Angel's Demon V2 - CWBitner (2024)

Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Angel In Heaven Chapter Text Chapter 2: Summons To Court Chapter Text Chapter 3: The Court Hearing Chapter Text Chapter 4: Confronting Sera Chapter Text Chapter 5: I Remember Chapter Text Chapter 6: I Want In Chapter Text Chapter 7: Eryn's Gift Chapter Text Chapter 8: Reunited Chapter Text Chapter 9: Eryn's Forced Judgement Chapter Text Chapter 10: Let Us Tell You A Tale Chapter Text Chapter 11: You're A Demon? Chapter Text Chapter 12: Planning The Rescue Chapter Text Chapter 13: Haunted House Chapter Text Chapter 14: Debriefing Chapter Text Chapter 15: Self Appraisal Chapter Text Chapter 16: Culinary Choices Chapter Text Chapter 17: Who Are You, Angel? Chapter Text Chapter 18: Rescue In The Smoky Mountains Chapter Text Chapter 19: Checking In With Cassie Chapter Text Chapter 20: Charlotte's Shower Chapter Text Chapter 21: You're Not Human Chapter Text Chapter 22: Be My Example Chapter Text Chapter 23: Morning Briefing Chapter Text Chapter 24: Arriving in New Orleans Chapter Text Chapter 25: Meeting Cassie Chapter Text Chapter 26: Confessions Chapter Text Chapter 27: Assistant's Assistance Chapter Text Chapter 28: Stay With Me Chapter Text Chapter 29: Cassie's Workout Chapter Text Chapter 30: Gifts Chapter Text Chapter 31: The Devil's in the Details Chapter Text Chapter 32: I Am The Morning Star Chapter Text Chapter 33: Call Me Charlie Chapter Text Chapter 34: Grid Search Chapter Text Chapter 35: Getting Nowhere Chapter Text Chapter 36: Wrapping Up The Day Chapter Text Chapter 37: Hideout Discovered Chapter Text Chapter 38: Coffee Briefing Chapter Text Chapter 39: An Invisible Confession Chapter Text Chapter 40: The Mission - Haunted Warehouse Chapter Text Chapter 41: The Mission - Loss Of Control Chapter Text Chapter 42: The Mission - One Falls Chapter Text Chapter 43: Suspended Chapter Text Chapter 44: A Life For A Life Chapter Text Chapter 45: Calling Bible Chapter Text Chapter 46: I'm Not Your Demon Bitch Chapter Text Chapter 47: Whatever It Takes Chapter Text Chapter 48: Rise! Rygen the Devourer Chapter Text Chapter 49: Drinking With a Demon Chapter Text Chapter 50: Yes, I Used You Chapter Text Chapter 51: Morning Hangovers Chapter Text Chapter 52: The One On The Inside Chapter Text Chapter 53: I'm His Secret Demon Chapter Text Chapter 54: Angel vs. Rygen Chapter Text Chapter 55: New Power Chapter Text Chapter 56: Out For Love Notes: Chapter Text Chapter 57: Charlie vs Rygen Chapter Text Chapter 58: Miracle Chapter Text Chapter 59: Change of Plans Chapter Text Chapter 60: Flight of an Angel Chapter Text Chapter 61: I've Slept On Us Long Enough Chapter Text Chapter 62: Sexy and Amazing Chapter Text Chapter 63: I Just Want A Taste Chapter Text Chapter 64: I Owe You A Few Bruises Chapter Text Chapter 65: Have You Ever Seen A Demon Before? Chapter Text Chapter 66: Taken Chapter Text Chapter 67: The Ultimatum Chapter Text

Chapter 1: Angel In Heaven

Chapter Text

A bright flash of light, ethereal and vibrant, bloomed outward from a tiny spec into a golden sphere, large enough to envelop the silhouette forming inside. The sphere pulsed three times and then faded away, leaving the figure behind, who took on the shape of an adult male. He was down on one knee with his palm pressed against the smooth, glass-like surface of the golden tiles.

Silence followed the flash and reveal, and he was still for a few moments. When he finally raised his head, piercing brown eyes saw before him a golden gate of elegant design—the entrance to heaven itself. As he stood up to his full six-foot-four height, he blinked and took a few moments to orient himself to his new surroundings. He looked down at his appearance and noticed he was attired in white robes with gold trim on the hem of his sleeves and the robe’s ends, with a soft silk belt that secured the robes to his waist. He ran his hand through his thick, medium-long brown hair, then scratched his thin, three-day-old beard out of habit, as it did not itch. This was not the way he remembered himself when he lay on the couch in his sister’s apartment, dying.

“Welcome to Heaven.” A voice sounded above him and to his right, and he looked up to see a young-looking male angel with golden blond hair, curled up in the front, smiling warmly with aqua-marine eyes. “May I get your name, please?”

“Uh.” The man shook his head, not knowing the answer for a moment. The angel waited patiently, as if he had all the time in the world. After a few moments, a name came to him: “Kevin Angelus Collins.”

Nodding, the angel scanned a large book on the podium before him; his finger traced down a line of names until he stopped. He looked up with a look of surprise.

“You…” He paused and rechecked the book.

“Is there a problem?” Kevin asked.

“No! No problem!” The angel laughed nervously, “It’s just that there’s a note here that—”

“It’s okay.” A voice came from above, and they both looked up to see another angel descending from above. To Kevin, she appeared to be the most beautiful of all angels, wrapped elegantly in soft flowing robes of pastel purple shades. Soft locks of long silver-gray hair fell down along her back to her hips, layered over a delicate shade of tawny toned skin. Her eyes were wide, filled with a mix of blue and gray with white irises. She floated down like a feather to land beside the podium, “I will take it from here, Sir Peter.”

Sir Peter nodded, folded his hands together, and closed his eyes.

Kevin felt overwhelmed by the spectacular being before him, and he bowed his head in a sign of respect.

The angel smiled graciously, and introduced herself, “I am the High Seraphim, but you may call me Sera. Welcome to Heaven, Kevin Angelus Collins. We have been anxiously awaiting your arrival.”

Angel blinked, “Why?”

“Your work on Earth has been exemplary, if excessively so, that the powers we speak for have granted you a special place in Heaven.”

“Excessively?” Kevin echoed Sera’s comment.

“Your self-exile and all you did to make up for an event that was never your fault to begin with were more punishment than any soul should have had to endure. We feared you would drive yourself into insanity if you did not let your heart heal. We are saddened by your early passing, but very pleased you’re here before you lost yourself.” Sera’s eyes were sad and sympathetic.

“I made a promise to someone.” Kevin started, but found the next words lost. Who was the someone to whom he made a promise? Why could he not remember?

“When you enter Heaven,” Sera seemed to answer his silent question, “Most of your Earthly memories will begin to fade. This happens so you may spend eternity at peace without the burdens of Earthly attachments. Family, friends, events, and promises will all fade away in time.”

“I don’t like that.” Kevin said with a cool voice, “What good is Heaven if you can’t recall what made your life special to begin with?”

“It is the way things are, Kevin Collins.” Sera smiled kindly, “By the time you’ve taken your place as a High Angel, all you will know is your duties, which are few, and your days filled with peace.”

Closing his eyes, Kevin tried to hold on to what he could recall. He still remembered his sister, Cassie, and a girl. There was a girl, wasn’t there? Someone he loved deeply? She was—wait, who was his sister again? Did he ever have a sister? A few moments passed, and Kevin opened his eyes and smiled, “Thank you, Sera, for meeting me at the gates. I believe you said I was being given a position?

Sera nodded, knowing now that Kevin would be at complete peace; his earthly coils were now severed. “Indeed. You will be an advisor to our courts. Help myself, my protege Emily, and others to welcome new souls into Heaven, and for most of your days, enjoy quiet meditations, games, and wondrous food and drink. Nothing of consequence shall bother your soul again.”

Despite this, Kevin’s natural tendencies led him to ask a question: “There are courts in Heaven?”

“We occasionally have meetings and negotiations with Hell. When these take place, we have a select few who are assigned to provide their opinions and insight.”

“Hell.” Kevin had a nagging ping in the back of his mind about the true nature of Hell, but it was like a quick blip, and then it was gone. “I understand. So, as a High Angel, does it come with any perks?”

Sera laughed heartily, “You’ll be able to visit with some of our Exorcist angels, who can guide you in the use of your new powers, if that is what you mean?”

“Exorcists? Warriors? For what purpose?” Kevin’s instincts triggered again, and he raised his eyes.

“Now, now, do not burden yourself with such things for now, Kevin Collins. Come, let me show you to our main concourse. Emily is organizing a welcome party for you. She has been excited to meet you since we knew of your impending arrival.”

Sera’s words held a mix of suggestion and command, and Kevin found his thoughts dispersing about the concerns he had, and he smiled and nodded, “I’d be honored.”

Sera gave a nod to Sir Peter, who smiled back, and the gates opened before them. As they entered, Kevin could not believe the beauty of the city that had opened before him. It defied words, but emotionally, it made perfect sense. They walked for a short bit, with Sera pointing out in which direction certain things Kevin might enjoy visiting were. Before long, they arrived at the main concourse, where another Seraphim was directing what appeared to be a band. This one was smaller, perhaps half the height of the majestic Sera, and her skin and eyes bore a lighter tone than Sera’s, but there were obvious similarities. Her robes, which held bolder shades of purple, made her stand out from the other angels in the concourse.

When she saw Sera and Kevin arrive, she squeaked a sound not unlike a rubber duck being squeezed, which amused Kevin and immediately made him feel fond of her. She flew over and landed in front of the pair. “Kevin! Oh, my, you’re finally here!” The Seraphim clasped his hands in hers, literally hopping up and down on the heels of her slippers. “I’m Emily! Or Em, Emmy… I will go by whatever you want! Welcome to Heaven!”

“Thank you, Emily.” Kevin smiled back, her infectious joy making him feel light at heart, “But it is your name, not mine, so may I know in what way you like to be addressed? I’d like to know which you’re most fond of.”

Emily grinned. “Wow! Well, of course! Please, call me Emmy. I always liked it!”

“Emmy, it is. A pleasure to meet you, then!” Kevin smirked, and one memory still remained that he shared: “On Earth, I mostly went by the name—” He paused; the irony was not lost here. “Well, Angel.”

“I know!” Emmy beamed, “And it has always been the most fitting name for you, Angel! I think you should embrace it here.”

“I will.” Angel looked at the set-up and said, “I am really honored. Especially this set-up you’ve prepared for me? I do not believe I have ever been one for fanfare or attention, but since you went through so much, I look forward to what you have planned.”

Emmy squealed—again in her unique way—with excitement, “You’ll love it! We planned a musical performance, a feast, and a tour of your new home in one of our grandest resorts!”

Angel noticed Sera nod to Emily and fly off. When she was out of sight, Angel turned back to Emily and asked, “I understand my memories of Earth have faded, but if someone in my life makes it to Heaven, will I know them?”

Emily nodded firmly, “Of course! I’m sure Sera explained why your earthly ties are severed, but it wouldn’t be Heaven if you couldn’t reconnect with loved ones!”

“Then, are my parents here?”

Emily paused and tilted her head, “If I’m to be honest, embarrassingly so, even I will sometimes not remember every soul that passes our gates. You are welcome to go visit Sir Peter later and give him their names. He will be able to direct you to them. I’m sure they are up here, though!”

“I’m sure, too.” Angel softly smiled, “and perhaps so is—”

Emily looked at Angel, who had just all but stopped, his eyes glazed over, and she gently poked his shoulder. Angel blinked. “I’m sorry, Emmy. For a moment, I thought I remembered someone. Someone special.”

A flicker of concern passed behind Emily’s eyes. His memories should be gone, but she put on a smile, “I’m sure you’ve had many special people in your life, Angel, and I’m sure in time you will reconnect with all of them here in Heaven.”

“Not too soon,” Angel said, “I hope, anyway.”

“Come!” Emily changed the topic to “Let’s start the festivities!”

Taking his hand into hers, Emily guided Angel into the concourse and a party only Heaven could put on—a party he enjoyed to the fullest with all earthly ties severed. For now.

Chapter 2: Summons To Court

Chapter Text

Much time had passed for Angel, who now stood on the balcony of his suite, watching angels of all ages play on the beach below. Secure in how safe it was in Heaven and that he had no worries for anything, he smiled contently. The past year in Heaven had been surreal; meeting his parents and being able to reconcile was the greatest feeling he had since arriving. He had also bumped into a few others he’d known in life, and each meeting brought him real joy, knowing they’d made it to this great beyond.

For his work life, he attended nearly a dozen court hearings. Most were extremely boring and long-winded, as they were mostly about revising protocols around Heaven’s cities and going over the repetitive tasks of making sure new souls were guided properly. He barely ever had an opinion that was different from the majority, and he wondered if he was really necessary. Why had Heaven given him such a position to begin with? He would have been content playing on the sandy shores with all the other angels, letting go and returning to the joys of being a child again.

As he watched the young ones play, a chime announced a guest at his door. He turned, leaned against the railing, and flicked his fingers so that the door would open. As the door swung wide, it revealed the High Seraphim, Sera. She greeted him with a warm smile and bright eyes. “Greetings, Kevin Angelus Collins.”

Angel bowed his head, “High Seraphim. To what do I owe the honor?” It was the first time they had shared correspondence since his arrival. They never spoke at the court hearings, as he gave his official opinions to a clerk when they finished. Her position did not afford her much free time outside of her duties, and she was rarely seen at any social gatherings.

“Sera is fine, Kevin Angelus Collins.” She offered a small head bow in return.

“Then please, just Angel.”

Sera smiled and entered into the suite, “Of course.”

“So, what brings you to my door?”

“We will be holding a court session tomorrow. The Morningstar’s daughter has sought an audience with us.”

“Lucifer’s child?” Angel asked, “For what purpose?”

“It is a most perplexing request. She wishes to provide evidence that sinners can be redeemed and find their place in heaven. It was a foolish endeavor, but I promised to hear out her claims. As it is your duty to attend all sessions, this one will be no different. Yet, I fear I will be wasting your time.”

“Sinners in Heaven?” Angel mused. “Unusual.”

“It is indeed.” Sera agreed. “We expect to convene at 6 p.m.”

“I will be there.”

“Then I shall leave you to continue your meditation. Be well, Angel.”

“Be well, Sera.”

With a kind nod, Sera turned and left the room. Angel closed the door with a wave of his hand, thinking, The Princess of Hell wants to show that sinners could enter heaven? Subconsciously, Angel reached up to touch the amulet he wore under his robe; a nagging feeling poked at the back of his mind. He turned and walked to the railing, closed his eyes, and began to meditate, intending to quell that annoying feeling.

Chapter 3: The Court Hearing

Chapter Text

The next day, fifteen minutes before the start of the proceedings, Angel arrived at the grounds outside of the courthouse, alighting among the citizens moving about along well-manicured paths. He folded his wings behind him and started towards the doors.

“Angel.” A familiar voice came from behind, and he turned to find Eryn, one of the most ancient Highborns of Heaven, smiling at him. She was dressed in her formal attire for the hearing. As a General of the Exorcist army, she wore a similar style to them, with the flair of a raven. She had adorned her wingtips with golden armor; a gold plate aligned her lithe form, accentuating her off-black clothing. She wore golden spikes on her shoulders. Her top was cut off just above her midriff, and her skirt opened at the front with a golden wired belt adorned with metal plates. Simple closed-toe shoes were the softest part of her outfit, over all, and she moved with an air of serenity that commanded respect. As she stepped up to Angel, she brushed away a few strands of her short, dark hair and beamed bright, golden eyes at him.

Angel bowed formally, “General Eryn of the Highborn. It is an honor and a pleasure to see you. Are you attending the session today?”

“It’s a pleasure to see you as well, High Angel…Angel.” Eryn always put a pause between the two when she formally addressed him, as a small tease to her friend. “It has been some time.” Eryn confirmed and gifted Angel a bow. Despite her station above him, she showed him a level of respect and fondness she reserved for very few. “And yes, don’t attend many, but I am curious about this one.”

“Compared to the ones I’ve attended since arriving in Heaven, this one is certainly ‘out of left field’”

Eryn gave Angel a questioning look. Angel chuckled, “It’s an old Earth idiom; it means something strange, unusual, or unconventional.”

“Ah.” Eryn nodded. “As I am Heaven-born, I do not know anything about Earthly customs. But this ‘out of left field’ is appropriate.”

“I suspect that it will be a short session. The Morningstar’s arguments do not seem to hold much weight.” Angel shrugged, “But I have never seen or met anyone from the lower realm. This will be educational, at least.”

“There isn’t much to know, anyway.” Eryn motioned for them to enter, and they walked side by side up the steps. “Hell is where sinners are sent. Their souls live in torment over the choices they made while alive. Lucifer’s actions condemning them for eternity.”

“You had a say in his fall, if I recall?”

“I did. I was given life as a vessel to pass judgment on all who went against the purpose of Heaven. I was granted a soul the same as any winner, so I could understand and show compassion in my decisions. I did not judge Lucifer lightly.”

“I don’t find passing judgment to be a task to be taken lightly or without some sort of regret.”

“I never regret, Angel; I only feel for those I have to judge. I know truth versus lie. No soul can lie to me without my knowing.”

Angel opened the door and stepped aside for Eryn to enter first, and he followed behind, a thought on his mind: “Did Lucifer lie?”

“For him, it wasn’t about lying, Angel. He questioned Heaven. He had ideas that could cause imbalance, and then he broke our laws, giving the apple to Eve and giving humanity freedom of choice, which let evil thrive on Earth.”

“I know the story, Eryn. I’m Earth-born, and while I do not have memory of my life, I do understand the concept of good and evil. I just don’t think it’s so black and white.”

“You’re blessed with experience and wisdom I can’t have as a being born of Heaven, Angel, but I have to do what I am tasked to do. Today, I hope I don’t have to pass judgment on Lucifer’s daughter as well.“

As they found themselves at the door to the courtroom, they turned to see the daughter of the Morningstar and her friend arrive at a different entrance. Unconsciously, Angel touched his amulet when he saw her. They watched as the young princess was ushered inside, and Angel felt a tug, wishing he could have conferred with her before the session to get a better understanding of her motives. However, it was time, and he turned to Eryn, “I hope not. I never liked those moments.”

Together, Angel and Eryn entered and took their spots along the floor to each side of the main entrance, behind and to the side of the area where the Morningstar’s daughter and her friend would sit. He looked up at the rows of angels and, seeing Emily, smiled warmly. He always felt a fondness for the smaller Seraphim, who had shown him Heaven on his arrival and helped him acclimate. Her bubbly nature was infectious, and it helped him during his transition from Earth’s memories. As he watched the pair be seated, the doors opened again, and The First Man, Adam, came waltzing in with an attitude that Angel always found irritating.

“Oh no, not him again!” The Morningstar groaned as Adam walked by, then took flight to land in his box alongside his lieutenant, Lute.

“What up, baby! Saw that you went to my manager. Low blow, Karen!”

Angel’s eyes glared at Adam. Eryn chuckled quietly, which only irritated Angel more. He turned his eyes upward as Sera began the proceedings.

“We are gathered here today to determine whether or not a soul in hell can be redeemed into the heavenly realm by means of this Hazbin Hotel. Princess Morningstar?”

Angel watched the Princess stand and begin to recite definitions on index cards, and he smiled humorously, This was going to be good. However, Adam came through as the jerk he was.

“Objection! Lame and unoriginal!”

“Certainly is.” Eryn quietly agreed.

“Thought you were not going to judge?” Angel hissed back.

Eryn just rolled her eyes.

“Sustained.” Sera agreed with Adam: “No further dictionary references, please.”

Angel watched the princess struggle through her cards, and he felt a sense of sympathy for her.

Adam, however, certainly did not. “If you have actual evidence, then show it already!”

“We have a patron right now who is making incredible progress.” The Princess stated.

“Who?” Adam challenged.

“Angel Dust!”

“Oh yeah, the p*rn demon. He’s totally worth being redeemed. Pfft!”

“This is her evidence?” Eryn quipped.

“Shh!” Angel glared at her, and she shrugged.

“Well, if you know so much, what do you think it takes to get into heaven?” The Princess challenged Adam’s critical take.

“Uhhhm,” Adam stumbled. “Wha-ah, well, uhhhhh.”

“Do you know?” Angel whispered to Eryn, who actually looked lost at the question herself.

“Is everything okay, Adam?” Sera asked with concern.

“Give me a f*cking minute, okay?” Adam turned away and started writing on a piece of paper he’d conjured up. After a moment of everyone looking at everyone else, Adam smirked and whisked the paper down to the women, with the princess’s friend catching the paper. She read from it.

“Act selfless. Don’t Steal. Stick it to the man.” She looked up at Adam and asked, “Are you f*cking serious?”

“Uh, yeah!” Adam shrugged, “Sure got me here, didn’t it?” With an uncomfortable laugh, he looked at Sera above him. “Right, Sera?”

“He was the first human soul in heaven.” Sera agreed.

“Well, I’m sure Angel Dust is doing all of those things right now.” The Princess declared.

“Then let’s f*ckin’ see it, bruh!” Adam snapped his fingers, and a sphere appeared with a view into hell.

“Your honors, may I present Exhibit A?” The Princess proudly announced.

Everyone turned to the sphere to watch it reveal a dark, opened-space dance club/bar in hell. At this point, Angel turned his full attention to the Princess to see her reactions to the scenes that unfolded before him. Her passion for those she was fighting for was quite honorable. He knew she was hell-borne, but the way she carried herself was as pure as any angel he’d ever met in Heaven. As the events transpired, Angel was growing more and more sure that when the time came to speak his turn, he would stand for the princess and her ideals. Next to him, however, Eryn seemed upset, as if these new ideas conflicted with her purpose. He trusted and admired Eryn’s position, but also knew that with her power, she could steer the course of Heaven’s decisions, and thus far, he felt she was less enthusiastic about the princess than he was. He turned his attention back to the court once the events had finished, showing Angel Dust had stood up to a weird moth-like man to protect one of his much smaller friends, with the princess arguing her point.

“See!? He did everything on your checklist. He was selfless! He stopped Niffty from stealing, and he stuck it to that moth man!”

“Uh.” Adam looked worried, “Well, uh.. Then why isn’t he here, then?”

“Yeah?” Emily spoke up for the first time and looked at Sera. “Why isn’t he here?”

The angels in attendance muttered among themselves, asking the same question, but Angel ignored them. He was fixated on the princess, and he couldn’t comprehend why.

“Wait!” The princess growled. “None of you know what gets someone into heaven?”

“This questioning stops now!” Sera commanded. “We know when a soul arrives. We know when to pass divine judgment. It is our job to ensure those souls are safe.”

“This isn’t right.” Angel shook his head. “Eryn, what grants a soul passage into Heaven?”

Eryn looked away.

Angel blinked. “You don’t know, either?”

With a shake of her head, Eryn turned and walked out the door, much to Angel’s surprise.

“But she was right, Sera!” Emily was saying as Angel followed Eryn out the door, and he heard Emily continue as the doors closed behind him, “She showed us a soul could improve—”

“Eryn!” Angel followed her into the lobby. She stopped, her hands wrapped around her arms.

“Angel. My job is to judge, to find liars, and to train our army. I never asked how souls got here. I only sought out the false prophets.”

“You’re born of Heaven, Eryn.” Angel countered, “And even you don’t know how this works?”

“No!” Eryn turned; her eyes hurt. “It wasn’t important. Besides, the princess’s pleas will fail anyway. Just let it go. We’re not meant to question Heaven’s will.”

“I was assigned to offer my counsel to the courts, Eryn. How can I do my job if I don’t have all the details? I work best with knowledge; you know this.”

“How Heaven works isn’t knowledge you need, Angel, and I don’t need it either. It doesn’t affect my job!”

“Yes. It does.” Angel counters. “You said it yourself. You have a heart. You have love. How can you pass judgment if you don’t know how it works?”

“Please, Angel. Stop!” Eryn’s sad eyes glistened. “I don’t want to question it. It’s not what I was made for!”

“You are more than what you were made for, Eryn. You said it yourself; you have a soul! Isn’t it possible that if we knew more about how Heaven worked, we’d be able to do our jobs even better?”

“Angel!” Eryn rose to her full height, her power flaring in her golden eyes. “This discussion ends now. I know what I am made for. I won’t question it. Not like Lucifer questioned Heaven. You best not do so, either. I don’t want to see you fall.”

“Knowledge does not lead to falling, Eryn.” Angel held up his hand to stop Eryn’s interruption. “But I won’t discuss this with you anymore. I see it’s hurting you, and you know that I’d never want that.”

Eryn’s power ebbed, and she sighed, “You never have, my friend. Please. Let this go. For me?”

“I can’t.” Angel shook his head. “At least, not until I speak to Sera. She asked me here for my opinion, and I mean to share it.”

“I understand.” Eryn turned to leave, but paused and turned her head. “I hope to see you again soon.”

“And you as well, my friend.” Angel watched Eryn fly off, and he turned to the doors. He heard the voices in the room bleed through the doors. Adam and Lute were bashing the princess, stating that Hell is forever, and it pissed Angel off. And for his afterlife, he couldn’t really understand why. A few moments later, the doors opened. Adam and Lute came out, laughing hysterically and fist-bumping each other. They passed by Angel, ignoring him—which was rude considering his station—but he didn’t care. He went through the doors and saw all the angel’s leaving, with Sera and Emily in a quiet argument on their pulpit. He watched Sera kiss Emily’s forehead and fly off. Emily stood there, her eyes cold and angry.

“Emmy?” Angel called out.

She turned, saw Angel, lifted into the air, and floated down, her lips quivering. Angel instinctively embraced her, and she melted into his embrace.

“Are you okay?”

“No.” Emily sniffed. “I can’t believe they execute human souls!”

“What?” Angel pulled back to look at Emily directly. “What did you say?”

“You didn’t hear?” Emily wiped her eyes.

“No. Eryn walked out during the argument about how souls get into Heaven. I had to make sure she was okay. What is this about human souls?”

“Adam goes to Hell once a year with an executioner army and kills sinners!”

“No.” Angel turned to the door. “The same army Eryn trains?”

“The very same.” Emily’s voice choked. “They execute a portion of the population, quelling its numbers, and worse, Sera knew about it! She says it’s required!”

Angel shook his head. “It must be for a good cause, right?”

“What’s good about killing souls?” Emily shouted.

“I’m sorry, Emmy!” Angel put a hand on her shoulder. “I’m trying to understand all of this.”

Emily shook her head. “I’m sorry, too; I didn’t mean to snap at you. I just can’t understand why Sera is allowing this! She’s letting souls suffer just to kill them again. And a second death destroys your soul forever! I saw how Angel Dust stood up for his friends! Souls can change!”

“For what it’s worth, I was going to speak my mind on behalf of—you said her name was Charlie?—the princess.”

“Mmmhmm.” Emily smiled softly. “I wish you’d had a chance to meet her. She’s wonderful. Her soul is pure for a hellborne. She deserves to be heard.”

“I got a sense from her that she fights for the ones she loves without limits. It felt kind of familiar, actually.”

Emily blinked. “From your life on Earth?”

“Yes.” Angel realized. “Yes, actually. I know my memories are stripped for good reason. As Sera said on my first day, the lack of earthly ties means true peace. I accept that.”

“It is for the best. I recall the day I showed you around. You felt it then, too. Something from your life must have meant a great deal for you to still have echoes.”

Angel lifted his hand to touch his amulet under his robes instinctively, “Perhaps. I love where I am now, so I am okay with the echoes staying as such. Still, I admire Charlie’s goals. I do hope that a resolution is found before next month.”

“Well.” Emily stepped back. “I do have some things to look into. I hope you might convince Sera with your opinions, Angel, but she’s stubborn. I worry so.”

“Find peace, my dear Emmy. Right will out.” Angel bowed, and Emily returned it before flying off. Angel watched her disappear, took a deep breath, unfolded his wings, and took off in search of Sera.

Chapter 4: Confronting Sera

Chapter Text

It did not take Angel long to track down Sera in her office. He landed outside her door and rang the chime. When she did not answer, he pressed the button again and again, until finally the door opened. Sera stood behind her desk and did not look happy to be disturbed.

“Angel,” she said curtly.

“Sera.” Angel returned the tone. Two could play this game. He stepped in, and the door closed behind him. “I was not afforded the opportunity to offer my opinion at the hearing today.”

“Things deteriorated rather quickly.” Sera turned to look out her window. “And I consider the matter closed.”

“Well, I don’t.” Angel walked to the desk. “I admit I missed the part about the executions. I had to leave the proceedings for a few minutes. I’d like an explanation.”

“You are not entitled to an explanation about things above your station, Angel.” Sera said, her back still turned to him.

“Bullsh*t!” Angel swore, and Sera turned harshly.

“Language, Mr. Collins.”

Sera’s use of his surname did not phase Angel. “I heard a lot worse in the court today, Seraphim, and your words are bullsh*t. You assigned me to this position to offer my honest opinion. How can I give it when you close the matter so abruptly?”

With a sigh, Sera moved her arm out in a ‘go ahead’ motion. Angel sighed; her dismissive action upset him, but he went on, “Why are we sending armies to Hell every year to kill souls that are already damned?”

“Hell’s numbers are expanding far greater, faster than ever before. We fear an uprising.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“It is what it is, Angel. Please. This isn’t done without careful consideration and a great deal of remorse, but it is what we do. Adam takes his army down once a year for an hour. It was never meant to get beyond myself, Adam, and his army.”

“Who decided on it to begin with?”

“Now that is above your station, Angel.” Sera firmly closed down further debate, saying, “You may present your official opinion.”

“My official opinion is that this whole ordeal is crap.” Angel growled. “Today, the princess showed us a soul can change. Why are we not giving them this chance?”

“That is also above your station. Your opinion is noted, Angel. You have fulfilled your obligation. I suggest you return to your suite, meditate, and let go of your feelings of today’s events.”

The power in Sera’s voice conveyed finality, and it was the kind of power that an angel of any station had to obey. “As the High Seraphim commands,” Angel nodded with a sigh. Angel turned but stopped short of the door, a move that surprised Sera, and he turned, “I just hope, for the sake of all of Heaven, that we don’t turn out to be worse than Hell.”

Angel slammed the door behind him as he left. Sera dropped into her seat. No angel had ever talked back like that. He held power within him. A power she couldn’t trace. Unconsciously, her eyes glanced upward. His arrival had been ordained and his position granted from a place above her. For the first time since Kevin Angelus Collins had arrived in heaven, Sera questioned if he was meant for something even greater and wondered if she would have to find a way to put a stop to it.

Chapter 5: I Remember

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An unusual amount of irritability ate at Angel as he flew back to his suite. Since his arrival in Heaven, everything had been serene and peaceful. He’d met family and old friends and been revealed in the festivities and feasts. Heaven was as it had been imagined—void of ill feelings or worry. Yet, the arrival of the princess and the subsequent exposure of the executions disrupted Angel’s calm. The High Seraphim’s command to purge his thoughts of the events took precedence, and he was compelled to comply. Touching down on his balcony directly, Angel let out a long sigh, and walked inside. On the wall next to the sliding doors to the balcony was a fountain of cascading water, which he took a long drink from. With his thirst quenched, Angel walked back out onto the balcony and leaned against it, peered down at the soft sandy beach that was now empty, and closed his eyes.

Angel called upon the techniques that were taught to him by others in the realm. He let his thoughts drift away, replaced by a calming emptiness. As he meditated, however, his fingers lifted to touch the amulet under his robes. Emily had been especially curious about it the day he’d arrived, and she asked him what it meant to him. Angel had no idea, and while Emily had let it go, she did say it was unnatural to bring anything from the living world to Heaven. Still, whenever he held it, he felt something warm in his soul and knew it held some kind of special meaning. Holding it always calmed him when his thoughts were riled. And riled they continued to be. Despite Sera’s decree, Angel could not shake the day’s events and was angry for not being able to speak his mind in court to show the princess she had someone in Heaven on her side, and now with the upcoming executions, he felt concern for the safety of the princess.

It was that clear thought that triggered something within the amulet. Eyes closed, Angel did not see the ball of pure light spark in the moonstone crystal and seep through his robes. It was only when the soft hum grew in volume that he opened his eyes to watch the ball of light flow upwards in front of him. Curious and perplexed, Angel felt as if he were in a frozen state as he watched the ball hover and waver for a few seconds before it exploded in a flash of bright white light. Angel threw his arm up in front of his face, closed his eyes to shield himself, and stumbled back. It took a few seconds of rapid blinking to get any sort of vision back, and when he did, sharp pain flared through his brain. Angel grabbed his head and dropped to one knee, groaning, but the pain ebbed as quickly as it came. With a deep breath, Angel pulled himself back up.

sh*t. I haven’t felt pain like that since—Angel’s eyes widened in surprise. All of his memories of his life flooded back to him. He remembered the day he died. He remembered his sister, Cassie! Angel spun around to look at his suite. He remembered his childhood. He remembered Amanda!

At the thought of Amanda, Angel choked up. He’d never seen her in Heaven, and the memory of her death brought forth a fresh wave of rage. Other memories returned to him in quick succession, each drowning out the previous revelation with new ones. But one specific memory took hold in his mind. Clutching his amulet, he remembered everything about her.

“Charlie!” The princess was Charlotte Morningstar—the love of his life! He looked at the amulet in the palm of his hand, recalling the night Charlie had given it to him. It was what had saved Charlie. It was a symbol of their love. He remembered the day she left him and the promise he’d made. Unfurling his wings, Angel launched into the air, turned towards the main city in the distance, and whispered his promise. “I’m coming home!”

Chapter 6: I Want In

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With speed he didn’t know he possessed, Angel flew into the city, startling other angels who flew about without a care in their after-lives. In fact, power he’d never tapped into before tingled under his skin, sharing its secrets with him as he flew fast and intently to a specific destination. As he flew, he correlated many of his memories, pulling up skills he once had on Earth—skills that he knew could be useful in the next few minutes as he quickly formulated a plan. Scanning the various structures, Angel found the one he wanted, landed on the roof, and ripped open the door that would lead down to the level he sought. With quick steps, Angel cleared the staircase and walked up to the door of The First Man Adam’s apartment, lifted his fist, and pounded—hard—which elicited an angry response from inside.

“Go Away!”

No, that wasn’t going to happen. Angel pounded on the door again. He heard a rustle of movement inside; footsteps were approaching, and the door was yanked open. Adam stood there with a drink in hand and looked at Angel angrily. Who the f*ck are you?”

Angel,” Angel said pointedly. No sense giving him any more of his name.

No sh*t, you’re an angel! I asked who you are, dumbass!”

In his mind, Angel rolled his eyes. He bit his tongue, quelling the various smart-ass remarks he was thinking, Angel is my name, Adam. That’s all you need to know.”

No sh*t?” Adam blinked, adding with a singular laugh, “f*cking lazy. What the f*ck do you want?”

It was time to find out just how rusty he was at strategy and deception. I attended the court hearing today and heard you’re going to Hell in a month for an execution. I want in.”

Adam stuttered and almost spilled the rest of the drink he’d been sipping on. “Excuse me? Wh—no! We don’t need you.”

Expected. But the amulet had not only returned his memories but had also given him insight into what had happened with the death of the exorcist. He didn’t understand how but didn’t question it. “Yes, you do. You know your exorcist army can be harmed. You’ve gone into all previous executions with reckless abandon.”

How the f*ck do you know that?”

I’m a High Angel, Adam.” Angel started with the truth and added a necessary lie: “I spoke to Sera. I understand why these executions take place, and I want to be a part of it.”

Having risen from her chair, Lute stepped over to the door, eyes cold. “f*ck off, prick! We got this!”

No.” Angel would not be deterred; he was going to get in on their plans. He looked directly at Lute and used her position against her. “You don’t. Morningstar and her motley crew will be training with the knowledge that you have weaknesses. They have a chance. You want them all dead, right? You need a strategy for this one, and that’s what I do. I can make sure that the plan goes off without a hitch.”

Adam scoffed dismissively, but Lute had a thoughtful look on her face. “And what do you have to offer?”

Gotcha! Angel thought. He had to hold a smile down.

What? Are you seriously considering this asshole?” Adam looked at Lute with shock.

Angel is right about one thing. One of our numbers was killed in the last execution, and it’s not going to harm us to have more weapons and a strategy next time.” Lute looked at Angel, a look of appraisal on her face. Angel immediately knew he’d have to work extra hard to convince her. “You’re a strategist, huh? Prove it. What do you have in mind?”

Lute stepped back to give Angel room to enter. Rolling his eyes in exasperation, Adam tossed the rest of his drink back in one swallow. This better be f*cking good!”

“I suggest you check your attitude at the door, Adam.” Angel quipped.

“Excuse me?” Adam glared back, unable to believe anyone would challenge him.

Ease off. Angel chastised himself. He had to calm down for his plan to work, and antagonizing Adam was not going to help his cause. “Look. Adam. I’m here to help. I get that you feel you’re too powerful to be challenged, but you sped up the execution by six months to set an example to the Princess, Hell, and Lucifer himself. Did you not?”

“f*ckin’ right, I did!” Adam said with malice. “They dared kill one of my girls, so we’re going to repay them back tenfold.”

“And that’s why I am here.” Angel tried placating. “You are the greatest warrior Heaven has ever seen, and that has never been questioned.”

“Damn right, I am!”

Adam’s pride was irritating, but Angel played on it: “But you’re also smart enough to know this is going to be different from all your other executions. Let me show you what I can do.”

“Fine.” Adam waved his hand dismissively.

Angel turned to Lute, “What is your current plan?”

Lute shrugged. “We open a portal in one month and dive bomb the hotel.”

“That’s it?” Angel shook his head.

“What else do we really need?”

“For one, you announced your attack, which was foolish. Since you’re sticking to your plan to attack in a month, that gives the princess time to organize. We should be doing the same.”

“We’re not allowed to go in early, per Sera’s orders. So, like I said, show us what you got.” Lute challenged.

“I’m guessing you have no blueprints for the hotel? What about intel on its inhabitants? Who among them are warriors?”

The silence that greeted him both annoyed and pleased Angel. They were not as smart about this as he feared. He knew what to do next.

“I see.” Angel nodded. “I will take care of collecting the intel on the hotel and the ones defending it. How large is your army currently?”

“Sixty strong. We can pull more if required.” Lute smirked.

“Do you at least know how many defend the hotel?”

“Seven that we’ve counted, not including the little egg minions.”

“Egg minions?” Angel actually laughed, and Lute and Adam joined in.

“I know, right!” Adam slapped his knee. “One of those idiots has actual egg creatures. It’s so f*cking absurd.”

“Are they dangerous?” Angel’s tone turned serious.

“Only if you’re afraid of salmonella.” Adam joked.

Angel held his temper and shared a smile instead.

Let’s bond a little, he thought and said aloud, “noted. I was never fond of eggs to begin with.” That got a couple of smiles, which he’d fished for. “I’ll include them in my plan. When is the next training session for your warriors?”

“In two days’ time,.” Lute answered.

“Alright. I will design an outline of attack patterns that will take into account the structure of the hotel, its surrounding land, and the inhabitants that will likely be defending it, including sentient eggs.”

It was the tone of Angel’s voice at the end that impressed Lute, and she spoke, “You really do take everything into account, even the absurd.”

“A winning strategy can’t afford to ignore any given detail, Lute, including the absurd. That’s how you play 4-D chess.”

“What?” Adam’s tone was serious and curious.

“It’s a term from Earth. The more you know about your opponent and get into their mindset, the more you can deduce what they’ll do and be ready to counter any move they make. By the time we reach Hell, I’ll have your army positioned like perfect chess pieces. My goal is the least number of casualties possible.”

“For us.” Lute glowered. “I want that c*nt Vaggie slain!”

“Vaggie?” Angel asked.

“She was once one of mine.” Adam sounded pissed. “But she got soft, so we dismissed her.” Adam gave an air quote with his free hand to emphasize what he meant.

“Should have killed her.” Lute sounded even more angry. “But we left her to rot in hell. Now she stands with the princess, and I am going to enjoy ripping her other eye out next time.

So, It was personal to Lute. He would have to look into this Vaggie character closely. If he could use Lute’s rage to his advantage, all the better. He was going to do everything he could to protect the woman he loved. For a moment, Angel was lost in all the memories that had returned to him and was startled by Adam’s voice.

“Hello? Are you listening?”

“Sorry. I was going over ideas.” Angel lied. “You were saying?”

“I said.” Lute shook her head. “We’re meeting in two days at the noon hour. Do you want me to call up the reserves?”

“Sixty exorcists against seven plus a variety of minions?” Angel mused. “No, sixty will suffice. Be advised, as the strategist, I will not be taking part in the actual battle.”

“What?” Adam gloated. “Not a fighter?”

“Oh.” Angel’s voice turned icy. “I can fight with the best of them.” He was an ex-Special Forces Ranger, after all. “But I can’t fight if I’m directing the troops.” Also, he would not risk being put in a position to attack anyone in the hotel.

“Meh.” Adam scoffed. “Still sounds like a puss* move.”

“Adam.” Lute cut it. “You trust me, and I’m impressed with Angel. Let’s cut him some slack.”

“Fine, bitch.” Adam shrugged and walked back over to his chair. “You all have fun making up D&D campaigns. Call me when it’s time to kill!”

It took all his control to keep his rage balled into his fists and not in his words or actions, but Angel took a deep breath and calmed himself. Lute looked at him, “Tell me, Angel. What is your stake in this?”

It was the one question he’d hoped to avoid. In his haste to meet with the pair, Angel had not had ample time to think out a solid explanation should he be asked that very question. The fact was, there was no real way around it, so he opted to parrot Sera. “Hell’s overpopulated, and it threatens Heaven. I am a High Angel, Lute, and I will defend Heaven’s best interests in any way I can. Had I known before today what you and Adam do, I would have been at your doorstep much earlier.”

Thankfully, Lute accepted the explanation: “Before the last execution, we had no idea we could be killed. I still don’t know what killed my sister. I hope you will find that out during your research.”

“Get me all the intel you have on the last attack, and I’ll look into it.”

“Done. I will have it for you at the training session.”

“Then until then.” Angel turned towards the door. “I shall leave you two and start my investigation.”

With haste, Angel exited the apartment, and when the door closed, he leaned against the nearby wall and wiped his eyes. He had fought to control his emotions in the room and came close to losing his temper more than once. While he would plan an attack to give Charlie and her friends as much advantage as he could, he hoped he could do it without revealing himself to her. He didn’t need her distracted by him when her world was in shambles around her.

A sudden thought entered his mind: If I had been given the chance to meet with Charlie before the hearing, would she have recognized me? So many questions burned in Angel’s head that he had to force them down to focus on the job ahead. With a push off the wall, Angel headed for the roof to go see Emily. Hopefully, she would not be with Sera and could guide him to the information he’d need.

Chapter 7: Eryn's Gift

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Two days later, Angel flew towards the training facility, located in an area that was void of all other Heavenly structures. As he soared downward towards the place, he marveled at how it looked like an old Roman Colosseum but spread out wide like two football fields. He saw sixty plus angels, adorned in black and white battle armor and masks, sparing with each other and attacking and dismantling straw dummies in the images of sinner demons. He also saw a few made up to look like Charlie and her friends, and he had to control his feelings, or he’d fear he’d be discovered.

While he had done as promised, collecting information on the hotel, the inhabitants, and working out a strategy that would look good to Lute, he had also meditated each night on the memories of his life with Charlie on Earth. Fresh was the love, and the pain of the six plus months they’d shared and his impatience to get back to her were hard to quell. As he neared the field, he eyed Lute sitting rather lazily on some stone steps alongside the field, and he altered his flight path to land a few feet away from her.

“Angel. I was starting to wonder if you’d show up. We’ve been training since the crack of dawn.”

“Please pardon my tardiness, Lute.” Angel chose to placate her and pulled out a roll of parchment from his robes. “It took a bit longer to secure the information. I have been up since 4 a.m. collecting the last pieces of intel I needed to formulate a battle plan.”

“Then I wave your tardiness.” Lute accepted the plans and unfolded them to look them over. “You have already been at this for most of the day.”

“Indeed.” Angel turned to watch the exorcists train. “What tactics are they working on now?”

“Quick, efficient strikes to the heart and head.” Lute eyed the plans, seeing the markings Angel had made overlaying the hotel. She pulled out other sheets with tactical information on Angel Dust, Husker, Niffty, and Alastor. She looked up and said, “I don’t see anything on Vaggie?”

“I assumed that with Vaggie, as one of Adam’s ex-exorcists, you would have more intimate knowledge of her than anything I could dig up.” Angel fibbed. He had found a lot of information on Vaggie, which had ended just prior to an execution event a few years earlier, which told him she was a highly valued member of the army and a close—very close—companion to Adam. He deduced that Lute’s anger wasn’t just about Vaggie’s betrayal, and he was going to let Lute’s personal grudge take point. For that to work, he decided not to pursue any more knowledge of Vaggie or why she was in Hell.

“That’s true.” Lute agreed, her voice laced with malice, thinking of Vaggie. “It seems you did a lot of research on all of them. This will come in handy.”

“As it should.” Angel kept his eyes on the action on the field. “Do you have the information on your last attack, five months ago, for me to go over?”

“Here.” Lute shifted a folder over to him: “It has a list of all the kills, how many each exorcist had—I scored best with 275—where they attacked in Hell, and most importantly, where we found the body of one of ours.”

“I’ll look over this tonight. It’ll let me see the fight patterns and adapt them to the mission ahead.”

Lute nodded as she flipped through the rest of the intel Angel had gathered on the hotel’s defenses.

He watched her from the side of his eye. He had tweaked much of the information to give Charlie’s friends any advantage he could. For one, Angel Dust had six arms, but two were usually tucked away. He scripted the exorcists to only know of the four. Husker was an ex-overlord with powers that would only manifest if needed. He did not add those pieces of information. Sir Pentious was a warrior and tactician, and Angel found him to be a kindred spirit. He was the one who created the egg minions, and Angel purposely left out just how many he had. If they could at least distract some of the exorcist army, it would be of help. Alastor was an enigma, however, and little was known about him other than that he had eliminated many overlords since he appeared in hell. His motivations were curious and unknown, and Angel found himself disliking the Radio Demon. Still, he appeared to be an ally to Charlie, so Angel tweaked his details as well. If all went as planned, Lute would think he’d provided all there was to know about each of the inhabitants, versus the bare bones version she got.

“I will go over these plans in detail with Adam. In the meantime, you should grab a battle mask.” Lute pointed to a table nearby and said, “Go join the training and get to know the army you’ll be commanding.”

“An excellent suggestion.” Angel nodded and excused himself to walk onto the field. He had planned to do so anyway. If he could get an idea of each of their characters, he would find out which ones were in this as commanded and which had real blood lust. He could then organize them into smaller groupings and split the bloodlust ones up so they would not gain up on any specific target. The ones who were there as ordered would fight as commanded, but only as much as was necessary. He might even be able to lay the seeds to give them the idea they could run if things got out of hand.

Stopping at the table set up with armor pieces, Angel hefted up a battle mask. It was pure black, yet etched in white lines for the eyes and mouth. These lines moved with the wearer’s own eyes and mouth when it was worn, with a view screen inside that read heat signatures, vitals, and other necessary information for battle. Angel had first learned about these shortly after his arrival in Heaven, when he met the exorcists for the first time. He found it intriguing that Heaven seemed to have a mechanical, technological, and industrial feel to it. It also gave him a sense of comfort, in a way, as he’d once relied on technology like this before. This will come in handy to keep me disguised on the day of the attack, so I don’t distract Charlie during the fight. Setting the mask back on the table, Angel turned and stepped into the mass of sparing angels.

He then heard a voice come from behind one of the piles of straw sinners and cursed himself for actually forgetting one key problem he may have had to face. Steeling himself, Angel turned and greeted Eryn, who came out from behind the pile with a couple of dummies. “Angel. Lute told me you’d be here today. I’m surprised. Why the change of heart?”

A lie would be detected, but Angel was already prepared with a counter, one that he’d been thinking of from the moment Emily told him about the executions. He controlled his voice to be light and curious. “Did you know your army was sent to Hell every year to execute sinners?”

Eryn sat one straw dummy up on a pole and shook her head. “No. I did not. I was just told to train them the same as I’d been doing for centuries. The only change over the last few years was that the training would take place at almost the same time every year for six weeks. It’s always just basic exercises. To be prepared as any army should.”

He knew Eryn could not lie, and he was thankful for her ignorance. In hopes of distracting her, he kept up his interrogation. “Have these dummies always looked like sinners? Would that not have been curious?”

“Oh. I know the training over the centuries was always about defending Heaven, and Hell is the only place that could reach here.” Eryn shrugged. “But until Lute told me to be prepared to train specifically for an attack on Hell, I always assumed it was just basic prep.”

She stopped her preparation of the dummy and looked sideways at Angel. “You said you found the Morningstar’s ideas honorable. I ask again, why the change of heart? Why help us train? Help Adam and Lute plan an attack?”

“We lost an exorcist angel in the last attack. We don’t know how it happened. Adam and Lute attack each year with no regard to the safety of their exorcist army, and one of ours died because of it. I offered my services to prevent as many casualties as I could.” Angel nixed, specifying whose deaths he was trying to prevent.

Thankfully, the narrow truth seemed to work. Eryn nodded. “Very noble, my friend. I admit I was very curious. You seemed kind of fond of Lucifer’s daughter.”

“I am fond of her and her ideals.” Angel nodded, speaking as truthfully as he could without saying too much. “My plan includes sparing her life, if it is possible.”

“I see. What about Adam and Lute? They seem dedicated to her destruction.”

“The destruction of her hotel. If they threaten to harm the Morningstar, it could bring upon Lucifer’s wrath. I will impart my explicit wisdom upon them that it would not be a wise move if they wish for this attack to succeed in the hotel’s end.” There was no lie in his statement. The contract between Lucifer and Hell specified that Lucifer would not interfere in their attacks, and so long as they did not purposely try to kill the Morningstar girl, they had free will over the rest of Hell.

“That is true. So, you will lead the exorcist army in the best manner to complete the task you design?”

“I have a very specific plan of attack in mind, my friend, one that should produce the correct results.”

His answer was unusual. She was about to ask a very specific question, but Angel spoke first. “Do you trust me?”

Eryn was caught off guard and answered honestly, “Implicitly.”

“Then I ask you two favors.”

“Which are?”

“One, don’t ask me anything you do not want an answer to. And second, put your faith in my plan.”

The first favor startled her. It meant he was asking her to choose her words carefully. He wanted to keep some things close to himself. She chose to let him. She also had faith in his skills.

“You have my word. But you are going to be leading my trainees in battle. Are you armed?”

“No, and I don’t need to be. I will be commanding from the rear of the battle front. I can’t command the units if I am in the heat of the battle myself.”

“I cannot allow you to lead my army if you are not prepared to fight by their side. Being armed means being prepared for anything. You, of all people, should know this.”

Angel sighed and nodded his head. “I was trained in projectile weapons when I was alive. Guns and such. I have some skill with knives and solid hand-to-hand combat training, but we don’t have or use those kinds of things up here. Here it’s swords, axes, shields, and blades. I am not comfortable with them.”

“Maybe not with the ones we’ve forged.” Eryn smiled, stepped up to Angel, and looked up over his head. “May I see your halo?”

Angel blinked. “My halo?”

“Mmmhmm.” Eryn held her hands out. “Will you trust me?”

Angel reached up and touched his halo, felt the solid steel of the ring, and marveled, “I didn’t know it had mass. I always thought it was just energy, and it moved as needed with me.”

“All the time you’ve been in heaven, you never touched your halo?” Eryn smirked.

“I don’t feel anything above my head, so I never put thought into it.” Angel admitted.

“Our halos are made of angelic steel,” Eryn explained. “Yes, ethereal magic suspends them over us, but they are just as physical as any of our weapons.”

“Amazing.” Angel’s eyes looked up, seeing the glow above his head from the halo’s energy.

“I have a gift I wish to give you, if you will allow me to have your halo for a moment?”

“Of course.” Angel pulled at the ring, and its effortlessness came down in his hands in front of him. For the first time, he really looked at his own halo. A ring with two spikes, one facing up and the other down, floated in the center, with a small silver ball hovering between the spikes. There was little weight to it, but what weight there was felt really solid in his grip.

He held it out to Eryn, who gently took it into her hands. He watched her eyes close and the aura around her body pulse. For a full minute, Eryn hummed to herself as her hands circled Angel’s halo. When she opened her eyes, she smiled and handed the halo back. “Place it back on your head.”

Angel obliged her command, and he felt it sort of snap into place above his head. However, now there was a sense of something above him. He could feel its position and the comfortable weight of its existence. He looked at Eryn curiously.

“Now. What I want you to do is look over at the pile of weapons we use.”

He followed her direction.

She continued, “See that sword?”

“Mmmhmm.”

“Imagine it. Imagine its shape: its form, the length, and the hilt.”

“Okay?”

“Now, reach up and grab the top spike of your halo and imagine it’s that sword.”

It didn’t make sense, but he did as she asked and reached up, gripped the top spike, which felt slimmer with a semi-rough texture, and pulled the halo over and down. As he did, the bottom spike stretched until it was as long and thin as the sword on the ground. He flicked his wrist out and now held onto a warm, sun-yellow sword that pulsed with angelic energy. His movements caught the attention of the training exorcists, and they all came running over, awed by what he’d just done. Angel hefted the sword, which felt as light as a feather but as solid as any steel sword in his hand.

“Whoah!” Some of the exorcist angels said their eyes followed the sword as Angel practiced swinging it.

“This is amazing!” Angel felt genuine excitement. “How did you do this?”

“I imbued it with a bit of my energy.”

Angel turned in surprise. “You what?”

“I gifted you a piece of me, Angel, into your halo so you may imagine any weapon you may need, and it will become such. Try a shield.”

Angel felt a tug of emotion for Eryn. Despite the fact that she knew something was up with his plan, she had given him something of herself to protect him. For a moment, Angel almost told her everything. But for now, he did as she asked and closed his eyes, pulling the image of one of the shields on the ground into his mind’s eye. More whoahs from the angels pulled his eyes open. Now, gripped in his hand, was a nearly six-foot-long handle inside a shield of pure golden energy, the halo having shaped itself into an elliptical ring around the handle.

“I can’t believe this.” Angel then imagined an axe, and the halo changed to oblige his imagination. Next, he tried something unusual and altered the halo into a sort of Frisbee blade. With a twist of his wrist, he flung the blade, and it spun at incredible speeds outward and sliced through eleven dummies in a row. So clean were the cuts that the heads didn’t fall off immediately, but when they did, the cuts were smooth on all the straw. The blade came racing back at a blurred speed of force. Flinching, Angel subconsciously caught it, with the blade smacking against his palm, the energy acting as a barrier of protection. He looked at his palm, surprised.

“You cannot suffer harm from your own halo, nor can others use it against you.” Eryn answered his unasked question. “Once it reaches you, it will alter its form for you to have a safe grip. However, anyone else who tries will be severely cut. Unless you purposely give them your blessing.”

The exorcists whooped in collective cheers at the display, and they all flooded in around Angel, asking to touch the halo and feel its power. He gave his blessing for them to touch the blade as he looked to Eryn and nodded a silent thank you.

“Practice with it, Angel, so that you will be prepared for whatever you have to face.” Eryn took a few steps back, “Now, since you are the commander of my troops, I will leave it to you to train them for the upcoming battle in the manner you think is best.” Her expression betrayed her, and he knew she knew—something. “I think it is best if I excuse myself from any future sessions until the mission has been completed.”

Angel bowed his head to Eryn. He would owe her a debt for the rest of his existence. He watched her fly off and turned his attention to the troops. “Okay, listen up.” As one, the angels stood at attention. “I am here to train you to fight in ways you’ve not experienced before. Since one of ours was killed in the last attack, we have to be prepared. You will follow my orders and pay close attention to my tactics. Understood?”

“Yes, Sir!” All sixty angels spoke as one. Angel nodded. He had a lot of work to do, and he only had about twenty-five days to get this army prepared. Prepared—that is—to fail.

Flicking his wrist, Angel watched the Frisbee blade morph into his sword, and he held it to his side and outward. “Then, let’s begin!”

Chapter 8: Reunited

Chapter Text

As Hell’s version of dusk took hold over the realm about one month later, the attack on the hotel began. At first, Charlie’s cannibal army repelled the attacks well, but the truth was, it was not going well for Charlie and her friends. Adam and the exorcists had successfully penetrated the hotel’s magical defenses, conjured up by the Radio Demon, Alastor, and they swarmed the hotel in droves. Charlie, leading the charge, grimaced as she fended off each exorcist with her shield, instinctively shouting, “Sorry! Sorry! Sorry!”

Vaggie admonished her for going easy on their opponents, and Charlie responded by blasting a half dozen Exorcists to dust with Hellfire from her fingers. It was strange, though, how they had just come in on a pattern that was so easy to defend. Vaggie had explained what Carmilla Carmine had taught her about the Angelic Exorcists not fearing death, so they were not overly concerned with armor or tactics. Still, Charlie felt that they were unnecessarily opening themselves up with each attack, allowing her and her friends to easily reflect their assault. In fact, the exorcists were falling faster, and seemingly easier, than she had anticipated.

It was in that very moment that she noticed something that she’d missed before: an exorcist that was staying in reserve, far in the air, directing the other exorcist’s attacks, sending them down in small, manageable ways in patterns that felt oddly familiar to her, allowing for her and her friends to easily counter. Charlie barely had time to comprehend what all this meant and turned her attention to covering her lover’s back. A blast knocked her and Vaggie down. Charlie was shocked to see that it had come from Adam, who had been stuck on the outside of the magical shield.

“But,” Charlie turned to Vaggie, worried, “Alastor was supposed to handle him!”

***

In the sky above, Angel—adorned in the black and white battle robes of the Exorcist Army, to which he’d added red trim on his own, and wearing the heavy mask with an electronic screen acting as his eyes—hovered separately from Adam and Lute, directing the exorcists’ attacks. Upon their arrival, he’d discovered that Charlie had managed to secure a much larger army than he’d been expecting. Cannibals attacked without mercy and seemingly were organized and prepared with angelic weapons. It took all of maybe three minutes for Angel to scrutinize their patterns, count their masses, and reorganize the exorcist army in such a way to give the same appearance of advantage as he’d planned with just the seven bodies the hotel had protecting it.

Angel noticed Charlie looking in his direction at one point, and his heart skipped a beat. He was concerned about her safety as she fought the exorcists, but he knew her well and what she was capable of if she let herself go. He also knew he was in the best position to help her at the moment. Angel watched as Adam destroyed a large attack ship that came from the side of the hotel and realized that one of Charlie’s friends had fallen. Angel knew what that meant: a possible shift in the balance of the battle that could result in the death of the Princess of Hell.

Immediately, he knew his next action had to be to thin out the attacks and leave Adam alone and hopefully vulnerable. “Exorcists! Flank the cannibals on the outskirts; do not let them escape!”

“Yes, sir!” Said most, but a couple shouted, “But? Adam!”

“He has the hellspawn’s attention! This is what he wants; leave it to him!”

“Yes, sir!”

The rest joined their sisters, flying to the edge of the battle, and now all he had to worry about was Adam and Lute. He knew Lute would go after Vaggie, having endured her for days on end as she cursed the fallen angel. Now he just had to figure out how to save Charlie. He had two options to consider. He could directly attack Adam himself and have all the exorcists turn on him. This was the most direct option, but extremely risky. Adam was more powerful than he was, and he could not count on Charlie or her army to come to his aid without revealing himself to her. The other option was less reliable, but would reap a greater reward if successful. If he failed with the second option, however, it could attract Adam’s attention, and he’d lose the element of surprise.

As he grappled with his choices, he watched Charlie change into her demon form and fly towards Adam on the back of one of her dragons. He felt a sudden tug of memory at seeing her change and clutched the amulet under his robes to steady himself. Trusting in the power that swelled inside him, Angel chose option two and concentrated, sending out a blast of magic. He hoped it would not be noticed by Adam or Lute, but by the one to whom he directed his call. His eyes shifted quickly and nervously, watching the exorcist angels follow his strategy. He grieved for the deaths he was helping to cause, both demons and angels alike. He knew this was what happened in war and had never liked it, but he accepted his role for Charlie.

Floating subtly closer to the action while maintaining the air of being the strategist he was assigned to be, Angel watched in fear as Adam took Charlie by the throat. Thinking option two had failed, he was about to make a break for her when Lucifer finally appeared, just as he’d hoped. A single punch sent Adam crashing into a skylight, but he was quick to recover and went after Lucifer.

For the next couple of minutes, Lucifer trounced Adam with a mix of magic and pure physical dominance. Lucifer ducked a powerful blast from Adam, and it ripped through the hotel, splitting it in half down the center, sending Charlie falling through the shattering debris.

“Charlie!” All thought evaporated, and Angel dove as fast as his wings would carry him, again feeling the speed he had only once felt when he flew to Adam’s apartment. Only her form existed in frozen time and space between the debris and screams of her friends down below. Passing by her in a blur, Angel turned his body and caught her less than fifty feet before she would have crashed into the jumbled mess of steel, wood, and glass strewn along the ground.

***

The fear of falling had pulled a shrill scream from Charlie, which left her without voice or understanding of why her fall had stopped as gently as it had. Her demon eyes fell upon the Exorcist Angel, in which she found herself resting in his arms, and panic took over. “Let me go!”

“Of course. Shall I drop you? Or set you down safely?” He asked in a gentle voice.

Charlie blinked at the gentleness in his voice and the strangeness of his question. She also swore she’d heard that voice before, somewhere. All that and his gentle, protective embrace just confused her more. With her trident gone and her wits frayed from the fall, she chose to respond just as gently, “Safely, please.”

She felt him lower to the ground gracefully, and he opened his arms for her to set her cloven feet down among the debris. She stepped back, appraising him. He not only sounded familiar, but his shape triggered a shadow of a memory. “Who are you?”

“YOU!” A venomous shout came from above and behind Charlie, and she spun to see Adam flying down at great speed, his guitar sword drawn and aimed at her. But it was not Charlie that Adam seemed focused on. Before Charlie could react, she saw the exorcist who saved her step in front of her and pull his halo off his head. Her eyes grew wide as she watched the halo shift its form to become a sword, glowing loud with energy, and as Adam arrived and swung his weapon, the exorcist angel blocked it with his own sword. The connection created a blast of energy that sent Charlie flying backward.

“AHHH!” Charlie screamed, suddenly in the air for the second time in moments, but it didn’t last as she fell into the arms of her father, Lucifer. She looked up at him as he smiled, “I got ya.”

They both turned their attention as the exorcist angel parried Adam’s swings. “Who is he, dad?”

Charlie swore she saw a smile on her dad’s face as he answered, “Someone keeping a promise.” Charlie blinked and turned her attention fully to the new battle taking place.

***

Angel grimaced as Adam’s swings came down with such force that they rattled his bones with each deflection, and the pain he’d forgotten in life returned to him in spades.

“You f*cking traitor!” Adam screamed, “I knew there was something off about you!”

“You’re such a moron, Adam.” Angel ducked a swing and came back with his own, which Adam swiped away with ease: “Manipulating you and your army was too easy.”

“Ass-wipe! I’m going to split you in half and finish off those losers once and for all.”

“Try it, bitch!” Angel knew he was in over his head. Adam was much more powerful than he was, but the need to protect Charlie pushed self-preservation off the cliff. He would die for her, as many times as necessary. Adam came down with a brutal swing, intent on delivering his promise. Angel twisted the hilt of his sword, and it pulsed golden energy as it expanded into a giant shield, almost the full length of his 6’4 frame, and it took the brunt of impact. The kinetic force of the collision sent Adam flying backwards in surprise, while the shield fell down over Angel, covering him from toes to nose. His eyes peered up as Adam corrected himself far in the air. Swiftly, Angel imagined the Frisbee blade, and the shield shrunk down to fit into his grip. Rolling to his feet, Angel twisted his body around a full 360° and thrust his hand up and out, releasing the blade.

Adam shouted and tried to duck, but the blade sliced through his robes, clipping his thigh. He grabbed at the wound as he watched the blade return to Angel. Adam winced, real pain shooting up his leg. “The f*ck! That hurt!”

As intended, sh*thead. Angel watched Adam begin to descend, albeit slower than before, as it seemed he was now sizing up Angel rather than blindly attacking. Eyes darting all over, around, and behind Adam, Angel saw a possible means of attack. Rushing forward as Adam got closer, Angel ran under him and saw Adam follow with his eyes. Imaging an axe, Angel felt his blade change in his hand, and a long, sturdy handle grew long with a crescent blade adorned at the peak. Swinging with all his strength, Angel drove the sharp edge of the axe into a still-standing pillar of the hotel that rose some forty feet above and behind Adam. The blow did what he’d hoped his angelic strength would allow, and he severed it at the angle he’d gone for. The pillar broke free and came tumbling down right above Adam.

“Oh, hell no!” Adam shouted and attempted to avoid the impact, but the pillar knocked his sword out of his hand. The distraction worked. The moment Adam escaped the pillar’s fall to the ground, he felt one of his wings sliced with the Frisbee blade Angel had aimed with. With a blur, Adam caught the blade, screamed as it cut into his palm, and threw it violently away. Adam’s masked face glitched, and he dove for Angel with incoherent rage.

sh*t! Angel poked the injured bear, and now, defenseless without his halo, he would meet his fate at the hands of the First Man himself. He heard Charlie scream, “No!” and for a split moment, Angel could feel at peace that as death came to greet him, the love of his life cared for him, even though she would never know his identity. Angel closed his eyes, ready.

“Oh, wait! What the f*ck!?”

Adam’s shocked voice spurred Angel to open his eyes. He looked up to see Lucifer with Charlie in his arms. They’d flown up and in the way to protect him. He saw Charlie’s arm had grown in length, covered in a much darker shade of red along her forearm, with bright red energy veins glowing. Angel smiled and remembered the last time he saw her do that. Together with her dad, they whipped around and threw Adam viciously into the ground, his impact forming a crater.

Lucifer, with Charlie in his arms, lowered towards the pit, and Lucifer’s full rage was on display to Angel for the first time as he shouted at Adam, “You come at me and my daughter?” Lucifer sat Charlie down and flew into the pit, striking Adam repeatedly in the face. “Don’t forget! You’re in my house, bitch!”

Lucifer was about to deal the killing blow when Charlie stopped him. “Whoa, whoa, Dad. He’s had enough.”

Angel, sitting in the rubble, drained, heard her and shook his head, amused. “Never one to want to kill. That’s my girl.”

“Huh?” Lucifer’s eyes changed, and he nodded. “Alright.” He flew out of the crater, staring darkly at Adam. “How’s mercy taste, you little bitch?”

Adam was having none of it. He crawled out of the crater, screaming at them, gloating that he was The Man, The First, and they all should be worshiping him, when he was suddenly stabbed in the back by Niffty, much to the gasps of shock from everyone.

“Niffty!” Charlie exclaimed in surprise.

Niffty looked at the group for a split second before going to town on Adam’s back with her angelic knife. “Stab! Stab, stab!” followed by manic laughter and a morbidly delightful “Blood!” before jumping off to join her friends, who gave her a bit of space.

“NO!” Lute, who’d been battling with Vaggie during the whole ordeal, had watched the final moments, and she cried out as she rushed to her fallen leader’s side, “Sir! Sir! Stay with me, Sir! ADAM!”

But Adam was dead, and Lucifer ordered Lute to take her army and leave. In anger and defeat, Lute commanded her exorcist army to return to Heaven.

With the portal closing above him, Angel saw the last door to Heaven close, leaving him forever in exile in Hell. He felt a pang in his heart. Goodbye Emily, goodbye Eryn. Rising to his feet, Angel ripped his battle mask off, which had shrouded his features from Charlie, and let it drop to the ground with a thud, its mechanisms inside glitching as it landed. He heard a sound and saw his halo spin towards him from the sky. He caught it smoothly and placed it back on top of his head. Now, though he’d just faced off against the First Man of Heaven and put himself in harm’s way to protect Charlie, none of those moments equaled the fear he felt now. He was going to show his face to Charlie for the first time since that night by the river.

He heard Lucifer, awkwardly trying to lighten the mood, ask, “So, who’s up for pancakes?”

Angel thought to himself, Pancakes, again? Well, anyway, here goes nothing. and moved to a position to be seen and presented himself to the group, answering in the way of greeting, “Pancakes sound good.”

He watched Charlie’s friends turn fast, weapons raised and ready to strike, but Lucifer was quick to hold a hand up to stop their assault. He smiled warmly at Angel in recognition and turned slightly when he heard his daughter’s voice, shocked and unsure.

“Angel!?” Charlie’s voice cracked as she took a single step forward.

“Of course, it’s an angel.” Husk quipped in annoyance and juggled his exploding dice, ready to attack.

“Charlie!” Angel’s voice broke equally, with the warmest, most loving smile on his face anyone ever saw. “You look just like I remember you. Horns, tail, and all.”

Vaggie blinked in confusion. Her heart stuttered a beat, and her throat tightened as Charlie ran to the exorcist. She couldn’t understand why Charlie grabbed the exorcist around the waist in a way a long-lost lover would.

Angel? Is it really you? You’re the exorcist that saved me?” Charlie’s eyes glistened, wide and unbelieving. She gripped him tightly, shaking, afraid to let go, as if he were nothing but an illusion. He was back in her arms, and she couldn’t believe it was possible.

“Yes, Charlie, it’s me. I’m home!”

The crowd gasped in shock as he bent and kissed Charlie, who not only accepted it but returned it passionately. They turned as one when Vaggie took a painful step forward. Charlie?” Vaggie’s heart was shattered at the sight of her girlfriend kissing the stranger.

Charlie broke the kiss with a gasp and turned towards Vaggie. She saw the devastated look of betrayal on Vaggie’s face and felt her own heart break.

“Angel.” Lucifer stepped up and offered his hand in greeting, “Thank you for what you did. It is very good to see you again.”

Angel saw Charlie staring sadly at Vaggie. He opened his arms for her to step away, which she quickly did, giving him a sad smile. Angel turned to Lucifer and took his hand. “You too, sir. It’s been a long time.”

That it has. But not as long as I expected. Died young, I see.” Lucifer remarked, his eyes soft.

“Yes.” Angel didn’t offer any details, as he side-eyed Charlie going over to Vaggie, having realized he may have caused a serious issue, but he continued to Lucifer, “I worked to save as many lives as I could, even though I knew it may mean going to Heaven when I died and never seeing Charlie again. I don’t regret any of it, but—”

Lucifer nodded, “But you didn’t know things had changed.”

No.” Angel’s face was flushed with disgrace, “And I am such an idiot for assuming she would be the same Charlie that I lost.”

She’s more than that now, but you can’t blame yourself,” Lucifer said, placing a hand on Angel’s shoulder, “I know how much you loved my daughter, and I haven’t forgotten how you saved and protected her. Then, and now. So, I am not going to get involved in how you all work this out. Just know that if you choose to stay here in Hell, you’ll have a spot in my administration if you want it.”

Thank you, Sir, “Angel said with a sad sigh, “considering what I’ve done—betraying Heaven and Charlie—I’ve earned my place in exile.”

“No, “Lucifer admonished, “When she saw you, everything came back to her, and she reacted just as I’d expected she would. I don’t blame her, and with time, I don’t think Vaggie will either.”

Angel looked over towards Charlie and Vaggie, who were now out of earshot of everyone, and Charlie’s body language clearly told everyone she was trying to explain things. The others turned towards Angel and Lucifer, and they did not look happy at all.

Angel Dust was the first to speak up, “Okay buddy, who the f*ck are you?”

Cherri Bomb, on the other hand, just saw another Exorcist and nudged Niffty, “Niffty? Angel!” She pointed at Angel.

Niffty swiftly ran forward, knife in hand, “Stab! Stab!”

“STOP!” Lucifer shouted, his eyes pure red, causing everyone to freeze. He looked pointedly at Niffty, shaking his head with authority, “He is not to be harmed!”

Niffty pouted but obeyed and stepped back to join the group.

Husker shook his head, outraged. “But he kissed Charlie!”

Yeah, he just grabbed her like some cheap pus—.” Angel Dust stopped himself abruptly, cursing inside that he almost insulted Charlie, and corrected with “Like he owned her!”

And you’re defending him?” Cherri Bomb asked incredulously, her temper flaring.

Lucifer silenced their arguments with a single look. His gaze softened as he saw Charlie walk back to the group, and they all gathered around her to show their support. Charlie conveyed her gratitude with her eyes and then turned towards Angel, biting her lip. “Angel, I’m so sorry. I should have—”

Angel stepped forward, ignored the group’s glares, and embraced Charlie. She melted in his arms, “No, Charlie. I’m sorry! I assumed that once I found you, you would be just as I last saw you. I didn’t let myself think you’d be with anyone else. I was so selfish.”

Charlie gazed up at Angel’s distressed expression, her eyes welling up with tears. “It’s not your fault,” she assured him. “I lost control when I saw you; all those memories came flooding back so fast that I couldn’t see anything else except for all we’d shared.” Charlie gave her father a look that no one but them understood. “And I know why I lost them.”

If I’d known about Vaggie—” Angel paused and cursed himself. He should have listened to Lute more carefully and asked all the questions he normally would have to get into the heads of his opponents. Lute bitched a lot, but it was repetitive, and he tuned her out quickly. If he hadn’t, he may have been able to pick up cues on who she was to Charlie. He wiped a few tears away from Charlie’s cheek. “What did you tell her?”

“Nothing really; I barely could get out how sorry I was. That you were from my past, long ago.” Charlie sniffed, “She said she needed to be alone and walked away into the ruins.”

Angel looked over Charlie’s head to the destroyed hotel, thinking. He steeled himself and said, “We have to tell her everything.” He looked down at her, “And Charlie? If I’d known, I would not have shown myself to you in this way. I am so sorry for causing you strife.”

Charlie tightened her grip around Angel, “I am so-so happy to see you. I am so-so glad you are here, now!” She broke the grip and took a step back. “Now that I remember everything, I know in my heart I never-ever stopped loving you, Kevin.” Those words came out choked, but she cleared her throat and adamantly spoke the next ones: “But I am in love with Vaggie now. I can’t lose her!”

You won’t!” Angel swore, “We tell her the truth—all of it! What happened to you and to us. Your hotel is about forgiveness and redemption, right?”

Charlie turned to the ruins with sad eyes, “What’s left of it, yes.”

“Then this time, it’s you and I who need to ask for forgiveness, to redeem ourselves in the eyes of your girlfriend and your friends.”

Charlie agreed to this and turned to her friends. “I know you’re all confused, and I will explain everything, I promise you. But right now, I need to focus on Vaggie. I need her to listen!”

“She will, “Lucifer promised, “I’ll go and have a little chat with her.”

“Dad?”

“You said you wouldn’t interfere,” Angel reminded him.

“Don’t worry. Trust me.” Lucifer winked before disappearing in a puff of sulfur.

Charlie shivered, and Angel put his hand on her shoulder. The group embraced Charlie, “We believe in you, Charlie. We trust you.” Angel Dust said reassuringly.

As they walked towards the ruins of their home, they found Charlie’s cat, KeeKee, shaking dust off itself and meowing softly. Charlie picked her up and held her close. She watched Angel Dust reunite with his pig, Fat Nuggets, and smiled briefly before her gaze fell on the fallen banner of Sir Pentious’s first week in the hotel. Charlie choked, “He sacrificed himself for us.”

“I know,” Angel sighed. “I focused on planning a strategy that would give you the advantage, but Adam wasn’t forthcoming with details about your friends. He didn’t consider them a threat, so I had to strategize with the intel I’d been given.”

“4-D chess,” Charlie said, remembering the past as she stroked the kitty with a wistful smile. “He reminds me of you, Angel.”

“How so?” Cherri Bomb asked, feeling a personal sense of loss for Sir Pentious.

Charlie sighed, “It will all make sense, I promise. I just hope Vaggie will let me explain.”

***

Vaggie sat on the jagged ruins of the hotel, crying. She didn’t notice Lucifer until he placed a hand on her shoulder. She looked up, hoping it was Charlie, but sighed softly upon seeing it was her father.

“I’m going to say something, and you will listen to me and not interrupt. Are we clear?” Lucifer spoke in a serious tone. Vaggie nodded with pursed lips, and Lucifer continued, “You stood by and supported Charlie through everything, for her dreams, and you did it out of love. Love has many meanings, Vaggie. Among them is giving the one you love a chance to prove themselves. It’s your duty, as her lover, to listen to her and let her explain herself. But I will give you a bit of a spoiler to help your heart decide.”

Vaggie tilted her head, confused, staying silent as commanded. Lucifer looked over her shoulder in the direction of the group, fondness in his voice, “If it wasn’t for that man, Charlie might not be here today.”

“Sir?” Vaggie asked, puzzled.

Lucifer held his hand out. “It’s one hell of a story, if you’ll pardon a cheap pun. Come.”

With a single nod, Vaggie took his hand to help her stand. Her legs felt weak, but her will was strong, and she let Lucifer guide her back to the others.

***

Vaggie heard Charlie’s fearful wish as she stepped from the ruins. “I will. You gave me a chance after you learned about my past. I can do no less for you.” Vaggie’s voice was firm and resolute, all trace of feeling betrayed gone.

Charlie ran to Vaggie, the kitty squirming away as she embraced her girlfriend tightly. “I love you, Vaggie, so-so much. I’m so sorry I hurt you!”

Vaggie mussed Charlie’s hair, “I love you, too, Charlie,” then looked to Angel, “Lucifer told me that if it wasn’t for you, Charlie might not even be here today. For that alone, you get my full attention.” She gave Charlie an adoring look, ”And my gratitude.”

Curious looks covered the collective faces of Charlie’s friends, and Angel bowed his head respectfully, “Thank you, Vaggie. I owe you an explanation and a thousand apologies. But it occurs to me that there is a lot of rebuilding to be done. Trust. Understanding…” He paused as he looked around the ruins, “A hotel?”

Charlie looked up, taking in the ruins in full, and swallowed hard, “If only I could have gotten heaven on my side. I destroyed this hotel. I could have done better, but I let all of you down.”

Lucifer shook his head. “Come on, Charlie! Give yourself some credit, Princess. You know, in the last ten thousand years, you’re the first one to change this town. You changed my mind about all of this. I see the potential, the possibilities. Heaven didn’t listen to my dreams, but f*ck it if we don’t make them listen to yours!”

The others came to stand tall next to Charlie, and Vaggie took her hand, “We can rebuild! Build the best hotel you’ve ever seen and help you fulfill your destiny.” She turned and looked at Angel and offered a smile. While holding her other hand out to him, showing trust, she asked, “Will you help?”

Charlie bit her lip as she watched Angel step up to grasp Vaggie’s hand and give a firm nod. “I’d be honored.”

Charlie warmed at the familiarity of his words as old memories returned of that day by the river. Now, all her friends looked to her to lead them, rebuild, and start anew. “I know we can do this,” Gripping Vaggie’s hand, she took Angel’s hand into her other hand and declared, “So long as I have all of you with me!”

Chapter 9: Eryn's Forced Judgement

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Eryn watched a replay of the Studio 666 newscast that had covered the battle at the Hazbin Hotel; her eyes were sad, and her lips curled down in a frown. Her sadness was not attributed to Adam’s death or the failure of the exorcist army to eliminate the sinners she’d trained them to target, but at the discovery that Angel had stayed behind. It became clear that he had intended this all along. She shook her head in frustration as she realized he had actually lied to her, and she didn’t sense it. That had never happened in all of her existence! In fact, Eryn was certain it was impossible to lie to her unless—

Eryn covered her mouth and let out a quiet gasp. She knew for certain that the only way any soul could lie to her was if it were ordained, and only one could do such a thing. As that realization came to her, so did a slight smile. She had always known Angel to be special. Unique. Destined. Whatever he was meant for, what he did was a part of it, and the sadness left her as if drained through the soles of her feet. It also freed her from feeling as if she’d failed at the very thing she was created for.

With the weight off her shoulders, Eryn turned away from the replay and gasped again, as Sera had come up behind her unheard.

“Seraphim.” Eryn bowed respectfully. Her eyes looked past Sera to see Lute, her body wrapped in bandages, gripping Adam’s halo, standing outside the doorway. Her expression held unhinged rage.

“Eryn.” Sera’s voice held a chill, and Eryn looked up with worry. “I see you are aware of Angel’s betrayal?”

“I watched the replay.” Eryn was careful with her words. She could detect lies, but she also could not tell a lie. The less said, the better.

“Did you know of Angel’s intent?”

“I did not, Seraphim. I asked him why he wanted to train with the exorcist army. His answers were truthful.” Eryn knew it required the explicit use of words to tell the truth. She didn’t know what he had planned. Sera’s question was specific, and so she answered specifically.

Lute scoffed from the doorway but stifled it when Sera raised her hand in warning.

“Interesting.” Sera peered over Eryn’s head to watch the replay, with the focus on Niffty, Adam’s killer. “Angel has betrayed Heaven. List the charges.”

“Seraphim?” Eryn responded in surprise.

“Do your job.” Sera’s eyes burned with command. “List. The. Charges!”

No. She didn’t want to. Not on Angel! But a command from the Seraphim was never disobeyed. Eyrn closed her eyes for a moment to steady herself. When she opened them, she stood at attention and did her job. “Kevin Angelus Collins is accused of treason against Heaven. His crimes involve conspiring with Hell to betray the exorcist army to its ruin. He also abandoned his post and joined the Morningstar.”

“Not only that.” Sera added. “He broke the contract between Heaven and Lucifer, allowing Lucifer to interfere, which directly led to Adam’s death.”

“What!?” Eryn spun to look at the replay, which was now paused on Angel kissing Charlie; her eyes widened. “How?”

“As a High Angel, he held the power to cancel it. He did so when he called on Lucifer to come aide his misguided daughter. Those events led to Adam’s death, and I hold him responsible for it!”

Eryn swallowed hard before continuing. “He is also charged with Adam’s death.” Oh, God, please. Help him!

“Final judgment, Eryn?” Sera prompted with eyes that seemed to burn with eagerness.

“Kevin Angelus Collins is guilty of all the listed charges. Punishment is as follows: He is stripped of his position as a High Angel. His existence will be stricken from all those who know him in Heaven, and he is exiled to Hell for all eternity, with no possibility of redemption outside of God’s word itself.”

“Very good.” Sera’s smile held no warmth. “You have done your job perfectly. I will have a special assignment for you in a few days time. For now, go and meditate and find peace with yourself. I do know this was not an easy judgment to pass. I know Angel was your friend, and I truly sympathize with your loss.”

No, you don’t! Eryn thought to herself, but she said aloud, “I will do as you command, Seraphim. Meditation will be most welcome.”

Sera turned and stepped through the door, motioned for Lute to follow her, and flew off.

Lute paused before she followed and looked at Eryn. “Prepare my army, Eryn. That bastard is going to pay!”

Lute turned and launched into the air, and Eryn waited until she was out of sight before she bowed her head. With a whisper under her breath, she added. “However, you are not stripped of any of your powers, Kevin Angelus Collins. May they protect you from what’s to come.”

Eryn’s eyes blazed as she sealed the judgment as an official declaration. A point that Sera forgot to stay for, and she was silently grateful she was able to give Angel this one last gift. With one last look at the monitor and the frozen picture of Angel kissing Charlie, she turned and walked out the door, shutting it behind her.

Chapter 10: Let Us Tell You A Tale

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The group worked tirelessly day and night, and with Alastor’s power to bring forth demons of construction, it was not as long as they’d feared before the bright neon lights of the Hazbin Hotel sign lit up the night once again.

Charlie stood next to Vaggie, looking up at the hotel fondly with a new key in her hand, and declared that it was going to be a f*cking happy day in Hell now that they were back in business. She was extra relieved because, for the entire time it took to rebuild, she saw Angel and Vaggie getting along and working together. She even swore she saw Vaggie laugh at something Angel had said.

Still, she was tentative about being near Angel alone until they could tell their story, and she made a conscious yet unwanted effort to avoid those moments. It did not stop her from fondly remembering how Angel had protected her, taught her to embrace her inner demon, and stoked power within her that she didn’t know she could wield. That Angel was in part the reason she became the powerful demon Princess of Hell, brought a tug of deep love from her heart for him, and brought so many memories. Memories that she now remembered why she’d forgotten in the first place, and she accepted it, knowing she would be able to share the reason with Angel soon. Charlie also asked Angel about when he arrived in heaven. He had told her that now was not the time, but he promised he’d tell her someday.

Now, with the new hotel’s lights shining brightly over the five points of Hell and the young evening starting, Charlie invited her friends into the lobby to share their stories. As the lobby clock chimed eight hollow bells to signal the 8 A.M. hour, they seated themselves with drinks and snacks, anticipating what they knew was going to be the story to rival all stories. Charlie motioned for Angel to come stand by her side as Vaggie pulled up a large lounge chair, getting comfortable in its deep seat. Lucifer had joined them for this, smiling at his daughter and Angel and showing them full support.

Charlie began,I know I’ve said this many times before, but I want to reaffirm how much I love all of you. You stood by my side and fought for my dreams. Even though not all of you believe it’s possible to redeem a soul, you didn’t let that stop you from being the best friends any girl could dream of having. Thank you.”

Here! Here!” Shouted Cherri Bomb, “I may not be a part of this menagerie, but f*ck if the comradery isn’t endearing!”

You could be!” Charlie said encouragingly.

Eh, Maybe,” Cherri Bomb smirked back.

With a warm smile, Charlie continued, “It’s why I wanted you all to hear the story. The story I need to tell Vaggie. Because I f*cked up.” She let her smile fade, “When I saw Angel, I remembered being that frightened girl trapped on Earth so long ago—.”

WHAT!?” Vaggie leaped forward in her chair, eye wide, her wings extended in full spread, and the others gasped in unison behind her.

Charlie nodded, “I became the girl who had fallen in love with a man who not only saved my life but showed me how to be a true demon, a monster, the thing that goes bump in the night. A demon I needed to be to save innocent lives.”

Oh, this is going to be good!” Angel Dust relished, taking a long pull of his drink.

Charlie?” Vaggie gasped, “You were on Earth? Stuck on Earth? When? How? Why didn’t you tell me any of this??”

Charlie shrugged, “Ex-boyfriend? Ex-angel? Sometimes the past isn’t easy to share.”

Vaggie pulled her wings sheepishly around herself, feeling chastised, and sank back into her chair. When she looked up, she saw Charlie’s soft eyes and realized her lover’s words were not accusatory. Vaggie still could not believe what she’d heard, and whispered in awe, “Earth?”

Wait, I need to say it all correctly.” Charlie shook her head, “When I saw him, all the memories I’d lost slammed into me. The girl I’d been? The one in love with Angel took over, and I kissed him, Vaggie. Kissed him with the love that was—” Charlie didn’t feel that word was right, “…Is?” ‘Is’ felt right, but it was not the right thing to say, “…was true.” Charlie settled. “I don’t say this to hurt you, but to explain why I did it.”

Vaggie motioned for her to go on with a soft smile, “I know. I’m listening, my love.”

Charlie looked at Angel for encouragement, and he took the lead. “Vaggie? All of you? Let me start with a long overdue proper introduction. My name is Kevin Angelus Collins. When I was alive on Earth, I dedicated my life to finding lost children and teens. Children taken, kidnapped, trafficked—whatever the reason, I would find them and get them home. I did not always succeed.”

Murmuring voices buzzed through the air of the room, and even Lucifer looked uncomfortable. Angel continued, “I was trailing two brothers, whom my source had information on possibly being behind the kidnapping of two little girls.”

Cassie!” Charlie’s eyes grew at the sudden memory, and she looked at Angel with worry in her eyes and asked, “Is she?”

Still alive, last I knew.” He assured her and continued to tell the group, “I’d been scouting a farmland, narrowing in on them, when I saw a sudden flash of bright light through some foliage. Investigating, I was shocked to find a young woman lying in the thicket. Charlie.”

How?” Vaggie looked at both of them in surprise.

Charlie took over, “I’ll get to that, but as you know, being the daughter of Lucifer doesn’t grant you automatic respect. Remember Studio 666? I was used to that kind of mockery growing up. I needed to prove myself. I was determined to show that I was strong, confident, and a leader. I was Lucifer’s daughter, after all, and dad always said, ‘Don’t take sh*t from other demons’, so I explored Hell all over. It gave me a sense of feeling invulnerable and really powerful. I dared to go where even the most dangerous demons would seldom dare to dwell, and I wanted to know all my kingdom, and I wanted my kingdom to know me as someone not to f*ck with.”

For the first time, Alastor spoke, “You sought out Tenebris profundis nusquam, didn’t you?”

A collective gasp met his query, and Charlie nodded again, “Yes, and no? I knew of its existence, but I had only planned on going into the realm where it was to show Hell I wasn’t afraid to go anywhere I needed to. I figured it would be enough for some, at least. But when I went near it, I felt something calling to me. Something that pulled me deeper into the darkness where Tenebris dwelled, as if whispering promises of wishes fulfilled. When I tried to turn away, a power I’d never felt before grabbed me and pulled me into its maw. I didn’t have time to scream, and I blacked out.”

No one dared to speak, allowing Angel to resume from where he left off. “When I found Charlie, she was bleeding badly, and her clothes were ripped to near shreds. She had trouble speaking, only mumbling incoherently. I got her back to my van, wrapped her in a blanket, and assessed the damages. Seeing cuts and scrapes all over her, I started to bandage her, asking questions and trying to get her to talk and tell me who she was.”

Charlie followed up, “My head was clearing while he cleaned my wounds, and his soft questioning voice felt comforting, but I could not remember anything. Well, nothing except for my given name.”

Charlotte,” Vaggie whispered.

Mmmhmm. But it was the only thing I could remember.” Charlie’s eyes flickered with so many memories. “Now, though? Everything is flooding back.”

Chapter 11: You're A Demon?

Chapter Text

“Charlotte?”

Angel had helped the young woman back to his black windowless van, which he used as his mobile transportation hub for his rescue missions, and dressed her wounds. All the while, he gently asked her questions, none of which she could answer. She’d gone silent when he reached past her, grabbed a warm quilt blanket, and draped it around her shoulders. He’d sat back for a moment to assess her. She was not a child—which presented questions of their own—but a young woman in her early twenties, with long, tangled blond hair that fell behind her down past her waist, and piercing black eyes. Her cheeks were unusually red against pale white—almost albino-shaded—skin. Her maroon lips were thin, almost like an artist had drawn the lines. He had noticed she wasn’t small when he’d helped her walk back, as she nearly matched his own six-four frame, making her about six-two Over all, she was a very striking young woman, and if she had been kidnapped, she must also be strong to have been able to escape to begin with.

As he considered the situation, he’d heard her speak under her breath. He prodded her to repeat herself, “Did you say something?”

“Charlotte. That’s my name, I think?” Charlotte groaned, rubbing the bruise on her head, the confusion frustrating her. She looked at her unfamiliar surroundings and asked, “Where am I?”

Angel fished a water bottle out of a cooler next to him, unscrewed the cap, and handed the bottle to her, “Here, drink this first. Your voice is hoarse, likely dry. Hydrate.”

Charlotte tentatively accepted the bottle, took a big drink, and started coughing hard. She spit the water back up and dropped the bottle, which spilled water on the floor.

“Whoa, easy!” Angel swooped the bottle up and recapped it: “Are you okay?”

Charlotte coughed a bit more to clear her throat. Finally settled down, she nodded with embarrassment. “Sorry, sorry, sorry.”

Don’t be. Just sip the water slower.” Angel pulled a fresh bottle out and handed it to her.

This time, she took smaller sips and looked much calmer.

Do you know how you got here, Charlotte?” He asked while he rummaged through some trash bags, found a black shirt and ripped blue jeans, and fished them out, “Were you kidnapped?”

Kidnapped?” Charlotte exclaimed, shocked, “NO! No, I— don’t think so. No? I—I can’t remember.”

It’s okay. Don’t push yourself. I’m sure it’ll all come back to you.” Angel pulled himself into the driver’s side chair and handed her the clothes. “Here, I think these will fit you. Your clothes are a mess.”

Charlotte realized her state of dress and blushed. Nothing intimate was showing, thankfully, but not without a bit of luck. She turned away and lifted the blanket up over her head as Angel turned to face the front to give her privacy. Charlotte pulled the tattered remains of her white dress shirt away and noticed light cuts all over her torso and breasts. What happened to me? she silently asked herself.

What’s your name?” She asked as he slipped the black shirt over her; its smooth cotton felt good against her skin.

Angel.’’

Angel. She thought the word sounded very familiar but could not place it. Charlotte pushed off what was left of her slacks, grateful that her undergarments seemed to be fully intact, and slipped on the new blue jeans, which hugged her hips comfortably. “These fit well.”

I keep a lot of different items in here for the kids and teens I find. I’ve gotten good at guessing sizes.”

Where am I?” Charlotte asked again.

Gratton. I found you nearby in the woods.”

Gratton?” The name did not sound familiar to her, but little if anything here did.

It’s in Virginia. Do you remember where you’re from?”

Charlotte finished zipping up her new jeans, buttoned the clasp, and turned back to face Angel, “No. Why can’t I remember anything but my name?”

Angel turned back around in his seat to face her. “Amnesia is common with a head wound like yours; the trauma can block memory. Muscle memory generally remains, like being able to talk, walk, etcetera. I’m at a loss as to why you only remember your name and nothing else, though.”

Charlotte rubbed her forehead and found another bruise that stung as Angel continued, “You’ve obviously been attacked; I just can’t understand why you were left behind.”

Behind?” Her head throbbed more. Nothing was making any sense, and she felt her frustration and anger grow.

Listen, Charlotte, I search for lost and taken children to rescue them if need be from bad men. I was tracking a pair of brothers who’d taken two girls when I found you. I assumed you were taken, too, yet abandoned for some reason.”

I honestly don’t think so. I don’t know why I can’t remember, but I don’t feel like I was taken.” A sudden realization hit Charlotte hard in her stomach, and she felt a rumbling of energy and power wash over her. “They take children?”

A deep animalistic growl rumbled up her throat, and her eyes began to glow a bright red. Her pupils thinned into snake-like slits. Horns sprouted out of her forehead through her blonde hair, and her fingernails grew into vicious-looking claws. Angel gasped in fearful shock and bolted for the driver’s side door, but a clawed hand grabbed him by the shoulder. A frighteningly dark voice echoed in his ear: “WHO…ARE…THEY!?”

Angel had faced death before. He served for years in the military. Lead missions into the most dangerous places. Yet, despite everything he’d ever faced in the line of duty, fear now blinded Angel, and he felt his body shake beyond his control. It took all his willpower to stay still and utter something just above a whisper. “Ch… Charlotte?”

The glowing red eyes widened, and the shape of the demon before him melted away just as quickly as it had formed, replaced by the frightened, shivering form of Charlotte, who fell back to the floor. Her voice felt tiny and hollow. “A—Angel? What… What just happened to me?”

What the f*ck are you?” Angel managed to say between hard-to-take breaths.

Charlotte shivered and pulled the warming blanket over her shoulders. She let out a sob: “I don’t know! I don’t f*cking know! I’m scared!” She noticed Angel’s hand on the door handle, ready to run, and she sniffed and wiped her nose. “Please. Please don’t leave me.”

It took all his discipline, training, and a healthy dose of stupidity for Angel to make his next decision. He loosened his grip on the handle, berated himself for the choice he’d made, and carefully slid off the chair to kneel before her.

So… uh… I Don’t think you’re from around here.” He quipped with a nervous chuckle, “You looked like a demon.”

Demon.” Charlotte tasted the word, and it clicked about angels. Angels and demons. Heaven and Hell. She understood the concept, but nothing else. “If… if I’m a demon… why do I feel such rage about innocent children being hurt? If I’m a monster, why do I care so much?”

Monsters don’t care, Charlotte.” Angel held a hand to his face, rubbed his eyes, and blew a long breath of air out to de-stress. “I’m taking a chance here with you, but I don’t think you’re a monster. Mostly since I’m still in one piece, here.”

Charlotte gulped, swallowed hard, and coughed again. She quickly grabbed the bottle of water, remembered Angel’s warning, and sipped slowly to still the itch at the back of her throat.

Thank you.” She paused and examined the bottle, “What is this?”

Angel attributed the question to the memory loss: “Water. You don’t know water?”

I… I don’t think I drink water. Much.”

If you’re what I think you are, there’s likely not much of that where you’re from.”

Charlotte gave Angel a confused look, “What do you mean?”

It’s just as I said, Charlotte. Red eyes, horns, and claws. Many artistic depictions attribute those features to demons. I grew up in a Catholic family but lost my faith a long time ago. Haven’t prayed since…” Angel caught himself and skipped the rest of the thought: “And I have never been able to really accept the existence of the supernatural, despite my sister’s insistence, but most stories suggest demons follow the devil, Lucifer.”

Lucifer,” Charlotte spoke the name long and slow, quietly as her mind rolled in painful confusion, and under her breath, a word escaped almost unnoticed: “Dad?”

He wasn’t sure if he’d heard her correctly and decided to put it aside, “They’re the denizens of hell, ripping flesh from bone, eating souls, i.e., monsters.”

That’s not me!” Charlotte exclaimed, with a certainty she didn’t understand, “I can’t bear to think of those children suffering! Let me help!”

Angel leaned back, surprised, “Help?”

If I’m able to do what I just did again?” Charlie wondered, “If I can harness this power that I feel welling in me, I can scare the f*ck out of those men and help you save the children!”

What if, after releasing your power, you discover you fit the stories and instead you kill everyone, including me?” Angel challenged.

Charlotte fell silent, her eyes dropped, and her shoulders slumped, “That isn’t me. It can’t be. f*ck!”

Charlotte’s sudden outburst caused a ripple of power to swell inside the van, and the skin on Angel’s arms shivered, and he fell back again. Charlotte’s head whipped up, ashamed, “SORRY! But I felt it again. It’s there, just below the surface, but I don’t know what to do.”

Angel regained his composure, and spoke softly. “I am going to trust you, Charlotte, even though it’s a risk. But you didn’t hurt me when you lost control earlier. In fact, your rage was born from what I told you. I am going to put faith in you, but I gotta ask. You’re wounded. Do you feel you can do this?”

Silence swallowed the interior of the van as Charlotte bit her lip and looked away. Her mind was in shambles, but her heart was not. Her every fiber told her she would never harm the innocent. She didn’t know what the stories were that Angel talked about, but she couldn’t believe them to be real. If she was really from… Hell? Charlotte thought to herself, Am I really the devil?

Charlotte buried her fear and gave Angel her answer, “Yes. I mean, I hope so. But I need to become what I was a few minutes ago. I need it to come out completely, but I don’t want you running away when it does.”

Just promise not to rip my guts out?” Angel quipped with forced humor.

I sincerely promise you, Angel. You saved my life! I will never hurt you. But those monsters out there need to pay for what they’ve done. I want to know what I can do to save the children.”

Angel scratched his face, relieving an itch from the hairs of his two day beard, as he thought. After a moment, he sighed. “First thing I need to do is go scout out the place I was looking for when I found you. I’ve already lost a lot of time tending to you, but it seems that the alternative was leaving a demon in a hospital. Can’t dwell on that, really.”

Don’t. I understand I’ve delayed you. I feel strong enough to move. The power I let loose earlier seems to have done something. I don’t feel weak anymore.”

Angel took hold of Charlotte’s hand, lifted the bandage on her arm, and was surprised. Her wounds were gone. Angel reached for her shoulder dressing and paused. Charlotte bent her head to the side, her eyes telling him to go ahead. He eased away the wrapping on her shoulder and saw that the wound was gone as well. You’re healed,” Angel whispered in awe.

Charlotte cracked her neck and let her lips curl upwards, which came across somewhat menacingly: “I feel… good. Very good. In fact. I feel energy in me now.” And she looked at Angel with a more mischievous than menacing grin, “Help me bring it out!”

Angel opened the side door and stepped out. He turned, held out a hand that Charlotte graciously accepted, and helped her step onto the cold, wet grass. Charlotte felt the blades tickle her bare feet and found that it felt good. The wind was light and the moon bright, casting an almost spotlight-like beam on her. Charlotte’s hair shone with an eerie glow as she filled out in a way that Angel had never seen any woman do before. She commanded power and strength. The change was palpable, and he realized she was embracing what she could be, driven by a divine need to protect.

So not what I’ve ever known about demons. Angel thought to himself. Maybe the stories were wrong, after all.

Charlotte.”

She turned to face him, and in his eyes, she had never been injured at all, “Yes?”

We do not have much time, but I am going to try to help you bring out what I saw, with you in control of it. If it’s even possible, that is.” With a deep breath, Angel let it out slowly and licked his lips, “I’m sorry if this hurts, but I want you to concentrate on what happened in the van. Remember what I said about those f*ckers kidnapping children? Imagine those scared little kids, fearing for their lives. Know that these men are sick, perverted scum. They take kids, not always for ransom, sometimes for a lot worse.”

Charlotte felt her energy pulse in tune with her heartbeat. She tried to pull the power forward, but it was hard. With her eyes closed, she whispered, “Worse. How?”

What she heard him say next caused her rage to explode like a supernova from deep within her soul. Her eyes flew open, red as blood. The transformation was instantaneous; power raced through Charlotte’s veins and outward and changed her physical form. The sweet-faced, blonde-haired, black-eyed young woman who had stood before him was now a demon, with a pointed spade-shaped tail and horns about twelve inches long that protruded from the top of her head. Whispers of glowing fire sparked from their sharp tips. Her pupils had thinned to snake-like slits, and razor-sharp teeth peeked out from behind her black lips. She had grown slightly taller and filled out at the hips and chest, and she stood on cloven hooves where her human feet once were. Yet, with all the changes, the magic had altered her clothes to fit. Something completely inexplicable to Angel.

Energy crackled around her, and Angel felt true fear and regret that he may have misjudged everything. No movie or story could compare to what was now before him. By sheer training alone, Angel’s hand slipped to his gun, and he flipped open the clip on the holster. Charlotte took notice of this, swooped in, and slapped his hand away forcefully. She ripped the gun from the holster and took a step back. She hissed at him; her body language screamed ‘attack’. Angel froze in place, but turned his gaze down to look at his hand and found it was still there, unharmed.

Angel stayed frozen in place until Charlotte stepped forward and gently placed the gun back in his hand. Charlotte’s normal voice came from the fanged mouth: “It’s me, Angel. It’s Charlotte. I have control. I promised I would not hurt you.” Her eyes dropped to the gun in his hand, “I trust you won’t hurt me?”

He looked up into Charlotte’s eyes, still red with that eerie glow, but they were wide in fear of being rejected. Angel slipped the gun into its holster and, with his breath held tight, tentatively reached the same hand out to cup Charlotte’s cheek, which felt hot to the touch, in a sign of trust.

“I won’t,” Angel affirmed.

The moment became still, the human with his hand on the cheek of a demon straight out of Hell, and something sparked inside Charlotte. Until her memories returned and she rediscovered who she was, she would focus everything on helping this noble man with all of the power she could harness. It felt natural to do good, and that helped her find some peace with herself.

Charlotte lifted her clawed hand to cover Angel’s hand with the gentlest of touches. “Well—” She drawled out and paused; her sharp teeth flashed with a small smile. “How do I look?”

The question was so unexpected that Angel burst out laughing, and Charlotte followed with her own. Angel coughed, “You. Honestly, when I am not fearing for my life and have the opportunity to truly observe you, you are amazing—scary as f*ck—but amazing.” The two felt the fear, hesitation, and uncertainty drain from their collective bodies. “How do you feel?”

Charlotte closed her eyes, focused on her feelings, both physical and emotional, and smiled, “Amazing. Powerful.”

How did the clothes not rip from you?”

Charlotte’s cheeks blushed; she knew the answer. She just didn’t know how she knew the answer: “My magic. It’s just a part of my magic.” She paused in thought; her eyes sparkled a little bit as she smiled, “Like, I think I know some things I can do in this body.”

Angel appraised Charlotte as he walked around her, “What abilities are you thinking of?”

Charlotte turned and grinned wickedly, lifted her right hand, and power sparked on her fingers, “I think I can shoot… fire or energy… from my fingers.”

And to prove it, she pointed up and shot a flare of fire into the air, which erupted in a burst and dispersed. “Pew pew!” Charlotte playfully whispered; a feeling of giddiness fluttered through her, and she giggled.

Demon fire. Makes sense.” Angel watched with wonderment.

And I think I can disappear?” For this one, Charlotte closed her eyes and became very still. Angel watched her concentrate, and then, in an instant, she had faded out of sight.

The moments passed until it became almost uncomfortable, and Angel whispered, Charlotte?”

He felt hot arms surround him from behind in a gentle but firm embrace, “You didn’t see me or hear me walk behind you, did you?” Charlotte’s warm breath whispered in his ear.

I did not”, He put his hands on her invisible arms, felt how warm she was, and gave her a reaffirming squeeze. He was a bit surprised by the intimacy of her touch, but it worked to dispel some of his fear. “Invisibility, confirmed.”

Charlotte felt something at his touch and stepped back as she reappeared. She turned away as she felt a sudden shyness envelop her, her cheeks flushed.

Angel took notice of something other than her shyness: No wings? I figured that would be common for demons.”

Wings? Oh, I’d love to have wings!” Charlotte turned back around with a wistful look.

Fresh in his thoughts of when Charlotte snatched the gun out of his hand, he challenged her, “How fast are you?”

Without answering, Charlotte took off in a sprint around the van. Angel watched her move at a quicker pace with each lap, until she stopped on a dime next to him after she’d completed a full dozen laps in just over fourteen seconds. “How’s that?”

More than enough. How’s your eyesight in the dark?”

I see perfectly,” Charlotte boasted, firm and proud.

The silence from Angel caught her attention, and Charlotte looked at him, “What?”

You were wounded when I found you.”

Charlotte nodded, not quite understanding, but she saw Angel’s hand brush the holster, and it clicked: “We don’t know if I can be killed.”

Angel didn’t reply right away.

Shoot me.”

His head whipped her way, “What?” Angel choked on the word.

Don’t. No lies, please. You thought about it. You wonder if I could be harmed, or worse, in this form.”

I…” Angel sighed softly, “I can’t help it; I’m a strategist; it’s how I’m so good at my job. I think of every angle for every mission. My army buddies used to tease me that I was playing 4-D chess, seeing every possible outcome of a mission. We were an extremely successful unit until—” He stopped and quickly switched directions again, “The fact is, you were bleeding, cut, hurt, and suffering memory loss. You healed when you first changed form, yes, but—”

But we don’t know if I was in my demon form when I was hurt.” Charlotte finished his sentence. She sighed. His hesitation both frustrated her and made her trust him all the more. But she had already made up her mind: “We can find out now, or find out if someone else hurts me. I can heal in my demon form, Angel, so I’ll be okay, but what if I’m also impervious to pain like this? We’d have a greater advantage.”

“And I thought I was the strategist.” Angel mused.

“I’m scared. But I trust you. Just aim for my shoulder, and let me do the rest.”

Angel hesitated, “I—.”

Frustrated, Charlotte let her demon voice bleed out, putting a real air of threat into it, “Shoot me!”

Angel had begun to understand that it was fruitless to argue with Charlotte once she’d made up her mind. Already, though, he found himself worried about hurting her, and not just because it wasn’t in his nature to kill. He was in awe of her, and maybe even a little bit smitten. With a single breath to still his mind, as he was trained to do, Angel unclipped the holster cover, pulled the gun, co*cked it, and without another thought to challenge his resolve, fired a single round into the demon before him, his aim squarely on her shoulder.

The bullet pierced through her shoulder and exited the other side. Blood splattered and smeared the blades of grass behind her, and she shrieked loudly. Her demon voice howled in pain as she grabbed at the wound, and her face flushed with tears! Angel holstered the gun and raced to her, but Charlotte held up a clawed hand, fire sparked from the tips of her horns, and her full demon voice warned, thick and menacingly, “DON’T!”

Angel, his eyes full of concern, stopped and obeyed. Charlotte stood up straight, took her hand away from the wound, and closed her eyes. She stood there in silence and growled deeply, which frightened Angel that this was, in fact, the biggest mistake and the end of his life. He watched as Charlotte’s skin started to heat up, steam welled from the wound, and in moments, it closed completely. The effort to heal the wound drained her energy, and she stumbled. Despite her warning, Angel instinctively ran forward and caught her mid-fall. Gently, he knelt down and held her as she wrapped her arms around him for balance.

Charlotte?”

Her eyes opened, and they were her piercing black human eyes, though her demon form remained. “I’m so sorry for scaring you. The pain was more than I expected, and for a moment I didn’t know if I could control myself from lashing out.”

Your eyes?” Curious, Angel brushed a wisp of hair away from her face.

I think the healing process takes a bit of my power for a moment. It weakens me. But it’s okay. I think my normal eyes are prettier, anyway, don’t you?”

Angel nodded softly, and they stared quietly at each other for seconds that felt like minutes before Angel cleared his throat, “It appears that despite your power, you’re mortal. I don’t know if it’s a good idea for you to do this.”

Charlotte tightened her grip on him. Her eyes pulsed red, which indicated that her strength was already returning. I’m not debating this, Angel. I will go either way. I think you know you can’t stop me.” Charlotte didn’t mean to sound so angry, but she was not going to be left behind. She was not going to let those children suffer if there was anything she could do about it.

Angel took a deep breath and accepted her stance: “In that case, we’re going to need a plan.”

What kind of plan?” she asked as Angel helped her to her feet.

I was thinking about that. We’re going to take full advantage of the lore about demons.” Charlotte’s face looked quizzical, which was rather cute to Angel, as he walked over to the van and grabbed a duffel bag from inside the open door. Checking its contents, he confirmed it had what he needed. He looked back at Charlotte and considered the cool air. He grabbed a red leather jacket and a pair of black crocs and handed them off to Charlotte, who shifted back to her human form and slipped the jacket and crocs on.

Angel began to move down a path leading into the woods, where he’d discovered Charlotte, and she fell in step beside him. Curious, she listened intently as he began to explain, “Let me tell you some stories.”

Chapter 12: Planning The Rescue

Chapter Text

Charlotte listened to Angel as he shared tidbits of what he knew about demons from Earth’s stories as told through film, books, the internet, and religions. He went on picking various elements across all the different mediums, expressing how she may best take advantage of each aspect, intending to create in her the most frightening visceral image anyone could imagine. Charlotte found much of what he said familiar and natural to her, and her mind burned with questions about who she was, how she got here, and what all she could truly do. She also struggled to marry the idea of demons being evil beings and killing humans with her own deep sense of morality. If I’m a demon, why does the idea of harming anyone make me feel sick to my stomach? Perhaps humans just have no idea about demons and think only of the worst of them? She was determined to do what she had to do to save the children, even if it meant becoming the stereotype that Angel was describing. She told herself that those monsters in the house did not deserve her sympathy. She still did not fully know that if she were put in that position, if she could kill. It scared her, but that fear only reaffirmed to herself that she wasn’t evil, and it helped her to compartmentalize.

“Charlotte?” Angel had noticed her looking distant.

She blinked back at him. “Sorry. I’m just so confused.” Charlotte said, and she proceeded to share her thoughts with him.

“I understand. We have an opportunity to use this. Even the darkest of men know the basic concepts of good, evil, demons, and Hell. Fear is a tool we can exploit. But, Charlotte, there are children in the house. You have to be very careful not to let them see you.”

“I know.”

“Also,” he paused, and she looked at him curiously, “Even though I despise these f*ckers, I do whatever I can to take them alive. They need to face justice in the courts, not vigilante justice.” He then added in a firm voice, “And no killing.”

“I don’t think I could, anyway. It just doesn’t feel right.” Charlotte let out a dry laugh. “Some demon, huh?”

Angel rested his hand on her shoulder and assured her, “I don’t like to kill, either, Charlotte. I avoid it at all costs.”

A flash of memory made him shiver. With a quick shake of his head, he knelt down and opened the duffel bag. Charlotte watched as he pulled a pair of night vision goggles out and secured them to his head. “I don’t have your vision, but these will do just fine. My map says the house is just over this ridge.”

Next, he pulled out the map and pointed to their current location and the house’s. He then fished out a second piece of paper, which was a layout of the home itself. He explained the exits and various rooms of the single-story structure, advising her on his best guess of where he thought the kids were being kept. Once he’d explained the plan, he looked at her to confirm, “Following me?”

Charlotte’s visage had been slowly changing into her demon form, as he explained, and when he looked her way, sharp teeth grinned back at him. “Yes,” she hissed.

Angel started, then chastised himself: She’s on your side; get used to this. Aloud, he asked, “Warn me next time?”

Charlotte just grinned as she warmed to her new self. “Fear is a weapon, right? I need to know that it’s sharp.” Then softly, she added, “Sorry.”

He understood and smiled back to reassure her, “No, you’re right. Don’t lose your edge. You look perfect.”

Charlotte hissed with glee, her serpent tongue flicked across her lips, and she asked, “Do you have an idea of which story I should use?”

“Oh, I absolutely do.” There was an actual twinkle in Angel’s eye. It seemed to her that he was starting to accept her as his partner, and it made her feel eager to prove herself to him.

Minutes later, the two came into view of the house. The sky had become overcast, which engulfed the moon and cast the valley the home was in into deeper darkness, which Angel took as a good sign. It would help cover their assault. Angel adjusted his night vision goggles and saw one older, burly man sitting in a rocking chair on the porch with a rifle on his lap. Before she could stop it, Charlotte let out a low, demonic growl. Angel’s hand on her shoulder told her it was okay, and she growled again, openly. Her tail twisted in a feline-like fashion, anticipating the hunt. Her muscles tensed as her claws dug into the cold dirt under her palms. She found herself becoming comfortable, letting herself be the monster humans feared. And oh, how they would fear her.

Angel looked at her, felt goosebumps along his arms, and stuttered out a breath as he shuddered. Those f*ckers were going to pay dearly if she made him feel this way as his ally! “Charlotte?”

She looked at him.

He nodded. “It’s time.”

Charlotte gave him one more demonic grin, then disappeared.

Chapter 13: Haunted House

Chapter Text

Down at the house, Colton Pry, 47 years old, balding and plump at a short five-foot-eight, rocked slowly in a wooden rocking chair. Now that they’d made it to the house, undetected by authorities, he’d finally allowed himself to relax. As he sank into the chair, Colton’s mind went over the plan he’d devised. They’d left a ransom note in the bedroom of the older girl, instructing the parents to leave two-hundred-thousand in a paper bag along a specific mile marker on one of the nearby trails. He’d send his little brother to collect, and once he called to confirm, Colton would drop the girls off at a random location where they could run for help. It was such a simple plan with a large reward, but Colton kind of hoped the parents wouldn’t be able to collect the money, so he could keep the girls and have some fun with them. It may mean taking care of his little brother if he tried to stop him, but Ben was a pathetic druggy; no one would miss him. With a broken-toothed smile, Colton stroked the barrel of his shotgun sensually and drifted into dark fantasies.

***

Inside the kitchen, lit only by a few candles, his younger brother, Ben, a lanky, frail thirty-something with dirty blond hair and a scratchy face, scarred from years of meth, was in the process of frying up some hamburger meat on a portable stove they’d lugged in with them. They’d selected the home because it had been abandoned for some time and had no working utilities, leaving them isolated and away from prying eyes. The sizzle from the frying pan sounded loud to his ears in the silence of the kitchen. Seasoning the meat, his stomach rumbled in anticipation. He hadn’t felt hungry for the last three days while arranging and carrying out his brother’s plan, but now that they were safe in hiding, his stomach had screamed at him. As he flipped one of the burgers, he suddenly turned his head as something caught the corner of his eye, but nothing was there. The candles cast flickering shadows on the walls and gave the room an eerie feel that the younger brother didn’t much care for. He was already tense because of the situation. He’d agreed to help his brother with the kidnapping so he could score some cold, hard cash for his drug habit, but he also knew his brother was a disgusting pervert. He did not want anything to happen to the kids, and he hoped his brother would stick to the agreement to drop the girls off once he collected the ransom. Worry ate at him, but the sizzle of the meat brought his attention back to the task at hand, and he flipped the meat again.

CRASH!

Ben jumped from the sudden sound, pulling the frying pan off the stove in a knee-jerk reaction, which sent the meat spilling on the floor.

sh*t!” Ben cursed as hot grease splashed on his skin. Grabbing a towel, he wiped the grease off as fast as he could, then wrapped the towel around his hand. He turned to investigate the source of the crash and saw that a mason jar had fallen off the paint-chipped curio cabinet in the corner, “What in the blue hell?”

He went over and knelt, picked up a shard of glass, and peered at it closely. Something fluttered out of the corner of his eye, and he turned to look down the hallway towards the bedrooms. He watched the door to the bathroom creak open slowly.

Did one of the kids get loose? Ben wondered as he stood and slowly made his way down the hallway. When he reached the door, he saw that it was cracked open about a foot. He grasped the handle, pulled the door open roughly, and growled into the bathroom, “Don’t move, kid!”

Only a crusty porcelain toilet greeted him. Ben scanned around the small half bath and squinted his eyes to see if one of the kids was scrunched in a corner, but there was nothing. A sudden chill scurried up his back as he felt a warm breath flutter across his neck and ear, and a low guttural growl followed. Two red light spheres that were floating in the air glared at Ben when he turned abruptly; their glow illuminated the shadow of a face with gleaming white fangs. Screaming, Ben fell back and painfully jammed his upper back against the rim of the toilet.

The bathroom door slammed shut, striking his left knee, and he yelped in sharp pain. Ben gripped his knee, hot tears burning his eyes, and groaned softly. The sudden silence was deafening. He held his breath as he listened, and the bathroom door scratched almost imperceptibly. Slow, repeated scratches traveled up the door from the floor towards the door knob. Ben shook as the scratches got quicker, almost in tune to his own increasing heartbeat, until the sound stopped. Ben couldn’t believe it. sh*t! We’re in a haunted house!

Shaking, Ben started to pull himself up when the doorknob twisted violently, as if something was trying to get in. Ben frantically looked around for any kind of weapon, but the long-since abandoned house afforded him nothing. He spied the lone window and ran to it. He pulled at the sill, trying to lift it, but it had long been painted shut. He scrambled to pull and pry it loose when the doorknob stopped rattling. Turning and pressing himself against the wall, Ben tried to slow his rapid trembling breath, and after a full minute of silence, he took tentative steps towards the door. Ben reached for the door, had to use both hands to steady himself, and slowly wrapped his thin fingers around the knob. Taking a deep breath, he slowly twisted the knob.

Ben screamed as the door ripped open and was greeted by terror itself: a demon of unimaginable horror swallowed up the hallway, crimson eyes pulsing and white-hot fangs lining a snarling mouth that opened wide, and an oily voice floated to his ears: “Get. Out!”

COLTON! COLTON!” Ben screamed his brother’s name as he bolted from the bathroom past the demon and raced down the hallway towards the kitchen and back door!

COLTON!!!”

The front door burst open as Colton rushed in, gun at the ready, “What the f*ck is it, Ben?”

Been thrust a pointed finger down the hallway, “Monster!”

Ben then turned and nearly crashed through the screen door that was starting to swing shut. Colton cursed, co*cked the shotgun, and turned his full attention to the hallway and whatever had frightened Ben. His mind was filled with dread. I swear, if one of the girls scared him like this, I will kill him!

***

Minutes before Ben’s screams, Angel slipped through the bushes on the far side of the house, silent and out of sight of Colton on the back porch. Using the shadows as cover, he slipped up, pressed his back against the side of the house, and knelt down. Setting the duffel bag quietly on the grass, he fished out a modified dart gun, specially designed and made for him by an old friend from his military days, equipped to fire multiple rounds before having to re-load. Angel inspected the CO2 cartridge set into the back of the eight-inch barrel, ensuring it was full and connected properly, then pulled the clip. Angel checked the tiny two-inch darts, confirmed all six were loaded, slapped it quietly back in, and flicked the safety off. With a slow, deep breath, he slowed his heartbeat to calm himself and find his center, then moved in silence towards the back porch. In a few moments, he reached the edge of the home and waited. His patience was rewarded, as a few minutes later, loud, terrified screams rolled out of the back of the house.

A voice inside screamed for the man in the rocking chair, who shot to his feet, ripped open the screen door, and barreled inside. Angel heard the man curse at his brother, who seconds later burst from the back, nearly ripping the screen door off its hinges as he tumbled down the backstairs into the gravel path. Taking aim as the man struggled to get his footing under him from the loose gravel, Angel fired one dart, connecting perfectly into Ben’s neck. Ben grabbed at the sudden sharp nick; his eyes rolled back in his head as he dropped into a heap on the ground, the potent tranquilizer taking effect immediately. Angel was relieved that Ben’s mass was within the tolerance of a single dart, as sometimes it took as many as three to bring down one of his targets.

Angel prepped the next dart and waited to see if Colton would follow his younger brother outside, and his muscles tensed for the possible confrontation. When he heard Colton move deeper into the house, Angel moved in on Ben’s prone body. Kneeling , he opened a pocket on his ranger vest, pulled out two heavy-duty double nylon zip-ties, and firmly secured Ben’s wrists behind his back. He then ripped Ben’s shoes off and did the same around his ankles. Lastly, he pulled out a smart tag and slipped it into Ben’s back pocket as a backup to find him should he somehow manage to scurry off.

Satisfied Ben was secure, Angel turned and headed up the stairs, taking each step carefully to avoid making noise on the already weak and creaky wooden stairs, and lined himself up against the door frame out of sight of the entrance. He perked his ears and listened closely to any movement going on inside.

***

God damn It!” Colton cursed as he stalked down the hallway to see what it was that frightened Ben. He reached the end of the hallway and shook his head in disgust. His brother has always been a coward, and convincing him to help with this plan turned out to be a big mistake. Now, he’s bolted because he was spooked by the wind? One of the kids? What a puss*!

Colton’s lips curled into a creepy smile as he contemplated the dirty thought. Given that he was standing at the entrance to the bedroom where the girls were being held, it seemed fitting to indulge in a little fun, particularly since his brother would not be present to prevent him. Fishing out a key from his hip pocket, he fed it into the keyhole, twisted to undo the bolt, pushed it open, and stepped into the bedroom.

On the only twin bed at the edge of the room, two young girls, both with short black hair, matching blue eyes and dressed only in the nightgowns they’d had on when they were taken, whimpered in fear of seeing Colton. When the brothers took them, Colton was cruel in voice and how he physically manhandled them, while Ben would be the soothing voice of reason, holding Colton back from his sick desires. Now that they saw Colton was here alone, the girls knew something bad was about to happen. The younger girl whimpered as her sister tried to put herself in front as a shield.

I don’t know what scared my brother, but I’m not leaving without my pretty little dolls.” Colton pulled a hunting knife from a sheath on his belt, twisting it as he stepped forward and sliced the zip ties holding the younger girl to the bed frame. In a moment of lust, he started to explore her, and she screamed, kicking at him. Colton cursed and backhanded her hard, knocking her back against the frame.

***

Charlotte watched in deep satisfaction at Ben’s reactions to her portrayal of the the tooth fairy creature from a movie Angel told her about called “Darkness Falls”. His description of the demon in the story—how it looked, moved, and acted—gave her chills as she listened and knew it would be a perfect form to embrace. She had already come to terms with how she could look and figured she’d be able to imitate his description well. In time, she hoped, she’d be able to emulate any character’s mannerisms and become that which evil men feared.

She embraced the power she felt, which elicited such fear from the cowardly bastard. She let him have just enough room to break from the bathroom, and admitted to herself that it was fun to watch him race past his brother and clumsily crash through the door. She knew Angel would be ready, and now it was time to turn her attention to the other bastard. Thinking about what else Angel had told her, she decided to let him come closer. She would let him wander for a few minutes before she started her second act. Staying fully invisible, Charlotte faded back into the bathroom as Colton stepped awfully close to her and turned his back to her to unlock the door across from the bathroom.

She listened as he went in and heard him curse his brother for running, and it dawned on her that that was the room the children must be in. Frightened for the children and moving swiftly yet silently, Charlotte glided into the room just as Colton struck the younger girl. Reasoning and clarity left Charlotte, and she burst into view behind Colton, her full demon form swallowing the doorway. She let out a deathly howl, focused only on Colton, deaf to the screams of the little girls.

Colton jumped to his feet, drawing his knife up in front of him in defense, and screamed.

***

Angel, having slipped into the home, heard the screams and rushed into the bedroom. He assessed the situation in a heartbeat; Charlotte, in full demon form, energy crackling around her, was moving in on Colton, who shook violently, holding his knife out in defense. Angel dropped to one knee under Charlotte’s right flank and smoothly pressed the trigger, sending a dart flying into Colton’s throat. He watched Colton waver and fired another round, not taking any chances.

Charlotte.” He hissed under his breath as Colton’s bulk thudded hard to the floor, face down, “GO!”

Charlotte snapped to her senses and saw the little girl staring at her, scared to death and crying profusely. Their agonizing looks burned into her mind, and feeling just as frightened and cursing herself, she faded from sight. Shame filled Charlotte as she broke past the backdoor and raced out into the cold night.

Angel, swearing silently and questioning the wisdom of letting Charlotte join him, ripped another set of zip ties from his vest and secured Colton’s wrists and ankles in quick succession. Satisfied he was going nowhere, he pulled his night vision goggles off and looked towards the frightened girls, “What’s your name, sweetie?”

The girl stared at him blankly, tears flooding her eyes, and Angel smiled softly, repeating, “I’m Kevin. What’s your name?”

The girl stuttered, “A… Amy.”

Standing up, Angel gave Colton’s prone form a dirty look and walked to the bed. Amy cringed back, grabbing her little sister to protect her. Angel held up his hands, “It’s okay, Amy. You’re safe, now.”

The monster!” She cried, looking over his shoulder at the doorway.

That wasn’t a monster; that was my partner,” Angel explained, and Amy shook her head hard. Her little sister rubbed her eyes, confused, having not seen Charlotte.

She was in a costume. Quite the performance, wouldn’t you say?” Angel hoped he could get Amy to believe his story, as she wasn’t calming down enough. He sat down on the bed and motioned, “Let me see your sister.”

Gingerly, Amy helped her little sister up, and Angel examined the back of her head, “You got a nasty bump there.”

It hurts.” The younger sister pouted.

I know, sweetie, it’ll feel better soon, I promise. What’s your name?”

Jamie.”

Angel smiled at both of them, “Amy and Jamie, huh? Okay, let’s get you both out of here.”

Angel helped the girls up, but they locked up when Colton groaned. Angel gave Colton a kick in the gut, but he didn’t move. “He’s out, girls; it’s okay. Come on.”

Angel led the girls outside; the crisp air bit at their bare skin; only their nightwear they had when they were taken covered them, and they shivered. Angel retrieved his duffel from the bushes, and pulled out two extra-large tie-dye T-shirts. He handed them to the girls and instructed them to put them on over their nightgowns. Once they’d dropped the shirts over their heads and pulled them down, he started to lead them up the incline and towards the van.

Where’s your partner?” Amy sniffed, her voice tinged with suspicion and fear.

Angel didn’t know. He was starting to think of a lot of different scenarios. Did she run away? Did she lose control and become that which he feared? And would she attack? Did she get pulled back to where she came from? He listed those thoughts, among others, as he led the kids through the woods.

She went on ahead,” He lied and kept the girls moving.

Twenty minutes later, they reached the clearing where he’d parked, and Angel pulled open the side door of the van and helped the girls inside. He threw his duffel over the passenger seat, its weight thudding on the cushion. Unclipping his gear, he shed the excess layers off of him and tossed all of it behind the driver’s side chair. Grabbing the door for support, he pulled himself in and slid the door closed. Opening the cooler, he pulled out two more water bottles and handed them to the girls, “Here. This will help.”

The girls were quiet, but calmer, as they sipped their waters. Angel took the moment to inform the authorities by radio of the brother’s location. After he relayed the information, he replaced the radio receiver, and his mind raced about Charlotte. I hope you’re safe, Charlotte, where ever you are.

His thought had barely finished when there was soft tap-tap-tap against the closed side door. The girls tensed, and Jamie let out a soft cry. Angel held up a finger to shush them, unclipped the holster, touched the top of his gun, and spoke to the door. Who is it?”

Charlotte’s soft, frightened voice bled through the door, “It’s me, Angel.”

Relief washed over Angel, and he smiled to the kids, “It’s my partner. I’ll be right back.” Angel slid the door open and saw Charlotte looking distraught, sad, and embarrassed. Angel stepped out, closing the door behind him. “Are you alright?”

She bit her lip, her eyes wet. “No! I lost it. I saw him hit her, and I lost it, Angel. I let them see me. I scared them!”

You did,” Angel agreed, making Charlotte sniff harder, “But you also saved them, Charlotte. You stopped him from doing something worse. It’s okay.”

No, it’s not. I promised I wouldn’t be seen, and I failed you!”

Charlotte,” Angel sighed softly, “Again, I agree. Yes, you did fail to adhere to the mission parameters I’d set. But I knew that this could happen. You’re not trained for this. Hell, I’m not trained for this—teaming up with a demon. But you went in, green as can be, and did as well as could be expected. In fact, this was one of the easiest rescues I’ve made so far, and you were a big reason for that. The kids are safe, and the authorities are on their way. We’ll get them to the hospital, and then you and I are going to figure all this out. Okay?”

Wiping her tears away, she sniffed and gave Angel a hopeful look, “I heard you tell the kids I’m your partner. Did you mean it? I can stay?”

“Yes. Until we can figure out who you are and where you came from, I’ll accept your help. If you listen to me, let me train you how to properly carry out a mission, we can use your powers to save as many lives as possible.”

Charlotte shivered violently, holding herself as his words gave her a small sense of relief. Not only was she angry at her failure, but she feared deeply that Angel would abandon her.

Turning to the van’s side door, he gripped the handle, looking over his shoulder. “Now, introduce yourself to the girls so they see you’re not scary, and I’ll get us out of here.”

Angel opened the door wide and looked inside. “Girls, I’d like for you to meet my heroic partner.”

Charlotte peeked in besides Angel, who moved to go around the van to get into the driver’s side, and gave the girls the most innocent look she could muster, wiping a tear from her own eye. “Hey. I’m Charlotte.”

Amy still had a slightly suspicious look, “Where’s your costume? You were scary!”

Charlotte blushed. “I’m so sorry I scared you! I got angry when I saw the bad man hurt your sister. I didn’t mean for you to see me dressed up. My costume…” She couldn’t think of an answer.

She gave it to me outside, Amy. I have it packed away,” Angel said from the driver’s seat as he started the engine, covering for her. “Now get comfortable; we have a bit of a drive ahead.”

Charlotte motioned for the girls to come join her as she settled her back against the side of the van. Jamie crawled over quick enough, but Amy looked uneasy. Charlotte smiled softly, with a wink, “It’s Okay, I promise. If you’ll trust me, I’ll tell you some stories that Angel told me to make me seem scary to the bad men.”

Amy paused, thinking, but finally let Charlotte take her into her arms. Charlotte held the precious girls close in a tight, protective hug and started whispering softly. Angel listened in as Charlotte told the girls the same stories he told her, changing things to make it seem like a play, and he smiled softly. She’d picked up on a lot in a short time. Hopefully, Angel thought, her memories would come back just as quick. He turned the van off the back dirt road onto the smooth asphalt of the main road, driving at a steady speed towards the nearest town as a half dozen police cars raced past him towards the abandoned house and the unconscious Pry brothers.

Chapter 14: Debriefing

Chapter Text

Angel pressed his knuckles against his lips to try to stifle a sudden yawn as they pulled up to the WVU Princeton Community Hospital about forty-five minutes later. Charlotte had gotten the girls to laugh at her stories, and he heard some levity in her voice, which he knew she needed. Pulling into the first parking spot across from the emergency room, he shifted into park. He heard shuffling behind him as Charlotte moved on her knees between the front captain chair seats and peered out at the sharp lights of the hospital.

They’ll be safe here?”

Angel noted the concern in her voice: “Yes, the people inside know medicines and treatments, and this will be the best place for their parents to come for them.”

He noticed two police cars pull into the lot and turned towards the back, “Girls, we’re at the hospital, and I radioed ahead, so your parents should be here soon, but I do have to ask you a very special favor.”

The girls looked at him, and Amy nodded, “What is it?”

Don’t tell anyone about Charlotte or her scary costume, okay? She’s my secret weapon against the mean men I chase, and if they ever found out, she could be in danger. Deal?”

Having come to trust Charlotte on the drive, Amy promised him that she’d tell Jamie to keep Charlotte a secret as well. He knew it was not a guarantee, kids being kids, but since Charlotte had been seen, it was all he could ask of them. He then looked at Charlotte, “That means you gotta stay in the van and out of sight, at least until we figure out a cover story for you.”

“Okay,” Charlotte nodded and slipped deeper into the back of the van. Angel opened the driver’s side door, and slipped out and walked around to open the side door. He motioned for the girls to exit the van and gave Charlotte a nod, whispering, “Go invisible if anyone comes by.” He didn’t wait for a response. Shutting the door, he guided the kids across the lot to the emergency entrance, disappearing with them inside the welcoming bright lights of the entrance.

Charlotte sulked into the blanket she’d used earlier, wrapping it around her shoulders. Her mind was racing, the adrenaline had finally drained from her body, and now she slumped in exhaustion. She curled up under the blanket, using one of the garbage bags of clothes as a makeshift pillow, and quickly drifted off to sleep.

***

Inside the ER, Angel flagged down a nurse, explained the situation, and gave the girls an encouraging smile as three other nurses and a doctor swiftly swarmed in to whisk the girls off for evaluation. Feeling just as exhausted, Angel leaned against the painted concrete walls of the entrance and closed his eyes for a moment.

Angel?” A feminine voice invaded his very short moment of reprieve.

Angel opened his eyes, and a wry smile formed at the edge of his lips, I really had hoped to avoid you tonight, Amanda.”

Having propped against the opposite wall to mirror Angel’s stance, FBI Special Agent Amanda Sims, a tall, slender-built woman wearing a zipped-up blue FBI jacket, black hair tied back in a tight bun, and piercing blue eyes, returned his wry smile with one of her own: “If you had it your way, you’d avoid me all the time.”

Reports and procedures slow me down.” It wasn’t the whole reason but the other reason was well known and unspoken between them.

Amanda sighed and chose not to press the issue, “Listen, Angel. I appreciate what you do, and you skirt the lines just on the right side to keep me from having to bust your balls, but for me to give you the space to operate, I need to be kept in the loop. Plus, the brothers demanded a ransom, and you know that means FBI involvement every time.”

I know. It’s nothing personal, Amanda. I really am not trying to argue with you. I’m just tired. I was scared tonight—”

Amanda cut him off, “You’re scared every night, Kevin.”

Cutting her with a sharp glare, Angel glowered, “I don’t want to hear it from you, Amanda. Just because you know me doesn’t mean I want or need any of your psychological bullsh*t. Okay?”

Holding her hands up in surrender, Amanda sighed, “No, you’re right, it’s not my place anymore, if it ever was. But I’m worried about you. You go head first into every missing person’s case that comes up, and if children are involved, you are almost out of control. I stand up for you to my superiors, reminding them of your military service and your record, and that you’ve solved and saved over a dozen lives that we may have otherwise lost.”

Angel turned his head away. Over a dozen lives saved came with a stark reminder of the ones he’d lost, and there was no balancing that ledger in his mind. How long would he be tortured for what he had done?

Amanda continued, “It keeps them just off my case, and so I stay off your case, but sometimes I have to poke my nose into your business. Like tonight.”

Her tone caught his attention, “What about tonight?”

It’s really strange, but the report I got over the radio from the arresting officers at the site says the Pry brothers were white as sheets and rambling on about a monster attacking them. Now, I’ve read every report from your missions and never heard of anything like this. Care to explain?”

Anticipating that possibility, Angel shrugged, “I’ve been watching a lot of horror movies in my downtime and wanted to test a few theories on scare tactics. That’s all.”

Amanda eyed him. She’d known him long before he joined the military, and she remembered his carefree attitude, his sense of humor, and how big of a heart he had, but she never pegged him to be a liar. Something in his tone set off her senses, honed from years of experience as an agent. She also knew the direct approach would yield no results and would just put him on the defensive. This was something she would need to figure out later. Well, whatever you did, it did one hell of a number on the brothers. They’re scared out of their minds and incoherent to a degree. We’ve decided to move them to a facility for evaluation before the transfer to the state jail.”

Good!” Angel pushed away from the wall, “It’s the least those f*ckers deserved. If you’d seen what I saw the one prick do to that little girl, being scared sh*tless is the only mercy they deserve.”

Amanda frowned hard, “Kevin—”

It’s. Angel.” He reprimanded her in a clipped tone.

Angel,” Amanda sighed, “I’m not disagreeing with you. Just whatever new tactics you are employing, don’t give them any possible outs with an insanity plea.”

She was right, and he knew it, but after seeing Charlotte in action and how much it could give him an advantage, it was a risk he was going to keep taking if it meant saving more lives and more children, but aloud he placated, “No, you’re right. I’ll work on my tactics. As long as it does not put any innocents at risk.”

It’s the best I can ask.” She accepted, but added with a smirk, “Except, I’d love to see what your new tricks are?”

Not likely,” Angel’s body was near its end, exhaustion overtaking him, “If that’s all, Agent Sims?”

Short and addressing her in title, Amanda knew she wasn’t going to get any further with Angel tonight. She frowned but nodded in dismissal, “That is all, Mr. Collins. Go get some sleep. You did great tonight.”

He deserved the clipped response but didn’t have the energy to continue, so he nodded once and turned and walked out of the ER entrance into the early spring’s chill air. He gave one quick glance back to see that Amanda had been called over to the doctors, and he moved with a quick pace to the van. Opening the driver’s side door, he jumped in and closed the door with an angry slam. It was louder than he intended, and it came with a follow-up mumble from the darkness in the back of the van.

Angel?”

Charlotte’s soft, questioning voice had a calming effect on Angel, as well as making him feel regret for waking her up. “It’s okay, Charlotte. We’re done here.”

What now?”

We need rest. I have a room booked a bit back the way we came. Go back to sleep until we get there.”

She wanted to talk to Angel, but his tone sounded as tired as she felt, so she settled back into her makeshift nest as he started the engine and pulled away from the hospital. The white noise of the road lulled her off to sleep quickly. Up front, Angel drove into the night, his mind going over everything that had happened in the last few hours. Every time he reached an answer about something, two more questions took their place. His eyes glanced at the rear view mirror, worthless for its intended purpose—to see out the back of a van with no windows beyond the front—to look at the Charlotte fast asleep on the floor near the back. Was he making the right decision, letting her stay with him? And if she recovered her memories, who would she turn out to be? Was she a hero in the making, or the harbinger of death? Only time had the answer.

Chapter 15: Self Appraisal

Chapter Text

Darkness had started to retreat from the encroaching rays of sunlight on the horizon when Angel pulled into the small, dimly lit old motel off the side of the highway. Twisting the key out of the ignition, he sighed and stretched. When was the last time he’d had any sleep? Pushing the door open, he dropped his boots on the crumbling asphalt and stretched, feeling and hearing the cracks in his bones and muscles. The stretch felt good, and he moved to the back of the van and opened the two doors. Charlotte bolted up like a jack-in-the-box, her eyes a faint red, until she saw it was Angel.

Sorry,” Angel shook his head, “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Her eyes calmed down, and Charlotte looked past him to the motel, “We’re sleeping here?”

Yeah. It’s not the best, but I tend to hole up in these kinds of places since my cash flow isn’t always so good. Come on, it’s more comfortable than the back of this van.”

Relieved to be free of the van’s confines, Charlotte accepted Angel’s offered hand, gripped it gently and let him guide her out of the van. He let go and went to the door of the room he booked, unlocked it, and opened it for her to enter. She stepped in first, and he flicked on the light as he shut the door.

sh*t.”

Charlotte looked at him, “What’s wrong?”

It’s not a big deal. I booked the room before I found you, so…” She watched him look at the single bed in the room and then at the two very uncomfortable chairs propped up against a small round wooden table, “You take the bed. Get some sleep.”

This was another moment that Charlotte had to question what she knew and how she knew it versus all she’d forgotten. She knew what a bed was and what it signified between two people sharing it, and she felt her cheeks flush warm. But she also had a moment to ponder, asking him to share it with him anyway. When he went into the hospital, it was the first time she’d been left alone outside of running the mission, and it made her feel incredibly lonely and vulnerable. Feeling it would be inappropriate, she closed those thoughts down. Moving to the bed, she pulled the covers down, slipped in, and laid her head on the pillow. She looked at him gratefully. “Thank you, Angel.”

Having pulled the two chairs together, facing each other, Angel settled into one and propped his feet up on the other. “You’re welcome, Charlotte. Good night.”

Charlotte responded with a loud yawn, squeaked out a cute “Good night” with it, and closed her eyes. Angel smiled softly at her squeak, closed his own eyes and listened to Charlotte’s soft breathing, which told him she’d fallen right to sleep.

***

The midday sun greeted Charlotte’s weary eyes as she opened them to see the front curtains failing to defend the room’s darkness from the invading light. She had no idea how long she’d slept, but she stirred in the sheets, feeling well rested, and looked towards the chairs Angel had slept in to find him gone.

Suddenly alert, Charlotte sat up straight in bed, and her sharp ears picked up the sound of rushing water. “Oh,” she realized Angel was in the shower. Another sudden wash of warmth greeted her thoughts, and she shook her head. Pulling the sheets away, she stood up, stretched, and did a self-check of her body. She felt good—very good. Last night, she saved lives, and the sleep had recharged her mind and body. She let herself bask in the moment until a strong sensation hit her, and she looked towards the bathroom door. She had to pee.

Now that she was aware of it, it was a very uncomfortable feeling, and she clenched herself. How long would Angel be? She paced for a couple of minutes and tried to distract her attention by taking in the details of the room. The bed, the two chairs Angel had slept in, a round table with his keys and ranger vest strewn on it, a small desk, and an old CRT black Television resting upon a cheap brown dresser. The effort to control herself was a losing battle, and she finally gave up and went to the closed bathroom door and gently rapped on it a couple of times. She heard the water turn off.

Angel?”

His voice carried through the door, “Yes?”

I, uh…” She bit her lip; the word embarrassed her, but the pressure won: “I have to pee.”

She heard shuffling on the other side of the door, and in a moment it opened. Angel stood there in two towels, one around his waist and one around his shoulder, and she was treated to a clear look at his upper torso, muscles, and well-defined abs, speckled with scars, some from knives, others from bullets, and a few she couldn’t figure out. She felt her cheeks blaze and stammered, “S-sorry.”

Angel shook his head, “No, I’m sorry. I should have checked with you before I went in, just in case. I haven’t shared a bathroom with a woman in a long time.” His voice was pleasant and calm, almost business-like. “Please, go in.”

He stepped to the side and she shifted past him, sensitive to his closeness, and thanked him. The urge to pee was more important now than delicacy, and she turned and shut the door fast. Outside the door, she heard him call out, “I’m going to be changing, so don’t come out until I say. Okay?”

Okay,” was all she could say as she pushed her jeans down, opened the toilet lid, and sat down. With a long, drawn-out sign, Charlotte let the relief wash over her as the pressure ebbed. So, she chuckled internally, Demons urinate. I wonder if that tidbit appeared in any of Angel’s stories?

As she relaxed, she looked at the shower. Again, it hit her that the things she knew, or that felt natural to her, conflicted with all she could not recall. Okay, Charlotte thought to herself that basic needs such as sleep, bathroom, and hygiene were unconscious thoughts and needs she knew she had. But the knowledge of who she was and where she came from? Those remained somewhere in the dark and out of reach.

After cleaning herself, Charlotte stood, closed the seat cover, and flushed. Turning the knob in the sink, she washed her hands and appraised herself in the mirror. Her blonde hair looked well-kept, fell down to her lower backside, and she wondered if she should bind it in some way. Her large black eyes stared at her with unanswered questions, and she licked her full naturally maroon lips, moistening them. As she stared at herself, she let her power seep forward, and she became an audience to her own transformation. Her black eyes turned a deep crimson, and her irises reshaped themselves into snake-like slits while her normal round eyes switched to a much more exaggerated monolid shape, giving her a eerie menacing glare. Her horns broke through the skin on her forehead without even a hint of pain, only pressure as her skin wrapped around the base, wrinkled yet secure to the bone. Her canines sharpened first, larger than the rest of her teeth, but each one changed almost magically into cruel, flesh rendering tips. Her tongue flickered through the spaces in the middle, and she clicked her long clawed fingers on the porcelain sink. She felt her rear end move, and she watched a tail with a spade-like tip rise up, swaying like a charmed cobra. She grinned, lifting her lips in a growl to see more of her teeth, and she imagined the fear she’d put into those two men. The satisfaction filled her, and she relished in the memory, and even though she felt bad for scaring the girls, what she did to those men trumped that sadness.

I’m dressed.”

Angel’s sudden voice through the door caught Charlotte off guard, and she turned her head sharply towards the sound. Hissing softly, her skin rippled like water broken by a stone’s toss in a lake, and she felt the heat of ember fire dance between her fingertips. Pulling herself in, Charlotte focused and watched her demonic features melt away just as quickly as they’d sprouted, and once she knew she had her voice under control, felt safe enough to speak, “Do you mind if I take a shower?”

“Not at all,” Angel said.

She could literally feel his body against the door on the other side due to the power she’d just unleashed. She unconsciously pressed her palm against the door, unaware of her action.

“I’ll go get you some clean clothes out of the van and leave them by the door. Do you feel safe being here alone for a few minutes? I’d like to go get us some food.”

Food! The one thing she’d forgotten all about, and suddenly her stomach chastised her harshly for her forgetfulness. She dropped her hand and stepped back, and even though he couldn’t see her, she nodded enthusiastically, “Yes, please!”

Anything you want?”

Charlotte didn’t know at all what she wanted. She could not remember the last time she had any kind of meal, what she ate, and considering what she was, she didn’t exactly want to think about it. “You choose.”

“Okay,” Angel said.

Charlotte heard him open the door to go to the van and turned back to look in the mirror, her human features greeting her. With a pull of her power, she watched her eyes go red one more time. She was gaining confidence in calling her power up and looked forward to all the lives she would save. With a sigh, she gave her rumbling tummy a scolding to have patience and turned to the shower. Charlotte pulled her black T-shirt up over her head, dropped it in a corner, her bare chest rising and falling with her soft breaths. Slipping her jeans and underwear off, she reached into the shower and turned on the hot water tap, ignoring the cold handle all together. As the steam rose from the heat of the pouring shower head, she stepped in and closed the curtain.

Chapter 16: Culinary Choices

Chapter Text

With the windows down to let some warm, fresh air in, Angel drove up the driveway to the exit of the motel and looked to see what he could see. Right in front of their accommodations was a BBQ joint, which sounded good but likely cost more than he wanted to waste. He could see a gas station to his right and a sandwich shop if he turned left.

“You choose,” Charlotte had said.

Angel shook his head. When did choosing dinner for a woman turn out to be the right call? And how the hell does one choose dinner for a demon? Angel peered at the gas gauge, which ended up deciding his first destination. Turning right after the traffic cleared, he drove up and into the station and parked next to a pump. Shifting into park, Angel leaned back in the captain’s chair, let out a slow breath, and fished his cell phone out of his breast pocket. He clicked on the contacts list, selected one of the few favorites he had locked at the top, and pressed call. He listened as it rang one and a half times before it was picked up.

Angel? Are you okay?”

Eyes closed, comforted by the soothing voice of his sister, he let out a soft, “Yeah.”

Good. I got the report about the Pry brothers, so I knew you were, but you usually call and check in right after a mission.”

Angel debated how much to share with his sister, and in that moment, he made a snap decision to not say anything. Not yet. “Sorry, Cassie. By the time I got the kids to the hospital and back to my room, I could barely think.”

Well, I don’t like to be made to worry about you.” Cassie admonished, though her voice wasn’t angry, only concerned. “Anyway, I filed the report with all the others, as usual, and thankfully the Frequencies have been clear since the Pry incident began.”

Angel thanked the Gods for that. “Good. I could use the break. Anyway, I wanted to check in so you’d stop worrying. I gotta get a bite to eat. Talk later?”

Yeah, take care, lil brother. I’ll be in touch if necessary.” Cassie hung up, Angel put his phone back in his pocket, and got moving on fueling up and collecting food. He didn’t want to leave Charlotte alone for long.

***

With the shower finished, body dried, and new clothes adorned, Charlotte dropped her butt onto the edge of the bed and started untangling her hair with a brush that Angel had left for her. As she worked the knots out, she looked at the TV and had a familiar feeling about it. She reached forward and pushed at the buttons on the front of the TV, until it warmed to life. With eyes wide and hair forgotten, Charlotte was pulled into a trance of television programming. Sports, daytime TV soaps, Judge programs, news. She flipped through the channels, amused by the various shows, until she came across an action scene in a movie. Entranced, she flipped herself on her belly on the bed and stared intently at the unfolding story.

Some forty minutes later, Angel returned with arms full of plastic bags of food and drinks. Charlotte grinned at him, pointing to the TV, “What is this!?”

Angel peered at the movie and shrugged, “Robocop. I see you figured out the television.” Sitting the bags down on the table, Angel pulled out a couple boxes of fried chicken. Since a fast food place ended up being next to the gas station, it was the quickest grab-and-go he could think of, until he wound up stuck in a long ass drive-thru. He pushed his vest off the table and let it drop unceremoniously to the floor, opened up both boxes, and set two large soda cups down. He sat down, but Charlotte hadn’t moved from her trance, Charlotte, you gotta eat.”

Turning her head towards Angel, she tried to keep one eye on the movie, pouting, “But it’s so good!” she drew the good out with a long ‘oooh’d.

Angel shook his head, the first real smile he’d had in days crossing his lips, “I thought you were hungry?”

Charlotte nodded and stood up, walking sideways to the table, trying not to miss the show. She sat down, and the smell of the chicken caught her focus. She peered at the box curiously, “What is it?”

Having taken a big bite of a biscuit, Angel held up his hand to ask for a moment and swallowed, then pointed to each item in turn, “Chicken, coleslaw, mashed potatoes, biscuit.”

Chicken?” Charlotte repeated in a questioning tone and picked it up. It smelled really good, and she took a small bite. Eyes beaming up at Angel, Charlotte squealed and took a second larger bite, eagerly devouring every bit, but when she started to crunch down on the bones, Angel stopped her, “Whoah! You don’t eat the bones!”

Bones!!?? Charlotte started choking and quickly spat out most of the chicken she’d inhaled in her ravenous hunger. She frightfully stared at Angel’s worried face. “This is an animal?”

It never even occurred to Angel to explain the types of food humans eat or what sources they came from. He quickly explained the concept to Charlotte: that animals such as chickens and cows are processed for consumption, as well as fruits, vegetables, and so on.

Charlotte was not happy with the explanation and firmly declared she would not lend a hand or consume any meat if it meant the suffering of any animal. She sniffed and pointed to the other items, and Angel told her what they were made of. With one eye on Angel, daring him to touch his chicken, she slowly ate the slaw, potatoes, and biscuit. Angel grumbled, dumped the chicken into the trash, and joined her in the vegetarian feast. He could not believe it; Charlotte, a demon, was a vegetarian. He was going to be judged at every meal, wasn’t he?

As she ate in silence, the food settled into her stomach and she felt better. After a while, her attention returned to the TV, “What is ‘Robocop’?”

Grateful for the subject change, he checked to see what scene was playing and gave a quick recap of the story to that point, sharing a few facts about the actors, where it took place and such. Angel loved these kinds of movies, and it had been years since he got to share in watching one. As they watched, one of the characters repeated a line from earlier, and she looked at him, “What does ‘I’ll buy that for a dollar’ mean?”

It’s kind of like a ‘catchphrase’.’” And seeing her look of confusion, he continued, “In film and television, some characters develop them as comedic phrases or as a punchline in a climatic moment. Heroes will sometimes say it as they take out the bad guy at the end of a story.”

Charlotte’s eyes sparked, “Heroes say them? Like you, right? Do you have a catchphrase?”

Angel shifted uncomfortably, “I’m no hero, Charlotte. I do this because it’s the right thing to do.”

Which is what heroes do, right?” She prodded.

I don’t like the label, Charlotte, okay?” Angel turned away, “I wouldn’t deserve it anyway.”

The pain in his voice ended her interest in the movie, and she picked up the remote and turned the TV off. She reached across the table and placed her hand on his shoulder. “Why wouldn’t you deserve it?”

Angel shook his head, refusing to answer. Charlotte tried a different approach: “Will you at least tell me something about you? You’ve done so much for me, but I still don’t know who you are.”

I don’t like to talk about myself much, Charlotte.”

Charlotte stood up, pushing her chair away, walked around the table to face Angel, and knelt before him. She took both of his hands into hers and gave him her full, soft eyes, “I don’t know who I am or where I came from. You saved my life, Angel, so if I could, I would share with you everything about me. I can’t do that, and it pains me so much. Will you at least let me know a little? So I have something to hold onto?”

Her vulnerability was raw, and Angel surrendered to her request, “I guess. I will tell you some stuff for now, but… there are things I do not want to revisit. Not anytime soon. But you deserve to know things about me, Charlotte, especially if we’re going to be a team and trust each other.”

Giving his hands a firm squeeze in appreciation, Charlotte stood up and went to sit back down in her chair, eager to listen.

Angel repositioned himself in his chair to face her, but did not get a word out before his phone rang. He took the phone out of his pocket and read the screen. “Hold that thought for a moment; it’s my source and could be important.”

Charlotte nodded with a serious look of understanding as Angel stood up and stepped outside, shutting the door behind him. She could hear his voice as if he were right by her side, answering the phone with a single, “Yes?”

Charlotte decided to give him privacy, tuned him out, and sighed wistfully. In the shower, all she could think about was Angel. Who he was, what drove him to do what he did—which she found amazing and heroic. But she knew there had to be something that drove him. She craved to discover more of him. It wasn’t just because he’d saved her, let her join him, trusted her demon side, and took care of her. No, it was something else, something intimate. Like so many things she knew without understanding, love at first sight was one of them. She was also able to accept the idea that events and emotions could trigger false feelings. Charlotte knew she had a convoluted process to untangle.

Her thoughts were interrupted as the room door was opened quickly. Angel’s frame, large and tense, filled the space. “Pack up. We have a mission!”

Chapter 17: Who Are You, Angel?

Chapter Text

With the van packed up and ready, Angel and Charlotte got into the front seats, and he slipped the key into the ignition, firing up the van’s engine. As it idled, he opened his phone, checked his email, and saw that Cassie had sent him the details.

Who’s in danger, Angel?” Charlotte had asked when Angel came back into the room.

A child’s gone missing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The parents reported him missing about three hours ago, and search efforts have just started. We’re about four hours away.”

A missing child, “Charlotte repeated, pained, “But not kidnapped? That doesn’t make me feel any better.”

I know, but the silver lining is how soon he was reported missing and is likely just lost. Sometimes these things resolve themselves before I get there, but I told my source to send every news report she hears, and I turn nothing down.”

Charlotte nodded and helped Angel pack up his gear.

In the van minutes later, Angel flipped the phone close, “My source has directions. Let’s move.” He said as he shifted the van into reverse gear. Carefully, but with haste, Angel backed out of the parking space, turned the wheel until the van was rotated ninety degrees, and put the van in drive.

Charlotte thought for a moment, “How can I help?”

By the time we get there, it’s going to be getting dark. You have amazing eyesight and increased speed, so you’ll be best suited to scour the areas that they have set out in quick fashion.”

Smell, too,” Charlotte added

“Smell?” Angel glanced at her.

Giving Angel an apologetic look, she explained, “When I cornered the one man in the bathroom, I could smell his fear; it was… sweet and strong. I realized that in my demon form, it’s not just my sight that’s elevated; it’s all my senses. I could hear you outside when you darted him, too.”

You didn’t tell me.”

I know.” Charlotte’s voice sounded distant. “I was so caught up in the moment and then focused on the girls on the way to the hospital, and then…”

No, it’s okay, Charlotte, “Angel assured her, “Things happened so fast, but it’s good to know you have these abilities. Do you think if you got a chance to smell something of his, you could track him easier?”

Feeling slightly embarrassed, Charlotte nodded, “I think so, yes. When I first changed in front of you last night, I caught a very strong scent of fear, and like the man, it tasted sweet. It made my insides flutter in a kind of hunger.”

Fear excites you,” Angel stated plainly.

Sort of? With you, I felt shame and fear of being rejected, but I relished the fear I put into those men last night. It was exhilarating and—” She paused, searching for the right word, “—arousing?” Embarrassed, she finished with a frustrated scoff, “I don’t understand me.”

We’ll figure it out in time,” Angel gave her a quick reassuring look, “but right now, our focus will be finding the boy, and it’s good to know you have an even bigger advantage going in.”

I’ll do my best.” Charlotte promised, and then took a deep breath, “You said it’s a few hours to the site?”

Angel nodded as they stopped at a red light, “About four hours.”

Then,” tentatively broaching the interrupted topic, “will you tell me about you?”

***

As they made the long trek south, Charlotte listened intently to every little detail Angel shared about himself. Things he loved, how he grew up, and his favorite foods, to which she inquired if any of it was from animals. Angel admitted yes, and he received a low demonic grumble from her. He talked about his favorite sports and films, promising to show her many more movies, especially horror, to give her more ideas for any time she could use them. He mentioned his sister, who was two years older than him, who left home at seventeen because of their overbearing Catholic parents and, when she could, joined the military as a communications officer. She now owned a witchcraft shop in New Orleans, as she always had an infinity for the supernatural. Angel had always teased her about it, having never believed in all that stuff—until now, that is.

He revealed to Charlotte that Cassie was his source, sending him intel and directions whenever a case popped up. He explained that when he left the army and told her what he was going to do, she wanted in, and would use her contacts and connections. He appreciated it, and she has been a huge reason for his successes. What Angel glossed over, yet again, was what made him leave the army, but Charlotte was starting to feel it was something incredibly tragic. She also wondered if Cassie might have a way to help her remember who she was, but she was conflicted on whether she wanted to know just yet and if she should even ask him.

Another, more intense feeling followed that thought, and it occurred to her: Did she really want to know? Did she want to risk discovering that her demon side was the dominant of the two halves of her and that she’d become, for real, the monster she created for those evil men? And what of Angel? If she regained her true self, would he abandon her? Would she return to hell? Would Angel abandon her? She was quickly coming to realize that she wanted neither of those things to happen. The convoluted feelings were untangling fast. The led her to ask him something that she needed to know. Do you have a girlfriend?”

It was such an out-of-left-field question that Angel blinked, “Not since before the military. I dated in high school like anyone else, but there was only one that I was serious with during my senior year.”

What was she like?” Charlotte was curious what type of woman Angel was attracted to.

Strong-willed, stubborn, sensitive, extremely intelligent, and bold. Traits that I loved at the time but annoy the hell out of me today.”

Why?”

One thing I’ve not explained to you about what I do is that while I am on the right side of the law, I sometimes push it to extremes that would get most thrown into jail or have their license as a bounty hunter revoked. In that regard, I’ve been lucky—I guess I can say that word—to have someone who has my back and gives me more wiggle room than I sometimes deserve. Someone who knows me more than anyone else.”

Your ex?”

FBI Special Agent Amanda Sims.” Angel announced, “A frustratingly brilliant woman.”

But you’re not together anymore?”

No. We had different goals. She went into the academy with the sole desire to work in the bureau, and I wanted to serve my country. She was dedicated and very capable, and I’m glad she realized her dreams. She’s a very special lady, but we drifted apart.”

Charlotte sensed a bit of regret but also felt a sense of relief. She bit her lip and looked out the window again. She had to reconcile her own feelings, being both sad that he was lonely and glad that he was single? f*ck, what a way to feel. Human emotions sucked, she decided.

The van went silent after that, with both of them lost in their own private thoughts, and the scenery flew by at a quick pace as they neared the campsite. About thirty minutes out of their destination, Angel’s phone rang, and he pulled over to the side of the road, parked, and answered.

Hey, Cassie. News?”

Charlotte’s ears perked up, and she could make out both sides of the conversation as if Cassie was in the van with them. She found Cassie’s voice to be gentle, soothing, but also commanding. She felt an instant liking for this Cassie person.

Nothing bad, but nothing good,” Cassie’s voice carried, “They’ve covered a few grids right around the campsite with no luck. Choppers are being sent in, as well as tracking dogs, and they’re expanding the perimeter. How far out are you?”

About twenty-five minutes or so. I’m coming in from the Northeast.”

Okay, I have Google Maps up and suggest you go to the point I’ll send you. The Frequencies say a group is amassing there to search an expanded area to the north. And Angel?”

Yes?”

It’s a treacherous area that usually only experienced hikers go to, so if that kid got lost in that type of terrain—” Cassie trailed off.

Understood. Thanks for the update.” Angel said goodbye and hung up, “sh*t. If that kid got lost in an area like that, he could be in serious trouble, or worse.”

Get me there.” Charlotte’s red eyes looked at him.

Angel gravely nodded, put the van in gear, and accelerated to as safe a speed as the twisting roads would allow.

Chapter 18: Rescue In The Smoky Mountains

Chapter Text

Twenty minutes later, as the sun began to set behind the Smoky Mountains, Angel parked the van among a group of pickup trucks and off-road vehicles in a clearing off to the side of the road. He spied about twenty people already beginning to move into the forest. He turned in his chair to fetch his duffel bag, opened it up, and pulled out a box. Charlotte watched him as he opened it and lifted out a small plastic box.

Here, wear this.” He opened the box and pulled out a small earpiece. “When you’re out there, you’ll be able to hear me and respond. If you find the boy—”

When,” Charlotte cut in, firmly.

When you find the boy, call me, and I’ll come get you.” Angel corrected himself.

How will you find me?”

Angel handed her a smart tag, same as the one he planted on Ben Pry, “This is a GPS tracker. I will be able to pinpoint your location and come retrieve the boy. Just remember to stay invisible.”

I promise. I won’t mess up this time!”

Don’t scold yourself over last time anymore. That was a learning experience for both of us. I trust you. Now, hide.”

Got it,” Charlotte said, fading out of sight.

Angel watched her fade, and wondered to himself if he would ever get used to that. Sliding out of the van, Angel headed over to meet with the officer in charge of directing the search. Officer?” Angel questioned him as he held his hand out.

Barter.” The officer shook his hand, “And you are?”

Kevin Collins, Bounty Hunter, and Tracker.” Angel produced his license, adding, “I heard about the missing boy and wanted to offer my help.”

We can use all the help we can get, Mr. Collins. We’ve got a grid set up, and I can show you which one we’d need you on. We also have a K-9 unit on route.”

Why this area? The boy went missing south of here, didn’t he?”

Yes, but one of the K-9’s in another unit led us in this direction before losing the scent entirely. Since they still hadn’t cleared the main area, they retreated to try to pick up the boy’s scent elsewhere, and so we set this area up as a secondary search area.”

K-9’s coming in? You have an item of the boy’s for them?”

Yes, the parents gave us a pair of his socks.”

May I see one of them?”

Officer Barter gave him a weird look, “You have your own tracking dog?”

“No.” Angel smirked, “Something better. It’s a military secret, though, if you don’t mind. It is very effective, however.”

Shrugging, the officer went and retrieved one of the socks, and Angel took it gratefully, promising to return it in a few minutes. Shaking his head softly as he walked to the van, he wondered what the officer was thinking and smirked—if only he knew. Reaching the passenger side door, Angel opened it and leaned in, holding the sock up, “Here. Can you get a good scent?”

Having shifted into her demon form, Charlotte’s disembodied voice whispered back after he heard a loud sniff: “It’s… sharp. Definitely unique. I think I can pick it up.”

Okay, I’m going to leave the door open when I go return the sock and join the search party. Good luck.”

He stepped back and turned to the side to give her room. Feeling her invisible body softly brush him as she moved past him sent an unexpected spark along his spine. Shaking it off, Angel walked back to the officer, with the sock, to get his assignment.

***

Seconds had ticked by, and Charlotte was already ahead of the groups that had begun to fan out. She cleared fifty yards ahead and stopped. Closing her eyes, she inhaled as deeply as she could, and she was greeted with a barrage of smells. Trees, bushes, animals, flowers, insects—she could detect them all. But the scent of the boy was absent. Determined, she began to run, her cloven feet deftly carrying her over fallen branches and jagged trails. Charlotte moved in a wide zig-zag pattern, covering a wide range of ground in minutes. Now, as she was likely nearly two hundred yards ahead of anyone else, she stopped at a sound she hadn’t picked up before. Closing her eyes, Charlotte recognized the sounds of a river flowing fast in the distance south of her location. She took another strong whiff and was greeted by the scent of water, algae, fish, mud, and—

Her eyes snapped open. The boy’s scent was mixed into the rolling smells of the river. Turning towards the strongest of the smells, she picked up her pace and raced towards the river, opening up all of her senses to their maximum. With her speed, it took only a couple of minutes to reach the waters edge. Standing on the bank, she looked down at the rushing waters, her eyes scanning along the river’s flow. The sun had faded, and now, with the overcast clouds, twilight was taking hold. Darting her eyes, perking her ears, and inhaling as deep as she could, she picked up two things: the scent of fear and distant crying.

Angel?” She whispered, her voice carrying into the earpiece. It took a couple of beats, then she heard his smooth voice melt in her ear.

I’m here. I had to move away from the others first. You have something?”

I got his scent! I can’t tell how far off he is, but I think he’s in the river!”

Angel hissed urgently, “Go! Find him!”

She didn’t give a response as her legs started moving. Heart aching, Charlotte followed the scent and sound for nearly three-hundred yards down river, having now gone out of the search grid area. Thanks to her demon form, she alighted over the rough terrain with ease. Her eyes wide to let all the possible light in and give her a clear view of her surroundings. With a quick pause to listen, the sounds of crying now lapped over the sounds of the river. She was close, and she followed the sounds, moving quicker than before.

Stepping over a ridge of an embankment, she looked down into the rushing water and saw the boy stuck in a fallen tree that was a third of the way into the fast-moving river. She quickly assessed that he had to have fallen in some place upstream and got carried to this spot, and it seemed like luck had helped him to catch the tree to stop himself. The water was too fast for him to pull himself out and she could tell he was fading fast. If she didn’t get him out now, he’d drown.

Angel!” She radioed, “I found him! I found him! Track the tag! I have to get him out! Now!”

I’m coming! Good job!” Angel affirmed, his voice sounding proud, and she looked around hurriedly, trying to figure out what she could do to reach him.

f*ck! Wings would be so useful right now! She cursed her limitations but pushed them aside as she needed to rely on what she did have. Moving down to the edge of the river, Charlotte saw that he was out of her reach by about twenty feet. Testing the strength of the fallen tree, she cautiously started to crawl out but could only get half way when she heard snapping. The tree was not going to hold her weight if she went any further. Quickly thinking, Charlotte wrapped her demon tail around a thicker branch and slipped into the rushing water. The force was more than she anticipated and it knocked her against the tree.

OOMPH!” She let out a painful shout, and the boy looked her way, his eyes bloodshot from crying, and let out a fearful whimper. Cursing herself again, she bit her lip and reached out for him. She knew he’d be scared of feeling her grip, but if she could carry him around the tree and swim him to shore, maybe he’d think a current had led him ashore.

Charlotte reached out, but he was still out of her reach, and she couldn’t get closer. She saw a six-foot-thick branch, broken off from the tree, lodged among the other branches, and thought if only she’d grabbed it first, she could reach him with it. She stared at the branch for an infinite split second, wishing she had it, and then felt something solid in her clawed hand.

The branch she wanted had blinked out of its lodged spot to reappear in her grip, conjured as if by magic. Charlotte gasped. How? How!? She pushed the question aside and slipped the branch through the water until it nudged the boy. Would he grab it? She thought. She took a chance and spoke, just loud enough for him to hear over the loud, rushing currents. “Grab the branch.”

Wha—?” The boy couldn’t say much else; his eyes fluttered, and his grip on the branches looked weak.

Please, sweetie, grab hold. Trust me, please, please?”

Subconsciously, he did as she asked, and she pulled steadily and firmly those frightening last few feet against the force of the rushing water and brought him to her. She retracted her claws, letting her human hands take over, and she grabbed him by his green and white T-shirt and pulled him to her. He was out, his body having given up, and she put all of her strength into her tail. She pulled until she could get her waist above the level of water. Lifting the boy into her arms and growling deep, she lunged and landed them roughly on the mud and sludge of the river’s edge. She quickly flipped onto her back, the boy held in her tight embrace, and she lay there, breathing hard, her energy spent, and started to cry.

She heard him take a trembling breath, followed by soft, rhythmic breathing, which told her that he would be okay. Charlotte cried harder, held him close, and comforted him, I won’t let anything happen to you. I won’t let anything happen to anyone! She thought in defiance.

She lost track of how long she lay there, body pressed into the cold wet mud, her cloven hooves splashed with lapping water at the river’s edge, but her ears picked up Angel nearing her and she sniffled in relief. She heard Angel’s footfalls, followed by dirt shifting and falling down the embankment behind her. Her eyes moved to try to see him but the angle didn’t help. For a panicked moment, Charlie needed to see him.

Angel saw the boy suspended inches above the mud, as if floating, and he slid down to kneel next to him and Charlotte’s invisible form. You okay?” He whispered.

Charlotte’s wet-filled throat croaked back, exhausted. “Take him.”

Angel slid his arms under the boy, sliding over Charlotte’s body, and she closed her eyes, grateful for his touch. He lifted the boy up and off of her, stood with the boy cradled in his arms, and looked down at the human-shaped indent in the mud.

You can come out.”

The mud shifted, but Charlotte didn’t appear.

I—” Her voice paused, “I’ll meet you back at the van.”

The tone in her voice told Angel all he needed to know, and without another word, Angel took the boy and began the trek back to the meeting spot. When Angel had moved a distance away, Charlotte finally pulled herself to her feet and wrapped her arms around herself, feeling the sludge slide down her back. Her blonde hair was dyed sh*t-brown from all the mud, and she shivered in the growing cold. Taking slow, deep breaths, Charlotte drew from her demon powers, and her body began to sizzle, steam rising up off her body, both warming her and drying her. She was still so dirty, but the chill in her bones had gone. The few moments alone allowed her to regain her composure, and with a crack of her neck, she turned and took off at a full run, heading back to the van.

***

Angel returned with the boy to a cheering crowd and barking dogs. An ambulance had been called just in case and was on sight. The paramedics took the boy from Angel to quickly attend to him. Officer Barter expressed how impressed he was, and others came over to clap Angel on the back, shake his hand, and add some offers to buy him drinks. Angel waved them off, saying he was just doing his job and he needed sleep. After a few minutes of quick debriefing by Officer Barter and an exchange of phone numbers in case he had follow-up questions, Angel was free to return to the van. When he reached it, he noticed the passenger side door was closed and he knew he’d left it open for Charlotte so he took that as a signal she was inside. He slid into the driver’s side and closed the door. He listened for a moment.

Charlotte?”

Angel.” Her voice traveled from the far back of the van, soft and pleading,. “Get me out of here, please?”

Angel started the van in silence and guided it towards the two-lane road, the headlights cutting through the darkness. Movement drew his eyes to the rear view mirror as Charlotte’s form filled out as she reappeared, and she came up into the front passenger seat, falling into it as her body gave up. Still, she remembered safety and pulled the seat belt around her with a click. Memories be damned,” Charlotte scoffed, “But I don’t think I’ve ever been that scared in my entire life.” Angel responded with silence, giving her time. Charlotte pulled at the belt against her neck, unusually aggrieved by it, “If I feel this way about saving them, I don’t know what I’m going to do if I fail.”

Memories flooded Angel’s mind; torrents of pain washed over him, and he let out a slow breath, “I’ve failed before.”

How do you handle it?” she whispered, sniffing again.

I curse God.”

I thought your family was Catholic?”

I lost my faith a long time ago, Charlotte. I stopped believing.” Angel shook his head in bemusem*nt, “But now that you’re here, I’m forced to think that if demons exist, so must angels and Heaven, and that makes it even worse.”

How?”

Because. If you don’t believe in God or the Devil, you can curse man for his evils, but if you do believe, you have to wonder what strings they’re pulling, and why. If all this suffering is ‘God’s work’ or ‘The Devil’s doing’, you start to question if any of it is worth it. With what happened, it was easier to just stop believing.”

What happened, Angel?”

In time. In time, I will tell you.”

Charlotte so badly wanted to know, so she could understand him so much more, but the pain in his voice grieved her heart, and she accepted his request. Leaning her head against the window, she watched the shadows and trees whisk by as they traveled off through the night.

Chapter 19: Checking In With Cassie

Chapter Text

After they’d found and checked into a motel, this time with two beds, Angel went to the nearest grocery store in the small town and picked up some ready-made salads, bread, and water. He also picked up a couple chocolate bars, wondering if the treat would make Charlotte feel better. She had remained quiet and distant, other than to ask if she could go shower first as they entered the room. He also picked up some vitamins, figuring that if he was going to need to change his diet, supplements would be necessary.

Angel had left clothes on her bed after she’d disappeared behind the door before leaving, and he took his time shopping, lost in his own thoughts. Normally, he would feel energetic and in a good mood from the success of finding the boy, but Charlotte’s sadness was infectious. He did not witness what she’d gone through, only the end result, and hearing the pain in her voice when he took the boy off her chest, he felt a deep remorse for asking so much of her.

He also felt a deep shame of selfishness, accepting her help because it gave him such a unique advantage he’d never had before, and questioned himself if he was doing right by her. It didn’t matter that she’d insisted on joining him; if he was abusing her because of her power, he’d have to find a way to end it. The conflict of it all was that he made a promise to her—to help her remember her past and, more importantly, to protect her. If anyone ever found out what she was, she’d be a target, either from the government or more nefarious sorts, and he knew very intimately how disastrous that would be.

They would have to work this out together, but it would wait for later. Tonight, she would be treated to a vegetarian dinner and dessert, and he’d find a fun movie to watch, hoping she’d relax. After paying for the groceries and picking up the various bags, Angel left the store and decided to fuel up before going back to the room to give Charlotte a bit more time. He took care of that business swiftly, and with the van full, he pulled aside to free up the pump, took out his phone, and called his sister.

Hey, Angel.” Cassie’s voice was warm. “I heard on the Frequencies that you found the boy! I’m so happy. Good job, lil brother.”

Thanks. It was close. He’d gotten swept up in the fast currents of the river. It was sheer luck that I’d found him when I did.”

Yeah, they said he was out of the search zone. How’d you figure this one out? It’s not exactly a 4-D chess kind of strategy.”

Angel explained what the officer said about the K-9 losing the boy’s scent and that they’d expanded to the area to the north. He went on gut instinct to continue in the same direction that dog had been going before turning around. While it was a flat-out lie to his sister, the dog had been right to a degree, as he later deduced where the boy may have fallen into the river. Had the searches not stopped, they may have found him much earlier.

Cassie whistled in appreciation: “You never cease to amaze me, Kevin. I admit there are times I wonder if what you’re doing is best for you, but then these things happen, and I thank the Goddesses for their guidance.”

In the past, Angel was known to bite back at Cassie for suggesting ‘divine guidance’ but a flash of Charlie’s demonic form stopped him short, and Cassie was quick to pick up on it, “No teasing?”

Cassie, I don’t know what to believe anymore, but right now I’ll accept that something helped me tonight.” That something was Charlie. A real, honest-to-God demon, and it was all strongly impacting Angel’s conflicted beliefs. He wanted to tell his sister everything, but he didn’t want to do it over the phone or without Charlie’s consent.

That’s quite an admission, Angel, and I’m not going to tease you about it. I know how much everything has weighed on you, and you know I’m here anytime you need me.”

I haven’t given you enough credit, but it means a lot to me that you supported my decisions, both with leaving the service with me and with what we’re doing now.”

This work is important to me, too. Now. I just hope you’ll accept redemption sooner, rather than before anything bad happens to you. You don’t have to do this forever to make up for the past. You know that, right?”

Maybe someday I’ll believe that.” Angel smirked without humor, “and you’ll be the first to know when I do.”

I like that you said ‘when’, not ‘if’.”

Angel hadn’t realized he’d said that. He thought back to how Charlotte was adamant they’d find the boy, correcting his ‘if’ to ‘when’ earlier that night, and found her determination infectious. It felt good to think of a ‘when’ over an ‘if.’ He looked at his watch and figured he’d been gone long enough.

I like it, too.” He granted her a bit of honesty. “I need to get some sleep, sis. Call me if a case comes up, but I think I need about fifty hours of sleep otherwise.”

Cassie acknowledged and gave Angel her love, then hung up. Angel tucked the phone away, started the van, and headed back to the hotel.

Chapter 20: Charlotte's Shower

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When she heard the outer room door close, signaling Angel’s departure, Charlotte let the weight of her back fall against the bathroom door. Resting her head against the cool wood, she closed her eyes and sighed. The last two nights were burning in her mind. She had blown it by showing herself to Amy, and that had caused her to not show herself to the little boy when it could have been the difference between his life and death. She understood why she had to stay hidden. Angel had warned her of what could happen if she was discovered, but it hindered everything she could do. She imagined how many lives she would be able to save if she’d been free to go into any situation in her full demon form, with the FBI to back her up. Evil would bow to her as if she were the Queen of Hell itself.

She liked that idea a lot. She cursed the ghostly chains that bound her, but she didn’t blame Angel for it at all. If anything, he’d given her a purpose—a great one. And she was grateful that he’d accepted her as his partner. Pushing away from the door, Charlotte started the hot water and undressed. This time, when she looked into the mirror at her disheveled self, she shrugged and thought with a soft smile, Still a sexy bitch!

Now that she was safe in the hotel room—with her mind made up to focus on the positives rather than the negatives—she permitted herself to feel what she had denied herself when she held the boy in her arms: relief. Like the scalding hot water that moments later drenched her crusty, long hair and soaked her slim form, that sense of relief washed over her and cleansed away her sadness. There was a lot of complicated sh*t yet to deal with, but it would wait. The water was a balm to her emotional state, soothing her, and she let her thoughts turn to Angel. She needed to let him know she was okay, so maybe he’d feel better, too. She owed him that.

Soaping up to rid herself of the mud, grime, and sludge, Charlotte spent the rest of the shower enjoying the feel of her hands over her naked form, allowing herself to feel a sense of pleasure for the first time as the soap cleansed her physical & spiritual selves. She rinsed and then re-soaped all of her body a second time, lost in sensations she couldn’t recall experiencing the last time. Covered in the layers of suds, all the filth long since taken by the drain, her hands explored herself intimately. With the sadness and other negative emotions tucked away, new, more intense needs took their place. An ache had started to build, familiar and foreign all at the same time. Her hand slipped between her legs, where heat not from the water, pulsed. A ballet of fingers slipped into folded spaces, caressing her need, pulling the ache from inside until it teetered on the edge of her cl*t. Biting her lip, Charlotte slowly teased it, over and over, as waves of pleasure tingled throughout her body and her groin throbbed and escalated until she gasped once, clenched her hand between her legs and org*smed. Her body shivered under the scalding hot water as soft moans whispered through semi-parted lips, and she licked them with her tongue, dreamily.

When the tide ebbed and she was short of breath, Charlotte brought her fingers to her lips to taste her sweetness and sighed contently. She swayed under the water, eyes closed, lost in the euphoria of her intense climax for what seemed like forever, only to be rudely brought out of it as the hot water was replaced by bitter cold pellets. Cursing her selfishness for using up the hot water, since Angel had yet to shower, she shut the faucets off and stepped out while reaching for a towel. With it wrapped securely around her, she walked out into the bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed.

For a moment, she sat there, feeling a bit stunned at the sensations, yet completely relaxed for the first time. Shaking her head, Charlotte began repeating the tasks from the night before, she dried her body and slipped on the clean clothes Angel had left her, then started to brush her hair. She looked at the TV and grinned, suddenly quite curious about what there was to watch. She went for the remote when she heard the door rattle. Her eyes took on a red hue, and her defenses rose until she saw Angel step inside, struggling with six full bags of items.

Charlotte’s demeanor changed quickly, and she jumped up, her hair still a mess, and came over. Let me help.” She took half the bags off him to help set them on the desk by the door, “Wow, what all did you get?”

Angel picked up on her tone, “You feeling better?”

Yes! I came,” there was a slight pause as she smiled internally, “to an agreement with myself to focus on the purpose you’ve granted me and that we can do a lot of good and save a lot of lives. I’m so-so sorry I made you worry tonight, Angel! You’ve given me a chance to do good, and it makes me feel amazing that I was able to help Amy, Jamie and that little boy and I want more of it! I want you to be able to trust in me and to see how much I can help you fight for your dreams, too!”

The complete change in Charlotte’s demeanor eased Angel’s own angst of worry for her, and while she may be overcompensating a little bit, being able to let the sadness go was good for her. For them both.

I already trust you, Charlotte. From that moment you gave me my gun back, and your soft voice carried from those demon’s teeth, I trusted you.” He made sure his voice was firm, so she could feel the way he did. He still had to discuss with her his feelings about using her powers, but her words quelled his concerns for the night. Opening one of the bags, he pulled out two plastic containers, announcing dinner.

Charlotte’s eyes bled red again, and he heard the playful tone in her voice as she scolded, “No meat?”

Angel returned her crimson stare with a serious look, his voice carrying a humored undertone: “No, no meat, your highness.”

Good!” she declared, taking the offered container, eyes back to their dark black. “You learn fast, My knight.”

Knight, huh? A bit more medieval than Angel.” He chuckled.

Charlotte had the container open and looked at the salad hungrily, but what he had said distracted her: “Is it okay to ask what Angel means? I know it’s not your given name, right?”

Sitting across from her and opening his own container, admitting to himself that it looked pretty good, Angel took up the plastic fork and poked at the various items to scoop some food up, “Angel is short for Angelus, my middle name. In the service, It became my call sign in my unit, too. With what I do now, I feel I am still serving and protecting the innocent, so I kept it.”

You are an angel to the ones you save,” Charlotte blushed, adding, “Including me.”

Angel smiled gratefully at the compliment and bowed his head slightly, “I am honored to have you by my side, Charlotte.”

Hunger took over, and the two ate in comfortable silence until the salad and bread were devoured in short order. Charlotte downed two bottles of water, and after the meal was over, Angel presented the chocolate to her. The light that sparkled in her eyes told Angel all he needed. The chocolate was a success. Charlotte looked at him like he’d just granted her entrance to Heaven as she bit into the bar three times in quick succession after the first. She asked what it was, and he told her, and she declared that water and chocolate were to be stocked in full at all times. Angel told her he’d obey. The lightness of the air was refreshing, and all other items would be checked off later. Angel went and turned on the TV, flipping through until he found a movie to entertain Charlotte with. Sitting on the bed with his back to the headboard, he watched Charlotte lay on her stomach, flipping her legs up in turn as she giggled at the action on the screen, and for the first time in a long time, Angel felt a calmness he didn’t know he would be allowed to have again. There was another feeling, teasing the edge of his emotions as he watched her. If she never found herself, if she were to stay with him forever, he didn’t know if he was allowed to feel anything for her or if it was even possible. She wasn’t human after all. She was a demon. But, for the time being—as both of them seemed to desire—she was Angel’s demon.

Chapter 21: You're Not Human

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That night, the two watched three movies until it was nearly four in the morning—one comedy, one action, and a horror film—Charlotte really focused on the horror, taking mental notes, and Angel found it fun when she jumped at the scares. She really enjoyed the downtime, though she did pout halfway through the first movie because she’d ate all the chocolate. During commercials, they talked lightly. Angel would tell her details about the movies, she’d question the commercials, and she listened to him tell jokes, being a little goofy and even throwing a pillow at her. Charlotte had yelped but quickly caught on to the idea, and threw one back.They did that a few times before a scene in the film grabbed her attention, ignoring the pillow that clipped her cheek.

After a while more, Angel looked towards the clock, noticed how late it was, and was surprised. He’d developed a strong internal clock over the years and was always aware of the hour. But, being here with Charlotte, time disappeared. He only remembered feeling that way once before, with Amanda. Speaking up, he announced it was time to get some sleep. He’d already paid for two nights, so they didn’t have to rush, and tomorrow he’d take her out so she could actually walk the streets, visit shops, and feel visible. Charlotte at first whined in a playful way, but when that whine ended with a yawn, she grudgingly agreed.

Sleep refueled them, and in the early afternoon, Angel took her out. They went shopping so she could pick up some clothing of her own choosing. Angel made a note to call Cassie for a small loan, as his funds were dwindling a bit quicker now that he had a lady with him. For the first time, Angel regretted turning down the military’s offer of an honorable discharge. He found a restaurant with a large variety and warned her to accept that others did eat meat and keep her cool. She assured him that she understood she couldn’t save everyone; adding a snarky Some are just destined for hell, I guess. Angel heard the levity in her reply but sensed it bothered her more than casually. She really did cherish all of life. They ate and talked, and Charlotte’s eyes were saucers when the server brought her a slice of ‘Death by Chocolate’ cake. Angel genuinely enjoyed her enthusiasm and happiness, and he hoped that she would never become jaded like he had.

Over the next few weeks, they traveled the back roads between towns, stopping at police stations to check on local reports. The couple ate, shopped, laid on their beds, watched movies, and did the one thing Angel had truly forgotten to do: live. The weeks grew longer as the early months matured into the late summer, and in that time Charlotte began to hone her demon skills between missions.

She had forgotten to tell Angel how she’d conjured the branch the night of the river rescue but had quickly rectified it after she’d processed everything. Angel took it in stride, but she could see both pride and awe in his eyes. With that trick, she could conjure anything she needed on a mission for her or him, so Angel downgraded from a large duffel bag to a backpack, leaving out anything that wasn’t necessary that she could call upon later.

She practiced her hearing, smell, and vision, wanting to see if her powers would grow so she could scent even further, but there were certainly limits. She also began to call upon her physical features independently of each other. She knew it could be done, as she’d done so in the river, and it took time and focus, but eventually she could produce just her claws, tail, or horns and enjoyed sharpening her teeth to give Angel demonic growls if he irritated her. She did so one time when she’d caught him sneaking a hot dog at a baseball game he’d taken her to. It was more amusing because of the panicked look on his face, worried that others could see her, but Charlotte had learned when and where she could let her powers out.

As she grew more powerful and confident, the missions came and clicked off quickly. Charlotte was able to utilize her scare tactics five more times, each time resulting in the safe rescue of innocent children. Despite it all, Charlotte could not completely let go of the irritation at having to go invisible before arriving at a scene or staying that way until they cleared out. Still, she had come to accept the importance of safety and was very adamant about reassuring Angel that she loved what they were doing.

When she had expressed those feelings, Angel sat her down, each on their own bed, and expressed his concerns: “I wanted to discuss that with you. I’ve been asking a lot from you and from your gifts. You’ve been such a wonderful help, but am I pushing too much?”

“No!” Charlotte shook her head. “I asked for this, remember? Until my memories come back, being with you is my sole purpose, Angel, and even if they do, I don’t want to stop being your partner.”

Angel looked away, his face betraying his worry. “I believe you. It’s just—”

Charlotte placed the palm of her hand on his cheek and drew his attention back to her. “No matter who I was, who I am now matters more. Every time we save a life, my heart swells. It makes me feel like I am more than the demon inside me, and I need that. You saved me, yes, but you’ve also guided me, trained me, cared for me, and given me purpose. Saving lives is my destiny; I believe this. I am so-so grateful, so please,” Charlotte’s eyes glistened. “Never doubt that you can ask anything of me.”

“I promise you,” Angel cupped his hand over hers, “that I will not hesitate to ask of you what needs to be done to save everyone we can.”

“Good!” Charlotte’s cheeks flushed at the prolonged touch between them, then added a little pun she’d picked up, “and I promise you to be the best demon any angel could ever ask for.”

Angel chuckled as Charlie beamed, and the two stared at each other in silence. Clearing his throat, Angel broke away gently and suggested they get some rest.

The honesty they could share with each other made them stronger and bolder in their shared beliefs that they could save the world, figuratively, so when the night came that Angel feared the most, they fell deep into despair. Cassie had sent him a text concerning a kidnapping only an hour away from them. A little girl had been taken by her estranged father, and the police found them in a home on the outskirts of the town. Angel knew Charlotte could easily make her way inside and subdue the man, so they made haste to reach the location. They had been only five minutes away when Cassie phoned to inform Angel of the sad news; the police had surrounded the house and begun talks when the father took his daughter’s life, followed by his own.

Angel had pulled off to the side of the road to take the call, and with the van safely parked, he dropped the phone on the floorboard and screamed. He punched the steering wheel repeatedly, bashing his fists against the wheel, while Charlotte wept in her chair, feeling helpless. Yet, despite her pain, she reached out and grabbed his arm in her hand with demon strength to stop him before he hurt himself. Angel stopped, gave her a blank look, and after a moment or two, nodded softly and asked her to let him go. Angel thanked her when she did, and he said he’d find them a room nearby so they could get some rest.

The usual ritual of showers, food, jokes, and movies was tossed away, replaced by loss. Angel slumped into his bed as Charlotte pulled her covers up over her head, her soft hiccups from spent tears muffled by the blanket. Cassie had tried calling again, but he let it go to voicemail and sent her a short text saying that he’d call tomorrow. After a while, he heard Charlotte’s soft breathing, indicating she’d finally fallen asleep. Slipping out of bed, he went over to the suitcase he’d picked up last month and pulled out a notebook, worn at the edges, and sat down at the desk. Turning on the lamp, he opened it, clicked a pen that had been nestled in the spine, and began to write.

A while later, lost in writing, he didn’t hear the quiet rustle of sheets nor the soft gliding feet of Charlotte, who’d woken up to the light and saw Angel at the desk, hunched over. She gave a soft cough to announce herself, and Angel’s haunted eyes turned her way.

Did I wake you?” He softly asked.

It’s okay. What are you writing?”

Angel closed the notebook, “It’s my journal of failures.”

Angel?” With pain in her voice, she put her hand on his shoulder.

Putting his hand on top of hers, he leaned his head to trap her hand against his shoulder, needing the touch in the moment, and he sighed deeply, “I don’t let them go, Charlotte; I don’t let them be forgotten. I don’t let myself forget I f*cked up.”

She saw the size of the notebook, licked her lips, and whispered, “How many?”

Since I started this job, or since the beginning?” He didn’t realize he’d added the last part.

The beginning.” She wanted to know.

Angel looked at the book. He opened it on the first page. It was dated one week after he’d left the service. She recognized the date only because he’d told her when he left, not why.

I guess I should tell you.” Angel resigned himself to opening his memories up, and immediately the pain stabbed his heart. He looked at the words on the paper, let go of Charlotte’s hands, and stood. He motioned for her to sit on her bed, and he took a seat on his. Clearing his throat, Angel began to read from page one of his journal.

***

When he finished, Charlotte wept, not only for the events he had shared but for how his soul had been torn apart. She now understood his core, his very being, who he was, and why he was. She saw the angel that swelled within him. She had already dedicated her life to helping him, but now she wanted to dedicate herself to him. Standing, she shuffled over and took the notebook from his still hands, placing it gently behind her on the other bed. He looked up at her, eyes wet with memory, and she leaned down and pressed her lips to his. The kiss was soft, soothing, and inviting. Angel felt his arms move up to embrace her and felt her body melt into his. The kiss grew heated, and she pushed gently, silently asking him to lie back on the bed. She crawled on top of him and felt her body melt into his. It felt so good. Her body was responding to him much more intensely than any of her shower sessions, and those had been frequent lately. She could feel his heat against hers, and she started to move her hand down between their bodies, intent on removing the obstacles of clothing that kept them from joining.

Her euphoria was short-lived as Angel suddenly broke the kiss. She looked at him, her eyes worried. “Angel?”

Charlotte.” He swallowed, “I don’t think this is a good idea.”

Why?” She blinked, unsure if she heard right.

You’re not human.”

The statement was factual. It was also the most insulting, cruel, mean, and utterly despicable statement she’d ever heard Angel say to her. She bolted up and felt her eyes turn crimson from her demon’s rising rage, which she knew only proved his point. But as intense as her sexual arousal was, it was nothing compared to a demon scorned.

f*ck YOU!” She growled deep. Electrical currents seemed to shift through the air, and the light from the lamp flickered, threatening to go out.

Angel watched her demon form bleed out, and challenged her expression with one of contriteness—yet zero fear—showing her complete trust. He knew this needed to play out, and he also knew if she attacked, there was nothing he could do; he was unarmed.

As quickly as her anger had risen, it fell and was replaced by the deep pain of rejection. She lowered her head, and fresh tears poured from what should have been a dry well.

I have more to say.” Angel ventured softly.

She sniffed. She didn’t think anything he would say could soothe her right now. She had just revealed her feelings for him, let her guard down, and was willing to give herself to him. And he called her a monster? Taking a deep breath to control her anger, she looked up with eyes that said, ‘Go ahead’.

I regret what I said, but not the reason behind it. We’ve still not really tried to find out where you came from, exactly how powerful you are, what would happen if your memories came back, and,” he paused, “if we’re even physically compatible or if—by making love—something otherworldly happens. We’re just not informed enough for this.” It was a reasonable, intelligent argument, but it tasted sour to Angel as he said it.

Yet, in duality, it also concealed the fact that he was falling for her, and her actions announced that she felt the same way. He cursed his critical thinking, but he couldn’t risk hurting her, himself, or what might come of such a union. But now that Charlotte had shown her desire for him—and her love—rejecting her deserved a notebook of its own.

Charlotte was silent for longer than he liked, but there were subtle movements that told him she had listened and was having her own internal monologue. He waited, and soon she looked up at him. Her black eyes were fierce with determination, “I want my memories back! I want to know who I am, Angel.” Charlotte sniffed and thought, I don’t want to lose this.

Taking a deep breath, Angel stood and walked over to Charlotte. She tensed at first, but let him lift her chin to look into his eyes. “Then tomorrow I’ll take you to New Orleans and introduce you to my sister. If anyone can help you, it’ll be her.”

Charlotte averted her eyes. The feeling of rejection still tore at her heart, even though her mind agreed with him. Human emotions sucked, she silently repeated in frustration, but not all of them. When she kissed him, those feelings were like a cocoon, a shroud of protection for her grief. She thought back to all that he had shared with her, how he had let down the last of his shields for her, and suddenly she felt an incredible sense of guilt. She realized that she had taken advantage of him while he was vulnerable, and it disgusted her. She turned her sad eyes back to him, full of remorse: “I’m sorry I pushed you tonight. It was selfish of me.”

For a few moments, I felt normal, safe, and wanted.” Angel dropped his hand from her chin and bowed his head, “But I never meant to hurt you.”

“I know.” Charlotte’s voice sounded distant.

Angel peered at the clock on the desk, We should get some sleep. It’s a long drive, and we’ll have to leave early if we’re to get to my sister’s place before midnight.”

Charlotte nodded solemnly. She walked over to her bed, picked up Angel’s notebook, and ran her fingers over the cover. A fresh sense of sadness made her sigh. She turned and handed it back to him, and he gently took it and placed it on the other pillow on his bed.

Good night, Angel.” Charlotte chastised how curt it sounded to her, but she was too exhausted and just slipped under her sheets and rolled herself to face the wall, her back to Angel.

With a silent good night, Angel stood and went over to the desk, turned off the light, and crawled back into his own bed, his thoughts racing over what he would tell his sister tomorrow. He already knew that she had an idea that he was hiding something from her, as her intuition had led to probing questions that he had to answer carefully. Now, she was about to find out just how big of a secret that was.

Chapter 22: Be My Example

Chapter Text

Muffled cries woke Chloe from a painful unconsciousness, and she struggled to breathe. Panic started but she forced it down, realizing her head was covered with a burlap sack, and quickly slowed her breathing down. She felt herself rock and sway, and guessed she was on the floor of a moving vehicle. She could hear and feel others in there with her, and from the sounds, they were all girls of various ages. She struggled to move but felt ropes tightly binding her wrists and feet. She tried to remember what had happened, but it was very fuzzy. A very attractive older man had approached her in a club, bought her shots despite the fact that she was only seventeen, and gushed about how great she would be in theater and film. The pounding in her head told her he’d spiked her drinks. And with that thought, a new fear consumed her. Where was she being taken, and why? She tried to pull herself up so that she could sit against the side of the van, but suddenly it made a sharp turn, and she fell on top of another girl.

“Ouch!” the other girl cried.

“Sorry!” Chloe apologized, “Are you okay?”

“No!” the voice shot back. “Where are we? What’s happening?”

“I don’t know.”

Another girl spoke up, “What are they going to do with us?”

Chloe shook her head quietly, deciding not to scare them any further. She didn’t want to tell them the stories she’d heard. For the next few minutes, crying and mixed words of fear filled the van until they all felt it slow down and come to a stop. They all held their breaths, listening to movement outside, and screamed as the doors in the back of the van were pulled open. The heavy thud of thick boots from multiple figures stepped in, and the van creaked under the new weight as rough, cruel hands grabbed Chloe and pulled her violently up and over someone’s broad shoulders.

She could hear the other girls crying and screaming, as well as struggling, with one pleading frantically to be let loose. A sharp shriek of agony, followed by a thud, made Chloe believe that the girl had been punched in the gut. Now, all she heard was labored breathing, and soft whimpers from the others. The message had been effective. She went limp in her captors arms to avoid the same fate and felt herself carried up metal steps as her captor’s boots clanged against them. After what seemed like forever, she was tossed onto a dirty mattress, and her leg bindings were cut. The sack over her head was pulled away, and she blinked harshly against the dim light illuminating from a single overhead work bay light, with one of the four bulbs flickering from a bad ballast.

Looking around as her vision came back to her, she saw the other four girls seated similarly, their leg bindings all being cut free. Six men of various sizes, shapes, and ethnicity stood in a half-circle behind them, semi-automatic weapons at-the-ready and blank expressions on their stoic faces. Chloe gulped, trying to slow her breathing, when one of the men took up his weapon and pointed it at her.

“Stand. Now! All of you.”

Shaking, Chloe did as she was told, pulled her medium-length brown hair back behind her so she could see clearly, and stumbled on the dirty mattress. A strong hand grabbed her shoulder to forcefully steady her. “Don’t f*cking move, bitch!”

The other girls joined her, side by side, and she got her first look at each of them. sh*t, she thought, none of the girls looked to be over eighteen years old, and she deduced she may be the oldest, with the youngest having to be no more than thirteen, maybe fourteen. Her worry intensified as a groan from an old door announced the arrival of a tall, lanky African American male. This one was dressed far differently than the grunts. He was well-dressed in a maroon dress shirt under a black dress coat and rippled slacks, wearing a black top hat wrapped in a blood-red band. His boots were shin high, his laces slightly undone, and he carried a cane adorned at the top with the carved, severed head of a goat. Around his neck was a black-beaded necklace, a skull with a dagger stabbing through its head and out of its neck, hanging from it. He stepped to the front of the girls, eyeing them all in turn.

“Ah, our new arrivals, at last.” He said his voice was almost melodious, yet tinged with vileness. “Welcome! Welcome!”

He looked at each of them, “My name is Samedi, and I will be your host for the next few days while we await the arrival of the rest of your friends.”

One brave girl—or stupid as Chloe thought—spoke up, “What are you going to do with us!?”

Samedi gave the girl a wide, knowing smile, but his eyes were cold at the interruption. “You are to be delivered to various clients of my boss, for whatever they may want of you. You should consider it an honor, really. Some of you may even get to live full, rich lives with your new owners.”

Samedi explained this as he stepped to the girl and lifted her chin to meet his gaze; his fingernails were long and sharp, and he nicked the girl’s chin as he held her up for inspection. “But for that to happen, you will never speak up against me again, bitch!” Samedi struck the girl across the face with the back of his hand.

The blow knocked the girl onto the dirty mattress as she yelled in fear and pain. Samedi turned quickly, barking orders for the girl to be put back in place. One of the grunts hauled her up and pushed her back into the line, and Samedi spun back around. The facade of his smile dropped, “Now listen up! You will be locked up and given just enough to keep you alive. Forget all hope, because no one will find you, and you belong to Bible now!”

Turning to walk to the far end of the line of girls opposite Chloe, Samedi continued, “Bible is your God, The Word, and you will obey him. He will be selling you off to bidders to be their little toys, for whatever pleasures they wish to bestow upon your lovely little bodies.”

He walked slowly, sizing each tearful girl up in turn, “The lives you knew are over. Accept it, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll be the pet of someone who values your life. Not all do; some of you are going to be one-night toys. A shame really, as you are lovely specimens.”

He reached Chloe and looked her up and down, “But do not try to escape. There is nowhere for you to run, and I will show no mercy to any of you. Your beauty means nothing to me.” Samedi walked behind Chloe. She felt his fingernails graze along her neck, which sent shivers racing along her skin in disgust, and a tear slipped from her eye. Samedi’s tone darkened, “Do you all understand me?” A collective murmur of agreement from the girls told Samedi his point was made, and he smiled cruelly, “Good. But just to make sure you do.”

The children gasped, and Chloe saw one turn her head sharply away.

What happened? Chloe thought, Why does my neck feel so wet? Then she started choking as her mouth began to fill with the bitter taste of copper. She reached a hand up to her throat and felt wet heat, and her fingers probed mangled flesh. The touch brought with it searing pain and she felt hot liquid spill across her bottom lip. Losing control, she dropped to her knees and worried that she’d be punished for not standing. Painful gagging took over, and her eyesight became blurry as the light above her started to fade. Only then did she realize that Samedi had slit her throat wide open with his blade-like nails. Fear, pain, and hopelessness filled her soul as her blood and life spilled from her body until the darkness came forth to collect her, swallowing her light for the last time.

***

Watching Chloe’s body spasm as she drowned in her own blood, Samedi sucked the finger he’d used to slice the girl’s throat and enjoyed the fresh blood while listening to the cries from the other girls. Gorging in the feast of their terror, he sad*stically looked their way, his charming smile back, “I’m sure you understand now. But just to make sure you never forget.”

Lifting his necklace up and fondling the skull, Samedi uttered some words the girls could not understand. Seconds passed when Chloe’s prone body started to sizzle. Boils and blisters blossomed over her face and neck as the girls watched in stunned, disbelieving silence. The girl they’d barely begun to know was cooked in front of them in an unseen magic fire. When the smell of burnt flesh wafted up and filled the room, Samedi stopped chanting and looked to the girls, “Obey, and you may be spared her fate.”

Motioning to the guards to take the girls to the place of holding, Samedi stood silently as they were ushered out. Once the room was clear, Samedi pulled a small tablet from his pocket. With a couple of clicks of his nails, Samedi called up a video chat and waited for the other party to respond.

A moment later, the screen lit up to reveal a large, muscular figure that was shrouded by a bright light fixed behind him. Even as the light washed out his image, Samedi could tell he was chewing a cigar, like always, which identified the image as his boss, Bible.

“Report.” Bible’s thick, gravel-like voice was clipped with authority.

“The second shipment of girls arrived, adding four more to a total of eleven on premises, with a third shipment of three due in two days.”

“Four? I was informed five were to be delivered tonight.”

“I made an example,” Samedi said without remorse.

“f*cking Christ, Samedi! I had buyers lined up for all of them!” Bible growled, “Your bloodlust just cost me five million dollars!”

“Fear is priceless. The girls will be more malleable. We’re holed up in a very busy area. I will not risk discovery. The girls will spread the word about what they saw tonight.”

“They better.” The cigar’s end brightens as Bible pulls from it: “I want that third shipment in on time. The barge will be ready in three days.”

“They will be loaded and ready to travel by then.” Samedi nods.

“Good. I want no more f*ck-ups. I’ve already lost too much merchandise these last few months.” Bible cursed. Someone had been saving girls from his henchmen across the Eastern border and damaging his credibility among his most loyal customers. Of the men he was able to recover, thanks to his connections in the FBI, he learned that they’d been frightened to death by what appeared to be a demon before waking up in cuffs in the back of cruisers. After he had finished with them, those men ought to have wished that a monster had killed them. Bible was never lenient. He was also not stupid. Whoever was stealing his product had game. Having Samedi as his right-hand voodoo priest, he was well aware of the supernatural and was curious who it was interfering with his business. That would wait for another time, as Bible needed this shipment now. Refocusing on Samedi, “And no more examples, or I will make one out of you.”

With that threat issued, the screen cut out, signaling the end of the connection. Samedi’s dropped his fake smile. He tapped his cane on the cold concrete floor, walking back over to Chloe’s charred body, and cursed. How dare that overinflated, egoistical asshole threaten me? Without me, your syndicate is nothing. Yet, Bible had connections and power Samedi coveted. So for now, he would play the part of subordinate until he could discover a way to overthrow Bible. Kneeling beside the corpse, Samedi took out a blade from inside his coat and cut deep into Chloe’s exposed leg, drawing a fresh swell of blood. Removing a vial from an inside pocket, he filled it to the top and returned the stopper to the lip, tucking the blood-filled tube back into the same pocket.

“You may be useful yet, my sweet.” Samedi stood and gave the body a polite bow before walking out the door he’d come through.

Chapter 23: Morning Briefing

Chapter Text

FBI Special Agent Amanda Sims exited the elevator to the third floor of the Field Office on Leon C. Simon Blvd. in New Orleans, allowing a small yawn to pass her freshly painted lips. Despite years and years of service in the FBI, she would never be a morning person. Taking a drink out of her large Starbucks coffee cup, soothed by the heat of the liquid, she looked for the offices she needed.

“Can I help you?” To her left, coming out of an office, was a young man whom she guessed must have just been assigned to a field office.

“Yes. I’m looking for Special Agent in Charge, Mike Stefon?”

“Agent Sims?” Inquired the young man, and Sims nodded, “Yes, they’re expecting you. It’s the briefing room two doors down on your left.”

“Thank you.” Sims gave the young man a smile as he turned down the hallway in the opposite direction, off to his own duties. Sims walked to the suggested door and opened it to a briefing already in progress. sh*t! she thought, Am I late? and remembered the time zone was different here than in D.C. A stupid novice mistake.

Her arrival caught the attention of SAC Stefon, a gruff, stout man in his late forties with short, choppy black hair and a well-kept beard who was standing at a podium at the head of the room. A projector displaying case files for missing girls was on a white screen beside him. He gave Sims a stern look, “So glad you could join us this morning.” He paused, adding in a question, “Agent Sims?”

“Sorry, and yes, sir.” Sims nodded, closing the door behind her, “I forgot the time zone change. Won’t happen again.”

Stefon nodded, “Have a seat and try to keep up.”

Cursing herself, Sims pulled up a chair at the table, wondering if all these missing child cases were starting to break her mind. She never forgot such simple details. Turning her eyes fully on Stefon, she listened as he continued.

“As I was saying,” Stefon continued and filled out the details of the events over the past few weeks. Multiple girls had been kidnapped or gone missing in a frighteningly short period of time in a small region of Louisiana. Due to the nature of some of the reported kidnappings, all other missing child cases falling into that time range were added to the investigation. Very few credible eyewitness reports and tips had come in since the beginning, but one lead was very hopeful. Adding another sheet to the projector, Stefon pulled up a photo of a black van that had been seen in the area of a recent abduction of a teen girl named Chloe from a party up in Baton Rouge. Her friends had noticed her gone missing and thought they’d seen her pulled into the van in question. Unfortunately, they could not get the license plate, and by the time they’d tried to follow, it had disappeared onto the expressway.

“One other report on the van suggests it came south towards New Orleans, so this is where we’re going to begin our hunt. Any questions?”

“Yes.” Sims spoke up, catching Stefon’s attention: “Do you think these kidnappings may be linked to the three other recent cases involving The Bible?”

“We don’t have enough evidence to link them, no, but some of the M.O. is similar. We have agents on those cases, Agent Sims, and we’re sharing all intel just in case.”

Good, Thought Sims. There appeared to be no pissing contests going on. She had been involved in enough of those to see cases get messed up due to egos, and took a chance to see how far she could push the teamwork idea, saying, “I do have a suggestion as well.”

Stefon held up his hand to stop her, “I know you, Agent Sims, and I know your connections and your fondness for a certain bounty hunter. We don’t need any loose cannons on this mission.”

So much for team-work, Sims sighed, speaking up, “Angel has been on a hot streak all summer. He’s rescued more kids than we have in any given month.”

“Because he breaks the rules, Sims, and doesn’t follow protocol or call in the real authorities until after, which puts those kids at even more risk! I’m not going to entertain this idea anymore. Are we clear?”

With a defiant nod of forced agreement, Sims sat back in her chair, twisting her coffee cup in her hands and steaming internally. The others in the room chuckled quietly. It seemed her reputation had definitely preceded her. Standing up for Angel, debriefing him but never detaining him, and defending him to her boss at headquarters. A boss she was intimate with, thus why she’s been allowed to let Angel go without incident each time. The guilt and shame ate at her, but she told herself each time that it was for the children. Besides, she knew any chance to rekindle anything with Angel had passed, so this was her way of staying close.

Stefon dismissed everyone in the room, but called on Sims to stay behind. That elicited even more mocking grins from the other agents as they left. Sims stood at attention as the Special Agent in Charge came around the podium. He sat at the table in a chair next to her and motioned for her to sit back down.

“Look, Agent Sims, I was not going to be on record with the others present. But, I do admit that—personally—I’m glad those kids are safe. Protocol aside, I know that sometimes the only way to save them is to do things that aren’t ‘by-the-book’. But this is far, far too serious to have anyone involved that I am not in command of.”

Sims spoke up quickly, “Then let’s deputize him. Sir, Angel has something—I don’t know what it is—but his tactics are working far better than any I’ve ever seen. He’s captured every criminal without violence, without any of the kids being harmed. His skill set from the special forces alone dictates we consider him.”

“I read the reports, Sims, and some of those rescues have left those assholes mentally unstable. We had two already transferred to a mental facility, unable to stand trial. If I wanted Angel here, it wouldn’t be to help this case but to demand what tactics he’s using. Like I said, I’m glad the kids are safe, but he’s off the reservation on how he’s doing it, and I don’t have time to debrief him, and we do not need him.”

“Sir—”

Sims wanted to press, but Stefon cut her off, “My word is final, Agent Sims. Now go report to Deputy Tucker in room eight for your work assignments. We’ll be out in the field after lunch, looking for leads and conducting interviews. By the book. Understood?”

“Understood, Sir.” Standing, Sims nodded, “I’ll report to Deputy Tucker after I freshen up.”

“Good enough. You’re dismissed, Special Agent Sims.”

Sims opened the door and stepped out. Closing the door behind her, she turned towards the restrooms she’d seen as she’d gotten out of the elevator, her black dress shoes clicking on the gray vinyl flooring as she hurried. Pushing the door to the woman’s bathroom open, she walked in and checked to see that it was empty. Going to the last of three stalls, she pushed the door open, stepped in, and locked it. She didn’t need to freshen up. She needed to make a call. Pulling out her iPhone, she unlocked it with her print and clicked contacts. Angel’s name was at the top, as it always had been, even though she never called him. She pushed the call button. Professionalism be damned, she cursed. I’m not putting those kid’s lives at stake for some man’s f*cking ego. She only hoped that Angel was not too far away to help.

Chapter 24: Arriving in New Orleans

Chapter Text

It was just after midnight, two days before Agent Sim’s arrival in Louisiana, that Angel turned the van onto Decatur Street, nestled in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The headlights of the van reflected on the various shop windows as he drove past them. He scanned ahead a few yards, found a good spot, and pulled the van to the side of the street. Shifting into park, Angel turned off the headlights.

Charlotte had been quiet almost the entire drive, and Angel had not tried to initiate much conversation. They spoke mostly at rest stops and gas stations, and it was pretty much just about who got to go to the bathroom first and how much chocolate Angel had to get. He had to buy a lot.

The silence ate at Angel’s heart. The bond between them had taken a punch, and he wondered if they’d get that back. The drive didn’t do much to ease his worry. Hopefully, Cassie would be able to help. He’d called her in the morning as they were packing up the van and told her he was coming to stay a few days with her and had something important he needed her help with. Cassie asked what it was about, but Angel asked her to wait. She’d agreed, and told him she looked forward to his visit.

When he clicked the headlights off, Charlotte lifted her head off the window she’d been resting against, and looked around, “Are we here?”

“Almost.” Angel tapped the wheel, organizing all the jumbled thoughts he’d had all day, and turned to Charlotte with a decision: “Cassie lives above her shop, a block away. When we get there, I’m going to go up first and tell her about you. Not about your powers but that I found you a couple of weeks ago with no memories of who you are, so I took you in. It’s a flimsy story, but I just need her to know the basics until she meets you.”

“Thank you for saying ‘power’ and not ‘demon’.” The small switch told her he was trying not to add to her wounded emotions: “It means a lot to me.”

Angel nodded. “That’s another reason why I’m going to hold back some details at first. See, I spent my life dismissing Cassie’s passion for witchcraft and the supernatural. It caused tension when we were kids, and then she left early because our parents were strict Catholics and preached at her until she couldn’t take it anymore. I should have been more supportive.”

He took a deep breath through his nose, releasing a soft sigh, and then added with a light grin, “But, since she harped on me for years that she had ‘the gift’, I want to see it in action, for real. I want to see how she reacts to meeting you. See if she senses your power.”

“I don’t want to frighten her.”

“Trust me. Cassie does not frighten easily. If she’s as powerful as she’s claimed to be over the years, then, if anything, she’s going to be very curious. Will you be okay with her scrutiny?”

“I need it. If she’s as powerful as you claim, I want her to dig into me and find me.”

“Good. I want that, too.” The tone of his voice was thick. He truly hoped Cassie could help. Both for Charlie’s sake, and their bond. Starting the van up, he pulled out and drove to the corner, turned right and coasted about twenty yards to park in front of his sister’s shop and apartment above. He took the key out of the ignition and opened the door, “I won’t be long.”

“Should I get in the back and go invisible?” She looked out the window, seeing a few people still out enjoying the warm night.

“No. You have nothing to hide here.” Charlotte smiled at that, “Just lock the doors.”

She did as Angel asked after he’d slid out of the van and shut the door. She watched Angel walk around the van to stand on the sidewalk in front of what she assumed was Cassie’s shop. Her eyes drew up the sidewalk to the door and the sign above it.

*Charmed, I’m Sure!*

Angel looked over his shoulder, gave Charlotte a nod, walked to the side door, and rang the buzzer. A moment later, a click of the lock told him it was open, and he pulled the door wide and stepped through. Inside, he found himself in a hallway. To the left was the side door to Cassie’s shop. To the right was another shop, currently empty. He walked down the short hallway and took the stairs on the left, while the right went past them to a door leading to the back parking lot. Reaching the landing and saw two doors, one to the left and one to the right. The right one went with the empty shop below, and was apparently unoccupied. He turned to his left and knocked.

He heard the shuffle of a lock and a click, followed by the door opening. Light flooded out of the room, wrapping warmly around a beautiful woman, in her late thirties, dressed elegantly in a green blouse and leggings that were married to her legs from waist to ankles. A beautiful, petite quartz crystal amulet lay nestled just above the cleft of her breasts. Soft brown eyes, which seemed painted on a bright golden face, sparkled as they fell upon Angel. Her honey brown hair was tied up in a ponytail, the end laying over her right shoulder. Soft lips, with leftover strawberry lipstick, curled upward slightly, expressing both joy at seeing Angel and sadness for why he was there. “Kevin!”

“Hey, sis.”

Cassie stepped forward and hugged him tightly, “I’m so sorry about last night.”

Angel absorbed the embrace and support, squeezing back, “Thanks, sis, I—I wish I’d gotten there in time.”

“Is that why you wanted to come stay for a few days? Finally, take a little time for yourself?”

“Funny enough, I’m not here for me. I have something I need to tell you.”

Cassie stepped aside for Angel to come in, “Of course. Can I get you anything to drink?”

Angel noticed a small selection of liquor on one of Cassie’s cabinets, “A hot cup of tea sounds really good, right now.”

Cassie nodded and went to prep them both some herbal tea, “So, what is it you need to tell me?”

Angel sat down, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly, “Something happened a couple of weeks ago, something that I think your specialized talents, may come in handy for.”

Cassie stopped, turned and gave her brother a look, “Oh?”

From there, Angel regaled to his sister the modified version of how he met Charlotte.

Chapter 25: Meeting Cassie

Chapter Text

Outside in the van, Charlotte yawned loudly. She hadn’t gotten much rest on the drive, as her mind kept repeating the night before. That, mixed with worry that Cassie wouldn’t be able to help her and nervous about meeting her had pushed any chance of sleep away. She cursed herself for putting this off for so long, but the missions were more important. Then Angel became very important to her, and her growing love for him meant she needed to know herself. She deeply hoped the answer would give them the freedom to be together, and not be the end of them. Another yawn told her to stop and take care of herself, and she submitted to the pull. Resting her head against the window again, she allowed the cloak of sleep to drape over her.

She didn’t know how long she’d been out when she was awoken by a soft tap at her window. Opening her eyes, she saw Angel’s smiling face and couldn’t help but smile warmly back. She unlocked the door, and he opened it up.

“Are you ready?”

The smile wavered, “I think so.”

“Be brave, Charlotte; Cassie has already promised to do everything in her power to help.” He helped her down to the cobblestone sidewalk and led her up to Cassie’s apartment. He opened the door and stepped through, and lead Charlotte inside. He closed the door, and brought her around the couch and towards the kitchen. Cassie stood up from her kitchen chair and came over to greet them.

Angel made formal introductions, “Cassie, this is Charlotte. Charlotte, my sister Cassie Collins.”

Charlotte found herself blushing, her sudden shyness making her drop her eyes submissively. Cassie had a strong presence, and Charlotte felt real power emanating from her. Cassie, taking Charlotte’s hand, smiled with sincere warmth, “It is such a pleasure to meet you, Charlie.”

The shyness helped soothe her reply, but her emotions bristled at the butchering of her name, sending a pulse of demon energy into the air, and she looked up with a polite but bold correction: “It’s Charlotte.”

Cassie smirked at Charlotte’s reaction, but the smile wavered as she felt power in the air. The hairs on the back of Cassie’s neck rose, and an unseen tinge of electric force traveled between their coupled hands. Cassie looked at Angel, who was watching the interchange with keen interest.

Letting Charlotte’s hand go, Cassie controlled her voice, showing no reaction to the momentary energy spike, “I’m sorry, sweetie; I didn’t mean to offend.” Turning to Angel, she looked contemplative, “Will you help me gather some of my items from the shop?” Back to Charlotte, she offered: “There’s water on the kitchen table for you. Have a seat, and we’ll be right back, okay?”

The warmth of the greeting was now mixed with a hint of tension, but Charlotte nodded and went to sit down. Cassie motioned for Angel to follow her, and he did. Cassie moved swiftly down the stairs and, with a key in her hand whisked from somewhere on her person, quickly unlocked the door and ushered him through.

Angel stepped for the first time into Cassie’s shop’s new location and quickly took in the details. Ahead and to his right was a glass case with a matching glass counter, with the store register sitting on top to the right. He could see various pieces of jewelry, amulets, and charms in the case. To it’s right were four bookshelves full of books of various sizes, some lined up side by side, others with the fronts displayed prominently. He saw Cassie arranged artistically rather than systematically. He saw a single step drop into the front end of the store, where display stands held vials and bottles of colored powders, and boxes of items he could not describe. A table held an array of incense, and another held little home-made doll-like creatures, likely for the younger patrons. The color palette was soft earth tones of brown and green for the paint and displays, with rainbow drapery as spreads for many of the stands. It took Angel maybe twenty seconds to collect the images in his mind when he heard his sister step in behind him, turn, and lock the door.

Cassie spun around, eyes filled with a mix of fear and wonder, and hissed quietly, “Kevin! Do you have any idea at all what you have up there?”

Angel feigned ignorance, but was impressed and told himself a lot of apologies were going to happen soon. “What do you mean, Sis?”

“I felt power. Real supernatural power from her. She’s not human!”

Angel cringed at those last words, as they mirrored the insult he’d said to Charlotte, but knew he needed to ask the next question: “Does she feel evil to you?”

Cassie blinked. He’s acting really calm about this, She thought, then it hit her, “You know!”

“I knew what she was from the first night I found her.”

Closing her eyes, Cassie sighed, “You wanted to see if I was as real as I’ve tried to convince you for all these years.”

“I’m sorry, Sis, but yes. My faith, beliefs, and everything I’ve always thought I’ve known have been thrown in a blender, and I wanted to see how you’d react to her. I owe you years of apologies.” Angel paused, and nodded, “And yes, Charlotte’s a demon.”

Cassie looked up in awe. A demon was sitting at her kitchen table, sipping ice water. She thought of the meeting and holding Charlotte’s hand in hers. Cassie saw her blush in real shyness, but she also defended her name. None of it felt off; none of it felt bad. None of it felt evil.

“I felt power, Kevin—raw power—more than anything I’ve ever felt before, and trust me, I’ve dealt with a lot of power over the years. But evil?” She looked at Angel, “No. I don’t feel any of that. But the power surge scared me, so I had to get you down here.”

“I firmly believed all of that before coming here, but your affirmation is a relief.” Angel said, “She has amnesia. All she remembered at first was her name. The demon thing? That was accidental. But, she’s been evolving and learning to harness new powers and tricks on a steady level over the past few months, and who knows what else she has yet to discover.”

“Months? You told me you—”

Cutting Cassie off, Angel looked apologetic, “I lied. I didn’t want to have to explain too much before you got to meet her.”

The pieces of the puzzle were falling into place for Cassie quickly. Her brother may be the smartest Collins in the family, but she was a very close second. She had been curious about some of his missions and reports, and now she understood, “She’s the reason you’ve been clearing missions so quickly. She’s been helping you.”

Angel nodded, “She saved the boy in the river, the girls at the house, and helped me apprehend a lot of bad people by using her powers.”

“How is it no one’s found her out?”

“Invisibility is one of her gifts.”

“Wow.” Cassie whistled, “I mean, I know a great deal about demonology, but I’ve never even considered that one could feel so pure. It throws out so much of the academia. But I have to ask you. Do you think it’s a good idea for her to rediscover herself? What if the real her, hidden under the sweetness, hides something malevolent? ”

Angel held up his hand. “I thought that the first night, too, sis, but she had every chance to kill me the first time she turned. If you’d heard her scared voice coming out of that thing—the fear of rejection? You know I value facts over feelings when making decisions. How I plan for every possible contingency. But for this, I’m going on gut feeling here, and it tells me to trust her. Can you help her?”

“I don’t know.” Cassie went silent. Angel waited, and after a moment, she took a deep breath and said, “But, I promised you I’d try, and I will.” She paused again, thinking, “Give me tomorrow to look over my books and call up some friends, as well as commune with the Frequencies. I won’t tell anyone, but I do have questions I need to get answers to, and I have an idea where to start. With a normal person, I’d use my crystals and some natural remedies and meditation techniques, but this is a whole new world for me.”

“We need a day to throw away, anyway. I’ll take her out to explore the French Quarter; I think she’ll love the chance to let loose after what happened last night.” Angel’s meaning was doubled, but Cassie assumed it was just the loss of the girl and nodded.

“Great idea. I’ll show her around my store after it closes and explain some of what I plan to use, so I can get to know her and she can get comfortable with me. I’m going to have to text my assistant to see if he’ll come in on his day off so I can do research.”

“Thank you, sis.” Angel said, his relief palpable.

Cassie offered a smile, “So, let’s go have a proper introduction, shall we?”

Angel nodded, and they went back upstairs. Charlotte looked up as they entered, and stood up from the kitchen table. The power in the air had returned along with Cassie, and Charlotte was on guard. Cassie walked briskly over to her and held out her hand again, and Charlotte tentatively took it.

“Charlie.” Cassie purposely teased and watched with real interest as Charlotte’s black eyes flickered red. She felt Charlotte’s power and continued, “I am so very pleased and honored to meet you. Angel’s told me everything about you. I promise you I will try to help you in any way I possibly can.”

Charlotte gave Angel a look that seemed to ask if everything meant everything, and he nodded. She turned back to Cassie, “You’re not afraid?”

“Angel’s not. So why should I be? I sensed your power when you came in. I was concerned then, which is why I whisked Angel off, but the fact is that the power I’m sensing in you is pure. You may be a demon by name, but I’m confident the real you is not evil. We’ll find out, either way, when we get your memories back.”

Charlotte sniffed, the edges of her eyes started to moisten, and lowered her head. “I’m scared.”

Cassie made a bold decision, and stepped forward. Opening her arms, she pulled Charlotte into an embrace, one that told Charlotte she was safe and in the arms of someone who truly cared. The act broke Charlotte and she wept quietly as the pain and fear she’d been bottling up drained away. “I know you’re frightened, sweetie. There are so many questions to be answered, but we’ll find them together. Okay?”

Charlotte nodded against Cassie’s shoulder, to scared to speak.

Angel spoke up, “I haven’t been here since you moved locations, and I didn’t ask you about how many bedrooms you had since I kept Charlotte a secret, but—sleeping arrangements?”

Cassie smirked as she brushed Charlotte’s hair with her fingers, “It’s obvious. I get my room, Charlotte gets the guest room, and you—”

“Couch. Right. At least it’s not a pair of chairs.”

Cassie’s eyebrows lifted in humored curiosity, but instead she said, “I’ll get you some blankets and pillows. Feel free to shower before bed. I took mine earlier. Plenty of hot water for you both in turn. I’m going to retire now, so I can be up at the crack of dawn and text my assistant and start on research.”

Cassie opened her arms to let Charlotte step back and gave her a motherly peck on her forehead. Lifting her chin, Cassie’s voice held maternal comfort, “Let your mind be free tonight, Hun, and dream wonders.”

The softness and kindness felt familiar—the same familiarity when Angel had first asked her name—and it made her feel safe. She nodded and smiled softly, “I think I can. Thank you, Cassie.”

“Good. Your room is the door at the end of the hallway on the right. bathroom’s on the left. The room is made up, so just make yourself at home.” Cassie walked to the hallway closet, pulling out two blankets and pillows she had stored. She gave them to Angel, “There’s more in the closet if you need them, lil brother. Don’t touch the kitchen, I’ll clean up in the morning.” Cassie reached up and mussed his hair, playfully, “Now, I’m off to bed. Goodnight, both of you.”

“Good night, sis.” Angel patted his hair down, smirking.

“Good night, Cassie.” Charlotte softly said.

Cassie nodded and went into her room, softly closing the door.

Charlotte watched the door close and looked at Angel, “You can shower first. I’ll go check out my new room.”

Angel shook his head, “I’m going to get some of our stuff out of the van and then get some much-needed sleep. You go. I know you love losing yourself in the hot water until it’s gone. You can have the longest hot shower you need, okay?”

Charlotte wasn’t sure if she wanted to lose herself in the hot water again for a while, but she was grateful to be able to go wash up and scrub away some of her pain. She also realized that it would be the first time she’d be sleeping alone, and it made her heart ache a bit. She nodded at his offer and went up to him, slipped her arms around his waist, and squeezed, silently telling him she forgave him. He squeezed back. They parted, and Charlotte went to check out her room and then take a very long, very hot shower.

Angel watched her walk down the hallway, smiled softly, and then went downstairs to collect some luggage, his duffel bag, and a few bars of chocolate from the cooler. Once he returned to the apartment, he heard the shower was still going and took the luggage to the bedroom Charlotte would be using. He sat the luggage on the dresser by the bed, along with the chocolate bars on the pillow, and hoped this would give her a feeling of normalcy.

A moment later, Angel was standing by the couch. He looked back towards the bedroom and sighed quietly. His thoughts revisiting the night before and how he’d hurt Charlotte’s feelings—and by turning her down, his own—and hoped this was the right decision. Unceremoniously, he dropped to the couch, took off his boots and socks and settled down under the blanket. Laying his head back against the soft, feathery pillow, he let out a long sigh, hoping it would ease all the tension that he’d collected on the drive. Thankfully, he soon fell asleep.

Chapter 26: Confessions

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Early the next morning, Charlotte stepped out of her new bedroom and heard Angel and Cassie down the hallway in the kitchen talking. Her sharp hearing informed her that Cassie had already texted her assistant, who would be in to open the store, and Angel was planning for the two of them to go out for the day. Moving to the bathroom, Charlotte took care of necessary business and then walked quietly down the hall to the kitchen. Both of their backs were to her, with Angel looking over some pamphlets of things to do in the area. Cassie was cooking breakfast, and the aromas in the kitchen caused Charlotte’s stomach to rumble.

“Good morning, sweetie,” Cassie spoke without turning around. Angel lifted his head, looked over his shoulder, and smiled softly.

“You heard me?”

“Nope.” Cassie chuckled as she turned to slide some pancakes onto a plate, “But your power pulses around you, and I sensed you coming down the hall.”

With a blush, Charlotte settled into the seat next to Angel and eyed the plate Cassie slid in front of her. Angel smirked while setting the papers aside to accept his own plate, “It’s not meat.”

Cassie shook her head with a laugh, “I couldn’t believe it when Kevin told me of your dietary choices. I’m glad I had some choices to whip up on short notice.”

“I really don’t mean to be an inconvenience, Cassie, but thank you.”

“You are no inconvenience, dear. A challenge, to be sure, but I relish challenges. I called my assistant, and he’ll be over in a couple of hours. After breakfast, I’ll get started on some reading. I have a few books in the shop that may help.”

“And we’re going to go out and enjoy the day’s sightseeing.” Angel declared.

Charlotte nodded, “What are these discs?”

“Pancakes.” Cassie answered, “And I do have toast and oatmeal if it’s not filling enough.”

Angel had already started on his. Charlotte watched him pour syrup over them with a couple scoops of butter, and she copied him. Cassie watched, intrigued, as the demon sitting across from her took her first bite of homemade pancakes.

“Mmmm!” Charlotte’s response indicated she loved the pancakes and went to work on the rest with hungry enthusiasm. Cassie smirked, “I see you like them. Good. Pancakes are not one of my specialties.”

“They’re great, sis.” Angel said after finishing a bite, “When we’re out today, we’ll pick up supplies. Just make me a list.”

“Sounds good.”

They ate and talked a bit more until their plates were clean. Angel excused himself to go take his shower, and Cassie started collecting the dishes. Charlotte stood, picking up her plate before Cassie could grab it, “Let me help you. I don’t want to just sit here. It’s uncomfortable.”

“In that case, while we clean, tell me all about you. Your feelings, powers, what you remember, if anything, and the things you dream of. Maybe we’ll be able to find some seeds of your true self.”

Charlotte nodded enthusiastically, and as they worked together to clean up the kitchen, Charlotte told her everything she could about the last few months. How she first changed, that some of her gifts felt natural, but others were coming to her in time, like conjuring the branch in the river. Determined to make sure she held nothing back and feeling comfortable, Charlotte even confessed about the night she and Angel almost made love, why he turned her down, and how it made her feel. Cassie listened intently to everything, only interrupting to clarify some things.

Upon Charlotte’s confession, Cassie took a towel off the handle of the stove and, while drying her hands, turned to look at Charlotte squarely. “You do understand he didn’t mean to hurt you, right?”

“I know.” Charlotte’s voice was contrite, but she looked at Cassie firmly, “But I love him, Cassie. I don’t care if it’s right, wrong, or even possible; I love him and I want to be with him. It just hurts that he sees me as a monster.”

Cassie slapped her hand on the kitchen counter, startling Charlotte, who cringed. Cassie’s voice wasn’t rude, just firm: “Kevin does not see you as a monster, Charlotte, not in the least. He knows you’re special and different, and you’re both here to find answers to that. Not just so you can be the true you, but so you two can be together. Don’t question that, or you won’t try with all your heart and soul to recover your memories.”

Charlotte returned Cassie’s stare with a confident admission: “Last night was the first time I’d ever slept alone since Angel found me, and I hated it. HATED IT! I barely slept, and when I did, I had bad dreams. When I had bad dreams in the motels, I could at least see him in the other bed, and it soothed me.”

With a subtle shake of her head, Cassie blew air out past her lips, “Do you think Kevin was happy about sleeping on the couch last night?”

“No?” Charlotte looked over her shoulder at the couch, with the blankets folded neatly and the pillow set on top. She looked back at Cassie, confused.

“You’ve been very honest with me, sharing your deepest feelings and thoughts not just about the last few months but also about how you feel about my brother. Maybe you can be that honest with him?”

“He knows how I feel.”

“Yes, but not how much the distance is hurting you, especially when I’m sure it’s hurting him, too.” Cassie’s eyes softened, “To be as blunt as I can to drive home my point, two people can sleep together without sex.”

Charlotte blushed a bit, “But you sent him to the couch last night. Why the change?”

“New intel. I didn’t understand how close you two had gotten. If I had, I’d have suggested the room to both of you. This doesn’t have to be complicated, not if you don’t want it to be. I think it’s a nice change of pace that two people know how they feel about each other, and it isn’t the lack of honesty or communication that keeps them apart.”

“Just my memories.” Charlotte lamented.

“A tough challenge, like I said. But I firmly believe that if the two of you can get over the awkwardness of being a couple, even without sex, you can focus on finding yourself.”

“He pushed me away, though. If I ask him to sleep with me and he says no—” Charlotte trailed off, fresh memories poking at her heart.

“What’s real love without risk, darling? Just affirm to him why you need him with you—the loneliness. I bet he feels the same.

Charlotte nodded in acceptance of the task presented to her. She hoped Angel would accept her. As she wondered that, she heard the bathroom door click open and Angel’s footsteps coming down the hallway. Cassie smirked at Charlotte, shooing her away from the sink. “Go get ready for your day out.”

Angel entered the kitchen, dressed in a casual black dress shirt and black slacks he’d collected from the luggage, while combing his short hair into place. It was a look that Charlotte had not seen him in before, and she admired how handsome he looked, cleaned up. Angel smiled warmly at the ladies, “That felt good. It’s been a long time since I didn’t have to shower in a motel bathroom.”

“I’m going to go pick out something nice to wear, so I don’t look like a slob next to you.” Charlotte smiled shyly as she walked by Angel, letting her hand brush his arm tenderly.

Angel watched her go down the hall and turned to his sister and asked, “Did I miss something?”

“Better be the last time you do.”

“Wha—?”

Cassie laughed when she saw Angel’s perplexed expression. “Go. Have a good day. I’m going to go start the research and help Davis open the store when he gets here. I’m closing early, so be back here by 6 p.m. and we can go over anything I dig up. I will text you with anything I need for the pantry or for research.” Cassie stepped past Angel, giving him a pat on the shoulder, and left him there, shaking his head.

“Wha—?”

***

Twenty minutes later, Charlotte stepped out of her room wearing a long, dark red V-neck sundress with black high-heeled shoes. Angel could not help but notice she had chosen to not wear a bra, as the dress hugged her and filled out her form well. This was the first time he had seen her dress up so nicely, and he blushed as she stepped up to him, “So handsome? You’re gonna show me a good time?”

“It would be my pleasure.” He held out his arm, and she wrapped her arm around his, giving him a warm, loving look. She saw his eyes sparkle as he admired her and Charlotte thought to herself: Maybe today would be the start of their future together.

Chapter 27: Assistant's Assistance

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After Angel and Charlotte left the apartment to enjoy the day together, Cassie went downstairs to her shop. As she entered, she stopped to take a deep breath. Cassie loved the smell of her shop, with its incense, candles, and various items of enchantment. She kept a large variety of witchcraft-related items in stock, as she was always learning and exploring, with crystals and amulets being one of her favorites that she had on display.

But it was another kind of magic—powder magic; a type that was relatively unknown and rare in the witching community—that she was unusually adept at and really called to her. Moving behind the counter and opening a small door nestled between two shelves of items yet to be tagged, she stepped into a tiny pantry-like room, filled with dozens of jars of various powders in different hues and textures. As she glided her fingers over some of the jars, deftly realigning them or repositioning them, she listed them off in her head. Healing, cloaking, and a powder that was especially dangerous in the wrong hands and could blind or destroy someone’s vision were among some of the more potent of them. She frowned somewhat, seeing that none of these worked with memory. The sensory powders were trickster magic only, and the rest reacted physically. Still, she wondered if any of these would be useful now that she had a demon in her home.

Exiting the pantry, she closed the door and headed to the book section. Looking over the titles and genres, Cassie picked out a few selections to start with. She checked the clock and figured she had about forty minutes before Davis, her assistant, arrived. She set the books down on the front glass counter case, displaying her favorite amulets and charms. Stepping around to the employee-only side, Cassie pulled up her stool, leaned forward, opened the first, and began to read. Flipping through the pages and finding little that she could use, she pulled another book over and started again, browsing the chapters. She repeated this process over and over.

Lost in her reading, time flowed fast, and the next thing she knew, Davis was walking through the front door, carrying two large cups of coffee. She looked up and smiled at the young man. “Good morning, Davis. I’m sorry to call you in on your day off.”

“Good morning, Cassie.” Davis said brightly. As he closed the door, his oversize black rimmed glasses fell down his face. Moving one cup to the other, he pushed the rims back up to rest on his freckled nose. His frame was not too thin, yet he didn’t carry a lot of extraneous muscle. He looked like an avid reader who took daily walks and ate well, and his short, cropped black hair was kept neat and tidy. His eyes were hazel, large, and always curious, like the world was an adventure novel he couldn’t put down.

Stepping up to the counter, Davis handed her one of the cups, which she took gratefully, and he eyed the book collection on the counter, “It’s really no problem. I planned to study all day today, and I can do that at home or here and make a bit extra for my trip over Christmas break.”

Taking a much-needed sip of hot coffee, Cassie sat the cup down, gathered the books to clear up the counter for customers, and teased, “You know the summer is supposed to be for fun, not school, right?”

“I want a jump on next semester, and working here is where I have the most fun. I learned from you about spells and the supernatural, meeting all kinds of cool people who come in to shop and browse. I don’t need much else.”

“Well, then, if you’d do me an extra favor, I’ll add on a bonus for your time today.”

Intrigued, Davis sips at his coffee, “Really? Of course! What is it?”

Tapping the pile of books she’d pulled, “I’m not sure what I’m looking for is going to be found in these mass-published books. I sell them for the customers, but sometimes they frustrate me with the novice knowledge of the authors. Still, there could be some treasures in there. If you’d take some time during your studies to look through our inventory, I need information on memory spells. Whatever you find, pull those books out of inventory and stack them in my office. I’m going to go out for a few hours and visit a couple of my friends for their advice.”

“Gladly. Memory spells. Anything else?”

Thinking, Cassie nodded, tapping the counter, “Yes. For today, everything in this case is not for sale. Put one of the satin display clothes over it for me, please.”

Davis nodded, and they switched sides, with Cassie picking up her coffee and asking, “How much do I owe you?”

“It’s on me, Cassie, but maybe bring something for lunch later?”

“You got a deal,” Cassie smirked, and with a final goodbye, she left the shop by way of the side door to go collect her purse and shawl out of her apartment. Davis immediately got started on the favor Cassie had asked for. His studies could wait. He’d never seen her this intense about research, and he wanted to help as much as he could.

Chapter 28: Stay With Me

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Angel and Charlotte spent the morning and afternoon exploring the French Quarter on foot, taking in various shops and sights. He treated her to lunch, took her on a stroll down the river, and the entire time couldn’t take his eyes off of her. The way she moved in her sundress, showing off her delicate curves, which shaped her so attractively, and the glow in her reddish cheeks against her light pale skin, delighted him so.

Her excitement at discovering the unique shops and art places had vastly improved her mood, and her genuine excitement washed over Angel, giving him a small taste of what it’s like to live again. She also wasn’t shy with him, like before the night they’d almost made love. She took his hand and firmly held it as they walked the cobblestone sidewalks along the stores. He loved the feel of her hand gripping his, and fresh regret nudged him, but he pushed it away and focused on sharing in her good feelings today. He joked with her, enjoyed her excitement at discovering what all the area had to offer, and let all of his worries slip away for once. As the day grew long, the pair was back walking along the river past Woldenberg Park, moving among the bustling crowd, until they stopped by the Riverwalk Gazebo.

Angel checked his watch, “It’s almost six. We should start heading back.”

Charlotte nodded, having gone quiet. He looked at her, “Is something wrong?”

Shaking her head, Charlotte looked to her left towards the river. Silently, she tugged at Angel’s hand to follow her, and she led him to the Gazebo.

“Charlotte?”

She turned and looked at him with determined eyes and slightly quivering lips, “Angel. I’ve been thinking. I want you to know I forgive you for what happened the other night. You’re right. We need to know more about me.”

Angel nodded, offered a soft smile of understanding and squeezed her hand in his, a sign of encouragement to keep going, She did, “But, I suffered last night, sleeping alone, and even if we can’t be together in that way, I don’t want to feel the way I felt last night, ever again.” Stepping close to Angel, Charlotte pressed her forehead against his, their noses touching, and he felt her body go still. Time froze for both of them, and she whispered, “I miss you. Will you please sleep with me tonight?”

She felt his hands drop hers and reach up to softly grasp her shoulders. His warm breath tickled her lips, his lips so close to hers, and she desperately wanted to taste them. She felt his head move back, and she silently pouted. Angel’s fingers lifted her chin up to look him in the eyes, and she saw the softest, gentlest smile he’d ever shared with her. “I’d be honored.”

The moment seemed to pause again, and with her chin nestled in his fingers, Angel leaned in. Charlotte felt his lips brush against hers. The kiss was soft, chaste, but full of feeling. When they broke the kiss, Angel saw that her eyes were wet, and he drew his fingers along under her lids, wiping them dry. Charlotte pressed her cheek into one of his palms, putting her hand over his. “I was so scared. I didn’t want to push you away, but I couldn’t hold it in either.”

“When I stopped you the other night, I saw the pain in your eyes, and I despised being the source of it. I never want to be a source of grief for you ever again.” Angel gifted her a second kiss, then added, “I want us to find out who you are, bring you back to who you truly deserve to be, and then find out path. Together.”

His admission made Charlotte’s heart swell, and she sniffed away fresh tears. Pulling on Angel’s hand to guide him towards home, she urged him to run with her, “Then what are we waiting for? Let’s go find out what Cassie’s discovered!”

Angel let her lead him, impatiently, through the crowds and streets on the way back to his sister’s shop.

Chapter 29: Cassie's Workout

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Cassie stepped back into her shop for the second time at about twenty minutes before five o’clock. She had been out making the rounds, visiting her closest friends in the witching community, only taking a long enough break to drop off some food for Davis around 1 p.m., then picked up some items of her own that she felt may help. She’d learned a lot in a few hours, most of which was not as helpful as she’d hoped, but it eliminated some options. Her mind was jumbled, mixed with a personal need to help Charlotte and an insane amount of curiosity about her. Cassie never thought she’d meet a demon in her lifetime, as most were known to be called for nefarious reasons. She had to wonder if Charlotte had been a target of a summoning spell, herself, and if so, by whom? She had a lot of research to do on the mechanics of summonings, to see what was necessary and, if one were messed up, how it could affect the summoner and the demon being called.

Frustrated with the tangled web of thoughts, Cassie knew she needed to clear her thoughts so she could focus better. As Davis was working with a customer, she Indicated with a head nod that she was going upstairs, and got a confirmation head nod, back. When she got upstairs, she unlocked the door and stepped in. Kicking off her shoes, she pushed them under the small end table by the door, and took a moment to breath. Next, she opened the closet door next to the table, reached in for a pair of cotton shoes, and slipped them on. She stood and picked up one of her oak-wood Bo Staffs. After re-locking the door, she went to the stairway leading to the roof.

Cassie stepped out onto the roof and inhaled the humid air deeply, letting it blow out between pursed lips. She liked the humidity, the stickiness, as a ying to her yang of usual cool and calmness. It served as a challenge to her, to forget the discomfort of her surroundings, and instead find focus in her chakras. Walking past the makeshift walls she had placed around the middle of the roof, painted with oriental designs, that allowed her privacy from the surrounding neighbors while also giving her room to practice, she found a spot to begin. A clothesline to one side moved in the wind with some various items hanging from it that Cassie had yet to collect.

Taking a stance and gripping the Bo in her right hand, she planted the end of the 6-foot staff on the roof tiles by her right foot. Cassie closed her eyes and then began to move. She loved Tai Chi. It not only calmed her, but it went well with her mystical powers, providing focus and meditation, especially when her energies flared, as they had been doing all afternoon. She lifted the staff and let it drop into her free palm and started to dance rhythmically while taking slow, wide swings, stepping forward and then back, turning 180° with a low sweep of the staff, imagining a slow motion ‘battle’ with an invisible opponent. She dropped the end of the staff, shifting her weight and lifting the staff up, letting the shaft slide through her fingers and jabbing backwards, aimed at an invisible target. She continued various movements, mimicking both offensive and defensive stances for a full thirty minutes, most of the time with her eyes closed, and let her mind drift away from all thought.

As her personal inner timer expired, she came to a stop, returned the staff back to a starting position, and let her breath come back to her. The workout had helped for the most part, and she appreciated the calmer feeling, but she knew it was time to get back to work. She’d ask Davis if he found any information, and then look into the crystals. Perhaps they would give her some ideas. Moving from the roof, Cassie decided a quick shower before returning to the store to help Davis close up would be best. By the time she finished up those tasks and got Davis’s opinion on the crystals, it would be close to six, and Angel and Charlotte would be due home.

Chapter 30: Gifts

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The door chimed to announce Angel and Charlotte’s arrival in the shop. Cassie was handing Davis his bonus and thanking him when they’d arrived. She quickly introduced Davis to her brother and Charlotte and then ushered him out. Once he’d left, she locked the door and turned, her bright smile fading. “Before you ask, no, I didn’t have a lot of luck today.”

Charlotte’s shoulders fell, and she looked at Angel sadly. Angel nodded, “You tried your best, sis.”

“Don’t say that like I’ve given up.” Cassie admonished him, “I honestly did not expect to find all the answers on the first day. This is new territory for me. The books here are not the best resources, and my Wiccan friends didn’t know that much about demon summoning. It’s not magic that any of us practice. So, I figured I’d next look into crystals.”

Cassie walked past the pair, went behind the counter, and opened the back. She reached in and pulled out a tray of amulets and crystals, the ones she told Davis not to sell. She pointed to them and explained, “Crystals have power. Most don’t know how to really call upon it, only admiring the beauty and ideas of what they are. But those who are attuned to nature, the natural and supernatural—those who know the world has more in it than the naked eye sees. These crystals hold real power.”

She pointed to a few of them and explained the various crystal types, and then the amulets. “Amulets, charms, and trinkets can be worn with imbued crystals for the wearer to utilize. Now, it’s important to understand that using any power, spell, or incantation has consequences if it’s used with ill intentions. This is why some become corrupted.”

She picked up a white crystal with stalagmite protruding from it, “This is barite. It helps with wisdom and mental awareness, as well as enhancing memory through cleansing. If you have a lot of negative energy stored, accessing and retaining your memories becomes difficult. This has a gentle, soft cleansing of the chakra, breaking down the barriers hiding your deepest memories.”

Handing the crystal to Charlotte, Cassie warned, “It’s not a quick fix, though. It can take time, but I want you to keep it on your person at all times, okay? As we look into ways to break those walls down, it will help the process.”

Flipping the crystal in her hands, Charlotte smiled softly, “Thank you, Cassie. I’ll cherish it!”

Smiling back, Charlotte explained a few of the other crystals and selected a hematite for Charlotte to hold onto, telling her that it would help with focus and drain toxic emotions and negative energies. “While they say you can mix multiple crystals, that’s mostly for the common folk. Knowing their true power, it’s never good to go past two, maybe three. So we’ll start here. Tomorrow, I’ll commune with the Frequencies for more advice.”

“You’ve done a lot today, sis. Why don’t we take a break and go out to dinner?”

“Good idea. I forgot to text you today so we can all go shopping and pick out things we all like—in the vegetarian area, that is.” Cassie smirked at Charlotte, who nodded back, and the three went upstairs to get ready to go out.

***

That night, after a fine dinner, shopping, laughter, and Cassie taking a few pictures, including some very sweet pics of Angel and Charlotte flirting, they returned to the apartment. Charlotte had shared with Cassie during a moment alone in their shared outing that she’d had the talk with Angel, and Cassie clapped Angel on the back for not screwing this one up. Angel just gave her a playful, dirty look. Cassie told them she’d taken a midday shower, so she was off to bed, and for them to enjoy themselves. Charlotte blushed, and Angel gave her sister a look, who smiled and stuck her tongue out, giving him a raspberry as she shut the door.

Charlotte slipped her fingers around Angel’s hand, and with her soft, inviting smile, she asked, “Will you join me, my Knight?”

Angel nodded. “Yes, your Highness.”

The pair walked down the hallway to Charlotte’s bedroom. Charlotte was happy; even though they couldn’t make love, she could hold him for the first time, and she knew he felt the same way about her. For a flash of a moment, she worried that if she regained her true self, she would lose him, but that flash faded as fast as it came. Tonight, she would dream wonders, just as Cassie suggested.

Chapter 31: The Devil's in the Details

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Dawn had yet to come, but Cassie Collins was wide awake. Having made a pot of strong coffee and taking the whole pot back to her bedroom, Cassie moved to the corner of her room, where she kept what she referred to as ‘The Frequencies’, an array of ham radios, police scanners, and CB radios that she used to communicate with her own sources around the whole East Coast through the middle states of America that she’d collected from since her military days as a communications officer. These sources worked in coordination with other trackers and bounty hunters, not just for searching for lost children but any missing person they could help. Most did it for the reward money, but they still gave her a lot of good information, and she returned the favor whenever she could. Still, she asked them to send her only information on the serious dangers; that needed someone who wasn’t afraid to push the law or break it to rescue those in need.

Yet, it was more than just this set-up that she relied on. She never did tell her brother, but sometimes some of the information she got wasn’t from voices over the radios but from a more mystical means. She looked over to her altar, one she had set up shortly after having a vision that connected to a report she’d received from a friend up north that led to Angel’s first rescue. Cassie had been a little nervous about it, as her powers had been growing unusually fast and strong. She tempered it by staying connected to the real world of communicating via machines, so she would be able to nurture her power growth responsibly. Time spent with her coven, managing the store, and experimenting with her powders was her way of keeping a steady pace. Still, those thoughts had been pestering her since meeting Charlotte. Up until then, knowing that demons existed was not the same as meeting one.

Then there was her laptop, which she filed the reports on, so that she could trace any links between missions Angel finished to find out if there was a common denominator. This morning, the laptop would serve another purpose. Her thoughts were focused on that nagging tug at the back of her mind about how Charlotte arrived on Earth to begin with. If she was going to help Charlotte jog her memories, it seemed wise to find the answer to that question first.

Typing in her password, Cassie logged into her laptop, clicked on the VPN icon and switched her country of origin. Next, she launched a private browser and signed in to her secret account she used for research, taking on the persona of Chatterbug, her call sign in the army. With her cover established, Chatterbug launched Discord, went to the witchcraft channels, and scrolled to ones that discussed summoning spirits and other entities. She scrolled for some twenty minutes, while sipping her coffee, and periodically entered a chat to see if there had been any talk about failed summonings, especially in Virginia. Finding one chat line, she entered and typed in a basic query asking about Virginia. Yawning and frustrated at the lack of results or even leads, she sat back and stretched, closing her eyes for a moment. She’d nearly drifted off to sleep when her computer beeped. Opening her weary eyes, Cassie leaned forward. An icon with the username ‘CosmicWicca’ flashed a new message.

“You’re looking for information on a failed summoning in Virginia, correct?” - CosmicWicca.

Chatterbug straightened up and typed back, “Yes. Around six months ago. I’ve been trying to find anything on Google with zero luck.”

A moment’s pause and a response appeared: “You won’t. Our local coven made sure to keep the details of the summoning out of the news. They passed it off as a freak home accident.”

Feeling her body tense, she replied, “Can you tell me what happened?”

Silence, and Chatterbug was about to follow up when: “Why do you want to know?”

Chatterbug understood the caution and went for broke: “The summoning wasn’t a failure.”

A long pause, and now Chatterbug was worried she’d scared the person off, but finally: “That isn’t possible.”

Pressing forward, “I know the demon that was summoned. I’ve seen it, and it’s unlike any demon that’s been written, or tales told about. It has lost its memories. I don’t know why or how, but whoever summoned this demon summoned something different. What was the summoner trying to call?”

The response was much quicker this time: “If you’re telling the truth, you need to get away from that thing as fast as you can!”

“Why!?”

The words that appeared on her screen next sent chills down Chatterbug’s spine: “The summoner was the son of one of our senior Wiccan. He wanted to impress some friends and nearly lost his life in the process. He didn’t just try to call up a demon. He tried summoning Lucifer himself.”

Heart beating fast, Chatterbug’s fingers spun out her next words frantically: “Are you telling me that the demon that was pulled from Hell—that has lost its memories—is the Devil!?”

One word appeared: “Yes!”

Chatterbug sat back in her chair and, for the first time since her military days in the field, felt real fear. It couldn’t be. She felt no evil from Charlotte. She leaned forward and typed, “Lucifer was a fallen angel, right? Not a demon? Could that have affected the summoning?”

The reply came: “There’s no precedent that I’ve heard of for summoning an angel. But I do know that if you don’t perform the summoning exactly right and you don’t call the demon’s full name upon the summoning to control it, it can definitely escape into the real world. If this thing you’ve seen isn’t a demon but something else, that f*ck-up would have absolutely caused it to enter our world uncontrolled. If it didn’t understand it was being summoned or if the ritual was not completed, maybe that could have affected its memory. I’m only guessing. There’s nothing in anything I’ve ever read to cover this.”

Chatterbug: “What happens if it regains its memories?”

CosmicWicca: “Again, there’s nothing on record about summoning Lucifer or an angel. But what do you think it would mean if Lucifer, or something kin to Lucifer, were to regain its full power, free of control of a summoner, and loose on Earth?”

Hands trembling, Chatterbug had to retype a couple of times: “Can a loose demon be captured, controlled, subdued?”

CosmicWicca: “Actually, yes. One, you’d need to know the demon’s full name, and when it comes to Lucifer and the stories, there are two names out there that our community has debated for decades. Magne and Morningstar.”

Chatterbug: “What’s two?”

CosmicWicca: “Blood. It doesn’t need to be a virgin’s blood, unlike in the stories, though virgin blood is strongest. Finally, you’d need a talisman of some sort. Something to focus your power as the summoner on to keep the demon in check so it doesn’t kill you.”

Chatterbug: “If the demon hears its name without the other parts of the spell?”

CosmicWicca: “You’ll have its full, undivided attention, and you don’t want that.”

Chatterbug: “But could it trigger memory?”

CosmicWicca: “I don’t know. But if you plan to test this against the demon you saw, I would not recommend trying without the blood, talisman, and summoning circle, or it could be your death.”

Chatterbug couldn’t think of any more questions, as she had already decided on a course of action: “Thank you so much for your help.”

CosmicWicca: “Be careful. If Lucifer is on Earth, it could be the beginning of the end.”

Chatterbug acknowledged the concern. Clicking the exit button, Cassie logged out and switched off the laptop. She leaned back in her chair, put a hand over her face, and breathed slowly. Charlotte wasn’t a demon at all. She was something entirely different. Something far more powerful. A fallen angel? Lucifer? Lucifer’s kin? Could Lucifer have had a daughter? And if she was summoned to Earth, being of Lucifer’s blood would have messed up the summoning for sure. Stupid kids playing with things they don’t understand, and for what? Likes on social media? That pissed off Cassie. A lot! Still, she didn’t know what to think other than that she had this deep, powerful gut feeling that her first sense of Charlotte was real and accurate. She wasn’t evil, and she wouldn’t turn on Angel if her memories returned. She had to believe this to be true. I encouraged them to fall in love, for God’s sake! Or was it for the Devil’s sake?

Rolling the names in her head, Cassie let each pass her lips in a whisper: “Charlotte Magne. Charlotte Morningstar.”

For decades, Cassie Collins prided herself on her wits, creativity, and cautiousness. In the next few minutes, she was going to throw all of that aside and take a leap of faith. It was time to go find out if she had Lucifer’s daughter sleeping in her apartment. With her brother.

Chapter 32: I Am The Morning Star

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Eyes closed with her head on Angel’s T-shirt-covered chest, Charlotte listened with her keen hearing to his steady heartbeat as he slept. It was the first time, as far as she could recall, that she’d felt truly content and at peace. She traced a finger up and down his arm, admiring his body and curiously examining the various scars on his arms he’d acquired over time. She remembered the ones on his chest and hoped he’d share more of his stories when he found peace with himself. She looked forward to a life spent with him once she regained her true self. Charlotte couldn’t remember any of the dreams she’d had, even with the crystals nestled under her pillow, but she only felt comfort and safety from the long night’s rest. They would come in time; she was sure of it.

Her gentle touches stirred Angel from his sleep, and he opened his eyes slowly, peering down at the pool of messy blonde hair that covered his neck and chest. He enjoyed the feeling of Charlotte’s head pressed against his chest and the light, ticklish feeling of her fingers tracing his arm. “Good morning.”

The waves of blonde hair shifted, and piercing black eyes looked up through the strands, “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“It’s okay. I don’t mind. We should be getting a move on soon, anyway.” Angel shifted a bit, and Charlotte lifted her head and turned her body to snuggle up to him, her face now closer to his. He felt her soft, warm breath against his cheek and turned his face to hers. Silently, they both moved the last few inches and shared a soft kiss. Angel was surprised when she broke away first.

“I must behave.” She said simply, her voice mixed with humor and regret.

Angel slipped his fingers through her locks of hair, feeling how soft and full it all felt, and was still amazed at how it all turned black and menacing in her full demon form. Yet, the thought did not make him uncomfortable or concerned; it only added to his own regret for how he treated her a few nights ago. He’d agreed to share a bed with her, in part to make up for that regret but also for his own personal longing to be with her. Worry found its way into his thoughts on whether that was ever going to be possible, but all he said aloud was, “For now.”

She smiled at him, her eyes twinkling, and looked to be about to speak when they heard a firm knock at the bedroom door.

“Are you two awake?” Cassie’s voice flowed through the door, and the tone of her voice caught their attention. Charlotte sat up in the bed, allowing Angel to slip off the blanket and turn to set his feet on the soft carpet floor.

“Yes. What is it, sis?”

“We need to talk. Now.”

They heard Cassie walk off and looked at each other with concern.

Charlotte’s eyes looked nervous, “She sounds scared.”

Angel nodded, “Yeah, and she does not frighten easily.” He stood and reached for his jeans, “I’ll go change in the bathroom. Give you some privacy.”

Charlotte nodded. They’d slept in decent night clothes so as not to tease each other with nudity, so changing would be a private affair for now. Angel left the room, and Charlotte lifted her nightgown over her head, let it fall to the bed, and opened the dresser by the bed. After selecting a comfortable sports bra and her favorite black t-shirt to wear, She decided that since it had been humid and hot the last few days, she’d try out one of the skirts that Cassie had left for her. She’d clean up later, once they listened to what Cassie had to say.

Dressed, she slipped on her black crocs, stepped out of the bedroom, and met Angel as he came from the bathroom. He stepped aside so she could take her turn.

“I’ll be in the kitchen.”

“I won’t be long.” Charlie nodded and disappeared into the bathroom.

***

In the kitchen, Cassie started brewing another pot of strong black coffee while setting some various fruits they’d picked up last night in the center of the table, topping it off with a chocolate brownie for Charlotte. She sat down, her mind racing, struggling with what she was going to do. She looked up as Angel appeared from the hallway, his face serious, “Okay, sis. What’s going on?”

“Where’s Charlie?”

“Bathroom.”

“Do you want some coffee?”

“Sis, something’s bothering you; just tell me.”

Shaking her head, Cassie stood to grab two cups for herself and Angel, while also grabbing a cold water bottle from the fridge. “I thought about telling you alone, but for what I need to do, you and Charlotte both need to be prepared.”

Realizing she was going to do this on her terms, Angel sat, leaned back in the chair, and accepted the cup of coffee Cassie handed him. A moment later, Charlotte stepped into the kitchen, “I heard you, Cassie. Prepared for what?”

Indicating for Charlotte to take a seat, Cassie retook her own, setting her cup down and handing Charlotte the water. “OK, soooo… I couldn’t sleep this morning, so I started researching some ideas I had after yesterday concerning how Charlotte got here. My biggest concern had to do with the fact that demons don’t just come to Earth; they need to be summoned.”

“Are you saying I was summoned here?” Charlotte’s worried eyes darted between them.

“I connected with someone on one of the witchcraft servers this morning.” Cassie laid out all that she had learned about the failed summoning, the teen nearly dying from the botched attempt, and that it may have something to do with the fact that Charlotte may not be a demon at all. She also explained that the failed summoning is likely why Charlotte’s memories were locked away, as she was torn away from Hell but didn’t land in a summoning circle and wasn’t properly controlled by the summoner. How she ended up in the woods, though, was another mystery she had yet to work out.

“What?” Charlotte blinked in surprise, “But… my powers? What I look like? What else could I be?”

Taking a breath, Cassie spelled it out: “From what I was told, that kid wasn’t trying to summon just any demon from Hell. He was trying to summon the Devil himself, Lucifer.”

“sh*t!” Angel whispered.

“No.” Charlotte shook her head, “Lucifer is a fallen angel, right? That’s what you’ve told me, right, Angel? A fallen angel from heaven, and not female. So that can’t be me.”

“No”. Cassie agreed, “But as we’ve been discovering, things written in history haven’t exactly been played out by the scripture. What if Lucifer had children? More specifically, a daughter?”

“How do we prove this?” Angel straightened up, getting to the point.

“I don’t want to know!” Charlotte pushed back her chair and stood. “If I’m kin to the devil, I don’t want to know!”

“Sweetie—” Cassie began.

Charlotte shook her head, “No! No! If it’s true—” She looked at Angel, face-stricken, and said, “I could never stay on Earth! He would come looking for me, wouldn’t he? If he’s what you say he is, I’d have to run and hide, or everyone I love would—”

Charlotte started crying, unable to finish her morbid thought. Angel pushed back his chair and rose, taking the three steps necessary to wrap his arms around Charlotte. “Listen to me! Cassie said she didn’t sense anything evil in you. You are not bound to the stories, even if you are Lucifer’s child. You’ve proven that already, and perhaps neither is Lucifer what we think he is. But we need to know; we need to get your memories back.”

Shaking her head against Angel’s chest, she looked up at him with eyes drowned in tears, “This isn’t fair! If I refuse to find out who I am, I can’t have you! If I find out I’m Lucifer’s spawn, and he comes for me? Angel—I don’t know what to do!”

Sobbing, Charlotte broke away from Angel and fell against the wall. Angel looked at his sister, and for one of the few times in his life, he had no idea what to do or say. No amount of strategy would work here. He looked at his sister, “What do we do?”

Cassie’s heart ached. She understood Charlie’s fear, but they needed the answers, and they needed them, now. Reaching a decision she’d debated back and forth for the last hour, Cassie stood up, pushed her chair back and came around to stand close to them.

“I was told that the demon will respond to her name. I was given two choices.”

“What are they?” Angel asked plainly.

“Angel?” Charlie’s eyes were afraid, but she knew what was about to happen, and resigned herself to her fate. She reached out her hand, and Angel gripped it firmly.

Cassie took a deep breath, “If this works, sweetie, we may get our answers.” With that said and firmness in her voice, Cassie spoke the first name she’d been told about, her eyes set on Charlotte, “Charlotte Mange.”

Charlotte sniffed, blinked blankly at her, and wiped her dripping nose, “What?”

There was no discernible reaction, and so Cassie took a deep breath and pulled at her inner power, loudly speaking the second name: “Charlotte Morningstar!”

It was instantaneous. The air in the kitchen changed, a tense feeling of electrical current ran along all of their arms, and Charlotte let go of Angel’s hand and stood up straight. Wiping tears away, the siblings saw eyes that were different from before. The white eyes with black pupils were gone, replaced by a soft yellow glow and pupils that were naturally red, not the ones that shown in her demon form. Charlotte’s frame and stance looked almost imperceptibly different. She held an air of confidence, almost regal in form. However, it was the way she looked at both Angel and Cassie that had their attention fixed on her.

“I know that name.” Charlotte cracked her neck, energy flowing off of her in ways Angel had not seen before, and she smiled softly. Cassie and Angel saw subtle fangs peak out as Charlotte licked her lips, which had taken on a black tint, deeper than her usual maroon shade. She looked at them both, saw their looks of tentative awe, and bit her lip gently. “Sorry. I’m just feeling… “ She searched for the right word, “New?”

“Do you remember anything?” Angel took a step forward to show her his trust, and Charlotte held out her hand for him to take, her soft yellow eyes shining gratefully.

Shaking her head, Charlotte’s voice lacked worry, “No. Not specifically. I know that Morningstar sounds familiar, though. I still don’t know all of who I am, but what I am feeling is a sense of calmness, like it’s all just under the surface. Not lost like it was, but just out of reach.”

She looked at them both, her smile warm and genuine. “But I do feel like you’re right, Cassie. If I am Charlotte Morningstar, the daughter of Lucifer Morningstar, I’m not a monster.” She stopped, understanding dawning and she let out a short sob of relief, and turned and fell into Angel’s arms, “I’m not a monster, Angel. I know it!”

Angel smiled in return, holding her, but Cassie coughed in a way that didn’t sound good to them, and they both looked her way. “I believe you, sweetie, but we still have a major issue. The summoning tried to call on Lucifer to rise from Hell, but apparently, because you’re of blood kin, it reached you first. Do you have any idea why or how?”

Charlotte closed her new eyes and thought hard, trying to pull memories out from under the darkness in the back of her mind. The air was quiet as they waited on her, watching her stand still with her eyes closed and her head bent down. After a full minute, Charlotte opened her eyes and looked up, “All I feel is that I was swallowed up by blackness—like I was pulled into something? It’s still buried; I’m sorry.”

Leaning against the kitchen counter, Cassie rubbed her temple, “We do need to tread lightly here. But let’s cover the facts. One, it appears that Charlie is Lucifer’s daughter.”

“Charlotte.” It came as a quiet but firm reminder, again tinged with a demonic tenor in her voice, which caused Cassie to smirk again.

“Sorry. Charlotte. Two, calling you by your full name elicited a response from you. Your eyes, lips, and teeth have changed. You’re still human, but more so now.”

Lifting her hand to her mouth, Charlotte realized what Cassie meant and looked at Angel. “What’s changed about my eyes?”

Angel smiled, “They’re amazing. You can check the mirror in the bathroom in a few.”

“Three, this means that what I learned early this morning says you could be contained if someone discovered who and what you are.” Cassie sighed. “And that’s the biggest fear I have here.”

“No one knows who I am, though, except you two, right?”

“sh*t.” Cassie swore under her breath and saw the pair’s reaction: “In the process of learning about you, I let it slip that I’d seen you. The coven in Virginia knows you exist.”

“Do you think they’ll come looking?” Angel asked.

“I doubt they’d be able to. I used a VPN and logged in under my persona, Chatterbug, so I was incognito. Still, covens are resourceful, and they don’t know you like we do, sweetie, and I’d doubt we’d be able to convince them otherwise. I think the best thing to do for now is to stay down and out of sight. Until we can get all your memories back.”

“I’m not going to stop rescuing the helpless, Cassie. I don’t care if I’m Lucifer’s kid or if one day I have to return to Hell.” She stopped, the idea of it causing her grief at the thought of losing Angel, but pressed on: “I have these powers, and I’ll be damned if I don’t do everything I can with them.”

“And I’m not going to try to stop her, sis,” Angel added, squeezing Charlotte’s hand in unity.

“Yeah, didn’t think so.” Cassie shrugged with an accepting smile, “And honestly, I’m glad you feel that way, ‘cause it just reaffirms to me that you’re much more than kin to the Devil.” Cassie scratched her chin in thought, “I have an idea, but I need to do more research on it. For the time being, knowing what we know now, I suggest you keep the crystals on you at all times and meditate to see if anything returns.”

Charlotte nodded, and felt Angel’s firm embrace, but there was something she needed to know, and she turned her new yellow eyes to him, If I am… what I am...”

“I’ll give you two the room.” Cassie took this cue to leave the kitchen so they could be alone, and Angel nodded gratefully as she left the apartment to go down to her shop.

Angel listened to the door close and sighed, “It was something we both knew could happen, and not to make a joke out of it, really, but if there’s one father I’d never want to piss off by hurting his daughter in any way, he’s the one.”

Laying her hands on his cheeks, Charlotte pulled Angel into a real, deep, and meaningful kiss, one in which he accepted and returned, and when she broke it, she said in a low voice, “You have never hurt me, my knight. Only reminded me that I am something special. I accept this. I accept whatever future happens, so long as I am by your side for as long as I can be. I’m not stupid, I am not naive, and I refuse to be scared anymore. I believe I’m meant to be here, dammit, and I am forever grateful that I get to be your partner.”

Tasting her kiss on his lips, Angel pressed his forehead to hers, and she reciprocated, comforted by the feeling of their bond, “And I will be your shelter. I won’t let anyone find you or hurt you, but I won’t stop you or hold you back from being what you need to be, to fight at my side.”

“Thank you.” Charlotte sighed softly, “Cassie did the right thing by giving me back my true name.” The words were getting harder as she spoke them, because a decision had been reached, and it tore at her, “I know it could mean my time on Earth is short, and that until my memories return,” Charlotte paused and swallowed one time to gain the bravery she needed, “Until we know for sure. What we want—”

“Has to wait.” Angel finished for her, having reached the same conclusion.

A sense of relief washed over her, knowing he was accepting this change in their far too new relationship, but it was drowned in sadness. She had just claimed him, and now she was letting him go. “I will focus on what we need to do. Rescuing those in need, and finding out who I am. I am at peace with this. Are you?”

“I am.” Angel lied with all the skill he’d ever learned. It seemed to work, as Charlotte nodded in kind. With a sad nod, Angel stepped back and let Charlotte ease out of his embrace. She held her arms in her hands and looked at him sideways, “Now, what do we do?”

And as if on cue, Angel’s phone rang.

Chapter 33: Call Me Charlie

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Having left Angel and Charlotte to themselves to decide how they were going to work out their relationship, Cassie went down to her shop with a singular reason. Opening the door from the hallway, she entered and saw all the lights were on, and Davis was counting the till. Was it that late already?

“Oh, sh*t. I’m sorry I’m late. I was dealing with some family stuff.”

Davis chuckled. “It’s all good. I got in early so I could restock the books we took out yesterday.”

Cassie shook her head, “What would I ever do without you?”

“Well, you have two more years of school to figure that out.” Davis winked with a laugh, “New Orleans is lovely, but I’m dead set on California.”

“Noted and bummed.” Cassie winked as she stepped around the glass counter and pulled the crystal and amulet tray out for a second time, “I shall try not to rely on you too much. But for today, can you mind the store? I have a few more important personal items to take care of.”

“Rely away, Cassie, but yes, I got it covered.” Davis resituated his glasses again, as they had a tendency to fall down his nose, and went off to restock. Cassie took a moment to look at his retreating form and honestly hoped he’d find a good woman—or man—whomever he wanted. The kid had a bright future.

Looking over the collection she’d pulled out, her eyes narrowed on a particularly rare amulet she’d been lucky to procure just a few months earlier, one with a special history, and now she was thankful it had not sold. She lifted it off the display and placed it around her neck, clasping the ends together. She immediately felt raw power. Yes, this was no ordinary trinket. She replaced the display, locked the case, and went into the storage room to collect the items she’d need. If her idea had merit, maybe she could give Charlotte an edge.

***

Angel looked at the caller ID and took a long breath.

Charlotte tilted her head. “Who is it?”

Holding his hand up to ask for quiet, he pushed the answer button. “Hey, Amanda. What’s up?”

Amanda Sims. Angel’s ex-girlfriend. Charlotte had a very brief pang of jealousy, but it passed quickly as she could hear Amanda’s voice, and it was all business. “Angel, I’m glad you didn’t let this go to voicemail. I need your help.”

Angel picked up on the tone as well and didn’t mince words, “Details.”

“I’m in New Orleans on assignment with the local office. We’re tracking separate incoming shipments,” Amanda’s voice clipped the word “of girls that the Crime-Lord Bible is gathering to ship off overseas. I’m going against direct orders and contacting you, but I’ve got an uneasy feeling about the reports we’ve gotten, and I could really use your help. Off the record and undercover, this time though, similar to your days in the field because if you get caught, it could be both of our asses. But there’s a report of twelve girls in total, and I’m not risking it for a pissing contest with the SAC here. If you’re willing to help me out, how fast can you get here?”

“I’m here, already.”

“Really?” Amanda’s surprised voice asked.

“I’m visiting my sister.”

“I forgot she ran a shop here.”

“Exactly, and yes, I’m in. What can you tell me?”

“Nothing much right now; I have to meet with others to set up our canvas grid this afternoon. It ends at five, so I can meet you at six. But Angel, if you go out today, try to stay incognito; if the SAC sees you, he’s going to know I called you.”

“Understood, and Amanda?”

“Yes?”

“Thanks for trusting me with this. I promise to stay out of sight. Unless, of course, there’s immediate risk to the girls’ safety.”

“I wouldn’t ask you to do otherwise. I’ll see you at six.”

The phone went silent, and Angel pocketed it and looked at Charlotte, “I know you’re up to doing this, but I still have to ask?” He let the last word trail off, and Charlotte nodded.

“f*ck, yes, we’re doing this. Twelve girls? Who is this… Bible?” The last word came out like a curse.

“An enigma, really. No one has any photo or video evidence of him. He mostly operates outside the U.S., and up until now, I thought he dealt exclusively in drugs, weapons, contraband, and other non-trafficking sh*t. It’s why I’ve never crossed paths with him. It also means that I have a lot of research to do before meeting with Amanda tonight.”

“I heard what she said. They’re searching grid patterns today to see if they can find where the girls are being held, right?”

“Yes.” Angel heard the tone in Charlotte’s voice and answered her before she could ask, “And yes, you can go scout, fully invisible, of course. But I need you to promise me something, and it’s not an easy promise to make.”

“You don’t want me to take action if I find the girls. I already know you well, my Knight, and just as you promised Amanda—As long as the girls are not in immediate danger—I will return here to you first.” Angel nodded, looking impressed, and Charlotte continued, “Something is different with me now, Angel. My head feels so much clearer. I may not remember my past, but I feel like I’ve found myself—my soul? Thanks to Cassie calling me by name. I know this is how I’d be, even with my memories. I don’t feel lost anymore, even if my beginning was six months ago and not hundreds of years ago.”

“Hundreds?” Angel’s expression was one of surprise.

“Another thing I can’t explain, like my magic, but I’m much older than you; this I know now. I hope you’re attracted to older women?”

“I’m attracted to you, Charlotte. Period.”

Warmth flushed Charlotte’s cheeks, but she had to say what she felt: “I’m attracted to you, too, Angel. But, I know we have to wait, and I can accept it as long as I’m the partner you accepted six months ago. Are you okay with this?”

She added the last part with a hopeful gentleness to ensure Angel that she wasn’t shutting down, only dedicating herself to what was needed now, and he nodded and took her hand and gave it a chaste kiss, “Yes, your highness.”

“I didn’t realize how accurate that was until now.” Charlotte whimsied with a lopsided grin. Angel chuckled as the meaning occurred to him, too.

The sound of the front door opening earned their attention as Cassie came back into the apartment. She looked at both of them with a curious look. “Something’s happened?”

“Yes, Amanda called. We have a mission right here in New Orleans, and it’s on a much larger scale than we’ve dealt with before.”

“Fill me in after I do this.” They watched as Cassie unclasped the amulet around her neck and stepped up to Charlotte. “I have a special gift for you, Charlotte Morningstar. I want you to wear it at all times, under your clothing. Will you do this for me?”

Charlotte looked at the amulet as Cassie placed it in her hand. It fit the curves of her palm as if made with her hand’s contour in mind. She held it up to view it better. Delicate wire vines and petal motifs curled around the central moonstone, which swirled with a smoky, iridescent mist. The effect was mesmerizing, shifting from clear to a smoky gray to a shimmering rainbow with every twitch of her exploring fingertips. Dangling at the bottom of the pendant, a tiny crystal vial sealed with copper petals encased a vibrant array of fresh snapdragon blossoms. Charlotte looked up at Cassie with sparkling red eyes, her yellow orbs glowing. “It’s beautiful. What is it for?”

“Protection,” Cassie answered, “should help on the off chance that anyone comes a-calling to try to bind you. The stone can absorb your energy, hold some of it, and return it to you if you feel your control slipping. The snapdragons offer protection from magic. Like the crystals, it’s not a perfect solution, and there are some magics out there that are stronger, but this should help.”

Clipping the clasp behind her neck and slipping the amulet inside her black cotton T-shirt, Charlotte pulled Cassie into an embrace that startled Cassie at first, but she quickly wrapped her arms around Charlotte, “Thank you so much, Cassie! I can’t believe how lucky I am to have you as my dear friend.”

“And I trust you. I’ve trusted you from the first moment I met you, even if it took some time for my conscious self to realize it. I am honored to be blessed with your friendship, Charlie.”

Pulling her head back, Charlotte’s yellow eyes and red pupils danced with frustrated annoyance, “Why do you insist on calling me Charlie?”

Angel spoke up to answer, having watched the embrace with a warm feeling he needed after all that happened: “It’s the same reason she gets to call me Kevin when all others address me as Angel. Angel’s my call sign, my wall, I guess you could say.” He smirked then, “But of course, you have always been welcome to call me Kevin. I was just waiting for it to happen, naturally.”

“My name,” Cassie started and stepped back and playfully curtsied, “is Cassandra Elizabeth Collins. With those I conduct normal business with, they know this name. On the Frequencies, they know me by my call sign, Chatterbug. But my friends? The ones I care for? Love?” With that word, she brushed a stray hair out of Charlotte’s face. “They get to see my soul, the real me, the exposed me. When I first met you, I felt the real you, and I knew you were special, and Charlie just slipped out. I’m sorry for offending you, but I admit I had a little fun teasing you. Please forgive me?”

“It’s just that, “Charlotte sighed, “It was the first thing I remembered when Angel found me. It was the only thing I had to hold onto. The only thing that was really—me.”

“Then I promise not to tease you anymore, Charlotte.” Cassie bowed her head again.

“I don’t like the bows, Cassie; I don’t care if I am the Princess of Hell. My friends will never bow to me. So, please do me two favors? Both of you?”

Angel and Cassie came to stand together and said in unison, “Anything.”

“One, never bow to me again, please. We’re a team, okay?”

“Deal!” Both said, and Angel asked, “And the other, Charlotte?”

Charlotte turned away for a moment, her cheeks blushing, then looked over her shoulder at the siblings. “From now on,” she said, giving them a cute smile. “Call me Charlie?”

Chapter 34: Grid Search

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The overcast clouds had grown to block out the midday sun, which brought with it an uncomfortable humidity. Despite the sweat on her invisible brow, Charlie moved with purpose through the city, quickly checking off street after street in the center of the town. She was grateful to Cassie for providing her with a pair of comfortable black soft canvas shoes. They helped to muffle her quick, precise steps, especially since she was in her demon form and her cloven hooves would have clicked loudly on the cobblestone sidewalks and asphalt streets. Frustratingly, the tourists and vendors were everywhere, and moving through them presented a challenge. The overabundance of smells and sounds created a sense of white noise, so she had to rely mostly on her eyesight. Yet again, she cursed her lack of wings. Why did so many human stories give those demons wings if it wasn’t possible? She imagined soaring above the crowds, hunting her prey with better precision. Shaking the thought away, since it was useless and distracting, Charlie honed her senses the best that she could and turned a corner, stopping short. Ahead of her, three FBI agents were scouting a couple of abandoned properties. Quietly stepping towards them, she listened in to their reports and frowned after deciding they’d reached a dead end in the area.

Sighing internally, she checked off this section as having been covered by the authorities and moved east, heading towards the outskirts of the town and a warehouse district. As she found a spot where she could stop and rest, she drew her arm across her forehead to wick away some of the sweat and clicked a button on her earpiece: “Charlie to Angel, do you copy? Over”

A short bit of static preceded his calm, cool voice that she loved to listen to: “Go ahead. Over”

“I’ve cleared the grids in the middle of town, skipping the ones cleared by the FBI. I even saw Amanda in one of the northern sections. She’s very pretty, Angel. I listened in, and they’ve not had any success. How’s your research going? Over.”

“It’s frustrating,” was Angel’s response. “We’re hitting dead ends left and right when it comes to this Bible character. I’m thinking he has someone high up in the government on his payroll, because the dead ends I’m hitting are obviously erased data from the internet. Cassie is communicating with The Frequencies but has had as much luck as I have. What’s your twenty? Over.”

Charlie was down about the lack of leads Angel and Cassie had found. She looked around to size up where she was: “East of the French Quarter, along the river front by the rails. Over.”

“I recommend you run the tracks east to north along the river. Those areas house industrial parks, warehouses, and factories. Some of them could be abandoned and would afford someone privacy. So far, the FBI has been moving west and south, thinking Bible’s gang may be in similar zones. Since they went one way, you take the other. Over.”

“Roger that. Please hold.” Charlie found herself enjoying the lingo he’d taught her, how it made this feel professional, and how she could control her emotions more easily. Checking to see no one was around, Charlie left the cloak of invisibility and pulled a map of the area out of her pocket, set with grids marks made by Angel. She conferred with it for a moment, “I’ll report again after I clear up to the Florida Avenue bridge. Over.”

“Excellent.” Angel’s voice was full of pride and affection, and Charlie warmed a bit, “Be careful, Charlie. Over and out.”

Folding the map back up and slipping it into her pocket, Charlie felt her power warm around her as she faded out of site and took off at a sprint along the railroad tracks. Now that she was away from the sounds of the city, she could use all of her senses to their full potential, and she hoped to pick up something soon.

Chapter 35: Getting Nowhere

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Back in Cassie’s apartment, she and Angel sat in her bedroom, with Angel at the desk typing and searching Google while she sat cross-legged on the floor in front of her altar with incense burning. Eyes closed, Cassie meditated and pulled on the power she knew, sending out silent pleas for help across the ley lines connecting around the world and to other covens and mystical beings. She hoped that at least one or two would have insight into who Bible was. Meanwhile, Angel had over two dozen web pages up, looking up records of kidnapped children, both lost and rescued. He saw many of them were credited to him, and it helped him feel a little better about his successes versus the ones he’d failed or never had the chance to help. Pushing his emotions into a box, his eyes darted over the various texts and files that he could pull up, trying to find any connection or lead. He also had multiple chat boxes up on Discord, searching crime and mystery sections to see if he could find any leads through them.

“Ya know?” Angel asked in a rhetorical voice and yet hoped Cassie would respond anyway. He needed to vent.

“Yes?” Cassie’s soft voice sounded exhausted.

He turned, stretching his arms above his head, and let out a frustrating breath, “For all the world that the internet holds, I’m finding next to nothing about Bible. How about you?”

“Same. I was hoping my sisters around the world might have heard or known of anyone that was affected by Bible, but so far? Zip. Do you want me to take over on the radios? I do have contacts from my days in the service in communications.”

“Yeah. I need to get a bite to eat and clear my head before meeting Amanda in a bit. But I was thinking. I’m getting a gut feeling that Bible has connections high up, and that’s why we can’t find anything on the net. It’s getting erased.”

“sh*t!” Cassie cursed. “If that is the case, then this is significantly more serious than anything we’ve faced before. Are you going to bring this up with Amanda?”

“Yes. If she can get me into the system another way, maybe I can dig things up from inside.”

“Okay, go and get us both something to eat. I’ll call up some contacts.”

Angel stood and stepped aside for Cassie to plop into the chair and flick some switches on her radios, warming them up. He walked out of the bedroom and into the kitchen when his earpiece buzzed, “Charlie to Angel. Do you copy? Over.”

Angel allowed himself a small smile at Charlie’s enthusiasm to use proper lingo. Pressing the talk button on his radio, he answered, “Go ahead. Over.”

Charlie explained her current status, and he advised her on what to do next and to be careful. When they’d finished, Angel felt very proud of Charlie’s professionalism. She’d come such a long way from the first night. Going to the fridge, he pulled it open, scooped up a bowl of leftover jambalaya, and placed it on the kitchen counter. Fixing up a plate for himself and Cassie, he heated the plates in the microwave and took hers to her. Returning to the kitchen, Angel sat at the table and ate while searching on his cell phone for any leads he could think of while he waited for six o’clock to roll around.

Chapter 36: Wrapping Up The Day

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Special agent Amanda Sims leaned against the door to her rented Chevy Suburban and took a drag of her cigarette, inhaling slowly and letting the hit take hold before blowing the smoke out. They’d been at it for five hours, and it was nearing the time that the searches would be called for the evening. They’d found nothing, not a single lead, in the city or any of their completed grids. She wasn’t surprised, honestly, since she figured Bible would be too smart to have his operations in a busy part of the city, but the SAC insisted they work in a pattern starting in the center of the city and moving outwards. Part of the canvas was investigating suspicious vehicles and focusing on any black vans they came across. They only found a couple, and one of them she immediately recognized and took the lead to ‘investigate’ the license plate so as not to let it leak that Angel was in the city. When they’d meet later, she’d suggest he switch up his mode of transportation while in town, so he would not get pulled over at any point while they were actively searching. Checking her watch, she saw it was about a quarter to six. Taking one more hit of her cigarette, she dropped it, crushed the butt under her boot, and looked for Agent Tucker, who was leading her group. She saw him talking to another agent two cars down and whistled, catching his attention, and waved him over.

“Yes, Sims?” Tucker approached, adjusting the collar on his jacket. She looked him up and down, and his short, stout frame, thinning black hair, and scruffy beard made him look older than the young forties that he was.

“Since it’s about time to call things off, I wanted to go check into my hotel. I never got a chance this morning and really would hate to lose my room due to a no-show.”

Tucker checked his watch and confirmed how late it was: “Sure. I lost track of time, anyway. Late August in New Orleans always seems to drag on, especially in this heat. We’ll wrap up for now. The next shift starts at 7 p.m., continuing south. I will be going back to the office to check in on any new information and plan tomorrow’s search grid for our shift.”

“You don’t take many breaks, do you?” His older look made sense to her now.

“Not when lives are at stake. Go get your room and some rest, so you’re fresh for tomorrow. We’re going to be starting at about 8 a.m.”

“Yes, Sir.” Sims nodded and opened her car door. She had lied about the hotel, as she did have a chance to check in right after her flight. No, she fibbed because she only had ten minutes left to go meet Angel at their per-arranged spot, and she knew he would be itching to get back out to do his own scouting. She knew he’d go all night if he had too, and this was what she was counting on. Settling into the hot, sticky leather seat, she turned the ignition, rolled all four windows down, and turned the A/C on to full blast. Amanda grimaced as hot air blew out from the vents before it finally switched to cold Freon. Letting the car run for a couple of minutes, she pulled out her phone, clicked on the text icon and entered a short message: ‘Be at the coffee shop in five.’

A moment later, she got a reply: ‘Already on my way. See you soon.’ Tucking the phone back in her pocket, she firmed up her feelings. This would be the first time in over six months she’d sit with Angel, and while it was all business, it didn’t mean there weren’t still feelings to keep in check. Putting the car in gear, she slowly pulled out into traffic and made her way to their meeting.

Chapter 37: Hideout Discovered

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Charlie glided alongside the railroad tracks, her canvas shoes kicking up rocks strewn about on each side of the rails as she ran from building to building. It was only about three and a half miles to cover, and with her speed, she could have covered all of it in under six minutes if not for stopping at each building to investigate.

Honing all of her senses, she focused on each structure in turn. So far all she’d picked up, aside from the ones that were actively open, was animal or dirty human smells from vagrants and homeless people sheltered in some of the structures. Her ears heard mostly animal sounds, or if it was human, it wasn’t anything she found concerning.

Due to taking the time she felt each stop needed, it was close to an hour when she reached the last part of the distance she’d told Angel she would cover. Careful of her surroundings, Charlie tried a new trick she’d been working on, and made just her arm visible. She did this to check her watch that Angel had gifted her during one of their many shopping trips. She saw it was a little past six o’clock and Angel would be with Amanda right now. A tiny pang of jealousy pricked at her again, and she shut it down hard. She wasn’t going to let that type of emotion rule her.

But she missed Angel and wished he was here with her now. Charlotte knew he trusted her and had been extremely complimentary of how she’d improved in her hunting and tracking over the months spent together. Now, here she was in the field—solo—and in full control of her choices. It felt good, despite the loneliness.

Refocusing her thoughts, Charlie followed the tracks as they made a ninety-degree left turn heading away from the river and picked up her speed to reach the next turn that came around to a large warehouse, which was in full swing, with a packed parking lot. I can check this one off. As she slowed her pace to catch her breath, her sharp hearing picked up the sound of an old engine approaching from up ahead. Narrowing her eyes, she watched as a black van turned onto a side street just up the road next to a cement company. A thrill raced up Charlie’s spine, remembering a time when Angel commented about the types of vehicles often used in kidnappings—including his own van, ironically—and her senses perked up. Refocusing her power and going full invisible, Charlie broke into a sprint.

Reaching the turn, she slipped a little on the gravel as she turned sharply, caught herself with a curse, and raced to catch up to the van. As the van splashed through dirty water puddles and past a few abandoned shipping containers against a boarded-up factory, it reached the end and turned left, out of sight of any prying eyes from the main road. Charlie stopped at the corner of the warehouse and, despite being invisible, chose to keep a bit of distance for the moment. She watched the van stop and switch to reverse as it backed up towards a set of metal stairs leading to a rusty brown door.

Charlie concentrated on listening and almost immediately heard the sniffles and cries of girls, and her demon eyes pulsed a vibrant shade of crimson. She turned her head, realizing her eyes could be seen if she didn’t pull back her power creep, and closed them for extra assurance. She took a moment to calm herself, then turned back as the doors to both sides of the van opened. Four large men, dressed in dark clothing and carrying semi-automatic guns, spilled out of the van. She watched in anger as they ripped open the rear doors and cruelly dragged four girls out into the open. Charlie guessed they were between seven and fourteen, and she felt her teeth turn sharp, grinding against each other. Instinct said to attack now and save them, but she knew there could be more inside. If she didn’t follow Angel’s request, she could risk all their lives. Instead, she let herself feel a sense of relief. She’d found them, and that was the first step; now she needed to call Angel. She watched the children being pushed through the brown door, and she burned the images of those assholes into her mind.

Stepping back from the corner of the structure, she quietly jogged about fifty yards back and checked her watch again. Six-thirty. Since Angel had not yet set her up with a phone, her only option was the earpiece. If she radioed in now, Amanda would be with Angel and might hear her. What would Angel want her to do? What did she want to do? She knew the second answer, but that was out of the question for the moment. Stress was starting to cause her physical pain. Looking towards where the girls were being held, she made a silent promise to them. I’ll be back for all of you. I promise!

Now, she had to find Angel so that the moment Amanda left, she could tell him what she discovered. Before she could move, she heard the van start up. She watched it come down the pathway with only one human in the van, driving. She figured they didn’t want it near the building; should any helicopters used in the searches spot it next to the warehouse. Angel had already told her that this operation was something different from anything she’d experienced, and these men were definitely professionals. That thought only heightened her fear for the girls, and, releasing her full demon form once again, Charlie took off at full speed back towards home.

Chapter 38: Coffee Briefing

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Angel looked up from his coffee as Amanda entered the cafe. He raised his hand to catch her attention and she smiled as she saw him. Making her way past the tables to the booth he’d taken up in the corner, she took the seat opposite him. She shook her head with a single snort. “I still can’t believe you were already in town when I called you.”

“Cassie would tease it’s the magics, but in truth, I came to visit her because I needed time to recharge. Did you hear about the murder-suicide of the father and daughter up in West Virginia?

“Yes.” Amanda nodded solemnly, “Was that your last case?”

Nodding, Angel leaned back against the cushion of his bench seat, “I didn’t get there in time. It just got to me more than usual, and I felt a little time to recharge would do me some good.” Angel realized that twice now he almost said ‘we’ and not “I’ because of Charlie. Changing subjects so she would do the talking, he asked, “Did you find anything today?”

“No, but we’re quickly clearing grids. If they’re in town, we’ll find them. Tomorrow, we’re going to be searching grids along the wharf and tracks leading south, I think, and a second group will head north and west. What I do know is that a black van was seen leaving a party with a girl and headed this way from Baton Rouge.” Amanda picked out a couple packets of fake sugar from the little white holder and gave Angel a look, “Which reminds me, I saw yours today when my group canvassed around Cassie’s shop. I had to take the lead to fake run your plate so I could cover for you.” She set her elbow on the table, arm up with a packet in her hand and playfully shook it at him, “So, for the time being, don’t drive it around, okay? It’s off our list, but the local police will still pull every black van over while the search is active.”

“Right. I’ll see about borrowing Cassie’s car for the time being.” Angel snapped the packet out of her fingers, playfully, but had a contrite expression, “Sorry about that. I know how it looks, but it serves a good purpose as well.”

“I know it does, but I remember telling you once before that it would give you trouble, so I’m glad I found it first, today.” Amanda smirked as a waitress came over to take her order. Amanda asked for a simple black coffee so the waitress would move off quicker. Once they were alone again, Amanda shared the rest of what she knew. “Ironically, while we know what to look for, they’ve been pretty good at avoiding our searches.”

“It means they are coming in from a different direction.” Angel scratched his chin. “Probably taking back roads and holding up out of sight when traffic is busy, or they’ve switched transportation all together.”

“That’s what frustrated me with the SAC and the by-the-book procedures he had us run today. I had tried to get him to ask you to come on in an official capacity as well, but the damned pissing contest is in full swing out here.”

“You? Complaining about by-the-book? After busting my balls so many times about FBI procedure?” Angel leaned back against the booth and shook his head; a small smile suggested he was teasing her.

“You get results, Angel. That is all that has ever mattered to me. I just have to follow those procedures. There’s a lot I do for you that you don’t know about. That’s why I called you. Those kids need you. I need you.”

“Then let me do things my way, okay?” Angel leaned forward, “My tricks have been getting results, and they work better when I’m alone.”

“Look, Angel. I still don’t get how those scare tactics work on these types of people, but so far you’ve only had to deal with one, maybe two individuals, and they’ve been amateurs and attacks of convenience, usually. This is different. I trust you and your amazing ability to think out all the options, but we don’t know much about Bible, and this isn’t some random pervert out to f*ck a kid. You need to call me if you find anything. Please?”

Angel knew she was right, but with Charlie, the stakes were far too high, and he wasn’t going to let her be discovered. But he had to lie to Amanda to do it, which he always hated. “Okay, I promise, whatever I discover, I will call you. If I don’t need to act and the FBI can take credit, I am fine with it.”

No, he wasn’t, and she knew it, but she had to trust him for the sake of the kids. “Okay, good.” She stopped as the waitress returned with her coffee. Amanda was short with a ‘No’ when asked if there was anything else she wanted, and thankfully the waitress got the hint and walked off. “Gonna have to tip extra.” Amanda sighed, not intending to let her frustration bleed out like that.

Angel took a sip of his own coffee while Amanda fixed hers up with cream and sugar. “Amanda. Listen. Someday I want to tell you about everything. I really do. I have always trusted you, but for the moment, what’s going on with me is something I need to resolve on my own, okay?”

“I don’t need to know your tactics, but I want to know. I’ll wait, and I won’t push, but I hope it won’t be long in coming.” She took a careful sip of her coffee to let her words sink in, then resumed with an important reminder: “As long as you call me, okay? Don’t go in on your own. If this is as big as we think it is, Bible has stepped up his game big time. He used to focus on weapons, drugs, and merchandise across the seas. Bringing his so-called business to the states is new. What’s worse is how well-connected he is and how he’s able to stay completely off the radar. He has power, and while you’re capable—” She trailed off, a look of worry coloring her voice.

Angel picked up the conversation: “I’ve not had to deal with anything like this since the service. I know. We dealt with crime bosses during our tours, but it wasn’t until the incident that I witnessed anything as cruel as what Tag did. What he tricked me into being a part of.”

“Don’t.” Amanda reached her hand out and gripped his, “Don’t think about that. Stay focused in the now.”

“Don’t worry, I am.” Angel squeezed her hand back, grateful that she was still in his life in some way. Yes, he was taking advantage of her position in the FBI, and he had suspicions regarding what she said about her connections above. He knew she wasn’t above using her womanly wiles to get what she wanted. He appreciated it and hoped someday he could repay her for standing with him through everything.

Amanda took a long drink of her hot coffee so she could let her mind think, and Angel took a sip of his while they both worked things out in their minds. Angel broke the silence, “You said the grids would be along the tracks tomorrow?”

“Both north and south of the quarter, yes. We have other units scouring other cities, but I’m certain we’re in the right area. We’re focusing along the river, and barges and ships move in and out all the time. If Bible is transporting girls across the sea, this is a good place to gather the girls.”

“I will search those areas tonight, then. I will let you know what I clear so you can expedite those in the morning and cover more ground.”

“Good idea. I’ll take point and clear the buildings quicker that way, knowing you already did, and we’ll get as much done as possible. We expect that Bible will want to move the girls soon, and we’re only going to be able to stall only so many ships without any warrants.”

“Understood.” Angel checked his watch and saw it was half past six. Time had moved quickly with Amanda. It always seemed to. It also meant that Charlie was likely finishing up her grid search and would want to check in. She hadn’t tried to call through the earpiece, likely avoiding it since she knew he was with Amanda. He needed to get her a phone so she could text him in a subtle manner. With a last swallow of coffee, Angel shuffled out of the booth, and Amanda raised her brow in question, to which he answered, “I need to get back to the shop. Gotta pull the van into the back, ask Cassie for her car, gather my equipment, and start my search. It’s less than two hours before sundown, and that’s when I will head out.”

“Right.” Amanda chided herself for losing the moment; her own monologue focused on getting to spend time with Angel, like in the old days, stole what little time she was actually having with him. She took a long drink of her hot coffee, wishing she’d asked for it in a to-go cup. Pulling out a twenty, she placed it under the cup and hoped the waitress would see it as an apology for her shortness a few minutes ago. “Let me walk you out, at least.”

Together, they exited the shop. The humidity hit them both in the face, and they turned to stand under the awning for some shade, away from the entrance. Angel looked around at the crowds and said, “Your SAC’s by-the-book wasted time, you know?”

“A lot of the sh*t that we have to follow isn’t conducive to saving lives. Too much f*cking bureaucracy.”

Angel remembered what that was like. It was a part of the reason he took the path he was now on, “That’s what I’m for.”

Amanda smiled, leaned over, and kissed Angel on the cheek, “Go. Do your thing. Let’s take this asshole down!”

Angel took Amanda’s hand and gave it a last squeeze, “We will.” He then took off in a sprint, leaving Amanda standing there, thinking suspiciously that the ‘we’ he said didn’t mean her and him. Shaking her head, she headed to her car to go back to the hotel and take a much-needed shower.

Chapter 39: An Invisible Confession

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Angel turned a corner away from Amanda and stopped. Tapping his earpiece, he quietly spoke, “Angel to Charlie, come in.”

To his surprise, her response didn’t come from the earpiece. “She still loves you, doesn’t she?” Her voice carried from the shadows cast by an old awning over a shop closed for renovations. Angel stepped under the awning and felt Charlie’s heat against his shoulder as she laid her invisible head on it, and she added, “It’s very sweet, really. She believes in you.”

“You okay?” Angel sensed her worry and mistook it for seeing Amanda kiss his cheek.

“Yes. I trust you.” Charlie’s voice was soft and lacked any sense of jealousy. But it then turned serious, “Angel. I found the girls.”

Angel’s body tensed, “Are you sure?” he asked.

“Yes, a black van pulled into a warehouse near the Florida Avenue bridge, and four men took some girls out from the back. I wanted so badly to save them, but you said there are others who may already be inside, so I came to get you.”

“Good job, Charlie! Come on, we need to go get our supplies.”

Angel started to move but felt her hand on his arm, “Did you lie to Amanda about calling her?”

“You heard everything, didn’t you?”

“Yes. I got here a few minutes ago and caught the promise you made to her.” There was a pause, and Charlie’s next words sounded worried, “Angel, I don’t know if I’m enough for you on this one. The girls come first. I’m scared for them more than I am of being discovered.”

Angel fully appreciated her dedication and bravery. He nodded, “Let’s go get our stuff. I want you to show me the warehouse on Google Maps, so I can see if I can pull up the architect’s plans for it. We have almost two hours before dark, and if the girls were just dropped off, I think we have time to organize. I’ll call Amanda after, so she has time to rest.” He paused, “And if she sees you, she sees you.”

“Thank you, Angel. Since it’s too crowded, I’m going to run ahead and let Cassie know so she can help with the research. I’ll see you in a few.” He felt her lips brush the same cheek Amanda had just kissed, and the heat of her breath blew into his ear. “I love you.”

He felt her presence disappear as she moved off through the oblivious crowd. He stood for a moment and let his fingers touch his cheek. She may not have admitted it, nor perhaps felt it consciously, but he knew she was jealous of Amanda. Her sudden confession of ‘I love you’ both startled and warmed him at the same time. He also knew it held an air of possessiveness, which caused Angel to worry that if the moment came, she would reveal herself to Amanda for all the wrong reasons. With a sigh, Angel moved out into the crowd towards Cassie’s shop, tucking those emotions into a pocket inside his heart. Now, all that mattered was saving the children.

***

Reaching the apartment, Angel walked in to find Charlie already organizing their equipment. Cassie was pulling up information on the web, looking for floor plans for the warehouse, and gave Angel a nod when he entered, who returned it in kind. He excused himself and went to the bathroom to take care of business and freshen up. Once he was done, he joined the ladies in the living room.

“Cassie? Are you okay with us using your car tonight?”

“It’s yours as long as you need it. Charlie filled me in on everything. I’m gathering the floor plans as we speak.”

“Didn’t leave me with anything to do, did you, Charlie?” Angel went and sat in the chair next to the couch, which was covered in their usual supplies.

“Cassie gathers intel; I arrange supplies; you make the plan.” Charlie sat down in another chair, close to Angel, looking refreshed in the cool A/C of the apartment, “And two out of three are just about done.”

“Just about.” Angel gave her a mysterious smirk, and she raised her eyebrows in return, watching him reach under the chair he was in and pull out a duffel bag she had not seen before. Her interest was piqued. She continued to watch as he unzipped the bag and reached inside. “I figured it was time you had your own means of taking out the bad guys.” Angel announced.

When Charlie saw what Angel presented to her, her eyes sparkled, and new ideas started to pour into her imagination on how to use it. Angel smiled at her reaction and showed her how it worked before Cassie called them over to the computer. She showed them the plans, Angel pointed out the best options, and Charlie absorbed it all. As the hour ended and the new one began, the sun had tucked in behind the clouds, and dusk took hold.

Angel checked his watch, and with everything as set as could be, he looked at Charlie, “Are you ready?”

“f*ck, yes!” Charlie nodded firmly, her eyes pulsing with a crimson shine. Her power vibrated through the apartment, announcing to the siblings that those assholes stood no chance in hell. Time to go to work.

Chapter 40: The Mission - Haunted Warehouse

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Senses alert, invisible, and in her hybrid form, Charlie slid along the outer wall of the warehouse. She listened to the sounds of the men inside moving about on sentry, and with effort, she could hear the girls’ voices from someplace deep inside. Reaching a boarded-up window, Charlie used her claws to slowly pry one of the boards away so she could peer inside. Whichever area she’d reached seemed to be empty, and ripping the wood as quietly as she could, she created enough space for her lithe demon form to slip inside. Practice and experimentation had awarded her even more abilities, including altering her body’s mass and changing her voice pitch, as well as being able to scale walls and structures with ease. If they saw her now, she knew they’d freak out, and it made her smile. Darting her eyes to inventory the various equipment, stairways, and exits, Charlie attuned her ears towards each one of the doors to determine which way she’d go next. Clicking the button on her earpiece, Charlie updated Angel, following his request to skip protocol. “I’m inside. Entered from the south side, away from the bay doors the van had dropped the girls off at. No one in sight.” she whispered.

Angel’s soft voice replied, “Understood. I’m thirty yards out, waiting on a sentry to finish his rounds. Any lead on the girls?”

“I hear them. They’re on the Northwest side. From the plans you showed me, I think they’re in one of the offices. I’ll have to pass through five sections at least, depending on sentry movement. I’m picking up at least eleven moving in patterns.”

“Your ears will never cease to amaze me, Charlie. Even with my night vision goggles, I’m limited to my line of sight. If you can take out one sentry at a time and clear the first half of the rooms, I’ll clear the outside and then head in from the north point.”

“If they’re spread the way I think and they’re easily spooked, I’ll have no issue with at least the first two. They sound far enough apart that they won’t be in line of sight of each other.”

“Good. Remember, these men are professionals. Most of them are likely ex-military. They will know how to handle pressure, and skilled with their guns, so don’t hold back on scaring the sh*t out of them. Stay safe!”

“I promise, Angel. I won’t take any risks that could bring harm to the girls.”

Clicking the button off, Charlie cast her eyes upwards. Licking her lips, she slithered up and took to the rafters, gripping the steel girders with her claws, leaving impressions from her strong grip as she swung and floated between each one till she reached the first door. Taking a moment to close her eyes, Charlie let her demon side flow out, changing her blond hair to black, her eyes enlarging and her body’s mass appearing more fluid. Crawling down like a lizard on a tree, her blackish hair floating around her from her power, she sunk her forefinger claw into the door’s metal to secure enough grip to pull it open slowly. Peering into the next room, she saw the first sentry turn at the creaking sound. Charlie moved her head up out of sight but pulled the door just a bit more as bait to lure the man into the room with her. As she heard him move her way, she let go of the wall and landed softly, thanks to the soft canvas shoes hugging her cloven feet. Silently, she slid backward and down under the nook of the staircase. Concentrating, she shifted her demon mass under the flowing waves of her blackish hair to appear much smaller than her normal 6’2 frame should have allowed.

Let him think one of the girls had somehow gotten free, Charlotte thought, and come to me. She watched through the strands of her hair as the man pushed the door open and peered inside. Charlie whimpered through her lips, imitating the sound of a scared child, and she heard the man swear quietly. She took note of the click of the safety going off on his semi-automatic. Whimpering a little louder, Charlie modulated her voice into a mix of a scared little girl and something unnatural and frightening: “Please, Mister. Don’t hurt me.”

Coming to a stop, the man shifted his body in a defensive stance, “How did you get in here, kid? And what’s wrong with your voice?”

Moving her body in a way that wasn’t human, she slithered slightly out from under the staircase, the shadows joining in on the performance, twisting her waist and head in opposite directions “Don’t hurt me. Please.”

Swallowing, the man backed away, “What the f*ck are you?”

“Help me…” Charlie cried in a high-pitched whining whisper, “It hurrrrrtttttts.”

Remembering his gun, the man started to lift it when he heard a low, guttural screech. His eyes turned to white saucers as the ‘girl’ lunged. Claws grabbed him by the shoulders, piercing his flack jacket, and a foot kicked his arm aside, causing the gun to slip from his grip and go clacking to the concrete floor. Stunned, he saw a flash of sharp white teeth come down on his throat. He tried to scream, but another hand clamped on his mouth, and sharp white pain exploded in his neck. Thinking the girl thing was ripping out his throat, he choked in terror and fell on his back, barely registering his head smacking the concrete before his vision and consciousness faded away.

Strewn on the floor, out like a light from the tranquilizer dart that Charlie had plunged into his neck, the man convulsed once and then went still. She knew that her feigned bite would scare the hell out of him. Breathing hard from the thrill of the ‘kill’, Charlie pulled the spent dart out, dropped it into an empty pouch on her waist, and dragged the drugged man effortlessly under the staircase. Moving some nearby boxes in front to hide him from sight, Charlie checked her left arm, where a Velcro wrap holding five more darts was stored in individual pockets, each with a rubber stopper protecting the sharp tip. She grinned at the gift Angel had given her in the apartment, granting her this new advantage. Pulling a stopper off, she prepped the next dart for use and added the stopper to the same pouch that stored the used darts. With a tensing of her leg muscles, Charlie jumped hard and up, catching a rafter girder and scurrying back to the same door, now wide open.

Moving down and through the frame of the door, Charlie crawled along the rafters and crouched on one long beam, holding onto another and scanning the area. Focusing her senses on the next door, she heard the another sentry moving in her direction. Licking her lips, Charlie let out an eerie moan, pitching her voice to mimic the man she’d just taken out, just loud enough to reach the sentry’s position.

“Skeet? Are you okay in there?” The second sentry came through the door, gun at the ready, with a bright LED light illuminating the distance in front of him. Carefully surveying the area at eye level, he called out, “Skeet, where the f*ck are you, man? You know you can’t leave your post.”

Cursing, the sentry took a walkie-talkie off his belt, “Skeet, this is Parker; come in. What’s your twenty? Over?”

Silence greeted him, and he stepped further into the room. From above, Charlie moved through the rafters towards the sentry’s location, purposely clicking her claws on the steel beams, and she watched the man’s head whip up and follow the sounds as they moved from the far door to just above him. She stopped quickly, though. As the sentry’s radio squelched, taking his attention from her position, she heard a new voice over the radio: “Parker, report. Over?”

“This is Parker. Skeet’s off his post. I’m canvassing his section now. Over.”

“Well, forget that lazy prick. Samedi wants everyone in the main office, stat. The barge is arriving in twenty to move the girls.”

“Roger. On my way.” Patrick clicked off the talkie and turned around when the shuffling above recaptured his attention. What the Hell is up there? Raccoons?

Panning his gun up, the LED light tracing along the wall and into the rafters above, Parker gasped as two bright red eyes, shaped like slits, glared back at him in the beam of his light before disappearing completely. Finger on the trigger, Parker darted his eyes all over, trying to re-track what he just saw. Raccoons do not have eyes like that, so what the hell’s up there?

Clicking sounds came from behind him and above. Patrick spun, focusing the light on the sound, and saw a shadow scurry just out of the beam’s focused glare. Nerves on edge, Parker again tried to track the mysterious animal, intent on identifying it and eliminating it out of spite. Shock raced through his senses when a long tail dropped right in front of his face, with a spade-like tip that poked him, seemingly playfully, in the nose. His eyes darted up to see a nightmare of teeth, red eyes, and a growl that no living thing could produce falling towards him. The tail wrapped around his gun and ripped it away before the creature dropped on his shoulders, knocking him to the ground. A single cry escaped his mouth before he felt a hot clawed hand wrap around his face. Breath, hot and sulfurous, blew across his cheek, and an unholy voice reverberated against his ear, “See you in Hell, asshole!” followed by a sharp piercing pain in his neck, and instant darkness took him.

Letting her weight press on the man’s back, uncaring if it left him bruised or with broken bones, Charlie used him as a perch and clicked her radio, “Angel. I could only clear the two outer sentries. The rest are moving to the girl’s location to prepare them for a ship that’s about to dock outback. We’re running out of time!”

“I took out two patrolling sentries. If they’ve been called to congregate in preparation of shipping the girls out, our downed guys are going to create suspicion.”

“What’s Amanda’s ETA?” Charlie asked as she effortlessly pulled the man’s body under a machine and out of sight.

“Ten minutes, tops. Once she’s on sight, she’s radioing the rest, so we have twenty-five, thirty minutes at most to clear out.”

“I understand. What should I do? If the sentries are all in the rooms with the girls?”

“How many darts do you have left?” Angel asked.

“Used two; have four left.”

“We each took out two; that leaves seven thugs in one spot and possibly on alert when the others don’t arrive in short order,” Angel paused, “and they’re heavily armed.”

She waited, knowing his mind was organizing options quickly and concisely.

“Charlie. I’m going to try to lure as many people out of the room as I can. When I do, go in, take out the stragglers with the darts, and get the girls out through the north window.”

“You’ll be outnumbered!”

“I know, but we don’t have time for anything intricate. This is a divide and conquer. I have enough darts to take out whomever I can lure out, but I’ll be pinned down. Once you get the girls out, go full demon and save my ass!”

“Angel?”

“That’s an order, Charlie. Now, move!”

“Be safe!” Charlie understood the command and snapped to it. No longer worried about being sneaky, she ran through the door and through two more large areas, cutting the distance between her and the area where the girls and sentries would be. As she turned a sharp corner, Charlie came to an abrupt stop. Her eyes widened, and she covered her mouth, gasping. On the floor next to a few dirty mattresses lay the burned, charred body of what appeared to be a teenage girl. Approaching with soft steps, Charlie dropped to one knee and reached out, stopping short, and she let out another sharp cry. Taking breaths to steady herself, she examined the body, noticing the ravaged throat, and an angry guttural growl rumbled from her own. No mere sentry was the cause of this torture. Whoever did this was sad*stic and enjoyed their work. Rising to her feet, Charlie felt a cold shiver run through her spine, and her shoulders shook. Rage bubbled up from her core, and she felt her full demon wash over her. Embers of fire sparked between her horns as her eyes pulsed bright in the darkness. Her black hair flowed around her, as if a living being all its own, dancing like embers of a raging fire. Mercy drained from her, replaced by a feeling she’d not felt before as the option to kill presented itself to her, whispering promises of revenge. Those bastards are going to pay! Stepping far around the girl’s body to show her respect, Charlie moved through the far door, continuing on.

***

Interesting. Samedi thought to himself as he stepped out of the shadows in the corner of the room. He caressed the amulet around his neck that he had used to mask his presence from the demon’s senses. When it had first crossed the magical boundary around the warehouse that he’d cast days before, he knew it wise to hide and survey from the darkness. A spell that only worked because the demon was not seeking him out, specifically. Bible’s merchandise no longer interested him. This was no ordinary demon, certainly nothing like the ones he’d summoned in the past, and Samedi found himself singularly intrigued by its presence. Who called it here and why? Why did it look sad when it found the dead girl’s body? Demons seek and kill humans; it’s what they’re made for, after all. At least the ones he called certainly had endless blood lust. Following quietly, Samedi now hunted the demon that had invaded the warehouse, eager to see what it would do next.

Chapter 41: The Mission - Loss Of Control

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Having secured the two sentries he’d darted outside the warehouse with the zip ties, Angel worked out the plan with Charlie and moved up the steel steps towards the entry door on the north side of the warehouse. He tensed, knowing in a few moments he’d be pinned down and in a firefight with any of the sentries that Charlie could scare out of the back offices. A quick touch of his sidepiece, to ensure it was still there, Angel lifted his tranquilizer gun and scrutinized it. He had lied to Charlie about having enough darts to take out whomever she scared his way. His first clip had jammed when he’d attempted to take out the first sentry, and he had to hastily pull and fix the mechanism to load his second clip. Having used two darts now and being extra thankful that the guards he took out weren’t too heavy, he was down to four, and it was possible she’d do such a good job that all seven might come his way. With the darts he had left, Angel sighed in frustration at the idea that he’d have to go live and use his gun.

Pushing the door open, he stepped in quickly and to the side, pointing the dart gun at any possible targets. So far, it was quiet, and he saw light at the far end of the warehouse where the offices and storage rooms were staged. Surveying the area, he was grateful to see a few places he could use for cover, and selecting one that was about halfway between the door and back areas, he moved to it and confirmed he could see the open door and the sentries moving inside. Just as he thought, they looked tense and animated, likely trying to contact the fallen sentries and having no luck.

He was about to make his move when he saw movement in the shadows to the left of the room and cursed quietly as Charlie snuck up to look in the window on the side of the room. He cursed even harder, watching her step around to the main door. “Charlie,” he thought, “what are you doing!?”

***

Working to control her emotions from seeing the poor girl’s dead body, Charlie came to a stop outside the storage room where the sentries had gathered, and she peered through the window. Inside, she saw three large cages, each one holding some of the girls, with the sentries talking and sometimes leering at the frightened children. She listened as they were trying to radio their fallen comrades, and tensions were growing fast. One of the sentries clicked his radio off and swore. “I can’t get a hold of Skeet, Parker, or the others.”

Another sentry, who Charlie could tell was the one giving orders, co*cked his gun and said, “Something’s wrong. Get the girls ready to move, now!”

Charlie watched one of the men fish out some keys from his pocket and move toward the first cage. She watched the girls cower, and Charlie’s anger boiled over. Eyes moving fast, Charlie took in the room where the door was compared to the sentries’ positions, sizing up the best way to attack and knowing she was going to piss Angel off big time. He wanted her to scare them out, but she no longer wanted to scare them; she wanted to hurt them.

An idea formed in her head. Plucking the rubber stoppers off the last four darts. Charlie moved towards the entrance. So far, her tactics have been fear-based, using her demon powers to frighten her victims. Why not just use her womanly charms? Pulling her demon in and reverting to human form, Charlie stepped right into the archway of the room, leaning her sexy body against the door frame. She smiled at them, taking on a sensual, sexy voice, “Hey, boys.”

As one, they all turned and lifted their guns. Upon seeing Charlie, the men stopped. A mix of perplexity, suspicion, and horniness covered their collective faces.

How do men do that? Charlie quipped in her mind as she swayed her hips and backed away from the door. “I don’t suppose any of you can help a lady out? I’m lost.”

“Who the f*ck are you?” The lead sentry snapped, pointing his gun at her as he and two other sentries followed him out through the door to surround her. sh*t, she had hoped all of them would have followed, but she had to do with what she had. Three were out of sight of the girls’ cages, and that’s what she had wanted.

Charlie licked her lips seductively, smiling at the three men who had their weapons pointed directly at her. “Lil ole me?” she asked. “I’m just a lost little demon hungry for some big, handsome men. That’s all.”

The three looked at each other, and the lead one laughed, “Lost little demon? What the f*ck does that mean?”

Stepping even further back away from the light pouring from the room and into the shadows, Charlie let her eyes bleed red as her body faded from sight, “It means your lives are about to end, assholes.”

Yelling as one, the three pulled the triggers on their weapons, firing rounds into the darkness where Charlie had just been, fear seeping into their bones. Charlie had anticipated this, and as she finished going dark, she launched into the rafters, safely out of the line of fire. Pulling three darts out and into her hand, she watched the men go into a defensive triangle position, their backs to each other, still firing into the dark, and that left a perfect spot for her. Stepping off the beam she’d perched on, she dropped to the ground between them and, in quick succession, stabbed a dart into all three necks. Two dropped quickly, but the third was bulkier, and the serum did not take hold as quickly, so in a pinch, Charlie threw a jaw-cracking punch that finished the job. With all three down, she quickly pulled each dart out and dropped them into her bag. The entire sequence lasted all of fifteen seconds.

Two more sentries ran out of the room at the sudden commotion and saw their comrades down on the floor. They turned to each other, seemingly looking for answers, when Charlie exploded into sight on their left, in full black demon form. She let loose the loudest, cruelest, most demonic scream she’d ever let rip from her soul, fueled by her building rage. The two men screamed and ran off towards the exit, where she knew Angel would be waiting.

***

Angel watched Charlie lead the men out, disappear, and then attack with a drop-down maneuver. While he was angry at her for switching up the plan, he admitted her move took out half the men without risking his position and took the need for his gun out of the equation again. She was adapting quicker than he was able to plan, and that made him a bit uncomfortable. If they were going to succeed, there was going to have to be very serious talk about following orders. He watched the men drop hard, one looking as his jaw got rearranged on the way down, and saw two others come out to investigate. When Charlie exploded into sight and scared the men to half to death, he tensed as they ran in his direction. As they approached, he targeted each one and took them out with darts. Five down, two to go, he thought. His radio buzzed, and he answered, “Charlie, what the hell was that about?”

“I will explain later,” Charlie’s voice was tense and short, “I have one more in the room who didn’t come out. I need to take him out to get the girls free.”

“Understood.” Angel responded, and then a frightening thought hit him: “Did you say one, Charlie? One in the room?”

“Yes.”

“sh*t! We’re missing one!”

A sound of a gun co*cking and a muzzle pressed hard against his back filled in the missing equation.

“Don’t move, asshole.” A deep voice ordered.

“Angel?” Charlie’s worried voice carried over the earpiece

“I’m fine.” Angel lied, “Save the girls!”

He managed to get the order out before the headpiece was ripped off his head. Angel tensed as the man behind him grabbed his dart gun and threw it hard, and he heard it clatter off into the darkness.

“Who the f*ck are you?” The missing sentry barked at him.

Angel didn’t answer, as his mind was racing to put together his options. He hoped Charlie listened to him this time, as these girls were far more important, and he could take care of himself. He felt the nuzzle press harder into his back as the sentry radioed the last man in the room.

“I got the prick. Get the girls out, now!”

Angel heard the reply, “On it, Giles!”

“Last chance, dickhe*d, or I splatter your brains all over the floor.” Warned Giles.

Taking a deep breath, Angel was about to answer when a different voice replied instead from behind them both, “Do it, and what little you have joins them.”

Angel let a smile ghost his lips, recognizing Amanda’s firm, commanding voice coming from the doorway. He felt the muzzle ease from his back as Giles turned his head towards Amanda’s voice, and it was all Angel needed. Spinning hard, Angel lifted his forearm and knocked the gun aside as Giles fired, bullets ripping against the wall. Throwing a punch, Angel knocked him back four steps. A swift roundhouse kick followed, knocking the semi-automatic out of Giles’s hands, and he threw another punch, but Giles blocked it.

Amanda moved quickly in and squared her gun on Giles, “Get your hands up, now!” She barked, but he ignored her and swung at Angel, clipping his jaw. Angel backpedaled and steadied himself.

“Amanda, let me have this one.” Angel felt the years of pain of losing lives well up in him, and for once, he wanted to let it all out. He also needed to stop Amanda from seeing Charlie. “Someone needs to learn a few lessons!”

“Angel. Stefon and the task force are on their way; we only have minutes left.” Amanda warned.

Angel grinned at Giles, who grinned in turn.

In a mocking voice, Giles taunted, “Come on, Angel, let’s see what you got!”

Angel bit back with his own taunt, “Bring it, bitch!”

Chapter 42: The Mission - One Falls

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Charlie heard Angel’s command and turned, putting her fear for him on hold, to focus on the last sentry. Going invisible again, she entered the room as the sentry unlocked the cages and ushered the girls out, barking orders for them to move quickly towards the door. Sizing up the situation, Charlie opted to let him lead the girls towards the backside of the warehouse and the exit to the docks, away from Angel.

Charlie followed a few feet behind, moving as quietly as possible, watching the sentry herd the children deeper into the shadows towards the exit to the docks. Charlie felt for the last dart, intending to jab it into the sentry’s neck undetected, but discovered it wasn’t there. She realized then that it must have been knocked off her armband when she struck the last three men. With no way to knock the sentry out without revealing herself to the girls, who were shuffling slowly and crying, Charlie licked her lips and tried to figure out what to do. With the distance closing to the dock doors and the sound of the barge arriving—which meant even more men to contend with—Charlie threw caution to the wind, dropped her cloak, and shouted.

“Hey, Asshole!”

Startled, the sentry turned, raised his weapon, and fired wildly. Charlie dropped flat to the concrete floor and lifted her hand. Folding all but her pointer finger, she shot out a blast of demon fire, striking the man’s gun. The magic of the fire enveloped the gun, heating it to an untouchable temperature instantly. Intense heat seared the man’s hands, and he dropped the gun, shouting in pain.

The girls screamed but didn’t run, which confused Charlie at first, but the memory of the dead girl made her wonder if she’d been an example. f*cking monsters, she cursed! Charlie bounded up off the floor and charged the man, her claws coming out. Her control had all but been stripped from her, and she swiped at the man, cutting his cheek deep. It took all of her wits to not finish the kill, and instead she twisted her body and took out his legs with her tail.

As he hit the ground hard, he slapped his hand over the cut in his cheek, and rolled. Charlie folded her features in so the children didn’t see her demon and spun their way, shouting, “RUN!”

“But the monster!” One of the girls cried out in fear.

Monster? Charlie thought. So, there was someone else! It would have to wait; she needed the girls out now! Charlie ran up to the girls, who recoiled at first but didn’t run. Charlie pointed to a window to their right. “The monster’s gone, I promise you! See that window?” Her ears picked up sirens coming down the side road to the warehouse, and she breathed a sigh of relief. “The police are coming! They’ll get you out of here. Get to that window and climb through. Go, now!”

The older girls gathered their bravery and nodded, grabbing the younger ones and they followed Charlie’s command, racing towards freedom. Charlie breathed in hard, watching the ten little girls make it to the window, when her senses picked up a whimper and she turned, alarmed. The sentry was back on his feet, and in the confusion, he had managed to grab one of the girls that Charlie hadn’t seen in her rush.

He held her in front of him with a pistol he apparently had tucked in his back pocket, pressed to the little girl’s forehead. “I don’t know what the f*ck you are, but if you try anything, I’ll spill this little bitch’s brains!”

Charlie revisited the moment she’d almost lost control, and fleetingly wondered if mercy would be her downfall. Her body ached to release her inner demon, but the fear on the girl’s face held Charlie in check.

sh*t! sh*t! sh*t! Charlie’s mind raced, Angel, where are you?

***

Lip split and the taste of copper on his tongue, Angel shuffled his feet in a semicircle, mirrored by Giles. Giles, in as bad shape as he was by now, spit out a glob of blood and mucus on the floor, wiping his broken nose and glaring back at Angel. Amanda heard the roar of cars and copters closing in from a distance and scolded Angel, “Can you finish this already? Why are you toying with him like this?”

“Shut up, bitch!” Giles growled, “This wimp’s barely standing.”

Amanda actually smiled through her frustrated sigh, Oh, the charms of the naive.

Giles roared and threw a focused punch directly at Angel’s jaw, missing as Angel turned 90° and caught Giles’s arm with both hands. Forcefully, he brought Giles arm down hard on his knee as he lifted his leg hard and fast. The loud crack of bone, followed by a scream of pain, told Amanda that Angel was finally getting serious. Angel sent a back elbow into Giles’s nose, shattering further the already broken bone. Twisting with a leg sweep, he put Giles on his back with a hard thud. Feeling sad*stic in the moment and feeding on the flood of rage he’d been holding in for years, coupled with worry about Charlie, Angel brought his military-issued boot down full force into Giles crotch. The resulting scream and vomiting that came from Giles was reward enough, and Angel skipped back three steps, taking up a ready stance just in case.

“Jesus.” Amanda awed, dropping to secure Giles with her FBI-issued handcuffs. Looking up as she locked the cuffs, she watched Angel run off towards the back of the warehouse, stopping to pick up his abandoned trank gun, and she assumed he was going for the girls. Calling out loudly, “Hurry, Angel. Everyone’s about here!”

***

“Move, bitch!” The small-framed sentry commanded. Charlie obliged with her hands up, moving to the side as the man dragged the crying girl with him. With no darts and keeping her demon form in check, Charlie kept pace with them as they backed toward the exit, “Don’t you f*cking follow me!”

“You’re not taking the girl.” Charlie’s demon voice seeped into her human one, and the sentry lifted his gun towards her, threateningly.

“I don’t know how you took out everyone else or what the f*ck you are, but you take one more step, and I’ll shoot the both of you!” The sentry threatened, “You got me, bitch!?”

The girl sobbed, causing the man to look at her for a moment, placing the barrel of the gun against her forehead again. “Shut up!”

That was it! Charlie apologized silently to the little one as she let her demon form spill out in a way she’d never felt before. Not only did her claws, horns, tail, and energy pour out, but she felt her body grow and spread out, filling the space she was in in a way she’d never done before. She’d shifted her mass before, but this felt as if something had been released from a prison. Her face contorted as her fangs grew past her lips, and she screamed a full-on banshee roar, mixed with her own, and something deeper inside. This will be fun! The thought didn’t feel like hers, but the feeling of losing control felt exhilarating and she wanted this pathetic human to suffer, greatly.

The man turned his gun on the demon in front of him as the little girl screamed in terror. The loud, sharp snap of gunfire caused Charlie to flinch. She’d let herself forget that she was mortal. Are we?

Charlie screamed inside, if the shot was true, and struck her in the heart or head, she was dead. God, Angel, I’m so sorry! Charlie cried, but there was no pain. Instead, she saw a bead of blood form on the sentry’s forehead. A second later, his arm dropped, and the gun spilled onto the floor along with his dead body. Charlie spun around, and there, kneeling with arms outstretched, gun in hand with the barrel smoking, was Angel.

Standing, Angel walked right through the massive, flowing black hair of Charlie’s demon form. Stepping out of it as if from the shadows, he scooped up the screaming girl. Pressing her face into his chest, he whispered calmly that she was safe and he wouldn’t let the monster hurt her. He turned to Charlie with a mixture of angry and sad eyes and hissed under his breath, “Get out of here. NOW!”

Charlie growled darkly, and Angel tensed in worry, before she turned and fled through the warehouse, her hair following like trails of seaweed caught in the wake of a boat. He could barely see her claw up a wall and out of a vent that should have been too small for her and into the darkness.

In the far corner, cast in shadow, stood Samedi. His smile was full of crooked teeth and eyes that shone with eager desire. Rubbing his amulet, a wisp of smoke shrouded him, and he made his way out of his own secret exit to an arranged escape meant only for him.

“Angel!” Amanda ran up a moment later, coming from the dark. “Stefon is here! They’re pouring into the warehouse, and others are out back, securing the barge. You gotta go!”

Angel settled the crying girl into Amanda’s arms. “The rest of the girls got out through the side window over there! Make sure they’re rounded up before any other creeps still running free find them. How are you going to explain everyone being knocked out? I thought we’d have more time!”

Amanda caught the ‘we’ again as not being about her, and she was going to get answers, and she pushed Angel with a free hand, “I’ll deal with it! Get the f*ck out of here, now!”

Angel turned to go but stopped suddenly and turned back, saying, “They’re going to match the bullet to my gun.”

“Give it to me!”

Angel handed the gun to her, looking perplexed.

“I’ll get the license changed to my name.”

“How!?”

“Go!” Amanda pushed him, “You’re out of time!”

The loud sirens told Angel the same thing, and he ran. Choosing an exit he had planned to use, he hoped that Charlie remembered to be there when he got out, as he would need her help to escape the scene. Since he’d yelled at her, he feared she may have taken off in full. Easing out of a side window, he dropped down out of sight of the circling copters. Seeing as most of the FBI units were converging on the barge that had tried to leave port, he used the diversion to move away from the warehouse and drop behind an abandoned shipping container. Catching his breath, he went to click his headpiece to call Charlie before remembering that Giles had ripped it off of him.

“sh*t!”

It was then that he felt a tense presence, looked up, and fell on his ass. Charlie, still in demon form, hung upside down on the side of the container and looked at him with glaring red eyes, her claws having ripped into the metal of the container and her tail whipping menacingly.

“Charlie?” Angel whispered, fear freezing him with dreadful thoughts racing through his mind. Did you snap? Have I lost you?

Without a word, Charlie swooped down, emitting a low, fierce roar. Instinctively, Angel threw his arms up in self-defense, as worthless as it would be, and dread filled his soul as he realized this was the end.

Chapter 43: Suspended

Chapter Text

“Agent Sims!” Special Agent in Charge Mike Stefon barked angrily as he stomped up the gravel road towards Amanda, who sat on the side of the warehouse’s concrete entrance by the steel steps, smoking a cigarette. She peered her eyes past his oncoming form to the children receiving medical attention, and the relief she felt for them would be a shield against the barrage that was about to hit. Bracing herself, she took another long pull on the butt, the orange tip glowing in the darkness.

“Hello, Stefon.”

“Explain yourself! Why did you go in before backup, and how the f*ck did you secure eleven suspects by yourself?”

Letting the smoke flutter out of her nose and mouth, Amanda shrugged, “Luck.”

“Bullsh*t. Where is he?”

“Who?” Amanda stared blankly back.

“You know who! Kevin Collins. Where is he?”

“I never saw him, sir. I saw the barge arrive and I couldn’t wait on you.”

“Is this going to be your official statement?”

“It is.”

“Well, f*ck.” Stefon rubbed his eyes. He watched Amanda shrug, apparently uninterested in providing the answers he demanded. Sighing and giving up on the cat-and-mouse game for the moment, Stefon looked over at the girls and asked, “Did we get them all?”

Amanda took one last drag and crushed the tip onto the concrete by her side, shaking her head sadly, “No. We found one body.”

“sh*t.” Stefon closed his eyes for a moment, then looked squarely at Sims, “As I said before, off the record, I am glad the girls are safe and we have suspects to interrogate. We may get some real insight into Bible because of this bust.”

“Glad to be of help,” Amanda prepared for the other shoe to drop, “and on the record?”

Stefon held out his hand, “Badge and gun, Sims. You’re suspended indefinitely pending review, and I’ll be talking to your boss in Washington about your actions.”

Knowing this was going to happen, Sims didn’t argue and handed both over. “Am I under arrest?”

“No. Just get out of here. Go rest, drink, get laid, whatever. I know you had help, but I have too much paperwork and interrogations to do to drag you back to headquarters to sit in a room all night for you to just keep shrugging.” Amanda held in a smirk, while he continued, “But, do not leave town; we still have a particular rogue to discuss.”

Stefon turned and walked off towards the ambulances. Amanda sighed. She didn’t regret calling Angel in, and she didn’t regret the results. What she did regret, however, is that she may no longer be able to cover for him whenever he skirts the lines, and there were far too many innocent lives at stake for Angel to be taken off the board. She did not look forward to what she needed to do next.

Chapter 44: A Life For A Life

Chapter Text

Eyes squeezed shut and sorrow filling his soul, Angel prepared for the worst. That’s when he felt Charlie’s embrace rather than her deadly claws. She swooped him up, her long, flowing black hair wrapping around them both, and pushed with her feet hard, lifting them into the air. Charlie bounded over the large fence separating the warehouse from the cement factory next door. Landing with cloven hooves clicking on hard concrete, bare from her missing canvas shoes, lost at some point inside the warehouse, Charlie jumped again to land up on a walkway between two of the concrete mixing towers at the side of the lot. She pushed Angel against one of them, hiding him from the growing FBI presence at the warehouse, and scurried up the side of the round mixing tower to take position upside down. Her demon eyes, throbbing in the dark, looked at him and then over the fence next door.

Angel saw her sway in a predatory dance, and despite the fact he was still alive, fear still cautioned him to choose his tone carefully. “Charlie?”

Red eyes and glowing yellow pupils looked back at him, but this time there were tears wetting her demon face. She didn’t move, but he saw her shoulders shake. Concern stepped in front of his fear: “Are you okay?”

She stopped him with a shake of her head; her demon voice came out soft and sad: “You saved my life by taking a life.”

“Yes.” Angel agreed as his fear disappeared. Charlie’s rage wasn’t at him, but at herself.

“I forced you.”

Angel shook his head hard, emphasizing his words, “No, you did not. The situation did. I was not going to let him kill you.”

“You didn’t tranquilize him, though?” Charlie’s question had an unspoken ‘why?’ attached.

Angel pulled out his trank gun, showing that the barrel was busted, and gave a humorless smirk. “I didn’t really have a choice.”

Charlie sniffed a few times, trying to stall an outburst of crying. Angel reached up with his free hand, stretching as far as he could. Charlie reached down and placed her claws gently against his palm. Angel whispered encouragingly, “The girls are safe—all of them, Charlie. You did good.”

Shaking her head, Charlie gazed back to the warehouse. “Not all of them, Angel. I found one girl dead. Her throat was cut, and her body was burned as if she’d been lit on fire.”

“Jesus,” Angel whispered. They parted hands as he shared her look at the warehouse. “How?”

“One of the girls mentioned a monster, and that was before anyone saw me. There’s someone we didn’t get. Someone who has power. Power like Cassie’s. To witchcraft.”

“There’s nothing we can about that, right now. The kids are safe, and we can’t be discovered.” Angel turned his head up to Charlie. “Let’s go. We can figure that out after we’re safely away from here.”

Nodding in agreement, Charlie wiped her eyes to clear her vision and let go of the tower. Angel watched her come down upon him again, but there was no fear in his heart this time. He opened his arms for her to wrap her own around him, and with all her strength, she pushed and launched them some forty yards from the tower. Landing between two parked semi-trucks, they worked their way through the darkness back to Cassie’s car, parked four blocks away. They saved lives tonight, but now they faced something larger than anything they’d ever faced before, and Angel knew that if Charlie existed and had this kind of power, what else was out there waiting for them?

Chapter 45: Calling Bible

Chapter Text

The loud creak of an old door opening to a small trailer home, nestled in the swampy outskirts of New Orleans, announced the return of Samedi into his makeshift home-slash-altar. Dropping his hat off into a ripped-up lazy boy chair, he moved to the counter, where a laptop was set up. Flipping open the screen, he clicked at the keys with his long nails, called up a video chat window, and waited. A few moments later, the black screen was replaced with the same familiar image from the warehouse. Bible, still in silhouette, was obviously angry. “What the f*ck happened, Samedi? My source in the FBI says they arrested everyone at the warehouse, and my merchandise was confiscated!?”

“Yes.” Samedi didn’t bother with further details, as there were more important issues to deal with. “And I may have the answer to why you’ve been losing product.”

“Explain.”

“Before the FBI showed up, two individuals invaded the warehouse and took out my sentries, one at a time. One was a man, military-trained for sure, who took out the sentries outside. But it is the other one that intrigued me more.”

“Go on.” Bible’s voice sounded impatient.

“The man’s partner, who took out the men on the inside, is a demon.”

“What?” Bible’s visage cleared as he sat forward into the screen on his side. He was in his early 60’s with receding gray hair molded into a crew cut and a scratchy face. An ugly scar from a blade went from his cheek over his left eye, which was a pure white orb of glass, and one cruel dark brown eye glared at Samedi. He chewed hard on his cigar. “Are you certain?”

“Oh, very certain. She stopped at the dead girl’s body, and I swear she cried. This is no ordinary demon. There is something special about her. And if she’s working with the army man, it’s likely they are the ones who have been interfering in your business for the past year.”

“Describe the man,” Bible commanded, and Samedi shared what he saw of him, which was very little. Mostly, he was able to describe height and body type, but the darkness of the warehouse made a facial description impossible. He also described how the two worked together to free the girls. Bible was quiet for a few minutes after Samedi’s story, chewing slowly on the cigar. Finally, he said, “It seems that the information I’d extracted from those who failed me is accurate. They spoke of being scared by something supernatural, and now I think I know who it is who’s working with this demon.”

“Who?”

“It was Angel.”

“Angel?” Samedi’s eyes widened. “I did not recognize him in the darkness of the warehouse.”

“Apparently, since you failed to inform me before! He must be eliminated immediately.” Bible pulled the cigar out and swore, “And I will have to have a word with my source in the FBI. I ordered all links to me to be destroyed or diverted, but it seems he decided to be lax on some important details.”

Samedi had never heard this tone in Bible’s voice before: concern, and it intrigued him: “If Angel controls the demon, we will need to counter in kind.”

“What do you propose?”

“I will summon a demon of my own and send it to kill Angel and lure his demon to me. Whatever she is, she could be very useful to us.”

“As long as you kill Angel, you may do so in any way that gets the job done. When you have this demon under your control, bring her to me. She could be useful in making sure my product is secure.”

“As you wish,” Samedi said, while simultaneously thinking, Like hell I will. I won’t gift you this treasure. This demon could be the key to taking over Bible’s operation for myself. Continuing aloud, “I will begin the ritual immediately. Angel will be dead as soon as my demon is ready.”

“Good. This is your last chance. Fail me, and I will see to it that you share Angel’s fate.” Bible cut off the connection, and Samedi swore under his breath. He was not afraid of Bible, but he had connections and power that could be problematic for Samedi’s ambitions. Closing the laptop, Samedi walked over to the chair, picked up his hat, sat down and began to mentally prepare for the ritual he was about to perform. One which would bring forth a weapon equal to—no, greater than—Angel’s demon.

Chapter 46: I'm Not Your Demon Bitch

Chapter Text

Angel pulled Cassie’s silver Toyota Prius into the parking area behind his sister’s shop and parked in an empty space next to his van. Shutting off the engine, he let out a soft sigh and looked over at Charlie. Seeing her back in her human form gave him an unusual sense of relief. He wondered if the prolonged stint had affected her in some way. She had been silent once they’d reached the car and for the drive back, likely reflecting on the same thoughts he was having. Angel worried about her, but he had to speak his mind about what happened in the warehouse. “Charlie. We need to talk.”

Shifting in her seat, Charlie brushed her dirty blonde hair away from her face and looked at him. Her voice came out exhausted. “Is it about what I did in the warehouse? Going against your plan?”

“Yes. Do you remember the last time you went off-script? We almost ended with the same result. You’ve got to learn to control your emotions, Charlie.”

“When I saw the girl dead and how she was tortured,” Charlie’s eyes flickered. “It hit me how all too real this is. We’d had so much success, and even when we didn’t make it that one time, I still hadn’t really come to appreciate how deadly serious all this is, Angel.” Turning in her seat to face Angel, she continued, “I felt myself snap inside. I wanted to follow your orders, but when I reached the storeroom and saw what was happening through the window—after seeing the dead girl—I couldn’t stop myself.”

“And that’s the problem, Charlie.” Angel shook his head. “When you decide to just take action like that—going against the plan—you’re leaving me blind and vulnerable and having to make quick, rash decisions. If Amanda had not shown up when she did, that sentry would have likely killed me. When I go on missions alone, I can plan every detail for myself. With you, I have to trust that you will follow my orders to the letter, so I don’t have to worry about you, and that you will be there when I need you.”

Sniffing, Charlie reached out, “I didn’t know.” But Angel moved away and she flinched. She could feel his anger rising.

“No, because you didn’t listen! You agreed that I’d lead, and you’d follow. If you had, we could have discovered where that missing sentry was.” Angel’s anger was hot. “Amanda made it in time to distract him for me, which allowed me to take him out and come save your ass. I had to kill, something I swore to myself I’d never do again, and I wouldn’t have had to if you’d just listened and followed orders!”

“I’m not bound to you, Angel!” Charlie felt cornered, and her temper flared in response: “I’m not your demon bitch!”

“Charlie! That’s not fair! You swore to help me, that I could ask for anything I needed from you! I know what works best in the field.”

“4-D chess,” Charlie mocked, “you always remind me of strategy! This isn’t some f*cking game to me, Angel. I break inside every time I see any of them hurt, and I didn’t think I had time. And you just said it yourself; you wouldn’t have been able to help me anyway!”

“It’s not a game to me, either!” Angel shook his head angrily. “But your emotions are going to get one or both of us killed one day. It almost got me killed tonight. What would you have felt, then?”

Regretting those last words immediately, Angel heard a low demon growl rise in Charlie’s throat: “How dare you! You know how much I care about you, Angel. More than you do about me, it seems!”

“Jesus Christ!” Angel slammed his fist on the steering wheel. “I brought you to my sister to help you get your memories back. Then you didn’t want to, if it meant going back to Hell, and we agreed to put us aside.”

“Not because I wanted to!” Charlie hissed.

“Neither did I!” Angel shot back, “I can’t lose you, Charlie! You’re too important to me!”

“As a weapon. Orders. Missions.” Charlie fell back in her seat, crossing her arms over her chest and glaring out the window, her eyes watering. “But f*ck taking a chance with me. With us!”

“I take chances with you every day, Charlie!” Angel countered, “But every time you change, your power grows, and you become more and more demon. Earlier tonight, when you dropped down on me, I thought you’d lost control and were about to kill me.”

“You don’t trust me.” The pain in Charlie’s voice cut into Angel.

“I trust you, Charlie. I trusted you the first night I found you. I just can’t ignore what’s happening to you, how your powers are constantly evolving, and what the future may bring. I can’t take a chance on us until we figure you out, and I need you to work with me in the field, not against me!”

“Fine!” Charlie grabbed the door handle, pushed her door open, and looked at him with her full demon eyes as she slid out of the car seat. “I’ll be your f*cking slave and follow all your orders, ‘Sargent’!”

Charlie slammed the car door and stalked towards the back entrance, her demon form having leaked out and her tail swishing in fury. Angel jumped out of his side of the car and ran up to her, grabbed her arm, and turned her around to face him. “What is wrong with you, Charlie!? This is exactly what I’m worried about. You have to control your temper and your emotions! If you let them get out of control, if you’re seen by anyone!? Don’t you understand what would happen?”

Charlie yanked her arm roughly from his grip, but her eyes flickered with doubt as his words reached her. She pulled her features inward, looking around anxiously, but they were alone, and she conceded. “Everyone would be after me.”

“And I would lose you. I swore to be your cover, to keep you safe, but I can’t do it alone. I need you to listen to me when we’re out there, Charlie. Not as a tool or bound to me, but as my partner.”

“Maybe I’m not good enough to be your partner. Maybe I just need to get my memories back and find a way home!” Charlie shivered and took a step back. “Maybe we shouldn’t try to be anything anymore.”

Charlie turned on her heels and walked away, leaving Angel in shocked silence. He watched as she jerked open the back door and walked through, slamming it firmly behind her.

Angel closed his eyes and let his anger out with one whispered curse. “sh*t!”

Chapter 47: Whatever It Takes

Chapter Text

For almost five minutes, Angel stood in the same spot Charlie had left him, trying to figure out where things went wrong. For once, he was lost and couldn’t see the destination. Emotions rolling over themselves, all of them bad, Angel debated returning to the apartment at all tonight, lest their argument resume. The late hour’s chill nipped at him and, coupled with the ache in his heart, pushed for him to go back inside.

When he returned to the apartment and entered, he saw Cassie standing there with her arms crossed, eyes mixed with disappointment and concern, “What happened?”

“Is Charlie in our room?”

“No, she came in for a moment, told me you’re safe, then said she was going up on the roof to be alone. So what the hell happened, Kevin?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.” Angel sighed and walked over to the liquor cabinet. Opening the glass door, he picked up the bottle of Scotch, chose a clean glass from the shelf below, and sat down at the table. He poured a shot, tossed it back, and poured another in quick succession.

Cassie blew out a long breath and went to choose her own glass. She sat down across from him and pushed the glass his way. Angel took the hint and poured her two fingers’ worth.

“I’ve been listening to the Frequencies, Angel. I know some of what happened. The kids are safe and the FBI rounded up the jerks. I also heard there were two bodies?”

Angel’s demeanor gave Cassie pause, but she pressed, “Did Charlie—?”

Angel slammed the glass down on the table, spilling some of the scotch, and Cassie cut her question off. He glanced towards the wall, shook his head, downed another shot, and poured again. Cassie tossed hers back and offered her glass for a refill, waiting. Angel poured, his face flushed and distraught. “I took a life tonight to save Charlie and keep her secret safe.”

“Kevin.” Cassie frowned, “Every time you take her into the field, you risk her being discovered.”

“I know. But I might not have had to if she had just listened and followed my orders. She went off script again, let her emotions get the better of her, and she could have been killed. She almost was. Now she’s not sure if she wants to go on, and I think she might be right. Her emotions and her powers may be too much for her to handle. I had a moment tonight when I thought she might kill me, too.”

“I’m aware of her growing powers, Kevin.” Cassie stood and walked over to one of her bookshelves and took a small wooden box from it. Coming back and sitting down, she opened it and took out a beaded necklace. “So I worked a spell into these beads. When the spell is spoken, it sends out a ripple of energy that should theoretically cause any demon or supernatural creature in your presence incredible pain long enough for you to escape.” Sliding the necklace over to Angel, she continued, “Wear it and memorize the spell, and should Charlie’s emotions overwhelm her, if her demon side loses control, you will have a way to escape.”

Picking up the beads, Angel rolled them around in his hand. “She accused me of not trusting her, Cassie. I accept this, and it’s pretty much confirming it.”

“You can trust Charlie, Kevin,” Cassie said firmly. “It’s her demon side we have to watch out for. If she’s the Princess of Hell, she’s far too dangerous not to be prepared for. You need to do whatever it takes to protect yourself. You know I’m right.”

“Not just her, apparently.” Angel lifted the necklace over his head and placed it around his neck. “Charlie thinks we might have a bigger problem.” Angel told Cassie everything Charlie had told him. About the burned body, the kids talking about a monster, and that Charlie felt there’s something else out there.

Cassie leaned back in her chair. “If this is true, then Bible has someone far more powerful than mere henchmen under his command. From your description of the poor girl’s body, Voodoo witchcraft could be involved.”

“And that means there’s someone on the board who could challenge Charlie.”

“sh*t.” Cassie threw back her shot and motioned for another. “Okay. In the morning, I’ll send out feelers through the Frequencies, to see if any of my sisters know anything. I’ll also see what other powder spells I can whip up. What are you going to do about Charlie?”

“I don’t know. I do know that I will continue to be her shelter. Do whatever it takes to keep her safe, and if she wants to stop working with me, that’s fine.”

Cassie downed her last shot. “Listen to your sister on this one, Kevin. If you really love her the way I know she loves you, tell her. Stop letting the issue of her memories get in the way. Love has real magic, and no matter what she is, her heart is for you. Nurture it. Make sure she knows. It may be what keeps you safe and her in control.”

“What if it’s too late?” Angel’s voice shook.

“It’s not.” Cassie’s voice stole Angel’s eyes back to her, and she smiled softly. “Trust me, little brother, and do as your big sister says.”

Angel looked up as if she could see Charlie on the roof through the floors. “When she calms down, I will.”

Cassie nodded and stood up. “I’ll send out some feelers before bed. Now that you’re both home and safe, I need rest. I will see you in the morning. I suggest you make up the couch. Just in case.” She leaned in and kissed him on the forehead.

Angel gave her a sad smile and watched her walk away. Pouring another shot, Angel sighed to himself and looked at the couch. Something I’ll have to get used to for a while. And he emptied his glass.

***

On the roof, Charlie let out a soft demonic hiss, her features bleeding between human and demon, much like a strobe light flashing, as she paced between Cassie’s training walls. Why did I say those things to Angel? There was no way she wanted to go back to Hell. There was no way she was going to give up any chance of a life with him, and she certainly wasn’t going to stop working with him. But he was right about her. Her emotions were like waves crashing against jagged rocks, spilling her feelings all over the place. She felt such rage for whoever had killed the girl, and she could see very clearly in her mind’s eye how she could rip the bastard’s throat out and feel no remorse. In fact, in that moment of anger, she made a promise to do just that.

Her demon form pulsed every time such thoughts filled her vision, and she cursed herself. Was she really out of control, like Angel said? She remembered when she hung up on the cargo container and saw Angel cower below her. A fleeting moment of excitement had fluttered through the back of her mind, her body aching from her ears to her nether regions, teasing her demon’s desire to strike. It was almost imperceptible, but it really bothered her. So much so that when Angel confronted her about what she did, she blew up at him in defense to drown out her own fears.

They had never had a fight like this before, and she hated herself far more than she was angry with him. Stepping to the ledge of the roof, she looked down and out to take in the city street and the surrounding buildings and sighed. Angel saved her life, gave her shelter and a purpose, and accepted who she was. How could she do any less for him? Turning around to lean against the ledge, Charlie felt something tug at her heart—a faint sense of familiarity that she couldn’t quite articulate—but she felt a strong desire to express her feelings in song. She pushed it down, feeling awkward and asking What the heck? Life isn’t a musical, girl!

Yet, the desire felt so natural that after a few minutes of the desire nagging at her, she shrugged and gave in. The moment the first words came out, she felt—like her true self—and held nothing back. “When I first saw his face, he made me feel safe—a lost soul in a strange new place.” It felt so natural to sing out her feelings, and she embraced it. “And it felt so good—to be understood—but there’s so much I wish that I could say.” Moving towards the center of the roof, she spun slowly, lifting her face up to the stars and felt the words as much as she sung them, “I will fight to make his dreams come true! Whatever we go through! I know I’ll be his armor! Whatever it takes; I’ll make the mistakes! I’ll spend my life being his partner!”

Swaying to the music in her mind, Charlie felt her anger drain and her resolve strengthen. No matter who she was, what she was, or what she would become, she would never break her promise to protect Angel. She would find a way to work things out with him, fight by his side, and they would be together. She’d be willing to do anything to see their dreams come true. Opening her eyes with a determined focus, she whispered one last melody, “Whatever it takes.”

Chapter 48: Rise! Rygen the Devourer

Chapter Text

After meditating for a while, Samedi stood from his chair and walked over to a stand-alone cabinet and opened it. Inside was a collection of various voodoo objects, including candles, talismans, stones, crosses, features, bells, and dead things. Among all of them was the vial of blood he’d taken from the girl in the warehouse. Picking up a book in the back of the cabinet, he opened its pages to a section he’d earmarked previously. The section dealt with some of the more powerful and dangerous demons that a practiced summoner could attempt to call and control. He wanted one that was especially vicious. Scrolling his long nails down the page, he stopped on a particular one called Bakasura and read the summary associated with it. Close, but he wanted one that was even more bloodthirsty and turned the page. After a few minutes of scanning, he settled on a particularly nasty choice.

“Yes. I think you will do quite nicely.” Picking among the items inside the cabinet, he selected what he needed and proceeded to arrange everything on the floor of the trailer, where a summoning circle had already been inscribed with maroon chalk. Twenty minutes later, Samedi had everything he wanted and went to the light switch and turned the single hanging bulb in the room off. Darkness consumed all for what seemed like countless minutes.

Then, a flash from a single-struck match interrupted the darkness, briefly chasing the shadows from Samedi’s grim smile. Lowering the match to touch the wick on a long black candle, he watched the flame travel over and take hold of the wick, illuminating the small room. Flicking his wrist to extinguish the flame of the match, he dropped it into an ashtray next to the candle, already overflowing from previously used matches.

Slipping a chosen talisman onto his wrist, Samedi took the vial of blood, opened the stopper, and emptied it into the center of the summoning circle. Chanting a summoning spell he knew by heart, the blood hissed and fizzled as if it had been poured into a hot pan, and the circle itself began to glow and pulse a dark light. “Come to me, Canis Infernus Rygen, come and be my slave!”

***

At the same point in time, in Hell, Rygen gnawed lazily on the bones of its latest victim, an imp demon that had wandered over from the Wrath ring and into the Gluttony ring for some stupid reason. Charcoal-tinged leathery skin flexed, and black coarse hair flung along his neck and back, much like a lion’s mane, as Rygen stretched his long, triangular form. Stout at the shoulders and thinning out to his hind legs, it gave him a shape similar to a doberman but at least three times larger, and a face similar to a Grey Runner.

Rygen was well fed, as he was never picky about what or who he ate. Chewing on the imp’s flesh and swallowing, he sniffed the air with his long muzzle, and his large nostrils flared in response. Rygen watched with blood-red eyes and soulless black pupils as the other demons steered far clear of him but otherwise ignored him as they carried on their daily business. He grinned as he chewed, blade-like fangs soaked in black blood, wondering how they’d taste. After all, he loved to chase a good meal with a long drink of frightened demon blood.

Suddenly, something pricked at his senses, and he picked up his triangular, sharp ears, his whip-like tail swishing behind him. A low hum called to him, and he felt himself moving, his legs carrying him against his will through the streets and out of town. He growled in rage as his body was lifted off the ground and pulled with a painful force towards an area of Hell where demons did not dare wander, including himself.

Trying with all his strength to dig his long, sharp claws into the dirt and brimstone, he struggled to stop his momentum, but it was all in vain. Screaming in rage and pain, Rygen felt his body being stretched beyond any physical possibility and then snapped like a rubber band, and he was flung through the air, out of the Wrath ring, and swallowed up by the one thing in Hell all truly feared: Tenebris profundis nusquam!

***

Erupting from the red, luminous flames and filling the small room with its swirling presence, Rygen’s throaty voice was filled with an oily, gurgling rage as he tumbled into the circle, his body covered in steam from the journey: “Et suscitemus eum conferamus, si legas!”

Samedi smiled, twisted the band on his wrist, and Rygen screamed in agony, “I have summoned you—my slave—Canis Infernus Rygen, and you will speak in my human tongue!” Rygen reached a claw out towards Samedi’s arm and cried out in pain as Samedi twisted the band again. “You are bound by my spell, demon, and will obey! Take on your human disguise.” Samedi knew that hellhounds had the ability to shapeshift and take on a disguise of human design on Earth. Usually something that fits their blackened souls.

Eyes glowing a dark blood-red, Rygen found his body obeying against his will, shifting and pulling his demon dog features into his body and leaving behind a tall, elegant-looking gentleman dressed in a tailored black suit, slacks, & tie. Rygen saw a mirror hanging on the wall behind Samedi and walked past him, who stepped aside to let Rygen peer at his reflection. “Why am I here, human?”

“Master.” Samedi played no games. “You will address me as Master.”

“Master.” Rygen repeated the word with distaste: “You have pulled me from the very bowels of Hell, thrown into the maw of Tenebris profundis nusquam, painfully, I might add, to stand here against my will to serve you. Why?”

“The one whom I serve commanded that I bring you forth to subdue and bring into our control a demon unlike any I have ever seen or heard about before. You will find this demon and break her, so I can bind her.”

“A demon? Not under anyone’s binding?” Rygen turned, deep blue eyes shining with actual interest, “And how did it come to be here, Master?”

“She will answer that once we have her under our control. She is with a man called Angel, and they appear to be aligned, so you will eliminate this Angel and bring her to us.”

“I will be allowed to taste human flesh?”

“Oh, yes, and with this Angel person, you may eat your fill.”

“Know this well, Master, that should even the binding between us break, I will strip your skin from your body and lap up your blood slowly.” Rygen’s blue eyes pulsed, “But what you command of me, I will enjoy doing, with relish.”

With a short, mirthless laugh, Samedi waved his hand and said, “Save your idle threats, Rygen. You have your orders, and you will carry them out with haste. We want the demon bitch as soon as possible.”

“You say she is different? How?”

“She attacked my men. To save a bunch of children. No demon I have ever encountered has fought to save lives. She is unique.”

Rygen tilted his head, “Not so unique, Master. Some in our realm have altruistic ideals. It’s sickening, but not unheard of, and can be easily manipulated.”

“Intriguing. I shall have you tell me more after you finish your tasks. Find Angel, kill him, and then hunt the demon bitch, subdue her, and bring her to me. I trust you can sense your own kind on this earthy plain?”

“With ease, Master, and anyone who it has been in close contact with will have its scent upon them. I will find this Angel in that manner.”

“Excellent. Make haste. I want this demon now.”

“I must feed first, Master, to regain my strength from the pull of Tenebris profundis nusquam, or I will be too weak against this demon you claim is special. I smell carrion and earthly beasts nearby. Allow me tonight to feed and gain my full power, and I will hunt your human before the moon rises again.”

“Very well. So long as you do not fail me, Rygen, or I will send you back to your hell in pieces. Are we clear?”

“You’ve made it very clear, Masssster.” Rygen drew out the word with a dark warning and then gave a half-mocking bow. He then let his demon form spill forth, returning him to the great hellhound form that he preferred.

Samedi went to the door, opened it, and stood aside. Rygen bounded past him and out into the darkness to find his first earthly meal. Samedi smiled as he watched the hellhound disappear and felt actual giddiness for the gift his demon would soon bring him.

Chapter 49: Drinking With a Demon

Chapter Text

Quietly opening the door to the apartment, Charlie stepped through, noticed all the lights were off, and wondered how long she had been up on the roof. She had gotten lost in her thoughts and been singing softly for a while, and it felt good and so familiar that her crystals felt warm in her pockets. She knew there were memories just below the surface, wanting to rise. She had tried to concentrate on those memories and pull them forward, but they were still very cloudy. She then tried to sing about her thoughts, but her words came out in a very unladylike yawn, and she conceded that she needed sleep. Dropping her key into the dish by the door, she started for the bedroom, but a soft cough from the kitchen stopped her. She turned and saw Angel’s shadow sitting at the table, a half-empty bottle of Scotch sitting to the side. Charlie whispered softly, “I thought you’d be asleep by now.”

“I didn’t want to intrude on you on the roof, but I couldn’t go to sleep with us angry at each other.”

“I’m not angry anymore. Only tired. Can we talk in the morning?”

Angel lifted his glass and took a drink. Dropping the glass on the table a little harder than he intended, it gave Charlie a start. “Sorry. I’m a little drunk.”

Charlie shuffled softly over to the kitchen table and sat down next to Angel. She looked at Cassie’s empty glass and the bottle and reached for it. Angel put his hand on her forearm, “It’s strong stuff.”

“I’m not a child,“ Charlie said softly, laying her other hand over his, “We both suffered tonight.”

Letting go of her arm, Angel sat back and watched Charlie pour enough Scotch into her glass that it almost spilled over the lip. He chuckled softly and got a look for it.

“What?”

Angel shook his head, took back the bottle, and poured two fingers into his glass, “If you want to catch up to me, that’ll do it.”

Charlie kept her look on him, lifted the glass, and took a long drink, letting a full four ounces of high-proof Scotch flow down her throat. Angel’s eyes went wide as Charlie set the glass down, closed her eyes, and mmmmed.

“How?”

“It’s hot, burns, and soothes my demon side.” Charlie smiled as her cheeks flushed with warmth, “I think we have spirits in Hell, and I’m sure I’ve had my share.”

“Spirits in Hell.” Angel repeated, and Charlie snickered, taking another long drink to finish off her glass while he threw back his shot.

“I made a pun, didn’t I?”

“You did.” Angel poured himself another shot and held the bottle out. Charlie pushed her glass over, and Angel poured enough to fill hers again, and she smiled.

“We never had a drink together, Angel. Even with all the times you took me out or brought fast food back to the hotels, why?”

“I don’t drink.”

It was said in such a way that Charlie sniffed, suddenly sad. She’d driven him to this, and it scraped at her soul, “Angel?”

“I almost lost you tonight. I saw him raise his gun at you, and his aim was true. If I’d been seconds later, I’d have watched you die. I blew up at you in the car because I was so scared.”

Charlie sniffed again, wiping her eyes, “I was scared too. Scared for the children, and I disobeyed you. Had I listened, I could have come to save you first. I was angry, too, because all I could see in my mind was losing you.”

“Do you want to stop working with me?”

“No!” Charlie’s answer was quick and firm, and Angel felt relieved, “I promise to try to stick to the plans you set.”

“Try.” Angel repeated, “Is all I’ve ever honestly expected from you, Charlie. Your devotion to the children and to saving lives is as much, if not more, than my own. I don’t fault you for following your emotions. I only ask that you try, as you said, to keep to the plans, so I can keep you safe, too.”

“I will.”

“Thank you.”

He lifted his glass to her, and she reciprocated in kind, and they toasted with a clink of their glasses. Charlie took a long drink, swallowed, and felt her body warm even more. She then took another long drink and finished off her glass again. Angel took a long drink in kind, feeling like a novice to her, then poured both of them full glasses, emptying the bottle completely, and swirled the glass in his hand. Watching the Scotch move, he contemplated listening to his sister’s advice. He debated it as he took a long drink of his own, eyes closed as he savored the burn, and figured, What the hell? Get it out, be honest with her, and tell her how you feel.

“Charlie?” Setting his glass down and opening his eyes, he looked over to see Charlie’s head on the table, eyes closed and out like a light. Soft snores escaped through half-parted dark lips and cheeks flushed ruby red. Smiling softly, Angel stood, stepped over, and gently lifted Charlie into his arms. Walking down the hallway, he felt her snuggle her head against his shoulder, rubbing her cheek against his shirt, and she whispered in her dreams, “I love you, Angel.”

Bending his head down, Angel brushed his lips against her forehead and whispered back, “I love you, too, Charlie.”

Pushing the bedroom door open, he stepped in and gently laid her upon their shared bed as she mumbled in her dreams. Carefully, he pulled a spare quilt over her for warmth. Stepping back, he took a moment to watch her curl up under the quilt and wiped his eyes. Moving quietly, Angel left the room and quietly shut the door behind him. One more night on the couch so she could sleep off her first drunken stooper seemed the wisest way to go. As he settled down on the couch and pulled the quilt up against his shoulders, he hoped that the day would come when they wouldn’t have to hold back anymore.

Chapter 50: Yes, I Used You

Chapter Text

Sitting in a chair on the balcony of her fifth-level hotel room with an ignored coffee cup in her hand, Amanda dragged on the cigarette in her mouth, lost in thought. Sleep chose to abandon her all night long, leaving her stressed and worried, so she sent an email at 4 a.m. to her boss-slash-lover in D.C. outlining the events of the previous night and saying that she needed to talk to him as soon as possible. She expected his call anytime now and had never felt so nervous in her life.

Her entire career rested on convincing him that she made the right choice by calling Angel in and letting him get ahead of the task force. She also hoped he’d see to it that Angel’s gun registration would be changed to her name before they could identify the bullet. If she let herself be fully honest about it, on the surface, those requests wouldn’t be hard at all to ask for if she could convince him that she loved him.

Unfortunately, she needed to convince herself of that first. She hated herself for using him, and more so because it was for a man she would never be able to be with again. She was also sure that her boss knew something. Taking another drag, she blew the smoke out along with a loud sigh of frustration. Jamming the butt into the ashtray on the small glass table next to her chair, she lifted her cup to take a drink, only to crinkle her nose, realizing it had cooled while she was daydreaming.

Setting the cup down, Amanda reached for her pack for a new smoke when her cell phone rang. She jumped at the sound and was suddenly unsure if she wanted to even answer it. Picking it up, the caller’s ID displayed her lover’s name, and she licked her lips. Wishing she could have one or two more cigarettes, She pushed the answer button, put him on speaker, and tensed, “Hey, Ethan.”

Ethan’s first words were not what she expected: “Are you okay, Amanda?”

Swallowing back sudden emotions of guilt, she sniffed, “No.”

“I read your e-mail. Can I ask you something very serious and personal?”

“You know you can.”

“Honestly, with the reports I got and your email, I wasn’t sure if I really could get an honest answer out of you.” Ethan’s voice was quiet and missing any authoritarian anger she’d been tensing up for, but it was still accusatory, and rightly so. “Why did you call in Angel against Stefon’s express orders?”

“Because I believe in him. More than I believe in anyone in the New Orleans field office. More than I believe in almost anyone who has to go by the book.”

“Because you still love him.” Ethan’s voice still lacked any anger, and Amanda found that more painful than if he’d blown up at her.

“What he’s doing is worthy of his name, and I admire him for his dedication. But I’m not in love with him. Not anymore.”

“Yet, it’s enough to risk your career over.”

“The children are worth risking my career over. Angel has decided to risk his freedom to do whatever it takes. If only we could do the same, but we can’t. So as long as he’s out there, I have to give him every chance he can get.”

“And hooking up with one of the highest-ranking FBI agents in D.C. was a chance worth taking, was it?” Now his voice held a tinge of anger, sadness, and accusation, and Amanda could only answer in silence. His next accusation stung even more. “Was Angel in on your idea to use me?”

“No! I told him the reason he gets to skirt the lines is that we acknowledged his time with the Army Rangers and how valuable he was. I always warned him to follow the rules and not take unnecessary chances. I didn’t want him to get the idea he had that much wiggle room.”

A tick of silence followed before Ethan responded, “But you did use me.”

“I did.” Amanda sighed as she fell back in the chair, “And I don’t expect you to believe me when I tell you that it was only at first. This last year, I really did start to care for you.”

“Honestly?”

Amanda latched onto the hope in his voice. Ethan may be a high-ranking FBI veteran, but he was human, and he was a very good man. “Yes, Ethan. Dammit, if things had stayed quiet even a little while longer, I would have confessed everything to you in person, begged for forgiveness, and asked for a chance for us. For real. I intended to do so on our second anniversary in November. Now, all I can ask for are the favors that I sent in the email and hand in my resignation.”

“I can get the registration changed this morning.”

Amanda blinked. Did she hear him right? “Ethan?”

“It won’t take much. I have a friend who owes me a favor. A no-questions asked favor. I’ll call it in for this, for you.”

“And the other favor?”

With a sad laugh, Ethan followed through: “I’ll call Stefon and order him to not press charges against Angel or pursue him as a person of interest. I will tell him we will bring him to Washington, D.C., for a direct debriefing. Which is actually true. I want to meet the man.”

“I can convince him to come. If it doesn’t come with handcuffs?”

“No. It won’t. You’ve made it very clear how important he is to you. I will consider it our two-year anniversary gift if you will do one thing for me?”

“What?” Amanda pressed the speakerphone button and leaned the phone against her ear to listen intently.

“If you meant what you said about how you feel about me since this last year, can we try it for real? No games? No lies? No using each other?”

Using her free hand to wipe her eyes, Amanda felt her tension bleed from her body, “Yes, Ethan. Wholeheartedly yes. I would love that.”

“You’re an amazing woman, Amanda. Your devotion to the people you love is commendable. I want to be able to share in that. Angel is lucky you have his back, but I want all of you.”

“You have all of me, Ethan. Honestly.”

“Well, I hope so, because there’s one more piece of business that you won’t like.”

Sitting up, Amanda prepped herself. She had an idea of what was next: “I’m still suspended, aren’t I?”

“Yes. If I go against Stefon’s decision, it will undermine his authority, and I’ll be questioned about it.”

“I understand.” Amanda had to admit it could have been a lot worse, and now she was going to poke the nest. “But, I do have another request.”

“Jesus, Amanda,” Ethan let out a light laugh, “You don’t quit, do you?”

“Bible nearly took a dozen children last night, Ethan. We still don’t have a lot of intelligence on him. Can you demand the reports from Stefon and send me copies? I’m starting to suspect someone on the inside may be siphoning anything related to Bible away before we can dig into it. I can’t go to the office while suspended, and even if I wasn’t, I fear I would be shut out.”

“Amanda. We know for certain that someone on the inside is working for Bible. We’ve had a task force working on the issue for the past six months. Ever since kidnappings across the Eastern Seaboard had spiked, we found some links to suggest it was from a source overseas running operations. Unfortunately, anytime we tried to get information about it, files were marked Top Secret, and even I wasn’t allowed to view them.”

“How is that possible? From your position, you should be able to—?”

Ethan cut her off, “I know, but there’s a shadow group at play. I can’t stir the nest much at all, or they’ll disappear entirely. If Bible has his hands in this deep, all I can do is send Stefon an order to send me the files. Whatever I get? Well, I won’t know until I do.”

“Will you send me what you get?”

“I will. Maybe Angel will be able to find something in them that we missed.”

“You knew I would go to him.”

“You’re suspended, Amanda. Obviously, you’re not going to sit in your hotel room watching soap operas.”

Amanda smiled into the phone and said, “No. I’m not sitting this out, Ethan. I’m going to work with Angel from his side for the time being. Maybe I’ll finally see what his secret is that keeps working.”

“Just, “Ethan sighed, “come home soon. Before anything bad happens.”

“I promise.” Amanda paused, then added with soft sincerity, “I do love you.”

“I want to believe that. I’ll give you the space you need for now. Just promise you’ll stay safe?”

“For you. I will.”

They said their goodbyes. Amanda clicked the end button, sat her phone down, and dropped her head to rest her chin against her chest. That went better than she’d hoped for. Ethan would work on her favors and give them a chance, and he’d send her the files from last night’s raid. Maybe the files would reveal something to give Angel an advantage. Maybe they would help Amanda identify Bible, or at least give them a real lead for once.

Looking at her watch, which read 8:25 a.m., Amanda decided to give herself until noon, and then she was going to go visit Angel at his sister’s shop. It still nagged at the back of her mind about who was helping Angel, and she was going to find out exactly who the ‘we’ meant. Standing, she moved to the bed and welcomed the tug of sleep that was finally interested in visiting, now that stress had left room for it. Amanda didn’t bother to undress, and fell face first into the pillows.

Chapter 51: Morning Hangovers

Chapter Text

Angel awoke—groggy with a hangover—from a restless night’s sleep to the sharp, sweet smell of freshly brewed coffee. His eyes opened to find a steaming mug next to his face, and he looked up to see Cassie playfully looking impatient for him to take it. He smiled and sat up, gratefully accepting the cup as Cassie sat next to him on the couch with her own cup.

“How’d you sleep?” Cassie asked gently.

“Mostly on my left side.”

Cassie rolled her eyes, but his playful banter assured her that he was feeling better. Hopefully for the right reasons, “Did you get to talk to Charlie last night?”

Angel nodded as he gently sipped the hot liquid, savoring it. It helped him to feel a little better, but some headache pills were called for. “A little bit. We were both exhausted by the time she came back down from the roof, but I think we sorted some stuff out.”

“And did you tell her?” Cassie prompted.

Smirking at the memory, Angel took another sip first, “She decided to have a drink with me and passed out before I could say anything. I bet she could drink most under the table. But, with the exhaustion from the mission and our fight, she was done for. I took her to our bed and tucked her in. I figured it was best to sleep on the couch until we had a sober talk.”

Cassie was silent, and Angel looked over to her, “I will tell her, Cassie. I want her to know I love her as much as she loves me, and I want us to work once we figure her past out. We tried putting it aside, but I believe what you said. If our love can help her fight whatever comes our way, I want her to know how I feel.”

Cassie smiled wanly but shook her head, “It’s not that, Angel. I woke up early again and checked my emails and messages. I found some things out that worry me.”

Sitting his cup on the coffee table by the couch, Angel turned to face Cassie directly, “Tell me.”

“A few of my Wiccan sisters up in Baton Rouge have been gossiping about a strange, suspicious man who’d been visiting some of their shops over the past couple of months. Gathering supplies related to demon summoning, dark magic spells, including body manipulation, and magics designed to cover a Wiccan’s presence. He always paid in cash, so there are no records, but one of the sisters did get a name. Samedi.”

“Samedi.” Angel repeated the name, thinking, “What kind of body manipulation could those magics do, theoretically?”

“There are many kinds,” Cassie admitted, “Including magically burning a body beyond recognition.”

“Jesus,” Angel rubbed his temple, “do such magics really exist? How come it’s not more common?”

“We police ourselves, Angel. Most of us do anyway. We discourage improper use. We denounce anyone who may try to use any of the magics for wicked reasons.” Cassie sipped her coffee, “We keep most of what we do on the down low, only advertising the most benign of magic gifts: amulets, incense, love spells, and earth magic. We’re very careful to remind a new user that any spell they want to create will come back on them tenfold and to only practice for the sake of the energies of the Earth.”

“So, where do demon summonings come in?”

“Some magic is very real, Angel, like the amulet I gave Charlie or the powders I use.” Cassie sat the coffee mug down, “And some magic is very dangerous. We hope that as time passes, those types of magic will be all but forgotten. But some want to explore their dark powers, call up demons from hell, and create havoc. So, we have some who keep the knowledge alive, if only to combat it. Samedi would be a good reason to know more about how it works, as well as how Charlie got here and how to get her memories back.”

Angel nodded along to all Cassie had told him, absorbing it. After a moment, he turned his attention back to the immediate threat: “Samedi. New in town, at least from what your sisters say. Gathering supplies and having magics that we’ve now seen in action. Charlie’s gut feelings after seeing the dead girl. What the children said. The puzzle pieces fit. We have a new player on the board working for Bible, and if he was in the warehouse at any point, he may have seen Charlie and knows what she is.”

“We need to tread carefully here, Angel. Let’s go to the shop. I want to show you some things and explain how they work. You have the necklace to protect you from Charlie should she lose control, but I think it’s prudent that you become more versed in my world.”

Reaching for his cup, Angel took a long drink, emptying the cup quickly. “Six months ago, I would never have thought I’d be interested or even eager to learn, but now? With finding Charlie? I want to know everything.”

“Should we wake Charlie and tell her?”

Silent in thought for a moment, Angel decided against it: “No, let her sleep. She fought hard last night and deserves the rest.”

“She is one of the toughest souls I’ve ever encountered, but I could sense she was drained last night from everything.” Standing, Cassie moved to the kitchen to collect the coffee pot so they could fuel up on caffeine as they worked. “This should keep us going for a little while, at least. Will you grab the keys?”

Standing, Angel stretched quickly, and picking up his empty cup, he stepped to the entrance and fished out the keys from the bowl on the table beside the door. Cassie joined him, and they left the apartment for the shop downstairs.

***

Stirring from a collage of dreams, most lost to her as her eyes opened, Charlie moved subtly under the covers. Slowly, she rolled from her side position to lay on her back, her hair falling over her face. Breathing softly through the strands, she held onto the one dream she didn’t want to ever let go of. In it, Angel had told her he loved her, and it was so soft, sweet, and real that Charlie felt it actually had happened. Reaching out to feel Angel, she discovered she was alone in the bed, but she didn’t feel loss. She immediately realized he probably decided to sleep on the couch since they’d not completely healed from their fight, and getting drunk didn’t really help the issue. A dull ache became apparent once she remembered drinking the Scotch. Looking at the clock on the nightstand, Charlie double-blinked at the time. 12:26 p.m. stared back in bold red numbers. Angel had let her sleep in.

Charlie turned back to look at the ceiling through the curtain of her hair and sighed. She supposed it was the right decision, but they had so much they had to do, and she wanted the air between them cleared. Using her feet, Charlie pushed the blanket down and away from her body so she could kick the excess away. Clear of the constraints, Charlie slowly sat up and turned to sit on the side of the bed, and the full impact of the hangover hit her. Groaning, Charlie quickly decided alcohol was not her thing. Especially in such an emotional state.

Taking a deep breath and opening up all her senses, she determined that both Angel and Cassie were downstairs in the shop and quickly closed her senses back up as her head pounded. Standing, Charlie took a couple of steps towards the door to go shower when a thought occurred to her. Taking a step back, she turned to the full-length mirror hanging on the wall by the dresser. Pulling at the power in her core, Charlie transformed into her hybrid form and concentrated. Her body began to glow as she brought forth her healing power and let it cascade over her for a few moments before the glow ebbed and she returned to her human form.

Shaking her head, Charlie smiled as the pain from her headache no longer existed. So, maybe she could drink as often as she desired if she could magic away any hangovers. Then she recalled that Angel didn’t really drink and scolded herself. Sighing, Charlie turned to go shower when she suddenly cringed at a sharp, sudden itch emanating from her shoulders. Cursing the human body for not being able to reach the one place a determined itch would attack, she propped her back against the door frame and wiggled to try to scratch the annoying itch. Barely relieved, Charlie decided to scald it away under the hot water of a much-needed shower. She would go join the siblings in the shop after primping herself a bit.

Chapter 52: The One On The Inside

Chapter Text

Special Agent in Charge Mike Stefon stepped into his office and shut the door, locking it behind him. Moving his stout frame to sit at his desk, he laid upon it a collection of file folders related to the previous night’s events and flipped open the top folder. Scanning over the material with his hard brown eyes, he scratched his full beard as he reviewed the names and records of some of the men who had been arrested and their histories. Many had been in the military with experience in the Special Forces, receiving commendations and medals from various deployments. Parsing through the various folders, he read the statements some of them had made, citing being darted and knocked out or experiencing strange occurrences. One report was very troubling, for the statement suggested a monster attack.

However, what Stefon focused on was the connections some of the men had and how they could be linked to the entity known as Bible. He scanned over those details with keen interest, noting which men were most likely to be interviewed in greater detail. As he read, the phone on his desk rang, and he reached over, somewhat absentmindedly, and picked up the receiver, “Stefon, here.”

“Stefon,” the familiar voice of Ethan Wilks, Assistant Director of the FBI in Washington, D.C., piped through, and Stefon became focused. “Glad, I caught you directly.”

“Sir,” Stefon answered, suddenly tense.

“I heard about the events of last night. Good job. When will you have the reports sent over to my office?”

“I am reviewing them now, sir. They should be in your hands by mid-afternoon.”

“Very good.” Ethan paused for a moment. “I understand you had to suspend one of your field agents?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“She went against my orders and brought in an outsider. I think you know Mr. Collins, the bounty hunter who’s been doing his own thing over the last few years?”

“Yes, I’m quite familiar with him. I also heard he was quite helpful in the events of last night, perhaps being the catalyst for the rescue of the girls?” Ethan questioned.

“Despite that, he was not authorized and could have caused more damage than good. I have an APB out for him to be brought in.”

“I want you to cancel that APB, Stefon.”

“But, Sir!” Stefon bristled.

“Look. I have every intention of having him brought to D.C. for a debriefing and discussion, but last night was just the tip of an iceberg we need to be focused on. So far, Mr. Collins has not been more than an irritation for procedures, but his work has saved lives. Lay off him until we have that talk in D.C., understood?”

“Yes, Sir.” Stefon’s face was red, and for more reasons than Ethan knew, “Anything else, sir?”

“Just get those files to me as soon as possible. We’ve had very few leads on this Bible person, and I want to see what your agents have gathered. I also want all the interrogation notes from those you rounded up.”

“Yes, Sir.” Stefon twisted the cord of the landline in his hand, seething.

“Good. I will be looking forward to reading them. Have a good day, Agent Stefon.”

The dial tone replaced Wilk’s voice, and Stefon slammed the receiver back on the cradle and swore under his breath. Standing, he walked to one of the file cabinets and opened the middle drawer. Reaching into the back, he fished out a secret key and went back to his desk. Sitting down, he opened the bottom drawer and pulled out a small lock-box. With the key, he opened it, took out a small burner cell phone, and powered it up. Once it booted up, he dialed the only number that was saved. He waited as it rang almost a full seven times before a connection was made.

“Stefon,” Bible’s voice flowed through the phone, “what is it?”

Special Agent Stefon swallowed once and said, “Sir. We have a problem. I just got a call from Director Wilks, ordering me to kill the APB on Mr. Collins, and he wants the full file report on his desk by mid-afternoon.”

A short silence made Stefon’s nerves fray. Finally, Bible said, “I have other means to dispose of Angel in the works as we speak, Stefon, so to keep your cover, do as he ordered. I expect you will clean up the files before you send them, as usual.”

“Of course. But I usually get more time to make sure everything looks official and clean. His demands could create a problem.”

“There is no problem. You will not fail me.”

“Sir,.” Stefon’s voice was small. “With Agent Sims going against my orders and bringing Mr. Collins in, and the bust of last night, suspicions are high. I can’t alter too much, or I’ll be discovered.”

“This Sims? She knows Angel?”

“Very well. They dated before he joined the service.”

“Interesting.” Bible mused, “Do your job, Stefon, and make sure any detail that can be linked back to me is destroyed.”

“I will try, sir, but after this, I can’t do anything else, or I could be discovered.”

“You will do what I tell you to do, Stefon.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but they’re already suspicious around here and in D.C. If I’m discovered, they’ll link me to you, and I know you don’t want that.”

“No. I do not.” Bible decided, “Redact the files you have. I will be in contact soon.”

The silence of a cut signal irritated Stefon, and he fell back into his chair, mentally exhausted and frightened. This was not a position he had ever wanted to be in. He felt sorry for the children, and always felt a sense of relief when one of them was saved. But Bible held secrets that would destroy him if they were revealed, so he did what he had to do to protect his own life. Self-preservation was paramount. With a lick of his lips, he quickly began to sort through the files on his desk, selecting those that might be problematic and pulling them aside. Once he had them out of the files, he’d pull up the digital versions, delete those pages, and shred the physical evidence, just as his boss, Bible, had demanded.

***

Bible picked up the cigar in the ashtray beside him and took a long drag, chewing the end as his fingers caressed each other, and scowled at Stefon’s attitude. He was right, though; if he were to be discovered, he had enough knowledge of Bible’s operations to be a problem. It would be a loss to eliminate Special Agent Stefon in order to find and acquire another with such a high position in the FBI. It would also disrupt his operations in the States, but the alternative was worse. Reaching for the phone, Bible decided to make the call and have Samedi give his pet demon a few more targets to eliminate.

Chapter 53: I'm His Secret Demon

Chapter Text

As the one o’clock hour chimed on the old grandfather clock in the corner of Cassie’s shop, Angel closed the cover on the eighth book his sister had propped in his lap. Sipping at his coffee, having lost track of the number he’d downed since the early morning, he went over a few details he’d learned, “So, if I’ve been reading correctly, many hauntings and unexplained occurrences around the world are from demons, ghosts, and poltergeists either summoned or escaped from Hell and any of its seven rings?”

Cassie nodded as she separated various items apart on the main counter by the register, where the amulets lay below, “Some, yes. Most are stories are urban legends, like the Mothman of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, or the Jersey Devil. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had real demon origins at first.”

“And how many do you think are used to commit crimes and cause trouble?”

“There’s no accurate statistics, but most who call demons to Earth aren’t philanthropists.”

Scratching his chin, “Perhaps Charlie and I need to open up our playbook. Especially in instances where demons may be attacking innocents.”

“Let’s get current things under control first, Kevin,” Cassie softly admonished.

“You’re right. I just can’t ignore this now that I know it exists.”

A chime distracted them as the shop door opened and a couple with two kids walked in. Cassie stood up straight and smiled warmly, shifting into her shopkeeper persona, “Welcome, wayward souls. Do you require guidance?”

The mother smiled back and shook her head, “No, thank you; we’re just browsing.”

“Of course, please take your time and call upon my wisdom should your curiosities bloom.”

The mother smiled again and turned with her family to look at the various charms, incense, and books. Angel smirked, “Poetic.”

“I enjoy welcoming those who are curious into my realm. It’s fun, too. I especially love it when someone who’s been blinded by it comes around.”

Seeing her wink at him, Angel gave a small laugh, “I’m on board now, sis. I really am sorry for all the years I mocked you or thought your ideas were silly. I regret not standing up for you to our parents before you left.”

“I was never angry with you, Kevin, just sad. I missed you the most when I left. I joined the service to find myself and to eventually fund this shop and live the life I wanted. I loved what I could do for our country, and I was extremely happy when I heard I was getting reassigned to your unit.”

Angel fidgeted, “Yeah, until…”

“I’m sorry!” Cassie jumped in, “I didn’t mean to bring that up.”

“It’s okay. Charlie knows, anyway. I told her. It was a bit therapeutic to share it with someone special. I never meant for you to resign, either. That was my call and mine alone.”

“Kevin. In no way was I going to serve again after what happened. The others stayed through the end of their tour because they felt there was more good they could do staying in service.”

“How are the others? Have you talked to them recently?”

Shaking her head, Cassie sighed, “It’s been close to two years since I spoke to any of them. I keep tabs, though, through the Frequencies. Brute runs a repair shop, co-owns a wrestling school, of all things and is quite wealthy. Snapshot’s got a studio and works with Hollywood sometimes. I’m surprised he’s still single, hanging around so many models all the time. Shrapnel is working for the NYPD in the bomb squad and helps with the local homeless shelters and runaways. Panther’s married with two kids, teaches part time, and keeps herself active in the reserves. They’re never far from my thoughts, though. You really should call them and stop being a nomad.”

Tapping the book he’d closed, Angel looked up at the ceiling, thinking of Charlie, “Ever since Charlie became my partner, I started to remember how important being part of a team was. I wish I’d asked any of them to join me, but this was my burden to bear and my repentance to seek. I didn’t want to weigh it on them.”

“Well, I’m glad you didn’t exclude me. Being your ears has always meant a lot to me, Kevin, and with my sources and powers and your skills and strategy, we’ve made one hell of a team. I just hope you’ll accept repentance before it’s too late.”

“When.” Angel smirked, “Not if. After we take down Bible, and we will, I want to take Charlie somewhere for a long while and lose myself in her.”

“You’re different.” Cassie let out a breath of relief, “The little brother I remember is coming back. Charlie is your soul, and I really hope that when she’s rediscovered herself, you two can have a life together.”

“I mean for it to be,” Angel said with a serious tone, “And I’ll make sure she knows it. But we’ve gotten off track here. What else can you—?”

Angel stopped as the mother of the family walked up to the counter to ask a question about the various types of incense. Cassie gave Angel an apologetic look and walked around the counter to attend to her customer. Angel pulled another book over and flipped it open, looking at the chapters, when the door chimed again. Cassie’s voice carried over, carrying an undertone of warning: “Angel, you have a guest.”

Turning on the stool, Angel watched Amanda walk through the shop. She gave Cassie a soft smile. She stepped up to the counter next to Angel, “Hey.”

“Hey.” Angel returned the greeting and noticed the bags under Amanda’s eyes, “You didn’t get any sleep, did you?”

“Not nearly enough, and that was too much, as it was.” Amanda leaned on the corner of the counter and crossed her arms, “How about you?”

“More than I expected. It was a rough night. I’m sorry for messing things up in the warehouse.”

“I’m just glad I got there on time, Angel. You were almost killed. How did you get so distracted?”

Despite his overall talents, he found himself unable to correlate the right words to cover for Charlie. Angel tried to change the topic. “I’m human? There were more sentries than I’d accounted for, and I messed up.”

“You don’t mess up, Angel. That mind of yours is a puzzle-solving machine on overdrive. No, something’s been different since that night in West Virginia, and now that I’m suspended for covering for you, I think I deserve some answers.”

“They suspended you? Why?”

“Stefon didn’t exactly believe I was able to take out the warehouse on my own. He knows I called you in and that you were the one to canvass and eliminate the various threats before the task force could get there. And that is exactly why I know you’re covering for someone else. You’re good, but not that good in such a short time. Someone’s been working with you, and it’s f*cking obvious, Angel.”

“Amanda, it’s not easy to explain.” Angel started.

***

Outside the side door to the shop, Charlie stood silent, her hand on the knob. She had just come down a few moments before and was going to go in when she heard Amanda’s voice. She listened as Amanda told Angel about the night before, being suspended, and having suspicions about her. She heard the concern in Angel’s voice and that he was trying to deny having a partner. For some reason, this riled Charlie’s emotions and pissed her off. She was tired of hiding from the people in Angel’s life, especially this Amanda Sims. She wanted answers? She was going to get them.

***

“Explain it any way you want, Angel, but stop lying to me. I lost my job because of you. I managed to get the gun information changed to my name, and Ethan is going to call off the Stefons’ dogs coming for you, so tell me the f*cking truth for once.”

Before Angel could respond, the side door opened, and Charlie stepped through. She immediately fixed her eyes on Amanda, who turned in surprise at Angel. Angel, however, was giving Charlie a look, asking why she had revealed herself.

Cassie appeared beside Angel, “Guys, take this upstairs.” she hissed in a whisper, “My customers are watching you!”

Standing, Angel motioned for Amanda to follow him, and he walked up to Charlie, took her hand into his, and led them both to the hallway. Shutting the door behind him, he turned to Charlie, “I know you heard us. Why?”

“I’m tired of hiding.”

Sighing, Angel nodded in defeat. Amanda looked at them both, “Okay, who is she, Angel?”

“I’m right here, and you can ask me yourself.” The snap in Charlie’s voice caught all of them off guard, as Charlie realized her jealous side was poking at her. She pushed it down, adding, “Sorry, I’m just tired of being kept in the shadows. My name is Charlotte. I work with Angel.”

“Work with?” Amanda looked at Angel, eyes showing surprise, and her voice held an angry tone, “Kevin! She’s a child! What the f*ck are you thinking?”

“I’m not a child!” Charlie glowered, “Do I look like a f*cking child to you?”

“Sorry.” Amanda held up her hand apologetically and clarified, “But you’re young, and you don’t look like you’re trained for what Angel does. How the hell have you been helping him?”

Charlie turned to Angel, and the look that she gave him told him what was about to happen. He also knew there was no stopping Charlie once she made up her mind, “Do you trust Amanda, Angel?”

“I do.” Angel’s words held the permission Charlie unknowingly craved, despite having already made up her mind.

“I’m not just some girl, Amanda. Will you two please join me up on the roof? I want to show you something. Just promise me you won’t scream.”

“Wha—?” Amanda stuttered, which caused Angel to smile slightly. He motioned for Amanda to follow him as he followed Charlie up the stairs to the roof. Once they’d made the trek, Charlie stepped ahead of them into the confines of the oriental walls of Cassie’s training dojo. Angel stepped to the side and let Amanda stand in the center with Charlie alone. As she did, he spoke gently, parroting Charlie, “Amanda. Whatever you do, don’t scream.”

Amanda gave Angel a questioning glance, but Charlie’s voice brought her attention back, “Amanda. Angel found me that night in Virginia. I was injured, and I had no memory of who I was. He treated me very well, dressing my wounds and promising to keep me safe. He then told me how he found me, and why. He told me about the Pry brothers—that they’d kidnapped two young girls with devious intentions. When I heard this, I felt something inside me snap.”

“Snap?” Amanda’s tone was weary.

“Yes. Then, this happened.”

Before Amanda’s eyes, Charlie’s form changed. What was a gentle-looking young woman with blonde hair and admittedly unusually colored eyes became something straight out of Hell itself. Glowing red eyes with snake-like yellow-slit pupils, razor sharp teeth, horns jutted through her hair-line, and a spade-like tail adorned the thing that now swayed before her. Amanda took two steps back and reached for her piece, which was no longer there, and jumped with a single sharp squeak as Angel took her by the shoulders and held her in place.

“Amanda, Meet Charlotte Morningstar—the Princess of Hell—and my own personal demon.”

Amanda stood frozen, her eyes wide, and her heart beating into her throat. Whimpering, she turned and pressed her face into Angel’s shoulder.

Charlie watched and felt sadness and regret for scaring her, but also satisfaction that she could show her true form to Amanda. A hair of that satisfaction soothed her jealous bits. What woman would dare get in the way of a demon and its lover, right? Immediately, Charlie hated herself for the thought—jealousy a human emotion she despised—and regressed into her human form. “Amanda, it’s okay. I won’t hurt you. Ever. I am the reason Angel’s able to use scare tactics in our mission. I’m the reason the Pry brothers are in an institution and not in prison. I’m the reason those sentries fell so quickly last night, and I’m the reason Angel almost got killed.”

Angel didn’t expect her to say the last part and shook his head. “No, Charlie. You did what you thought was right. I understand, and it’s in the past.”

Charlie nodded once, accepting that it was now a closed book and grateful for it. Now, she just had to get Amanda to trust her. Walking up to Angel holding Amanda, who still held her face against his chest, Charlie reached out and touched her softly. Amanda shrank into Angel more, and he gently pushed her away enough for Charlie to be seen, “Amanda. What I am isn’t who I am. I fight with Angel to save lives. I don’t take them. I look scary to the bad guys. I want to look amazing to my friends. I know it’s a big ask, but will you trust me?”

Swallowing hard, Amanda turned around but leaned hard against Angel for protection, “You…you’re a demon?”

“Sort of? We think I’m something a bit more than that.”

“More?”

“We think,” Angel interjected, “That she may be the daughter of Lucifer himself.”

Amanda pushed away from them both, reached into her purse, and pulled out her pack of cigarettes. She took one out, shoved it into her mouth, flicked open her lighter, and tried to get a spark, but her hands were shaking badly. Charlie gently stepped over, and Amanda watched in awed silence as a flame of orange fire appeared at the tip of her forefinger, and she lit the cigarette for Amanda.

Stepping back, Charlie shook her head in playful admonishment, “Smoking’s bad for you, you know?”

Taking three long drags in silence, Amanda began pacing around the dojo, shaking her head and whispering to herself. Angel looked concerned, but Charlie could understand every word and knew Amanda was piecing things together. Charlie went to lean against Angel, who put his arms around her, and they waited. Charlie quietly asked Angel to scratch her back, that itch having returned again. He obliged while they waited on Amanda. After a few more moments of pacing and smoking, Amanda turned to them and saw the way Angel held her, and it all clicked into place. “She’s more than your partner, isn’t she?”

“Let us tell you everything. Then you tell us what you want to do.” Angel motioned for Amanda to sit in one of the chairs Cassie kept, and Amanda nodded shakily, lighting a second cigarette from the remains of the first, not at all wanting to see Charlie’s trick again. Angel and Charlie brought Amanda up to speed on the events of the last few months, and then Angel told them both what Cassie told him about Samedi.

Charlie’s face looked stricken at the news, “He killed the girl, didn’t he?”

“We believe so, yes, and if he’s working for Bible, we may have to deal with other supernatural situations going forward.”

“If I ever see him,” Charlie felt her rage boiling, and her eyes took on the all too familiar red glow as her demon side bled forth, “I made a promise to myself to rip his f*cking head off!”

“Charlie?” Angel’s voice held a question of her control.

“I’m sorry, Angel.” Charlie touched his arm, “But no one else is going to avenge that poor child. I don’t take lives. Samedi, however, isn’t human to me.”

Having had the time to digest all she’d learned, Amanda saw Charlie’s demeanor and remembered what it felt like to hold rage against those who sought to harm the innocent. Realizing now that so many of Angel’s recent successes were thanks to Charlie, she felt her fear settle into a form of weariness, but it let her articulate, “We shouldn’t judge without evidence, Charlotte. But given what you’ve both told me, if he’s involved and was responsible for that poor girl’s death, have at it.”

Angel now turned to Amanda and blinked with surprise, “Amanda?”

Standing and dropping her cigarette and crushing it under her heel, Amanda shrugged, “We’ve lost so many children to men like Bible. Kids taken, raped, murdered. And what does the system do? Holds trials, maybe prison, and then they might walk. I’m sick of the f*cking bureaucracy. I’m sick of the book, Angel. Bible? Samedi? They want to be above the law? Then maybe it’s not the law that needs to take them down.”

“I don’t kill.” Angel said, but he saw both their looks, and added with a wry smile, “Humans.” He squeezed Charlie’s hand, “But Bible and Samedi are monsters. Charlie and I will do whatever is necessary to bring them down. For good.”

Amanda gave a firm nod of agreement, “They want to suspend or fire me? I don’t care. What you two have done is remarkable, and I want in.”

“Even though I’m a demon?” Charlie asked softly.

“Because you’re a demon, Charlotte, because you use it the way you do. I don’t want to be stuck on the sidelines. Ethan is going to send me as much information as he can from the bust last night to see if anything got through before being redacted. I expect to get the materials by day’s end, or early in the morning. I’m also going to call everyone I know who owes me favors or will do things even though I’m suspended to get any other leads there may be. Once I do, I’ll bring it here, and we can all pour over it, together.”

“I appreciate it, Amanda.” Angel said, then added, “And I welcome you to the team.”

“We welcome you.” Charlie added, sincerely, “I’m sorry for scaring you. I couldn’t bear you not trusting, Angel.”

“I’m still scared, Charlotte. This is all new to me, and I have a lot to work out in my head. I believe Angel, though, and that’s enough. If I can help us catch that bastard, I’ll work by your side, no matter what form you take.”

Amanda readjusted her purse on her shoulder and stepped past them, reaching for the door. She turned and addressed Charlotte one last time, “Please take care of Angel, Charlotte.”

“I will, I promise,” Charlie gripped Angel’s hand to show Amanda how serious she was, then added, “And my friends call me Charlie.”

“Charlie,” Amanda said in farewell. She gave Angel a soft look, mixed with understanding, sadness, and a sense of loss she didn’t expect to have, and closed the door behind her as she left.

Charlie leaned against Angel, “I know you didn’t want me to do this, Angel, but I had to.”

“I know. I understand, and it’s okay.” Angel guided her to turn around to face him. “Just please confer with me before we expose anyone else to you. The more who know, the less we have control over what gets out. I couldn’t bear it if the wrong people discovered you.”

“Trust in me, Angel, please?”

“I do, I really do. But now that we know that Samedi or someone like him may know about you, we have to be extra careful. Until we can go over whatever Amanda brings to us, we need to stay low. Take a few days off and focus on research and rest.”

“So, I still have to be invisible.”

Charlie’s voice held a bit of anger, and Angel tried to quell it: “I know you don’t like it, Charlie. I’m sorry.”

With a sigh, Charlie resigned herself to it, “You’re right. I don’t. I want to live in this world with you, not in a cage in the back of your closet.”

“Whatever makes you think like that?” Angel scoffed.

Charlie pushed away and took a few steps into the dojo, “I didn’t mean it like that, Angel; I guess I’m still feeling a bit of last night. I’m sorry.”

“We humans have feelings that don’t get put into tidy boxes, huh?”

“No, we humans don’t.” Charlie allowed herself a small smirk.

“Listen, I know we still have a little bit of irritation from last night. I don’t want us to get into another fight, not now or ever.” Angel took the steps to reach Charlie and took her hands into his. “Let’s both take a little bit to calm ourselves. We need supplies. Both for the kitchen and for our equipment. I’m going to go on a day-long shopping trip and collect them. Why don’t you help Cassie in the shop and share with her what Amanda told us? When I get home tonight, I’ll take you out to dinner, just the two of us. Okay?”

“That sounds good.” Charlie squeezed his hands, “I agree; we both need a little room to put our feelings in order. I don’t want to fight anymore, either. Go. Enjoy shopping. I’ll give Cassie that hand and fill her in.”

Leaning in, Angel brushed his lips against hers. “Mmmm,” Charlie responded to the unexpected but welcomed kiss. Angel debated quietly if he should say the words to her but wanted it to be more special. Tonight at dinner, he’d admit everything to her so they could try to start a life together, even if it was to be without sex. As long as he could hold her in his arms and protect her from the world, that would suffice. Resting his forehead against hers, their noses barely touching, he instead whispered, “I’ll see you tonight, my princess.”

“Tonight, then, my precious knight.”

Sharing gentle smiles, Angel left Charlie on the roof to go grab the car keys and head out. Charlie stood lost in thought, feeling her inner songstress stir, and she let it out in full, releasing all the tension that had built up and instead focused on the dream she had the night before, giving harmony to the feelings in her heart. It would be the last time she sang.

Chapter 54: Angel vs. Rygen

Chapter Text

“Will that be all?” Asked the proprietor of the small gun shop that Angel chose as his final stop of the day.

“Yes, and thank you for staying past your closing time for me; I didn’t mean to come in so late.”

“It’s all good, Mr. Collins. You’ve made a good selection of purchases. It’s been a slow day, so it was worth it.”

Angel smiled as he pulled out his wallet and fished out the appropriate amount of cash, silently thanking Cassie for helping him replace his guns and replenish his supplies. The bounty hunter business was not the most lucrative to work in. He accepted all the rewards that were posted but never asked for a dime otherwise. He always stayed ahead, but never by much. And at times, he regretted denying the honorable discharge that the military had offered him, but he had not felt worthy of it.

While the shopkeeper bagged up the ammo and other items, Angel holstered the gun. He felt both relieved and irritated at the same time. He had hated guns since he left the Special Forces. But he understood their importance in his line of work. He also knew that until he could get his tranquilizer gun repaired, he had no other viable choice. For the time being, he would have to rely on Charlie in the field with her new dart band. Perhaps he’d make one for himself during the interim.

Thanking the owner again, Angel stepped outside, saw that dusk had pushed the sun over the horizon, and checked his watch: 7:50 p.m. It was later than he realized, and if he was going to keep his promise to Charlie to spend a nice night out, he was going to have to hurry to get home. Putting the bags in the trunk, Angel took out a box of ammunition, slid into the driver’s seat and pulled out his cell phone. He dialed Cassie’s number and hit call, loading the gun as he waited for her to answer.

“Hey bro,” Cassie’s chipper voice greeted him, “Still shopping?”

“Just finished. I wanted to call ahead and ask if you’d let Charlie know that I’d be home soon. I promised to take her out to dinner tonight.”

“Aw. That’s great. Charlie was a big help in the store today. We even practiced some of her powers when we could fit them in between customers. She’s really improving her conjuring abilities and seems to be in much better spirits. Did you tell her?”

“Not yet. I figured a romantic dinner would set the mood.”

“Perfect. I’ll tell her to go get ready, and I’ll close up the shop in the meantime. Don’t suppose you can grab something to eat for me on the way back?”

“Sure. Any requests?”

“I’d love some fried chicken. Don’t care where it’s from.”

“Done, sis. There’s a place on the other side of the City park. I should be home in thirty minutes.”

“See you soon.”

They hung up, and Angel pulled out of the parking lot of the sports shop and headed East. It had been years since he visited the park, and with traffic on the highway likely to eat up time, he figured a drive through the quiet park, then a quick jaunt south, would expedite his return home. A few minutes later, he drove into the park, which was void of almost all traffic, as most families had packed up their picnics for the day.

As he turned onto Henry Thomas Drive and moved under the train bridge, Angel caught sight of something moving fast in the shadows along the side of the road. He had no time to react before he felt a tremendous impact on the driver’s side door, pushing the inside panel against his left arm and shoulder. The strike sent the car careening towards one of the concrete pillars under the second bridge, forty feet away. Barely able to push the brake pedal down, Angel managed to slow the momentum, but the impact still deployed the airbag. Angel felt the seat belt dig into him as the car connected squarely into the first pillar.

Breathing hard to catch his breath, Angel quickly assessed the situation. Something hit the car, and he already concluded it couldn’t have been a deer. That set off alarm bells, but he needed to get himself under control first. Pushing the airbag away, he felt pain shoot along his shoulder, which told him it was dislocated. Frustrated with the airbag not cooperating, he pulled his utility knife, sliced into it, and ripped it away so he could check his surroundings. It wasn’t good, as the impact caused the car to rotate and put him squarely under the bridge. Coupled with dusk turning dark, he was now in the shadows and could not see as well as he needed.

Twisting the knife in his hand to set the butt of it towards the window, he used remnants of the airbag as protection and struck hard, shattering the safety glass. Once the noise settled, he focused, slowing his breathing as much as he could to eliminate the noise, and listened intently. At first, there was nothing save for the hissing of the shattered radiator, but then another noise bled into the ambiance of the car’s damaged rattles, and to Angel it sounded like labored breathing.

Tense, Angel undid his seat belt and pulled his new gun out of the holster, sliding the safety off. Pulling at the door handle, Angle found it jammed and realized the damage to the door made exiting the car from this side impossible. Ignoring the pain in his right shoulder, Angel pushed himself up and over the center console to the passenger side and tried that door, which thankfully flew open with a strong push. Dropping to the ground, Angel rolled onto his stomach and aimed his weapon in the direction where he thought he’d heard the breathing. Darkness swelled from under the bridge, flowing outward like an incoming tide, making it nearly impossible to see anything of consequence.

Okay. Angel thought, It wasn’t a deer or any normal wildlife that hit the car. Which means our new chess piece sent out a pawn. sh*t!

He needed Charlie! Sliding backward on his stomach until he could get his back against the side of the car for cover, Angel reached into his pocket and felt his phone. Before he could extract it, the same labored breathing came back, but from a new position: the roof of the car. Angel looked up sharply to see two red-slitted eyes, similar to Charlie’s demon eyes, with soulless black pupils, glaring down at him.

A raspy voice came from the air between them: “Hello, food.”

Twisting to land on his back, Angel drew his gun towards his eyes and fired two rounds. The eyes darted away, and he saw white sparks shout from the underside of the bridge where the bullets struck. Throaty laughter came from the shadows, and the sound moved quickly between the pillars, mixed with an otherworldly wolf-dog-like howl. Angel felt the same fear wrap around him that he’d experienced the night he met Charlie, watching her change for the first time. Her eyes and voice held a fear of their own—fear of abandonment—and that had eased his fear. This demon, however, wanted him dead, pure and simple, and that exasperated his horror.

Once more, Angel reached for his phone but was unable to free it before a sizable fleshy body slammed into him from the darkness beneath the bridge, sending him sprawling across the grass and into the shrubbery along the bridge’s side. The impact broke ribs, and Angel gasped to catch his breath, rolling as much as he could to lessen the impact, somehow managing to keep a grip on his gun.

Burning tears filled his eyes, and he swatted them away with a quick brush of his forearm, squinting to track the path of the demon. Using his wits to triangulate which direction it would have gone after the blindside attack, he deduced where it should be. Aiming, Angel fired a single shot and was rewarded with a screeching yelp of pain, followed by the most frightening demonic growl he’d ever heard, even darker and more demonic than Charlie.

f*ck! Angel cursed. He’d pissed it off more than hurt it.

Fighting the branches, twigs, and broken bits of the bush he’d been shoved into by the impact, Angel struggled to get free so he could get into a better position to defend himself.

Unfortunately, the time he needed was not granted. Searing heat exploded from his back, delivered by a well-placed strike from Rygen’s massive claws, and he fell face-first into the grass, taking a split second to feel grateful it wasn’t the concrete sidewalk just feet away. The pain was followed by the sensation of wetness, as if he’d been standing under a shower and knew his back had been sliced open. The pain was unlike anything he’d ever felt before, and he knew it was deep. Very deep.

“No prey has ever wounded me before.” Rygen’s voice held amusem*nt as it approached his prone form, “I gift you my respect, Angel.”

“You know me?” Angel coughed hard, blood dripping from his lips.

“My master, Samedi, sends his regards for what you and your demon bitch did in the warehouse. More so, that you allowed him to discover her. He has such plans for the little thing.”

Trying to buy time, Angel engaged the demon, “What kind of plans?”

Rygen laughed throatily, “He thinks she is special and will be his key to taking over Bible’s kingdom. Lofty beliefs, as most demons are nothing special.” Rygen quipped, “If I didn’t want to rip his throat out and drink his blood, I would almost be impressed with Samedi. He is as cruel and despicable as any of Hell’s overlords.”

Angel felt Rygen step over him, and he saw two stout animal-like legs on each side of his head. Hot breath blew into his hair, mussing it as a blow-dryer would. Angel tried to stay his fear but was failing. He tried another question, hoping to stall: “Overlords?”

“Now, now, my dear prey. I entertained you for the moment, but now it’s time to feed. I’ll be sure to let your demon bitch know how much you suffered, begging for mercy like the pathetic human you are.”

Angel couldn’t move his arm to get his gun free and felt deep remorse for failing Charlie and his sister. He felt Rygen sniff deeply with his over-sized nostrils, inhaling the delicious aroma of Angel’s torn back. He braced for the killing blow, but it didn’t come. Instead, Rygen lifted its wolf-like head from Angel’s bleeding wound, sounding surprised, “It can’t be.”

He felt Rygen press its nose down into his tattered back a second time, and he braced himself, but Rygen didn’t feast; rather, it took another strong deep breath, inhaling more scent. Rygen cursed darkly, demanding, “How in the f*ck did you get her?”

Swallowing bile and copper-tasting blood, Angel struggled to speak, “Her?”

“Your demon, bitch. How did you get her?”

Angel grasped at the delay and reached his hand up to his neck, suddenly remembering the necklace his sister had given him. He cursed himself for forgetting about it, but magic was not a weapon or skill he was used to utilizing in combat. Clearing his throat the best he could to prepare, Angel played along, “It’s a tantalizing story. I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name.”

Rygen growled in rage and bit into Angel’s arm, hard. Sharp teeth ripped into his flesh at the forearm, and Angel cried out in terrible pain.

“Don’t f*cking play games with me, human!” Rygen flipped Angel onto his back hard, lowered his frightening face down, and breathed hot, hellish stink into Angel’s bloodied face, “You will tell me how you managed to bind the Princess of Hell, herself, or I will feast on you from the ends of your extremities while you listen to the crunch of bone and suffer for hours. I can eat very, very slowly.”

Angel heaved his chest, trying to suck in as much air as he could, despite the foul stink of Rygen’s breath. Fingers on his neck, he twisted the beads, “And if I tell you, you’ll make it quick?”

“Tell me the truth, human, and I will crush your skull in my jaws and end your life immediately. Consider it mercy.”

“I’m having trouble speaking.” Angel coughed hard, with a mix of authenticity and acting to prove his point, intending on luring Rygen in. “Come closer?”

Rygen leaned in, eager to discover not only how this human had bound the Princess of Hell but also to take in all the scents that covered him. Scents of others he had been in contact with. Scents he could hunt down next. It would be fun to kill all those that Angel knew. He took in many deep breaths, imprinting those scents in his mind. Rygen leaned his head to one side, his floppy ear brushing Angel’s nose, to listen intently. “Tell me!”

“Ignes in venis excruciant tuis daemonia!” Angel recited the spell Cassie had taught him, and the power in the beads sent magic fire searing into and through the veins of Rygen’s body.

Rygen screamed loudly, his demon voice exploding as he fell back and down the slope of the ground and into the road below, twisting in agony as his veins burned from the power of the spell. Claws scraping on the concrete as he tried to gain purchase, Rygen scrambled and faltered before finding his balance, and he bounded away, real terror flooding his mind.

Angel will die anyway, he thought. He knew he needed to get as far away from the source of the spell infecting him as soon as possible, or he’d never recover. He screamed out as he bounded away. “f*ck you, Angel! I will see you in hell!”

As Rygen’s voice faded into the distance, Angel coughed up more blood and knew he’d been mortally wounded. Even so, he had a moment to be thankful that he’d never use that spell on Charlie. He would choose death before he ever hurt her like that. Sadly, death may have made the choice for him. Finally able to pull his phone out, he noticed the screen was busted up badly. Pushing the side button, he could make out just enough to select Cassie’s number and make the call. Please, Cassie. Answer. Angel felt the arms of darkness start to embrace him, whispering the promise of a final rest.

Chapter 55: New Power

Chapter Text

With the front door locked, and the OPEN sign switched off, Cassie dropped her store key in her breast pocket and returned to the counter to finish the day’s paperwork. It was one of the more enjoyable days she’d had in a long time. With Charlie’s help, they’d set up a few displays and rearranged some other inventory, and whenever the opportunity presented itself, she’d let Charlie practice her powers to see what new tricks she could discover.

When Charlie conjured up two bottles of water for them during a break, Cassie thanked her as she unscrewed the cap, and asked, “How does your conjuring power work, anyway? Can you make anything appear?”

“Hmm,” Charlie bit her lip, thinking, “No. I have to know where it is and what it is. Like these bottles? I could envision them in your fridge, and I wanted them, so… here they are. Same with Angel’s equipment. I know it’s in the van, and can call it up as we need.” She took a sip from her bottle and continued, “But, let’s say you wanted an apple from the corner market? While I know they have them, I have to be able to imagine a specific one, from what I’d seen…and if it was sold? Well, it wouldn’t be in that spot in my mind’s eye.”

“Plus, that’s stealing.” Cassie teased.

“That, too.” Charlie smiled, “So basically, if I know where it is, and I need it, I can call it to me.”

“That is so cool.” Cassie took another sip.

They continued to try things as they could during the day, and soon they realized that not only could Charlie conjure items she needed out of thin air, but she could also manipulate the Earth’s atmospheric electrical currents, causing the lights in the store to flicker on and off. Cassie mused how similar this was to many horror stories where the monster’s presence affected objects and lights.

As it neared closing time, Cassie received Angel’s call and his request for Charlie to get ready for their date. Cassie asked for dinner and then ushered an excited Charlie upstairs to go get cleaned up. Now, all Cassie needed to do was paperwork, the most unexciting part of her day.

Picking up her pen, Cassie began to write in totals from the day’s sales when her cell phone rang. Checking the caller I.D. she saw Angel was calling again. Smirking, she scooped up the phone and answered in a teasing tone, “Did you forget what I ordered, already?”

“Cass…”, Angel’s raspy voice sounded gargled and distant.

“Kevin?” She gripped the phone tightly, “What’s wrong?”

Silence.

“Kevin!?” Cassie’s voice stammered.

“Park. Demon. Charlie. Dying.”

Only the most important words came through and Cassie swallowed hard. She knew exactly what had happened, “f*ck! Hold on, brother, please! I’ll get Charlie! Stay where you are, she’ll find you!” Keeping Angel on the phone, Cassie knew all she had to do to get Charlie’s attention was scream, “CHARLIE! HELP!” Cassie ran for the side door, thanking the Goddesses, she heard fast footfalls bounding down the hallway’s stairs. Cassie pulled the door handle at the same time Charlie, in her black T-shirt and red silk panties—as she was in the middle of getting ready to shower—pushed from the other side.

Charlie caught herself before bowling Cassie over. “Cassie! Are you okay!?”

“It’s Kevin! He’s hurt! BAD!”

“Where!?” Cassie was glad Charlie didn’t mince words.

“In the city park, four miles north of here. He’s been attacked by a demon, and he’s in bad shape! You have got to get him back here! Anyway you can!”

Without a word, Charlie spun on her heels and ran for the front door. Cassie ran out just in time to see her disappear from view, and the door opened by itself. Lifting the phone to her ear, Cassie assured her brother, “She’s on her way.” Silence answered her. “Angel? ANGEL!?” Cassie held back her tears, praying that Charlie would make it, and ran up the stairs to the apartment to prepare for their return.

***

Charlie tore out the door and jumped into the air, and pulled forth her demon form as she cleared the city street of cars and landed on the sidewalk on the other side, her cloven hooves loud against the cobblestone sidewalk. Frustrated by the number of tourists still out and about, Charlie had to weasel her way through the various groups, occasionally bumping into someone or knocking over a trash can, but she didn’t care about the reactions she heard from people surprised by the mysterious events and clopping sounds of her feet that followed her. With her senses fully opened, Charlie picked up speed as she headed for the park. Though she had never been there before, she trusted Cassie’s directions and sniffed the air as she moved, searching for Angel’s unique and familiar scent.

The distance shortened quickly once Charlie got clear of the French Quarter and into the quieter neighborhoods between the shop and the park, and thankfully it didn’t take long to get a bead on Angel’s location. Her heart beating almost as fast as she ran, Charlie blinked away the tears that had gathered at the sides of her eyes, focusing instead on finding and saving the man she loved.

Entering the south entrance of the park, Charlie skidded to a stop. She took a deep breath, analyzing the endless scents that poured into her nostrils. Her eyes snapped open as she collected his scent, nearby. Breaking into a sprint, she raced in his direction and within moments came upon Cassie’s car. The front of it was wedged against one of the bridge’s support pillars, the radiator hissing as fluid spilled onto the ground. Darkness now prevailed, but it mattered little to Charlie’s incredible eyesight. Easily, she spied blood on the pavement and followed it up the slight incline to a tangle of bushes and undergrowth. Frightened, Charlie ran up the slight incline, “Angel!?

A shuffle of movement answered her, and she ripped the brush away and gasped sharply at the sight of Angel’s mangled body, “No! No-no-no-no-no!”

Charlie dropped to her knees next to him as pure terror gripped her soul, “Angel, baby!? Talk to me, please!”

Only moans of deep pain answered her, and she cried, frantically pulling him into her arms, “Angel! Please! Stay with me! f*ck! Your back!”

Blood seeped onto her hands as she carefully cradled Angel’s body, which felt cooler than it should. Shaking and panicking, Charlie shook her head hard, “Tell me what to do! I can’t think! Angel, please help me. What am I going to do? I can’t carry you. Your body is too damaged!

“Stop…” Angel managed to get out, “bleed…ing. Apply…pressure to…wound.”

Carefully setting Angel down and rolling him to his stomach, Charlie pulled her black T-shirt quickly over her head, feeling the amulet clip her chin, and exposing her breasts since she’d gone without a bra for the day. Carefully, she pressed the black T-shirt against his back, as per Angel’s instructions, which caused Angel to hiss in agonizing pain and shiver. Charlie cringed as he then threw up, a mix of vomit and blood pooling in the dark grass below him.

Charlie screamed, “HELP! PLEASE HELP ME! I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO!” Charlie couldn’t see anymore, eyes flooded by tears, and she held Angel tightly to her body, cradling him. “f*ck! Cassie, I need you!” She thought in desperation, “I want us back home, Angel. I want us in the apartment, safe, NOW!” Charlie screamed as her mind went blank, and she felt power swell inside her, a power she didn’t recognize, and a vision of Cassie’s living room flooded through her thoughts. She could see the room, the couch, the kitchen, and the soft beige walls, almost as if she were standing in Cassie’s apartment right then.

“Cassie!” She begged for her friend to be there with her and felt shocked when she heard Cassie’s voice, also coated in surprise, answer her.

“Charlie!? Angel!?” Cassie’s voice came from behind Charlie, and she opened her eyes to find her and Angel on the floor in Cassie’s living room.

Cassie froze for a split second in shocked surprise. The moment didn’t last long, though, as Cassie grabbed the box that had been on the table and dropped down next to Charlie, gently but firmly pulling Angel out of her arms so that she could rest him on his stomach on the carpet.

“How?” Charlie croaked, her voice broken from her screams.

“You teleported.” Was the only answer she got as Cassie Pulled bandage rolls from the box and thrust them into Charlie’s hands, “Rip them into three foot long strands. Now!”

Without checking to see if Charlie was obeying, Cassie fished out a large vial, pulled open the stopper, and poured a green powder over Angel’s back while whispering some sort of spell. Steam began to rise from the bloody wound, and Angel gasped and moaned, vomiting again. Cassie turned his head so he wouldn’t drown in the spilling liquid. Reaching behind her, Cassie motioned for the strands, and Charlie silently handed them to her one by one. Cassie began draping them over the wounds, and Charlie watched as they began to adhere to his ragged skin in a strange way, cauterizing on contact.

“What is it doing?” Charlie’s voice was panicked by Angel’s pained response to the strands taking hold.

“The powder seeps into the wound and stops the blood from bleeding out, and the bandages are going to become like a new skin for a short time until I can diagnose how badly the wound is. Then I’m calling an ambulance.”

“No.” Angel’s weak voice came from bloodied and puke-covered lips, “No hospital.”

“Kevin,” Cassie argued, “You are in very bad shape. My magic’s slowing the hemorrhaging, but if we don’t get you to a hospital, you’re going to die.”

“No hospital,” Angel ordered and passed out.

Charlie choked in fear and moved in next to Cassie, reaching out to Angel. Cassie glared at her, “You’re distracting me. I need you to leave!”

“What!?” Charlie’s eyes bled red in defiance.

“I’m going to use more magics, Charlie, and some of them could affect you in ways I can’t imagine, and you’re in the way!”

Cassie crossed her arms and grabbed the hem of her green blouse, pulling it over her head and shoving it into Charlie’s chest, “Cover up and get out. Now!” Cassie controlled her own fear and added with as much love as she could, “Please, darling, so we don’t lose him!”

Charlie pushed herself away and slid back against the couch. Her demon eyes bore deep into Cassie’s soul before she twisted to her feet and ran out of the apartment, crying, and ran for the roof. Cassie sighed softly, regretting having to send Charlie away, knowing how much she feared for Angel. But since he wouldn’t let her call an ambulance, she would have to use stronger magic, and she wasn’t lying. She really had no idea how Charlie would react to her if she got too close. Pushing her worries aside, Cassie went to work on saving her brother’s life, her confidence shaken to the core.

Chapter 56: Out For Love

Notes:

This chapter was the very first piece of writing I did, when the idea for Angel's Demon first came to me. It is obviously inspired by, and parodies Episode Seven of Hazbin Hotel, and I needed to keep it as close to what I first wrote. Click the YouTube like for a cover of Cassie's version to Charlie.

Chapter Text

Out For Love - Cassie's Version

“You’ve been relyin’ on your demon

to frighten the ones you want to annul!

Now you’re facin’ one that is your even,

so rise above or you’ll fall!”

—Cassandra Elizabeth Collins

Slamming the door to the roof open, Charlie flew through it, rage rippling over her demon skin. With a wail of grief, she grabbed a plastic chair and flung it viciously into one of Cassie’s dojo walls, knocking it over, then dropped to her knees. “Please,” She begged, “don’t die, Angel. Please! I love you!”

Dropping Cassie’s blouse over her head, Charlie dropped to her knees then laid down flat, pressing her ear against the warm, granular asphalt tiles of the roof and concentrated on listening. Eyes closed, Charlie stilled her frightened breathing and could make out Cassie’s whispers as she recited spells one after the other. She grimaced along with Angel’s pained reactions to some of them. Even if the spells could affect her, the barrier between her and the living room interfered. Still, true or not, she was enraged with Cassie for sending her away. Why she listened rather than demand to stay, she didn’t really know. She would have suffered gladly if it meant she could be close to Angel, just in case. Time passed agonizingly slowly; each sound of Angel’s suffering twisted Charlie’s heart, her body reacting in sympathy.

As Charlie continued to listen, Cassie’s whispers grew further apart, as did Angel’s reactions, to the point where Charlie had to strain to hear any sound or movement until the only sound left was Cassie moving around the apartment. She could make out Angel’s stuttered but steady breathing, suggesting to Charlie that he was asleep. Eventually, the sound of the apartment’s front door opening and closing, followed by Cassie’s approach to the roof, signaled for Charlie to push herself up off the ground and dust herself off. If Angel was resting and Cassie wasn’t running or screaming, then maybe he’d be okay. Charlie used that to calm herself and temper the anger she still felt towards Cassie. She turned as Cassie opened the door.

“How is he?” Charlie bit her lip, afraid.

“He’s resting on the couch.” Cassie answered, “I think he’s out of danger.”

“Why didn’t you call for an ambulance?” Charlie’s voice bled with accusation.

“Because he told me not too.”

“He was delirious! How could you listen to him!?” Charlie’s anger seeped out with her accusatory words.

“Charlie, I love my brother, but I also respect his wishes. He’s been near death before.” Cassie tried to explain so Charlie would understand, “If he believed I could stop the bleeding and keep him alive, so that we didn’t have to explain to anyone about his wounds or what happened, I was going to adhere to those wishes.”

“But—?” Charlie choked. Angel could be dying on the couch, and Cassie was going to let him?

Cassie sensed the accusation, and she sighed, “Don’t get me wrong, I still want to take him to the hospital, and if he doesn’t wake up in an hour when the spells I used wear off, then I’m calling the ambulance.”

The anger in Charlie dispelled with Cassie’s promise. It was foolish to think Cassie didn’t love Angel and would risk his life, so Charlie would trust in her friend, as best as she could.

“Will he heal?”

“The magics worked enough to stop the bleeding, and the bandages have formed well to his back.” Cassie rubbed her tired, bloodshot eyes, “But Charlie? The damage is too great. Heal? Likely, but he’s done.”

“Done?”

“Done.” Cassie repeated, her voice defeated, “No more missions, no more heroics. That thing tore deep into his back, and it’s a miracle it didn’t damage his spine, but he’ll never be one hundred percent again.” Cassie’s voice cracked with the explanation. She needed to be focused to give the diagnosis to Charlie, but this was her brother, who could likely be handicapped for the rest of his life, and that fact was finally sinking in. Cassie stepped over to the downed wall, pulled the chair Charlie had tossed back onto its legs, and sat weary down in it.

It took a few seconds for Cassie’s words to register, but when they did, Charlie backed up three steps, shaking her head, “No! No, it can’t be. How did this—What was it that did this to him?”

Rubbing her eyes, Cassie’s own voice held anger: “Angel managed to get a few things out while the powders worked their magic to cauterize his wounds and boost his body’s healing. He said that Samedi called up a demon and sent it to kill him, so he’d be out of the way.”

“Out of the way for what?” Charlie’s breath was quickening with the news of Angel’s likely fate.

“They want you, Charlie. They know who you are.”

“Samedi called up a demon to kill Angel? Because of me?” Charlie’s demon voice seeped out through her lips, her eyes turning crimson, and she spun to look out into the darkness. Everything Cassie had just told her poured through her mind, blending together, causing her soul to rend in pain and rage. She would hunt this demon down and rip it to shreds, “I’m going to kill that thing!” She declared, forcefully.

“They know about you. They’ll be prepared.” Cassie reminded Charlie, body deflated in the chair, eyes closed, while she tried to calm herself down as well.

“I don’t give a sh*t if they know me, Cassie. That thing is f*cking dead!”

The tone and darkness in Charlie’s voice caught Cassie’s full attention, and she finally opened her eyes and let out a soft gasp. As Charlie had been declaring her threats, her body had transformed, and it was the demon that Cassie saw filling out over the span of the roof. It was the first time Cassie got to see Charlie in her demon form, and she shivered. It wasn’t exactly fear that caused the shiver; it was more like when you see something frightening beyond your comprehension yet find yourself drawn in.

Standing, Cassie moved until she was close to Charlie. Charlie turned around with demon eyes glowing bright, and her rage paused, replaced by a fear of her own. She realized as well that this was their first meeting with her in this form, and she needed Cassie more than ever and didn’t want her running away. Like her brother, though, Cassie had more than her fair share of courage and trust for Charlie.

“Charlie?” Cassie’s questioning voice whispered, “Are you in there?”

Pulling herself together for the moment, Charlie drew some of her power back and now stood before Cassie in her hybrid human-demon form. Teeth, claws, horns, and tail meshed with the sweet, young blonde-haired girl that Cassie knew as Charlie. She nodded firmly, “I’m sorry, Cassie. I forgot you’d never seen me like this before.”

“No, it’s okay. I should have asked to see what you looked like long before now. It just never occurred to me, honestly.”

“I saw your eyes. I was afraid you were going to run.”

“The urge was there,” Cassie admitted, “But my trust in you is greater. If I may be bold, your demon form is beautiful.”

“This form, maybe. My full form? Pure horror.”

“As it should be.” Cassie felt her lips rise, surprised she could smile at all.

Charlie smiled at both compliments for a moment, but the positive feeling didn’t last. Remembering what Cassie told her, she had to confirm, “Are you sure Angel won’t heal all the way?”

“Unless a miracle happens,” Cassie said, wiping a tear away. “He’ll likely be in a wheelchair for a while, at the very least. We’ll have to call Amanda, let her know, and get her over here soon. We’ll be at a disadvantage until then.”

Feeling her rage returning, Charlie turned and walked towards the edge of the roof, her body rippling with demonic energy. “I want that thing dead, Cassie!

Cassie followed her, worried. “Charlie! If you go after that thing in your rage, you’ll lose!”

Charlie growled deep, her red eyes blazed, and fire sparked from her horns. “I will not lose; I will rip that thing apart!”

“Blind vengeance isn’t the way, sweetie; I know I can’t stop you, but you need to control yourself and fight in a different way.”

“What other way is there? I have my claws, and that thing has no idea who it’s f*cked with!”

“But they do, apparently. Angel says it called you the Princess of Hell! You understand what this means, Charlie? You’re a target. A royal target.”

“I—DON’T—CARE!” Charlie’s voice spilled over the roof, gaining the attention of a few eyes below.

Cassie sighed in exasperation. Charlie was too far gone, and Cassie feared for her life—all life—if Charlie was killed, or worse, captured. She needed to help Charlie focus. Looking over to her dojo, she spied her bo staffs and got an idea: “Look. You’re angry, and deservedly so. I’m angry, too, Charlie. But in your rage, you’re going to fight blindly, and you’ll make mistakes. Every mission you’ve been on, Angel designed the playbook; he used his mind, his wits, and not his emotions to carry them out.”

As she spoke, Cassie strode over and picked up the fallen wall and replaced it in its spot, then grabbed the staffs and continued, “You need to find your center and calm your soul, Charlie. Fight for something much, much greater than revenge.” She turned and offered one of the staffs to Charlie, who glared at it.

“I don’t need a f*cking stick!”

With a sigh, Cassie dropped one staff as she positioned herself into a starting stance for a workout, hefting the other. “You fight with claws and teeth, just as the other demon will. If you want to best this thing, you need to change your style. You need to adapt.”

Charlie flicked her tail, her claws clicking against each other, and her heartbeat pumped fast with anger. Pointing her staff at Charlie, Cassie let out a slow breath to center herself. She realized she wasn’t getting through. “You won’t go in with brains.” Charlie hissed at the perceived insult, and Cassie scoffed, “That’s not what I mean, sweetie; you’re going to go in on pure emotion, but the wrong kind.”

To prove her point, Cassie swiftly swung her staff out in a low, sweeping motion and caught Charlie’s legs, taking them out from under her. Charlie dropped on her ass, her tail getting bent in the process. “OW! What the f*ck, Cassie?”

Ignoring her angry shock, Cassie stepped past her, spinning her staff. Charlie jumped to her feet, turned to face Cassie as she turned sharply, and snapped a command, “Defend!”

Still in shock from Cassie attacking her, Charlie put her hands up in a defensive manner, which allowed Cassie to strike by thrusting the staff out and under Charlie’s arm, lifting the staff up against her armpit, and flipping her. Charlie crashed hard onto the rough surface of the roof, her breath knocked out of her. Cassie’s voice had taken on a sharp, military tone. “Listen! You need to concentrate! Focus! Right now, your rage has control, and you’re blinded by your animus!”

“f*ck yes, I’m angry!” Charlie cried out, slamming her fist into the roof, putting a dent into it, while lifting herself to her hands and knees, tears burning her eyes. “You’re beating me up with a stick! What the hell?”

Without a word, Cassie jerked forward and slid the staff along the roof under Charlie and twisted it, clipping Charlie’s hands, and she sprawled face-first into the roof’s sandpaper texture. Charlie gasped in surprise and rolled to her side, looking at Cassie with a blend of fear and contempt. Cassie saw the look and knew she was finally getting to her. Pinning the staff down hard, she clipped Charlie’s tail, which caused a yelp of pain, and Charlie scooted back, “Cassie!?”

Plunging the end of the staff into the roof, Cassie took a deep breath; her eyes were serious yet haunted, “You’ve been relyin’ on your demon to frighten the ones you want to annul.” She pointed hard at Charlie, “Now you’re facin’ one that is your even, so rise above, or you’ll fall!”

Lunging forward, Cassie attacked again, but this time Charlie rolled away, and the staff met empty space. Using the muscles in her legs, she dug her cloven hooves into the roof’s asphalt surface and jumped to her feet. As Cassie lunged yet again, Charlie concentrated, calling the other staff to her and felt it settle into her clawed hands. As Cassie brought her staff down to strike, Charlie blocked and pushed it away, forcing Cassie to stumble back.

“YES!” Cassie cried out, her chest heaving, and she grinned, swinging again. Charlie wasn’t trained or experienced, but with the staff, her demon strength made up for some of it. Charlie blocked again, swiping the attack to the right, then spun her body and thrust her staff out to almost catch Cassie in the ribs. She missed since Cassie was much more experienced.

Cassie felt proud that Charlie was taking her cues. “Hold the staff here, and here.” Cassie instructed as she backpedaled to give herself space. Charlie obliged her order and gripped the staff firmly, eyes narrowing at Cassie, who continued, “Imagine it’s a part of your body, not just as an extension of your arms, but as a shield as well. Bo’s are resilient, tough, and can deflect attacks.”

Cassie let go with one hand and swung hard, letting the staff slide through her fingers until the end, which she gripped, and it turned her short arm-length swing into a nearly ten-foot attack, which caught Charlie off guard as the end clipped her chin. Rather than scream in rage in pain, Charlie took a step back and rubbed her chin, nodding as she took the lesson face first, literally. “Okay, I admit. That was cool!’ Charlie grinned wickedly.

“If you can control your anger,” Cassie explained, “you’ll be able to think through your attacks, plan the next one as you watch that f*cking thing falter and stumble, and fuel yourself not with the rage of wanting to kill it. Think of Angel when you go after it. How much you love him! That you won’t let yourself lose the fight, or him!”

With that, Cassie rushed forward, and Charlie blocked the attack in silence as she put all of her heart, mind, and soul into listening to Cassie’s instructions. Cassie was right, and Charlie was going to learn everything she could. For the next twenty minutes, the two sparred hard, rough, fast and violently, but in a controlled manner. Cassie showed off different stances and techniques with the staff, and as they sparred in an almost rhythmic dance, Charlie found herself becoming one with her staff and began to fight back in ways that impressed Cassie. Cassie reminded her that love was more powerful than rage and that if she could find a way to rise above and be more than that thing, she was going to win.

Their pace quickened, with Cassie going all out and attacking Charlie with abandon, pushing Charlie to her limits. In response, Charlie pulled more, and more of her power to her, digging deeper than ever before to call upon everything she had. Yet, along with the drawn power, the intense itch that had been nagging at her for days came back with a vengeance. The sudden burst of pain from the itch was more than she’d even felt before, and she gasped. The distraction let Cassie swing her staff downward towards her head and Charlie jumped hard into the air to avoid it. As she did, she felt something snap inside her, and the itch was gone! Closing her eyes, Charlie lost herself in the moment of fresh relief until she heard a loud, surprised gasp from Cassie. Opening her eyes, she looked at Cassie, but instead she saw the horizon in front of her, which should have been impossible. Other buildings surrounded Cassie’s rooftop dojo. The only way to see the skyline would be if she were—.

“Charlie! Oh My God! They’re beautiful!”

Charlie looked down, wondering where Cassie’s voice had come from and saw her on the roof some twenty feet below. Powerful flapping sounds pierced her ears, and Charlie twisted her head to see bird-like white wings moving swiftly and softly behind her, the muscles in her shoulders instinctively flexing in controlled flight. Shock hit her, and she dropped fast, having lost the instinct, until she caught herself at the last moment. Concentrating, her wings obeyed, and she landed with a soft click of her cloven hooves.

With disbelief, Charlie touched one of the wings that came forward to greet her. “I have wings!?” As realization sank in, she turned to Cassie with wide, surprised eyes and exclaimed, “I have wings!”

Cassie dropped her staff, came forward, reached out, and tentatively touched the wing Charlie was grasping. Charlie, in genuine glee, giggled, “Cassie! I have wings!”

“They’re amazing!” Cassie felt the soft feathers and noticed the sensation was like touching baby skin.

“That feels good.” Charlie’s voice held a sexual tinge, and Cassie raised her eyes. Charlie blushed, “They’re very sensitive.”

Cassie blushed as well, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—”

Charlie shook her head, “No, it’s okay; they’re new to me, too.”

“You didn’t know?” Cassie let her eyes drift up and down Charlie as she walked around her, taking in the sight. Three pairs of white, feathery wings, very un-demon-like, spread out from Charlie’s back. The middle wings were the largest, which she guessed had a six-foot span on each side. The other two pairs, above and below, had less girth and length, but not by much.

“No!” Charlie ran her fingers through the feathery membranes, letting out a slow, soft, excited breath. The sensations were both calming and arousing. “But I’ve wished for them since the first night Angel found me.”

“They’re definitely not demon wings.” Cassie commented, “Are you remembering anything new?”

The sudden shift of questions startled her. Charlie closed her eyes and thought, but shook her head after a moment, “No.” She sighed with exasperation, “I don’t get it. My powers are growing, changing, and evolving, but I can’t remember anything! Why!?” Charlie sniffed now, the excitement of her new wings smothered under the return frustration of the damned amnesia that chained her.

“Maybe because of the failed summoning?” Cassie mused, “I’ll look into it later. Right now, there’s something much more important to focus on.”

Letting go of her wings, Charlie opened her mind, focused, and felt her wings close in and wrap along her back before a pop of vibrant light accompanied their disappearance. As she opened her eyes, she felt the itch just below the surface of her shoulders again, but it was soft and gentle, as if freshly scratched, and then it faded away. The relief of it was short-lived, as Cassie’s words connected with her, and she asked, “What is that?”

“You have a demon to kill!”

Charlie realized her rage had dissipated, and even the reminder did not elicit the same reaction as it would have before. It hit her, along with the repeated staff strikes, that Cassie’s training had worked. She was so grateful that she instinctively grabbed Cassie and embraced her.

“Charlie?”

“Thank you, Cassie!” Charlie sniffed, “You’re right. I would have died if I ran off blindly. You saved me, and now I am more than I have even been before.”

Cassie gripped her back quickly before pulling away, “Listen, hun, when you go hunting that thing, remember they’re after you, so it’s likely going to hold back from killing you. That means that not only do you have the advantage of your demon, staff, and wings, but it’s going to have to restrain itself. Use that. Force it to fight for its life, and that’s when you strike the killing blow.”

“Anger it,” Charlie nodded. “Make it lose control.”

“Exactly! Piss it off, but don’t let your own anger take control. Remember, you’re not going out there for vengeance.”

“I’m going out for love!” Charlie grinned, baring her sharp white teeth. “My love for Angel.” Looking down, Charlie bent and picked up her staff. “But, I wonder—”

“What is that?”

Handing the staff to Cassie, Charlie clicked her teeth together, “Do you have something—sharper?

With a smile, Cassie took the staff and nodded. “I think I have just the thing.”

Chapter 57: Charlie vs Rygen

Chapter Text

As the midnight hour passed, a bright circle of light flashed momentarily under the bridge next to Cassie’s damaged car. When the light faded, it revealed Charlie wearing a fresh black t-shirt, jeans, and her favorite red jacket. Cassie had picked out a blue blouse, the green one she’d given to Charlie currently soaking in her sink. Both had a look of wonderment on their faces.

“It worked,” Charlie whispered.

“How did you do this?”

Charlie thought about it for a moment. “I think it’s similar to how I can see something in my mind’s eye, and conjure it to me.” Charlie sniffed at the memory as she explained, “I never thought about trying it before, but when I held Angel and felt his blood on my hands and his body growing cold, all I could think of was you. How much we needed you. I wanted to be in the apartment. I imagined it, and then I heard your voice, and we were there.” She took a breath, “And since I’d been here, already, it was easy to envision it and teleport back.”

“I wasn’t sure I wanted to try it.” Cassie felt a shiver along her spine, “However, I needed to get the car out of here before the police came poking around. Since you brought Angel home, I figured you could bring me here.”

“Mmhmm,” Charlie absentmindedly agreed, her senses already on high alert.

“Charlie?”

“I smell it.” Charlie pointed West: “Even though it’s been a couple of hours, its scent is still strong. Will you be okay getting the car home on your own?”

Cassie moved over to the front of the car and assessed the damage: “The front’s crushed in and the radiator’s busted. I’ll have to nurse it home if it even starts.”

“Try.” Charlie suggested as she crouched, poised with shoulders hunched, much like a lioness stalking its prey. Her claws dug through the grass as her eyes narrowed. She felt her instincts to hunt rise. “If it doesn’t, I’m taking you home before I find that thing!”

Cassie tried to open the driver’s side door, careful of the broken glass, but it wouldn’t budge. “Charlie? Can you?”

Cassie stepped back as Charlie came over, grabbed the frame of the door, and pulled. Creaking metal protested loudly but yielded under Charlie’s strength as she pried the door open.

“I don’t know what I’m going to tell my insurance company.” Cassie sighed as she wiped shards of safety glass off the seat and onto the floorboard, then slid in. Checking the key slot, she saw the main key was still there, so she didn’t need the spare she’d brought. Pressing down on the brake pedal, Cassie pushed the start button, and the car came to life, shuddering in protest but functioning nonetheless. Shifting into reverse, Cassie slowly depressed the brake and pushed down on the accelerator, and the car slid back from the pillar, grinding and shaking. Charlie stepped back onto the grass to give Cassie room to maneuver the car out from under the bridge. Looking out the window, Cassie nodded. “I think I can get it home. If I drive slowly enough, the battery will do most of the work, keeping the engine from overheating. Hopefully.”

“I should wait until you’re safe.” Even though Charlie was eager to start the hunt, she wouldn’t be able to concentrate if she worried about Cassie’s safety.

“No. I have my magics, and you know which way that thing went. I’m going to be fine. You need to stay focused, Charlie!” Cassie’s eyes looked scared, “Though I still wish you’d just come home with me.”

“If I don’t hunt this thing down, none of us will be safe at home,” Charlie shook her head, “No, I need to take it out tonight!”

“I know. I’m just scared for you.”

“I’m coming home to Angel. To you, I promise.”

Charlie slipped off her jacket and handed it to Cassie, who took it and dropped it into the passenger seat. She paused a moment as she looked at it, turned with worried eyes, and held her hand out the window. Charlie gripped it tightly for reassurance, then stepped back with a single nod. Cassie nodded back, only slightly assured, and began to drive away. Charlie waited for the taillights to fade as Cassie made it to the main road. She only had a little less than four miles to go, and Charlie was confident she’d make it.

Charlie turned around and sniffed the air once more, confirming the direction the demon went. She slowly licked her lips; the faintest smile crept into the corners of her cheeks as she realized the scent held fear. Somehow, Angel had hurt it enough to drive it away. She’d have to ask him about that later, but for now, the only thing that mattered to her was that the scent was strong and easy to track.

Charlie closed her eyes, coaxed her power out, and felt her wings unfold along her back. They now came to her effortlessly, and she wondered what changed in her to give her wings. She shivered at the sensations that accompanied their arrival. So different from the itch that had preceded them. Charlie flexed her shoulder muscles and let the wings lift her up, and she soared high into the air.

Angel would probably scold her for exposing herself like this, but the moon was hidden, and the shadows prevailed, obscuring her presence. When she reached an altitude to clear the trees and be a speck in the sky, Charlie turned in the direction of the demon’s scent and took off in pursuit.

***

Nestled between the crooks of a large cypress tree, half submerged in the swamp waters to sooth his burning blood, Rygen growled deeply while he licked the wound caused by Angel’s bullet. Digging his teeth into his tough fleshy skin, he bit around the bullet and forcefully ripped it out, roaring from the fresh pain. Hot blood pooled into the murky waters, sizzling from the contact with the cold water, and Rygen cursed Angel for his injuries. However, he expected that the human would die from his wounds. Rygen had killed enough to know he’d struck a mortal blow, and this soothed his anger a bit. Still, it shocked him to smell the scent of the Morningstar upon him. The demon bitch that Samedi wanted was the royal daughter of Lucifer herself, and this worried Rygen. Bound to Samedi, he had no choice but to carry out the Master’s command, which meant he could not just kill her, but he had to find a way to lure her to Samedi.

“Why have you not come to collect your spawn, King of Hell?” Rygen whispered, talking to himself to distract from the pain, “I know you look for her. The rumors have persisted all through Hell for some time that she was gone. Can it be that she is hidden from your vast power?” Rygen chuckled. Samedi was a fool for wanting to possess the princess, for if Lucifer ever did find her, he would rend the master’s flesh asunder. Despite the overall kind nature of the King of Hell, one knew to never f*ck with his family, and now here was Rygen, on Earth, ordered to do that very thing.

Rygen blinked and lifted his head up in a sudden movement, His nostrils flared at the sudden waft of familiar scent that blew in with the westerly breeze. She was near! With claws extending to their max, Rygen used them to climb up the Cypress’s trunk until he was clear of the marsh, perked his ears, and closed his eyes. She was coming for him. This was unexpected. The Princess was known in Hell as a pacifist, one of the altruistic types. Yes, she assisted the human, but he’d sensed through Angel’s scent that she’d never taken a life.

For the first time in his life, Rygen felt fear. He was not at full strength and would not be able to outpace her to lead her to Samedi. He had no choice but to prepare for a fight. If he could subdue her, he could drag her to Samedi as he saw fit. If he could not, he would have to endure the binding spell’s punishment and rend her, perhaps even kill her, or she would be the orchestrator of his own demise. Self preservation overruled the pain of the bind, so he tensed his muscles, and waited.

***

Engorged in her full demon form, a mass of blackness swirling through the marsh, Charlie bounded from tree to tree. Her long claws emerged out of the dark, flowing torrent of black hair to dig into the bark of each tree before pushing away to send her to the next. For a fleeting moment, she felt like that spider hero from the action movies Angel had shown her on the hotel TV, and she entertained the idea of getting her own catchphrase. Charlie grinned, shook her head, and refocused from the silliness of the thought to remember she was out here to kill the thing that nearly took Angel from her. Still, knowing he was not going to die had calmed her soul, just as Cassie trained her, and she was formulating a plan for when she found the demon. Once she’d narrowed on his scent, hiding in the swamps some thirty miles from the bridge, Charlie had tucked her wings away and altered herself into the version of her that felt the most feral and least human; her body and hair became the most fluid of her forms, allowing her to move among the trees swiftly and quietly. She was well aware Rygen could smell her as well—if not better—as she could him, and she counted on it.

The fact that his scent was growing stronger told her he was waiting for her, and it was time to put her plan into action. Folding her power in, Charlie morphed into her hybrid human-demon form, gripped the side of a tree with her claws, leaned her body sharply away from the base, and took a deep whiff of the sour air. Her demon eyes opened wide, absorbing what little light the quarter moon provided as it peaked from behind the rolling clouds.

“I know you’re out there, demon.” Charlie hissed, “I know you want me. Here I am.”

The chorus of nightlife responded, but Charlie heard more than that in the mixture of noise. She could hear raspy breathing and the sound of splashing water behind the cypress trees to her left, about seventy feet away. The demon was hunting her just as she was hunting it, and this was just what she wanted. Charlie licked her lips, tasting the air and the demon’s foul aroma, which was getting stronger.

“You failed,” Charlie’s voice carried an insult: “Angel lives. You are a pathetic excuse for a demon. Can’t even kill one little human.”

“You lie!”

Charlie turned her attention to the source and smiled wickedly. She had hoped it would be easily provoked. This would make her task so much easier. “Do you hear lies in my voice, demon scum?”

“The name’s Rygen, bitch! I want you to know the name of the demon that bests you!”

“Pfft.” Charlie swayed her body as she held onto the tree, hoping Rygen saw how little she took it seriously. “I’m the Princess of Hell, Rygie-baby, and I don’t take sh*t from other demons!”

“f*ck you. My master may want you alive, but he didn’t say in what condition I needed to bring you to him. I will show you just how powerful I am!”

“You’re just a puppy, Rygie.” Charlie turned herself to grip the tree with both hands and easily scaled up to get a higher vantage point, sensing Rygen was moving in to attack. “One that’s ready to be neutered.”

“I can bleed you out, bitch, and let Samedi bind you and heal your wounds once he owns you.”

“You won’t be given the chance, beast.” Venom laced Charlie’s voice: “And neither will your master.”

“You have no idea what you’re up against. When I’m done with you, you’ll know who’s the dominant demon here.”

“Ha!” Narrowing her eyes, Charlie saw the water ripple about thirty feet away and below her. “You couldn’t get it up enough to finish the kill earlier.” She searched for another, more aggravating insult: “I’d peg you as more of a power bottom!”

Charlie grinned at the resulting roar of rage preceding Rygen launching out of the darkness to slam into the tree she was perched against. The power of the slam was more than Charlie anticipated, and she lost grip with one clawed hand and had to dig her hooves into the trunk’s bark to catch herself.

She looked down as Rygen began to scurry up from below, bellowing, “BITCH! I’ll bring you to Samedi in pieces!”

Lunging for her, Rygen brought his meaty clawed paw down upon her, but Charlie was ready. Conjuring her staff, she brought it down and swiped hard, knocking Rygen’s paw away. She then jumped to the tree opposite her, grasped it with her free claw, and swung around to the other side, putting the trunk between her and Rygen. Hefting the staff, she grinned; he was much easier to rile than she’d thought. Now she just had to get him to completely lose control and go feral. If he did, the binding spell would trigger and cause him pain. Enough to help Charlie.

“Come on, Rygie-baby, you can do much better than that.” Charlie teased as she peered around the trunk and blew him a raspberry. With a scream of rage, Rygen launched and crashed into her tree, and again, his strength was more than she’d prepared for. This tree was thinner. The impact cracked the trunk, and it began to bend. Thrown off position for a leap, Charlie had to regain her stance, and in the moment of doing so, she felt Rygen’s claws rake down her left leg, and she screamed in pain. Panic took over, and she went invisible, launching herself to another tree but misjudging the distance. She splashed down hard into the murky, marshy waters below, losing grip of her staff and striking her head on limbs protruding from the rippling water.

sh*t! Thoughts scrambled through her mind as she tried to regain her senses from the blow to her head. Coughing up dirty water she’d swallowed on impact, Charlie chastised herself for having underestimated Rygen’s rage. It seemed it was enough to sooth the binding spell’s punishment. Pain ripped into her back as she felt Rygen’s body slam into her. His incredible sense of smell and the splashing water guided him and sent them both under the water. Exploding into view, she let loose her full demon form again, more fluid than her hybrid form, and dispersed her body outward. Rygen scrambled to find purchase on her skin, which, in this form, moved around his claws. Charlie thrust her finger forward, sending demon fire towards Rygen, grazing him on his right flank under his massive, muscular foreleg. Roaring in rage, Rygen grabbed at her black seaweed-flowing hair and pulled her roughly back to him.

“Where are you going, bitch!?” Rygen growled throatily, a raspy laugh gargled by spilling water from his large canine lips, as he dragged her back against him, and he immediately regretted it as he felt Charlie’s claws thrust against his ribs and puncture his chest. Sharp teeth came down on his wounded shoulder, and he screamed in surprise and responded in kind, chomping down hard on her arm. Both roared in pain and rage and pushed against each other to break contact.

Rygen laughed through the pain. He felt the binding spell bid him to keep the princess alive, which he would, but she wouldn’t know it by his words, “Not so tough, are you, Princess? You look quite the mess!” Rygen eyed her as she backed against the broken tree, panting.

“Look in the mirror, asshole!” Her voice shook with pain.

“I’m tired of your attitude,” Rygen moved in the water, lining up for a final strike. “Do you think I don’t know what you’re doing? Goading me? I admit that at first it worked, but the tug of the bind reminded me. No. You will come with me, princess, and meet your new master.”

Charlie sent another blast of fire out, but Rygen easily ducked, and the blast hit a tree twenty yards behind him. His high ground position gave him the advantage, and she watched his upper shoulder muscles tense, ready to strike. She wanted Samedi, yes, but not in her current condition. Like this, he may succeed in binding her. She needed to end this and end it now. Rygen would just have to die. She took a chance, “Please. I can’t fight anymore. You’re better than I am. I’ll go with you.”

Rygen’s lips curled into a smile, Oh, this was too good to be true; not only have I won, but she admits I’m better! Oh, how good she will taste in my mouth now. Aloud, he chortled, “Oh yes, you will. But in pieces! Let’s see who the power bottom is now!’

Rygen lunged at full speed, aiming to break her spine, and shock took over as he watched large, feathery wings explode from her back and launch her vertically into the air above him. Eyes upwards in surprise, Rygen didn’t see the tree until he crashed into it. As it was already damaged, the impact broke it in two, and the top half tumbled over. Rygen tried to scramble, but the mud and water provided little grip, and he cried out in pain as the tree trapped him under it. Squirming to keep his head above water, he watched as Charlie conjured up what looked like her staff she’d lost, but this one had a silver metallic spear head adorned to the tip, and she positioned it to aim the sharp end downward.

“This is for Angel!”

He heard her shout as she came barreling down on him. Rygen twisted his body, trying to dodge, and took the spear’s sharp tip deep into his torso. Pain exploded all through him, and Rygen howled out so loudly that he could be heard some twenty miles away. Suddenly, Rygen felt his body start to fade, being pulled much like he had been originally summoned. Was he going back to hell? Was the binding spell broken? He could only hope. Rygen spit bloody saliva into Charlie’s face, “I’ll see you in Hell, bitch!”

Charlie wiped her face of his spittle as she watched Rygen’s body turn into a black smokey mist, her spear sinking into the muck below him, and hissed, “I hope so. So I can kill you again!”

Her last word met thin air. Rygen was dead and gone. Charlie fell back against the broken tree stump, exhausted, yet a feeling of success warmed her cold, muck-covered body. She’d won! She’d lured Rygen into a false sense of security and tricked him. The moment of euphoria faded, along with the adrenaline that drove her, and as intense pain took over, she winched. Her leg and arm were severely cut, and her body was bruised all over. The pain was exacerbated by the fact that she had to forgo hunting Samedi for now. Breathing hard, Charlie limped forward to climb onto the fallen tree trunk and looked herself over, seeing blood seeping through sludge and muck and feeling weak from the loss. She worried that if she used her healing power now, she wouldn’t have the strength to teleport right after. Not confident enough that Rygen was truly dead or that another demon may have been summoned, Charlie decided getting back home first was the best idea. Closing her eyes, she imagined Cassie’s apartment and wished to be there. Moments later, a bright white light enveloped her body, and when it faded away, she was gone.

***

Samedi sat with his legs crossed on the floor of his shack, in front of the summoning circle he’d used to call Rygen up from hell. Chanting in soft whispers, he fondled the charm that controlled Rygen as his free hand moved over the circle in a semicircular motion. Soft, blackish light began to illuminate the lines of the circle, and from that light, black smoke misted into existence. The thick smoke grew in volume and size. Slowly, it took shape, forming into Rygen, whom Samedi had pulled from the mud seconds before death took him. Minutes ticked by as the body solidified agonizingly slowly but eventually finished taking on corporeal form. Samedi stopped chanting, lowered his free hand until it settled on the leathery skin of the unconscious demon, and uttered a single word.

“Awaken!”

Sharp gasps and foul breath came from Rygen’s mouth as he coughed up viscous swamp muck and spewed it across the wooden floorboards. As his throat cleared, he whipped his head around to see Samedi, not the demon bitch, in front of him. True surprise filled his face, and Samedi smiled coldly. His demon wasn’t going to be that easy to kill.

Chapter 58: Miracle

Chapter Text

Cassie sighed in relief as she entered her apartment, grateful that the car had made it back to the shop before it sputtered and gave out on her. It had been touch and go, and she had worried all the way home about getting pulled over, but apparently the goddesses were looking out for her tonight. Now she hoped they would look out for Charlie as well. Closing the door quietly so as not to wake Angel yet, for she’d check on him when the hour was up, she kicked off her shoes and started for the bathroom when she heard a rustling from the couch and a cough.

“Cassie?” Angel’s voice held pain and weakness, but he was awake.

Cassie came over swiftly to check on him. “How are you feeling, Kevin?”

Groaning, Angel gave her a weak smile. “Like my back was put through a blender on purée. How bad is it?”

She knew he expected the truth. “Bad. Bad enough that I should have taken you to the hospital. My magics have it under control, but you’re going to be in a wheelchair for quite a while.” She paused, torn to say the rest, but he needed to know the facts. With words that came out choked with regret, Cassie finished, “Maybe indefinitely.”

Her words were greeted with silence, and she knelt down by his side and moved strands of dirty hair aside to see his face, which held no emotion. She let him absorb what she said, waiting.

When he spoke, it wasn’t about his back. “Where’s Charlie?”

Cassie paused. Despite their rule, she feared his reaction, and she put her hand on his chest as a precaution. “She’s hunting the thing that attacked you.”

His reaction was not what she expected: “I figured that’s why she wasn’t here, hovering over me.” Angel’s tone was one of loss and his eyes held sadness and fear.

Cassie spoke firm: “She’s prepared, Kevin. She’s better than that thing, by a mile! She’ll be fine, and she will come back.” I hope. “I finally got to see who she truly is. Nothing on this Earth has a chance when she’s at her peak, and she’s evolving so much. Don’t be scared for her.”

“You’re not?”

Cassie stopped short, then nodded, “I’m scared to death for her, Kevin. But I also have faith in her. I know you do, too, so try not to worry.”

“I can’t help it. She’s my partner. We should be hunting that thing together.”

“I know,” Cassie said, feeling his forehead, relieved to feel no obvious fever. The magics were working well. Cassie knew she’d have to go thank her mentors for training her so well. Despite this, she had to ask, “Why wouldn’t you let me take you to the hospital?”

“I’m safer here. With you. With Charlie.” Angel explained, his voice fading in and out as his eyes closed, “At the hospital, if that thing really wanted to finish the job, innocent people would have been put in harm’s way.”

“Your damned mind, thinking sh*t out even while dying.” Cassie softly cursed and admired her brother in one breath.

“I knew you’d save me, sis. I believe in your magics so much more now.” Angel reached out, and she gripped his hand. “But—How did we get back here? I don’t remember anything.”

“Like I said, Charlie’s evolving. She teleported the both of you. It was amazing.”

“Teleported? Like in sci-fi movies? Damn.” Angel smirked, then coughed hard, and Cassie pressed down on his chest to keep him from moving too much. When he settled, he asked, “Water?”

Nodding, Cassie went to the kitchen and filled a plastic cup half way and brought it back. With her help, Angel took slow sips before resting his head back on the pillow, “Thanks. Do you think I can move enough to get to the bedroom? This couch isn’t comfortable even in the best conditions.”

“I don’t know if it’s a good idea, Kevin.”

“Do you know if it’s not a good idea?” Angel quipped back, and Cassie had to admit that if he’s got the energy to debate, maybe he’d be okay to move. Sighing, she put the cup down on the coffee table and pulled the quilt off of him.

“Okay, but we’re going to do this slowly. Any sign of bleeding, and you’re staying put.”

For the next five minutes, Cassie helped support her brother as they worked their way down to the bedroom. She eased Angel into the bed, letting him lie on his side so she could check the bandages. Satisfied that the movement had held them in place, she helped him get comfortable, but she could tell that the move had been very painful.

“I’m going to give you some medicine to help you sleep. It’s a mixture of Motrin and a spell that will help you sleep and promote your body’s natural healing. Is that okay?”

“Thank you for asking. Yes, please. But will you please let me know when Charlie gets back safely?”

“I promise.” Cassie affirmed, standing, “I’ll be right back.”

A few minutes later, after giving him the medicine and watching him drift off into a fitful sleep, Cassie closed the bedroom door and went into the kitchen. She prepared a hot cup of chamomile tea, sat down hard in the kitchen chair, looked at the cup, pushed it away, laid her head on the table, and cried.

***

Cassie didn’t know how much time had passed when a flash of light startled her. She jerked her head up to see Charlie materialize in the apartment, falling to her knees covered in mud, dirt, and blood. Pushing the chair away, Cassie ran over and knelt beside her. “Charlie!”

“I’m okay,” Charlie smiled through crusty strands of hair, her demon red eyes fading to reveal her soft yellow eyes, before falling into Cassie’s outstretched arms.

“You don’t look okay to me!”

“I killed it, Cassie. I killed the f*cking thing. I’m more than okay. I just—I just have souvenirs from it.” Charlie touched the wound on her leg and grimaced.

Cassie felt Charlie’s body shake, “Why didn’t you heal yourself?”

“I needed the power to teleport.”

“Your wounds are deep, Charlie!”

Cassie tried to get up to go grab something to press onto her wound, but Charlie stopped her. “Can you use your magics? I didn’t react badly to the powder.”

“Of course!” Cassie helped Charlie rest her back against the couch. As Charlie watched her go collect the powder, she looked over her shoulder to the empty couch.

“Where’s Angel?” Fear coated Charlie’s question.

“He’s safe in the bedroom. He wanted to be more comfortable. I gave him some medicine, and he’s sleeping now.”

“Is he out of danger for a hospital?” Charlie wanted to know, after the earlier explanation from Cassie for not taking him in still didn’t sit well with her.

“Yes. He told me the reason he didn’t want us to take him was that Rygen could have followed to finish the job. He feared for innocent lives over his own. Subconsciously, I understood, but had the powders failed, he’d be there right now.”

Charlie nodded, her heart slowing down at the news, and she waited on Cassie to collect the powder from her cabinet. Coming back, Cassie knelt and looked at the wound. “sh*t. There’s so much dirt and crud. We should clean you up first. Can you walk?”

“I think so.” Charlie held out her good arm, and Cassie helped her stand. With Cassie’s support, Charlie let her guide her limping body to the bathroom. Once Charlie was safely propped against the wall, Cassie started the shower and turned to access Charlie’s body.

“Are you okay if—?”

“Please.” Charlie answered the unfinished question.

With gentle care, Cassie helped Charlie undress. It took her a moment to remove Charlie’s muck soaked and torn black t-shirt, taking care not to pull on the chain of her amulet in the process . The jeans had adhered to the cuts on her leg, and Cassie winched physically with Charlie while pulling the tattered remains out of the wounds before lifting each of her legs clear. Once they were tossed aside, next came the panties and now with Charlie naked, Cassie carefully eased her over the rim of the tub, being careful not to get splashed with the scalding hot water. Charlie, however, moaned gratefully as the water cascaded down her bruised bare skin. Cassie took the second detachable shower head and used it to wash directly onto Charlie’s wounded arm and mangled leg, eliciting a loud cry of pain. Cassie flinched again.

“I can handle it.” Charlie assured and encouraged her to continue.

Carefully, Cassie helped Charlie wash away the dirt, grime, and mud she’d collected from the fight. With the blockage of grime gone, fresh blood pooled in the drain. Cassie saw the damage, “Jesus! It’s worse than I thought. I’ll get the powders.”

“Wait.” Charlie held onto Cassie’s shoulder, “I want to feel clean. Please? Wash my hair?”

Cassie grabbed the shampoo as her answer and went to work to quickly cleanse Charlie’s long, tangled blonde hair. Despite her concern, she understood in her heart that Charlie needed to wash away everything about the night. As bad as the leg looked, it wasn’t anywhere near the damage Rygen had done to Angel, so she did not argue against Charlie’s request. Plus, it was wise to remove all possible contagions.

Once her body seemed free of anything that could cause infection, Cassie grabbed three towels. One she gave to Charlie to wrap around her head, while she used the second to wrap around her damaged leg. The third was used to dry her body before it too became a dressing for her arm.

“Okay, lie down in the tub.” Cassie ordered and helped Charlie obey. Once she was settled, Cassie opened the container of green powder and began to treat Charlie’s wounds. Repeating the spell Charlie had seen her use earlier, the powder burned into her wounds, and she cried out in more pain.

“I’m sorry! But it seems to be working, sweetie.”

Charlie nodded through squinted eyes as fresh, hot tears streamed down her cheeks, but she accepted the pain as a sign she was alive. As the powder began to take hold, Cassie stepped out of the bathroom to get more bandages, tearing them up as she returned. Placing them along the wounds on her legs and arm, Cassie completed the spell, and they stuck to Charlie in much the same way they had to Angel.

“The bleeding’s stopped.” Cassie said, relieved.

The pain had dulled, giving Charlie a sense of ease, and her eyes fluttered close in relief. “Thank you, sis.” She whispered, seemingly unknowingly.

Cassie warmed and flicked a few strands of hair from Charlie’s face. “You’re welcome, sis.”

Seconds ticked by before Charlie opened her eyes. “Would it be okay if I laid with Angel tonight?”

“I think it would be good medicine for the both of you.” Cassie checked the dressings, “How long before you can heal yourself? Do you know?”

“It won’t be long, I don’t think. The shower and your magics have helped a lot. I think this was more of a precaution since I’ve never had to choose which power I use first.”

“It may be a good idea to teach you the spell and have you keep some powder on your person for future missions.” Cassie thought aloud.

“Maybe,” Charlie agreed, “but right now I want to be with Angel.”

Cassie helped Charlie out of the tub. “I’ll get you a nightgown from my room, though I don’t think Angel will mind you slipping into bed like this.”

A soft giggle escaped Charlie: “Nor do I, but the nightgown’s more appropriate.”

Handing Charlie a fresh towel to finish drying, Cassie went to get the nightgown, pausing for a moment at the door to her bedroom to wipe away her tears. The emotions of the night had taken their toll, and it wouldn’t be tea she poured herself after making sure her family was safe and asleep.

Shaking her head to clear it, Cassie collected the nightgown and returned to the bathroom to help Charlie put it on. She then led Charlie into the bedroom. When they entered, Charlie let out a soft gasp as she saw Angel for the first time since she’d been kicked out of the apartment. He looked terrible, despite the bandages and the magic, and she sniffed loudly. Cassie helped her to the other side of the bed and spoke softly, “He’s resting comfortably, Charlie. You saved his life; remember that most of all.”

Charlie didn’t feel much better at the reminder, her hand caressing over his shoulder as she settled into the bed next to him. “I should have been with him. If we hadn’t had that fight—If I’d just listened to his orders in the warehouse.”

“Stop it, Charlie. Please.” Cassie chided softly, “You can’t fault yourself for this.”

“Yes, I can!” Charlie growled softly. “We knew there was something out there. We knew they knew we existed. I swore I’d be his armor. I failed him, Cassie.”

“You. Saved. Him!” Cassie hissed, trying to keep her voice down, not wanting to wake Angel up. “Please focus on the good you do, not the evil others do.”

Not assured, but too tired now to argue more, Charlie shrugged a polite agreement, letting Cassie pull the blanket up over her tender shoulder. Cassie sighed as she stood, and Charlie turned to face her. “I’m sorry, Cassie. I’m just so scared for Angel.”

Cassie leaned down and kissed Charlie on the forehead, “He’s out of danger. His body is reacting to the magics even better than I’d hoped. But, In the morning, even if he protests, we’re take him to the hospital. For tonight, you two are safe and alive. Focus on that, please.”

“I promise.” Charlie felt Angel’s body move slightly at her touch, and she decided it was more important to hold him and be grateful. “He’s here, in my arms, where he belongs. I won’t worry anymore, tonight.”

“Good.” Cassie stood and walked around the bed to Angel’s side. She leaned down and gave him a motherly kiss on the forehead. “Let me do all the worrying tonight, for all of us.”

“Cassie?” Charlie lifted her head, eyes wet, “If I’m not allowed to worry, neither are you. You saved both of us. You’re our angel.”

A soft sob escaped Cassie before she could stop it, and she forced a smile, “I won’t let anything happen to my family. Now, go to sleep. That’s an order.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Charlie dropped her head on the pillow, holding up her hand and making a thumbs up, and Cassie silently approved as she closed the door.

Resting her head on the pillow, Charlie slid her arm across Angel’s torso and pulled herself closer, careful not to press against his back but to be as close as she dared. Sleep tugged at the edges of her consciousness, and with it, her body relaxed to the point where she could feel her power stirring deep within her. Along with the familiar sensation of strength that told her she was recovering quickly, the itch in her back tapped at her, and she accepted its request. Feeling her wings flow from her back and out from under the blanket, she draped her left wings over her and Angel’s bodies, becoming the armor she’d promised him before.

As they settled, covering them like a shield from the world, her powers tingled stronger than she’d expected. It was as if they were guiding her, and she felt that she could now heal herself. A slight tug of selfishness bit at the back of her mind, scolding her for being able to heal while the man she loved might be broken forever, but she knew she’d need to be at full strength to protect him.

Closing her eyes, Charlie let go, and her power flowed out, her healing powers warming her skin. Her hair flowed around her face, and her wings glowed; this was the first time she’d healed with them exposed. As she felt her shoulder and leg heal, she heard a soft gasp from Angel.

Opening her eyes, she saw her wings, draped over Angel, pulsing with a warm, soft white light that seemed to absorb into Angel’s body. Gasping softly, she saw his skin ripple, much like hers had when her wounds closed. Her heart beating faster, hope filling her soul, Charlie called to every inch of her body, her soul, and her strength, begging for it all to pour out of her. The bedroom blossomed into blinding white light, and the energy rippled along the bed, floor, walls, and ceiling for a few moments before everything went completely dark again.

Silence followed, and Charlie held her breath for what seemed like forever, afraid to move to see if what she’d hoped had actually happened. It was Angel who broke the silence, “Charlie?” His voice was solid, void of weakness, and he turned easily in the bed to face her, brushing feathers away so their faces could see each other clearly. “What did you do?”

She could only answer in tears as she pulled him tight to her and kissed him deeply, sliding her arm around his waist and feeling his back, which was firm and healed. As they broke the kiss, her breath stolen from her, she gasped, “I healed you! Angel, I healed us!!”

Angel swallowed and moved himself to see how he felt and was surprised to find himself feeling—well, perfect. He then noticed he’d been annoyingly brushing feathers away for the last few moments. “Charlie? Are these—wings?”

She couldn’t help herself. Giggling, Charlie nodded excitedly. “I have wings, Angel! They came to me when Cassie helped train me to focus my emotions.”

Angel lifted his hand and ran his fingers along the ridge of one of the wings, noticing the baby-like skin texture, and Charlie let out a low, sensual response. Her body lifted slightly as her loins reacted strongly. Angel noticed, “Are you okay?”

“Oh, yes.” Charlie let out a soft moan, eyes closing in pleasure. “They’re very sensitive. Especially when caressed like that.”

“An odd erogenous zone.”

Angel’s academic response caused Charlie to open her eyes, peering at him, playfully annoyed. “Is that your take on this?”

A slight laugh escaped Angel, and he shrugged. “Sorry, I’m just so amazed. You keep evolving. Cassie told me you teleported us here?”

Charlie’s smile faded. “Yes. I discovered I can conjure myself, and others, not just things. I’m so grateful, though. I don’t know how else I would have gotten you back here. You were in terrible shape, Angel, bleeding out so badly from Rygen’s attack.”

“Rygen?”

“It’s what it called itself, before I drove a spear into it and killed it!”

“I’m glad you’re safe, Charlie. I couldn’t bear losing you, either.”

“How did you escape Rygen?” Charlie needed to know, “He was a monster; I barely beat him.”

Angel paused, and Charlie sensed the sudden tension. Raising her head and giving him a serious look, she repeated, “Angel? How did you escape?”

Sighing deeply, Angel pulled the necklace out from under his shirt, “Cassie gave this to me the other night after the warehouse mission. It held a spell designed to cause a demon terrible pain, to slow it down, or drive it away.”

“How did she know—?” Realization slammed into her, and Charlie pulled back from Angel. Her eyes looked hurt, “This was for me, wasn’t it?”

“I told Cassie about how you swarmed down on me, and that for a moment, I expected death.” Angel spoke quickly, “I was concerned about your growing power. If you continued to manifest more and more demon-like versus your hybrid form, I couldn’t be sure how much you’d maintain control.” He continued, seeing Charlie’s hurt eyes fighting not to tear up, hoping to impress upon her how much he trusted her. “I didn’t want to accept it, Charlie, but if I hadn’t, I’d be dead. I told her I trusted you, but I knew she was right. I had to be ready for anything that could happen.” At this point, Angel knew if he kept piling on excuses, it would just make it worse. He waited.

Charlie closed her eyes and stilled her body, telling herself to calm down and think with her head, not her emotions. Yes, it hurt a lot that he had the necklace and that it was meant to hurt her if she tried to hurt him, but he was right. Angel never did anything that wasn’t thought through with wisdom and preparation. That was why he was so good at what he did and why she loved being his partner. He was also right. If Cassie hadn’t given him the necklace, he would be dead. Losing him would have killed her. Knowing why he had the necklace did hurt, but she found herself accepting their reasons. After all, his life trumped her feelings.

Opening her eyes, she gave him a firm look of understanding, and she saw his shoulders relax. “I understand. Yes, it hurt at first, but I get it. My powers are evolving faster than I can keep up with them. In one night, I teleported, gained wings, and discovered I could heal others, not just myself. These are all new to me. If it hadn’t been for Cassie knocking some literal sense into me, I would have flown off in a rage. Possibly getting myself killed or losing myself and becoming the very thing we fight against. I need more training with Cassie to find my center.” Lifting the necklace with her fingers, Charlie caressed the beads, “I will thank Cassie in the morning. This saved you when I couldn’t.”

“You saved me, Charlie,” Angel corrected. “This just postponed the inevitable so that you could.”

“I should have been with you.”

“We each had our tasks to complete, remember?” Angel reminded her. “We need to focus only on what we can do, not what we can’t.”

“The good we can do, not the evil others do.” Charlie repeated Cassie’s line.

“What?”

“Something Cassie told me earlier. I understand it now. Don’t let what is out of our control, control us.”

Angel caressed her cheek, “If only I’d had that advice years ago. Think you can follow it with me, now?”

“I’ll try. But I’m never leaving you again!”

“Promise?”

Charlie looked at him oddly; the tone in his voice held something she was unsure she understood. “Yes, of course. Why?”

“Because,” Angel knew there was no better time than this moment, “I love you, Charlotte Morningstar. More than anything in this or any other world, I love you. I said what we do comes with risk, and that should include whatever may happen to us in the future. Even the physical.”

Charlie blinked, taking a moment to make sure she’d heard him correctly. It was the first time he’d said the words to her, and she let her tears flow. “I love you, too, Angel!”

The kiss that followed swallowed them both up as their hands slipped around each other, pulling their bodies into the tightest embrace they could manage. They lost themselves for moments before Charlie broke the kiss first. “Does this mean we can…”

“If you’ll have me?” Angel replied, caressing her cheek lovingly.

“Are you sure? We haven’t figured out my memory loss. Or, if it’s safe?” Charlie didn’t want to open up an out for him—not anymore—but he’d taught her well. Their safety did come first.

“Sometimes, one has to take risks.” Angel’s comment held many meanings: their missions, the evils they may face, and, in this instance, their physical relationship. “I’ve wanted you for a long time, Charlotte Morningstar, and after nearly losing my life and never being able to tell you—show you—how I feel, I’m done holding back.”

“I want you, too!” With a soft laugh of relief, desire, and longing, Charlie found herself surprised by her next words, “But… I’m so exhausted.”

A pause preceded Angel’s throaty laughter, which Charlie joined in as she dropped her body onto him, her own shaking in laughter. Tension drained from both of them as they held each other; their laughter faded to soft hums of contentment.

“I admit, I don’t want our first time making love to be us falling asleep in the middle of it,” Angel quipped softly.

“I want to be at full power, in all ways, when I have you, my love.” Charlie grinned as she traced a finger up and down his chest. Angel shivered at the idea, his groin stiffening despite being exhausted, and he seriously contemplated asking for a taste then and there. But his princess told him she wanted to be all she could be for him after recuperating fully, so he knew they’d have to wait just a little longer.

Kissing her forehead, Angel softly caressed her back in return, sharing his thoughts: “I can’t wait.”

Nestling her body next to his, Charlie tucked her head along his shoulder, and he wrapped himself around her. Kissing him one more time, she whispered, “Neither can I.”

It took less than a minute of soft caressing, with eyes closed, for the two lovers, now a couple, to fall asleep in each other’s arms.

Chapter 59: Change of Plans

Chapter Text

Samedi moved in the darkness, illuminated only by the black candles he’d used for the spell to pull Rygen back, to sit in the old torn la-z-boy chair in the corner by the door. The summoning and revival spells had taken more energy out of him than he’d expected. It was his first experience having to heal a demon he’d summoned, and he did not like it.

Next time, Samedi thought to himself, I’ll just let them die and call up a new one.

His malicious thoughts were magnified due to Rygen’s incompetence. Before he allowed the demon to rest, despite it’s incoherent state, he interrogated it. Samedi learned that it had failed to kill Angel, who somehow had wounded Rygen, instead, and it was obvious he had failed to subdue the princess. Samedi peered over to the single door to the shack, where a fresh circle of blood lay at the only entrance inside, now wasted. Peering into the middle of the shack, where Rygen slept, breath labored; Samedi contemplated sending it back to Hell anyway. Unfortunately, Bible’s last call put him on a short timeline, and he had to have the demon ready by the morning to send it on its next set of tasks. Smirking darkly, Samedi leaned over the side of the chair, picked up a loose board, and pried it off the floor. Hefting it to feel its weight, he chucked it at Rygen, and the rotted piece of wood smacked into Rygen’s freshly healed shoulder.

Rygen’s eyes snapped open, and he roared, less in pain and more in rage. He quickly shifted his body, putting his canine legs under him, and spun towards the attack. Claws dug into the cracked wooden floor, and Rygen tensed his muscles to pounce. Two thoughts came to him at the same time: one, that it was his master, Samedi, and two, which he voiced aloud: “I’m alive?”

“Indeed. Alive and a failure,” Samedi mocked.

If he intended to rile the demon, it failed as Rygen cracked his neck and searched for the pains that the princess had inflicted and found none. “You resurrected me?”

“Revived. You were not dead, and I only did so because it would have taken longer to find and summon a replacement.” Samedi’s voice continued to mock.

Rygen, relieved at being alive, instead found it humorous to irritate his master by not responding. Rather, Rygen pulled his power and shifted into his human form, the tall, elegant, well-dressed man, and offered a bow to Samedi. “It seems you have more power than I expected, Master.” Rygen grinned. “It will make tasting your flesh when I am free of your bonds so much sweeter.”

“You may imagine it all you like,” Samedi coldly returned with a smile of his own. “If you manage to survive and carry out your next mission without f*cking up so egregiously, perhaps I will send you back to Hell in one piece.”

“We can play these games all night, Master, but you should know that Angel used a powerful spell that nearly killed me. He has a sister, a Wiccan and she—”

“I am well aware of the girl.” Samedi waved his excuse away, “And this is why you could not subdue the demon princess, letting her nearly kill you?”

“I let nothing of the sort happen. She isn’t like the princess I’ve heard about. She had wings and powers I could not have imagined. She also fought differently, less as a demon and more as a warrior. Now that I know what she is capable of, she will not have the upper hand next time.”

“There won’t be a next time, demon. Bible has informed me that we will be changing up our initial plans. You are to first eliminate a couple of nagging loose ends: An FBI agent named Amanda Sims, who is a close friend of Angel’s, and her boss, Michael Stefon. Bible has made arrangements for you to carry both of those hits out in short order.”

“Sounds delicious.” Rygen smiled, already imagining the taste of their flesh on his tongue. “And then?”

“You will go to where Angel rests, kill anyone who gets in your way, and bring him back to me. You may use any and all of your demonic tricks to accomplish this, but do not confront or kill the princess. It may require patience and time, but wait until they are apart. Angel will be our bait, and he will bring her to us.”

“Tricks?” Rygen smiled darkly, and Samedi watched his form shift until it was Angel that stood before him, “Do you like this trick?”

“You can imitate others?” Samedi blinked, “This is one power I did not know demons possessed.”

“Not all demons do,” Rygen spoke in Angel’s voice. “We hellhounds are one of the few types who can freely change their form, specifically to imitate others. Even the Princess of Hell is limited in how much she can manipulate her appearance.” Samedi watched ‘Angel’ scratch the stubble on his face, adding, “And since I tasted his blood and inhaled his scent, I absorbed his mannerisms and pieces of his memories as well.”

Samedi wouldn’t give Rygen validation, but in his head, he was truly impressed. From now on, he would only summon hellhounds. “Very good. It will allow you to get close to the Sims woman.”

“Yes, and once I feast on the Sims woman, I will be able to imitate her as well.”

“It seems, for a hellhound, you may be more suited to subterfuge than outright attacks. If I had known this, we would have foregone the initial plan altogether.”

“Who’s incompetent now, Master?” Rygen laughed as he watched Samedi’s face turn red with rage.

“Be careful, demon. Your value has limits,” Samedi hissed.

“Be careful, Master. My tolerance has limits.” Rygen’s lips curled upward.

Both stared darkly at the other, threats clear and promises silently made. Samedi waved his hand dismissively, “I have called up demons worse than you, mutt, but none had your insistent attitude.”

Rygen rolled his eyes, yet he knew Samedi also held power, which he should not be testing. He would have to control his ego if he were ever to return to hell alive, and he chose to tone it down: “It serves neither of us to continue this, Master. I will obey your commands. When all is complete, send me back to Hell, and we can forget the other ever existed.”

Samedi nodded subtly, also aware that the tug of war was not going to serve his purpose. “We shall see. It is hours before the sun rises, so I suggest you rest and regain as much of your strength as you can. Bible will be sending Stefon to Sim’s hotel in the morning, and you will need to be in position before then.”

Shifting his form to return to his natural form, Rygen moved to the far end of the shack, where the darkness swallowed him, and laid down. He shifted his blood-red eyes towards Samedi, who stared back, unblinking. It would be sometime before either one ended the stare down.

Chapter 60: Flight of an Angel

Chapter Text

Charlie awoke to the sound of a dawn chorus of Blue Jays outside the cracked window as a soft, warm breeze tickled the curtains edges. The fairest hint of predawn light had begun to mix with the night’s blackness, and Charlie yawned softly and stretched ever so gently to not stir Angel from his peaceful and much-needed slumber. She lay there, feeling true peace, and absorbed Angel’s body heat. She was so very grateful she’d been able to heal him.

She listened to the birds outside, imagining them singing, dancing, and flying. A thought suddenly swelled in her mind, and a smile warmed her cheeks. Sliding carefully off the bed, her bare feet pressing into the carpet, which felt extra nice this morning, Charlie tiptoed around the bed and leaned down to kiss Angel softly on the forehead. Backing quietly to the door, she turned, opened it, and stepped into the hallway. Gingerly, she closed the door and glided down the hallway with light steps. She stopped at Cassie’s bedroom door and listened; her keen ears picked up her soft breathing, telling Charlie she had not yet awoken. With childlike eagerness, Charlie left the apartment and took the stairs to the roof.

Stepping out into the warm morning air, Charlie noticed that a thick fog had formed from the morning’s mix of humidity and dew point, and this pleased her even more. She shut the door behind her and moved to the center of the roof, where Cassie had taught her how to fight for love, and silently thanked her again for her guidance. Charlie stretched her arms out from her sides and spun around slowly, feeling her power pulse in her heart and her soul. For the first time in a long time, she could bask in who she was and, more so, all that she’d become. Closing her eyes and drawing in a long, deep breath, she exhaled slowly, and as the last of her captured breath escaped, she opened her eyes and grinned as her wings unfurled magically from under her silver white nightgown.

Stepping forward to the ledge, she did a quick scan below and could not see the ground below, thanks to the rolling fog. This told her she wouldn’t need to go invisible for what she was so excited to do next. Lifting herself onto the edge, she balanced herself, looked up, and with a look of pure delight, Charlie flexed her wings and rose off the roof and into the air among the thick fog. Gracefully, she flew up and away from the roof and into the sky. The fog danced around her, hugging her and keeping her safe from gazing eyes. With firm, repeated pulls of her muscles, she controlled the upward momentum from the thrusts of her wing, flying higher and higher until the morning dawn greeted Charlie as she splashed through the final swirling mist of fog. The bright sun emerged on the horizon before her, warming her in its loving embrace. Lifting herself even higher up, a single bright ray illuminated her, casting an ethereal glow around her. With her wings moving at full strength, Charlie felt so much more like an angel than a demon and flew up higher and higher, until the sun’s glow enveloped her and she was swallowed up by its bright embrace.

Chapter 61: I've Slept On Us Long Enough

Chapter Text

Back in the bedroom, Angel woke from a deep, restful sleep and peered behind him at the empty space in the bed. Thinking Charlie had risen earlier and left him to rest in peace, he rolled back on his side and nestled his head into the soft pillow, closing his eyes. A moment later, a soft flash of light illuminated the room and startled Angel. He opened his eyes and felt a presence behind him. Turning his head, he found Charlie sitting there in the bed, her wings furling down and tucking away.

“Hey.” Angel softly said, figuring he must have dozed off, and she’d returned as he’d slept.

Charlie nestled herself against him, careful to tuck her amulet out of the way, lest she poke him with it. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“It’s okay.” Angel smiled as she caressed his chest from behind.

“Did you sleep okay?” Charlie rubbed her nose against his back, feeling how firm and muscular it felt, and felt her loins react.

“The best sleep I’ve had in years.” Angel admitted it, followed by a loud yawn.

“Sounds like you could use some more.” Charlie giggled. A mix of relief from listening to Angel’s strength in his voice and the euphoria of her morning flight made her feel so light. She would have to do that again. A lot!

There was a moment of silence. Charlie was about to speak up, when Angel’s firm voice responded, “No.” Angel turned his body to face Charlie, “I’ve slept on us long enough.”

His words startled and warmed her all at the same time. “Angel?”

He moved in a soft but sudden way, and Charlie felt his hands grab her wrists as he positioned himself on top of her. His grip was firm, possessive, but comfortable as she felt her body press into the bed. Her hungry eyes met his, which were filled with so many different emotions at once: love, lust, fear, pleading, and even a hint of shyness. His grip told her she was his, but his eyes still asked permission.

Oh, yes. Now! In answer, Charlie spread her legs, not slightly but as wide as she could with her feet tangled in the sheets, and she felt him grunt as his hips met the inside of her thighs. She felt him, thick and full, press against her. Her mind grinned, realizing he had a lot to give her, and the redness in her cheeks flushed deeper.

Angel’s eyes widened subtly by her sudden movement and the moment their bodies intimately touched, he subconsciously began to move, rubbing himself against her. It was just the motions of the moment, but his voice came out, short of breath but full of lust: “Charlie.”

She felt him grind against her repeatedly, going through the motions of making love yet with his underwear and her nightgown playing obstacles against joining. “Angel.” Charlie whispered with a level of lust that matched—no! surpassed his. “Don’t stop.”

His eyes fixed on her face, and Charlie’s eyes seemed to twinkle as she shared a coy smile with him. Suddenly, the couple gasped loudly, and Angel felt wet heat wrap around his shaft. At the same instant, Charlie let out a hot breath as she felt him invade her to depths she didn’t know her body could take.

Despite her request, Angel did stop. He looked down between them, surprised to see they were now naked, the barrier of clothing gone, and they were joined together completely. He looked up into his lover’s face, and she smirked. “Conjuring goes both ways, my love.”

“You are amazing.” Angel grunted, feeling her clench herself on him. Charlie lifted her knees and then wrapped her ankles behind Angel and prompted him to continue. Little prompt was needed, and Angel thrust deep into Charlie with the love, lust, and desire both had been craving forever. Their movements were synchronized as if they’d been together for centuries. Angel released his grip on Charlie’s wrists to find purchase on the bed to lift himself up in a slightly different position. Charlie gasped as she felt his thick shaft, seemingly throbbing with a heartbeat of it’s own, discover new depths inside her. Wherever it was that his co*ck had invaded, it sparked her loins to excitedly react, causing her to shake in wave after wave of micro-org*sms.

Her eyes drifted up to Angel’s face, watching his eyes open and close, lost in the sensations, and she reached one hand up to caress his face, resting his cheek in the palm of her hand. She felt his lips move to take her thumb and suck on the tip of it, which elicited a jerk in her loins and the release of another micro. Charlie’s breath was speeding up, but shorter, as the tide kept rising, threatening to crash one enormous release and take her over the edge in ways she could never imagine. She let her body meld into his, her ankles impressing upon his back, telling him to move faster.

Despite the intensity of their moment, Charlie’s mind recalled that it was not even twelve hours before that she had held his cold, dying body in her arms, on the brink of losing him forever, and now he was here, with her, in her, the way she had dreamed for months. The shock hit her and Charlie burst into tears.

“Charlie?” Angel stopped dead. He saw Charlie’s face contort in fear, anguish, and despair, and he panicked, but he couldn’t escape her as he felt her arms reach up, wrap around him, and pull him down onto her. “Charlie!”

“Angel!” Charlie pulled his face to hers, and with tears streaming down her face, she kissed him hard and deep. He felt her hands hold him with demon strength, and even as he felt his erection begin to ebb, her loins squeezed tight, as if commanding him to stay as he was. When the kiss was released, she looked at him deeply. “I’m sorry. I’m so-so sorry. I had a flashback to last night. I almost lost you. I almost lost you, Angel. And then I saw you above me. Mine! All mine, and I broke. I’m so sorry!”

It took a moment for her words to sink in, but when they did, Angel brushed some stray hairs off Charlie’s face. “No. No, princess.” Angel kissed her repeatedly, “Don’t apologize. I thought I’d lost you, too. When I felt you next to me, just now, I realized we’d wasted so much time. I couldn’t stop myself. I needed to make you mine, too.”

Charlie bit her lip and nodded, elated that he wanted her so badly to just take her as he wanted. She felt her emotional and mental pain fade and other, more important sensations take over. She felt Angel’s lips come down and kiss the wet tears that coated her warm, red cheeks. “I just thought I’d hurt you somehow.” Angel whispered against her ear.

Charlie’s body tensed in pleasure at the unexpected sensation, and she sniffed and giggled at the same time, and playfully teased. “It hurt a little when the clothes went away.”

Angel lifted his face to meet hers, concern now replacing his lust.

Charlie shared her bedroom eyes with him and said in a low, sensual, somewhat dirty voice, “Please hurt me some more. I need all of you. Now.”

“Charlie…” Angel’s voice was tentative

Charlie hated that she’d broken down, but his concern and hesitation filled her heart with pure joy, knowing how much he really loved her. But his hesitation also frustrated her just a tiny bit. She needed him to understand, in no uncertain terms, that she needed him to take her, now. To drive home the words she was about to speak, even as her heart fluttered in shyness, Charlie let her demon eyes flicker behind her soft yellow ones and growled with demand, “f*ck me!”

Worry left him, and Angel obeyed. Lifting himself until he had nearly left her, he plunged firmly all the way, and Charlie felt his balls slap against her inner thighs. Her gasps of pleasure erupted past half parted lips, her tongue pressed against her inner cheek and her eyes rolled back in her head. Yes, oh f*ck yes! Angel’s inside me!

It seemed that not only had she healed him, but given him unbound energy, and he repaid her in kind. He moved in different ways, eliciting new sensations with each change and Charlie’s head pushed the pillow away and lulled back on the mattress, a dreamy look of heaven washing over her features. Then, he ground against her, less thrusting and more the movement of his hips, grinding in a somewhat circular motion. He did not want to leave her, not one bit.

Charlie gasped, delighted in the mix of pleasure and pressure of him against her. He was so perfect inside her. Grinding turned back to thrusts, then to longer thrusts. Their love making drove Charlie into the mattress, and Angel’s breath was getting even shorter. She felt him fill her, leave her, fill her, leave her, quicker, faster… and oh, so much harder that it brought about that which she had been aching for for months and months; the crashing wave of her first full org*sm caused her eyes to glow red, her canine teeth to sharpen just slightly, and her voice to growl low with pure sexual release.

“Oooooohhhhhh GOD! Angel! I’m cumming!”

Angel felt her puss* grip him, pulling him in and demanding he join her in her celebration. However, he had other ideas. As she fell from the intense height of her release, Charlie felt Angel’s hands go around her back and lift her up and over, and suddenly she found herself on top of him. She looked down in surprise at a grinning Angel, who licked his lips, and said in a husky voice, “My turn.”

Charlie immediately understood the assignment. Excitedly, she pressed her palms against his smooth chest and noticed something surprising, and her heart fluttered again, but sharing it would wait. Lifting her hips up, Charlie took over the delightful task of f*cking her lover. Now, as her org*sm flushed her loins, she was going to use her body to bring forth his own release, one she wanted to find its home inside her.

Angel was now able to catch his breath as he watched Charlie rise and fall above him, and he reached up to take hold of her breasts. He felt their shape, how firm they were in his hands, and how perfect they were now that he was able to see them in full. Her nipples were swollen and poked between his roaming fingers. He pinched them, which elicited a low growl of pleasure from Charlie’s lips and a squeeze on him with her lower lips. Angel lost himself in watching her move; her whole body was art, as if sculpted by the heavens themselves.

A second wave of release was approaching insider her, enticing Charlie to move faster. She lifted her hips and brought herself down onto him over and over, letting his hands on her tit* keep her from falling down on him. She wanted her second wave to meet his first so they could drown together. She heard Angel’s breath signal his impending release, and her eyes fluttered open to see his face, which told her it was time. With a few more violent, skin slapping thrusts, the couple shared a single, sharp gasp. Angel felt her body lock him down, and she felt—with her extra powers of sensation—his hot love spill deep, coating every inch of her passage. The intensity of their shared climax was more than they expected, and Charlie fell down onto Angel; her body turned to jello. Angel wrapped his arms around her as his hips spasmed until there was no more to give her.

Heavy breathing filled the room and nothing else. There was no movement for minutes save for the rise and fall of Charlie’s prone body on top of Angel’s muscular chest, seemingly taking breaths for both of them. In time, Charlie lifted herself on her elbows on each side of Angel and bent to kiss him, as if finding an oasis in the desert and drinking from it desperately.

Angel felt her lips mesh with his, and their tongues spoke in their own love language until finally, sated, Charlie rolled off of Angel and fell into the crook of his arm. She rubbed her cheeks against his chest, felt the stickiness between her legs, and sighed with deep contentment. Angel brushed her tangled blonde hair out of her eyes, and they stared at each other for a full minute. Finally, Angel whispered, “I love you, Charlotte Morningstar.”

Her eyes shone, both with love and a soft glistening of tears. “I love you too, Kevin Angelus Collins.” and then she added with a firm but playful reminder, “And it’s Charlie!”

Chapter 62: Sexy and Amazing

Chapter Text

Nearly an hour had passed since their love making. Between caresses, soft kisses and dozing off, the couple found peace in each other’s arms. After a while, Charlie poked her head up and looked at the clock. 10:17 a.m. Her movements stirred Angel and he opened his eyes. She smiled softly, “I keep waking you.”

“I wasn’t asleep, asleep. Just resting. You took a lot out of me.”

“I know. I feel it.” Charlie offered a sly grin, and to drive home the meaning of her words, she guided Angel’s hand between her still slick and sticky legs.

Angel actually blushed slightly. “That’s not what I mea—Okay, fine, it’s what I meant.”

They both shared a gentle laugh, and Charlie licked her lips, “I should go see if Cassie’s awake. I want to learn more Tai-Chi so I can use it to control my emotions and my powers.” Reaching her hand over him and down between his legs, she brushed her hand over his groin, teasing, “For all the right reasons.” She felt him react positively to her touch, his hips moving to her fingers.

Angel moaned softly. “You better go, or there’s going to be a round two.”

Charlie tugged lightly on his shoulder, and he rolled on his back for her. She positioned herself on top of him, leaned down, and kissed him. Angel wrapped his arms around her and reciprocated the kiss. She felt his love in the kiss and gave back in kind. When she broke the kiss, she felt her lips buzzing and her loins pleading for more, and she could feel his own below joining in on that desperate need. With no clothes between them, now, all it would take is—.

“Mmmm,” Charlie whispered between pursed lips and scooted off Angel. She didn’t mean to tease him; no, actually, she kind of enjoyed the power. She leaned in for one more passionate, deep kiss in response to his pouty expression: “My knight, regain your strength. Demons are pretty much insatiable.”

Charlie saw the look in Angel’s eyes, one of lust and a question of whether she was serious. She turned around and wiggled her ass at Angel, skipping to the door before he could grab it. Her spirits were high, and Angel laughed and blew her a raspberry, and then quipped, “Are you going out like that?”

Charlie looked down and remembered that she was completely naked. “Oh, yeah.” Angel watched in amazement as her silver-white nightgown materialized around her supple, sexy body. “Thanks. I didn’t realize. I felt so free.”

“And look so beautiful.”

Charlie smirked. “Always a sexy bitch!” And she winked as she opened the door.

When Charlie stepped out and closed the door, she heard a pillow thump against it on the other side and giggled. Turning to go to the bathroom, she spotted Cassie outside her own bedroom door, looking surprised. “I just woke up, and I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but I could have sworn I heard Angel laugh. Is he—okay?”

Charlie squealed, ran down the hallway and embraced Cassie, “I healed both of us, Cassie! When I pulled my power to heal myself, it flowed into him and healed him, too! Angel’s okay!”

“What?” Cassie’s body froze, shock hitting her, and she pushed back from Charlie to look her in the eyes. “He’s okay? He’s really okay!?”

Charlie nodded with glee, but her smile dropped along with Cassie, who fell to her knees, sobbing. Charlie dropped with her, took her into her arms, and let Cassie cry out all the pain and sorrow she’d had to hold onto all night long. Sudden gut wrenching shame slammed into Charlie. “Oh, my God. Cassie! I’m so-so sorry! I was so happy Angel was okay; I didn’t think to come tell you!”

“You amazing bitch!” Cassie’s voice squeaked out from between the folds of Charlie’s silver-white nightgown as her head twisted from side to side and her fists softly punched Charlie’s shoulders. “You made me suffer; you saved his life; you’ve made me so happy; I’m so angry with you.”

“I am an amazing bitch!” Charlie followed her lead, the corner of her lips rising: “I’m so sorry I made you suffer; I’ll always protect him; I’m glad you’re happy; and you can be as angry as you want with me; I deserve it.”

Finally, Cassie sat back on her heels, brushed her hair out of her eyes, wiping them dry, and said, “Your powers are amazing.”

“And growing!” Charlie grinned. “Will you train me? Really train me? I want to learn so much more from you; tease more power out of me, and maybe my memories and my past will come with them.”

Sniffing, Cassie nodded. “Of course.” With a snarky tone, she added, “And maybe you can learn telepathy as well.”

“Telepathy? Why?” Charlie co*cked her head, confused.

“So the next time, you can tell me when you do this sh*t!” Cassie quipped as she playfully punched Charlie’s shoulder.

Charlie responded by letting her demon eyes glow, along with a soft smile and sharp white teeth. “Then let’s go find out what else I can do!”

Chapter 63: I Just Want A Taste

Chapter Text

After extinguishing the final cigarette from her depleted pack in the balcony ashtray, Amanda Sims got to her feet and stretched. After a long day of handling calls, emails, and requests for favors, she had gathered a lot of useful information, enabling her to have a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, none of the information was directly related to Bible. However, she felt that when she took everything to Angel, they might find a lead to follow by reviewing the cases of narcotics, weapons busts, and rescued children from the past year.

It certainly helped her feel better to have cleared the air with her lover, Ethan. They’d talked on the phone again for an hour before she called it a night, and they made plans to go away for a couple of weeks when this all blew over. Until that moment, she hadn’t fully grasped his importance to her. Now, she planned to make it up to him in a big way for how she had used him in the past couple of years. Nevertheless, she had little regret about what she had done to assist Angel, and she hoped that Ethan would come to understand her reasons and motivations.

Angel. She thought of him and Charlie. She saw the way the two had looked at each other, a look that she and Angel had once shared. Although there would always be a small amount of jealousy, it was not as intense as she had anticipated. This reaffirmed to her that she had moved on from the past and was grateful for the progress. She was determined not to let her fear of Charlie hinder her efforts in assisting them to locate and eradicate Bible for good.

Stepping back inside, Amanda went over to the bed and picked up her phone that was sitting among the messed-up sheets, selected Angel’s number, and pressed call. Only one ring came through, and then his voicemail answered. Squinting her eyes, a flash of concern trickled into her mind, but as Angel’s recorded voice finished and the auto-voice went through its annoyingly long list of options, she heard the beep.

“Hey, Angel. I have all the files I could get from D.C. and the local field office downloaded, printed, and on disc. I’ll be leaving here in about half an hour and meeting up with you all at the shop. Give me a call back if you want me to pick up coffee or breakfast along the way. Bye.”

Hanging up, Amanda dropped the phone in her purse, sat it next to the briefcase, and was about to go use the bathroom when there was a knock at her door. She paused. No one knew where she was staying except for Angel and Stefon’s office, and after being suspended, she figured they’d call her in for any briefings. Since they’d taken her piece, all she had left was a small SIG Sauer P938 pocket gun she always carried in her purse. Fetching it, she tucked it in her waistband and stepped to the door. “Who is it?”

“It’s Angel.” The familiar voice came from the other side, and Amanda peered through the peephole, surprised to see Angel standing in the hallway. With a twist of the main lock and a flip of the secondary security latch, she opened the door with a smile.

“Angel! I just tried to call you. I was about to leave for the shop.” She backed away to let him enter, and he gave her a warm smile, coupled with a look she hadn’t seen from him since the days they had dated, and she felt her cheeks warm.

“Sorry. My phone got smashed last night, and I haven’t had a chance to get a new one.” Angel looked around the room as he spoke, as if surveying it. He turned and gave her the same warm smile, but Amanda suddenly felt unease. His smile did not reach his eyes.

“Smashed? How?” Amanda stayed by the door, but Angel waved her in towards the bed.

“Long story. Did you find out anything about Bible?”

“I did collect some files.” Amanda pointed to the briefcase, “Which I figure we can all pour over together this afternoon.” Curious, she asked, “How’s Charlie?”

“She’s fine.” Angel said dismissively, “But that’s not why I came over. I figured we could look over the information alone.”

“Alone?”

“Sure. I mean, we’ve not had a real chance to spend some time together in a very long time. I miss the old days with you.”

“What?” Amanda blinked. “Angel? What do you mean?

“Oh, come on, Amanda. We had so much fun back before I went into the service, and I never, truly ever forgot about those days or us.” Angel’s voice turned thick with desire, and he stepped up to her, raising his hand to slide along her cheek. “And I’m pretty sure you haven’t either.”

“Angel. You have Charlie, now. Why are you acting this way?” While she felt unease, his words rang true. She’d moved on, but she hadn’t forgotten, and his sudden affection triggered certain memories. Memories and moments that interfered with her reasoning.

“Charlie’s nice and all, but she isn’t you. We could solve this case ourselves, get you back in good graces with the agency, and start up again. I’m tired of being rogue. Working with you brought back too many good memories.”

Amanda was dumbfounded for a moment and tried to get her brain working. Something was causing her body to stir, which went against everything she’d just figured out with Ethan, and finally letting Angel go entirely. His hand on her cheek was so warm, and she felt it slip down onto her shoulder and then lower to her breast. She gasped softly and peered up into his brown eyes. “Angel?”

“Shhh,” Angel ordered. “I just want a taste.” His tone held no quarter and her body obeyed.

He bent his head as he lifted her chin with his other hand, and she felt his lips press firmly against hers. The kiss was electric, sparking vivid memories of their teenage love-making, and her body melted into his. Lust, guilt, greed, and shame all blended together. For years and years, she bottled away the feelings she’d had for Angel, and that bottle shattered the moment his lips touched hers. I’m going to hell for this, I know it. Yet, in the back of her mind, warning bells were going off that her sexually charged brain would not heed.

Letting her head droop back, she felt Angel’s mouth slip down her neck, nipping and licking, and she let out a loud moan of pleasure. She felt his free hand slip between her legs, and her long neglected puss* screamed yes with a powerful ache of need. Her body seemed to lose all sense of control when his hand ripped away the top of her blouse and pulled her bra down to expose her left breast. Shocked by his violent movement, it only raised the level of her desire, and she did not care what he did to her clothes or to her. Hot gasps of pleasure blew from her lips as she felt his mouth clamp around her nipple. His tongue danced on it, teasing it and bringing it to full attention. Angel’s other hand nearly lifted her off her feet as he pushed upwards against her groin, and she felt herself fall backward onto the messed-up bed.

“Angel, oh, my God, Angel… I’ve missed you!” Amanda moaned, her eyes shut tight and tears dripping down the sides of her face from a mixture of desire and regret. Her hands reached up to grab Angel’s back, to caress his body as he moved in on her, and that’s when her mind clicked.

It wasn’t a shirt that she felt in her hands, but fur—thick, matted, greasy fur—and Amanda opened her eyes. Before she could scream, she felt a clawed hand lock itself over her mouth. Licking her bare nipple was not Angel, but a creature out of one’s worst nightmares. Lifting its mouth from her nipple, which was now bleeding, the thing licked its long tongue across its gross, blackish lips.

“You may be the sweetest piece of meat I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting, human. I can’t believe Angel let this go.” Muffled cries seeped through his claw as Amanda struggled uselessly to move, and Rygen just grinned even more. “Since I was dragged onto this hellish realm called Earth by the pathetic human, Samedi, I have been shot, cursed, and nearly killed by the very Princess of Hell herself. You can not begin to imagine the heights of my rage. Yet, despite all of that, I shall make you a promise that I do not often grant many of my victims, since my time with you is short. Your death will be quick.”

He leaned down and sniffed her skin, delighting in the strong aroma of fear mixed with latent sexual desire that wafted from Amanda’s bare breast. He drew his long, wet tongue along the nipple again, smirking at her body’s mixed reactions, and wondered; What would it feel like to mate with a human female?

Her cries carried muffled words and Rygen let his clawed hand slide away from Amanda’s mouth, interested in what she would say. Amanda gasped as fresh air mixed with the foul smell of Rygen’s claw drew into her lungs, and she coughed hard. Through the coughing, she spit out, “What the hell are you? Let me go!”

“You may call me Rygen, sweet meat. Be assured, your death will be the only one I grant quickly. Angel, for what he did to me. That bitch, what she did to me? Their fates will be so much worse.”

As she’d been struggling without success to get out of Rygen’s grip, Amanda had managed to get her one hand down behind her back to her waist, where her small handgun lay tucked in her pants. She kept the demon talking as she silently slipped it from her waistband. “Why me?”

Rygen chucked. “Why, to hurt them, of course. They will know what I did to you in all its gory detail, and oh, how they will suffer.”

Gritting her teeth, Amanda hissed, “So will you, asshole!”

With a grunt, Amanda pulled her arm free and aimed her gun into Rygen’s face. Before she could pull the trigger, however, white-hot pain flashed across her eyes, and she screamed only for a moment before Rygen’s claw slammed down onto her jaw, breaking it. Her eyes darted to her arm, which ended halfway between her elbow and her wrist. Hot, sticky blood spurted out from the end as if from a crimped hose. The rest of it was gone, having been swallowed down Rygen’s gullet. She felt his claws squeeze into her cheeks, piercing the skin, and copper-tasting blood began to leak down the back of her throat.

Agonizing fear, pain, and defeat closed in on Amanda as she watched Rygen rear back, laughing, “Oh, my, little meat, you almost had me! But you may thank Angel in the afterlife, for he taught me to be ready for such trickery. Don’t worry, though. I will keep my promise!”

With that, she watched in horror as Rygen’s jaws opened up far greater than they should have been able to, and the last thing Amanda Sims saw was the back of Rygen’s throat before all went dark.

***

Special Agent in Charge Mike Stefon stepped out of the elevator of the hotel where Amanda was staying and looked at the numbers to direct him down the correct hallway. He was in a foul, foul mood. Bible had called back and instructed him to go see Amanda personally in the morning to debrief her entirely about the events at the warehouse and collect any and all files she may have gathered. Files he knew she’d been able to get with favors pulled, and then he’d send her back to D.C. for good. Bible had mentioned it may be best to eliminate her, but for once, Stefon was able to convince him it would cause more trouble to explain her disappearance.

What bothered him, though, wasn’t the order or that Bible relented on the extreme measures, but how jovial and rather benign the call had been. It was not at all like Bible, but perhaps finally, he saw the value in Stefon’s position and backed off. Perhaps it would lead to a bit less stress in the future, having to work for such a crime boss. Following the numbers until he reached Amanda’s room, Stefon steadied himself for the confrontation and knocked. He waited for a couple of moments, then knocked again.

“Just a moment.” He heard Amanda’s voice and nodded quietly in response.

Listening, he heard some movement in the room, then soft footsteps coming toward the door. He heard the locks click as they were undone and the door opened. Amanda, dressed in a see-through nightgown, stood unabashedly before him, dabbing what appeared to be ketchup with a napkin from her lips. “Why, Mike, what brings you here this morning?”

“M-miss Sims.” Stefon stuttered and averted his eyes, “Do you greet all your guests in this manner?”

Amanda looked down and smiled, “It’s quite the conversation starter, don’t you think, Mike?”

“You’ll address me as Agent Stefon,” Stefon said in a stern voice, while he trained his eyes on the edge of the door frame.

“Oh, so business-like. You caught me finishing breakfast, but I’ve yet to have dessert. Why don’t you come in?”

“Shouldn’t you put on something more decent?”

“I promise, I will. Please, just come in. My food’s getting cold.”

With a sigh and eyes still looking anywhere but at Amanda, Stefon stepped past her and into the room. As he felt he’d not have to stare at Amanda anymore, he let his eyes drop towards the room and caught sight of what was on the bed, and he gasped loudly. He saw the body of a dead woman, her head gone, as was most of the right side of her body. Entrails draped over the side of the bed, which was soaked in a pool of warm blood. “What in the hell!?”

“She wasn’t the most gourmet meal I’ve ever had.” Amanda’s voice blended into something darker and sinister, and Stefon spun around in shock to see Rygen, in all his hellhound glory, settling down from his bi-pedal human form into a more comfortable stance. “So, I really hope you’ll be a tastier dessert. Oh, and Bible sends his regrets. He really did like you.”

Stefon never had a chance. Rygen pounced, and, with a swipe of his massive claws, he tore open Stefon’s stomach, spilling his intestines and bowels onto the tacky hotel carpet. Stefon’s lips moved, but no sound came out as Rygen clamped his massive jaws over the agent’s face and squeezed. Like a ripe melon, brain matter and skull bits burst into the demon’s giant maw. Rygen relished the delicious taste of the FBI agent, and for the moment, he didn’t much care that he was bound to Samedi. Humans were quite delicious.

Chapter 64: I Owe You A Few Bruises

Chapter Text

Late-morning sunlight softly illuminated the bed, warming Angel’s cheeks. He opened his eyes, shielded his face with an arm, and rolled to his side, away from the window. He lay there for a moment as multiple thoughts raced through his mind: Rygen’s attack, Charlie saving him, his sister’s panicked work to stop his bleeding, and then waking up to Charlie healing him. Angel shook his head softly, amazed at how powerful Charlie was becoming. Clutching the beaded necklace around his neck, he thought, In the end, this saved me from Rygen, but it was meant for Charlie, and I don’t want it anymore. Lifting it up and over his head, Angel opened the nightstand drawer and dropped it inside. It was like shedding away a layer of himself, one that was unconsciously worried about Charlie. No more would that be the case.

Sitting up, Angel stretched, cracked his neck, and felt good! The next thought that commanded his attention was much, much more pleasant. Charlie, just Charlie. To think about her—who she was, not what she was—and how much he’d fallen in love with her. Angel felt a silly grin spread across his face as he thought of their lovemaking earlier, and he definitely was glad that they didn’t let anything hold them back anymore.

Her tears, though. Those made his heart ache. He hoped that from this point on, he would never see her suffer like that again. Not for him or because of him. He made a silent promise to always be the shelter for her soul.

With a soft sigh, Angel swung his legs over the side of the bed and set his bare feet down on the soft carpet. Standing, he collected some clothes from the dresser and went into the bathroom to have a short shower. He wanted to see his ladies and check on how the training was coming along, and then he’d see about retrieving anything salvageable from the car. As he passed by the mirror, something caught his eye, and he turned sharply. His eyes widened in surprise. Touching his bare chest, he saw it was smooth, as if he’d never been in war at all. There were no telltale signs of a life spent fighting—no scars, no bullet holes—and certainly nothing indicating he’d nearly been killed the night before.

Charlie’s power hadn’t just healed his wounds; she’d restored him and made him whole again. Angel touched the firm, smooth skin above his heart and realized her love had healed his soul as well. He was finally free of the grief and torment he’d carried all those years. Taking a deep breath, Angel decided that it was time to stop punishing himself; it was time to live again.

***

Clouds had rolled in and blocked out a part of the sun’s rays, which washed relief over both Charlie and Cassie. They’d been focused on training for nearly two hours, and sweat had beaded heavily on their brows.

“Okay, Charlie, for this next one, I’m going to show you how to skip-catch. This is good for balance and concentration, and I think with your power, it will make a good defensive posture.” Cassie held her staff out horizontally in front of her, and Charlie, standing face-to-face with Cassie about ten feet apart, mirrored her movements.

“Like this?” Charlie asked as she followed, and Cassie nodded approvingly.

“Yes. Now watch me.” Cassie started slowly so Charlie could see her hand placements, then began to pick up speed. Charlie whistled softly at the precise movements and Cassie’s technique and tried to keep up but dropped the staff twice, and her demon voice growled with frustration.

“Easy, darlin’.” Cassie smirked, “It’s okay to mess up when you’re learning.”

“I just want to know everything so I can protect Angel better.” And repeat this morning over and over and over and over—Charlie smirked to herself.

“Then don’t think ahead,” Cassie suggested, and then grinned wickedly and winked, “Or, be stuck in the past.”

Charlie swallowed and her face exploded in heat, “H—how? How did you know?”

Cassie set her staff down, and the warmth and love in her smile held no tease, “You know I can feel your power even from afar, remember? It’s not potent. More like an echo. But this morning, that echo screamed. I wasn’t sure at first what it was. I still thought Angel was injured and it confused me so much. When you told me you’d healed him, I thought at first that was what the power burst had been. But you’ve been glowing all morning, Charlie. I put two and two together.”

“Oh, my.” Charlie turned away, truly embarrassed.

“Don’t be embarrassed, sis. I know you both were in pain with all we’ve had to go through. I don’t feel that pain anymore. Only love. There’s power in love. I told Angel that, and it’s about time he found himself. With you. I’m so happy for the both of you.”

Charlie still felt the warmth in her cheeks radiating, but she turned back around to face Cassie, “I feel it, too. And I want to use it. Use it to protect Angel, to be his armor.” She got back in position. Get back to the now and maybe not feel so embarrassed! “You said don’t think ahead or be stuck in the past?”

“Right.” Cassie picked her staff back up and said, “Stay in the moment. Watch.” Cassie repeated the beginning steps, and Charlie narrowed her eyes to watch every twist and how Cassie would cross her wrists, with her upper hand turning her palm up to catch the staff and twist it to her lower hand. Charlie’s eyes widened as Cassie’s movements got faster and faster, until the spins looked to Charlie like the propeller of an airplane. Cassie kept going and nodded for Charlie to try again. Charlie started with careful movements and soon began to pick up speed as her demon reflexes took over. Soon, it was Cassie who whistled in awe as Charlie was twisting her staff so fast it became a blur, and Cassie felt the wind from the power of her spins.

“Damn, girl.” Cassie smiled, “You got it!”

Charlie giggled as she stopped and bowed to Cassie appreciatively, “I think I understand now. Focus on the grip and stance, and let the motions repeat fluidly.”

“Exactly.” Cassie said, impressed, “Let’s try this one. It’s called ‘Let the pinkie lead the way’. With this one, you can modify it to take out those in front and to your sides.”

Cassie demonstrated again slowly, but Charlie was catching on faster and faster, and after a while and a few other techniques, Cassie took a challenging stance: “I’m sure you recall how I beat you up last night?”

“Oh, how could I forget?” Charlie smirked as she took on her own defensive posture. “I owe you a few bruises,” and with a pause, Charlie let her demon voice finish, “Sis!”

Cassie chuckled as she began to move slowly, combining techniques and looking to catch Charlie off guard. “Smart. You’re using your innate abilities mixed with the training as a way to make your opponent nervous.” Cassie suddenly dropped to one knee, spun her staff along the ground, and nearly clipped Charlie’s feet, but she was more prepared than before and hopped up. Still, Cassie was far more trained for such combat, and she swung the staff up hard and caught Charlie in the hip, and she stumbled. Cassie watched Charlie’s horns sprout out, and red eyes glowed at her as Charlie found her footing. “But of course, I’m not scared of you—sis!”

Charlie let her full hybrid form spill forth, and her claws gripped the staff to the point it almost cracked, but her demon voice held a tint of amusem*nt: “Oh, come on!”

“Let your power flow, sweetie. Just know that with me, you’re going to have to really rely on what I’ve been training you. Try everything; come at me with all you’ve got!”

Charlie did exactly that, starting with the pinkie move to drive Cassie backwards, twisting her wrists to lower and raise her attack to avoid Cassie’s blocks. Charlie nearly had Cassie back against one of the dojo walls when Cassie suddenly dropped her staff. In the heat of the moment, Charlie moved in to attack Cassie for her mistake, but she heard what Cassie saw and stopped. Turning her eyes towards the door, Charlie’s features melted back into her human form, and she grinned wide at Angel, who leaned against the door frame watching the two practice. Charlie felt more than saw Cassie’s energy move past her, and then watched Cassie grab Angel in a tight embrace.

“Kevin!” Cassie’s voice was thick with feeling: “Thank the goddesses, you’re alright!”

Angel returned the embrace and closed his eyes, “I’m sorry to put you through all of this, sis. Thank you so much for saving my life.”

“Always!” Cassie wiped her eyes as she took a step back, “I can’t believe Charlie was able to heal you. It’s a real miracle.”

Charlie stepped up to the siblings, staff still in hand, and Angel opened an arm for her to nestle herself into him. “Yes, she is,” said Angel as he felt her settle against him.

Cassie chuckled at Charlie’s cheeks turning crimson.

Charlie shook her head. “I’m glad, but… if I didn’t have these powers…” She looked at Angel, “I nearly died with you last night.”

Angel nodded and moved a few strands of hair out of Charlie’s face, “We were all lucky you found your power, Charlie, and now we know more about what you can do… and,” Angel’s demeanor turned serious, “what Samedi, under Bible’s guidance, can do.”

The celebratory air was suffocated under the reminder of last night and the three were silent for a moment. Angel continued, “Rygen may be dead and gone, but Samedi could call up more demons.”

“Yes. Though, from the texts I’ve read and my conversations with my coven sisters, violent summonings exact a great deal of metaphysical energy out of the summoner. They won’t feel weak by any means, but their internal energies need to recharge before they can do another summoning. If they do anything like that before they’re fully recharged, it would then manifest in physical ways. Since it seems Rygen may be days old, at the most,. I’d be confident enough to believe we should be fine for a few days, at least,” Cassie assured them.

“That’s good to know. It will let us focus on trying to pinpoint where Bible is. I just hope Amanda has found something in the files she’s collecting.”

“Has she called?” Cassie asked before remembering that Angel had no phone.

“With my phone busted up, I don’t know, and I don’t have her number memorized, or I’d borrow yours. We’ll just have to wait for her to show.”

“There’s still an hour before noon. I’m going to teach Charlie a few more tricks, then we’ll grab lunch. If Amanda gets here by then, we can go over everything she brings.”

“Sounds good. Umm,” Angel remembered and looked chastised with the next question, “About your car?”

“I got it back here before it gave up completely,” Cassie shrugged, “but it’s definitely done for.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Charlie took payment out of Rygen, and you’re okay.” Cassie shook her head, smiling. “That’s all that really matters to me.”

“So, it’s parked in the back?”

“Yup.”

“Then I’m going to collect the arsenal I’d bought and see what I can salvage out of the groceries. Meet you in an hour in the shop?”

“Deal.”

Angel leaned into Charlie and gave her a soft kiss on the lips, “Go easy on my sister, okay, princess?”

With a wink, Charlie suddenly jabbed her staff out and caught Cassie in the shoulder, who grunted and stumbled back, “Just as easy as she did on me last night!”

“Why, you little demon!” Cassie skipped backwards and fetched her staff, taking on a challenging stance again, “That’s the last time you get one up on me!”

Angel laughed and stepped back as Charlie lunged at Cassie, and the two began to spar in earnest. Taking that as his cue to leave, Angel opened the door and took the stairs down to the main floor and out to the back.

Chapter 65: Have You Ever Seen A Demon Before?

Chapter Text

Amanda Sims walked casually down Decatur Street, carrying a worn brown leather satchel over her shoulder. As she moved among the morning tourists, she took in the multitude of aromas the various humans gave off, patted her engorged stomach, and covered her mouth to burp.

How rude and not very ladylike! She grinned, but she was no lady. Eyes gleaned in the bright light, hiding the red glow that emanated from them, and Amanda’s throat rumbled lightly in Rygen’s demon tone. Well fed on the bodies of Amanda and Stefon, it had helped to calm his rage at being under the control of Samedi, and he even relished in the plan he was about to carry out. As he turned the corner, his strong sense of smell picked up the lingering scents of Cassie, Angel, and the bitch herself coming from the witchcraft shop a few storefronts down.

Rygen reached up and felt the beaded necklace around his neck, which held a spell to mask his mystical presence. It was the same spell Samedi had used in the warehouse, so they knew it would keep the princess from sensing him as he carried out his plan. Now, it would all depend on her not being with Angel when he approached him under his current guise as their friend, Sims. Taking a deep whiff, Rygen’s eyes drifted up towards the roof above the shop and sensed that she was up there and that Angel’s smell was not among them. He grinned and moved at a quick pace to reach the shop and take care of business.

***

Inside the shop at the main counter, Davis sat perched on a shop stool and sipped on an iced coffee as he flipped through the pages of a geometry book, taking notes on a notepad next to him. The morning had been very slow with almost no customers, and while Davis enjoyed the interactions, he was grateful for the peace and quiet to get ahead on some of his studies. Focused on solving an equation, he almost did not hear the front door bell chime and actually jumped a bit as the bell’s sound broke the silence. He looked up, noticed the young woman who’d walked in, and smiled in greeting.

“Welcome to ‘Charmed, I’m Sure’. May I help you with anything?”

With a quick cursory glance around the store, Rygen confirmed that they were alone and offered a genuine smile at the young man. “You might. Are you the shop owner?”

Davis shook his head, “No, I just help Cassie out part time. Were you looking for her?”

“Not particularly.” Rygen smirked as he took a few steps into the shop. He eyed the various trinkets and artifacts on display, noticing that most were worthless junk but also taking a keen interest in some of the items that he could tell held real power. Whether this Cassie knew the difference between the two, he couldn’t guess, but he would not dismiss her outright. “There are quite a variety of magical items in here. Are you a practitioner yourself?”

Davis let out a laugh. “Afraid not. Cassie’s the one with the gifts. I just enjoy learning about the different branches of witchcraft, from herbology to the casting of spells, and even a bit of the summonings sounds intriguing.”

So. Rygen thought to himself, The witch knew her stuff. He moved among the displays as he continued to interrogate the human. “Summonings? You mean like calling up a demon from Hell?”

“Something along those lines, I suppose.” David shrugged as he watched the young woman approach the counter, her eyes gazing over every inch of the store. “I guess I more enjoy the work that goes into creating a circle, the materials needed, and the lore behind it. We have a few books on the subject if it interests you.”

“Honestly,” Rygen’s voice cooled, “I am not very fond of summonings. They bind the demon to the summoner like a slave. It’s pathetic.”

Sensing he’d offended the young woman but having no idea how, Davis bowed his head solemnly. “I didn’t mean to offend you, miss.”

As he peered down into the cabinet with the crystals and amulets on display, Rygen let his eyes drift up to Davis, and he gave him Amanda’s sexy smile, “You did not. It’s just a personal quirk of mine.” She then added with a generous lick of her lips, “Have you ever seen a demon before?”

Grateful he’d not offended the lady, and surprised by her behavior, Davis chuckled nervously, “No. As much as I love the study of magic, it’s difficult to believe that summonings, or demons, could be a real thing.”

“Oh, they’re very real.” Rygen grinned, his facade’s smile looking cool and predatory, which startled Davis. Out of sight of Davis’s eyes, Rygen’s hand performed a small figure-eight circle, and the lock on the shop door turned with a silent click. “Would you like to see one?”

“Miss?” The air in the shop turned cold, and Davis felt fear creep along his spine. The woman’s eyes seemed to subtly change while she pulled out a strange-looking glass ball out of her satchel.

“Do you know what this is?” Rygen gleefully asked. The young man’s fear made Rygen’s stomach growl.

“N…no?” Davis found his gaze pulled towards the ball, despite the warning bells going off in his head. “What is it?”

“It holds a particularly fun spell.” Rygen rolled the ball under his finger along the glass top of the case. “When released, it creates a silent bubble that muffles all the sounds within it from the outside world. Once you speak the spell, all you have to do is tap the ball three times to activate it.”

To demonstrate, Rygen spoke a spell that Davis could not understand, “Absorbe omnes sonitus intus,” then tapped the top of the ball three times. Davis watched in awe as the glass ball pulsed and a soft grayish light burst out of the ball and bathed the entire store in its flickering light for a few seconds. Rygen picked up the ball and dropped it into the satchel. “Now, no one outside of the room will hear a thing.”

“Uh.” Davis started to slip off the stool. “What purpose does such a spell serve?”

With a laugh, Rygen asked, “Isn’t it obvious, meat?” Quickly, he lashed out with a clawed hand and grabbed Davis by the collar of his shirt, pulling him hard against the counter, “It’s so no one can hear the sound of your screams.”

Davis did indeed scream, as the woman before him changed into something incredibly frightening. He saw a creature that he recognized from one of the books he had read during the research he’d done for Cassie, and a name slipped from his lips: “Rygen!?”

Rygen blinked in surprise. “You’ve heard of me, human?”

“I…” Davis choked from the pressure on his throat as Rygen’s claw slipped around his neck. “I have seen you in one of the books. You’re a hellhound, one of the deadliest in the texts. It called you ‘The Devourer’!”

“Mmmmm!” Rygen licked his lips, “That I am.”

Rygen dragged Davis over the counter, slammed him harshly on the floor in front of it, and leaned down as his shape continued to morph back into his natural form. He watched Davis struggle to sit up against the counter, and he let him have the moment to do so. Davis’ voice cracked with fear. “Please. What do you want?”

Rygen sniffed hungrily at Davis’s scent, which was now saturated in fear and despair, his favorite seasonings. He shook his head, “Unfortunately, time doesn’t grant me what I really want. To feast on you slowly and savor every morsel. I have too much to do and too little time to do it. Harumph. Plus, I’m rather full, so I’m afraid you’ll just have to go to waste.”

Hyperventilating, Davis watched Rygen’s claw trace up from his groin to his throat, Tears streaming down his face, he wept, “Please, please don’t.”

Rygen’s maw turned into a wicked, dark grin as he pushed his foreclaw deep into Davis’ throat and pulled downward, splitting Davis’ torso open from throat to groin. Davis’ arms flailed about helplessly as his eyes rolled to the back of his head. Blood poured out and down both sides of Davis’ quivering body as his eyes rolled back in his head and blood gurgled out of his choking mouth. Rygen watched the man suffer as life seeped from his mutilated body before he took his other claw and, with both hands, pulled his chest apart. Cracking his ribs out of the way, Rygen plunged his claws into Davis’ body and ripped out his heart. Sniffing it lovingly to draw in the scent, Rygen allowed himself a bit of dessert and bit deep into the tissue, chewing it slowly.

Once finished with his morsel, Rygen reared up on his hind legs to his full height, burped loudly, and let himself return to the form of Amanda Sims. He then retrieved the satchel he’d dropped while killing Davis. Drawing his hand out of the satchel, Rygen gripped a large vial of red fluid and pulled the stopper off the top. Whispering a spell under his breath, Rygen flicked the vial outward in a semicircle towards the middle of the shop, and the vibrant red fluid expanded into torrents of mystical fire, coating over and along all of the merchandise in the shop.

Rygen watched as the books shriveled up in the fire, which burned cold and quietly. He smirked as the incense began to burn in bulk, the artifacts and jewelry melted, and the stands themselves became scorched. Rygen looked down into the counter where the crystals and amulets lay and shook the vial. A bit of the red liquid dripped onto the case, immediately melting the glass and falling onto the collection of crystals, and they started to explode like popcorn shells.

Laughing with vicious glee, Rygen kicked the various stands over and danced between the flickering fires, tossing items that were missed into the fires. He watched the entire shop all but disintegrate before his eyes. It took mere minutes before the entire shop had been destroyed, and satisfied that Cassie would not be able to salvage anything, Rygen walked casually over to Davis’ body and knelt beside him, careful not to get Amanda’s skirt in the blood. Sliding a delicate finger along the ridge of his mangled rib cage, Rygen brought a bloody finger to his lips and sucked on it, cleansing it of the blood. “I’m sorry I couldn’t finish you, my dear boy. Especially to honor you for knowing who I am.”

Rygen turned his eyes upward and looked at the ceiling. From what Samedi had told him, Cassie lived in the apartment above, and that is where he would find Angel, or what was left of him after what Rygen had done to him. He looked to the side door, smirked, and thought, Let’s go see how much damage we did to the meat.

Standing, Rygen walked over and grabbed the door knob and pulled hard, which broke the lock, and he opened it slowly. With a sniff, he confirmed no one was in the hallway and stepped out. With another strong whiff, Rygen’s eyes opened wide in surprise. Angel was not upstairs, as he expected, but outside in the back. This did not make sense to Rygen. He expected Angel to be laid up in bed, dying, and easy to pluck from under the nose of the princess. With care, Rygen moved to the door that led to the back parking lot and opened it slowly. Eyes that could see in pure darkness peered through the crack, and real shock ran down Rygen’s spine. There, next to the car he’d crashed into the night before, he saw Angel moving with ease and looking healthy, removing bags from the back seat of the car.

How!? Rygen growled deeply, thinking, How is he not near death? Where are the wounds I gave him?

With careful movement, Rygen closed the back door and closed his eyes. This changed things. He had intended to use a trance spell on Angel and whisk him away in silence. Since the bubble spell had been confined to the interior of the shop, if Angel got off any kind of warning, it would reach the princess on the roof. He considered trying to get Angel up to the apartment itself, where he could use another bubble spell discretely and then subdue Angel with the sleep spell, but again, it could catch the attention of the two on the roof.

f*ck! Rygen glowered. He would have to lure Angel into the destroyed shop, act distraught, and hope the act would work long enough to catch him off guard. It would be a mix of luck and timing to carry out this modified plan, but Rygen saw no choice. Moving back towards the door to the shop, Rygen closed his eyes and opened his ears fully. He would just have to wait for Angel to come through the back door, and then he could begin his act.

Chapter 66: Taken

Chapter Text

Taking a guess at the strength Rygen had thrown into his attack, Angel stood at the side of the wrecked Prius and shook his head softly as he ran his hand along the dented driver’s side door. Despite nearly dying, Angel had to appreciate the power that Rygen held and knew that if Charlie ever let herself go, she could likely do as much, if not more, damage. Moving to the back, Angel pulled on the trunk and lifted the tailgate and took inventory of the mess. Most of what he’d bought would be salvageable, and only some of the cold food items were wasted. Still, it was the weapons he’d purchased that drew his attention. Picking up the box he’d stored his purchases in, Angel lifted up the second gun he’d acquired, a Smith & Wesson M&P 5.7. Opening a box of bullets, he swiftly loaded it and slipped it into his waistband. He then gathered up the rest of what he could salvage into the box and set it on the ground to close the trunk.

Turning his head to listen, Angel could barely hear the girls on the roof sparring and smirked as he picked up the box and made his way to the back door. Propping the box on his knee, he twisted the handle and slipped inside just as he saw Amanda come from the shop, pale and shaking.

“Amanda!?” Angel dropped the box and ran to her.

She looked at him with wide eyes, her body shaking. “Angel! Oh, my God! It’s horrible!”

Reaching her, Angel took her by the shoulders to stop her shaking, and she melted against him. “What happened?”

“The shop. It’s…the young man…he’s…” Amanda stuttered, and Angel looked past her to the door, which was propped part way open; the frame busted outward. He moved Amanda aside, carefully walked to the door, and pulled it open the rest of the way. Angel gasped at the condition of Cassie’s shop. Everything was burned, but no fire was present, nor was there any apparent stench of a fire. He stepped in carefully, pulling the gun from his waist as he moved into the shop, with Amanda following behind at a distance. After a few steps, Angel stopped. Closing his eyes, he stilled himself and took a deep breath. When he opened them, he took in Davis’s body and grieved. Kneeling next to the body, Angel quickly assessed the damage.

“Did you see anyone?” Angel turned to Amanda, who was holding her arms in her hands. He understood her fear. She’d just met Charlie, and now this.

“When I pulled up, I thought someone might have been coming from the shop, but I wasn’t really paying attention.”

Rising, Angel quickly moved to the front door and pulled, but it didn’t budge. Noticing it was locked, he turned the latch, pulled the door open, and looked outside. With a quick turn of his head left to right, he took in the tourists moving along the sidewalks and roads. He scanned down the street in each direction, noticed a few empty parking spots, and took a deep breath. Letting the air slowly seep out through pursed lips, Angel Stepped back into the shop, re-locked the door and froze.

“Angel?” Amanda’s soft voice came from the counter next to Davis’ body: “Do you see anyone?”

Switching the safety off his gun, Angel slowly turned and lifted the weapon to point directly at Amanda, who’s eyes widened in shock. “Angel!?”

“Who are you?” Angel’s voice was colored with deep suspicion.

Amanda shook her head. “Jesus Christ, Angel, what are you doing? It’s me! Amanda!”

“No. You’re not.” Angel co*cked the gun and warned, “Last chance.”

Angel watched the change happen before him as ‘Amanda’ straightened up and smiled darkly. “I gotta know, meat. How did you figure me out so quickly?”

A shudder ran down Angel’s spine, and he swallowed audibly. “Rygen?”

As Amanda’s features started to melt away and the demon beast that nearly killed him the night before took her place, a low chuckle answered his question.

“Charlie killed you!”

“Almost. Almost.” Rygen’s smile thinned at the memory. “But not quite. Maybe I’ll regale the tale of my survival if you’ll tell me how you figured me out so fast. I really want to know.”

“The side door bolt is busted, the frame was bent outward. I’m guessing you were in a hurry?” Angel had to control the shaking in his hands, and explaining to Rygen helped, “The front door was locked. It means that whatever killed Davis came in the front and left from the side door, but the only one I saw from the side was ‘Amanda’. You said you pulled up to the shop, so I assumed ‘she’ drove. When I checked outside, I didn’t see her car, and there were open parking spots.”

“Impressive.” Rygen nodded as he shifted again into his own human form, the elegant gentleman he’d taken up upon his summoning, giving Angel a slight bow. “As for my miraculous survival, you may thank Samedi for that. He summoned me back just as your princess speared me. A few seconds later, and she would have succeeded in my death.”

“It seems I have a lot to owe Samedi,” Angel glowered. “Where’s Amanda?”

Rygen licked his lips, eager to share the truth, but knew a different tactic was necessary at the moment. “We have her, and if you don’t do as I say, she’ll be my next meal.” To make a point, Rygen looked directly at Davis’s body, “And I’m very, very hungry.”

Angel looked up towards the ceiling, and Rygen clicked his tongue, “It won’t do you any good. The shop is inside a silence spell, which quells all sound from the outside world. It’s how I was able to—how shall I say—conduct my business with the young man here.”

“You f*cking asshole!” Angel lifted the gun towards Rygen’s face

The demon just laughed. “Kill me, and your little agent bitch dies.”

Anger nearly decided his next action, and it took all of his self-control not to pull the trigger. “What is it you want?”

“Oh, it’s not what I want. It’s what Bible wants. You!”

Bible! Angel eased his finger off the trigger, his eyes shifting around the room to see what he could use, but Rygen was starting to catch on to Angel’s ways.

“Kill me, and Amanda dies. Try to run, and I’ll kill you before your demon bitch can reach you. You have no choice.”

It tore at his soul, but Rygen was right. He had the upper hand on all counts, and Angel saw no other choice. There was also the risky addition of meeting Bible to consider. Switching the safety on, Angel dropped the gun and kicked it away. Rygen smirked and motioned with a single finger for Angel to come to him. Lips pursed and eyes cold, Angel obliged and stepped up to Rygen, careful not to disturb Davis’ body. He watched Rygen open the satchel that he’d been carrying and pull out a vial of black liquid.

“What is that?” Angel felt a chill seep into his voice.

“Oh, do not fear. This will simply mask your scent and put you into a walking trance, so you won’t be able to scream or call out for your bitch princess. It won’t harm you, I promise. You’re to be kept in one piece. But, in your trance, you’ll follow me out of the shop to meet up with Samedi, who is waiting down the street for us.”

Popping the stopper off, Rygen handed it to Angel, who hesitated. “As if I believe you’d keep any promise.”

Rygen’s smile faded, and his voice turned cold. “Take it, meat, and drink it, or my promise to kill your women will be kept.”

With a stuttered breath, Angel obeyed and took the vial and swiftly downed the black liquid, which tasted like spoiled milk, and nearly gagged. The spell took affect immediately. Angel’s eyes glazed over as black liquid seeped into his orbs to cover his brown eyes to pitch, and his expression became mute. Rygen lifted his hand, which had shifted into his massive claw, and caressed Angel’s cheek to test if the spell had taken full control. As he saw no reaction whatsoever from Angel, Rygen was satisfied. Reaching again into the satchel, Rygen took out a burner phone and sat it on the counter, placing a small note next to it. He then smiled darkly, motioning with his finger for Angel to move. “Follow me, meat.”

Rygen stepped past Angel, who deftly turned and matched Rygen’s stride to the front door. Flipping the lock, Rygen took a moment to shake his head and chastise himself for almost screwing up the entire plan by making such a small mistake. Opening the door, Rygen ushered Angel outside, pointed down the sidewalk, and quietly ordered him to walk slowly while Rygen turned and closed the door, with the inner latch clicking, indicating it had locked. Rygen didn’t need a tourist going in and seeing the state of the shop before they’d put some distance between them and the demon princess. Matching pace with Angel, who walked steadily but without so much of a hint of emotion, Rygen guided him to the corner where a black sedan sat, idling.

The passenger window lowered to reveal Samedi’s crooked smile. “Looks like you didn’t screw things up, pet.”

Rygen glowered but then let his lips lift in a smile. “I admit, Master, it was fun. Sims and Stefon are dead, and the shop is destroyed, taking the witch out of the game, and of course, we have Angel.”

Rygen opened the rear door and shoved Angel inside, who hit the seat face first but made no sound, only righting himself to take a seat casually. Samedi chuckled, “Bible will be most pleased, pet. Get in. We need to be in the air before our deeds are discovered. You left the phone where the Collins girl could see it?”

“I did,” Rygen confirmed.

“Excellent. By the time they find it and realize what’s happened, we’ll be safely out of reach.” Samedi explained, “Once she makes the call to Bible to set up the trade, all will be set in motion.”

“We won’t actually be trading, right?” Rygen eyed Angel with a hungry look.

Samedi motioned for the driver to merge the car into traffic and head towards the airport. “Of course not. But don’t get any ideas yet, pet. Bible wants to see Angel in person.”

“Why?” Rygen found himself more curious than he liked.

“Let’s just say it’s a reunion long overdue.”

“Pity.” Rygen frowned. “I owe this human some payback.”

“Patience.” Samedi smiled. “I said Bible wanted to see Angel. He didn’t say he was going to let him live.”

Rygen leaned in to whisper in Angel’s ear, “Did you hear that, meat? Soon we’ll have the princess, and once we do, your soul will belong to me.” Rygen traced his human tongue along Angel’s cheek, tasting the fear on his skin, then sat back in the seat and laughed.

Neither of them saw the single tear that traced a path down Angel’s right cheek.

Chapter 67: The Ultimatum

Chapter Text

“I think that’s more than enough for today!” Cassie said breathlessly as she rubbed a spot Charlie had just connected with on her ribs. She peered at Charlie, who was dancing on her cloven hooves excitedly, lost in the moment, like a lioness ready to pounce. Cassie admired how quickly she was picking up tactics and employing her own modified attacks and defenses. A sudden cough racked Cassie, and she almost doubled over.

Charlie stopped, her gleeful smile replaced by genuine concern. “Did I hurt you?” She asked worriedly, knowing there was a big difference between the pain of training and real injury.

Cassie smirked at her concern, grateful for it and also finding it endearing, “No, sis, nothing worse than what is expected with the level of sparring we’ve been doing. I’m hungry, and I’m sure Angel is waiting for us to get lunch.”

Charlie nodded and reached out to take Cassie’s staff, intending to place them both against one of the dojo walls. When Cassie held her arm out, though, her face showed far more pain than she’d admitted to, accompanied by an audible hiss of pain.

“I did hurt you!” Charlie looked scared. “How bad?”

“It’s nothing, Charlie, okay? I’ve dealt with far worse in the service. It just means you’re learning at a much faster pace than I expected. I’m impressed.”

Cassie’s defiant denial did not soothe Charlie at all. She dropped the staffs right where they were and stepped up to Cassie, opening her arms. Cassie tilted her head curiously.

“Don’t be stubborn,” Charlie scolded, and Cassie accepted her embrace. Charlie called upon the same power she’d used the night before on herself and Angel. Pulling forth her wings and extending them around her and Cassie, a soft, warm glow enveloped the girls. In moments, all the bruises and cuts on both women faded. As the soft glow ebbed, Cassie didn’t immediately pull away and squeezed Charlie’s shoulder from the back.

“You are amazing.” Cassie reaffirmed her statement from the night before.

Charlie smiled against Cassie’s cheek, blushing softly. “So are you, sis. You’ve helped me so much more than I could have ever imagined. I may not remember being a princess, and I know there may be things in my past I should remember, but now? Now, I’m actually glad I don’t know. I want to be here with Angel. To be near you. I want this to be my family, now.”

“But Charlie,” Cassie’s smile faded, “what if you’re needed back home? What if your father, if you truly are the Princess of Hell, were to find you?”

Charlie was quiet for a moment, then spoke firmly, “This is my life, now.”

Cassie stepped back, brushing her hair aside and appraising Charlie as she did. “Are you sure? I mean, I will still do everything in my power to figure out what’s keeping your memories in chains. I want you to have— ”

Charlie put a finger to Cassie’s lips to cut her off, “I know Angel would tell me that knowledge is key to making the right calls. I’m happy without knowing, but I won’t stop you or be upset with you if you keep trying.” Charlie bit her lip softly, “I guess, out of respect for Angel’s teachings, it’s best if you do. At least if you succeed, I can make this decision with all the right reasons.” Charlie smiled, “As for my father? If he does find me?” Charlie’s voice held no indecision: “I’ll declare you my family, and I will fight to protect you. Besides, despite not knowing, I feel like my father is far more benevolent than human’s believe. I trust those feelings.”

“I trust you.” Cassie emphasized, “And thank you for healing a stubborn witch, too.” While she knew Charlie didn’t like it, she offered a mid-waist bow, adding, “Allow your sister to show her respect for Her Majesty’s incredible power, this one time?”

Charlie bowed back in kind, “And allow me to show respect to my ‘Master’, who showed me how to be more than a demon. I will never be able to thank you enough for it.”

They shared a warm smile while Cassie bent, pain-free, to fetch the staffs. Returning them to the dojo, the two stepped into the stairwell and made their way down to the apartment.

“Angel said most of the food was salvageable, but since we also think we have time before Samedi and Bible can regroup, perhaps we’ll just go out for lunch. We’ll leave a note for Amanda with Davis on where we go, so she can join us and we can fill her in on everything.” Cassie suggested as she fetched her key from her pocket and unlocked the door.

“That sounds great. Angel mentioned there were a few places called ‘Vegan’, I think the word was, he wanted to introduce me to.”

“Oh, Lord.” Cassie laughed as she ushered Charlie in ahead of her, “I will never be able to get over the fact that the Princess of Hell is a vegetarian.”

“All life is sacred.” Charlie firmly said, yet a wisp of real anger coated her next words: “Except those who would try to kill my family.”

Cassie stopped and looked at Charlie. “I’ll say this as plainly as I can: When it comes to the likes of Samedi, Bible, and the monsters that plague our world, if Charlie the demon takes them out, I will be right there by her side.”

The two women exchanged a look of understanding before Cassie called out, “Angel? We’re back. Are you hungry?”

Silence greeted them. Cassie looked at Charlie, who had tilted her head, her face showing concern, “I don’t hear him. I also don’t smell him.”

“Is he in the store?” Cassie asked.

Charlie tilted her head more, opening up her hearing, and quickly looked at Cassie, “I can’t hear anything. Not even Davis, or any customers.”

Turning on her heels, Cassie ran for the door with Charlie right behind her, and they barreled down the stairs into the hallway outside of the shop. Cassie stopped, with Charlie almost running into her.

“Cassie?”

“The door.” Cassie pointed to the damaged frame.

Powering up, Charlie stepped defensively in front of Cassie and moved cautiously to the door. Opening it, she peered inside, and Cassie heard her fearful, frightened gasp. Cassie pushed her aside and stumbled into the shop, stopping with a start of shock as she took in the destruction. Her eyes darted all through the store, emotional pain and loss drowning her, yet it was nothing compared to what she saw next. Eyes tracing the store towards the counter, Cassie gasped at the same time as Charlie, whose sense of smell had picked up the blood.

“DAVIS!” Cassie ran and dropped next to the young man’s body, lifting his head onto her lap, tears blinding her. “No! No. Oh God, no, Davis!”

Charlie swallowed her own cry and knelt next to Cassie, peering at the body and taking in what had killed him. She recognized very quickly what had done the deed. “Rygen!” Charlie’s demon voice growled deeply.

Cassie wiped her eyes as she cradled Davis, “It can’t be. You killed him!”

“I did. I mean, I thought I did. He evaporated after I speared him. I thought I’d sent him back to Hell.”

Cassie wept for a moment, unable to articulate. Charlie lifted her head to take in the shop more closely, “He used the same spell that killed the girl. This is magic fire.”

Cassie traced her fingers along Davis’ forehead, pain and rage building inside her. He didn’t deserve this. He had a future. He was innocent. Cassie’s shoulders shook in silent sobs.

Charlie felt deep pain for Davis, and she attacked herself mentally and mercilessly for failing yet again. She failed Davis just as she’d failed Angel when Rygen attacked him.

“ANGEL!” The shock of finding Davis had temporarily distracted her thoughts, and Charlie suddenly realized, “Where’s Angel?”

The same shock that had blinded Cassie was erased by Charlie’s cry, and she looked up, “He’s not here! Oh, God.”

Charlie stood, her demon form exploding into the dark-haired, demonic creature she became for those she hunted. With a wail not unlike the screech of a banshee, she flew towards the front door, blinded by rage, fear and pain.

“Charlie!” Cassie shouted, “STOP!”

As if pulled by an invisible chain, Charlie stopped in place and floated close to the ceiling, washed in a demonic cloud, her physical form enveloped by her long black, floating hair and blood-red eyes. She turned towards Cassie, her demon voice fully saturating her normally sweet one, “No! Let me go find Angel.”

“Not like that, Charlie. Don’t you realize what you are right now?”

No answer came from the demonic being hovering near the top of the store, and the eyes just glowered at Cassie, as if she were the demon’s next target. Cassie knew instinctively she was safe, even though she also felt Charlie was almost out of control. “Charlie, sweetie, my dear sister. We need to think. If you go out like this, you’ll be discovered, and then what? How can we find Angel if we’re hunted? Please? Come down?”

A slight hesitation made Cassie worry that Charlie was gone, but then she watched with relief as the mass of black hair receded, changing to blonde as Charlie touched down, now back in her hybrid form. When her hooves flattened on the floor, Charlie dropped to her knees and bowed her head, crying softly. Carefully laying Davis’s head on the floor, Cassie grabbed the counter to help herself rise. She had intended to go to Charlie, when she noticed the cell phone and note.

“Charlie?”

With a deep breath, Charlie wiped her nose and looked up as Cassie held up the phone. “What is that?”

Picking up the note, Cassie’s eyes turned cold as she read it: “Dial the number, or Angel dies.”

As if shot from a cannon, Charlie sprung to her feet and ran to stand next to Cassie, who held the phone as if it were cursed. She gripped the note in anger, “This is from Bible.”

“He has Angel?”

“It appears so.” Cassie fingered the call button, hesitating, and Charlie, finding herself back in control, put a hand on Cassie’s shoulder in support. With a long, deep breath, Cassie pressed the call button and set it on speaker phone. In dead silence, they waited as it rang seven times before the click of an answer followed.

“Do I have the pleasure of speaking to Cassandra Collins?” The voice that flowed through the speaker was distorted by a program, disguising Bible’s true voice.

“Yes, damn you. Where’s Kevin!?”

A deep chuckle preceded Bible’s answer: “He will soon be with me, and I promise you can have him back in exchange for the princess.”

The demand came to no shock to either, and Charlie spoke up, “If you hurt him, I will make you pay in blood!”

“Ah, the very princess herself. It is a true pleasure to speak with you, my lady. But do dismiss with the threats. I do not entertain them. If you want him alive, come to me willingly.”

“Where?” Cassie asked as she reached around the counter to open a drawer and grab a pen and paper. Listening intently, Cassie jotted down the information Bible related to her, realizing the area he was sending them to was familiar. Cursing, Cassie dropped the pen when Bible finished. “It is going to take us a couple of days, Bible, you know that?”

“Of course. It’s not like you can teleport to me,” Bible laughed mockingly. “I’m patient, but don’t dwaddle. I do plan to have a bit of ‘fun’ with Angel while waiting for your arrival.”

“Don’t you f*cking hurt him!” Charlie growled in her demon voice, her skin rippling angrily.

Bible just chuckled, “Then I suggest you make haste, dear princess.”

Before Charlie could retort, the line went dead, and she looked at the paper with the information on it and then at Cassie with worried eyes, “Where is this, ‘Libya’?”

“Overseas, and it has no extradition treaty with the U.S. Bible chose the place well.” Cassie’s voice seemed distant, and Charlie touched her shoulder.

“Cassie?”

“I’ve been there.” Cassie whispered, “When Angel and I were in the service, it’s the place where it happened.”

“It?” Charlie asked before it hit her. “You mean what Angel told me? What drove you both from the service? It was there?”

“Yes.” Cassie turned to Charlie, “We need backup.”

“He said to come alone.” Charlie said, but her voice agreed with Cassie’s statement. “Which we’re not going to do, huh?”

“No. Angel and I were not the only ones there. I never stopped keeping track of our old team. I’m going to call them. We need their expertise.”

“I won’t hide who I am from them.” Charlie warned. “Do you think they can handle fighting alongside a demon?”

“We used to fight for one.” Cassie’s cryptic answer confused Charlie, but Cassie was moving towards the door to the hallway. “I’m going to call one of them, explain things, and then call the police. I won’t leave Davis like this.”

“What do I do?” Charlie felt lost.

Cassie stopped, her hand resting on the broken door handle, and she turned to Charlie, “Fuel your rage. This time, we’re going out for war!”

Cassie angrily ripped the door open and walked out. Charlie stood there in silence and took one last look at Davis before she averted her eyes out of respect. Rest in peace, my friend. She let his image, Bible’s demand, and the fear of losing Angel fill her soul. Squaring her shoulders, Charlie turned and followed Cassie out of the shop, her hooves clomping on the titles and when she passed through the doorway, she stopped, looked back, closed her eyes, and eased the door shut on Cassie’s shop.

Angel's Demon V2 - CWBitner (2024)
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