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Most of the denizens of Hell would think twice about sharing a table with the Radio Demon at a reasonable hour, much less at 3 A.M., but Charlie was too exhausted to care. Her dreams had been filled with the screams of her friends and patrons as the Exorcists purged them all.

Just three more days until the next cleanse, and they were all still here.

In comparison with that, slumping into a chair across from Al having his midnight coffee wasn't much, really.

For once, he didn't immediately take off on a static-y rapidfire monologue that only half expected to stay a monologue, instead opting to sit quietly with his mug cradled in his elegant hands and his permanent grin stretching up to his ears. She could feel his eyes on her, too, could see the faint luminescence in her peripheral vision.

He left her in silence while she waited for the teapot to heat up, and didn't speak as she poured it into her own mug, the hot chocolate powder at the bottom floating to the top in dark clumps.

It was only when she was waiting for it to cool down that he made himself known as something more than a particularly creepy and murderous statue.

"Night terrors, darling?" he said, distant through the crackle of radio static.

She dropped her face into her arms so she didn't have to look at him. "I dreamed that you were right. That... that I failed."

The caffeine must not have hit him yet, because he paused for a beat before he replied. "Wonderful!" He sounded oddly strained, though he gained momentum as he spoke. "Oh, this coming week is going to be thrilling. The screams of the damned are always so delightful. And they're all still here!"

...Yeah, that was about what she'd expected. Why the hell did she try opening up to him, anyway?

She curled into herself, vision blurring until it cleared in favor of hot tears dripping off her nose and leaking into her hair. She'd never been cut out for this, had she. Defeat was all the more crushing now that she'd had her chance and blown it.

"Ah... well," said Al, trailing off for a minute. He almost sounded awkward. Almost. "It was a bit of a doomed thing from the start, now wasn't it? And it has been a wonderful year of entertainment. I applaud you! Not many could have failed quite as spectacularly as you have."

Charlie bit down on a sob. It was too late—too early?—to put on a strong front.

Silence.

She wasn't really feeling the hot chocolate anymore.

She wasn't really feeling the 'getting up and going back to her nice warm bed of fake comfort and reminders the she slept well because her parents were the king and queen of Hell while her subjects on the streets were about to face indiscriminate eradication because she'd utterly failed to do anything about it' either, though, and as much of a callous bastard Al was, he was still better company than her own thoughts.

He inhaled like he was going to say something else, then let out a sigh like he'd changed his mind.

The click of his throat as he sipped at his drink was as infuriating as it was comforting.

He sighed again as he set down his mug, then shifted with a faint rustle of clothing and an irritable hiss of static.

She automatically cringed away from the noise—and, to her surprise, it trailed off.

Eventually, something (a hand? Al's hand?) gently landed on her hair, and then... stroked it?

"You did do well, darling," he started, and she jumped.

His voice sounded so close whenever he stripped away the white noise. Now, it was present and smooth and real. A man's voice, not a showman's voice.

(Her stomach jolted and tingled at the sound just like it always did, and she hated herself a little bit for that, just like she always did.)

He went on; apparently he hadn't noticed her reaction. "Your perseverance was... is admirable." Another gentle stroke smoothed her bedhead, and with a third it fell into a rhythm. "And this hotel is under my protection. As long as the rabble stays indoors, they will live to see another day. You may not have succeeded this year, but... I suppose... there is always next year." He finger combed her hair away from her eyes, revealing that he was gazing at her intently. "It's not over yet, my dear."

She kind of didn't trust that (comparatively) kind look, but she kind of did, too.

Still... "You just want to watch me fail again, don't you."

He didn't crow like she expected him to, or go off on a tangent about entertainment, or anything like that. Just... hummed. Neutrally, even.

Weird.

Still, he'd helped. She didn't feel nearly as hopeless anymore.

"...Thanks, Al."

"Simply doing my part. It wouldn't do for you to get discouraged now, would it?" He picked up her hot chocolate. "And this..." He hesitated, then set it down in front of her nose. "...abomination of yours is getting cold."

He still hadn't retreated behind his static.

"You always know just what to say, don't you," she sighed, irritated again. It mixed uncomfortably with the butterflies in her stomach.

"It seems a bit much to call it a beverage! Remind me to make you real hot cocoa sometime. None of this packaged nonsense."

In his own way, he really was trying to cheer her up, wasn't he?

"I'm holding you to that," she decided, suddenly finding it in herself to sit up and pick up her cup, wiping the lingering tears away with the heel of her hand. Her hot chocolate had cooled enough to drink, warm and bittersweet—this brand of 'packaged nonsense' was the best, no matter what Al said.

His grin changed, softening into inscrutability, and his voice started to fuzz again as he said, "I'll get my best recipes ready."

The next few minutes were quiet while Charlie indulged and Al sipped, then Charlie asked if he'd caught Angel Dust's latest stunt and how it showed that they probably needed to hire a doorman and Al had recommendations for who she could interview, and things were back to normal.

Her hot chocolate was long gone by the time she decided that it was really time for her to get back to bed.

She took both of their mugs to the sink, rinsed them, and then left them with the other dirty dishes to go in the dishwasher the next morning.

"Good night, Al," she said on a yawn, thoughts circling around things like work hours and accommodations and how much she was looking forward to a pillow under her head.

"Charlie," said Al, void of static again, and Charlie stopped up short. "I've... come to realize it would be much more interesting to see you come out on top." His smile was painfully warm. "So no. I don't want to see you fail." He broke eye contact, the smile taking on a wistful tilt as he started at the wall. "Failure, dare I say, doesn't suit you."

She could feel herself flush, her heart swelling and fluttering against her will.

(She was never escaping this awkward puppy crush now, was she.)

She tucked her hair behind her ear so she had an excuse to hide her burning cheeks, trying and failing to fight a smile of her own. "Well, I won't let you down."

"Good luck, darlin'."

"...Thanks," she murmured, the word nearly lost to the dark, empty halls. "'Night."

"Good night, sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite!"


Later, snugly cocooned in her quilt and victorious against the (nonexistent, thankyouverymuch) bedbugs, Charlie failed to sleep.

Damn Alastor and damn his trickster voodoo hold on her.