There was really only one direction a child named Warlock could go. And that direction had landed him in a red and black cybergoth kit purchased with his mum’s credit card for too much money for too little quality in return. It had also led to Warlock sitting dejectedly in a little sliver of a park in Angel just across the way from Slimelight on a Saturday night after being told to ‘stop trying to sneak in, or at least get a better kit before you do it again.’ His makeup and nail polish, at least, were passable, since it had not been purchased, sight unseen, from a questionable seller on the Electronic Bay. It was, regrettably, not enough to hide the fact that he was a good five years away from twenty-one.
It probably didn’t help that he’d made trying to get in a bit of a habit for the last year or so since his last birthday. He half-expected his security detail to show up any minute, but he’d ditched them pretty well tonight.
There were a few other people in the park, but not many at this late hour. Warlock pulled out his phone and composed his third edition of an angry text to his mother, but he deleted it all before hitting send. He decided on the succinct and time honored i hate u. It was her fault he was sitting alone in a shitty park on his sixteenth birthday like a complete, nobody loser when he should be having the most lush and lavish party to date. With Billie Eilish, Isabelle Brown, or Maggie Lindeman playing a hot set to impress his friends. (Though he’d honestly prefer Sachi or Petit Biscuit. Or even Gus Dapperton.)
There was a sound in the air, like a shimmer, and a shudder ran down Warlock’s spine. He looked up and saw two people, dressed like they had just stepped off Bond Street in the height of Fashion Week and had never even so much as looked at Soho. They were practically glowing in their light colored suits. Like a spotlight followed their every move. Except the moon was nowhere to be seen in the sky above. He felt the urge to hide behind the park bench.
“Which one is he Gabriel?” The figure in the double breasted suit adjusted the billowing sleeves peeking out at the wrists.
“That one. Warlock Dowling.” The man, Gabriel, grinned and it was beautiful and insincere as he pointed in his direction.
Somehow, Warlock knew the person at his side was neither a man nor a woman. A moment later he realized that neither of them were persons.
“Humans really do all look the same, don't they?” The red-headed thing’s face was pursed halfway between thoughtful and disgusted.
Those violet eyes were cold, even as the man-shaped thing smiled at him, “Hi.” Warlock couldn’t decide if he was terrifying or stupid.
“How do you know who I am?” Internet-stalker didn’t seem quite right here.
“I know lots of things, Warlock.”
He swallowed. He knew Gabriel was telling the truth. In fact, he was fairly certain, down to his bones that Gabriel had never before uttered a lie.
“You were told you would rule the world someday, weren’t you?”
“I mean,” Warlock swallowed. He very much wanted to be away from this conversation. It felt like being caught by a teacher too close to a bit of fresh graffiti. Like being caught without a term paper on its due date. “Sure, like, in the sense that society has promised-”
“Nah. Cut the bullshit.”
“You were told you would rule the world. You personally,” the perfectly coiffed redhead spoke softly. Those blue eyes cut through him.
Warlock said nothing.
Somehow there were more of those perfect, perfect teeth. “What if I told you there was someone who could make that happen?” That voice was so convincing, every word of it was gospel.
Warlock titled his head, “What do you mean?”
“Don’t you want to rule the world, Warlock Dowling?” The smile the redhead leveled at him was a little less… it was like an alien who had read about what a smile was without having seen one.
“Dunno,” he finally said, after a longer pause than he would have liked. “Maybe. Seems like work.”
Those eyes flashed lilac white for just a moment. Like lightning. “What about getting back at those who lied to you. Who abandoned you. Who claimed that they loved you and dropped out of your life once you weren’t what they needed?”
The words burrowed deep into his heart. “I’m not-No one’s abandoned me.” He said, as if he weren’t sitting alone on a park bench on his birthday.
“Where’s your father? Wasn’t he supposed to arrange your birthday party?”
Warlock swallowed down a hard lump in his throat. “It’s next week.”
“Next week?” Dark brows lifted above violet eyes, as if shocked. “Why, isn’t today your birthday?”
“Yeah.” Anyone could look that up with a computer. This is a weird prank. A stupid TV show or something. Any minute someone’s going to round the corner and shove a waiver in my face once they get what they want out of this.
“So why isn’t your birthday party today? Scheduling conflicts?”
If I had the power to order your executions… He felt his face grow hot, ashamed of the thought. He didn’t know what to make of the pair of widening smiles levied at him.
“No… my mom reprogrammed his phone and changed my birthday on his calendar.”
“Your father Thaddeus Dowling couldn’t be bothered to be present at your own birth. He only knows your birthday because it’s programmed into his Blackberry and when it dies he won’t know it. He fathers you in absentia. Your mother fobs you off on countless tutors and hired help and only steps in for the fun stuff. You had a cat that ran away when you were four, and you think it was because you used to pull its tail. Your best friend Meg spread a nasty story in the sound of a clock-”
“It’s TikTok, Gabriel, I keep telling you-"
“-and now your other friends have turned against you, all because they wouldn’t listen to you. Like they’re supposed to.” He wanted to tell them to stop it. Tell them to fuck off. Sod off. Whatever. “There was… a gardener, when you were little. And your nanny.” That almost-not-quite smile. “You poor thing. How could they play with such a tender boy’s heart like that?”
Warlock frowned. “Nanny? Gardener? What are you talking about?”
The two of them exchanged glances, and then he had that uncomfortable feeling like they were looking through him.
“Oh, I see now. Well, well. How cruel, we should do something about that, shouldn’t we, Gabriel?”
“Oh yes.” Gabriel lifted a hand, and snapped his fingers.
Synapses exploded and reconnected behind Warlock’s eyes. He remembered. Awful lullabies and Sister Slug. Skinned knees and hidden hideaways in hedges. Mischief with Nanny Ashteroth and charity with Francis. Tea parties that ended in intricate murder mysteries with his stuffed animals. Fancis letting him rule his own little patch of the grounds. A secret garden where he could grow whatever he wanted, from nightshade to cocoa trees—he thought’d he’d dreamed the taste of that chocolate. Dreamed the fat, silly old man who roasted it by hand. A soft, Scottish voice assuring him that dinosaurs were a hoax, and a knowing smile they shared when he unwrapped a bright red T-Rex shaped lamp at Christmas. And then…
“They’re letting us go, my dear."
“No! I won’t let them! You’re mine! My Francis and my Nanny. They can’t get rid of you if I want to keep you.”
“Now, now, it’s a little more complicated than all that young master Warlock.”
“You’ll get along fine without us.”
“But I don’t want to!” He wasn’t crying. He wasn’t. Then he thought better of it and turned on the waterworks. Sometimes he could get to Nanny that way. And she was always proud when he tried to be underhanded.
“Oh look at you. See? You don’t even need Nanny. You’ll have the whole world wrapped around your little finger.” She reached out and let her hand rest on his head. It felt strangely heavy.
“Do be good.”
“Not too good!” Nanny hissed the words as though afraid. Except Nanny wasn't afraid of anything. Ever.
“As good as you like, but a normal amount of good, I suppose, yes.”
“But Nanny, you said I get to rule the Earth if I’m ruthless and smart!”
“And so you shall, but we’re going to leave you now. We have to make you forget.”
“It will be kinder this way." Francis frowned. He usually loved it when Brother Francis frowned. His face made the funniest sorts of shapes. "You’ll forget us, but remember the lessons.”
“You won’t miss us at all. I promise. It’ll be like we were never here.”
Warlock came to with another snap echoing in his ears and tears in his eyes.
“Poor, sweet Warlock. How awful to just remove themselves like that from your life.”
“They never really loved you. All you were to them was just work. How easy it was for them to drop out of your life altogether. Not even a backward glance.”
His fists were shaking, and he wasn’t sure if it was righteous or unholy anger he felt blazing in his chest. “You said you could make it happen? Help me get back at everyone?”
Gabriel’s grin was wider than it had ever been. “Hand me your phone.” Warlock placed it in a perfectly manicured, outstretched hand. The not-man lifted it up and prodded at it for several minutes, his smile fading and his brows lowering deeper and deeper into a scowl. “Michael how do I…?”
“Just click the home button.”
“I don’t see a domicile anywhere.” Warlock wanted to laugh, but some instinct of self-preservation held it in. Whatever this dude Gabriel was, he was shit with computers. Stupid in the way that only adults could be with new technology.
“It’s the round one at the center.”
“This one? Why didn’t it do what I wanted?
“You pressed the one next to it—oh for Heaven’s sake, just give it to me.” Michael held out a hand and Gabriel passed it over. Michael held the phone aloft and deftly maneuvered through the screens before passing it back to Gabriel. “There, now you can enter it.”
“Ah. Good.” Warlock suddenly realized his previous thought was stupid as he tapped at the phone and dragged his finger over the face. Unbelievably stupid. Gabriel couldn’t be imperfect. He was utterly infallible. It was the phone that was stupid, not Gabriel!
“There you are. Call this number. Tell them you want what’s yours. What was promised to you.”
Michael gave an enigmatic little smile, “That’s right. Just let them know what you want.”
Warlock took his phone back. The screen looked like it was trying not to crack. The display was black with a weird red glowing symbol, with the surrounding display crystals… bleeding for lack of a better word. His phone was also making a sort of… buzzing sound.
When Warlock looked up the two were gone.
As an expert on the subject of love Aziraphale had spent thousands of years cataloguing his thoughts on the subject. Being made of the stuff and able to feel it meant that there was no shortage of research to be done. Humans, of course, their myriad and multitudes were endlessly fascinating, but there was one subject above all others who had held his singular interest throughout the centuries.
Said subject was doing his best to lurk menacingly under a black herringbone newsboy cap and the two-thirty sun on the twelfth green of the old course of the Royal Ashdown Forest Golf Club.
They didn’t have a caddy, but rather had one large, overstuffed bag full of clubs that they shared, currently slung over Crowley’s shoulders. Despite being thinner than a nine iron, he was a sturdy thing, and deceptively strong. And, as Aziraphale had come to appreciate, was only too happy to lend his service to a being he found properly worthy. The only being, perhaps. (Aziraphale tried not to think about that one. Blasphemous and self-aggrandizing grounds lay that way.) Crowley had not said as much of course, and this was conjecture—but it was conjecture with a solid basis, Aziraphale thought.
In the five years since they averted the apocalypse they had scarcely been apart for more than a day, but they also had not addressed the looming thing between them. Which was fine. Really! Not out loud, anyway. And Crowley seemed so happy (as happy as a demon ever let himself get). Plus, there was something thrilling about the anticipation now. Now that they knew it would happen eventually and there weren’t inexorable forces keeping them apart. As fetching as Crowley looked, glowing under the light of his own creation, it would almost be a shame to put an end to the waiting and kiss those red lips twisted in thought. The golf club being twirled between long, extraordinary fingers like a majorette’s baton was also a bit of a deterrent leading to Aziraphale to consider his other conclusion about the subject of his centuries-long study:
The love impulse in demons often reveals itself in terms of conflict.
Right on cue, just as Aziraphale pulled back to putt, Crowley spoke up.
“More of a job for a mallet, don’t you think?”
“You really shouldn’t speak as someone is about to shoot.” Aziraphale re-planted his feet, and eyed the hole.
“What sort of caddy would I be if I didn’t give you my valuable input?” Lord. If that grin wasn’t positively radiant (and if he weren’t an angel) he’d have a good mind to smack that look off Crowley’s face. Frankly the demon had no business going around and looking so-so wonderful and content and pleased with himself. Far more distracting than speaking, really, a smile like that.
“Well, I forgive you,” Aziraphale said magnanimously as he tapped the ball and watched it roll across the green and into the cup.
“You were cheating,” Crowley accused, a smile curling at the very corner of his lip.
Aziraphale tried vainly to hide a smirk of his own, “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”
The demon threw his head back and laughed, “Sure, like picking the winner of the next Superbowl.”
“Well… Everyone needs a hobby,” Aziraphale sniffed primly, and went over to retrieve his ball from the cup.
This really has turned out to be a lovely little trip. Aziraphale hid a smile as he picked up his vintage Kro-Flite. He couldn’t wait to go back to the Brambleyte Hotel for lunch. (He’d promised Crowley not to make a fuss about any historical inaccuracy when it came to claims of a certain Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.)
Azirapahle was full of a serene certainty that the rest of the week was going to be just as lovely.
Three days after his birthday (and another fight with his mom about where he could use her credit card online) Warlock finally caved into curiosity. He touched the bleeding glyph that had become his new lock screen. It felt like slicing his fingertip along broken glass and his own blood smudged the screen from the outside.
The phone buzzed in his hand with every ring, vibrating through his bones until someone… something picked up on the other line.
A nasal voice, cold and full of irritation answered waspishly, “Do you have any idea who you’re calling? How did you get this number? Tell me where you are and I’ll have someone come collect you to be flayed alive.”
For a moment, Warlock couldn’t breathe. His throat locked up. He’d heard such talk before, of course. He’d done more than his share of online gaming, but threats of grievous harm had never sounded so… casual before.
And yet… he remembered a lullaby. Remembered constant reassurances that he was far above anything in this world or the next. He had nothing to fear, as long as he reached out for his destiny and claimed it.
“I want what’s mine,” Warlock growled back, trying to deepen his voice. And hoped that it wouldn’t crack on him. “And if you send someone to tear off my skin I’ll have my men roast him and serve him for supper.”
There was a pause, and then the voice softened. “The boy, Warlock… What do you want from Hell, child? You already had a hand in aborting the end of the world. You do not want to be speaking to me. Who put you up to this?”
“...I want what’s mine. What was promised to me.” Warlock hesitated, gripping his phone tight, “And revenge.”
“Revenge? So you want a bargain?” The voice sounded mildly surprised. “What do you possibly have to offer me that would be better than taking out my frustration on you and your pathetic little family?”
He didn’t know why, but he didn’t feel like mentioning Michael or Gabriel. “I want… my Nanny did something to me as a child. She took away my memories and now they’re back, and she… they.. I never saw her again And she promised me I would rule the world as the son of Satan… I think I’d like that, if the offer is still on the table. Seemed like a lot of bother at first, but the idea’s sort of grown on me.”
“Nanny Ashteroth?” The voice on the phone sounded alert, intrigued. As if it was no longer half asleep and contemplating triple homicide.
“Yes, she…” fucked up my brain. “Abandoned me. Lied to me. I want to show her what a mistake that was.” Warlock clenched his jaw, “She never should have forsaken me. I won’t let her. Or Brother Francis. They belong to me. They owe me.” He was shaking, “She had no right, not when I was supposed to-” The screen cracked right next to his ear, and Warlock almost jumped out of his skin.
“Interezzzting.” There was a long buzzing static on the other end of the phone. Warlock held his breath.
“Well, I can’t just make you the Antichrist, but I’ll do what I can. I’ll send you a Duke of Hell to be your right hand. A contract for some demonic power… oh, and of courze, a Hellhound.”
Anyone else would have been convinced they were high or dreaming. But none of them had been raised by Nanny Ashteroth or seen the strange, magical things Brother Francis could do. And if there was one thing his Secret Service attache was good at, it was preventing him from getting his hands on any illicit substances or alcohol. (They always appeared like clockwork whenever he was about to get into anything good, no matter how many times he ditched them.)
All of that sounded good to Warlock. He felt a savage, vicious glee. This is just what he was owed. A sliver of it. A piece. He'd show Nanny how well he remembered all her lessons. Only… “I’m allergic to dogs.”
There was that long, droning noise on the other end of the line again. “.......What?”
“I’m allergic to dogs,” Warlock repeated.
“And we thought you were the real Antichrist for eleven years… Crowley didn’t put that one in hizz report did he…?”
“Alright! We’ll take care of that. You’ll get a hellbeazzt still, alright. Don’t you worry about it, my Lord Warlock. Just think about all the ways you want to raise Hell.”