Sometimes he wondered what he did to deserve this. Somewhere, in some past life, he could no longer remember properly, he must have been a truly awful person to have this job, here and now. Which wasn’t to say it was a bad job. It was necessary and no one knew it as well as he did. But the people he had to work with...
The destruction twins who he had to keep talking out of exploding people. Daily.
The businessman who could rationalize whatever new method he came up with. And had the paperwork to back it up.
The two who spent more time making heart eyes at one another than doing their jobs. And doing far more than just making heart eyes with each other.
How was he supposed to bring about the end of a world when he couldn’t even keep his department in line?
Sometimes Nick thought about asking Ty to reap him, just so he could have a few hours of peace until he was recorporated. Again. Or maybe he could just retire to some nice quiet dimension where none of his team would bother him again.
But if Nick retired, who would take over as Armageddon? Ty? That would be a disaster on all fronts. Zane? Maybe, if he could keep his pants on whenever Ty was in the room. For the embodiment of Famine, he was terrible about denying himself anything. Nick supposed that might be why he’d been selected in the first place. He never actually asked Deuce about his choices. Because then he would learn why he had been chosen and that was one thing Nick didn’t want to know.
If he retired, he would tell Deuce that under no circumstances should he promote Digger or Kelly to the position. Pollution and Pestilence becoming the best of friends made Nick wonder if the people upstairs really had any clue what they were doing. Surely they didn’t want those two teaming up for anything other than sanctioned missions.
Owen wouldn’t be a terrible choice as a replacement. He had the business acumen to try and keep the other jokers in line, though he tended to get pulled into the dramas Kelly and Digger created easier than Nick would have liked.
So lost in thought, Nick didn’t hear someone even open the door to his office until he spoke. “Something on your mind, O?” Ty stood in the doorway, smirk firmly in place.
Nick raised a brow. “What makes you ask that?”
“You look like you’re sucking on a lemon. You get the expression whenever Kelly and Digger come up with a new explosive disease or you are considering a cut and run.”
Nick sometimes hated how well Ty knew him. They’d been on the team the longest. Nick held Owen’s mantle when they were first recruited and as War and Death, they were exceptionally good at their jobs. Nick took the promotion to lead Armageddon when it was offered, which occasionally made it awkward when he had to act like Ty’s boss and not his friend. It didn’t come up often and Ty was more accepting than most would expect, but it still felt uncomfortable to Nick.
“Okay, there’s something bothering you. Spill.”
Shaking his head, Nick gave him a small smile. “No, not really. I’m fine, Ty, I promise. Well, aside from having to sit through an explanation of how to make a heart burst out of someone’s chest earlier, so that might have something to do with it.” He shivered at the memory of that particular conversation. Next time he’d send them to Deuce’s office and let Upstairs deal with the horror.
“Yeah, I heard about that too. I told them to knock that shit off because I’m not cleaning up their messes just because they think blood and guts are fun.” Ty had the worst job, in Nick’s opinion. He had to go through after everyone else was done and deal with the aftermath. After famine, and pestilence, and pollution, and war, only then did death arrive. He’d seen Ty agonize over his job when it was just the two of them, mourn the lives he had to take from one side to the other. But he’d also seen his best friend roll his shoulders back and do his job without a hint of emotion. And he was always there for the rest of them. He’d been the one to comfort Nick when the pressures of his job became too much. Their duty came before everything else, even their own feelings.
But Ty took it to the extreme. Sometimes Nick worried about him.
“Also, I’m calling BS on the lecture by the P&P being the issue. You’ve put up with so much worse from both of them. So what’s eating at you?” Ty smirked as if he’d made some sort of joke Nick wasn’t in on but he studiously ignored it. Knowing Ty as he did, he didn’t want to know anyway. Probably something to do with Famine, now that he considered it. “You really do look miserable.”
Opening his mouth to say something, Nick shut it again with a snap. He didn’t even know what the heart of the problem was, only that something was leaving him unsettled. “I guess... Do you ever wonder about what we do? Do you ever think that maybe the universe would be better off without us? I mean, what is the point?”
Ty sat back in his chair, one leg thrown over the arm of it as he reclined. “That sounds more like something I would ask, not you. You know those are questions for the people upstairs, O. Way beyond my pay grade.”
With a heavy sigh, Nick dropped his head to his hands, elbows propped on his large desk in front of him. Outside the picture window behind him, the universe spread out in every direction into infinity. Sometimes Nick liked to look at it and remember that what they did made a difference to so many beings out there. Other times, he remembered what kind of difference they made and he closed the curtains to pretend he was just a normal person with a normal job and not the one in charge of signing off on the destruction of literal worlds.
“O, get out of your own head or, I swear to Deuce, I’ll reap you here and now and you can do the paperwork to get recorporated.” To make his point, Ty’s scythe appeared in his hand and Nick waved him off, knowing full well that Ty would do it. His best friend was just a bit of an asshole.
“Fuck you, Grady,” Nick said, but he was laughing all the same.
“Aw, love you, Irish, but I got something much better waiting for me out there.” He nodded towards the door. Across the hall was the horsemen’s offices, including Zane’s. Everyone knew not to enter the offices of Famine or Death without knocking first. They’d all gotten an eyeful one too many times to make that mistake again.
Shuddering at the memory of the last time he’d drawn the short straw and ended up interrupting them, Nick struggled to keep the smile off his face. His friend was happy, perhaps happier than Nick had ever seen him. Ty had been all about the job before Eli got promoted and Zane joined the team. Sure, before he would let loose with the rest of the guys on occasion, but Nick often wondered if he was truly okay. It wasn’t until Zane that Nick saw the easy smile return to Ty’s lips and he realized how much Ty had changed over the years.
They’d worked their way up the ranks together. Starting out in the celestial armies that took part in the armageddons they now directed, Ty and Nick made a name for themselves. After several productions, they ended up in Armageddon’s office, first as assistants than Horsemen themselves. Ty took to his role in a way that Nick never could but until Zane arrived, Nick never saw how much the job wore on Ty, even if he tried to never show it.
“So, really, Nicko, what’s bothering you?” Deflection never did work well on Ty, and Nick sighed, resigned to the fact that he was going to have to explain it. “You can tell me now or you can tell me after you get back from Upstairs, explaining to Deuce why you got reaped.”
He wasn’t joking and as Nick didn’t want to end up on the wrong end of the scythe, he sighed. “It’s just...business. Finance has told Deuce that we need to cut back. Don’t think that we’re all necessary and I’m trying to convince them that isn’t true. But all the stories about the end of the world mention four horsemen. We have five.”
He saw the moment the penny dropped and Ty’s eyes went wide. “They want you to cut a position. Who? I mean, I have a feeling I already know who but...” He trailed off, a sad and sympathetic smile pulling at the corners of his lips. “Why did Deuce agree to this?!”
“Pestilence. With the invention of antibiotics on earth and other treatments on other worlds, they don’t think it’s a necessary position anymore. And Deuce doesn’t really have a choice. You know his hands are as tied as ours are. He tried but I have to do this.”
“And you don’t want to have to fire your best friend.”
Nick narrowed his eyes, seeing several issues with that statement but focusing on one in particular. “He’s more than that and you know it.”
“Yes, and I choose not to think about that, thank you very much. Do you think they are making you fire him because of...that?”
“Honestly, I don’t think they care about that. We both do our jobs and we do them well. They have no reason to be upset about our relationship. I really think they’re just trying to cut back. Do you know how much it costs to have each apocalypse? If they could only send out four, they would be saving a lot.”
“So, budget cuts? And that means you have to fire your...Kelly.”
“That’s the long and short of it, yeah.” Nick dropped his head back into his hands. “The thing is, he’s going to take it just fine. It won’t bother him one bit. I mean, yeah, he will probably scream for a while and there may be some thrown objects, but after he’s done with that he’ll shrug and just move on.”
“And...?” Clearly, Ty wasn’t seeing the problem here.
“And I don’t want him to move on!” Nick burst, letting out a long, slow breath to calm himself. “You know better than anyone the long hours we put in here. If he goes and joins Healing or some other department with equally ridiculous hours, I’ll never see him again.”
“Don’t you think you’re being a bit dramatic?”
Glaring at him, Nick sat back and crossed his arms over his chest. “Why? Feeling like your role as the team’s drama queen is being threatened?” Maybe he was being a little dramatic but he felt justified. Ty had Zane. Everyone knew it and accepted them as a couple without question. Nick didn’t feel like he got that option. Being the boss made things more complicated
Ty let the quip roll like him off with a shrug. “Okay, so you need to find a way to keep him around. That’s simple enough.”
“Oh yeah? What do you suggest?”
He should have known Ty actually had a plan. Just like Nick should have known it was an absolutely ridiculous plan and one that Kelly would throw himself behind one hundred percent. With a casual shrug, Ty grinned. “I think it’s time for a new plague.”
There were no words Ty could have said that would have struck more terror in Nick’s heart. “You want to stage an apocalypse to help Kelly keep his job? Are you out of your mind? Not only would Kelly lose his job, but the rest of us would as well. We’d probably be demoted to Downstairs. Do you want to work for Burns and Bell, because I sure as hell don’t.”
Ty still didn’t look appropriately concerned as he sat back and propped his feet up on Nick’s desk. “Not a full apocalypse. Just Kelly and myself, maybe Zane depending on how things work. We need something that will get everyone’s attention.” His eyes were alight with unholy glee. “The exploding corpses!”
“NO! I draw the line at that. But...if you and Kelly want to work out something small that might show how useful Pestilence still is, then I’m going to avert my eyes and plead ignorance if you get called out for it.” They both knew Nick would be right there if any of them got in trouble. He was too good to let any of them take the fall without claiming full responsibility, even if he had nothing to do with it.
Ty pushed his chair back and nodded. “Leave everything to me. I’ll make sure Doc gets to stick around and we can go on with business as usual.”
It sounded great and Nick wanted to believe him that this would go off without a hitch, but this was Ty Grady he was talking to. He opened his mouth to say something but Ty slipped out the door and closed it behind him before Nick could think of anything that would convince his deadly friend that this was a terrible idea.
There was no way this ended well.
Two days later, a report landed on Nick’s desk. He looked up to see Ty and Kelly grinning at him like fools with Zane standing in the doorway rolling his eyes in that fond way of his. Ty looked between the file on Nick’s desk and Nick pointedly. “Deuce should be calling you soon.”
“What did you two do?” He leaned, trying to look behind them. “Were you involved with this? Please tell me Digger wasn’t involved with this!”
Chuckling, Zane shook his head. “It was all those two, I’m just here for the show.” His eyes scanned down to Ty’s ass and he smirked.
“Eyes are up here, Garrett!”
“Yeah, but your ass is down there.”
Nick groaned, pulling at his hair. “Enough! Tell me what you did!”
“Just a little plague. Nothing too major.” If Kelly was trying for innocence, he was missing it by a mile. Nick sighed and waited for him to continue. “Attacked their species version of an intestinal lining, resulted in dehydration due to leakage from the...”
“Stop, I don’t need those details! Where, when, and how many?”
Ty pointed to the file. “It’s all in there. Small planet on the edge of the Gilese667 star system. Struck the uppermost classes of their society, in the most public and embarrassing of ways. Many dropped dead in front of the masses they kept below them by shi...”
Nick held up his hand. “Okay. But when and how many?”
Ty and Kelly both shrugged, more entertained with what they did rather than the calculable results. Zane stepped up. “About two hundred years ago at this point,” he said, looking at the complicated watch he wore. Time moved differently and while most of them didn’t think much of it, Zane liked to know when it was in the various worlds they dealt with. “Three hundred sick, eighty-seven dead, including the entire ruling class. The proletariat rose up and they had a just and democratic society ever since.”
Hope bloomed in Nick’s chest. “So, you’re saying that by using this pestilence, the balance of power swung in the direction of Good?” Zane nodded and Nick nodded in reply. He shooed them all out so he could read the report and consider what to do. Eli would like that Good had triumphed and Deuce clearly liked Eli more than Liam, so that would get him on Kelly’s side. Now if only Finance would agree.
The phone rang not long after they all left. “Armageddon speaking.”
The voice rattled off a lot of data and information, fast enough that Nick had trouble keeping up with it, but he got the idea. Pushing back from his desk, he threw open the door only to find the whole department standing there, trying to listen in. Owen even had a glass up to the door. “Cosmic, near god-like powers and you are trying to listen through the door like a bunch of children?” he scolded, doing his best not to laugh.
Kelly ignored him. “So...?”
“It turns out Pestilence is a useful tool for both good and evil as well as maintaining the balance between the two in the universe. So, for the foreseeable future, there will continue to be five horsemen.” A cheer went up from the group and Nick grinned, always happy when they were happy. “But, there might be a few changes to your duties, Kels, so if you wouldn’t mind coming in, we can go over them all. Thoroughly.”
Kelly moved past them all, and with a hand on Nick’s chest, pushed him into the room, slamming the door behind them. Pestilence’s duties were varied and detailed. It would take a long time for them to get through it all. Hopefully, it would last until the end of the world. At least.