, wiping down the counter and bringing the bowl of carrots and onions to Nifty’s side before opening the fridge and pulling out a jar of stock. Alastor eyed several similar jars lining the shelf, each labeled with familiar curling handwriting and clearly dated and wondered just how long the two had been cooking together.

 

Angel Dust was careful as he moved around, referencing the book as he passed and gathering ingredients to place within easy grasp of his diminutive cohort. A bottle of wine was opened and placed next to her, surprising Alastor when the spider didn’t even attempt to take a sip for himself despite it being an actually decent vintage. Nifty was craning her neck in an attempt to read the book herself from her position and the spider simply brought it over, balancing it against the backsplash in easier reach for her.

 

“It’s hard with you not being able to read it for me!” she admitted bashfully, eye scanning the recipe as she removed the last piece of chicken. “Good thing this one’s easy or we might really be in trouble!  Oh, oh, your stock is boiling, do you have your ladle?”

 

Angel Dust was already leaning over her, hand poised on her shoulder as he skimmed his stock before stepping back and allowing Nifty to add the chopped vegetables to the pan in front of her. He busied himself with moving onto the side dishes and Alastor felt out of place, the silence of the room filled only with the sound of sizzling vegetables and boiling stock as opposed to eager chatter as he would expect from the two in front of him.

 

He could easily picture this scene on any other day, Angel Dust talking away or maybe singing as he worked, smiling widely and quite pleased with himself. The silence was almost uncomfortable, and after a long moment, Alastor decided to take his leave.

 

“It seems you two have this quite neatly in hand, I cannot wait to try it!”

 

Angel Dust looked up from where he was gathering potatoes, smiling and giving a wave with one of his free hands as Nifty chirped a call to return when dinner was ready.

 

An hour later found him sitting across from Angel Dust, surreptitiously watching as the spider as he enjoyed quite possible the best coq au vin he’d ever head.  And when Nifty presented a beautifully made tiramisu, proclaiming Angel Dust had surprised even her with it, he could see the spider glance in his direction before standing up to help clear the table for dessert.

 

Despite not being one for sweets, Alastor had no problem cleaning his plate.

 

--

 

Alastor sat the empty bar, nursing a tumbler of bourbon as he looked over a few forms Charlie had given him to review. Co-owning a hotel involved quite a few fine details and, while he was sure Charlie was able to handle it, it was much easier to take over the more mundane and bureaucratic tasks while she managed the more people involved ones.

 

Many of their patrons feared him, mostly for his reputation but, as Charlie had mentioned many times, also because of his strange mannerisms and way of speaking. He knew he was quite the intimidating figure, and while he usually relished in such responses, it was quite tedious to see rooms empty as he entered, demons leaving a wide berth and attempting to stay out of his way, especially when he was simply trying to do his job.

 

There were few who would approach him brazenly and fewer still who would speak to him with any sort of informality. And as he sat at the empty bar, silence deafening around him, he was reminded of that fact.

 

A body suddenly appeared next to him and he resisted the urge to jump, glancing over to find Angel Dust waiting patiently for Husk to notice him.

 

He hadn’t even heard the tell tale click of his heels and glancing down he realized it was because the spider was instead wearing pale pink pair of soft looking slipper boots instead. In fact, his whole outfit was more subdued than usual – his legs covered in a dove gray pair of leggings and a pale pink sweater replacing the white of his blazer.  Even his gloves were gone, leaving pink tipped fingers exposed as they rested atop the counter.

 

The spider looked at him, nodding his head slightly in acknowledgment before turning back to Husker. He didn’t open his mouth or make any attempt to wave him down and, after a long few moments of Husker failing to notice, Alastor was almost inclined to do it for him as the spider’s brows knit in displeasure.

 

Angel Dust suddenly smiled and began tapping rhythmically on the bar top. Alastor looked down at the spider’s fingers, the manicured claws giving short bursts of rapid tapping interspersed with brief pauses, missing how Husker’s ears perked and swiveled, his attention turning to them.

 

The cat gave a short bark of laughter as he approached from his side of the bar. “Shit, I almost wanna give you a drink just for that, kid.” He shook his head as Angel Dust beamed, tapping a few more times. He gave another chuckle before filling a glass with soda and splashing some grenadine in. He even took a moment to skewer a few cherries and an orange slice on a pick, dropping it into the drink before sliding it over.

 

Angel Dust pursed his lips in a brief kissing motion, giving the cat a wink before taking a long pull from his Shirley Temple. With his free hand he tapped a few more times.

 

“Yeah, been slow tonight.”

 

The tapping continued.

 

“Haven’t had time to read any more of it, no. It’s decent enough, I guess, the chapters go quick but it’s not really my thing.”

 

More aggressive tapping and Angel Dust pouted, lower lip pushing out theatrically as Husk’s ears twitched attentively.

 

“Calm down, I didn’t say I was gonna stop reading it, just that it ain’t exactly my preferred read. I mean, shit, no one’s even punched this Darcy prick in the face yet.”

 

Alastor glanced between the two as Angel Dust continued tapping on the counter as he nursed his drink, Husker responding to the unheard side of the conversation, finally realizing that Angel Dust was using morse code to communicate.  He found himself impressed that the spider even knew such a form of communication, let alone that he’d attempt it so productively with Husker.

 

“No shit, they released a new version with zombies? Might have to read that one when I’m done.”

 

More tapping and Husker groaned, rolling his eyes.

 

“Look, kid, you can keep askin’ and I’m gonna keep sayin’ no.” Tap, tap, tap. “Yeah, yeah, swing at every ball. You don’t even really wanna fuck me, I think you just wanna fuck with me.”

 

Angel Dust beamed, eyes sparkling and gold tooth gleaming as he smiled impishly around his straw. Alastor was almost horrified to realize he found the expression… cute.

 

“You havin’ another one?” Husker asked suddenly and Alastor glanced at his empty tumbler before looking back up at the pair. Angel Dust was eyeing him, his smile still present around his straw as he sipped at his own drink and Alastor found himself smiling in return.

 

“I believe so, my good fellow, if you would be so kind.”

 

Husker rolled his eyes, refilling his glass and Alastor pretended to busy himself with his work while listening in on the pair. After another refill and close to half an hour, Angel Dust finished his drink and with a few final taps moved away from the bar, giving them both a wave as he made his way to the stairs.

 

Pride and Prejudice?” Alastor asked, eyebrow raised curiously when Angel Dust was out of earshot.

 

Shrugging, Husker took the empty glass to his side of the bar to clean it. “Got a lot of down time here, kid figured I’d drink less if I kept myself busy. Hell of a lot better than the last book he recommended me.”

 

“Which was?”

 

Fifty Shades of Grey.” Husk replied flatly. “When I told him to fuck off he brought Brothers Karamazov. That was a slog to get through… almost would’ve rather read the shitty soft core.”

 

Alastor inclined his head, “Glad to know you’re expanding your horizons.”

 

Humming noncommittally, Husk shrugged, looking at him pointedly. “Kid’s got good taste.”

 

--

“I’m surprised he’s managing to do it, but I guess at this point he kinda has to power through, sunk cost and all that.” Vaggie mused, watching as Angel Dust sat in the corner of the lounge with Fat Nuggets, posing the pig and taking photo after photo. He was being far more physically affectionate than usual with the animal – which for Angel Dust was saying something – to make up for not being able to coo his usual baby talk, though Fat Nuggets didn’t seem to mind at all.

 

Alastor inclined his head, “Hmm, yes, Husk did say something about being fueled by spite when this whole thing started.”

 

Vaggie snorted. “Yeah, that’s part of it, stubborn asshole will argue the sky is green if you get him goin’...  but it’s more that he probably knows what Val’s gonna do to him and wants it to be worth it.”

 

His gaze slid sideways without a blink, watching the moth demon from the corner of his eye. “Charlie mentioned something about that. Care to elucidate?”

 

“What? You think Valentino is just okay with his number one performer just not working for a week for a bet? Haven’t you seen how he comes back after missing one day? I’ll be surprised if he can walk when they’re done with him. Whatever you offered him must be real nice to deal with that shit show next week.”

 

Angel Dust was nuzzling into Fat Nuggets belly as the pig squonked happily, the smile on his face soft and genuine. Alastor recalled evenings of Angel Dust missing curfew, coming back late and poorly disguising a limp by overplaying the sway of his hips, his usual scoop neck sweaters and low cut blazers replaced with turtle necks that barely covered bruises the following days. Lewd jokes made about how flexible he could be or being so pretty men couldn’t help but hold on tight.

 

The spider never spoke ill of the overlord that held his contract and no one ever commented on the injuries. Alastor had assumed it simply had to do with his profession – he wasn’t one to enjoy pornography on his own but had seen and heard of how rough it could be. He’d never considered Angel Dust disliking it, or Valentino being the source of the more extreme rough treatment, either directly or indirectly.

 

Angel Dust looked up, finally noticing them watching him. His brows knit for just a moment of confusion and Vaggie flipped him off, “Yeah we’re talkin’ about you, stupido, put some damn pants on!” Angel Dust’s expression turned sultry as he bent forward, lowering his torso to the ground and extending his arms out, his mini skirt clad ass waving in the air above him before he grinned, sitting back up with a coquettish batting of his eyes. Winking, he blew an exaggerated kiss in their direction before turning his attention back to Fat Nuggets.

 

“Wish Charlie could just buy out his contract… she tried when he first started here but Valentino didn’t…  he wasn’t… well Angel Dust asked her not to try again afterwards.” She looked uncomfortable and almost sad at the memory.  “It’d make it a whole lot easier to pretend he was actually getting redeemed if he wasn’t fucking off four nights a week to do… whatever he does. Stopping drugs doesn’t mean much if he’s still turning tricks.” Vaggie sighed, putting her hands on her hips. “But I guess I lucked out that Charlie found me when I landed here… sometimes you do things you’re not proud of just to get by when you don’t have any other choice.”

 

“One always has a choice.”

 

Vaggie turned to him, her expression sour. “You’d think that… wouldn’t you, Mr. All Powerful Radio Demon?”

 

Alastor had no response to that and after a beat Vaggie walked away, leaving him confused. He didn’t have too long to contemplate before Charlie sprang up, calling his attention away to some hotel matter that to him was completely inconsequential. By the time he returned to the lounge, Angel Dust and Fat Nuggets were long gone. 

 

--

 

Alastor was regretting this wager as the final day quickly passed. His shadows reported nothing, not even the nearest hint of a slip up on the spider’s end and it was becoming all too concerning that in an hour or so he actually would have to kiss the other man whether he liked it or not.

 

He’d be impressed if he wasn’t the one losing. Angel Dust had circumvented all obstacles, managed to communicate his wants and needs without a single vocalization, kept his temper when riled by Vaggie and even stayed quiet during what his shadow reported being a rather lewd evening alone in his room.

 

As he roamed the hotel’s quiet hallways on his last rounds of the evening, Alastor realized that he was almost eager for the next hour to pass. He missed the spider’s smart wit and sass, the tunes he would absentmindedly hum and whistle while walking the halls, the quiet mutterings in Italian.

 

He never thought he’d find himself missing even the crude sexual comments, but here he was.

 

“You’re bein’ awful quiet for someone so pretty.”

 

Alastor’s ear twitched, his steps pausing as he heard the tell tale click of stilettos and the chittering warning of his shadow.

 

“Bet I can make you make some noise, huh?”

 

Stepping around the corner, he found Angel Dust crowded back against a wall by one of their newer residents – a rather tall, weasely demon. Angel Dust looked less than impressed, attempting to push past only for the other man to roughly shove him back against the wall, crowding even closer. Wincing, Angel Dust scowled up at him, pushing at his chest and grimacing when one of his wrists was gripped in a tight fist and yanked upwards, forcing him to arch his back to accommodate the stretch.

 

The weasel laughed, unmoved by Angel Dust’s pushing. “Playin’ hard to get, huh? I’ve seen your flicks, I know where that leads. I’ll make it worth your while.”

 

Alastor felt fury coursing through him, awaiting Angel Dust’s sharp tongue to put the brute in his place or an even sharper right hook. He knew Angel Dust could handle himself – the man was not new to his profession and had made several comments in the past about pushy patrons and how he’d handled them. Alastor had even had the pleasure of seeing Angel Dust take care of a handsy demon on the street once – an experience he had found quite entertaining.

 

But as the weasel wrenched him close and Angel Dust craned his neck back and away from a seeking mouth, Alastor felt even angrier by the almost defeated look on the spider’s face. His fists were clenching, tensing and relaxing, stance shifting from foot to foot as he worked through options of escape, his jaw set tight and expression screwed up darkly and suddenly Alastor came to a realization.

 

He couldn’t fight back without making any involuntary noises.

 

Angel Dust finally noticed him and his expression darkened further, determination creasing his brows. His captured arm tensed for the briefest of moments before he went lax, allowing the other man to paw at him, his mouth resolutely shut, gaze turned towards the floor as a clawed hand groped into the neckline his jacket and a long tongue snaked up the side of his face.

 

He couldn’t fight back or he would lose.

 

Alastor felt rage course through him, incandescent and unyielding. Without a thought, his claws pierced his palm and red symbols floated into the air around him, static roaring like white water.

 

The weasel glanced up just in time for a portal to open, an eldritch tentacle reaching out and snaking around him. Another erupted, circling an arm, and another grabbing a leg. He shouted, releasing Angel Dust’s arm as he was wrenched backwards, panicking as he tried to free himself, the spider falling to the floor and scrabbling out of the way.

 

Alastor was furious. Furious that Angel Dust was in such a position, that this degenerate thought he could put his filthy hands on him without any sort of consequence,  that if he had not been walking along no one would have intervened.

 

Furious that their wager had made Angel Dust feel he had no choice but to allow it. That Alastor himself was somehow responsible.

 

Alastor approached, the weasel looking at him fearfully, tears running down his face as the tentacles wrenched at each of his limbs in turn, pulling each spread further and further. He heard a shoulder dislocate paired with a pained scream and smiled widely.

 

“One should learn to keep their hands to themselves, lest they lose them.” His eyes flashed and the dislocated arm was ripped away with a spray of blood and viscera. He didn’t flinch as the splatter hit his face, the howls of pain music to his ears as another limb was ripped apart.

 

It was over quickly, the hallway flooded, bits of fur and bone splattered on the wall and ceiling. The tentacles released the pieces they held with meaty thuds to the carpet and the portals closed, Alastor sighing.

 

“Nifty will be quite cross with me for the mess,” he mused, dabbing at his face with his handkerchief, turning to check on Angel Dust only to find the rest of the hallway empty. For the briefest moment, panic coursed through him and he reached out for his shadow’s location, portal wrenching open and dropping him into Angel Dust’s room.

 

His shadow darted between pockets of darkness, chittering quietly as Alastor looked around, attempting to locate the other demon. He found Fat Nuggets tucked into his pet bed, sound asleep, and thought perhaps Angel Dust had retreated elsewhere only to find him tucked away in the small space between the bed and the wall. Angel Dust was curled up on the floor, back to the mattress with hands clutched over his mouth as he breathed deeply and heavily. His eyes were clenched shut, lower arms wrapped around himself tightly.

 

Alastor wasn’t quite sure what to do. Part of him wanted to go get Charlie as she would surely know how to handle such a situation. Even Vaggie would probably be more knowledgeable and a better choice.

 

But as Angel Dust trembled, breath harsh in the silence of the room, he found himself kneeling down beside him. It was a tight fit, but if Angel Dust’s long limbs could contort he knew his certainly could, and after a bit of shifting, he found himself seated alongside, raising an arm without a thought and pulling the spider against him by the shoulders.

 

Angel Dust tensed for the briefest of moments, his eyes flashing open and Alastor was distraught at the tears filming over them, hoping they  would not fall because then he truly would have no idea what to do. Alastor stayed quiet, staring at the wall but not missing the way Angel Dust’s mouth trembled as his hands fell to his lap.

 

Angel Dust’s shoulder hitched in his hold, shuddering as the spider continued to breathe deeply. Absentmindedly stroking a hand over the spider’s arm, Alastor let them sit in silence, smile shrinking as Angel Dust continued to tremble against him.

 

After a long moment, he spoke. “It’s alright, darling.  He won’t bother you again.”

 

The broken keening sound that left Angel Dust shattered him, even as the flow of dark energy let him know he’d won their wager. Angel Dust slumped against his side, pressing the heel of his hands to his eyes as the tears finally fell.

 

“Fuck. Fuck!” Angel Dust cursed, voice choked with tears and a week of silence.  “I was so fucking… close.” He sobbed, curling into himself even as he pressed against Alastor’s side. “I almost made it, I almost-“

 

An alarm sounded on Angel Dust’s phone and the spider cursed again, violently wrenching the device out of his pocket and throwing it against the wall, the screen luckily not having cracked as it ticked past midnight, landing between Alastor’s feet. Alastor picked it up and after a few moments of fumbling – he’d never quite figured out these so called smart phones, let alone one handed – managed to silence the alarm.

 

Angel Dust’s sobs renewed, angry this time instead of just upset and for once victory felt hollow in Alastor’s chest. He didn’t say anything, instead letting Angel Dust just cry and rant and curse, keeping his grip firm on his shoulder even as Angel Dust made no attempt to move away.

 

After almost half an hour, the spider finally settled, slumped against him.

 

“My head hurts.”

 

Alastor hummed, attempting to ignore how his legs were cramping after being folded up as they had been for close to an hour.

 

Angel Dust moved to stand up and Alastor let his grip slacken to allow him to move, his side going cold as it was exposed back to the open air of the room. “Sorry I freaked out. I’ll… uh… I’ll make sure to start behaving better tomorrow.” He laughed awkwardly, stepping over Alastor’s feet and walking around the bed. “Need to get 100 points quick if I ever want to drink again, right? I don’t haveta go to the studio until the day after so I’ll at least make curfew tomorrow, there’s two points already.”

 

Alastor stared up at him as Angel Dust rubbed at his face, trying to wipe away his tear smudged make up and hide the redness around his eyes, his smile forced and body language closed off.

 

Embarrassed.

 

All at once Alastor was angry again. That Angel Dust felt embarrassed, that he felt the need to put up a front of being a graceful loser in such a horrid situation. He wanted to reach out and shake the spider and assure him that he had nothing to be embarrassed about, that nothing had changed, but part of him knew that wasn’t true. Something definitely had changed between them.

 

But now was not the time to have that discussion.

 

He forced his smile wide, getting to his own feet, “Of course, my dear. Well played.” He started to hold out his hand for another shake only for Angel Dust to turn on his heels, startling Fat Nuggets as he locked himself in the bathroom. Alastor could hear the shower start running and the rush of water barely disguised the frustrated cries Angel Dust was trying to muffle.

 

He moved to follow but stopped, fist clenched at his side as he let himself out of Angel Dust’s room, closing the door behind him.

 

He’d talk to him tomorrow.

 

--

 

Angel Dust didn’t come down from his room until late the next day. Alastor set Charlie and Vaggie’s worries to rest, assuring that the other man simply was not feeling his best and would be right as rain soon enough. It wasn’t until sundown that he made his appearance, face fully made up and clothing bright and attention-getting.

 

He was smiling wide and acting as if the previous night had never happened.

 

“Hey, fuckers! Bet you missed this all week!”

 

Charlie beamed at his approach, chattering and asking question after question just for Angel Dust to answer. Alastor could see both Vaggie and Husk disguising smiles of their own, Nifty bouncing up and down happily as she also battered him to speak.

 

“Abbastanza, abbastanza! Toots, you’re gonna wear me out if you keep it up.” Angel Dust laughed and it was an amazing sound to hear after a week of silence. “I’m dyin’ for a drink!”

 

Charlie smiled, “I think you’ve earned some good boy points with all your good behavior this week!”

 

Angel Dust tensed for a moment before laughing. “That’s sweet of ya, Chacha, but I’m still not feelin’ my best. Husk, you think you can fix me up with a mint soda?”

 

Husker looked suspicious at that but went to muddle some mint anyway.  

 

“I feel like I have a backlog of sass I have to dole out to you assholes,” Angel Dust proclaimed at the worried look on Charlie’s face. “Vaggie, your hair on Tuesday looked like a bird attacked ya! And those bags under your eyes sure as shit weren’t designer!”

 

“Oh, get fucked, cabron!” but still, she was laughing.

 

Alastor watched as Angel Dust neatly distracted the others from his uncharacteristic denial of alcohol, fist clenched around his microphone stand as the trio chattered. Ignoring the looks Nifty and Husker were giving him, he rose from his seat at the bar.

 

“Angel Dust, I believe we need to discuss the results of our wager.” Alastor inclined his head, gesturing towards the lounge. “If you would please accompany me?”

 

“Oh yeah, you won!” Charlie beamed. “Good job, Angel Dust!”

 

Vaggie nodded, “I’m impressed. Good to know someone can get one over on señor Static Shitlord.”

 

Angel Dust laughed convincingly enough but it sounded hollow to Alastor’s ears as he moved to follow him. “Yeah, it wasn’t easy let me tell you! Alright, alright, I won’t embarrass you in front of the girls – no, no, I ain’t tellin’ you what the terms were, that’s between me and Smiles, okay? I’ll be back to bless you with my presence soon enough.”

 

Alastor heard Angel Dust clicking behind him as he walked, opening the door to the lounge and stepping aside for Angel Dust to enter. With a gentle clearing of his throat, the few demons in the room suddenly had better places to be, filing out quickly and allowing him to close the door behind them. As soon as the latch clicked into place, Angel Dust’s shoulders fell and he slumped onto the sofa.

 

“So. How you wanna do this?”

 

“Pardon?”

 

“You won, so we have to figure out what we’re doin’ about my points. We tellin’ Chacha so she just hands them to you or you wanna do honor system where I pass ‘em on or something?”

 

Alastor tilted his head, “Did you want to tell Charlie?”

 

Angel Dust shrugged, arms folded and gaze averted. “You won, you decide who gets to know.”

 

They stood in silence for a long moment before Alastor made his approach, standing in front of the sofa with his hands folded neatly behind his back. Angel Dust curled in on himself, shoulders hunching up and face lowered.

 

“You did quite well this week, I was impressed. I certainly did not expect you to succeed when I made our wager.”

 

A snort. “Thanks.”

 

“If not for last night’s… interference, you would have easily claimed victory.”

 

Angel Dust scoffed, “Yeah, well… I didn’t. You won fair and square.”

 

“I believe I can admit when foul play has soured the game,” Alastor replied, inclining his head. “I am nothing if not fair and happily concede defeat in these circumstances.”

 

There was a long pause and Angel Dust looked up at him in surprise, shoulders falling as his brows knit up in confusion. “I lost my shit, that’s on me. I lost.”

 

“Yet here I am conceding to you.”

 

“But… Al… you know what me winnin’ meant.”

 

The radio demon simply smiled. “I knew the terms when I accepted our wager, yes.”

 

“If you say I win, that means I get to kiss you.”

 

“Yes, I do believe that was the deal.”

 

Angel Dust peered at him, “And you’re… okay with that? Even after… y’know?”

 

“A wager is a wager, my dear.” He slipped onto the sofa next to the spider and folded his hands on his lap. “Shall we dispense payment now or would you prefer an audience? You won so you get to decide who knows.”

 

“I mean… yeah. I mean, no. No audience.  I can kiss you now.” Angel Dust still seemed taken aback at the prospect but with a deep breath he slid one of his usual salacious smiles onto his face. “You ready?”

 

Alastor had spent the day bracing himself for this yet still felt unprepared despite his bravado. He refused to close his eyes, pursing his lips and averting his gaze only for Angel Dust to surprise him yet again, planting a kiss to his forehead.

 

Alastor boggled at him for a moment as Angel Dust pulled back, and the spider was astonished to see color flush his cheeks, smiling widely.

 

“Never said where I’d kiss you.”

 

After a long beat of silence, the Radio Demon laughed, not the short bark of laughter he usually gave for smart comments or the metered chuckle prompted by a good joke, but a long, full laugh that had his shoulders shaking and a hand pressed to his abdomen.

 

Angel Dust laughed along, watching as Alastor wiped a tear from the corner of his eye, finally quieting into a soft snickering sigh.

 

“You never cease to surprise me, Angel Dust.”

 

The spider shrugged, smiling. “Someone’s gotta entertain you, Smiles, might as well be me.”

 

Alastor regarded him for a long moment, piece from the previous week finally clicking into place for him. “However… I believe you misconstrued our wager.”

 

 “What d’ya mean? You said I could kiss you, you didn’t specify where.”

 

“Oh no, that’s not it. I believe the exact terms of our wager were that should you be silent for the week, I was to kiss you.”

 

Angel Dust stared at him, pink raising not only to his cheeks but also flushing the fur of his chest. “Oh. You don’t have to…” he trailed off as Alastor took one of his hands. Telegraphing his movements clearly, Alastor leaned in and pressed a kiss to Angel Dust’s lips, just barely more than a peck. He leaned back, shocked when Angel Dust followed, lips pressing more firmly to his own for the briefest of moments before pulling back himself. “Shit, sorry.”

 

“No. No, it’s fine.” Alastor replied, his lips tingling from the contact pleasantly. They sat awkwardly before he realized he was still holding Angel Dust’s hand and jerked his own back in surprise, face flushing again.

 

Angel Dust laughed, reaching forward and catching his hand. “It’s fine.” Alastor nodded absently, looking down at their joined hands in surprise.

 

After a few minutes of silence Angel Dust sighed and Alastor looked back up. “Yes?”

 

“Nothin. Gotta go back to work tomorrow.” Angel Dust shrugged, eyes downcast. “Havin’ the time off to be around the hotel was nice, but what can ya do, y’know?”

 

Alastor didn’t respond but Angel Dust could feel the buzz of static around him shift sharply before the Radio Demon cleared his throat.

 

“Al?”

 

“What would you say if I told you that you did not need to return to the studio tomorrow?”

 

“…What did you do, Al?”

 

“I… may have misplaced some aggression from last evening into a meeting with Valentino and I… may have exerted some of my not inconsiderable power in regards to a discussion about your contract.”

 

Angel Dust stared at him, his hand clenching around Alastor’s fingers tightly. “Did you… buy my contract?”

 

“Of course not, that would be untoward.” Alastor replied, waving his free hand. Angel Dust deflated a bit. “Buying your contract implies you’re property, I simply convinced Valentino to relinquish it into the care of the hotel. For as long as you desire.”

 

“Convinced… wait, Chacha has my contract?”

 

Alastor shrugged, “I’m partial owner of the hotel as well… but, yes, more or less. I left it on her desk this afternoon. It’s more of a formality than anything. You are of course free to offer your services to the studio should you still wish to, but you are no longer obliged to Valentino’s whims or-“

 

He was cut off by Angel Dust throwing his arms around his neck, fingers curving around the base of his skull as he pressed kiss after kiss to his mouth and face.

 

Grazie! Grazie, grazie, dolcezzo! Non posso credere che tu l’abbia fatto por me! Como posso anche iniziare a- e ieri sera tu- non posso, non posso…”

 

Alastor did not speak a word of Italian but could glean enough to know what grazie meant, laughing and trying to push the spider away as he continued.  Angel Dust seemed to realize he’d slipped, giggling as he sat back, rubbing a hand over his eyes to dissuade his happy tears as his face split in a wide smile.

 

“Really, Al, I can’t… how can I even repay you for that?”

 

Heedless to the smears of lip gloss on the corner of his mouth and on his cheeks, Alastor simply smiled. “Think nothing of it, darling. Ripping off a few of his legs was… therapeutic. Think we can convince Charlie to add it to her rotation? Thursday evenings are open as far as I know!”

 

Angel Dust laughed again, shaking his head as he wiped away the brightest smear of pink from Alastor’s cheek with his thumb. He moved to pull back only for Alastor’s hand to raise up, holding his against his face. “I’ll think of some way to make it up to you… buy you a drink maybe?”

 

Alastor smiled as Angel Dust leaned into his space again, lids falling half mast as he allowed it. “Bet you won’t.”