Chapter 1: Prologue: Instructions Unclear
This was not the plan.
This was so far away from the actual plan that he and it weren't even in the same ring of Hell anymore.
Angel Dust snarled under his breath when he crashed against a crumbling brick wall, arms bracing against it to break his collision. The tattered remains of his gloves over his claws skittered over the rough surface as he followed the length of it before he pushed himself off and sprinted down the narrow alleyway. The various substances spattered over his person - blood, spit, eye fluid, alcohol, you name it - crusted his fur and clumped it together, sticking clothes to open wounds and rubbing the rest raw, and not in the fun way.
The spider stumbled out of the alleyway and into an abandoned road, potholes and craters of substantial size littering the sidewalk and asphalt. He searched for an escape route, shuffling on aching feet and turning this way and that to look at every possible angle. The silence of the sector, the eerie cries of wind whistling through shattered windows and broken building walls, and the overall situation he found himself in had the spider's fur standing on end and his fingers twitching to pull the trigger of his non-existent guns.
A quick glimpse of a relatively safe looking hole in the wall store further up the street had him scampering towards it, tripping on a few pieces of debris along the way. From what he managed to see between his one good eye and the blood crusted one, there was a thin but long gap on the side of the building - small enough to prevent anything large from entering but thin enough for him to slip through relatively easy.
Piercing howls echoing from a couple streets away had Angel practically throwing himself through the narrow opening between the wall and a boarded up window of what he now saw was a deli shop. Glass shards on a linoleum floor crunched under his boots as he landed within the store, the long leather protecting his knees when he crouched down below the level of the blocked front window to avoid the possibility of being spotted.
Angel stayed in place for a moment, head angled towards the front of the store and muscles coiled to spring into action at a hair's trigger. He strained his hearing to catch even the slightest hint of a footstep on the silent street outside, and it wasn't until the blood thrumming in his ears was the only thing to be heard did he let go of the breath he was holding and slumped against the wall beside him.
This wasn't the plan and now he had three hounds on his tail in the decrepit warehouse sector of Pentagram City.
Angel scowled and huffed. He collected himself and pushed his body off the wall with four arms. His legs trembled something fierce, and for a moment he feared they would give out from under him before they muscled through and supported his weight again. The movement stirred up dust motes and ash, the particles fluttering up into the stale air and waltzing with each other in the blood red glare seeping between the cracks of the boarded up windows.
With what little he could see, Angel spotted a couple of overturned small tables, tipped over moth-eaten wooden chairs, and a long display case plus counter towards the back of the store. The curved glass had long since become a sea of dust, but a few streaks of where debris had rubbed against the dirt layer revealed rotten food still within the display.
Angel quickly made his way over. Long legs easily stepped over the weathered furniture until he made it to the counter, claws finding the swinging door attached to it and flipping the security latch to let him through. The spider winced at the protesting shriek of rusted hinges and withdrew as if burned. He shuddered at their miserable croak when the door began to rattle close, but continued on his way to the kitchen behind the grey double doors directly behind the display case.
The porn star downright gagged when he pushed the door open and was instantly buffeted by a gust of putrid air. One hand came up to cover his nose and mouth, the other holding the kitchen door open and the other two patting around the wall for a light switch. The lower left ruled triumphant over its counterpart when it located the small fixture first and immediately jabbed the button.
A single dull light bulb turned on over the stoves, sputtering and crackling with barely functioning electricity before steadying out. The droll hum of the bulb welcomed the spider after he finally decided to venture further in.
Once homey looking counters and shelves lined the perimeter of the room, pots and pans still hanging off a ceiling rack over the kitchen island at the center of the ensemble. The stoves were at the very back, and besides them the only other door in the establishment.
Unfortunately for him, it led to the freezer.
"Shoulda fuckin' guessed this place wouldn't have a back door," he hissed after having picked his way through discarded utensils to yank at the vertical handle. Beyond the stained steel door, racks of canned goods and slabs of cellophane wrapped things greeted him, barely illuminated by what light of the bulb could sneak in before being swallowed by the dark beyond. The humid heat and stench of rot - much worse than that of the kitchen - radiating from within had the spider shutting the door back with a dull thump of foam tape.
Angel grumbled behind his hand and settled his lower set on his hips. He absentmindedly picked some dried blood flakes from his chest fluff with his only free one, looking around the dilapidated kitchen for some form of inspiration that may trigger an idea.
Apart from some more-than-likely blunt knives inside their racks and some broken floor tiles, there was little that could be used as a makeshift weapon lest he get himself caught.
Looks like it'd be a waiting game for him - or at least until he was sure his tailgaters weren't breathing down his neck so he could make a quick escape.
The spider made his way to leave the kitchen, but he stopped after a second of deliberation to crouch and grab a sharp looking piece of tile just in case. He turned the thing over in his hand, noting the way the weak yellow light reflected dull and flat through the dust on its surface before he slipped the shard into the inner seam of his jacket. He stabbed a claw at the light switch to extinguish the bulb, plunging the putrid room back into darkness, and stepped in the direction of the traffic door.
Angel's fingertips just about brushed the cool metal when he picked up a sound through the dead silence.
The clicking of back claws on concrete and scraping against asphalt paired with low rumbling growls.
His reaction was as automatic as it was stupid.
He glued himself to the nearest wall and darted his way through the maze of mess on the floor, groping where he could for the familiar length of the freezer handle. Once his hand brushed over its peculiar shape he clung to it like a lifeline with all three spare hands.
He pulled the latch up as slowly as he could to avoid the slightest of creaks from it, easing the door open just enough for his thin frame to slip in while simultaneously hearing a loud crash from the main room.
Looked like the doggies got impatient and started ripping the boards off the front windows.
Angel Dust cursed under his breath. He crouched low to the ground, one knee on the ground and the other to his chest in case he needed to once again spring into action. His fingers held the freezer door open by a sliver to keep it from fully shutting on him. It was a gamble with old shops like this one on whether their freezers were mechanical or magnetic, and the spider wasn't about to gamble his non-life on such a stupid thing just to have it blow up on his face.
He was so focused on keeping still and quiet that he didn't even process the fumes of rancid meat entombing him, or the dull vibrations against his thigh from his ringing cell phone.
Muffled voices grew steadily closer until he could faintly make out what they were saying.
"Ya sure he 'round here, boss? Place lookin' like a dead end to me."
A vicious snarl and a shrill whine had the spider fluffing up again.
"Shut yer whore mouth, Scales! Fucker's 'round here, I can smell him all over the store."
"Guy didn't smell like rotten meat and cheese to me, boss. Mores like a tooty fruity, me thinks."
The porn star didn't know whether to snort or be offended by that particular remark.
Banging and wood splintering leaked from the main room into the freezer. Loud snuffling and the clicking of claws on linoleum approached the traffic doors, and Angel knew it came down to sheer dumb luck that they didn't open them.
"Why we chasin' this guy for anyway? He just one-a Val's. What's Sandman want with that?" Third guy asked, somewhere closer to the deli display from what Angel could tell.
"It's not what boss man wants with Valentino. Is what the spider fucker did that Sandman wants." Second guy grumbled, much closer to the traffic door and setting Angel's teeth on edge.
"An' what's that?" First guy Scales chipped in, the quietest and furthest away from Angel.
"Guy did away with over 40k. Ain't no one squealin' how so we gotta bag the fucker."
"Sheit." Third guy whistled, no longer moving around but still too close to the kitchen for Angel's liking. "Who's th' fella?"
"Some hussy callin' himself Angel Dust. Angel my pocked ass though, guy's gonna be dust by the time Sandman is through with him."
By now the three were lingering around the kitchen door before Scales pitched back in. "Wait a second right th're boss," he said, confusion and doubt thick in his voice. "Ain't that the guy from th' news?"
"News?" Second guy parroted right back, and it didn't take Angel's stellar intelligence to notice the heavy incredulity tangible in his tone.
"Yeah yeah, he's the same name tha' singing broad mentioned tha' one time. Sum hotel or sum sheit like tha'."
These guys knew about that?
Angel rolled his eyes and snarled to himself. Of fucking course they knew about that.
"Look it here, Scales, guy's coulda fuckin' be Lucifer himself and I ain't gonna give two shits. Sandman says we pinch the guy, so we gonna pinch the guy, ya got it."
The rumbling growls prompted a meek whine before the Scales guy gave an "A'right, Op."
Third guy scoffed and finally pointed out the elephant in the room.
"What we gonna do with that? Looks like a kitchen but I ain't wanna go in, boss. Main room stinks like Heaven done crapped on us, imagine them smells in there."
'Op' - stupid name, in Angel's opinion, unless it was some nickname or some shit like that - hummed and poked one swinging door judging from what Angel could hear from the creaking hinges. "We goin' in. Trail lead 'round these parts, and if I remember one thing from my life it's that spider's like to hide."
Scales and third guy protested loudly, but they were overshadowed by Op throwing open the doors...
… and promptly proceeding to gag once a full-blown gust of rotten food smacked them all on their sensitive noses.
Angel would've grinned if his own eyes weren't already tearing up from the more powerful odor in the freezer. One of his hands slipped into his jacket, curling around the tile piece hidden there and gripping it tight.
Maybe his half-baked plan of hiding inside a tomb of decayed meat would pay off and shake these hell hounds from his trail.
The return of a faint buzzing let him know they had found the light switch amidst choking on their own breaths.
"Whassabout it, Opium?! Still wanna check?" Third guy wheezed.
From the thin slit between the freezer door and wall, Angel could just about see a tall red dog with shaggy fur pacing the counters, one hand firmly closed over his nose and mouth. Crimson scleras surrounded white irises and glowed faintly in the dimness of the kitchen.
"Fucker's gotta be here!" He hissed back, black ears trained straight up and twisting at the faintest of noises.
A scruffier dog stepped closer to their leader. From what Angel could see, this one's fur was mostly cream colored with a distinct patch of pink on its face that made it look like a raccoon that had one few too many drinks.
"C'mon, boss! If th' guy was here th' smell alone woulda done him by now! Let's get out 'fore our eyes start meltin'."
The third guy - a lighter red than the pacing one with a white snout and front - finally came into view as well and protested along the same vein to the largest hound.
Angel held deathly still, his thoughts revolving mostly between 'Take the bait, take the bait…!' and 'Where the fuck am I gonna get this smell off me?'
After what felt like hours of pulling out every single drawer and throwing open every pantry door, Opium finally conceded defeat when Scales pointed at the freezer door and said the worst smell was coming from there.
Like Heaven they were opening that freezer, rotten meat and all.
With one last reverberating snarl, Opium turned tail and marched out of the kitchen. Scales and the unknown third guy scampered after him, the former getting hit by the door when it swung back into the kitchen and the latter pushing the shorter dog aside to escape much faster.
Screeching whines and rapid clicking of claws followed Scales out, and it wasn't until Angel Dust couldn't hear the trio or anything else other than his own blood pumping through his head again did he allow himself to breathe normally at last.
He, too, choked on the fumes on the first deep inhale.
Fuck his plan and fuck his afterlife.
Chapter 2: Worry, Worry, Worry
Woe is me.
Thank you guys so much for the reception you've given this story! Have some exposition plus an impromptu meeting.
All mistakes are mine, and once again I hope you enjoy!
After four showers, three baths, and two hours of scrubbing his fur, Angel Dust still felt like he smelled of decades-old meat and asbestos residue.
He had managed to escape the warehouse sector and snake his way into the city proper without any further brushes with the pack, though he had made sure to stick close to back roads and alleys just in case. The odor clinging to his person like a second skin had warded off any demon with a sense of smell from him, and if that wasn't enough then the severe scowl on his face had taken care of the rest. His phone had been smashed in the initial skirmish, so he had no way to contact Cherri until he was already standing right outside her apartment building waiting to be buzzed in.
Cherri had almost refused to open and let Angel in due to the stink. Angel had to promise the spunky blond some of the new explosive material from an incoming shipment to Valentino so that she could even crack open her front door. The towel thrown straight at his face and the incessant pushing at his back towards the studio’s bathroom had been all the prompting he needed to get working.
Now here he was, on a public bus ride to the hotel, sitting on a window seat with his cheek pressed against the cool glass, and body aching with over-exertion and wounds throbbing something fierce around crudely applied sutures. He ignored the twinges of exhaustion from his limbs and instead began contemplating on how he had managed to fuck up so badly in a matter of a few weeks.
Stealing from the mob was nothing new for him. He did it when he was alive from his own father's business, and he did it when he was dead from the many gangsters he slept with outside of official Porn Studios’ business. A quick and easy blowjob to a well-dressed John with expensive accessories would easily get him a $200 tip in exchange for silence, and a fast fuck with a clearly married one would go anywhere from $400 and above, depending on the blackmail he had. The price range rose exponentially if the other party happened to be a rival of Valentino, which happened to be the ones he targeted most.
This would mark the first time he stole without any sex being involved. Just his own charismatic charms and the promise to work for one Don Sandman as a for-hire gun. No sex, no drugs, no nothing that would go against the conditions set by the redemption program.
And that's another thing.
The redemption program. The one reason he had to look for employment outside of Valentino's field of influence. His contract was coming to an end in a few months time, and rather than renew it with the Porn Studios Overlord, they had come to a mutual agreement.
A rather heavily stacked mutual agreement, but an agreement nonetheless.
If Angel couldn't find a good enough job outside of the porn industry and manage to keep it without it blowing up in his face while simultaneously getting on his new boss' good side, Valentino would let the contract end on its own and afterwards the spider would be free to go. No strings attached, no fanfare, no nothing.
But if Angel couldn't anchor down and have something legitimate to present to the overlord by the end of their pre-established contract, the spider would lose the ability to even have a contract in the first place and become an undisputed belonging to the studio itself. He'd have to wear a tracking anklet and everything - courtesy of one TV - that would be programmed to only allow Angel to move within studio grounds. If he so much as stepped an inch outside of the established perimeter, he'd be shocked to within an inch of his non-life and knocked flat of his ass until someone came to drag him right back.
A literal prisoner to Valentino with no possibility of parole.
No pressure, really.
Angel had agreed to the conditions in a heartbeat, unwilling to look a gift horse in the mouth and risk Valentino going back on his word for taking too long to think their deal over. The pair had signed a separate agreement and shook hands on it. Valentino had even gone so far as to bring in Vox to record the event and act as a standing witness to the transaction.
Given the impish grins on both their faces and the jaunty static crackling from Vox's antenna, both overlords were getting a kick out of watching him try for something they thought impossible.
Angel groaned and knocked his forehead against the window. No other passenger looked up and kept to their own bubbles.
He was way in over his head with Valentino's impending contract and now the situation with Sandman by owing proof of stature to one and owing money to the other after having embezzled the funds for himself.
Valentino he could (hopefully) deal with, so in reality his major concern was the Sandman, the new player on the board.
From what intel he had gathered based on a few trustworthy sources and informants, Sandman was a don whom valued doing things the classic gangster way. His approach to crime was that of the underworld and black market route with a bastardized side of classic Italian mentality of family. The man also had an almost biblical devotion to the ideal that he wouldn't ever involve civilians in his business nor would he actively act against one. If those who crossed him had a loved one they cared very much for, he would make sure none of his entourage would lay a finger on them just to get to the targeted party. Or so word of mouth said.
In short, the demon had standards many in Hell lacked. Maybe it was that old world charm that had drawn Angel in to apply as a gun for the old man in the first place.
Now Angel had royally fucked up after only three weeks on the job by stealing 40k from the don after he had been promoted from goon to negotiator. He had hellhounds on his ass, probably a hefty sum on his head already, and a mind-numbing headache out of the whole thing.
And he had yet to think of a way that he could possibly get out of this one.
With his cheek up against the cool glass, Angel could see multitudes of demons out walking the streets. All shapes and sizes, some with too many eyes and others with no eyes, some fluffy and some bald, some dressed to the nines with jobs and some sprawled in alleyways like chumps.
He had been laughing at a demon with three arms sticking out of its back when he felt the bus jerk to a stop, pushing all the passengers forward in their seat with the speed the thing had been moving at. The doors hissed open and down some riders went, others climbing on instead and none interesting enough to take note. Angel turned back to looking outside, and his eyes quickly found a pair of imps walking out of a store.
One was pushing what looked to be a stroller forward, fussing with the infant that was more than likely inside it as their partner held multiple shopping bags in their hands. The imp with the stroller finally appeared satisfied with whatever they had been doing and turned to their partner. They were notably a few inches taller than the one with the bags - not that imps were tall by any standard at all - but that didn't stop them from leaning over and pressing a kiss to the other imp's cheek. Angel barely saw the way the shorter demon pushed the first one aside before the bus took off again.
Now, families in Hell weren't that uncommon. Sure, the main inflow of the realm's population consisted of mortal souls being damned for eternity, but that didn't mean the ones that survived the yearly exterminations couldn't start a family of their own if they found someone they tolerated enough to hitch themselves up to. Many didn't have kids and remained that way forever, but then there were those native-born Hell species that actually had children and enjoyed it.
The whole concept was weird, but hey, to each their own.
He wondered what that would be like - to have a partner to go home to, to see them everyday, to get that happy feeling in your stomach and chest whenever you saw their smile...
What a joke.
A very useful joke.
Angel brought a claw to his chin as a sudden epiphany struck him.
The Sandman wouldn't do anything to deliberately hurt a civilian. That much was a proven fact, so maybe that exception could be extended to a mobster with a civilian partner - hurting the dirty side of the pair would hurt the civilian by extension, thus going against the man's moral code.
Angel was going out on a limb here regarding the don's way of thinking, but if he took the gamble and managed to exploit the demon's ideal and secure a relationship with someone outside the business, then maybe Sandman would respect that clause in the situation and give Angel a chance to redeem himself. He could keep his head and work himself into the man’s good graces if his exploit worked.
The more he thought about it, the more ridiculous the idea sounded, but what did he have to lose aside from the clothes on his back and Fat Nuggets back at the hotel?
Every member of the staff constituted as a civilian by definition. Maybe if he could get one of them to pretend to be in a relationship with him, and be publicly spotted in the turf he knew belonged to Sandman, then word would get around and reach the don himself that Angel Dust had a beau. Thus he would be off the board as a contender for the more… painful methods of payback the gang could no doubt come up with.
Question was: who could he ask?
The bus pulling to a halt yet again reminded him that he was, in fact, still on a public transport and should at least be paying some degree of attention to where he was going. The spider glanced around through the window, spotting the clocktower down the block with the extermination countdown and realizing the next stop would be the one he got off on.
Angel sighed and sat back against his seat while the new passengers boarded. The hands on his lap toyed with each other, thumbs playing war against their counterparts as his thoughts wandered yet again.
Charlie or Vaggie were off the table right off the bat. The reason being that both were already in a steady relationship, but mostly because if they found out he was in deep shit with the mob, one would surely disembowel him with a rusty knife and the other would give him her patented disappointed sad face.
Niffty was too… chirpy and excitable, not something he was sure could pull the long con when it came down to it. Besides, there was that whole mess where she still sometimes thought Angel Dust was a woman instead of a man and one slip-up in front of the wrong person would spell disaster for the spider.
Husk would turn him down in a heartbeat even with the offer of free booze. The cat demon was too disinterested in anyone's business but his own - maybe even his own too, now that Angel thought about it - to risk his own hide for an operation such as this one. Not to mention Angel may or may not have swiped some of Husk's better brews and gotten himself blacklisted from the bar for a good few weeks when the cat found out.
That only left their gracious benefactor and sponsor: one Radio Demon with zero interest in relationships of any kind.
The pneumatic hiss of the doors’ opening had the spider pushing off his seat and shuffling towards the front of the bus. He followed after an imp that barely reached his knees, stepping onto the curb and waiting for the driver to leave to cross the street. The panels snapped shut once again, almost catching the tail of a turtle demon in between its doors before it pulled away with a sputtering engine, exhaust fumes trailing after it and tickling the spider's nose.
Blazing lights and twinkling bulbs welcomed Angel from across the road. The towering edifice stretched high into the eternal night sky, the sign once reading 'Happy' now mysteriously changed to scream 'Hazbin' down onto those stepping close to its domain. And step close to its domain he did.
Angel ignored the foreboding air around the building and trailed up the cobblestone driveway. The candy-red rose hedges lining the footpath guided his journey to the porch and up the front stairs to the stained glass doors. He unceremoniously turned the knob and marched right in, door clicking shut behind him on its own after he let go. Mismatched eyes scanned the foyer and took note of Husk's absence behind the front desk-cum-bar. A quick look over the top of the bar showed that the cat wasn't under or laying on the floor either after his daily drinking binge.
Must be on his break, he thought, lips pursed and eyebrow raised at the unusual sight. Angel shrugged his confusion off and crossed the empty lobby. He started up the main staircase, the hands on his right latching onto the polished handrails for support as the left ones gingerly closed over the stitched wounds littering his torso under his jacket. He bee-lined straight for the elevator towards his rooms on the upper floors as soon as he managed to reach the first landing.
The spider thought back on his still half-baked plan. He needed to snag himself a civvie, one so far removed from the business that no one would suspect a thing or ulterior motive from the pair. Thing was, the only available one was also the one demon that could - and quite possibly would - snap his neck without laying a single finger on him should he be bold enough to even ask.
It all boiled down to the question of what would be the lesser of three shitty situations: annoying Alastor and being laughed at by the redhead as if he were the butt of a cosmic joke, being trapped forever as Valentino's slave, or becoming Sandman's little art project?
In two out of the three options he would have to become a veritable hermit hiding out for the rest of his afterlife in this miserable hotel with its idyllic mission, and in the last one the worst he would get would be a wounded ego and maybe some jokes at his expense.
Besides, what did he have to lose from asking aside from his dignity?
Mind made up, Angel removed his room’s key from the deadlock bolt he had been about to turn and shifted gears. He didn’t bother with re-locking the door knob, instead opting to push his way back towards the elevator. The lift had yet to leave his floor, so he quickly jabbed the button to open the panels and hustled in, fingers trailing over the floor buttons before finding the correct one. He wasted no time in pressing it and leaning against the back wall rail when the button lit up.
The elevator dinged and closed. It began its smooth ascent, and while the contraption rattled away, Angel formulated his plan of attack.
He would go right down that hall, knock on the Radio Demon's door, and present his case to the redhead and offer whatever he could to get the shorter demon to agree.
What someone like Angel Dust could possibly offer a demon who could bend shadows to his will and apparate objects with a simple gesture of his hand, he didn't know, but he was damn sure going to try his best.
The elevator soon came to a stop. The metallic panels hissed open and out the spider strolled like a man on a mission. His footfalls thumped dully over the elaborate runner carpet stretched over the floor as he read every room plaque, looking for that one number that he had long since learned belonged to their resident overlord. He finally found the one he was looking for a little further down the hall and pushed himself into a jog to stand in front of it.
Angel stopped and stared at the number plaque. He suddenly felt queasy and like he was two seconds away from being grievously injured. His fur puffed and stood on end, his lower arms subconsciously wrapping around his wounded torso, and his upper set fiddled their thumbs as he worked up the courage to knock. He drew in a deep breath, held it for a few seconds, and when he released it he quickly raised a fist and rapped his knuckles on the polished wood.
He'd done it.
Now to wait for a response, if any.
Angel could faintly hear some shuffling from inside. The rustling of fabric approached the door, and more curious than anything, he noticed the distinct lack of the customary tap-tap of Alastor's shoes on wooden floors. He also belatedly noticed the lack of soft music playing from the redhead when the internal locks were undone.
The door opened as far as the still equipped lock chain would allow, and from the gap between frame and wood, a single red-on-red eye stared out. Half of a crescent smile stretched to curl further up on ashen cheeks as a titillating voice called out.
"Angel! My, what brings you to these parts?"
Angel chuckled, still nervous, and raised a fist to his lips. He cleared his throat and folded his four hands behind his back.
"Hey, Al, um… hey . D'ya think we could, uh… y'know, have a quick chat?"
"’A chat?’ Is that what you're calling it now?"
The skepticism and disdain was palpable in his tone, as was the eyebrow that quirked up in contempt over that one eye he could still see.
"I'm sorry, Angel, but if that's all you're here for then I'm afraid I'm going to have to reject your offer.
" Again ."
Angel immediately shoved his boot between the gap before Alastor could slam the door on his face. He spit and cursed at the new pain shooting up from his foot at the constricting squeeze but powered through it, leaning his weight on the door to push it the rest of the way open as much as the lock chain would allow.
"Wait, no, that's not whatta meant!" Angel hissed through gritted teeth, still straining against the demon on the other side.
"Then pray tell, what did you mean?" Alastor mocked right back.
"I can't just say it out here! C'mon, Al, lemme in first and I'll tell you!"
A beat of silence passed where only his growled grunts and Alastor soft static passed between them. And then, as if Satan himself were leering down on the porn star, Alastor pulled back and told him to get off.
Angel quickly stepped back, wincing when the weight on his foot throbbed under him, and felt his stomach drop for a split-second when the door closed. Only the faint clink of the withdrawn chain dispelled most of the nerves in his gut. The entrance swung open once again and revealed one unimpressed redhead standing there, claws poised elegantly over the door's edge and crimson stare drilling holes into Angel's own.
If the circumstances were any different, Angel wouldn't mind the overlord drilling a few holes in him at all, if you catch his drift.
"Hey," he started lamely, a half-hearted grin on his face, "fancy seeing you…?"
Maroon eyelids drooped, condescending and unfazed. Their owner stepped aside and silently ordered Angel in.
The spider didn’t stall and slithered right past the shorter demon, regaining some of his confidence back when the deer simply shut the door and locked it right back behind him.
While Alastor fussed with something else by the threshold, mismatched eyes took advantage of his distraction and surveyed the forbidden room. A four poster canopy bed was perpendicular to the front wall, the wood of the piece dark and thin yet still elegant and regal with the way the tied up sheer curtains draped over the ensemble. Crimson sheets and black throw pillows decorated a full-size mattress - though it looked a bit too pristine in Angel's opinion, almost as if Alastor never actually slept on it and thus never used it. What a waste, Angel mused, that mattress looked absolutely delightful for a long nap.
On either side of the bed were a pair of mahogany nightstands, one topped with a simple lit spiral cage lamp and the other hosting a pristine cathedral radio polished to glow in the soft light filtering through the half-open window.
A pair of French doors were located right across from the poster bed, hinting at a modestly sized balcony through the long curtains covering it. A set of high-back winged armchairs angled towards a simple sofa were settled to the left of the French doors, their upholstery a rich burgundy and wood a shining mahogany. A glass coffee table rested between the three holding a steaming mug and a few closed books, and to the right of the balcony was a desk pushed against the furthest wall at the back of the room. Layers of paper and a collection of pens were scattered over the dark wood with an unlit desk lamp standing sentinel over the piles. An extra door, possibly leading to an ensuite, was on the same wall as the desk and to the left of the bed.
All-in-all, the room was as elegant, as confusing, and as disturbingly detached in its decoration as the man inhabiting it was.
A pointed cough came from behind and Angel was spinning around to face Alastor. The shorter demon had his hands folded against the small of his back, spine straight and shoulders loose as he led the way to the aforementioned armchairs. He motioned for Angel to sit across from him on the sofa when he settled himself into an armchair.
Angel followed and sank into the couch cushion. He almost groaned at the plush texture contrasted by the coarse upholstery, but he refrained from doing so given present company and the fact that Alastor had not once removed those crimson eyes from him. His foot was still throbbing like mad, but he refused to even acknowledge it in the face of the overlord. He swallowed the lump in his throat and quirked a sleazy smile of his own.
"So about that chat of yours," Alastor began, reaching for the steaming mug on the coffee table and bringing it up to his lips. He sipped at the no-doubt scalding liquid, not flinching in the least nor his smile wavering, and continued. "What was it that you were so keen on discussing?"
Angel forced a cough himself, crossing his legs and resting his hands over his knees to keep them from picking at the throw pillows on the sofa.
"Well, how 'bout I answer your question with another question?"
Before Alastor could so much as part his lips, Angel barreled ahead with a sudden burst of confidence flooding his chest.
In for a penny, in for a pound, right?
"Alastor, will you marry me?"
Chapter 3: What a Shame.
Pour the champagne.
You guys are mad! So much attention and feedback for the first two chapters and we haven't even reached the official plot reveal yet! I sound like a loop but thank you guys so much, honestly ;w;
EDIT: I'm on the rocks with this one, so if I do any major edits then I'll make sure to leave an update note.
I hope you enjoy regardless!!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
His day had been, for all intents and purposes, boring.
Absolutely dreadful and lacking in terms of entertainment from the second he tuned back into his body in the morning to now in the late afternoon in his quarters. No one to mess around with, no one to observe and follow from a distance just to watch them squirm, no one to spark a modicum of mental stimulation in his poor psyche.
Charlie had left him in charge - much to Vaggie’s horror - of running the hotel for the day while she went to visit her parents back at their palace. Vaggie had locked up her own office tight (not that he couldn’t slip his way inside through the shadows if he wanted to) and left with the princess after growling at the redhead that the pair better return to an intact building. Alastor had laughed loudly and ruffled her hair in exchange, easily sidestepping the holy spear stabbed his way and bidding the women goodbye at the main entrance.
Husk was off in the roof lamenting what was his afterlife and drinking to forget his emotions. An unexpected crash from the kitchen had sent him into a downward spiral of shell shock, and away he had dashed up the foyer staircase and towards the flight of stairs by the elevators. Alastor had witnessed the whole event, intrigued and half-curious at the uncharacteristic display. He had shrugged and tutted to himself once the distant slam of the service door floated down to reach his ears. So undignified and inconsiderate on Husk’s behalf, not even bothering to set the ‘Closed’ desk sign up on the counter before he left. Alastor reached behind the bar, fixed the desk sign in place, and wandered off himself, once again bored and disinterested now that his brief entertainment had left.
Niffty was dutifully up-keeping the entirety of the hotel’s salvageable furniture and marking pieces that couldn’t be saved for scraping. She had been carving an X on a lame armchair with a letter opener when Alastor came upon the sitting room she had been tidying that morning. No words aside from pleasantry greetings were exchanged between them, and each stuck to their own task - one cleaning and the other simply observing whilst the minutes ticked by. When Niffty dragged the armchair to the large discard pile she had going along with a few other select pieces, Alastor had opened a portal under the mess and let it all drop into the abyss as he settled on a half-decent couch. The sitting room was quickly cleared of splintered furniture between their joint efforts, and when the last chair was swiftly disposed of and portal closed, the pair had gone their separate ways after a promise to whip up a decent dinner for later.
His up-lifted mood gradually wilted until his mind was left empty and bored once again. The silence of the hotel halls weighed on his ears, and when he found no further entertainment no matter how long he walked through the monotonous red halls, Alastor had decided to call it quits and retire to his room early to get working through legal paperwork for the hotel.
Or at least that was what he was supposed to be doing.
Now that he had a certain spider sitting across from him, his original plans were promptly disemboweled and tossed into the metaphorical fire to burn.
Whatever Alastor had been expecting Angel Dust to say, this had not been it.
To say Alastor had been expecting anything remotely close to what the spider had just said would be one huge lie, and although trickster he may be, he prided himself very much in the fact that he was no liar.
He had been waiting for - more like expecting, given who he was talking to - a bribe for a recreational drug outside of Angel’s allotted substance allowance under the program, a request to go off and participate in another turf battle that would occasionally crop up outside of extermination season, or at least a proposition for something raunchy and crude that he would have flat-out rejected before kicking the spider out of his rooms.
Most definitely not.
The Radio Demon blinked. His toothy grin shrunk down to a tight lipped smile, narrow and lean along his lips. The bitterness of the black coffee remained a background taste as he processed this new development.
This ridiculous - if intriguing - development.
His tongue licked across the fronts of his teeth, and for a second he was honest to Hell stumped for a proper response to such an asinine question.
Angel Dust jumped against his seat, startled, clearly not having counted on such a blunt answer. His hands were folded over his knees, but the claws looked like they were ready to itch at the closest thing they could latch onto. From what Alastor could see, those pink gloves appeared to be a size smaller than usual, but he digressed. The spider quickly recovered from the surprise response and hemmed-and-hawed, pink irises fleeting around the room while he scrambled to come up with a valid explanation.
"Well, uh, you see, I, um, um…"
"Do speak clearly."
Four hands twitched from their perch, the topmost one drumming fingers over the others until Angel finally heaved a great sigh and slumped against the sofa, head tilted back over the edge of it and stare aimed at the ceiling. The porn star raked a hand through his hair, the heel of his palm resting momentarily against his forehead before he sat up and leant towards the waiting overlord, elbows on his uncrossed knees and forearms dangling between his legs.
"Because I fucked up, and my ass is on the line if certain people find out that I ain't got the money to pay 'em back."
Alastor hummed in the back of his throat but said nothing. Dainty claws tapped against the lip of the white mug, narrowed blood-red eyes considering both the words and inspecting the appearance of the other demon.
On one hand, whatever black business Angel got himself into was none of Alastor's. The overlord had never been interested in the life of the underworld when alive, and the preference extended to his damnation in Hell. If the living had been violent against one another in the mob, imagine how abhorrent demon gangsters were to each other in death and Hell. They must be absolutely barbaric and have no purpose other than to cause as much damage as possible to their fellows.
With this in mind, Alastor considered it of no importance to him if Angel was indebted to other demons for one thing or another.
And yet if Angel was as ragged as he looked, then maybe it wasn’t just a simple debt he owed.
The usually kempt and fluffed white fur was brittle and frizzy, not enough to be explicitly noticeable but more than obvious if swept over carefully. The pink spots that Alastor could see were dull, flat, and not as attention grabbing as usual. The typical eyeshadow on his eyelids was faint, as was the eyeliner smudged around the corners of his eyes from what looked like a messy application.
Angel Dust looked like he had been dragged through a pit of brimstone and decomposing innards, spat into the putrid bowels of black water, and had just barely managed to wipe the top layer off himself before knocking on his door.
He certainly smelled like it too.
Alastor's sensitive nose burned with the not so subtle stench wafting off the spider. It definitely wasn't his customary aroma of white flowers and citrus perfume with a touch of musky gun wax. A strange scent in and of its own right, sure, but Alastor had long since learned to associate it with the spider. Not to mention it would be greatly preferred over whatever this was.
So bad was it that his shadow had vacated the premises when Angel crossed the threshold even though it had no sense of smell itself. Just the trace smell transmitting over their bond from the redhead’s side was enough to ward the poor thing away to the roof, where the demon figured it was entertaining itself by watching Husk drink and ramble away.
But alas, no matter his condition, Angel's situation still wasn't Alastor's problem.
"And this should concern me because…?"
"Well because if something happens to me then something happens to the hotel, right? I'm the only patron here so far."
"I think you are overestimating your worth to the establishment, Angel. The hotel will still go on regardless of whether you're here or not."
Watching the way Angel visibly deflated - head hung and shoulders slumped despite his already hunched posture - at the remark sent an excited thrill through Alastor’s dead heart.
Sadly, he didn't get to enjoy it for more than a moment.
Angel snapped out of his self-pity and made a show of clearing his throat. He unfolded himself and rightened his posture, chin tilted up and eyebrows resolutely furrowed. His upper hands interlaced on his knees yet again, lower set draping loosely over his lap, and he drew in a hissing breath. Alastor felt as if he were watching a metamorphosis take place when Angel exhaled slowly and a sudden air of bravado was registered by his internal scanner.
"Important or not, you guys need me, baby. Now just hear me out."
Alastor didn't respond. He stared over the rim of his mug at Angel as he took another sip. One immaculate eyebrow rose, expectant and waiting.
He half-heartedly listened to the explanation that followed, taking note of the names 'Sandman' and 'Valentino' preceded by Angel summarizing his agreement with one and the situation with the other. Quite frankly, Alastor was not interested in the least and was about to say so to the other demon when Angel broke off his tangent and asked the million dollar question.
"... and I guess this is a long winded way of asking for your help. So whaddya say, Smiles? Feel like doing me a solid and working towards redemption here?"
Alastor couldn't help it.
He threw his head back and laughed.
And laughed until his neck cricked and his jaw cracked.
Alastor calmed down after much effort and reigned in his laughter. The last few helpless chuckles bubbling in his chest stuttered out past thin lips, and one trembling hand peeled itself off his mug and reached to remove his monocle. He wiped the non-existent tears from his lashes with his knuckle, briefly inspecting the back of it for any moisture, and fixed the monocle back over its proper place. His freed hand settled against his stomach, breath wheezing as it rattled back into his lungs.
"Oh Angel, you! Quite the comedian you are, yes sir, yes sir."
Angel Dust looked at him in dismay with his upper arms crossed tight against his chest and the lower set claws digging into his lap. The spider had a grimace upon his face, and his golden tooth was bared in a half-snarl. He looked thoroughly discontent and like he wanted nothing more than to shred Alastor's insides with Tommy gun bullets but refrained from doing so through sheer willpower alone.
The look was as positively amusing as it was entertaining.
Before the porn star could throw in his two cents, the redhead continued. "Say that I do help you with this Sandman character, what's in it for me? This is not a favor you ask of me, Angel, but a deal! A deal must benefit both parties or it is no deal worth its salt at all.
"So tell me," the sudden shift of his tone from jovial to a sinister low purr set the spider on edge and his fur on end, "what's in it for me ?"
To his credit, Alastor had to acknowledge the fact that Angel Dust did not flinch from the predatory grin that was more pointed teeth than anything directed at him. The porn star held his ground, back ramrod straight and chin up in a display of defiance. His body language was controlled and stone hard, shoulders squared and angled back, chest fur fluffed and eyes squinting back at Alastor.
If it weren't for the uneasy waves coming off the taller demon being picked up by his scanner, Angel Dust may have just fooled Alastor into believing his little bravado act.
"What's in it for you?" Angel drawled, aloof and almost bored, as if the prospect of a deal with the Radio Demon were as interesting as watching paint dry. "Aside from whatever you want in the bargain, you get a front row seat to how this whole shit show develops, plus you get to watch all I've worked for possibly blow up in my face. How's that sound for a fair deal?"
Alastor pursed his lips and grinned. Droopy eyes once again evaluated the spider across from him. From the tilt of his head to the cross of his legs, Angel's posture screamed with the confidence of a man who was well-versed in the art of making high stake bargains with unsavory odds stacked against him. Not something you'd commonly find amongst red-light district workers, and certainly not something he'd ever expect Angel Dust of all demons to have.
It was positively thrilling and refreshing to see new faces remain mostly uncowed by his presence or reputation. Sure, Alastor had Husk and Niffty: one who was unafraid to toss him around - either verbally or physically - when his antics became too much, and the other amicable and unafraid to speak her mind around him.
A porn star willing to make a bargain with an overlord despite getting nothing in return along the vein of his profession?
Alastor chuckled low and shook his head. His now tepid coffee tingled against his upper lip when he took in the last dregs of his drink, savoring the rich bitter flavor in his mouth and over his taste buds before finally swallowing down. He noted the way pink irises flickered down to follow the bob of his Adam's apple, the trace of his tongue against his lower lip to catch any stray droplets, and the telltale glint of no-good interest sparking behind the collected disguise.
A hissing breath escaping past his teeth was masked over by the knowing smile stretching across his face.
So odd the brave spider, yet still so predictable.
The soft clink of ceramic on glass drew Angel's attention back to him, and with a flourish of his hand and the whispers of shadows, Alastor materialized his microphone and tapped it once. The red eye blinked open and immediately focused on him.
"Well then," he said, twirling the microphone staff between his fingers, "with an offer for entertainment such as that, how could I possibly say no?"
Alastor nestled his microphone on the crook of his elbow, its wide eye now staring straight at Angel, and reached over the coffee table with his palm outstretched. A green glow radiated from the center of it, casting the space between the pair into a sickly hue and throwing eerie shadows on the walls. Wind of no origin ghosted amongst them, ruffling red hair and pale fur as it circled lazily around their little corner of the room.
"What is it that groom and bride say? Till death do us part?"
Angel looked from Alastor's impish blood-red eyes to his palm, and grinned the grin of someone knowingly and willingly walking into the maw of the ravenous wolf.
"Death already got its kiss for us, darling. "
Gloved claws eagerly took a hold of his hand and squeezed .
Kudos and comments are greatly appreciated! So is constructive criticism.
Chapter 4: Darling
You are the best of me.
In which Angel Dust has a bad feeling, Alastor has motives, and the shadow is tagged for a reason.
Have some more 4k+ introspection before the good stuff starts happening next chapter :D
I hope you enjoy!
"You won't believe the kind of day I just fucking had, Fat Nuggets."
The pig snorted, though whether it was due to the fact that it was currently stuffing its face with food or in acknowledgement to its owner's plight was debatable.
After having shook hands with what could be classified as the deadliest demon in a five mile radius, Angel had been kicked out of Alastor's room.
Not literally, per say, but it pretty much had felt like it.
One second he was staring at three unnerving red eyes, and the next he was staring directly at the number plaque screwed onto the front door, hand still hovering in the air and legs two seconds away from folding awkwardly under him. He had blinked owlishly at nothing, brain taking a moment to catch up and recalibrate itself to his new surroundings, before he let his hand flop down to his side. The small frown on his face twitched for a moment, though rather than knock on that ominous door once again, Angel had promptly spun on a foot and walked away.
No fanfare or anything.
Just made his merry way away.
He had wandered down the corridor, pressed the recall button for the missing elevator, and stepped inside to select his floor.
Now here he was, laying on his back over his plush comforter after having just set Fat Nuggets' food on his little bowl. His feet were crossed at the ankles, upper arms folded behind his head and lower ones settled over his sore abdomen. The frown on his face remained, and unseeing eyes were locked on the plain white ceiling. They took in nothing, glared at nothing, and unlocked nothing useful.
Nothing more than to wait and see what happened next, he supposed.
. . .
It was almost too easy.
Too damn easy.
He didn't like it, nor the feeling of apprehension gnawing at the pit of his stomach.
A deal of that caliber wasn't something someone just tossed around.
Not with the implications behind it.
The act of marriage in Hell - outside of that bullshit love or whatever - was a linkage between two parties becoming one entity. Two separate demons agreeing to tie in with the other for a gain in something, be it a monetary gain, a rise in reputation, a conquest of one over the other, whatever any denizen of Hell could think about that would let them have an affect on each other.
Some waxed poetics about how marriage was done because one demon learned to care for another, but in Angels’s sphere of work, it was always used as a way to one-up someone.
This debate was his roundabout way of coming full circle to his original doubt.
There was too much at stake in the act alone for it to be a simple agreement just because Alastor was bored.
Being bored meant going out to do something. Angel didn't know what Alastor considered to be fun outside of musical numbers and destroying airships, but he figured disemboweling a few demons or a little stroll around town would be much more invigorating in distracting oneself than accepting a marriage proposal.
Hell, why not pay Vox a visit?
Word around the grapevine was that they didn't much like the other. Reasons varied from the popular like a love affair ending in flames to the more tame like a business deal gone wrong. The only constant to the rumors were their well-known artistic differences, one being all about the modern and the other keeping to the traditional.
Plenty of room to prove or disprove a few of those rumors for the sake of amusement right there.
Then again, overlords riling each other up has never bode well for the city. They have their spits and spats over the table, a good few choice words thrown around without a care to each other's faces, but their minions on the streets were sure to act up and move against the other faction without hesitation on behalf of their bosses.
Did Alastor even have a faction?
Vox owned the entire televised broadcasting network of Hell, and Alastor must have more than quite a few fingers in a number of pies within the radio network. That or he owned it in its entirety as well.
Certainly more than enough room for activities of the entertaining kind.
Why agree to marry a porn star just because he asked you to? It didn't make a lick of sense.
Angel pursed his lips and shifted on the bed, reaching back to grab a fuzzy pink pillow and stuff the cushion under his head. Fat Nuggets kept eating away at his bowl, nosing along the bottom and pushing the blue plastic around the floor.
Truth be told, Angel had banked on that boredom. He may not look like it, but he was attentive to things that may concern him later. Business around the hotel became his, whether intentional or not, and he rather have useless knowledge such as the seven ways to knit a sweater than be blindsided by something stupid like another overlord deciding to join their merry party.
He had observed the redhead over the course of a few weeks from his usual spot by the bar when they both happened to be in the foyer. From just those in-between moments before something else caught Alastor’s attention, Angel had been able to pick up on a good few telltale signs over how the other operated.
Alastor needed an audience. He thrived under the attention and made a point of having all eyes on him whenever possible, and when not he would make them turn to him. A true showman in his element, Alastor needed a constant influx of stimulus, he needed to keep his mind working and his body moving.
Alastor was many things, but a creature of habit he wasn't.
When something became too redundant, he would avoid it like the plague. When something lost his interest, he'd wander off without a word. When something new and possibly useful cropped up, he'd be the first to look it over and then decide whether he was interested or not.
Angel couldn't help but think of a particularly picky puppy choosing new toys.
A red, murderous, pronged puppy with a mouth full of shark teeth and shadow bending powers.
But a puppy nonetheless.
The spider snorted at the mental image of a tiny red dog, fluffy and with Alastor's black-tipped ears poking from the top of its head and dwarfing the dark antlers nestled between them.
Four hands pushed him off the bed to sit at its edge. Angel lifted his arms and stretched slowly, mindful of his sutures, and groaned when the dull pops of his spine dispersed the tension along his muscles. His lower set flopped back onto the bed as he bent over to pluck Fat Nuggets off the carpet. He held the oinking pig up to his face and nuzzled the perky nose against the spot where his own nose should have been.
“Daddy fucked up, Nugs. Fucked up real bad,” he shifted his hold on the pig until the little critter was curled against his bosom, much in the way someone would hold a baby. “But he got a deal with Big Bad Al, so maybe I can keep my head for a lil’ bit longer.
Fat Nuggets snorted softly. He nosed along Angel’s chin and snuffled at a bruise under the fur of his neck. The spider winced and raised his lower right hand to push the snout away. Damn bruising would take a while to heal on its own, and by the time Val called him in for work he may have to apply some makeup on the skin underneath if the mottled color began poking through the fur.
Angel stood from his perch and walked over to his vanity. The light bulbs around the frame of the large square mirror were off, but a quick press of the switch hidden under the nook of the tabletop had them blazing to life. Habit had Angel blinking at the same time they turned on and using a spare hand to cover Fat Nugget’s face against the sudden glare to avoid being blinded. His last free hand pulled out the cushioned wheeled chair tucked under the vanity, and he wasted no time in sitting upon it before lowering Fat Nuggets down onto the little pet bed right next to him.
The pig circled his bed for a bit and flopped down, content and full and ready to nap now that its master was home. Angel smiled crookedly at the sight and rolled his eyes.
He turned the chair to face the mirror and rolled forward. The pure white light from the bulbs exposed frazzled fur and sloppy makeup, and were it not for the fact that he was already dead, the sight alone would have been enough to send him to an early grave.
“Well this won’t fucking do,” Angel growled, one hand occupying itself with opening a drawer and removing a good amount of makeup wipes and the other two puttering about for palettes and brushes. The last one was turning his head this way and that, pulling at skin to show the imperfections on his fur and overall face.
The hand with the wipes began to scrub at his eyelids, another quickly joining in and working the eyeliner off the other eye before they switched positions. His remaining pair were swift on the uptake and began to stack the palettes in order of use, separating thick and thin brushes in order of size and girth along with a small selection of eyeliner. Once all the makeup was removed, dirty wipes tossed into the small trash can under the vanity, and makeup set aside for later use, Angel stood and made his way to his ensuite.
The door shut behind him with a solid thunk, and once again force of habit had him locking the knob the second the latch clicked into place.
Someone in his profession could never be too cautious when alone in restrooms.
Angel made fast work of undressing himself. The offending gloves were the first to go, both too tight and too small along his arms to the point where he would have much rather forgone them entirely. He was more careful with his jacket in making sure the zipper didn't catch any exposed stitch or gauze in the way down. He tossed it into the small hamper beside the sink and began to inspect the wounds.
Some looked irritated and angry, the pulled skin swollen and red along the black sutures as they throbbed dully along his flank. The majority appeared to be moderately fine when he pulled back the taped gauze covering them, so the spider shrugged at his reflection when he gave himself a cursory once over and decided they were good enough for a wash.
The hiss of hot water quickly flooded the small room with steam. One hand tested the temperature, turning the knob for the cold water by a fraction of the hot one and waiting for the spray to regulate.
A few seconds later and Angel was gladly stepping into the bathtub under the shower head. The heat felt wonderful on his aching limbs, the steam fluffing up his fur and exposing the skin underneath for water droplets to kiss.
The drone of pressurized water falling against ceramic and the heat were strong enough of a combination to let his thoughts wander as he set about cleaning himself up for the fifth time that day.
Why had Alastor agreed so easily to his deal? Angel doubted that boredom was the only factor he had to contend with in regards to that, but he had no clue how he could begin to explain the other demon's thought process.
Angel had made sure to exploit that boredom and use it against the redhead in their little meeting. He had catered to it, switched up his body language enough to keep the overlord's attention focused on him, and kept his explanations short and to the point to avoid losing the fickle redhead’s interest.
Sure, Alastor had downright laughed when Angel asked for his help, but he had also grown intrigued moments later when Angel had grimaced and shown he was being dead serious about the bargain.
But what led one thing to another? What led Alastor to shake hands on such a simple deal with no direct benefits to him other than a few laughs?
Then again, maybe it was Angel's fault for going the extra mile instead of settling on having Alastor be a pretend lover. He had to go and ask the Radio Demon to marry him, and not only that, he had to pull out the big guns and gamble his way into the other's favor for the redhead to even consider the idea.
Why settle for less when he could have a more solid alibi for Sandman with the marriage ruse? had been his reasoning at the time, but he was beginning to regret his decision.
A little too late for regrets, now that he thought about it.
Although he had an assured deal under his belt and Alastor's involvement in his plan, he was at a loss as to why.
Why did Alastor agree?
This behavior didn't coincide with any information Angel had gathered on the shorter demon. Angel didn't claim to be an expert in the way Alastor functioned - he doubted anyone ever would be - but he did have a sense for how things worked, and this new development was tripping every alarm in his head on that aspect.
Angel had nothing to offer the infamous Radio Demon in way of monetary value or anything significant. Angel had no fame to his name aside from his reputation in porn, yet given Alastor's flat rejections when the spider suggested anything remotely sexual, he sincerely doubted that had any sway over the other's choice.
So what did Alastor have to earn aside from some entertainment out of the whole thing?
The more he thought about it, the more obscure and confusing the entire ordeal became. All these roundabout questions were giving Angel a headache, so he decided that perhaps it was best to not look a gift horse in the mouth and settle for what luck and his negotiating skills had brought him.
Besides, he had a night job to get ready for.
"Come out, come out. There's no need to hide anymore."
Lazily coiling shadows pulled together from the corners of the dim room and coalesced into a single entity. Iridescent blue eyes blinked open and a jagged smile of the same color sliced through the darkness, their owner slithering from its spot by the desk and over towards the overlord perched on the burgundy armchair. The shadow peeled itself off the floorboards, wound its way between Alastor’s spine and the back of the armchair, and curled against the demon in the parody of a backwards hug.
Cold arms wrapping over his shoulders from behind grounded the Radio Demon from his thoughts. Black talons like ice drummed slowly over his chest and sent a feeling of ease through his system.
"Now, now," Alastor hummed, pushing himself off his chair and feeling his shadow cling tighter on the way up, "there's no need for concern."
The shadow at his back exaggerated a huffing motion and rolled its eyes. Its head was shaking in exasperation, the large antlers on top swaying back and forth with the motion, before it peeled itself off its master.
A pair of long legs manifested from the amalgamated mass of darkness until an exact copy of Alastor was standing across from him, albeit colored like the void with an internal blue glow behind its visible orifices.
One bright eye squinted narrowly at him, the other peeled wide and questioning as shrouded arms crossed over a dark chest. The open-mouthed jagged grin remained rightfully in place.
"Don't give me that look," Alastor chided, sidestepping his shadow and walking towards the large desk. "It's within my right to make deals with who I wish to, isn't it?"
A feeling of deep exasperation and fondness resonated within him, strangely removed and fuzzy as if the emotions were registering in his mind through a second-hand filter. A larger grin pulled at the corners of Alastor’s lips as he turned to look back at his immobile shadow. "Something the matter?"
The shadow narrowed both eyes at its master. Their bond was a strong thing, and it had no doubt that its current emotions were being transmitted between them for both to feel. The question therefore was as redundant as it was useless, meant to rile a response out of it and a laugh out of Alastor.
How they hated but loved messing with the other.
Rather than any pantomimed reaction to express its feelings, a single nod from the shadow's head had Alastor rolling his eyes and swiping a manila folder off the desk.
The red demon wandered over to his bed and tossed the folder onto it. He settled his silent microphone aside on the nightstand and began to unbutton his coat. The outerwear was thrown aside to be caught by swift tendrils, folded neatly to avoid creases, and set over the back of the desk's chair as the redhead slipped off his indoor flats. He pushed them under the skirt of the bed and hoisted himself onto the firm mattress beside the folder, tucking one leg under himself and outstretching the other.
His shadow had abandoned its imitation of a disapproving statue and followed him. It crawled on the bed, the natural coldness of its composition cooling the sheets beneath it. Blue eyes noticed the way the overlord was sitting and decided to bypass the position, opting to remain lying down on its front and cradle its head between folded arms.
A comfortable silence settled between demon and shadow. The former adjusted his monocle and began to read through the paperwork, and the latter laid there, ever watchful and observant as its master read and signed off documents.
Alastor was the first to break the peace. As the only one with a voice, his whisper cut through the stillness like a bullet through skin.
"You don't think I did the right thing."
It wasn't a question so much as it was a statement.
The shadow, eyes half-open in sleep, nodded.
Red irises glanced away from the papers and towards his shadow. The entity tilted its head side to side in contemplation before it mimed a sigh and sat up. It crossed its legs under itself and leant forward, elbows resting on dark knees and right hand holding its chin up.
A ping of doubt, frustration, and simmering resentment crossed between them from the shade's side of the bond. It needed no words to communicate with Alastor, and this time was no different.
"You believe it's the wrong decision."
"That there's no merit to it."
"That we'll get nothing in return."
Visible hesitation before a slow nod.
"What if I tell you we will?"
An incredulous look dimmed the glow in half-open scleras.
"Of course I'm being serious. When have I ever not been?"
A deadpan stare.
"Oh, those don’t count. We did those for fun, this one will be useful to us by quite a substantial amount, I promise!"
The shadow quirked its head in confusion. The grin on its face had shrunk into a closed lipped smile throughout the exchange.
A streak of bright anger flashed dangerously within now wide-open blues, and the smile turned into a vicious snarl.
"But what we do stand to get will be much more useful later."
The shade wilted under what it thought was an unsatisfying excuse. It flopped sideways over the mattress, landing on top of the demon's spread out papers. Aside from a brief flutter, the sheets were unaffected by the intangible mass laying on them.
Alastor pulled the papers out from under it and clicked his tongue. "Don't be so dramatic." He tutted, slipping the sheaf into the manila folder and setting it aside on the nightstand. His microphone was snoozing under the warmth of the lit lamp, and it grumbled when the folder jostled it awake.
Rather than sit back in place, Alastor set about rearranging the black pillows against the headboard. He leant back over them once he was satisfied and allowed himself to sink into the soft goose down of the material. Outstretched legs, folded hands resting over his stomach, and eyes staring straight ahead at the sheer canopy overhead made him look like an embalmed corpse set out for show.
The cold whisper of a touch against his side had him lifting an arm and leaving room for his shadow to curl up to him. The shadow's chin planted itself over his chest, black talons curled loosely beside it to one side of its face and downturned eyes peering up to his own as his raised arm lowered to rest over his companion’s shoulders. Red tipped claws began to pet the space between the shade's branching antlers, soothing and methodical.
"Why the long face?" Alastor cooed.
No response came.
You’re a liar.
We both know you say differently, but the truth of the matter is that we both know what you really believe.
And the truth is we lie.
You chose to lie, but why?
It’s not boredom, and it wasn’t curiosity.
Not like you said.
So what was it?
The spider doesn’t know you, you didn’t need to hide anything from him.
He sees what he wants and not what he should. He couldn’t possibly know.
He pretends to know how to deal with things outside his control, but he can’t.
Not like us.
So why lie?
I don’t get it.
And if I don’t get it…
Then you don’t get it.
If we don’t get it.
Then who gets it?
I don’t understand.
The spider thinks he came victorious in the end. He thinks he’s got an easy deal.
He doesn't know what he signed off on.
And I don’t think he will for a while longer.
Not unless you tell him.
And you won’t tell him, because I won’t tell him.
He can’t escape what’s coming.
But what is coming?
I don’t know.
And you don’t know either.
No, you don’t.
It doesn’t become you.
Even if you do it often.
Which you shouldn’t.
And I just don’t understand WHY.
Why agree? Why not just turn him away as we did the others?
What makes this one special?
I don’t get it.
I really don’t get it.
And if I don’t get it, you don’t either.
You don’t get it.
And you won’t admit it.
And he won’t know it either, because we won’t tell him.
You never valued marriage, you never believed in it either.
Marriage is just a business. A contract to sign and value to gain.
We would never gain anything from the others.
Too different, too annoying, too boring.
There's no real meaning behind it, no symbolical mystery to it.
Not in life, not in Hell.
You’ve never really loved either, have you?
Neither have I.
I’ve only loved you.
And you only love me.
And you, me.
We love each other, so we love us.
But you’ve never loved another.
You’ve never liked another.
Not the way the cat and bug make you feel. That’s a good one.
I like them.
So you like them.
We like them.
Even if we laugh when they hurt and find joy in their despair.
We hurt who hurt them.
They’re ours, not anyones.
Only we get to mess with them, not anyone.
Is the spider now included, too?
I don’t want him to be, he doesn’t look useful.
I don’t like how he looks at you.
I don’t like it.
He’s too much, too much, too… unpredictable.
Too brash to think he’s worth a sum but isn’t more than a tool for the ant.
Their territory is not what we like.
Sex is his forte.
You know this.
I know this.
We don’t tolerate that.
We don’t like that.
So why did you agree to help?
He can’t be trusted, you know he will spill.
To who he will spill.
Why take the bargain?
Just say no. You can’t be associated with that.
Shacking up to the ant’s number one hussy?
What will the other’s say?
You know the TV won’t shut up.
You know the snake will keep bothering.
You’re playing into their hands, and for what?
I don’t get it.
Those are not it.
You know it.
I know it.
But we both don’t know it.
Why risk this?
He’s but a whore.
I won’t hold my tongue.
I don’t have one, anyway.
You don’t care for it either.
I just don’t get it!
You rejected the TV.
You rejected the ant.
You rejected the snake.
But you accept the spider?
I don’t like it.
It makes me angry.
But I can’t do much about it because you won’t let me. So I will stay at your back.
I’ll keep it safe.
Just as I did for the TV.
Just as I did for the ant.
Just as I did for the snake.
This spider can’t be trusted.
We can’t trust him.
But you already knew that, didn’t you.
You lied to me.
You lied to yourself.
And I don’t get that.
Why did you?
I guess I’ll find out later.
When you decide to find out for yourself, anyway.
Until then, I‘ll be here.
I’ll stay by you.
No one else could care for you as much as I do.
You know this, I know this, we know this.
This is the only truth you never lie about.
Chapter 5: Mountains
Tick, tick, tick...
I'm a recording machine, but THANK. YOU. SO. MUCH!
To celebrate the almost 2k hits, I've decided to not separate this chapter into two after it breached the 7k count and left it as-is for you guys.
EDIT: (01/27) The second half of this chapter for those who read it here first (the stroll through Pentagram City) has been separated into its own chapter and will have a scene added into it. So sorry for the inconvenience, but I hope the new scene and edits make up for it :D
Kudos, comments, and feedback are greatly appreciated! I read every single one and try to reply to as many as I can <3
On that note, I hope you enjoy!
Following the creation of their deal, they had only met once - two days after the deed was done.
It had started as another regular night at the hotel bar. Husk was busy polishing crystal tumblers, Nifty puttering about dusting the skull and bone decor, Vaggie sitting on a small table with their finance ledger, Charlie scribbling things down in her little program notebook across from her, and Angel lounging against the counter with a whiskey on hand. The atmosphere was relaxed and laid back, no one screaming at each other or exchanging more than a few words asking for refills.
Alastor had melted out of the shadows at some point and approached with a clipboard, bored smile quirking the corners of his lips and fingers tapping the top of a fountain pen against the sheaf of papers clipped onto the board.
“Angel?” He’d called out, stopping a few steps away from their peaceful bubble. He sought out eye contact with the spider and raised an eyebrow at the tumbler on his hand.
Angel had looked over his shoulder to see the overlord standing there, waiting. “Huh?” He frowned in confusion, looking from the clipboard and back to red irises. “What?”
Alastor had motioned towards the papers with his pen and said he would have to borrow Angel for a while. He had to update their records and keep track of any serious setback on the porn star’s way to redemption. All for the sake of the program, you see.
The fucker had said it with such a smarmy face that no one had second-guessed his intentions of poking holes in any progress Angel theoretically made, but Charlie had always been one to give the benefit of the doubt and encouraged Angel to follow Alastor off and fill in the paperwork. A great opportunity for a bonding experience, she had said, a gleam in her yellow eyes and an award-winning grin high on rosy cheeks.
Angel had scoffed at the whole ordeal and knocked back his drink. He had left his glass on the bar, pushed off the polished wood, and trailed after the shorter demon. He was led out of the foyer and deeper into the hotel proper until the novelty of the situation had worn off and he began to wonder where they were going. His eyes had peeled off Alastor’s backside - unfortunately covered by that long coat of his - and flicked up to ask just that when he came face to face with a twitching shark grin.
“If you’re quite done,” Alastor chirped, back now firmly turned away from the spider and facing the empty corridor behind him. The strained edges to that grin betrayed his tone, as did the pen in his hand that looked ready to crack.
Angel simply shrugged and grinned lecherously, wholly unapologetic at having been caught. “Not really, but go ahead, Smiles.” He had crossed his arms loosely under his chest, pushing up the fluff and cocking a hip to the side, eyebrows raised in expectation and flirty smile thrown at the other demon.
Alastor’s eyes narrowed the slightest bit before he cleared his throat and magicked the clipboard away. The pen flew from his grasp as his hand suddenly shot out to snag the porn star’s bow tie and drag him down to eye level.
Angel exclaimed in surprise and sputtered at the constrictive grasp, hands coming up to wrap around a bony wrist and try to pull it off. Their faces were more than a few inches apart, but the buzzing drone of white noise weighing on his ears made Alastor’s red scleras burn bright.
“I think we both know there are some things we need to discuss.” Alastor started, pausing to loosen his hold and allow for air to pass back into Angel’s lungs. “You’ve yet to explain much about this plan of yours.”
Angel coughed harshly and wheezed. His teeth bared, he growled, “I already explained it to ya! Weren’t ya listenin’ to me?!”
Alastor had the nerve to tilt his head as if weighing his answer. The snarling grin on his lips pulled tighter around the edges and narrowed into a mischievous smirk. He pushed the spider away as if the latter weighed nothing and brushed his hand off against his pant leg. “No, not really.”
Angel stumbled away and ripped the bow tie off his neck. The offending accessory turned noose was thrown against the wall, Angel’s back colliding with it a second later and staying there as loud gasps rattled down his burning throat.
The Radio Demon rolled his eyes at his dramatics and summoned his microphone with a flick of his wrist. The staff was held loosely between his fingers as his hands folded behind the small of his back.
“Maybe when you decide to take this matter seriously we can discuss it further.” Alastor hummed and turned on his heel. He paused before he took a step forward, seemed to toss an idea or another around in that fucked mind of his, and turned to look over his shoulder at Angel. “Start thinking about your terms. I expect them to be ready by the time I send for you.”
Angel promptly flipped him off with his three free hands, the last one guarding his throat from overly grabby claws.
The action appeared to lift Alastor’s spirits if the cackle that followed him away was any indication.
Funny enough, spirits weren’t the only thing being lifted at the moment.
Angel cursed himself and glanced down at his lap, already dreading what he would find.
Neither mentioned the squabble they had in that unused hallway in passing. If they wanted to keep things under wraps, they needed to go about their lives as if nothing had changed and everything were the same.
Alastor kept driving terror into potential clients’ hearts by simply standing there, and Angel kept to his routine of hiding from the mob for the time being while doing the occasional job for Valentino.
It was during one of these nights out that Angel had gotten to thinking over the last thing the deer had told him. “My terms...” He mumbled, one finger tapping his cheek and the others drumming on the vanity of his dressing room at the studio.
Truth be told, he had no idea what he would even want to ask for when Alastor decided to send for him. He figured asking for the redhead’s assistance would be more than enough from his end, but if Alastor had deliberately mentioned the word terms , meaning plural and not just one, then Angel had room for development to ask for something more than what he initially did.
Though what would ever top asking an overlord to marry him was debatable if nonexistent.
“Protection if things blow up - literally,” Angel laughed at his little joke until a sudden bang at his closed door startled him.
“Get your ass movin’, you’re up in five!”
Angel shouted for the bouncer to fuck off and set to fixing himself up for his next scene. The perks of having six arms was that he was done in a fraction of the time it would take another actor to finish theirs.
One last cursory glance was thrown over his appearance. He squinted at himself in the mirror, pursed his faintly glossed lips, and shrugged.
The terms would come to him. If not, he could always wing them on the spot.
Back at the hotel, one thing led to another, and after Alastor had shut down one wayward demon too many from trying to start a turf battle within business grounds, he had finally decided to send for Angel Dust to come to his rooms again and make himself a better distraction than what he had seen all day.
Which meant his shadow had taken on the role of messenger and embarked on quite the quest to find the spider's room.
The shadow had slipped unnoticed along the hotel by using the walls as a transport medium. It had peeked into Charlie's office, seen the blond princess passed out over her desk with a red cheek stuck to a piece of paper, and slipped right back out after flicking off the light switch.
It had then sneaked into Vaggie's office down the hall by slipping under the locked doorway. The room was still and empty, and the decor was sparse. Long curtains were drawn tight to block off any light from filtering inside, and thick binders were stacked atop one another in an orderly fashion on the corner of her dark desk. The shadow fiddled with one of the heavy curtains, struggling to pull the drape aside and miming a huff when it only managed to crack it open by a sliver. Something was better than nothing, it decided, watching the red haze of Hell’s light filter into the small space. The shadow promptly slipped right back under the door and kept searching.
The shadow hadn't counted on coming across Niffty, but when it heard her distinct high-pitched chatter, it immediately hid under a nearby bookcase on the narrow space between the floor and the bottommost shelf. The iridescent glow of its eyes and mouth cast a shimmer over the dust particles of its hiding spot, and when it noticed the glaring fault in its plan it was already too late to move. The cyclops demon had an uncanny knack for somehow managing to spot the shadow, and it wasn't until it felt her presence move on to the next hallway that it zipped away as fast as it could from that area. One attempted bath was more than enough for it, thank you very much.
Thirty minutes after having almost ran into Niffty and an hour since its search began, the shadow was nowhere near close to finding Angel's room. It had tried hailing Alastor through their bond and ask, but the red demon had simply waved its ping aside and sent it back to its task after telling his shadow to keep searching.
Its journey had led it to watching Husk from the dark corners of the vaulted foyer ceiling as this one moved about the bar. Blue eyes narrowed in thought and a jagged smile curled to reach up to its prominent antlers.
The bar was the front desk. Husk worked the bar, therefore he also worked the front desk. The front desk had a log book of every resident in the hotel and their checked in room number. If it managed to sneak past the cat and knab the ledger for itself, its problems would be solved and it could get back to lurking the halls after having delivered its message to that damn spider.
It was a flawless, foolproof plan.
There was just one problem with the scheme - Husk's appearance wasn't the only cat-like feature the demon had.
"The fuck do you want?" Husk grunted, throwing an offhand look directly at the corner the dematerialized entity was hiding in. He had spotted the thing the second it had slithered into the foyer and promptly ignored it, but the staring was starting to grate on his nerves.
The next few minutes consisted of the overlord's shadow reappearing by the bar and trying to mime its task to the bartender. Fortunately for it, Husk was well-versed in Alastor-speak and could read between the lines of what the asshole's creepy shadow wanted. The demon had grumbled under his breath but pulled out the ledger from a drawer, flipped open to the only page with writing on it, and slid it across the counter towards the thing. Bright eyes had eagerly poured over the paper, one black talon skimming along it and stopping over a name. It grinned crookedly at Husk, looking both vaguely threatening and grateful, before it quickly faded out of sight.
The spider's room had been locked upon arrival, so the shade wasted no time in slipping under the door to find a place to hide and wait for the mobster's return. Given that it suffered the same propensity of quickly growing bored as its master did, the shadow took to exploring the unknown space while it waited.
Somewhere in that time it had found the pig hidden in the walk-in closet and began to torment the animal, making it squeal in fright when its intangible teeth nipped at the pig's heels or when it poked the critter's pudgy side with a particularly cold claw. The sound of twinkling bells had drawn its attention away from the squirming pink thing. The shade had poked its head out from under the closet door and skittered out of the little room to hide in the main one once it noticed the front door knob was rattling.
To say that Angel Dust had been spooked out of his own skin would have been a severe understatement. A freezing sensation on the back of his shoulder had startled Angel into turning around, and when he came face to face with an inquisitive grin shimmering an iridescent blue from the depths of a familiar shaped abyss, he had hastily scrambled back with a yell and bowled over the edge of his bed.
It was only when the freak had stopped cackling without making any sound at all that Angel was made aware of Alastor's purpose for sending the damn thing after him.
Now in present time, the shadow was draped over Alastor's back like a lazy cat, tracking Angel's every move with squinted eyes that never blinked as its chin perched on the redhead's shoulder. The demon pair were once again sat across from each other in the sitting area of the former's room, one with another coffee mug settled on the table and the other with a cocktail glass perched in one of his hands.
“Now that we’re both free to speak our mind,” Alastor began, elbows resting on the arms of his chair, fingers steepled over his abdomen and pointed stare turned to Angel, “how about we get straight to business?”
Angel absentmindedly nodded. He was too preoccupied with watching the thing watching him back a little too closely. The fur on the back of his neck was standing on end, and his tight grip on the thin stem of the cocktail glass threatened to snap it clean off.
Angel spared a glance away from the shadow to look at the physical copy of it. He nodded his head in the shade’s direction. “What’s that thing supposed to be, anyway? A mini-me ghost or some shit?”
He made to take a drag of the cocktail when the shadow’s eerie grin froze his arm in place.
Alastor feigned ignorance to his shadow’s mounting contempt and dismissed it with a wave of his hand. The cold presence on his back dematerialized back into the depths of the room as he sat straighter on his chair. His legs crossed at the ankle and slanted to one side of his seat.
“A shadow, what else would it be?” He responded boredly.
Angel blinked at the answer but refrained from commenting. Better to just ignore that can of worms and get to the root of their little meeting.
He finally managed to sip at his cocktail in relative peace now that the shade was gone, and promptly gagged at the sudden too-sweet taste flooding his mouth. His tongue revolted against the trace of alcohol, and had he not forced himself to swallow the liquid, Angel was more than sure he would have spat it out.
Definitely not something he wanted to do given present company.
He hurriedly set the glass down on the coffee table and thought about swiping Alastor’s coffee to get rid of the foul taste. Rational thought and common sense stilled his hand before he could run the risk of losing it.
Angel settled for glaring blearily at the grinning demon.
"What the fuck was that?!" He choked, hacking and forcing what taste he could into the coughs.
"I was under the impression you liked sweets? I'm afraid I'm not familiar with the fruity variety of alcohol. My sincerest apologies if the drink was not to your taste, Angel."
The clearly unapologetic tone and look on the deer's face belied his words and earned him a glare from the porn star. With one last rattling cough, Angel figured the taste would linger and forcibly ceased his fit. He rearranged himself on the couch and leveled his stare against the redhead’s.
“You said you wanted to discuss some things before we got to the contract.” Angel motioned a go-ahead signal to Alastor, “Shoot.”
Alastor mouthed shoot to himself in confusion, clearly bewildered by the idea of why he would be shooting anything at the moment, before he shook his head of the useless thought.
"Start from the beginning. Why does this Sandman character care about relationships in Hell?"
Angel breathed in deeply and slumped against the back of the sofa. Going straight for the jugular, Alastor was.
"It’s not that he cares about relationships. Sandman's got this weird moral code. Real old-school from when he was alive apparently. Won't involve people outside the mob in his business at all."
Alastor's grin slimmed into a smile. "That doesn't answer the question, Angel."
The spider rolled his eyes and crossed his arms. "Well I ain't gonna get to it if you keep interrupting.” A gloved finger tapped his chin distractedly. “Where was I? Oh, yeah. Sandman's shtick is that he won't go against a civilian, period. If a member of the mob happens to be leeching with a civvie, the guy is spared. If he ain't got anyone, he gets hammered like the rest."
"So your escape route was to make someone pretend to be your partner.”
“Not just partner partner, lover partner. I need as much immunity as I can get.”
“Which is why you asked me to marry you.”
Angel winced at the blunt remark. He threw the redhead an embarrassed grin and shrugged. “Like I said, Smiles, I need all the immunity I can get. Lover gets you places, but a wife or hubby? That would basically make me untouchable!”
Alastor hummed as he processed the information.
“And how will you go about convincing this Sandman that you aren’t pretending?”
“Same reason why I asked you. You know how to act, right? Radio shows and all that jazz gotta be good for something. We just need to act the part of the happy couple and we’re good to go.”
Alastor cupped his chin on his palm, claws drumming against his upper lip. Angel waited with bated breath as the redhead stared off into nothingness. It wouldn’t bode well for him if Alastor decided to back out at the last minute.
“Why are you in this mess to begin with?” Alastor said at last.
“Huh? Oh, that . Er... well, I, um… I stole money.”
“That’s it? You make it sound like your soul is dependent on just a few hundred.”
Alastor chose the wrong moment to try for a drink from his mug.
Angel never thought he'd see the unflappable Radio Demon dissolve into a fit after having inhaled scalding coffee, yet here he was, watching it take place right before his very eyes.
"Forty-thousand!" Alastor rasped, hand willing the mug away and coughing into his fist. He forcefully cleared his throat and wiped his gloves off on a handkerchief he pulled from inside his coat. "Are you soft in the head?"
It was Angel's turn to sputter and wave off the insult. "That's not the point! Point is, I got the money from a trafficking I was supposed to report in, got myself in trouble, and fucked myself over."
"Then why not just return the money, if you fear retribution so much."
"You think I didn't think of that first?"
He hadn't, in fact, thought about that first.
"'sides, I spent it already."
"Of course you did."
Alastor shook his head, mockingly sad and disappointed. "Very untoward, Angel. Stealing never bodes well for you." He suddenly clapped his hands and leaned forward, smile a full toothy grin. "Since we've covered that tidbit of information, let's start discussing terms."
A stack of blank white paper blurred into existence over the coffee table. The faint hum of electric interference floated around them, but it was overcast by the crinkle of paper when red-tipped claws slipped the topmost sheet off the pile.
Alastor held up the empty contract and released it. The sheet remained suspended on air as his hand folded over his knee, paper soon being joined by a black fountain pen fizzling out of thin air beside it. The pen moved on its own and poised itself over the page, ready to transcribe whatever terms the pair brought to the playing board.
“Start listing what you need from the deal, first. Then move onto what you’ll offer for the sake of it.”
Angel eyed the suspended pen. He saw many things in Hell, but inanimate objects moving on their own still threw him off kilter. He peeled his gaze off the tool and moved one hand to hover before him, looking at each finger as he began to count off.
“I need the immunity and protection a relationship with a civvie will offer. I need that civvie to get me out of trouble with the mob so I won't screw up my chances at convincing Val I can keep a job outside of Porn Studios. Um… oh, yeah, I also need to be publicly seen with a civvie in a convincing " he made sure to stress the word for Alastor's ears to catch "and romantic relationship."
He didn’t miss the twitch of disgust in Alastor’s upper lip.
“For the sake of this deal, I offer my services, my time, and to lay off the sex jokes.” A pause. “Oh, and a front-row seat to the whole experience, whether good or bad.”
Once done, he looked at the scribbling enchanted pen. The poor thing was halfway through the page by that point and still going strong, more than likely rewriting his words to be more adequate for a legitimate deal contract than the informal mess he gave it.
Angel hazard another sip at his still too-sweet drink and grimaced at Alastor when his taste buds protested. To his credit, Alastor didn't mention the twisted face and brought up his own hand to number off.
"I accept to play the role of your spouse." At Angel's pointed stare, Alastor rolled his eyes. "Correction: I accept to be and play the role of your spouse, to assist in any way possible in this issue of yours, and to ensure your fellows in the mob believe we are in a legitimate relationship. And finally, I will do what is in my power to ensure no physical harm falls on either of us as per the pre-arranged terms of our agreement.”
“There will be no sexual contact or acts to be done at all.”
The spider perked back up. That’s it?
The scrape of pen-on-paper swiftly ended when the pen crossed two miniature X's on the bottom of the contract, leaving an open space between them where their physical signatures would seal the deal and ensure they were each bound to fulfill their part in it. Alastor was the first to pluck the fountain pen from the air and scrawl his looping signature under his side of the page, sliding the contract across the coffee table for Angel to sign his own. Angel quickly scratched his own jagged signature and settled the pen over the paper between them.
He waited to see what would happen next with an intrigued frown, staring at the sheet and waiting for it to burst into flames or something equally dramatic.
... until he couldn't anymore and raised a questioning brow at the smirking Radio Demon, who flicked a finger towards the contract and disappeared the paper in a blink.
"Glad to make be making business with you," Alastor sing-songed. "Let’s talk about how we'll go about achieving this ruse of yours."
Mildly disappointed the contract didn’t spontaneously combust, Angel pushed himself onto his feet and slipped around the coffee table. He tipped his head down and raised a hand to his chin, drumming his fingers over his lips and crossing his other arms across his torso. He strolled away from the seating area and slowly paced the width of the balcony doors. Pink irises remained glued to the hardwood floor as sharp teeth nibbled at his lower lip. Not a single idea came to mind, and the look on his face must have been one of obvious loss when a static-ridden voice chirped from behind.
"You don’t have a plan, do you?" Alastor prodded, looking at the spider quizzically with his head tilted to the side to keep Angel in his view. One of his eyes squinted and his brows furrowed, but that damn grin was never wiped off his face.
The taller demon drew to a halt and turned to look back at the deer. He sheepishly rubbed the back of his head and smiled crookedly.
Alastor’s EM field pitched low into dead air. He heaved a silent sigh and pointed for Angel to sit back on the sofa. “I refuse to go without at least some planning.”
As Angel flopped back onto the couch cushions, the redhead steepled his fingertips and pressed them against his lower lip. The tips of his claws bounced slowly off his smile until they paused, angled away from his face and vaguely pointing at the spider.
“What premise will we use?”
Angel cocked his head, eyebrow raised and confused frown marring his face.
“What do you mean?”
“You don’t suppose we can just waltz in there and surprise the mob with your sudden spouse. You're a porn star, your kind don't do spouses."
Angel had half a mind to be and look offended, but he couldn't deny the validity of the statement.
"Well then I must've met someone before joining the mob again. During the days working for Val. Mob money made it possible to get married and shit."
"So a long-term relationship is what we're aiming for?"
"Along those lines, yeah."
Sure hope you do. Angel automatically completed the thought before he caught himself. He grumbled under his breath at the lame joke and pushed off the sofa to stand again. His mind worked best when moving around.
"When and where?"
The spider looked at the shorter demon over his shoulder. "Huh?"
"When and where will this presentation of yours happen."
Angel angled himself to face the other and ran a hand over his hair.
"As soon as possible, for sure. Now as for where…" he sucked on the inside of his cheek, "I was thinking we could go down to one of Sandman's turfs and, um…" Angel trailed off, looking everywhere but at the redhead.
"And what? Walk around the place?" Alastor jabbed, grin wide and humorous until he noticed the spider's wince. His grin shrunk into an incredulous smile, and the white noise surrounding him was disturbed by the crackle and pop of pressurized air.
"You're making this up on the spot, Angel."
Angel scoffed and leaned his weight against one leg, hands snapping to his hips and glare hard.
"Look, a week ago I didn't know you'd agree to be my wife or husband or whatever ya wanna call it so I didn't think ahead, okay?"
Alastor hummed and drew himself up off his perch. The microphone in his hand - which Angel swore was not there a second ago - blinked on and began to glow a soft crimson. The eye at the center snapped open and glanced around, and when its gaze came across Angel, it closed into an upturned crescent and played a short jaunty tune on its own. The spider interpreted the cheery song as a greeting, so he tipped his head awkwardly at it in a greeting of his own, albeit bewildered and off-put by the apparently sentient electronic.
The microphone's light blinked once - either in acknowledgement or something else, Angel didn't know - and soon shut itself back up into dead air before focusing on its host. The eye stared up at Alastor and squinted as if irritated for whatever reason, to which Alastor simply grinned back lazily at it and spun its staff once on his fingers. When it came to a full stop, the eye was rolling around in its metal socket, dazed.
Angel felt like he was encroaching on a moment that he wasn't supposed to be witness to and turned away from the scene entirely. He wandered over to the balcony doors and admired the antique gossamer curtains. They were the only light color in the whole room, a startlingly clear ivory, and his inspection of the complex pattern weaved into the fabric drew his attention down to the curled door knobs hidden behind the curtains. He tried one of the knobs with a curious hand and found them to be unlocked. After a brief debate, he refrained from pulling them open and just made note of the fact instead.
He turned to mention something to Alastor and scrambled back when he saw how close this one was. The redhead was only a couple of feet away, shark grin stretched wide across his face and almost reaching for his ears.
Angel couldn't help but notice how the skin around the corner of his eyes lacked any form of wrinkles whatsoever.
"I hope your improv skills are sharp, Angel dear," Alastor drawled, microphone nestled on the crook of his elbow and hands folded at his front. "We'll be needing them if this plan of yours is to work."
Angel could pick up on the subtle inflection coloring the shorter demon's voice, a challenge that made it known to him that Alastor didn't believe Angel was up to the task of keeping up with the infamous Radio Demon in a game of trickery.
A cheeky smirk met the other's taunting grin.
The game was on.
Chapter 6: Detach
You gotta leave something behind.
I've edited and re-written this one many times, so I hope you all like this end product! Ngl, between getting the flu, noting snippets with Valentino and Vox, and writing other RadioDust stories to get my fix, this chapter's publishing was delayed for a bit, woops.
I hope you all enjoy! (And again, very sorry for the inconvenience)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Should anyone spare a glance towards the pale spider and his red companion, one would describe the atmosphere around the pair as easy and comfortable. Something of that nature would only be achievable when one knows the other intimately and needed no words to express emotion when a simple touch and gesture was enough. One was tall and lean, his partner slightly shorter and slender, and they effortlessly integrated with the gentle buzz of the milling crowds on this cool night.
To the two demons in the pair, the atmosphere was tense and electric, if borderline nuclear.
"If your hand wanders down one more time lower than my waist, Angel,” Alastor hissed through clenched fangs, digging his claws into Angel's top upper arm from where he had his own linked with it, “you'll find yourself missing your whole arm entirely."
Angel's chest fur puffed out in indignation, but his shoulders remained loose and physically at ease. "Look here, pal, it ain't my fault I've got four hands. Either one sticks ta your back or we'll look like idiots out here," he growled right back at the deer, said lower hand resting snug against Alastor's trim waist and fingers curling around his side.
The sector of Pentagram City they were currently in catered to some of the richest and most influential demons in Hell, and the decor certainly wasn’t skimped upon in the creation of the street they were passing through at the moment.
Glittering lamp posts stationed at regular intervals throughout the length of the road painted a lovely ambiance against the eternal night sky of Hell, the flutter of the ever-lasting candles within them throwing moving shadows down onto the sidewalks and mingling with the bright and lavish exterior lights of posh restaurant fronts. Crystalline decor outside of some establishments refracted both candle and electrical light into a kaleidoscope of colors when looked at just the right angle. Carefully trimmed trees peppered here and there broke the monotony of concrete buildings and brought a refreshing distraction to the eye with their natural dark colors.
The pair had arrived via portal in the middle of an alleyway a few ways away from the main street. From what little Angel had been able to glimpse from the street based off his angle, he had internally balked at the fact that a single crystal probably cost more than anything he would ever be able to afford in his afterlife. Thin digits wrapping around his wrist had drawn his attention from the glittering mess and towards the shorter demon pulling him away from the visible light.
When they were hidden between a pair of empty dumpster bins, Alastor had held him at arms length and clucked his tongue in distaste after a cursory glance at his clothes.
Shadows had peeled off the walls of the alley, and his striped jacket had been replaced by a casual maroon suit top. His chest fluff was still very much noticeable - as was his preference, but it was certainly not as risque as he would have been; the covered up style was a given considering whose powers were altering his clothes. His shorts had been swapped for long black dress pants and his boots with equally dark shoes. When his attire had been evaluated by critical crimson eyes and deemed satisfactory, Alastor’s attention had quickly shifted to taming Angel’s hair. Red-tipped claws fussed with the wayward strands and raked through them, not giving any slack until his hair was mostly slicked back with a few flyaway pieces curling away from his face.
Angel had stared at Alastor as if he had grown a second head when this one had finally stepped back to admire his work. His incredulous gawking had prompted a backhand remark that this area of the city was much more high class for someone of Angel’s taste, and thus his more than revealing attire would attract all kinds of bad attention. Undeterred by the silver worded insult, the spider had snarked right back that Alastor’s ragged coat wasn’t exactly the pinnacle of fashion either and received an unimpressed look for his trouble.
Alastor had dusted off his own clothes, brushed a hand through his immaculate hair, and ushered Angel to the lip of the alley. The deer had peeked around the red brick of the building they were hiding behind, swept the area to check if the coast was clear, and pulled Angel out into the sidewalk proper when he must have deemed it safe enough. From that point on Alastor had linked an arm around the crook of Angel's top right and set off at a leisurely pace down the street.
Angel was hard pressed to admit the fact even to himself, but Alastor's last minute corrections and laid-back persona had facilitated their blending in with the crowd already roaming the area. No one gave them a second look apart from a cursory glance, and even then they were mostly written off as just another couple out for a stroll around the finer spots Pentagram City had to offer the rich and powerful.
“This place is the worst,” Angel grumbled under his breath, looking around at all the pompously dressed demons walking by. “I can feel the stuffiness going down my throat, and let me tell you, it ain’t like - “
“That’s quite enough out of you,” Alastor hissed, outwardly resting his head on Angel’s shoulder but in reality jabbing his antler’s top prong under the spider’s chin.
Angel inhaled sharply at the sting. He growled low in the back of his throat and tightened his grip around Alastor’s waist in retaliation, digging his claws into the redhead’s flank.
Before either could up the ante and start drawing blood, they sidestepped a tall demon and her entourage when they almost ran smack dab into the party. Both Angel and Alastor flashed charming smiles at the stranger, and aside from a nod of acknowledgement from the tall demon, they went ignored and free to assimilate back into the throngs of people.
Not even when pretending to be a recently engaged couple could they stop arguing.
That wasn't to say that they weren't actively on the lookout. Angel hadn't given Alastor any information on how to identify a potential member of the mob if they came across one, so the Radio Demon was mostly dependent on the spider for that part of their plan outside of what he could deduce with his own intuition. That fact alone was enough to set Alastor's teeth on edge and his shadow snapping at his feet, equally displeased but bound by their contract to assist Angel in his endeavor to deceive a mafia don.
Thin claws tightened their grip on Angel's arm, digging into the coarse fabric of his jacket and the soft flesh underneath. Angel would be cursing and hissing at the shocks of pain shooting through his side if it weren't for his heightened pain tolerance. As it was, the porn star was more focused on keeping them walking close to the restaurant fronts than he was on what Alastor was doing to his poor arm.
Angel was well aware of how Sandman’s men operated in these sectors. They posed as either bouncers, valets, or partons within these fancy establishments, and if he could get just one of them to spot the pair, they would be set for gold.
But then again, why wait for confirmation?
Angel tipped his chin down to his chest. “Hey, Smiles,” he whispered, “see those benches over there?” He raised his head and turned it towards the left, his eyes taking in the glittering decorations all around but head discreetly angled towards a certain section of the sidewalk they were on.
Alastor’s ear twitched at the warm breath hitting it, but his eyes followed the angle of the gesture and spotted an extension to the sidewalk.
The space was no longer than four linear parking spots, but it was lavish in its architecture and decoration. Grey tile flooring branched from the concrete sidewalk on all four spaces, three waist-high walls of thick black marble lining the perimeter of the floor in an unfinished rectangle. The tops of the walls were open and filled with flowering plants giving the illusion of privacy but still open enough to not be encompassing. White wrought iron benches were scattered within the secluded space and spaced far apart enough to allow for private conversation to flow. The dark leaves of the trees canopying the sitting space from above added to the charm of seclusion the whole thing offered.
Alastor squeezed the spider’s arm in confirmation.
Angel returned to facing forward. “Let’s go sit on one. People-watch for a bit.” He took the lead and ushered the overlord to an unoccupied bench. The oscillating chatter of the masses, the occasional grind of car tires on smooth asphalt, and the swish of leaves blowing in the tranquil breeze grew into distant background noise by way of illusion as the duo stepped into the relative quietness of the parklet.
Arms untangled from each other when the dark canopy above welcomed them under its alcove. Angel swept the few stray fallen leaves off the seat before he lowered himself onto the bench, scooting over for the redhead to join him on the right as he threw a look around the enclosed space. Aside from one feathered cyclops demon at the other end of the area, the pair were virtually alone.
To his credit, Alastor refrained from his usual gilded sarcasm and sat down after moving the tail of his coat aside. His legs crossed at the knee, and after his hands fussed with adjusting his coat so as to not crease it, they folded over his lap. He had angled himself slightly towards Angel, so when the spider turned back around he was met with a silent question.
“Needed to get off my feet for a bit,” Angel shrugged with a cheeky smile. He slipped his new phone out of his jacket pocket and tapped the camera open. “And I think I got an idea that might just work.”
Alastor stared at the phone in his hand with an almost wary look, grin strained at the edges and eyes tracking its every move. “I take it this idea of yours involves that?” His tone was one of contempt, but it wasn’t until Angel brought up the phone camera to catch them both on screen that the redhead grabbed his wrist and forced his hand back down.
“Hey!” Angel pulled his wrist away and scowled. He tossed a quick side-look at the cyclops nearby and was relieved when he saw the demon wasn’t paying them any attention. “What gives, Al?!”
Alastor’s grin turned skeptical. He motioned vaguely at the phone and lowered his own voice to avoid being overheard. “Have you any idea who could be watching you through this thing?”
Angel leant back on the bench and blinked owlishly. He spared a glance at the device in his hand before he looked back at Alastor. “Well I mean I always hope someone’s watching - more money for me that way,” he laughed at the look of absolute disgust crossing the other’s features, “but nah. Who’d be watching?”
Alastor refrained from answering and instead turned to look over his shoulder behind him. From in between flower stems and weeds, he could make out a few cars passing by and a number of demons entering and exiting restaurants like clockwork. “Explain yourself.”
Angel tried to follow the other’s gaze but gave up soon after he lost interest. His lower arms draped over his legs as he closed the camera app and decided to check his texts. He spoke whilst typing out a quick message to Cherri. “I was being serious about the people watching. We can pretend ta take pictures and use the camera ta help see who’s behind us and shit.”
Alastor stopped looking across the street and returned to staring at the phone. “You want to take pictures,” he repeated slowly, drawing out the words like he couldn’t understand the reasoning behind them, “to look behind us?”
“Modern problems require modern solutions, Smiles.” Angel locked the phone’s screen and set it face-down on his lap, conspiratorial smile twisting his lips before he leant as close as he dared to the other’s ear. “We’re supposed to be a couple, remember?”
Alastor pulled as far back as he could without actually moving from his spot. His grin was twitching now. “And what does that have to do with this?” Angel could just about feel the burn of the scathing venom in his voice.
“Couples take pictures together, duh.”
Angel groaned loudly. “Oh, come on!” He wrapped an arm around the overlord’s shoulders, absently feeling their rigidness under his ragged coat, and pulled Alastor up against his side. “Just one picture.”
“I said no, Angel.” Alastor tried to inch away, but the spider tightened his grip on his shoulders and pressed his pursed lips to the red ear closest to him.
“Stop struggling so much,” Angel hissed through gritted teeth, pink irises sweeping around them for any familiar faces or thing that may stand out. “People can still see us in here and you’re gonna give us away.”
Alastor’s grin shrunk into a tight smile. His claws itched at the idea of digging themselves deep into the porn star’s stomach, but they remained still over his lap as he drew in a long breath.
Angel pulled away from Alastor's ear. "Huh?"
"One picture. Make it count."
Angel stared blankly, but when the confirmation finally clicked in his brain, he grinned excitedly and removed his arm from around Alastor. He scooted back on his side of the bench, opening a small space between them. The hard iron rail digging into his back barely registered through the bubbling giddiness.
The spider stroked his chin in contemplation. He took stock of the Alastor's appearance, making note of the grimace and the clear twist of distaste in the corner of his lips. Not a hair was out of place, his coat pressed and pristine - if you ignored the ragged coat tail, and his grey skin was clear and smooth as ever.
Yet there was still something Angel felt was missing.
Something very important, and it was glaring at him in the face.
“If you’re just going to sit there -”
“Jeez, I’m not! Would it kill you ta relax?”
Eh, whatever. It probably wasn’t important in the long run.
Angel picked up his phone again with one of his lower hands as he pulled back further and made a picture frame with his top fingers. He wavered them around for a bit, trying to find the best way to capture both Alastor and a good portion of the background in his camera screen.
“What are you doing?”
“Getting an angle.”
“I thought it was meant to be together.”
“It was, but two is betta than one.”
Before Alastor could start with his patented I’ll kill you glare, Angel hissed from the corner of his mouth. “And it’s just what couples do, shut up.”
That got the redhead to simmer down.
Angel squinted between his framed fingers and finally realized what he was missing. “Okay,” he started, now peeking at the other demon through the rectangle his fingers made, “I’m gonna need you ta turn towards me a little more here.”
Alastor quirked an eyebrow but did as told. He turned his body on the bench just enough to be facing the spider - not completely, but more of a three-quarters way through. If it weren’t for the rigid rod his spine was trying to emulate, Alastor’s pose could be passed off as just relaxed enough for the environment they were in.
“Think ya can raise your left knee onto the bench? Good, good, wait, no, hmm… okay, yeah no, put it back down, that’s not gonna - wait! That’s it! Keep it there, keep it there, that’s perfect!”
Alastor froze in place. He looked at his awkwardly half-bent, half-extended legs and back up at Angel in confusion. Alas, it was useless - Angel was already looking for what next to arrange in his pose.
“Now move your right leg a little behind the left… yeah, just like that. Extend it a biiiit - there! Hm, okay, legs done. What else, what else?”
An idea sprung to mind.
Angel looked up from his framed fingers and motioned to Alastor with his only free lower hand. “Tilt yourself a little bit to the left. Like you’re leaning on the bench but not really.”
Mismatched eyes watched how the redhead tried to make heads or tails out of that order before Alastor gave up and did as told, albeit begrudgingly. One of his arms came up to support his weight on the back of the bench, hips sliding slightly under him to make the illusion of leaning himself against his arm. His other hand draped over his lap, useless and confused.
“Like this?” The clipped tone behind that constant static in the other’s voice didn’t escape Angel’s attention, but he gleefully ignored it.
Angel pursed his lips. The angle Alastor was in made it seem like he was draping himself sideways over the wrought iron bench, hips and waist angled just enough to make his legs appear longer than they were and draw attention to the thinness of his midsection. His upper body wasn’t directly touching the back of the bench, but the arm lying over the top rail made it clear his arm was there to hold him up.
Now what to do with that other hand…
Angel scrunched his face in deep thought.
Leave it there over where it was?
Nah, too boring.
Hide it behind him?
Nah, it’d ruin the pose and make Alastor look twisted.
“Alright, you see your other arm?”
He was answered with a deadpan stare.
“Of course you do. I’m gonna need that hand to go up and hold onto your left arm, juuust above the elbow, and then you’re gonna bend that arm and put your left hand on your check. Clear?”
Alastor squinted dangerously at him, clearly displeased with having to follow his orders like a puppet, but still followed his orders verbatim.
Once Alastor was done, Angel lowered his framing arms and transferred his phone to one of them while he nitpicked the end result.
It was perfect. Just enough for Alastor to be the apparent main focus on the frame, but still leaning over enough to allow for the camera to catch anyone lurking behind the redhead out of their immediate view.
Angel grinned, and after a quick peek at the now snoozing cyclops demon at the other end of the parklet, moved off the bench itself to kneel beside it for a wider view. He got himself into a good position and raised his phone with the camera open.
“Okay, now smile.”
Alastor’s strained smile pulled up into a monster of a grin. Sharp yellow fangs were prominent in soft lighting around them, and if Angel weren’t more concerned with his task, he would be somewhat scared for his own hide.
“Yeah, no, that one’s not gonna cut it.”
“It’s a perfectly good smile.”
“You look like you’re ready to kill my grandma.”
Alastor rolled his eyes.
“Come now, I wouldn’t go after a grandma. Where’s the fun in that?”
“Well then smile like you mean it! What’s so hard about that?”
“Oh wow, now that’s just rude.”
“I don’t make a habit out of lying.”
Angel groaned in irritation and snapped all four hands to his hips. “Look,” he sighed, now glaring at the stubborn overlord, “the picture needs to be just as convincing as everything else, too. And” Angel immediately lifted one hand up, stopping the rebuttal he knew was coming, “before you start asking who's gonna see it, it never hurts to have backup evidence in case things go FUBAR, alright?
“So either ya get that lovey-dovey face for the camera, or we’re wasting valuable time here.”
The crackle of an electric charge was just loud enough for Angel to hear and fluff his fur with static, but he forced himself to keep from flinching at it. If he wanted his plan to work, he needed to stop wincing whenever Alastor was being particularly huffy.
In the meantime, Alastor closed his eyes and forced himself to breathe in deeply. He counted to five, exhaled slowly through his teeth, and twisted his features into something that vaguely resembled what he had seen during his time topside on Earth. If it weren’t for the way his shadows were writhing violently at his feet, he could pass it off as convincing. Thankfully for him, Angel was an idiot when it came to looking for tell-tale signs.
“See?” Angel teased, phone back in its rightful place. “That wasn’t so hard!” The smile was there, loose and somewhat lovely if you squinted hard enough, but those red eyes just looked plain dead.
Eh, good enough.
Once he was sure the angle was just right, the photograph was quickly taken. First in horizontal with a focus on the background, and the second one he sneaked in vertical because when was he ever going to be able to convince Alastor to play model for him again?
Never, that’s when.
Angel pushed himself up, eyes glued to his screen, and waved a lower hand for the redhead to drop the pose. Alastor needed no further prompting and shifted on the bench. He scooted back to his side, raising an eyebrow at the phone and Angel’s fidgeting with it.
Angel joined Alastor on the bench and toyed with the zoom of the horizontal image. There was nothing he could view on Alastor’s immediate surroundings, but when he shifted focus to the edges of the picture - particularly the side where the sidewalk proper was still visible and not hidden behind the parklet walls - he could pick up on a familiar lookout disguised as a valet half hidden behind a restaurant pillar. The short demon was looking vaguely in their direction and holding something up to the side of their head.
Angel pushed the phone closer to Alastor and pointed at the spot. “See what I mean?” He tapped his claw at the screen and made sure to draw focus on the phone the valet was talking into. “Someone’s spotted us.”
The redhead made no move to take the offered device, but he did bring a curled claw to his chin in contemplation. The grainy image left a lot to be desired, but Alastor could make out the phone on the valet’s hand himself.
Given how the demon was behind them and Alastor was keeping his shadow close to avoid it being spotted, he would have had no way of knowing their location was being tracked right behind their back without either of them knowing.
While the photograph made his skin crawl with distaste, Alastor couldn’t deny its apparent covert usefulness.
He drew in a long-suffering breath and side-eyed the spider.
“You said something about two pictures?”
Angel glanced up from where he was still picking the image apart. “Wha - oh, yeah!” He sat up from his hunched posture and clicked back to the camera. He switched from the rear to the forward one and paused.
“Sooo,” he coughed, looking everywhere around the parklet but at the overlord across from him, “this one’s, uh, gonna have both of us. Checking across the street, y’know?”
The faint hiss of dead air made him hazard a look at Alastor, who was smiling thinly and looking more thoroughly displeased by the second.
“Well then,” Alastor brushed his hands over his immaculate coat’s front and turned his body forward, leaning wholly back on the bench, “let’s get it over with.”
Angel knew better than to poke the aggravated lion and followed suit.
He sidled up to Alastor's left side, threw an arm over the back of the bench - not quite touching the redhead but close enough to be passable, and crossed his legs. He felt more than saw the fixed posture of the other demon and scoffed at the sheer hypocrisy.
"You've got no problem invading other people’s spaces but when it comes to ya, ya fuckin' clam up."
Angel never thought he'd say this, but thank whatever-the-fuck was out there for porn and Valentino's cash grab tendencies.
Who knew nude modeling would teach a thing or two about body language?
"What you wanna do is loosen up a bit. The picture’s gonna come out looking awkward as fuck with you all tense." Angel demonstrated with his own body, form lax against the bench and shoulders loose. Alastor seemed to have his reservations at mimicking him, but after a moment of deliberation, the deer forced himself to sink back on the bench and drop his own shoulders. His hands were the only ones clenched tight over his lap.
Well, it's a waist-up picture so I guess that's fine.
The spider nodded and settled himself back into position. The phone was hoisted horizontally up partly above their heads and tilted down to look at them, but not enough to where the flowers on the parklet walls behind them or the street behind that weren't visible.
“Ready?” Angel grinned up at the camera, making sure his golden tooth was caught on-screen, and watched Alastor tilt his head more into frame. One of those red ears tickled the side of Angel’s cheek, but what Angel was more worried about was that damn antler jabbing him under the chin again.
Alastor ignored Angel’s trepidation and managed to fix himself in place in a way that would look natural to a couple. His cheek hovered over Angel’s shoulder, crimson eyes peeking up at the camera from under his lashes, and smile modest albeit thin. “Just take the picture.”
“Ain’t gotta tell me twice, toots.”
Angel fussed over the angle for a second longer, focused the lens on them, and snapped the photograph. The shutter animation of the phone covered the screen and was enough of a prompting for Alastor to break character and scoot away from the spider.
The porn star paid no attention to the redhead and engrossed himself back into his phone. He ignored their frozen grinning faces and zoomed directly into the background. Pink irises swept over the grainy faces between flower stems and the street, but he found nothing worthwhile to share between them after a few more minutes of dissecting the picture.
Angel locked the phone and stuffed it into his pocket. “Nothing in the back,” he grumbled, running a hand through his hair to slick it back against the cool breeze sweeping by.
Alastor had his arms crossed across his chest and head tilted to the side. The vaguely unimpressed stare rubbed Angel the wrong way, but he refrained from commenting and simply sighed his stress. He wiped his claws off on his dress pants and sat up after clasping them together over his crossed knees.
“Let’s talk about what we do have,” Angel whispered, throwing another look over his shoulder at the cyclops behind. The feathered demon was still sleeping in his own bench, dead to the world if the painful way his head twisted over the wrought iron were any indication.
Alastor didn't answer, but his ears perked forward as he waved his hand for the spider to continue.
“We know they’re watching us. They gotta have us pinned by now, and it ain't gonna be long before we start running into some of Sandman's guys.”
“And how are we going to know when we do?”
“You won’t, that’s the point.”
Alastor’s static sighed and popped around him.
“Look.” Angel hissed a breath between his teeth. “I know ya don’t like - I wouldn't either, promise! But if you’re on the lookout, they’ll catch wind o’ that and there goes the whole operation. Your reactions gotta be genuine, Smiles.”
Alastor rolled his eyes, sardonic. He shook his head and made to stand off the bench. “Well then, there’s no use in pussyfooting about, now is there?”
The spider grinned cheekily up at the overlord and pushed himself off after him. “Nope.” Angel popped the ‘p’ and brushed the backs of his thighs for any possible dust. Once done, he offered the crook of his top right arm out for the shorter demon. “Shall we?”
Alastor ignored the suggestive eyebrow waggle and linked his own arm with Angel’s, spine tingling when the spider’s lower hand settled over the small of his back again. They made their way out of the parklet and back onto the sidewalk proper. The constant hubbub of sound crept back up to them the further they moved away from the parklet, almost as if they had never left it in the first place.
Their gait was slow and methodical the further they moved among the crowd. The razzle and dazzle of the lights, the blood red and black glow of the perpetual night sky above, and the alluring scents filtering outside every time a restaurant door opened were almost captivating to the senses.
Of course, neither Angel nor Alastor were there for the sights and smells.
Noteworthy results began to surface when both were made aware of two very apparent things.
Number one was that the further they walked away from the hustle and bustle of the restaurants, the quieter and more peaceful the picturesque street became. The chatter of the crowds and even the occasional hum of a car engine remained contained to a specific area, as if an invisible barrier separated them from a space they weren’t allowed to branch into.
And perhaps the more important number two: they were being tailed.
The latter fact was brought to their attention when they recognized the same beetle demon they had seen a few ways back lurking within alleyways connecting to the main road. Alastor's shadow had detached from its master to explore their surroundings, and it had immediately picked up on four different presences stalking the pair from a moderate distance away - a fact that the shadow had quickly communicated to Alastor through the way of an urgent ping.
It wasn't until they reached the desolate end of the road that they were intercepted.
The beetle demon seemed to melt off the shadows at the lip of an alley and stepped directly into their path. His bulk blocked the way ahead, and the clacks of multiple shoes from behind signaled that the other four had caught up and closed off any escape route from that angle.
Mismatched eyes narrowed imperceptibly at the larger demon before something clicked. "Tony!" Angel exclaimed, hand rigid on Alastor's back and his free left pair itching for the reassuring grips of his Thompsons. "Been a while, eh, pal?"
Alastor's static tin crackled mutely. His head tilted to the side, antlers almost brushing Angel's cheek, but he thankfully refrained from commenting.
Unbeknownst to Angel, the deer's shadow was another story. It had followed a few steps behind Angel and Alastor after having detected the other presences, not reattaching itself to Alastor in case the pair needed a quick intercept from a possible attack. The shadow had held back when the pair were boxed in, and it was now slithering along the walls to one side of the four goons behind them. Bright eyes sized up the mystery four’s bulk, making note of any apparent weapons on them before it twisted the other shadows around it and wrapped tendrils around the four unknown’s legs, right underneath their suit pants and out of sight. Thinner inky vines crawled on the sidewalk’s surface and locked their ankles firmly in place.
It would yank on the tendrils and rip a few limbs from their sockets if needed, but for now, the shadow would lay low and observe the proceedings.
"Bold of you to show your face 'round these parts, Angel," Tony growled, voice gruff and rasping with a smoker's cough. Three-fingered claws motioned towards the redhead. "Who's the side piece?"
"No one you've ever met."
His blasé response visibly irked the beetle, but Tony refrained from pushing the matter further. Tony turned beady eyes to Alastor and swept them up and down his frame. He must have liked whatever he saw, because a sleazy leer parted his mouth pincers. He began to posture when those tiny eyes flicked their way back to the spider.
"Boss has been meaning to meet with ya," Tony once again glanced at the unmoving deer, who was not so much as grinning anymore as he was baring sharp fangs despite the bored droop of his eyelids, "I'm sure we can arrange an audience for you and your date . "
Angel leered right back at Tony, flashing his golden tooth in the orange street lights, "I think that's a great idea, Tones," he paused, "just make sure the place has got a good selection of meat, will ya? Promised something fancy to the beau over here for tonight."
Alastor took that moment to ease his toothy grin into something more relaxed. A subtle crimson glow from his right hand - now down by his side - went unnoticed by all involved.
"Reckon we got just the right place right up the street there, gov," pitched a voice from behind.
Angel looked over his shoulder, absently noting Alastor was still looking straight ahead at Tony, and finally saw the four demons blocking them in. The one who had spoken was the same demon that had been sleeping on the other side of the parket. He had a thumb pointing back the way they just came from, a clearly jubilant look to his grim face and singular eye.
The cyclops continued. "I'll take 'em from here, T. You and Hive go give a heads up to the Boss." The feathered demon stepped forward, ankle strangely catching for a moment before he rectified himself as if nothing happened.
The other three standing guard - which Angel just now noticed all looked identical - regarded the situation and sidestepped the corralled pair to approach the beetle. Their movements were synchronized with each other, but something about the way they held themselves belied the fluidity of their movements and made them look almost robotic.
Tony looked more unsure by the second, but he gave up without a fight at the fact that the four were moving without his command. His mouth pincers clacked in annoyance before he turned around and marched right around the bend of the road without another word. The three collective demons called Hive were right on his heels, and the group disappeared behind the concrete corner after the beetle.
"This way, gentlemen."
Angel and Alastor turned to follow their own escort who was already walking up the street. The taller demon lowered his head to whisper into the other's ear. "What the fuck was that?"
Alastor shrugged nonchalantly, simultaneously removing the spider's proximity and resetting his right hand on the crook of Angel's elbow just below the other still wrapped around his arm. The wicked grin pulling at his cheeks was all the answer the porn star needed.
Alastor’s shadow eagerly cackled without a sound to itself from where it trailed behind them, the pulsing blue glow from its eyes and grin fading amidst the darkness surrounding it.
The pair were led towards the back of a restaurant by their escort and ushered through a hidden passage that bypassed the main dining area. The passageway opened up inside of a maintenance closet, where the one-eyed demon left once instructing they go through the unassuming door ahead of them. It was dark and cramped inside the closet with the only light coming from under the crack at the entrance after their escort shut the tunnel's exit.
Angel had been more than apprehensive at being inside of unknown territory, but Alastor had wasted no time in removing himself from Angel’s side and swiftly picking his way between brooms, mops, and buckets. He reached the door and spared a moment to dust himself off, brushing claws over his hair and meticulously priming a few wayward strands back into order.
The redhead threw a look back at the spider and raised an eyebrow. “Do you intend to stay there all night?”
Angel grumbled under his breath and stumbled towards the door, knocking a few cleaning supplies off their perch and leaving them to clatter on the floor.
They exited the maintenance closet and stepped out into a lavish private lounge. The room was no larger than a sitting room back at the hotel, but the furniture and decor were notably more fitting to the thematic ambiance of the place. Polished wooden panels covered the walls and gave the lounge a feeling of elegance and sophistication. Sconce lights were strategically scattered along them and gave a soft golden glow to the wood, and the spider could appreciate the air of old class refinement for what it was.
Angel was more than impressed the longer he studied the decor. He let loose a low whistle, looked at each of the simplistic watercolor paintings hoisted on the walls, and trailed behind Alastor to the furthest end of the lounge.
Their shoes clacked against the dark stained parquet floorboards - the only noise in the room apart from a gently bubbling fountain in the corner by the sealed double doors. The clicks were soon muffled by the large ivory Persian rug covering the seating area, where a cream colored couch sat facing a long meeting table at the other end of the boardroom. A pair of armchairs were to the left of the couch against the adjoining wall and facing a marble coffee table. Two platters of refreshments were on top of the coffee table - one with delicately wrapped candies and the other with fruits - along with a pair of champagne flutes. The sealed bottle of something no doubt more expensive than anything Angel owned was standing proudly beside the glasses.
When Angel reached for it, he hissed when a bolt of red lightning crackled off the neck of the bottle and zapped his fingers. He yanked his hand back and cradled it against his chest.
“What the fuck?!”
Alastor, who was already sitting on the couch with his legs crossed, squinted at the seemingly innocent bottle. Suspicion was heavy in his stare as he willed his shadow to manifest.
The shadow blinked owlishly beside him, turning depthless blue eyes to look at Alastor before something clicked and it dove for the alcohol. It skirted around Angel and wrapped black talons around the neck of the wine, raising it in the air and staring at it intensely. The shadow suddenly snarled at the bottle and set it down just as fast as it had picked it up, skittering back to its master and melting into nothingness.
Alastor made a non-committal sound and waved his hand. The bottle and platters fizzled out of existence with a burst of snowy static as he turned crimson eyes to the porn star. “It seems like the bottle was laced with something. Quite the shame,” he paused, briefly flicking his gaze to consider the now empty spot on the marble table, “quite the shame, indeed.”
He almost sounded like he was lamenting the loss of the poisoned wine, the bastard.
Angel growled and bent down to get as close as he dared to Alastor’s face. His gold tooth flashed with the force of how hard his teeth were clenched.
“That doesn’t explain the fucking zap, Al . You going back on our deal or something?”
The Radio Demon’s face twisted into something dangerous. The ominous grin plastered on his face stretched impossibly large and a low humming crackle of static began to buzz around him.
“Oh Angel, Angel, Angel . If you recall the terms of our contract,” a flutter of paper drew Angel’s attention away to the sheet suddenly crowding his vision, “my last term involved keeping either of us from harm. You can’t blame me for my magic acting on its own in both of our best interests.”
The crooning drawl sent shivers down Angel’s spine, and not in the fun way. His fur began to stand on end underneath his suit jacket, pointer fingers twitching on phantom gun triggers, and he wisely chose to compartmentalize that tidbit of information and drop the subject entirely.
He scoffed and crossed his arms, still feeling like he was very much in danger of being mauled, and dropped down on one of the armchairs.
Alastor inspected their surroundings for himself from his perch in the ensuing quiet. It catered to his tastes, to say the least, with it being reminiscent of a speakeasy back when he was alive. The simple fact of such a room existing behind an active restaurant and having a tunnel leading straight to the outside of all things was mildly intriguing to him.
“What is this place, anywho?”
Angel side-eyed the deer before turning back away to inspect the pattern of the rug. “It’s a bar backroom. They ain’t included in official blueprints ‘cause they’re not supposed ta exist.” He flicked his claws. “Gangs use ‘em for any dirty little thing ya can think of - deals, smuggling, trafficking, losing a tail, politics - if it exists, it’s probably happened here.”
“Then why the tunnel?” Red claws motioned briefly in the closet’s direction. “I would imagine that’s a liability, if anything. Anybody can come in.”
Angel dropped his hands to his lap and flopped his head back onto the top of his armchair. “See those doors over there?” He pointed at the double doors at the other end of the room. “That’s where the backroom connects to the restaurant. Doors probably disguised as something else on the other side - a fridge, a bookshelf, could be a fucking picture frame and we wouldn’t know.” His hand curled into the shape of a finger-gun, waggling it in the direction of the door. “If anybody comes rushing in through those, guns-blazing and ready to pump ya fulla lead, ya dip and get the hell outta this room through the tunnel.”
Angel dropped the finger-gun and circled his pointer claw to motion around them. “Notice how the place has got no windows?”
Alastor blinked and looked more closely at the walls. When he saw that there was, in fact, not a single window or glass pane on any wall, his grin curled at the edges.
“It’s meant to be kinda like a bunker. One way in, one way out. Impossible ta get into unless ya know how.” Angel shifted in his armchair and crossed his arms. “The tunnel is the quickest and fastest way outside. If this were a gang meet, there’d be a car waiting in the alley right outside of it in case things go FUBAR and the boss needs a quick getaway.”
“Just the one?”
“The boss is the only one getting through that tunnel. No one else.”
The finality of the statement tampered with Alastor’s curiosity. One last cursory glance was cast around before the redhead pushed the matter out of mind.
No sound but the gurgling of the decorative fountain and Alastor’s continuous radio static settled around them.
Seconds turned to minutes, and minutes turned to almost an hour until a sharp knock on the double doors startled a dozing spider and lifted Alastor’s attention from the book he had conjured at some point.
One of the doors was swung open by a familiar scowling beetle. Tony took stock of Angel first, an annoyed grimace twisting the edge of his frown lower on his face before he glanced over at Alastor, wherein the look became strangely disappointed for some reason. He quickly composed his features into something much blanker and cleared his throat.
Tony’s bulk stepped aside to stand beside the yawning doorway, three-fingered hand still on the knob, and revealed the one demon Angel was still apprehensive of meeting.
Sandman was, as the name aptly put it, a demon made entirely out of ivory gold sand. His features were moderately handsome with age and humanoid, if a bit sharp around the cheekbones and gaunt underneath. Golden hair made of the same sand as the rest of him was a ruffled mess of curls atop his head. His eyes were identical to that of a cat and glowed a subtle orange in the sconce’s light.
The sand that made up his complexion glittered faintly with his every move and seemed to almost be alive given the sluggish way it swirled on the exposed portions of skin peeking through his clothes. His clothes were simple but smart - a sharp white dress shirt under a tailored navy waistcoat, fitted black dress pants, brown leather gloves over his claws, and a black feathered hat that hung from one of his hands from where he had just removed it.
Angel gracefully rose to his feet, head bowing to the side with the rest of Sandman’s entourage in respect to the don. Alastor, for his part, remained seated and mildly unimpressed, but the easy grin on his lips looked more than welcoming - if a touch confused for any onlooker glancing in his direction.
Sandman hung his coat and hat on a stand beside the entrance and stepped into the lounge. His leather loafers made no sound on the dark wood, and he wasted no time in going straight for the meeting table. Tony had shut the door by that point and had walked ahead of the don to pull his chair out for him, waiting for the sand demon to take a seat on the goose down cushion before firmly pushing the chair in. Sandman settled himself in place, adjusting his silver cufflinks and dusting his vest from any non-existent lint. Slitted pupils honed in on Angel once the mobster was satisfied with his appearance.
“Angel Dust,” Sandman started, nodding at the spider in acknowledgment. His stare briefly flickered to the splash of vivid red against pale cream, and a flash of recognition flittered over his eyes before these turned back to the oblivious spider. “It’s good to see you in good health, my boy. Come, come, join me on the table. No need to be all the way over there.”
Angel smiled and bowed his head again, an apparent trained move if the automatic way his body reacted to the order were any indication. He took a single step forward before he suddenly remembered his silent companion behind him. Angel hastily corrected his blunder by swiftly turning in an about-face and leaning forward to offer his top right hand to Alastor.
Their act had to be perfect, and that included making sure their interactions sold their charade to their hawkish audience.
Thankfully for him, his chosen partner was master of putting on a show.
Alastor’s grin and eyes turned soft when they locked with Angel's - sending a twinge of something through the spider's gut - as he settled dainty claws over the offered palm. Angel rightened himself and easily pulled the redhead to his feet. His hand released those cold digits when Alastor stood at his side and trailed down the shorter demon's coat to settle against the small of his back. A subtle press of fingers against his waist and Alastor was following Angel to the table, all while the spider felt one curious gaze and a heated glare singe the back of his head.
Angel pulled out a chair for the Radio Demon, who sat down without a fuss all prim and proper, before he pulled out his own and sat down beside him to the right and directly across Sandman.
Sandman was still watching them in silence. His stare was calculating and appraising, and if it were not for the shimmer of his sand and the constant swirling of it, Angel would think him a statue. After a beat longer, Sandman finally blinked and leaned back in his chair. He waved a hand over his shoulder, beckoning Tony over and requesting dinner be brought to them. The older demon waited until the beetle was out of the lounge before he began talking.
“You’ve found yourself in quite the situation, Angel. I can look the other way when it comes to a few thousands - life happens, debts must be paid, things must be bought, I get that, but forty-thousand? I don’t understand whether you are an overachiever or simply barking mad, my boy.”
Angel chuckled, sheepish in the face of the man he embezzled from. He coughed into his fist and spared a glance at Alastor from the corner of his eye. The shorter demon had his forearms resting on the table, hands folded one over the other before him and looking almost abashed himself.
It was a strange look, but not a bad one if he thought about it.
Where’d that come from?
No matter, he had a gangster to convince he was worth keeping around.
“Maybe a bit o’ both, boss. I know it looks bad so soon into the job, but I swear I can explain why I, uh, why I borrowed the money from what I was supposed to report.”
Sandman quirked a thick eyebrow. "I do hope you can, son, it would be quite a shame to see you go just because of something like this. Good negotiators are in short supply these days," sharp claws caught a wayward sand particle and flicked it away from a navy vest, "for good reason, too."
Tony chose that moment to walk back in, pushing a trolley with three plates covered by metallic domed lids through the door. The china rattled on the cart until it came to a stop beside the end of the table. The beetle scooped two plates up and set the first one in front of Sandman before rounding the table and setting the other in front of Alastor. The last was delivered to Angel along with individual utensils for all three. Wine glasses were filled with ruby alcohol midway and the corked bottle settled aside atop a coaster plate to condense at room temperature. Angel’s stomach was aching at the prospect of food, and it began to flip when Tony lifted the dome lids to reveal steaming shrimp pasta underneath, still oozing creamy sauce and peppered with bits of fresh parsley.
Alastor was looking almost disgusted himself if the subtle twitch of his eye meant anything.
Sandman waited for Tony to finish before properly dismissing him away from the boardroom, much to this one’s apparent disapproval. The beetle looked mutinous but obediently obliged and rolled the trolley away along with himself. The resounding thump of the entrance had Sandman removing his gloves, fixing a napkin over his lap, and plucking his fork from the table.
How a demon made entirely out of sand would be able to eat, Angel didn’t know, but he was more than ready to dig into his own warm food as soon as the don took his first bite. A freezing cold touch to one of his lower wrists snapped him away from his train of thought and had him looking down at his lap. That cursed shadow was right there, coiled between his and Alastor’s chair away from view and holding on to his left wrist with those wispy talons. Blue eyes stared into mismatched pink and the ever-present grin turned into a snarl as the shadow firmly shook its head. Its large antlers phased through the material world, and it kept yanking at Angel’s wrist when it sensed he was about to pick up his own fork. It grew real annoying real quick, but unless Angel wanted to tip off Sandman that something was up, he had to remain still and quiet as the don took a few bites of his meal.
Alastor wasn’t even deigning to reel in his damn shadow, instead holding the wine glass in one hand and sipping at the overly bitter liquid without making a single move towards the pasta.
When Sandman had picked at his food and set his fork down, Angel decided to keep their conversation going.
“You see, boss, I had to make a pretty big payment real soon or lose the merch, so I - “
“Took advantage of the opportunity and did away with the money?”
“Er… well, um, basically, yeah.”
Sandman sat back in his chair and raised his own wine glass. He used the bottom to motion at Angel as he swirled the wine within. “Speak, boy. What was so important that you had to risk your head for it?”
“I do believe I can answer that question for you.”
Slitted pupils finally focused wholly on the Radio Demon over the lip of the wine glass. Orange met red and stared into each other for what felt like hours but were in reality seconds. Angel held his breath, wide eyes staring between both old demons and struggle with the shadow momentarily forgotten.
"Radio Demon, was it?” Sandman said at last, tone less firm and more companionable for the new face.
Alastor tipped his head and held his hand out for a shake.
“Please, call me Alastor.”
Sandy digits closed around it and shook firmly.
“Sandman. Forgive me my boldness, I don’t make a habit of involving outsiders in my business affairs.”
“No apologies needed, good sir. It was not our intention to drop in unannounced, you see. We were out for a simple stroll around town on this special night when that Tony fellow approached us, and now here we are!”
Sandman’s eyes narrowed into a glare, though not aimed at anyone in particular and rather towards empty space. “Approached, you say?” He drawled, slow and questioning.
Alastor nodded. “Yes, yes indeed.”
The don hummed to himself and averted his eyes down, holding his interlaced hands up to his lips in contemplation. Silence reigned between them all once again before he looked up at the redhead.
“Well,” he shifted in his chair, setting his elbows on the armrests and waving his fingers in the couple’s direction. “Allow me to apologize for the inconvenience, Alastor. This meeting was meant to be between Angel and I, you were never meant to become involved in this little incident.
“However,” Sandman continued sharply, pinning Angel with his stare when the spider began to fidget, “now that you are here, perhaps you could enlighten me on why my newest negotiator decided it was a good idea to embezzle my money.”
Alastor grinned wider and raised a hand from his lap. “I sure can.” He once again held his palm out for the sand demon, but instead of going in for a handshake with the right one, the overlord presented the back of his left hand.
Two sets of eyes honed in on the shining ring coiled around a wickedly sharp digit, one in barely shrouded disbelief and the other with a critical glint.
The ring was easily a three-carat diamond, the cut of the gemstone round and cradled within a four-prong setting. Two glittering rubies flanked the main diamond, one on each side and a few millimeters away from the centerpiece, and were a third of the diamond's size but no less impressive in the way their blood-red color caught the light. All three stones were set into a sleek and elegant platinum band that stood out yet still managed to compliment the Radio Demon’s style.
The ring spoke of a handcrafted art.
A handcrafted art that surely cost quite the sum of money.
Sandman nodded, slow and steady. Meanwhile, Alastor pulled his hand back to his lap, grin still plastered across his face, and latched onto the arm his shadow was holding. Angel pursed his lips at the shocks of pain when those red tipped claws dug mercilessly into the material of his suit jacket under the table.
The spider quietly coughed into his fist. He drew the attention of the sand demon and shrugged helplessly under his scrutiny.
"So, boss, that's where the, um, where the money went. I already had a little over half the payment on the thing, but the guy wanted his money by yesterday so I had ta, y'know, improvise unless I wanted ta lose the whole thing."
His explanation was met with an unreadable stare from those slitted pupils and silence. Gurgling water, muted white noise, and the creak of his own clenched teeth behind his close-lipped smile were all he heard. Angel was already composing his last goodbye to Fat Nuggets when Sandman sat straight up in his chair and clapped his hands.
"Now, gentlemen, this certainly changes things," Sandman stated, leaning forward on the table and resting his elbows against it, fingers steepled and poised just in front of his lips, "allow me to congratulate you on your engagement, first of all."
Alastor tipped his head and Angel relaxed in his chair, smile less strained and more composed once he realized their trial by fire was over.
"Can I ask how this affair of yours came to be?"
Spoke too soon.
"Well, uh," Angel swallowed, feeling four expectant eyes on him. He pulled at the collar of his suit top as his smile turned sheepish. "It's a, um… a very interesting story."
Black talons hooked deeper into his lower arm.
Alastor was quick on the uptake and laughed that subtle sarcastic laugh of his. "That's the understatement of the century, darling." He spared a glance at Angel, features once again shifting to a completely foreign look of fondness, before it was covered up when he turned to Sandman. "What he meant to say was that it wasn't exactly… conventional."
"Many things in Hell aren't," Sandman nodded sagely, "Still," his fingers motioned vaguely at the space between them, "I would love to hear this tale of yours, if you please."
Underneath the table, the shadow's eyes narrowed at the word choice.
"But of course!" Alastor, ever the showman, reached for his wine glass. One of Angel's right arms automatically reached for the wine bottle to refill the half-empty cup and was just setting it back down before he realized that he had even moved.
Alastor nodded his thanks with that gentle glint when they made eye contact. He swirled the dark wine around in his glass, took a sip, and set it down a few ways away from his still untouched food plate. He brushed nonexistent lint from his lap and crossed his legs at the ankle. "I'm sure you're aware of Angel's previous profession?"
"Valentino's Porn Studios, yes." A hint of disgust peppered the sand demon's tone, but not enough to get a good read on him. "Did you frequent the place?"
The muted yet still sharp shrill of a falling microphone cut through Alastor's static tin. "Hah!" He adjusted his monocle, the chain links clicking faintly against each other. "No, no, definitely not. I had business with Valentino, you see."
You? With Val? Angel laughed on the inside. Yeah right, I'd love to see that.
"Trouble among Overlords?"
Alastor dismissed the idea with a flick of the wrist. "Oh, no no no, none of that. Merely a rain check. We needed to update the progress of a conjoined project we've had for a while, but that's not of importance here."
Angel managed to curb his instinctive reaction before his facial muscles could twitch. He schooled his features into something passive while he internally reeled at the leak of information.
"This was a few years ago - three, four give or take? Valentino was late for the meeting, some trouble with production and the like, so Angel here had to play host for a while. You can imagine how that went."
Incessant tugging on his arm drew Angel's attention to the shadow on the ground. He pretended to laugh and duck his head down in embarrassment at what Alastor had said in order to meet bright blue scleras. The shadow's head jerked back twice, its antlers pointing at Sandman's legs under the table behind it. It took a second to click, but Angel caught on to the silent message.
"It wasn't that bad," he defended, raising his head and smile pulling into an easy grin. "You were just terrible company. Stood out like a sore thumb inside the studio, too."
"Anything with an ounce of class and style would stand out in that gaudy place," Alastor scoffed, and for the first time throughout the whole meeting his voice sounded plain honest.
"Can't deny that you liked the fruity alcohol."
"It's called having manners, Angel dear. Perhaps you should try them at some point?"
"Ha! Manners? Me? That ain't happenin', toots."
Sandman watched the exchange like one would watch a ping-pong match.
Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.
"You wouldn't have me any other way." Angel cooed, upper elbows planted on the table and interlaced hands under his chin as he winked at the redhead. His smile was mischievous with just the right amount of flirty.
At some point between their chatter, Alastor had taken his wine glass back into his left hand. He was slowly swirling the rich red inside when he clicked his tongue. The grin on his lips was loose and humorous even with his eyes half-closed in that condescendingly sarcastic way of his. Crimson irises were glittering like the rubies around his finger, and if Angel hadn't known this was all part of the redhead's act, he would admittedly be stumbling over himself at having such a look aimed at him without the usual lust accompanying it.
"I can still return this little thing right here, you know," Alastor drawled, waggling his ring finger at the spider. The platinum band clinked softly against the wine glass with the motion, only stopping when the overlord raised the glass to drink more of the wine.
Angel leant against the back of his chair and barked a laugh. "Years of your afterlife, wasted!"
Alastor set his glass down and joined in the dramatics. "Oh, the nonexistent humanity of it all!" He mock lamented, red gloves folded over his chest and head tipped back towards one shoulder.
The pair dissolved into giggles, momentarily getting swept up in the act and forgetting about their audience.
“I take it that was your first time meeting each other?”
Alastor dropped his hands to his lap and nodded when Sandman chipped in.
“First time, and quite the impression was made that day.” Red irises side-eyed his companion. “Not for the best, either.”
Angel was quick to jump in.
“Please, how was I supposed ta know you weren’t there for the ‘entertainment?’ Handsome demon alone in the middle of a porn studio, what would you do?”
“Ask what’s his business? I certainly wouldn’t try for a feel.”
“No kidding. Almost ripped my fucking arm off for that one.”
Alastor shrugged, clearly unapologetic.
“It would have been well-deserved. Valentino arriving was the only thing that saved you then.”
“And in the future, too. You were so mad everytime I popped up when you were in the studio!”
“I wouldn’t say I was mad, per se, more… irritated.”
“You and I must have very different definitions of it, let me tell ya.”
“That, and many other things, dear.”
Alastor turned from Angel to Sandman and gestured to the spider, chuckling under his breath. “I suppose our relationship didn’t begin until Angel Dust here began to grow on me. Not so much him as a demon as his presence did.”
Sandman nodded, slitted pupils flicking to the sheepish spider.
“Sort of like an alley dog you fed once and now just keeps coming back for more?”
Angel’s fur bristled at the comparison, but he said nothing.
“Anywho,” Alastor crossed his legs under the table and interlaced his fingers over his knee. “These little meetings continued for the duration of the planning phase. I swear Valentino kept calling me back just to get Angel and I in the same room, probably amused him for some reason or another.”
“Val’s fucking weird, I know that much.”
Alastor shushed the spider.
“It wasn’t until the final touches of our joint project were finished that Angel here finally decided to approach me.”
Angel would have jumped in surprise when cold talons squeezed his wrist again had his mind not been racing for anything he could possibly come up with. The shadow's grip tightened around him until Angel batted for its head, already aware that it was his turn.
"So ya grew on me too, sue me," the spider huffed, face turned slightly away as his supposed embarrassment dusted his cheeks. "The studio wasn't your kinda scene, and I knew that'd probably be the last time you'd be there for a while.
"So I followed ya around when I could."
Sandman didn't outwardly react, but his slow tone was enough of a reaction out of him.
"You… followed him."
Angel coughed into his fist and ran another hand over his hair.
"I ain't exactly the subtle type, boss."
Slitted pupils constricted into pins as the sand demon raised an eyebrow. "And you allowed for it, Alastor?"
Alastor shrugged one shoulder amidst swirling his wine glass. "I thought it was amusing, if anything."
Angel winced subtly at the black barbs still holding onto his arm and continued. "It wasn't easy at all, let me tell ya that much, boss. Between working for Val and finding this guy around the city, it was practically impossible ta get the pin on him sometimes. But I did get lucky one day when Fat Nuggets pitched in ta help."
Angel quickly brought out his hellphone and skimmed through his gallery for a picture of the pig. He slid it across the dark table when he finally found one of Fat Nuggets sitting on his bed, wearing a glittery bow around its neck and beady eyes staring straight up into the camera. Sandman glanced down at the screen and hummed in the back of his throat when he saw the animal Angel was referring to.
The spider locked the device and slipped it back into his pocket. “I was out walking Fat Nuggets by Morning Star Square one day when his collar busted open. Now, the thing about tiny pigs is that they love runnin’ around, so Nugs went off and made me chase after him.”
Angel turned to Alastor and shot him a cheeky grin, golden tooth peeking between his lips.
“And Fat Nuggets didn’t so much as help me find Alastor as he helped me bump straight into him a few streets over.”
Alastor pursed his lips and tilted his head, smile leaking with distaste at the apparent memory.
“Yes, you did. Ruined quite the suit for me, too, you and that pig.”
Angel laughed to himself and looked back at the don. He shrugged under that blank stare and reduced his grin into a smile.
“I offered to pay for it, and I did! I guess after that we kinda just… started to bump into each other more often. On the street, some bars, the square…”
Alastor leaned forward for the final pitch. “One thing led to another, and now here we are.”
Angel swallowed the lump in his throat and fiddled with the cuffs of his sleeves after a beat.
Would their impromptu story be enough to convince Sandman?
For his part, Sandman was leaning back against his chair, elbows on his armrests and hands clasped over his stomach. The look on his features was one of consideration and careful thought, and the longer his silence lasted, the more the fur on Angel’s back was set on end.
“Quite the… interesting way to meet one’s lover, Angel Dust,” Sandman started, ivory gold sand swirling slowly across his neck and cheek. “Certainly unconventional.”
Angel had been internally rejoicing the fact that Sandman had bought their cover story when the older demon dropped a bomb shell neither he nor Alastor had been expecting.
"Please, allow me to fund this wedding function of yours."
It wasn't so much a proposal as it was a demand.
Alastor was the first to recover from the shock of the comment and make an attempt to dissuade the mobster, ever the dealmaker.
"Now, now, Mr. Sandman, sir, I'm sure that won't be necessary! Angel already has to make up for the funds he took from your… business. The last thing we want to be is another monetary setback to you."
Sandman waved off the silver-tongued reasoning. He made eye contact with the infamous Radio Demon across their seats and fired back without missing a beat.
"Money is of no problem, Alastor. Nothing would please me more than to see one of my up and coming men happy and in love as you both so share. Call me sentimental, but I would hate to see this engagement of yours remain stagnant. Your fiance " - Alastor's lithe muscles coiled under his jacket and his shadow snarled viciously - "had to borrow money from myself just to complete your ring's payment, imagine what he may do to pay for the marriage license."
Angel feared for the intactness of his poor limb when he began to lose feeling in it due to the substantial number of claws holding onto it. He shifted forward in his chair and drew Sandman's attention to him.
"Like Al said, boss" - it didn't escape his attention how one bushy brow quirked and cat eyes flicked to the redhead at the nickname - "that won't be necessary! We don't hafta get married anytime soon, so long as we know it's coming eventually."
Angel sent a quick prayer in his mind - to who, he didn't know - before his top left arm stretched behind Alastor and settled across his shoulders. He felt the minute shifts the other's breaths made across his body and shivered under his fur. Angel was tempting the beast here, but convincing Sandman of their closeness was more imperative than anything Alastor would do in retaliation for the breach in personal space on his behalf.
Watchful orange eyes kept staring, absorbing every slight shift and twitch in their expressions. Sandman quirked a smile, the first one in the whole meeting, and although it was a humorless thing, it eased a feeling of dread deep within Angel's gut.
"Well then why wait at all, my boy? This is the afterlife, and you've caught quite the catch with this one to boot. No need to gamble with fate and risk this falling apart." Sandman indicated towards Alastor as he spoke, who didn't so much as twitch at being spoken over like a piece of furniture. Angel didn't know if that was a good reaction or not from the redhead.
The older demon removed the napkin from his lap and made to stand, prompting Angel to rise first and dislodge the shadow from his lower arm in the process. He stuttered halfway through rising and hesitated when Sandman waved at him to remain seated.
"No need for that," the sand demon tutted, fixing his navy vest and dusting his sleeves. Sandman set his hands on the table's edge and leant against them, pinning the spider under a stare that broke no room for argument.
“This is not a negotiation, Angel Dust. Take it as an opportunity to make up for both your embezzlement and involving a civilian into our operations. Am I to be understood?"
Angel remained silent for a few seconds. He tried to process the ultimatum but felt like his thoughts were molasses set out in the blistering heat of Hell to burn. Gulping, he managed to keep a smile on his face and the tension from his shoulders. A quick glance at Alastor out of his peripheral vision showed him the overlord had yet to outwardly react at the new development.
Angel nodded slowly.
"Loud and clear, boss."
Sandman turned towards Alastor and bowed his head. His smile was apologetic, but his eyes were still unreadable.
"I am truly sorry for forcing this development upon you, Radio Demon. It is my hope that we may be able to work together in the future regarding the fruition of your engagement."
Alastor laughed, jovial and once again as lively as usual. He ignored Angel's perplexed look and stood up himself. The redhead made an aborted motion with his fingers that Angel distantly recognized as the movement he did when he spun his microphone around.
"Oh no, no, no, my good sir, don't you worry," he spoke rapidly, much like he was broadcasting to an audience of many and not one, "what must be done, must be done. No harm in including yours truly into these affairs!"
Sandman remained quiet but hummed in response. He glanced down briefly at the diamond ring before he excused himself and started on his way towards the double doors.
Angel and Alastor watched him go. Blood-red irises were borderline simmering inside and mismatched ones flickered warily between both standing demons.
As if feeling their stares, Sandman turned one last time upon reaching the coat rack by the door. He withdrew his belongings, slipped his gloves into the pocket of his pea coat, and settled his feathered hat over his head. The sand demon looked up and smiled a bit wider.
"Do enjoy the rest of your engagement night, gentlemen."
The solid thump of the closing door blocked the screech of radio resonance that cracked solid glass.
*insert studio audience laughing on loop*
Sandman was just meant to be a namedropped Vague But Menacing evil presence, but then I got to thinking and the character grew on me, so I decided to flesh him out. If you're like me and need a face and voice to visualize a character's speaking and mannerism habits, imagine a blond David Bowie with the voice of famous 50s singer Dean Martin.
Chapter 8: Animal Skin
Do you think it's funny?
To say the operation had ended in total disaster would be an overstatement.
To say it had gone nuclear would be too kind of a comparison plus an understatement.
To say Alastor and Angel had been blindsided and were in varying degrees of shock would be a flat-out lie.
One was agitated beyond the point of physical expression, rigid and silent.
The other was as frazzled and as nervous as any demon whose plan had backfired spectacularly would be.
Together they were back in Alastor's quarters, where they lurked at opposite ends of the room without directly facing one another.
Angel was sitting on the same couch he had signed his freedom off on, body slumped forward and elbows on his knees. His head was bowed and held up by his topmost hands while the bottom ones hung limply between his legs. Mismatched eyes gave the wooden floorboards the thousand-yard stare treatment as he tried to make sense of the new predicament he found himself stuck with.
Of the new predicament he had dragged one Radio Demon into, out of all possible demons in Hell.
From what Angel could make out from the corner of his eye, Alastor was standing by his desk, left hand flat on its surface and the other clenched into a fist behind his back. For all intents and purposes, it appeared as if though the Radio Demon was simply leaning against the desk in a nonchalant manner as he stared out the window; but if one watched carefully, one would notice the lightning-quick flashes between normal red irises and crimson radio dials flickering over those bright scleras.
The shift was too erratic to be predictable. Angel had first seen it when Sandman had left the boardroom and their wine glasses had cracked down the side. One of his hands had reached out for Alastor's shoulder, but bitterly cold talons wrapping around his wrist had put a swift end to that notion before he could make contact. Glowing blue crescents had stared straight into his pink, their depthless pits narrowed in warning as the shadow forcibly returned the spider's hand back down to his side.
Angel had refrained from making any move towards the other demon from that point forward. His shoulders had grown tense when the flat shadows in the backroom had suddenly reared into a tidal wave to swallow the pair whole, throwing everything into pitch black nothingness for a fraction of a second before the darkness spat them back out to familiar red walls. It had taken Angel a few seconds to recalibrate himself and make sure that all his body parts were where they were supposed to be. When he had confirmed that he was whole and not missing an arm, the reality of the situation had rushed back in with a vengeance to kick his teeth in and knock him clean off his feet.
Angel had shot out a hand to latch onto the armrest of the sofa before he could slump on the floor. His legs had slowly folded out from under him as he lowered his body onto the couch cushion, claws digging into the upholstery and no doubt tearing a few threads out with how tight his grip was on the coarse material.
The porn star hadn’t seen Alastor move at all. One second the redhead had been standing a few ways away at the center of the room, the next he was halfway across the space with his back to Angel.
No one breathed, no one spoke, no one moved. The tension was so dense and suffocating that not even static sizzled from the deer's direction - only the steady ticking of an unseen clock clicked soft and monotonous in the still air.
The silence and mounting apprehension did nothing to dispel the gaping pit in Angel’s gut. The shadow had manifested to stand beside the porn star at some point. Smoking tendrils of black bled upwards from its shoulders in thin rivulets, and the piercing cold emanating from the shade standing so close to his side chilled the spider through the thickness of his suit jacket’s weave.
Angel made no move to acknowledge the entity. The fur at the nape of his neck stood on end at the bitter cold rolling off it.
Why wasn’t the damn thing sticking to Alastor, he didn’t know, but he didn’t care enough to find out either.
The first tap of clipped shoes had him raising his head a few inches off his hands, but when all he saw was Alastor pacing the far walls, Angel slumped back down. The constant tap-tap-tapping lulled with the tick-tick-ticking, blending into a rhythmic white-noise the longer the quiet lasted that became background fuzz to the spider's brewing thoughts.
Sandman couldn't have figured it out.
He couldn't have possibly suspected, they had been far too cautious for that. Their act had been perfect, what with them sharing small looks with the other and manipulating their posture to reflect a natural attraction that would be incredibly hard to fake.
Their charade had been so on point that even that snitch Tony had been convinced. The beetle must have suspected the validity of their claim at first - who wouldn't, given the kind of company Angel flocked with on the daily being juxtaposed by Alastor's everything. Angel had noticed how the aggressive approach had only simmered down after Sandman had entered the boardroom. Tony had remained in the back the short while he had been allowed inside, watching through beady eyes and pincers working quietly in an agitated frenzy.
To him, they must have been faking everything.
To him, Angel must have been a cunning liar and Alastor an accomplice to the farce.
To him, the pair must have been looking for an easy way out, and this was their way of achieving it.
If they had been faking the kind of relationship they claimed to have as Tony believed they were, both he and Alastor would have laid it on thick to get their point across to the head gangster.
They had done no such thing. Both had acted like a normal couple, all soft smiles and gentle touches to express what actions could that words couldn't.
They had shaken Tony off their tail by the time the demon had been kicked out.
So where had they gone wrong?!
How had Sandman seen through their act? Angel knew the older demon had been evaluating their every move down to the smallest twitch of a muscle. He knew that Sandman had purposefully kept Angel on a short leash around Alastor. The sand demon had fished for a reaction out of the Overlord, a proper one of a scorned demon reacting to the mistreatment of their partner. Alastor's lack of a reaction at all aside from politely intervening in Angel's interrogation must have been a red-alert to the older mobster.
But then why hadn't Sandman exposed either of them when Alastor failed to jump to Angel's defense?
Was it because Sandman knew that a civilian would be incensed at such a treatment of their partner, criminal or not, whereas Alastor wasn’t even bothered?
Was it because Sandman felt Angel deserved the dress down for what he did, present company aside?
Or was it because Sandman had been on to them from the start and had been willing to see just how far the two would dance to their tune, only to watch them squirm later?
Angel raised his lower hands and dug the heels of his palms into his eyes as a piercing headache began to simmer along his temples. He needed to relax. He needed to step back, breathe in, and push the frenzied thoughts away so that he could think rationally and comb over the details again.
The spider dropped all four hands to his lap and flopped back against the couch. The back of his skull nestled against the top of the sofa, and his eyelids slipt closed as he began to draw in slow breaths. The stinging smell of ozone and sweetness of petrichor filled his nose, and while strange, he found the scent to be oddly soothing. Between the scent and his timed breaths, the ball of nerves in his gut dissolved into something much more manageable.
Rather than sit up into a proper position, Angel opted to remain slumped on the cushions with his eyes firmly shut.
Sandman was a smart demon. He had to be if he ruled a modestly sized mob that operated with such a bizarre code of honor in Hell of all places. Miniscule details wouldn't slip from his grasp if they benefited him, and glaring ones would be noted to later exploit when the time was right.
It would stand to reason that Alastor's lack of intervention would be interpreted as either of two things by the sand demon: clear disinterest in his partner and his afterlife choices, or clear agreement with the head mobster’s disapproval of Angel Dust’s actions.
They had successfully managed to dispel the first idea that either were aloof to the other. The gangster had been watching when Angel had offered his hand to the redhead, so he must have seen the way those angular features had turned tender just for the spider before smoothing over when they had sat at the table.
As for the agreement idea, Alastor’s lack of involvement was self-explanatory. It was easier to notice how Alastor keeping quiet had been critical to keeping up their charade of the perfect couple when Angel stepped back and looked at the situation under a new angle.
Alastor was a civilian - no matter his status as an Overlord or his notorious reputation, he had no involvement in Angel or Sandman’s particular brand of crime. He was the one with no place in such shady business, unlike Angel. Alastor was the odd one out that didn't belong in the mob-controlled restaurant, and thus his unwillingness to defend Angel for having stolen mob money had been the deer’s way of agreeing with Sandman that Angel should have never bothered with stealing in the first place.
Alleged lovers they may have been, but there was a distinct difference between supporting someone out of love and condemning someone because you loved them.
Angel knew that.
He knew that Sandman did, too.
If Alastor had defended Angel, Sandman would have immediately been tipped off that something was amiss. A civilian supporting their money-thieving partner would have not only been a cause for concern in itself, it would have also contradicted their physical interactions up until that point.
Someone so infatuated with their partner to forgive them of any crime would have been too over-the-top in the private moments between them when they thought no one was looking. There would have been no subtly, no soothing brushes, no gentle gazes, just pure and crass love declarations and over-the-top displays of affection.
Alastor's silence throughout the dinner had loudly stated to Sandman what the redhead hadn't verbally communicated: he left Angel to his punishment because Alastor loved him enough to know when the spider had to reap what he had sown.
A civilian being involved with a mobster despite knowing the type of life they lead is one thing, but a civilian being willing to leave their partner to face the music was a whole different beast. The civvie yielding to the other’s punishment would be the final nail in the coffin that drove the point of their authenticity home.
To Sandman, Alastor had accepted the reality only long-term relationships between a commoner and an underworld dweller lived in: one day Angel would have to pay his dues, and there would be nothing Alastor would - or should - be able to do to change that fact. Quid pro quo, eye for an eye, tit for tat, the whole nine-yards.
If their supposed relationship had flourished enough in Hell for them to have become engaged, then such a level of acceptance and thinking would have been expected from the fiancé of an active mobster.
So by having interrogated Angel right in front of his nose, Sandman had been testing Alastor's reaction to judge whether they were legitimate or simply pretending.
And their ruse must have definitely worked, because now they had the head of a mafia willing to pay for their make-believe marriage and wedding - whether they wanted it or not.
No pressure, really.
A cold claw pressing down on his forehead had Angel cracking his eyes open. It wasn't until his brain registered that he hadn’t suddenly gone blind that he realized he was staring up into Alastor’s shadow hovering a few inches over his face. The upper half of the damn thing was coming out of the wall behind the sofa, leaving it to look upside down from Angel’s perspective. The frosty chill to one side of the spider’s face let him know the shadow’s other hand was holding its body up using the back of the couch, the black talon on his forehead still very much resting there. Those swirling blue pits squinted down at him as its jagged grin curled up to its branching antlers.
Angel briefly wondered how much those things would weigh if the shadow were a tangible entity.
Then he wondered why the thing had poked his forehead.
That's when he noticed that Alastor had stopped pacing.
Angel carefully scooted out from under the looming shade, the unmoving claw’s tip scraping the skin under his fur on the way, and sat up on the edge of the sofa. He looked around for the redhead, and it was only on the second sweep of the room that he noticed Alastor was back to watching the outside by the window.
Angel couldn't get a good read on Alastor with the latter's back to him. His shoulders were down and arms loose, spine straight but not exactly rigid either, yet it was his legs that drew Angel's attention, and not in the usual way.
Legs often bent slightly at the knee when someone was relaxed, supporting the upper body weight and all, but Alastor's were locked. The curve of the bone underneath looked wholly unnatural, and Angel grimaced at the phantom ache stirring in his own knees the longer he started at the shorter demon.
Alastor’s foul mood had yet to improve, from what Angel could tell. Too bad he had to bring up the subject of the contract, whether the spider wanted to or not.
The porn star winced.
The redhead angled his head to the side. Not enough to see his face, but just enough so that Angel could make out the arch of a cheekbone. He didn't respond outside of a questioning hum.
Okay, so maybe Angel hadn't thought this through.
Too late to back out now.
"Don't suppose you wanna talk about… that, do you?"
Alastor quirked an eyebrow and turned completely with his back to the window. His eyes had yet to flash into radio dials, something which Angel took as a good sign that the shorter demon was more approachable at the moment. A plus if it weren’t for the crooked smile slicing the other’s face.
The blunt answer shouldn't have surprised Angel, but it did. He was floored about how he could possibly respond to that.
Explain how their contract had technically been completed?
Explain how Alastor was no longer bound to continue the farce given that Sandman had already accepted their partnership to be real?
Explain how absolutely exhausted Angel felt now that his days as a free demon were numbered?
Somehow he figured that the last one wouldn't get much of a response aside from some laughs at his expense, so Angel went with the first one.
"The contract. It's done, ain't it? We got Sandman to believe us, so now there's nothing keeping the deal going anymore." He said, throwing one arm over the back of the sofa and resting against it. Alastor’s shadow had long since left its spot over the back of the couch and was nowhere to be seen, taking the sweet smell of petrichor with it. The porn star inhaled deeply and pursed his lips before releasing a bone-weary sigh. “You’re free to go, y’know. You did your part.”
Alastor made a noncommittal noise. His shoes tapped hollow against the floor as he made his way over to the armchair across the sofa, sitting down on it without fanfare. "Well yes, but actually no." The deer commented, resting an elbow on the armrest and propping his cheek on the back of his left hand.
Angel Dust's face twisted in confusion. "What's that supposed to mean?" He demanded, tone biting. He was poking the snoozing bear, but he was past the point of being aware of it.
Alastor rolled his eyes and snapped his fingers. Their contract fizzled into existence out of white noise and fell onto Angel's lap. He glanced down at the paper, his lower left hand snatching it off his legs and holding it up for him to read.
The black ink made a stark contrast against the cream of the parchment, the text segmented into proper order and presentation crisp. All of Angel’s clauses were the same, if worded a bit differently, to what he had said. Mismatched eyes lifted off the page and squinted at the grinning demon after he skimmed every bullet point.
"I don't get it."
"Come now, you're supposed to be smart. Read it carefully."
Angel stared at Alastor for a beat longer, unsure of what he was supposed to be looking for, before turning his attention back to the fine print.
"In need of a capable non-mob affiliated partner… active deception and manipulation… upkeep of previous agreement with Porn Studios’ owner, Overlord Valentino - what the fuck am I supposed to be looking for, Smiles?"
That's when he saw it.
Along the bottom most portion of his side of the deal was just one line, tiny is comparison to the rest, that read: … vow of entertainment and possible death in regard and consequence to the active deception.
"You did promise quite the show in exchange for my involvement," the Overlord started when a flash of recognition passed over Angel's face, "and you know just how much I love a good show. It would be a waste to remove myself from such a one of a kind experience." Alastor’s eyelids drooped and his tone grew bored as if he were talking about the weather in Hell and not a discussion that would save the spider's hide with both of his bosses.
Alastor's free hand motioned between them, sharp claws curling and fluttering as if he were spinning his microphone. “I don't make a habit of leaving things unfinished either.” A pause where Alastor appeared to perk up slightly. “Now, I don't think I've ever planned something as elaborate as a wedding before! That on its own should make for an interesting experience.”
"But it’s over," Angel pushed, sitting on the edge of his seat. "There's no reason for you to keep it up anymore!"
Wait, why was he fighting this?
This is exactly what he should be hoping for; and yet here he was, trying to dissuade the other demon for some fucking reason.
A flash of something too quick for Angel to catch flickered behind crimson eyes. "My involvement is not over until I say it's over, and right now I'm saying that it isn't."
Angel was too far out of his depth to pick up on the ominous traces bleeding into that jovial tone.
"S-so does that mean you'll stick around?" The spider squawked. The contract lay forgotten on the floor, and all four hands were clenched tightly around the couch cushion's edge in anticipation. He didn't care that he had stumbled over his words or that he looked desperate.
This was an unprecedented turn of events. If he could secure Alastor’s continued support without charge, then Angel would have a hook, line, and sinker on his side. The cards would be stacked to his deck, and the redhead would be the gateway to the royal flush that would win him everything.
Angel reared back, all arms crossing tight to his torso and spine rigid. "Wait, you ain't trying for another deal, right?” Pink irises stared straight into churning red, the clear challenge in them barely masking his inner apprehension. “The one contract was enough for me, thanks.”
Alastor chuckled and waggled a sharp finger slowly.
"Nothing like that.” He crooned, yellow fangs peeking from behind that unsettling smile. “Consider this a favor out of the kindness of my own selfless heart."
The cheeky and shit-eating grin curling thin lips exposed the heavy sarcasm dripping from Alastor’s words, yet Angel felt the hole in his chest crawl close at the implied affirmation. The spider felt elated, like the rush of pure PCP straight to the brain and body, and visibly perked up.
Alastor was willing to keep the charade of the happy couple going. The Overlord could be anywhere, doing literally anything else in the entirety of Hell, yet he opted to remain an active asset to the entire operation.
Alastor’s side of the deal was done, he got what he wanted in way of entertainment, and he helped Angel secure Sandman’s acceptance into their pocket, yet he was still choosing to stick around without ulterior motive.
Most importantly of all, Angel could still walk away a free man.
Spoke too soon.
"I do hope you find yourself a good lawyer, Angel," the Radio Demon's grin turned vicious, "because I will be taking everything from you in the divorce."
Angel couldn't help it.
Confused? Good, that's the point.
Fifth version of this chapter because the other four were even more confusing. Also, don't trust everything you read here, or in the next one. I hope you enjoyed it anyway lol
Feedback would be greatly appreciated!
One would be wrong to say that Alastor was mad.
He wasn't mad.
He wasn't happy, either.
Static energy crackled between his antlers, small trace bolts of red twisting like ensnared snakes in the small space. The constant hum of interference ceased into a dull hiss, the pressurized air and crackling radio waves intermingling with each other for only his ears to hear. The ticking of his dials drove him mad, his claws digging deep gauges into the hard wood of his desk as easily as his teeth ripping flesh from bone.
The skin under the glove clenched behind his back bled sluggishly and stuck leather to his palm. He had half a mind to rip the entire thing off - hand included - but figured it would be too much of a hassle and waste of power to regrow his own appendage just because he had a hissy fit.
So bad was his mood that his shadow was opting to remain close to Angel. It had planted itself a few feet away from the brooding spider, ramrod straight and looming as the vulture did when looking upon a soon-to-be dead rat. The contempt and uncertainty rolling within the shade had its consistency growing less steady by the second, thin streams of black melting off and up from its shoulders to phase into the shadows of the roof.
The shade was keeping guard over the mobster - for whose benefit was unclear to all involved. Its blue eyes were narrowed into the thinnest of crescents, jagged smile lip tight and strained up to its antlers, and the desire to disembowel pulsing strong within it yet being warred with the nagging feeling to drag the porn star out of the room until Alastor’s powers simmered down as it stared down at Angel Dust from its vantage point.
Alastor couldn’t fault his shadow for its fluctuating behavior, no matter how annoying said behavior shifts were.
They did sign a contract to keep the damn idiot from harm.
Grievous injury from the Radio Demon included.
But wasn’t that the crux of the matter?
The blasted contract.
Alastor’s lips pulled back into a grin of a snarl, edges twitching erratically with the strain of muscle underneath skin. Fangs gnashed at nothing and gritted together, leaving the chalky and acrid taste of bone residue to dust the top of his tongue. The creaks and cracks of teeth grinding against each other were drowned out by the incessant ticking of spinning radio dials tuning wildly into dead static.
Blood pounded in his head, in his ears, in his mouth when a canine caught the pliant inside of his cheek.
Glowing scleras flickered like a stuttering transmission signal.
He briefly registered his shadow glancing up his way. Alastor couldn’t see its face, but he knew those blue pits were downturned in concern. The thrumming echoes of reassurance coming from its side were mercilessly ambushed and silenced when his scanner picked up on them, instead being replaced by the inherent anger he died with so long ago.
Alastor was furious.
A guttural growl - too low for Angel to hear but just loud enough for his shadow to pick up on and hunch over itself in fright - slipped between the vice of his teeth. The rasping scratch of claws over wood had the shade wincing and glancing warily between its master and the zoned-out spider.
The fact that his own shadow was even anxious to be around its master only fed the spitting fire.
What was Alastor furious at?
The situation, the outcome, the entire order of events leading up to it.
One for having been so stupid as to give control to Angel Dust of all demons over the course of the night.
And second because he had signed himself up for this the moment he agreed to help the whore spider.
Was all this mess worth it?
He could wipe the map from all players involved as fast as he could snap his fingers - a great waste of power, sure, but what would be the point of that?
It would be too much of a bother, too much of a hassle, too much of a boring prospect.
He despised feeling anything he outside of his immediate field of influence.
Contentment at the cries of anguish from those realizing the failure of their existence.
All things he reveled in, caused even.
Whatever this was?
He was in control of his environment, of his everything - from the thoughts of others to the smallest iota of doubt in their brains.
He was the master of choices, a dealmaker, the sole proprietor of his own future in both life and death.
So why was he so paranoid?
Vox knew better than to push with his angle, not after the last time he did and the subsequent aftermath. The unity of telecommunication mediums and their individual broadcast networks would make them some of the greatest forces to ever live in Hell, the taller demon had said. They would rule the airwaves; they would have complete and total control over the flow of information to the denizens of Hell. There would be little others could do against two powerful Overlords whose powers were joint into a single entity, Vox had pushed. They would have eyes and ears everywhere across the Nine Rings, and they would be virtually unstoppable together.
Valentino was too smart to try anything that could be traced back to him. He operated in subterfuge, under the radar of fellow Overlords as one of the lesser ones, and bid his time before he could strike at the hearts of his superiors and shred them from the inside. He played the part of the one-track minded pimp, supposedly focused on just sex and the money the porn industry brought him, when in reality he was a dangerously intelligent demon that had more secrets hidden behind his red smile than he did whores in his studio.
The snake was unaccounted for. He remembered nothing but vague shapes and shadows from that meeting, and perhaps that was one of the main reasons his temper was flaring.
That situation had been out of his control, but it ended in their favor with him waking to his snarling shadow curled over his chest on the floor of the radio station’s main studio.
This situation with the mob had been out of his control by his own volition, and when he had tried to assume it back from the idiot he gave it to try and salvage the mess, it had already been too late to change the cards they had been dealt.
His shadow’s voiceless croons of comfort needled past the maddening ticking and breeched into his buzzing mind space. The brush of the shade’s spectral touch grounded his wayward thoughts and pushed the distractions back to the furthest corners of his consciousness. The sudden dead air within his head gave him enough of an opportunity to calculate his next course of action.
Alastor felt more than acknowledged his feet moving from under him to begin pacing the perimeter of the room.
This contract was not over yet, not until he said it was. Alastor may not like it, he may abhor the fact, but he needed Angel Dust under his thumb for his plans to work.
If it meant helping the idiot and cleaning up his fuck-ups, then so be it.
So long as the spider remained close enough for him to monitor and close enough to influence, Alastor would be set for moving onto the next phase.
If it all slipt from between his claws and fell apart, Alastor stood to lose a great amount of ground and fall back to nothing regarding his current efforts. He had to keep the bumbling fool free and out of either Valentino or Sandman’s spheres - easier said than done, for sure, but Alastor wasn’t known to back off from the objective without one hell of a fight.
Alastor refused to secede ground to any other Overlord just because he was too paranoid one of them would try something against him.
He refused to give anyone the satisfaction of getting into his head and messing with him with their silence.
If it meant leeching off the metaphorical golden goose to get to his end goal, so be it.
Alastor sucked on his teeth, his smile razor sharp across his lips and guarded as his eyes flickered over to the accursed spider. Angel was slumped against the sofa, and his shadow hovering above him and glaring down with its mouth twisted into a horrible frown.
The shade wouldn’t act violently toward the taller demon - couldn’t even if it wanted to with the contract still standing and all, but the restriction certainly wouldn’t keep it from showing its discontent when Angel wasn’t looking.
Alastor looked away and turned on his heel to march back towards the window. The more he mulled over it, the more his anger cooled at the opening he had been given.
This engagement, this marriage, and this upcoming wedding could be used to his advantage if handled correctly by him alone - he learned his lesson on that one, thank you very much. Perhaps the Sandman had unknowingly given him the opening he needed.
Alastor had the opportunity to achieve a great deal just by tying himself for a few months to the porn star. If he continued the charade, if he kept them both moving forward and defeating expectations, Alastor stood to make a whole lot of progress on his plans before word spread around of his peculiar situation .
What were a few months or years to a long-living demon when freedom and control were on the line?
The only answer was nothing.
His hands pressed atop the cool windowsill upon reaching it. He traced nonsensical patterns into the dark grain of the wood as his attention shifted focus. Crimson eyes stared far past the nearby buildings and into the horizon of the city, honing in on the distant shape of a sleek black and electric-blue skyscraper slicing into the pitch night sky. The edifice cut a stark contrast against the vivid sweltering red of Hell, beckoning and alluring anyone and everyone towards it and the bastard within the top floor.
Barely discernible rays of searchlights dancing back and forth over purple cloud formations drew his attention away to a different sector of the skyline. He vaguely recognized the beams as coming from the red-light district, and it didn’t take long to piece together who they belonged to and where they sourced from.
Unlike his cohorts, Alastor had no faction which to fall behind. He worked alone, he operated alone, he cashed in favors when he needed to and kept his distance from who he considered tools. The only things he had at his disposal that would warrant the label of minion would be his puppets and spirits, the Eldritch abominations from interstellar space, and his own shadow.
His shadow was no more a tool than Alastor himself was a piece of property to reap, and yet the shade was his last line of defense should all other options and wards fail.
Which meant if anyone got through his shadow to blindside him and succeeded, he was as good as done for unless his magic kicked into overdrive to save the day.
Not something he was curious or willing enough to risk finding out, anyway.
Alastor needed Angel’s stupid plan to succeed if he wanted his to coalesce and spread.
And for that, he needed to let the fool know they would be working together for longer.
Whether Angel wanted to or not.
With his back facing the seating area, Alastor’s internal scanner rang a ping to his shadow to snap Angel out of whatever shellshock episode he was stuck in. If the responding flare of giddiness from the other side of the bond was any indication, the shade willingly received and set to its task.
The rustle of clothes on rough upholstery and the butchered call to his name made him hum back a noncommittal noise, not peeling his eyes away just yet from observing the distant markers of his fellow Overlords’ territories.
Should he secure the Radio Tower? Double security on the cabin?
“Don’t suppose you wanna talk about… that, do you?”
He turned wholly from the window when Angel suggested they discuss the result of their meeting with the Sandman.
So he has a brain, Alastor mused to himself, turning wholly from the window to face the taller demon. A silent cackle came from his shadow as this one faded back into the dark corners of the room, clearly amused at the dig. The redhead raised an incredulous eyebrow.
The way Angel froze up like he hadn’t been expecting his response was mildly amusing to watch.
His humor was sadly short-lived when the spider caught up and recovered from the misstep.
"The contract. It's done, ain't it? We got Sandman to believe us, so now there's nothing keeping the deal going anymore."
Was he being serious?
“You’re free to go, y’know. You did your part.”
The dense idiot was -
A lick of his own anger registered on his scanner, but his shadow - ever so loyal, the darling thing - swiftly dealt away with it before Alastor could act upon it. He opted for closing the distance between them and sat himself upon his armchair, perching an elbow on the armrest and resting his cheek on the back of his hand. The leather of his glove coated with dried blood stuck to his skin and pulled the flesh underneath tightly, but even the sweet sting of it did not deter his attention away from the conversation.
"Well yes, but actually no."
The bemused expression twisting Angel’s features would have been cause for amusement had Alastor not wanted to be over and done with the whole thing by then.
"What's that supposed to mean?" The spider’s voice was sharp and hard, not quite a bark but not quite a question either.
What reason did this fool have to be mad?
Alastor didn’t stop the sardonic roll of his eyes and wordlessly snapped his fingers. His magic pulled the contract from his subspace dimension and fizzled it into existence over the other’s lap. The porn star instinctively leaned away from the innocuous paper in fleeting surprise before one of his lower hands swiped it up for him to read.
Angel glanced up and narrowed mismatched eyes at him after scanning over the contract’s print. “I don’t get it.”
Alastor’s grin widened the smallest bit, a short huff that was meant to be a laugh slipping from the cage of his teeth. "Come now, you're supposed to be smart. Read it carefully."
A flash of recognition was picked up by his scanner, and indeed, the look on Angel’s face was one of sudden realization.
"You did promise quite the show in exchange for my involvement," the Overlord started, maroon eyelids drooping and tone drawling in boredom, "and you know just how much I love a good show. It would be a waste to remove myself from such a one of a kind experience.”
His free right hand waved between them, glove catching the dried blood over the skin beneath and pulling on it sharply. The sting grew when his sharp claws curled and crooked in a hypnotizing pattern, pretending to twirl an imaginary staff as he drew invisible sigils.
“I don't make a habit of leaving things unfinished either.” Alastor continued, injecting as much jubilation into his tone as he could muster. He sat up a little straighter on his chair and smiled a tad bit wider. “Now, I don't think I've ever planned something as elaborate as a wedding before! That on its own should make for an interesting experience.”
"But it’s over," Angel had scooted forward to sit at the edge of his seat, eyes blown wide open and shoulders heaving with harsh breaths. "There's no reason for you to keep it up anymore!"
His shadow, intangible and invisible but very much still around, blinked owlishly from the recesses of the dark corners it was lurking. The unseen iridescent grin shrunk into a barely there confused smile as a flicker of bewildered contempt from the shade passed over to its master. Alastor found himself agreeing whole-heartedly with the sentiment coiling with his own contempt for the idiot across from him.
Here they were, agreeing to keep working on Angel Dust’s stupid plan, and the moron of a spider was fighting them on it?
This idiot should be groveling at their feet, is what he should be doing.
Why were they helping him again?
(cursed) plan. (That damn useless cursed plan.)
This was Alastor’s decision to make, and he wasn't going to let the opportunity slip from between his grasp just because a whore was intent on sabotaging himself.
"My involvement is not over until I say it's over, and right now I'm saying that it isn't."
The weight of the phantom engagement band around his ring finger lingered heavy in his mind. Alastor’s thumb absently brushed over the digit, half-expecting to bump into the platinum band and feel the sharp cut of the diamond and encrusted rubies catching on his glove. A flicker of doubt registered faintly in the back of his mind - not from him, funny enough - and he almost summoned the ring around his finger, if only to appreciate the craftsmanship of it for himself.
Angel’s questionable state was sending his scanner into a ringing mess with the variety of emotions the spider was going through. "Wait, you ain't trying for another deal, right?” Angel’s arms crossed tight across his torso. “The one contract was enough for me, thanks.”
Alastor chuckled, tuned his scanner into a low-power mode, and waggled his finger slowly.
"Nothing like that. Consider this a favor out of the kindness of my own selfless heart."
His grin was anything but heartfelt, yet that didn’t seem to deter Angel from perking up and gaining a twinkle to his pink irises at the prospect of Alastor’s continued involvement.
A sudden idea came to mind, and Alastor couldn’t help but grin wider, a soft crackle of snowy static lacing his quiet laughter.
Angel deflating was such a joy to watch.
As was that miserable tone to hear.
His jab at a joke was met with the spider’s breathless laughter. It became background noise for Alastor as his shadow manifested at his back, hidden from Angel’s view but still freezing cold against his spine. It curled along his flank and transmitted an echo of reassurance between them.
(damn) plan would work.
It had to.
Far too much depended on it, according to its master.
The shadow chewed on the inside of its cheek with sharp fangs.
(their) peace of mind.
Alastor’s head snapped up, the shadow flinching away and curling low into the space between him and the back of the armchair. Neither had heard Angel quieting down, and neither had Alastor realized his own head had dipped until his chin brushed the top of his sternum. Was he tired? Impossible.
Angel vaguely nodded at his left hand. A crooked smile had taken residence on the spider’s face, the content twinkle in his eye still present.
“Where’d you even get that ring from, anyway?”
Blood-red irises flickered down to look at his ring finger, and sure enough, the platinum band was there. It was wrapped tight and snug on his glove for whatever reason. The rubies glistened cheerily with the subtle glow coming from Alastor’s own eyes, the center diamond refracting the light into a miniature kaleidoscope of colors with the slightest shift of his hand.
When did that happen?
Alastor’s grin turned secretive. His left digits fluttered as he smothered the unwelcome feeling of dread pooling low in his gut. The movement drew Angel’s attention to them and not to the shade at his side peeking worriedly up at its master. Alastor found himself ignoring those downturned blue crescents and twisted frown.
Rather than answer, Alastor simply winked at the spider.
He didn’t miss the dilation of the porn star’s sole pupil.
Alastor needed his plan to work.
Because he wholeheartedly believed, somewhere deep within his non-beating and shriveled heart, that neither Vox, nor Valentino, nor that snake would take no for an answer a second time.
I don't like it.
I don’t like it.
I don't like it.
This makes no sense.
You lied to me.
That's what you always do.
I hate it
I loathe it.
So, so, so much.
It’s so cold but it burns .
I can't do anything about it.
Not unless I leave.
I can't leave you, I won't leave you.
Don't make me leave you.
Don't ask me to.
I don't understand.
I don't get it.
We're not on the same wavelength anymore.
We're not the same anymore.
You won't tell me things.
Even though I tell you everything.
What are you hiding from me?
I don't like it.
I hate it.
I don't understand it.
If I don't understand it, you don't understand it either.
At least that's what I used to think.
Now I don't know what to think.
Should I even think?
You don't seem to care much about what I think anymore.
Don't ignore me.
It's all about your plan, plan, plan.
It makes me angry.
But I can't do anything about it.
Because it's you.
Or it used to be us.
Are we still us?
I don't get it.
I really, really don't.
I've never felt hurt before.
You've never felt hurt before.
We've never felt hurt before.
It feels different from a real wound.
They look nice and pretty.
I can't see where I hurt.
So I shouldn’t hurt.
But I do.
But I shouldn’t.
I don't like it.
I don't like to hurt.
Take it away.
Make it stop.
You did this.
I did this.
We did this.
I will hurt then.
You will hurt then.
I will hurt.
I will hurt.
I am hurting.
Me: I'll write more in February! Maybe even make that one series I've been looking forward to.
February, midterms, and linguistic classes: ಠ‿ಠ
In which the shadow is split, Alastor is boiling, and Angel is on cloud nine. These last two chapters are the most "angst" - if you wanna call it that - y'all will get for now. Regular programming will resume on the next update. Now go back and read Alastor's parts knowing what you know from this chapter lmao
Feedback would be much loved and appreciated - thoughts are also very much encouraged! (´ ∀ ` )
Chapter 10: Where Phantoms Sleep
(1 < 2) = 04
About 98% of this chapter was written on my phone, so if there's any mistakes that made it past a quick screening on my computer, those are all mine. I hope the length makes up for the lack of update last week ;w;
Anyway, I hope you enjoy!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Home of sex, cradle of carnal desire, and haven for the sexually deprived creeps of Hell.
If a fetish existed and someone asked for it, chances were Porn Studios had it in spades.
If someone paid a pretty penny for a skit, chances were Porn Studios could provide it firsthand.
If Hell’s stock market were a monopoly game and the adult film industry a property card, chances were Valentino would be the old man with the mustache that owned Boardwalk and Park Place.
With hotels in each property.
And a strict paying policy enforced by his staff.
Angel grimaced at the idea of having to confront one of those jacked-up bouncers.
He’d rather have Val smack him upside the head with that bejeweled cane of his than deal with those guys.
His sides had been on the business end of that thing in the past, and the fucker stung like a rubber band shot straight into an unsuspecting eye socket.
Angel shuddered at the phantom tingling behind his own eyeball and stepped out onto the curb, slamming the taxi’s backdoor shut behind him.
Best not get the creeps before meeting with the pimp himself - Valentino had the uncanny ability to sniff out the apprehension in someone. He was the sort to capitalize off such a thing, the bastard.
Angel looked away from the red devil posed on the side of the tower and tossed a few bills through the open passenger window at the driver. He scoffed when the taxi tore away back into traffic, almost sideswiping another car when it barged its way into a lane. The smell of burning rubber on asphalt made his lip curl in disgust the longer he stayed standing there, so after brushing off his jacket and straightening his gloves, Angel pushed past a couple of pedestrians and made his way to the studio across the street.
The bouncers on either side of the entrance side-eyed him on his way past, but aside from the cursory once-over, they let him into the building without comment.
From the red ambiance of Hell to the dark opaqueness of dim downlights, Angel squinted against the bluish tinge of the reception area. The space was no larger than a standard-sized front room, what with the reception desk stationed right across from the entrance. A few lounge chairs scattered off to the side took up most of the space, and behind the desk was the main corridor that led further into the studio. The imp behind the counter looked up from behind their computer at the hiss of the sliding doors.
“What do you want - oh, it’s you.”
Angel smirked and winked cheekily. His lower arms clasped behind his back as he strolled for the desk, leaning over the top and poking the short imp on the nose. “Ya know it, sugar.” The spider flipped a lazy hand above his head, loosely signaling at the floors above them. “Is Val in?”
The imp scrunched their nose against the offending claw and batted it away, scowling. “Dunno,” they snapped, turning back to the monitor screen, “have you called ‘im?”
Angel withdrew his hand to cup his cheek. “Texted him twice and ain’t got a response.” He huffed. “You'd think he’d text back for his money, asshole that he is.”
The imp choked on their spit and sputtered violently.
“Shut yer whore mouth, A!” They hissed, frantically throwing a wary peek down the open hall behind the reception. Even if it appeared to be empty, there was no way of knowing if anyone was close enough to hear their conversation. “Do ya wanna get gutted?!”
Angel rolled his eyes. “Oh please,” he scoffed, pulling out his phone and checking the time, “who’s gonna care?”
The imp still kept that paranoid stare about the room but turned in their rolling chair to raise the corded phone beside the computer. They pressed the speaker button and dialed the main extension line to Valentino’s office.
The monotonous dial tone grated on Angel’s nerves, and the sharp click of someone hanging up on the other end had his eye twitching.
“Well,” the imp dropped the phone back onto its cradle, “someone's in , but Heaven knows if it's the boss. Go find out for yourself, I guess.”
The porn star grumbled under his breath and pushed off the desk. Of fucking course Valentino couldn’t be bothered to pick up. Guy was either off counting his money in his private bar or lounging around doing nothing.
Angel rounded the reception and strolled right into the open hallway. The deeper into the studio he went, the more he could feel the building thrumming under his feet at the sub-basement levels. Loud music wafted faintly through the vents, mingling with the typical sounds of porn being filmed in some recording rooms scattered about the basement floor. The main floor of the studio tower was for high paying clientele that would rather come en-house for their entertainment, with the upper floors above it being reserved for actor rooms or the more technical-oriented aspects of film making. It was a whole lot of useless jargon the spider didn’t concern himself with, if he were being honest.
On top of it all - like the gaudy jewel in an ostentatious crown - was Valentino’s private office. No one ever bothered going so high up in the building, both out of fear and because they had no business being up there. There were times when Val demanded a more “personal” visit for turning in the monthly quota, and his whores had to make the whole trek up just to dump the money on his desk.
Angel reached the elevators at the back of the main floor and jabbed for the recall button. The elevator dinged after a few seconds, wall panel lighting up a bright pink to signal its arrival, before the doors slid open silently. He wasted no time in entering and stabbing a claw at the topmost button aptly decorated with a heart rather than an actual floor number.
The spider leant back against the handrail as the lift began to ascend. Shitty elevator music had his thoughts drifting into the white noise of his head.
A week had passed since the backroom meeting with Sandman.
A long, arduous, and nerve-wracking week since the noose was thrown around his neck and one Radio Demon was given control of the trapdoor lever.
Things had been strangely amicable between them since that night - bar a few instances where Angel was sure Alastor’s shadow was haunting his peripheral vision with its creepy blue grin, but he never could confirm whether it was actually there since the thing would be gone whenever he turned to face it. Both demons would pass each other at times during the day, and aside from a nod or a blink of acknowledgement, neither brought up the shambling elephant in the room.
No one else suspected anything about the fact that both seemed to be spending more time with the other, and both demons very much intended to keep it that way. At least for now , Alastor had said, a faraway and unreadable look brewing in his eyes that night. The less people know, the better.
Angel had no qualms with that decision.
The last thing he needed was for his reputation to suffer when money was so very tight.
No wonder Sandman offered to pay for their fake wedding. At the rate Angel spent his money, a whole century would pass before he would ever save enough green to pay for that marriage license.
The whole thing was still so surreal to him.
To an Overlord.
An honest to Heaven Overlord.
His old man must be pulling his eyeballs out of their sockets right now, wherever in Hell he may be.
Then again, Henroin had Arackniss with him so maybe not.
Not him, that's for sure.
The elevator pulled to a halt, the faint ting of the system pinging their arrival at the top. Angel looked up from where he had been staring at his boots and pushed away from the rail at his back.
The doors peeled open to reveal a forebodingly familiar corridor. The dark plum wallpaper hugging the walls swallowed the orange glow of the ingrained ceiling lights, the golden damask pattern on it glittering faintly in the light as Angel moved down the hall. His footfalls echoed in the hollow space and sent a chill up his spine. fur bristling at the feeling of being watched.
Knowing that there were at least three hidden cameras patrolling this one hall, Angel didn't doubt for a second that whoever was in Val's office didn't already know that he was en-route.
Angel reached the lone door at the farthest end and stopped a few inches away. One of his lower hands rose to hover over the dark wood, hesitant and slightly trembling with nerves.
He had to relax.
Breathe in and relax or else he'd send the wrong signals to the pimp.
He had the money.
He had the money, and he was just here to drop it off.
No more, no less.
In, out, quick and easy.
Angel sucked in a deep breath and knocked.
His ears picked up nothing at first, nothing but the dull hum of the air conditioning system. It wasn't until the soft clicking of heels on hardwood floors came from inside that the spider straightened just as the door opened.
Angel blinked, eyes wide open in surprise.
The Broadcast Overlord raised his lighter eyebrow at the porn star, electric blue teeth pulling into a large grin inside his screen.
"Well if it ain't Angel Dust!" Vox crowed, chuckling to himself at the gobsmacked look still on the spider's face. "What brings you to this neck o’ the woods?"
Angel's mouth flapped like a fish out of water. It took a few seconds for his brain to kick itself back into drive before he snapped back to stumble through a reply. "Well, uh, I'm looking for Val. He here?"
Vox pursed his lips and tapped a claw to his screen's edge. The TV demon hummed, the natural reverb of his voice distorting the sound into something hideous, and shrugged without apparent care.
"Nope," Vox said, nonchalant and bored. The demon absently brushed imaginary lint off his suit’s lapels, fixing his sleeve cuffs and not gracing Angel with a glance as he continued. "He stepped out. Left me here all by my lonesome self, can you believe that?"
Angel stared at the Overlord, not yet responding to the question aside from a soft sound of acknowledgement. Vox was a demon that craved attention, and while Valentino was someone Angel could somewhat deal with by knowing how the pimp mostly operated, Angel would much rather face an Exorcist than be alone with Vox one-on-one.
“Wow,” Angel finally drawled, lower arms crossing low by his hips and top ones fidgeting at his sides. “No.” He had to forcibly keep himself from rolling his eyes. He was bold, not suicidal, thank you very much. “How could he?”
Angel chanced a peek around Vox while this one chattered away to look into the office behind him. The room not being as bright as Valentino usually had it was the first thing he noticed. The downlights scattered about were glowing low, not enough to leave the place dark but dark enough to leave someone floundering around inside.
When pink irises flickered to where the lip of Valentino’s desk was barely viewable from his spot outside, Angel didn’t have enough time to figure out what the glowing blue thing resting atop it was before Vox cut his line of sight off by leaning on the doorway.
“But enough about me,” Vox grinned, arms crossed loosely over his chest and eyebrow quirked high on his screen. The condescension in his voice was palpable enough to choke on. “What about you? What brings good ol’ Dust to come knocking on doors?”
Angel gritted his teeth under the tight-lipped smile. He waved a flippant hand and pulled the smile in a larger grin. “Like I said, I’m lookin’ for Val-”
“That’s not just it.”
The sudden downshift in tone stopped Angel cold in his tracks.
His jaw shut so fast that his teeth clicked. The unnerving stare from those glowing red eyes felt like they were probing deep into his head, sifting through his thoughts and knowing every little thing there was to find just like in one of those timey horror films Charlie liked to watch.
Talk about being fucking creepy.
“... well,” Angel forced himself to cough into a fist to cover up the way his lower hands braced themselves, clearly twitching for the familiar weight of submachines. “I’ve got his money.”
Angel would be hard-pressed to say it out loud, but the once again sudden shift in tone and mood from Vox bristled the fur on the back of his neck.
This guy really pushed the TV show schtick with the changing channels attitude.
“Well then why didn’t you start with that?”
Vox grinned, wide and jeering. He pushed off the doorframe and wandered back into the office, flicking his fingers over his shoulder in a ‘follow’ gesture. The demon swaggered out of sight as if he owned the place. He called for Angel to shut the door behind him on the way in, and if it weren’t for his superior hearing, the spider would have missed it entirely when Vox moved out of earshot.
Angel followed Vox inside and let the door fall shut on its own. He’d rather not risk annoying the Overlord by lurking in the doorway for too long. The heel of his boots clicked on the hardwood floor the more he ventured into the large space. Whilst he usually only came inside the office to drop money off and be gone by the minute, Angel had never actually paused to take in the pimp’s choice of decor.
Aside from the polished dark wood of the floor, the walls of the office were an equally dark wine that bordered on burgundy. Promotional posters of various films and porn stars were pushed towards the seating area at the farthest corner of the room, right beside the full-stocked private bar. A dark purple loveseat and armchair combo were nestled atop a long shag carpet, and the stark white of it made the black marble table at the center stand out.
On the opposite side across the seating area, floor to ceiling windows took up most of the wall. The tinted glass panes were lined up behind Valentino’s desk, and the long curtain rack at the top was drawn all the way shut. Thick brocade drapes kept the outside light from filtering into the office with their dark color. Shelves were scattered about in seemingly random patterns and were filled with either books or thick ledgers, the occasional knick-knack breaking the monotony of paper.
The place was surprisingly minimalistic, given the flashy nature the rest of the building had.
Then again, Valentino had always been a tad bit… eccentric.
No, not eccentric.
No, not odd.
Just… something that Angel couldn’t quite put his finger on.
Angel’s eyes squinted in the low light as he finally drew his gaze away from examining the office and followed the faint electric glow coming from Vox. Whatever that blue thing that Angel had briefly seen was gone now that Vox was rounding the desk to sit at its cushioned chair.
Sharp claws motioned for the spider to sit across from the TV demon as Vox busied himself with rummaging across the drawers of Valentino’s desk.
Angel pulled back the chair and dropped down onto the padded cushion. Vox made a soft noise and withdrew a leatherbound journal from the bottommost drawer on the right. Blue-tipped fingers dropped the journal with a muffled thump between them, and from tell-tale clack of wood on wood, the other demon kicked the drawer shut with one polished shoe.
The spider watched Vox pull the ledger closer to his side and open the leather cover to reveal Valentino’s neat scrawl underneath. The small but looping handwriting filled page after page of accounting paper. Vox flipped for the latest entry, the crisp swish of rapidly shuffling paper filling the silence between them aside from the faint ticking of a clock hidden somewhere.
The clock kept ticking undisturbed until Vox finally found the half-empty page he had been searching. His right pointer finger trailed down the entries already written, silently mouthing the data recorded as he went, and reached with his left hand over to an elaborate fuchsia penwell. The metallic golden accents lining both stand and fountain pen reflected the pale blue sheen from Vox’s hand, only to disappear when claws closed firmly around the pen and withdrew it.
Vox tapped excess ink off the pen’s narrow tip back into the well. His hold on the pen was loose as he scratched down general information on the necessary spaces, crossing out unnecessary ones, and leaving others empty that Angel assumed Valentino found fill later. Vox’s free palm raised wordlessly, claws crooking expectantly between them towards Angel.
The spider entertained the idea of not handing over the money, but he decided that he very much liked his head where it was and slipped a hand into the inside seam of his jacket. He withdrew a sizable stack wrapped tightly together in a paper bind and dropped it onto the waiting hand.
The Overlord set the pen down between the pages of the journal and leant back on his seat to wait for the ink to dry. Red scleras were fixated on unbinding the money from its loop, but Vox’s attention was zeroed in on the porn star. Angel had no real way of knowing, but something in the back of his head was ringing every warning bell he had that it was.
“Say,” Vox drawled, one claw slicing through the paper seal and unfurling the wad, “why didn’t you answer your phone?”
Angel sat straighter at the odd question. One eyebrow quirked in confusion and a frown pulled at the corners of his lips. He squinted, bemused, at the other demon, who was still not directly looking at him and was instead shuffling through the dollars in his hands.
“Come again?” He finally asked, voice carefully flat but not without inflection. His lower arms draped over his lap out of sight, the top set perching on the armrests at his elbows. If there was one good thing his dad taught his kids in their human life, it was to keep a good hold of themselves in shitty situations like these.
Granted, Henroin told them that when he thought his second son was going to follow in his eldest’s footsteps, but those semantics didn’t matter here.
“Your phone,” Vox repeated, hard tone punctuating the simple word with a firm edge. His fingers were swiftly separating each dollar, eyes absently counting and following the shift as he began to make stacks by the thousand. Not once did the TV demon look up at the spider.
Angel pursed his lips. What the fuck was Vox playing at?
“What about it?”
Pale blue pupils finally glanced up and stared his way, and if it weren’t for the sturdy piece of heavy wood between them, Angel would be much more fearful for the intactness of his throat than he was at the moment.
“Playing dumb, are we?” Vox clicked his tongue and tutted slowly. The effect was strange on him, what with his head being a literal screen and all, but it was no less unnerving to be singled out on the spot when Angel didn’t even know where the fuck the conversation was going.
He just came to drop his monthly quota off, damn it.
A thick silence took residence. Deft claws separated the last wad of money and dropped it in line with its twins, making sure to leave them in clear view for both before Vox began to recollect and merge the stacks.
Angel followed the count himself.
One, two, three, four, five…
Where was six?
The way Vox said it meant something was most definitely not fine.
Whether about the money or the previous question was unknown.
Angel looked up over at the TV demon, imperceptibly sighing in relief when he saw those bloody ringed eyes weren’t staring back.
Vox flipped the sizable sheaf to lay vertical between his hands. He brought the edge down on the desk and tapped the cluster a few times to order them into place, pressing the block into one neat rectangle before tying the thing off with a rubber band from inside the pull-out drawer.
Angel swallowed the nerves cloistering in his throat. There was supposed to be six thousand, not five - where the fuck were the last thousand? He had been watching those hands closely and never saw the slightest hint of a sleight of hand. No way had Vox slipped money from right under his nose.
The sudden crack of electricity snapped the spider back into focus. A bolt of bright blue sparks crackled around the Overlord’s free hand, the sparks looking almost alive with the way they writhed and arched and hissed as a viper pit around the other’s palm and knuckles. Angel felt his back muscles tense when one particular spark popped violently into a shower of smaller particles.
This was exactly the reason he preferred to deal with Valentino over Vox any day of the week.
Valentino was predictable, the one constant variable in the industry, and so long as the money was all there, the guy was a happy camper.
The Overlord was as unknown as the true reason of how Niffty got into Hell.
Meaning, Angel had next to zero information on the guy, and it very clearly showed in how poor his reaction timing was during their little chat.
Vox hummed a nonsensical tune off in his own mindspace. He rolled back on the wheeled chair, just enough to have easy access to the top cabinets, and pressed the electrified hand against the topmost drawer of Valentino’s desk. The aggravated hissing of electrical discharge meeting wood coupled with the rottengly sweet smell of melting plastic had Angel wincing away from the scene in his own seat.
Either Vox was melting his way into the in-built safe to deposit the money without a key, or he had a strange way of flaunting his power to lesser demons.
Angel firmly believed it was the latter option.
A dull clunk of a deadbolt sliding back into its home casing drew Angel’s attention down to whatever Vox was doing just in time to see him pry the hidden metal door open. The rattle of melted steel set the spider’s teeth on edge. Maybe it was the sense of hidden self-preservation he usually lacked rearing its head for once, but Angel did not want to be anywhere near the studio when Valentino returned, only to find the sorry state his reinforced safe was now in.
Vox nonchalantly tossed the money stack in, not blinking when the wad knocked over other neatly stacked piles and messing the previously tidy space. He pushed the deformed door shut and smiled impishly when the damaged hinges shrieked their protests. One finger held the door in place as his other hand lit up again. The bolts were pressed against the cooling metal, and the heat of the electricity - no doubt aided by magic - liquified the seams between the door and body of the safe. The molten steel glowed a cold white tinged with blue, and it was overbearing enough that it forced Angel to look away from the lightshow.
Even from behind tightly shut eyes, the sharp flashes kept dancing in and out from behind his eyelids.
A rolling laughing hum that sounded more distorted than it had any right to be prompted Angel to chance a peek. If it weren’t for the toothy grin across Vox’s screen and an acrid smell of burnt material hanging in the air, it was almost as if nothing had happened at all to the safe inside the desk.
No key would ever be able to open that thing again, that’s for sure.
Vox picked the fountain pen and pulled the leather-bound ledger back to him. His left hand scrawled the last bit of information missing from Angel’s row as his right pointer claw slowly tapped the edge of his screen.
“Tell me,” Vox hummed, red scleras moving up to stare straight into mismatched ones. “When’s the last time we spoke?”
Angel tilted his head. He furrowed his brows for a moment and shrugged. “‘bout two months ago, I think.”
“Before you made the second agreement with Val?”
“Uh, I guess so?”
Vox dropped the pen back into its penwell and shut the ledger. He pushed the journal aside without a care and laced his fingers atop the desk. He leant forward on his forearms, the grin still plastered across his screen growing a touch jeering. “Then you remember what I told you.”
Angel stared at the Overlord, blank.
He could barely remember what he ate this morning, and Vox wanted him to remember shit from two months ago?
Yeah, not happening.
If Vox was bothered by the denial, he didn’t show.
“So then you don’t remember our appointment?”
“Wait, wait, wait, I remembered that we talked, but I don’t remember makin’ an appointment with ya.” A pause. “Unless it was for…?”
Vox rolled his eyes and shook his head dismissively, condescending and amused.
Why Alastor didn’t like this guy was an enigma - they were basically the same if you swapped blue for red and TVs for radios.
“Nothing like that.” Vox laughed. “Believe me, if I wanted that, you wouldn’t be my first choice, Dust.”
Angel had half a mind to be offended at the jab, but he figured he could toy with this instead. The conversation was starting to feel very one-sided, anyway.
“Who’s the lucky fella then, huh?” Angel mirrored the leering grin on the other demon and added an eyebrow waggle for effect. His ramrod posture relaxed into more of an easy recline on his chair and his legs crossed, lower hands clasping over his knees and upper set crossing under his chest fluff.
The answering chuckle came from somewhere deep within the Overlord’s chest. “There’s the snide fucker I was looking for,” Vox purred, “I was starting to think life away from porn was turning you into some boring goody two-shoes!”
Angel barked a genuine laugh. “Baby, please,” he scoffed, one of his top hands uncrossing and making a swift slicing motion over his neck. “I’ll off myself before that ever happens.”
A pale eyebrow rose inside Vox’s screen. His smile curled at the edges, eyes squinting before he chuckled again. “And if you must know,” he drawled, “I rather have ‘em with four arms instead of six.”
Angel almost swallowed his tongue.
The look on his face must have said it all because Vox’s laugh rose into a cackle.
“Ya fuckin’ dog!”
“You asked, Dust. You asked.”
Angel snorted and raised a hand to cover his mouth. His cheeks ached with the strain of keeping the wide grin on his face firmly in place. He wasn’t stupid enough to laugh at the Overlord right in front of his face, but damn, did he want to so badly.
He forced the laughter bubbling in his throat down to his chest. “Spare me the details, please,” Angel groaned, hand dropping away from his face to rejoin its twin under his fluff. “I don’t wanna know shit.”
“I’ll make sure to mute myself if anything slips.”
Vox reclined against his chair and laced his claws over his stomach. His legs crossed at the ankle under the desk, and his head tilted to one side in amusement. The look of contemplation was back, a stray bolt of static crackling quietly on the antennas of his hat. “Now back to the matter at hand.”
Angel gestured for the other to continue. His grin shrunk into a close lipped smile, something that was both easy to hold and yet didn’t reveal much of anything.
"I called - oh, when was it? About three weeks ago, counting today. You usually answer on the third ring, Dust." The way Vox pitched his voice made it sound like banter between friends. If Angel were that much of an idiot, he’d take the bait and bite.
Angel only shrugged. "I was kinda busy three weeks ago."
“In the Barrens?”
The distaste and skepticism were tangible.
Angel didn't question how Vox knew where he had been that day with such certainty.
“Those the empty warehouses down by the old part of town? Then yeah, busy.”
“What were you doing down there?”
Angel clicked his tongue and sucked in a breath between his teeth. “See,” he scooted back in his seat and deliberately shook his head, “I can't say what it was. Mob business, y'know?”
Vox leaned forward and hoisted his elbows on the edge of the desk. His fingers remained intercrossed and aloft in front of his screen as he tilted his head.
“'Mob business?'” He echoed, slow and drawing out the words.
Angel nodded once. “Yep. Got myself a nice little spot in a family. No drugs, no sex, no nothing - just like the boss said.”
Vox’s eyebrows rose as if impressed. His welcoming grin glitched a snowy rainbow pattern into a sly smirk before smoothing over like nothing happened. “So you’re really going for Val’s alternative, huh.”
The spider hummed a lilt in confirmation. The hands under his chest fur unfurled and draped over the arm rests. His lower set remained at his knees, but the claws crooked ever so slightly into a feint fist. Open body language, full confident display, keep the chest area free and forward, shoulders loose and back, arms slack and legs crossed. Angel knew how to hold himself in any situation since before he even shot his first gun when alive. Presentation was key, everything else was fodder.
Manipulating one’s body to shift at one’s will was an art the spider had perfected. The pin that held it all together was the face and pace - one wrong twitch of a cheek ruined an image, and a movement that was too fast drew too much attention. Find the perfect balance and you could topple kings.
Angel had already done it once, who's to say he couldn’t do it again?
His right arm bent at the elbow so his cheek could drop against the bones of his knuckles. Mismatched eyes blinked as the smile stretched a hint wider. The sole golden tooth peeked playfully from between the slight part of his lips.
“You betcha, V.”
Vox droned a tune himself from somewhere deep in his chest. “And you think you can keep at it before the next extermination?”
Angel shrugged a shoulder. “Should be able to, yeah.”
The porn star quirked an eyebrow in a sharp angle. “What do you mean?”
Now it was Vox’s turn to shrug, impish and hands unlacing to raise up to shoulder level, palm up and claws curled. His grin clipped through the edges of his screen to fade past its border. “Just saying.” The TV demon chuckled, hands dropping back to their previous position. “ Can you do it by yourself?” The hints of a mocking tone bouncing in the reverb of his voice alluded to the unsaid challenge the Overlord didn’t speak.
Angel was quick on the followup. “Do I have to?” His drawl was bored and plain, but an underlying sharpness emphasized the thinly veiled demand.
Vox’s screen did that weird snowy static effect again until the pixels settled back into the toothy grin. “Not per se,” the Overlord’s thumbs raised from the weave of his claws and quirked out, “but it would be much more… impressive , if you did do it all by your lonesome self.”
Before Angel could quip back, Vox quickly shook his head and clapped once. “But enough about that. What I want to know is why you didn’t call back? You’re not ignoring me, are you, Dust?”
The drawn-out and playful lilt at the end of the question made Angel bark a laugh. “No no, of course not,” he crooned, cheek raising off his knuckles. His hand fluttered flippantly as if brushing off the accusation whilst his left one reached into his pocket. Gloved fingers pulled out his new hellphone and raised it high for both to see. “My old phone got kinda smashed .”
Did Vox make a habit of repeating things or was it the whole TV motif thing he was going for?
Angel lowered the phone to his lap, cheek dropping back over his knuckles. “Like I said, mob business.”
The quirk of Vox’s brow meant he was either having a hard time believing his explanation or was skeptic of the whole affair. “Mob business that ends with smashed phones and the warehouse sector doesn’t exactly sound like good mob business to me.”
“What can I say,” Angel laughed and mimicked the Overlord’s flashy shrug, “the guys were in a shitty mood that day.”
Vox huffed, clearly incredulous but still willing to entertain the idea.
The silence that settled between them was short but poignant. Both parties stared the other one down, both refusing to back off and give the slightest inch of ground for their counterpart to sink his claws into. The air felt - for lack of a better word that left Angel internally grousing - electric.
Angel tapped the back of his pink phone case, the motion slow and deliberate. “I didn’t even know ya rang, either.”
Vox blinked lazily, his eyelids remaining drooped halfway. “No?”
The spider shook his head, features turning mockingly mournful and repentant for show. “Nope. I couldn’t even save the phone card from the old one - damn thing got destroyed with the rest. This one” Angel lifted the mobile and waved it loosely in his grasp “doesn’t even have all th’ contacts the other did.”
“Well that won’t do.” Vox extended a hand again over the desk, palm up and fingertips beckoning for the device. “Pass it here.”
Angel dutifully reached over and dropped the phone on the waiting palm. Blue-tipped claws closed around the device as the hand brought it back to Vox, the TV demon using his other claws to tap on the lit screen. A glowing cable snaked from underneath his suit sleeve and attached itself into the bottom charging port while he typed something.
The sudden stillness from the Overlord had Angel sitting straight up and forward at attention. Mismatched irises glanced between both red eyes, down to the frozen smile, and made note of the rigidness of the other demon’s muscles. They found nothing wrong that was immediately noticeable.
The Overlord jolted back into his body.One brief flash of a ‘technical difficulties’ screen and the TV demon was back to his typical animated movements. Whether it was Angel’s voice or the call to his name that snapped him from whatever funk Vox had slipped into, the spider wasn’t about to ask.
“Woops,” Vox looked over at Angel and grinned crookedly. Something lurking under that grin rubbed Angel the wrong way. “Sync mishap.”
Angel didn’t know what that meant either, so he simply pretended as if he did and nodded.
The glowing cable clicked free from the port and slipped back into the other’s sleeve. Vox tapped a few more things before locking the screen and pushing the device back to its owner. Angel scooped the newly transfigured phone and poked around in it briefly, noticing a few changes to the settings and skimming his contacts list. When he looked back up, Vox had steepled his hands on the desk.
Vox appeared to mull something over. “Tell me,” he spoke, low and curious, “how is the princess’ reform bit coming along?”
Angel was somewhat thrown off by the abrupt shift in topic, but he buried the temptation to downright ask what brought the change along.
Blond hair and a cheery smile flashed in his mind’s eyes. “Charlie?”
Vox rolled his eyes. “That one, yes.”
Or maybe one small poke wouldn’t hurt.
“Quick question before that, though.”
“What?” A sharp crackle of electricity punctuated the snap of Vox’s voice.
Again with the changing channels attitude , Angel mused. He tried for a cheeky smile to mirror the Overlord’s snarling grin. “Promise ya won’t, like, smite me on the spot for it?”
Vox chuckled, but unlike the other humorous ones, this one set Angel’s fur on end. “Keep dawdling and I just might.”
Angel pulled his smile into a humoring grin. “How’s a demon like you know about the program?” He pushed. His upper set of arms settled over his crossed knees, and the lower pair retreated to rest on his lap. His weight braced itself on his upper arms as he leant forward.
Vox’s expression twisted into a strange mixture between amusement, pity, and incredulity. “It came out in the news.” He explained slowly. “I own the news.”
666 News was a broadcast channel.
Made sense Vox knew what was reported in the whole thing.
But why ask about it in the first place if Killjoy dissed it on-air?
The Overlord stared at the sheepish spider for a click before red scleras widened fractionally, gesturing impatiently for the porn star to continue.
“The whole shin-ding’s going fine. No one’s made it topside, if that’s what ya wanna know.”
“And the staff?” The TV demon raised his hand up to his hat, fingers flat and pressed together as it hovered horizontally beside it. “That’s quite the large hotel for just two people to manage.”
Angel shook his head dismissively and slipped the phone that was still on his lap into his pocket. “Nah, it’s not just us anymore. Charlie’s got a sponsor, business partner, whatever-the-fuck-you-call-‘em now. Guy brought some help along.”
A stray spark glittered faintly on one of the hat’s antennas, clear curiosity coloring the Overlord’s face. “Who’s the sponsor?”
Angel fleetingly debated answering the question truthfully. On the one hand, he didn’t know if Alastor would appreciate being spoken about with his number one rival, yet on the other hand he figured there would be no problem in sharing information that wasn’t exactly private knowledge, anyway.
“Ya probably know him, I guess. Vaggie said the guy’s an Overlord, too.” Angel pulled at his bow tie and nodded his chin at the one around Vox’s own neck. “He’s all red, kinda tall and skinny, has a thing for microphones and radios or some shit.”
Vox blinked owlishly.
“The Radio Demon?”
Angel snapped his fingers and pointed in Vox’s direction. “That’s the name! Guy came knocking at the door and said he was gonna help. Fixed the place up a bit with magic or something. Nothing new aside from that, really.” Angel shrugged and huffed an exaggerated sigh. “Ain’t my crowd, that’s for sure.”
Vox only hummed a short sound and tapped the bottom edge of his screen where his chin would be if he had one.
“Ya know him?”
Playing dumb was way easier than it had any right to be, but Angel digressed.
Vox motioned vaguely to the room at large and furrowed his brows. “In passing, yes. He is an Overlord - a strong one at that.” The last part was added bitterly, as if the words left an ugly taste on Vox’s tasteless tongue.
Angel whistled lowly, still pretending to be mildly impressed yet disinterested with the development. “Got a name? I don’t think I was paying enough attention to catch it from him.”
“That’s it?” Angel searched to meet the TV demon’s eyes with his own from where Vox was staring at his clasped hands..
Vox shook his head no, still not meeting pink irises with red ones.
“No nickname, nothing, just Alastor.”
Angel sat back and angled his head towards one shoulder, a look of contemplation crossing his face.
“It wouldn’t be wrong to call him that.”
Vox kept to his brooding, quiet and clearly mulling the information hard for some reason or another. Why someone like him wanted information on the hotel was questionable, but Angel figured it had mostly to do with keeping tabs on Alastor more than anything else.
Angel’s train of thought derailed when Vox finally set his palms flat on the desk and pushed himself up. The spider followed suit and stood, waiting in place until Vox rounded the desk on his way to the door before trailing after him. The heels of their shoes clicked on the hardwood - the only sound in the otherwise silent office.
The abrupt end of their conversation and prompt dismissal didn’t bother Angel. He just attributed the erratic shifts to the Overlord’s eccentricities. It was at this point that he absently noticed that he was actually somewhat taller than Vox.
Huh, fancy that.
Vox reached the door first and twisted the knob. He pulled it open as his free hand pushed into his suit jacket’s pocket, drawing out a razor thin red hellphone. One blue-tipped claw began to rapidly tap at the screen, the Overlord’s attention zeroed in on it and not the porn star.
Angel chanced for a peek at the screen but gave up when he only saw text boxes. He strolled out of the office when a realization struck him the second he crossed the threshold.
“Wait,” Angel turned to look back at the shorter demon. Vox, halfway through closing the entrance, stopped to stare at him, the frown on his face bemused. “I don’t think ya ever mentioned what ya called me for.”
Vox’s frown deepened. “Didn’t I?” His eyes flitted down to his phone once again, reading something on it before he glanced back up and shrugged nonchalantly. A jeering smirk twisted his lips. “Looks like I can’t remember myself, right now. I’ll ring again when I do.”
The door shut firmly in Angel’s face with a solid thump.
Arc 2 has officially kicked off!
Vox is that bitch no one likes but everyone loves to gossip with because he has dirt on (mostly) everyone. A user on Twitter made a post on how Vox's voice could theoretically sound like, and honestly? Headcanon voice right there.
Things are just about ready to pick up, lads. Feedback, thoughts, and ideas are very much appreciated and loved!