Hello! This story is almost over, and then I'll be working on a sequel. One more chapter left after this one : ) Thank you for reading!
Charlie sat at the bar with Vaggie while Husk reclined on a stool with a bottle in hand, playing solitaire on the counter. The ladies each had a glass of seltzer before them - Vaggie's was half empty and had one cherry floating on top, and Charlie's glass was still full with half a dozen cherries floating on top. Vaggie watched Charlie with a concerned frown while Charlie pouted looking down into her glass. The hotel was silent and empty as usual.
Finally the princess of hell sighed. "I don't know, Vaggie… more people are definitely noticing the hotel but we still don't have any new guests. I thought a demon as powerful as Alastor sponsoring us would at least get some other demons to stop by. And I can't believe no one who's listened to Steve's music has popped in either."
Vaggie put a hand on her shoulder. "Babe, I think this is just gonna take time. Reformation is a totally new concept in hell. But if we make some good progress with Angel Dust - however slow it might be - and as long as Alastor keeps this place looking professional, we'll get there." She smiled.
"You think so?" A little smile came to Charlie's face.
Vaggie nodded. "Of course." She reached for the cherry in her glass. "Want my cherry?"
Charlie bit her lip. "Are you sure?"
"Guys, I've got like two hundred cherries back here," Husk interrupted dryly.
Vaggie just rolled her eyes and popped the cherry onto Charlie's drink. "All yours."
Charlie giggled as she popped the cherry in her mouth.
Then there was a knock on the door.
Husk, Charlie, and Vaggie's heads all turned. Then Vaggie scowled and made her spear appear. "Hun, for the record, I sincerely hope it's a guest. But to be safe I'm answering it armed. For all we know, the only demons Alastor will attract are other overlords ready for a turf war…"
"Heh, yeah, like another overlord would dare." Husk leaned on the counter. "You girls barely know the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what it means having Alastor here."
Vaggie reluctantly lowered her spear. "Maybe it's just Steve."
"No, Steve always knocks like a little tune - also he was playing in the park today." Charlie smiled and looked to the door. "So maybe that means…" She stood up, her hands clasped together, and then walked over to the door, biting her lip in anticipation. Vaggie walked with her.
Charlie opened the door to reveal a short purple sheep demon with a taller blue fish demon. The fish was smiling nervously and standing close to the sheep, holding her hand. The sheep smiled and stepped forward with a deep breath. "Hello! Princess Charlie! Yes, this must be the right place. We want to ask about your hotel."
Vaggie actually cracked a smile and Charlie was beaming. "Yes, please, come inside!" She grabbed each of them by an arm and pulled them in. "It's so nice to meet you! What are your names? Are you both checking in? Where are you from? Can I get you anything!"
"Charlie," Vaggie put her hands on Charlie's shoulder, smiling. "It's okay, breathe. Why don't we just ask them to sit down and we'll get them a drink and then we can talk?" She glanced to the couple. They both nodded, and Charlie quickly guided them to a sofa.
Vaggie went over to Husk at the bar. "Four club sodas - do not spike anything."
Husk grumbled as he grabbed the glasses and the water gun to fill them. "First of all, spiking stuff is Angel's bag. Second of all, why would I bother - just means more booze for me here."
She narrowed her eyes as she grabbed the drinks on a tray. "We're going to get you sober."
"Dream big, sister." Husk grabbed his liquor bottle again
Vaggie rolled her eyes and came over. She set down the tray and sat next to Charlie.
Charlie took a deep breath and managed to speak a little more calmly now. "So, yes this is the hotel. And we are taking can just call me Charlie. And this is Vaggie. And Husk's over at the bar… He's kind of shy, heh."
The sheep smiled. "I'm Louise and this is Abel."
"It's nice to meet you both." Abel held out a hand which Charlie shook vigorously.
"So," Vaggie started, "are you here to get more information or to ask questions? Or have either of you decided to check in?"
"We do have some questions." Abel rubbed the back of his neck. "Is this really a place for demons who…don't feel so demonic?"
"For ones who want to be nice and not mean?" Louise added.
"Of course!" Charlie nodded. "We welcome demons at all stages of becoming better people and reforming themselves."
"And we would actually welcome some guests who are more progressed in their journey," Vaggie added, briefly glancing back at Husk who flipped her off as he continued his card game.
"And it's safe here?" Abel asked, turning serious for a moment. "You're trying to discourage sin so no one's here to sin against you?"
Charlie clasped her hands together. "We know that there might be conflicts between demons going through this process, but we do not want things in here to be like how things are out there." Her look softened. "No one is going to hurt you here. On my honor as a princess. We just want to help."
Louise looked to Abel, wagging her tail. Abel smiled down at her then looked to Charlie and nodded. "Is there a rent cost or a time limit?"
"No time limit," Charlie assured. "And if you'll help out with some chores and really try our program, you can stay here for free. We just want to provide an opportunity."
Louise looked to Charlie again. "And one more question… The Radio Demon is your sponsor, right?"
Charlie bit her lip and Vaggie glanced at her uncomfortably. "Yeah…" Vaggie answered. "He's new… But he's not around too often!"
"A-And he's really sort of interesting." Charlie quickly added. "And I made him promise no sinister voodoo deals!" She blinked, realizing how not good that sounded. "I mean…look, I know Alastor has a reputation, and he's not part of the reform program, but he does seem enthusiastic about being involved in our hotel."
"It's okay." Louise held up a hand. "Actually I wanted to make sure he really was part of this place. If he's here, I definitely want to be here."
Vaggie tilted her head. "I'm sorry, what?"
"Really?" Charlie's enthusiastic smile returned.
Louise nodded. "Yes. I have a good feeling about him." She glanced to Abel who hesitated but then smiled and nodded too.
"So," Charlie held her breath, "do you want to check in?"
At that moment, the kitchen doors opened to reveal Angel Dust playfully nudging Alastor from away using Alastor's own microphone staff. "Dinner just has to keep cooking on the stove. Now it's time for surprise dessert prep! Go lurk somewhere else, Smiles!"
Alastor turned around with his coat over his arm - if a smile could pout, he was making it. "Give me my microphone back! How in the blazes did you get that from me anyway?"
Angel flexed all of his fingers. "Six hands, baby - and I'm good with all of 'em." He popped the microphone into Alastor's hands and smiled right back at him.
"Hey, guys, if you're done with the Vaudeville act, apparently there's company!" Husk called out from the bar.
Alastor and Angel turned to see the girls and their guests. Alastor's ears twitched at the sight of who they were. He had been surprised enough by the presence of the saxophonist on the corner lately, but now these two as well? How interesting. He gave a bow. "Well hello and welcome to our charming hotel. My apologies - we're right in the middle of preparing dinner." His smile flashed.
Angel rolled his eyes. "Don't scare 'em, Alastor. Relax, we're not carving up a dead body in there." He grinned. "We're doing Italian Creole fusion!"
"Yes, right, of course - sounds delicious!" Abel rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. Louise squeezed his hand and tried not to laugh.
"You're cooking together!" Charlie's eyes had stars of happiness in them as she turned to the two men.
"You know it, Princess." Angel winked at her. "Dinner tonight is going to put this hotel's dining service on the map."
Alastor snapped to make his coat appear on his body and strolled across the room. "Yes, we're attempting a fusion of sorts, completely demon flesh free - nothing 'fishy' going on here! Ha!" He pointed to Abel with his microphone. Then he pointed it at Louise. "Now if you'll excuse me I feel quite 'sheepish' being introduced during such an information moment!" He straightened his bowtie. "I'll go clean up for dinner! Nifty, dear, set the table!" Nifty appeared at the top of the staircase, then zoomed into the kitchen, exited with a pile of plates and silverware, and zoomed into the dining room.
"And I'm making dessert! You can all thank me later." Angel pointed at himself then glanced at the new recruits. "Hmm, another couple… This is gonna be like a cruise ship isn't it - everyone already paired off? Still I guess I can at least enjoy the view." Angel gave a little wave to Abel who was blushing considerably along with Louise, and they both quickly released each other's hands.
Alastor brought his microphone in front of Angel Dust. "Save your flirting for someone who's interested!"
Angel gave him a little smirk - like if they were alone he would have made a little joke back to Alastor. But since they were around others he just shrugged. "Okay, all right, I'll get back into the kitchen. Nice meeting you two!" He sauntered back through the kitchen doors.
Alastor gave a bow to their new guests. He looked to Husk. "An open bar for these two for their first evening here - on me." He then snapped his fingers and disappeared through a shadowy portal.
Charlie looked to Vaggie who was just perplexed at this point, an eyebrow raised. Then the princess looked to their guests. "If you're still not sure about checking in, maybe you'd like to have dinner with us tonight - just get to know everyone. It's a really nice get together."
"I'd like that." Louise looked to Abel who nodded.
"Great!" Vaggie stood up. "I can show you around while we're waiting. Let's check out the rooms."
"Yes!" Charlie stood. She swallowed and added shyly. "And, um, for sleeping arrangements, we can do two separate rooms or one room or even two rooms that connect right next to each other. We've got all sorts of spaces here."
They both smiled sheepishly and nodded. "Thank you…" Abel mumbled.
Charlie smiled. "And we have some entertainment too - there's this really talented demon named Steve who plays the saxophone outside sometimes."
Louise smiled more. "Oh we know Steve!"
"Really? That's amazing!"
They all headed up the stairs together.
The dinner table was fuller than usual this evening, especially when Steve showed up as well and took a seat with his friends from the cafe. Alastor always sat at the head of the table opposite Charlie. Usually he promptly ate his food, perhaps cracked an excellent joke at someone's shenanigan, and then swiftly departed with thought to his own affairs - preparing hotel matters in his office or stalking the streets for the darkest hearted of demons and then heading to his radio tower if he succeeded in finding one.
Tonight though he lingered - in part because, of course, he was now obligated to stay for dessert, but also to observe their little group. There was laughter and banter and a warmth Alastor did not ever encounter. For just a moment, some people were happy in Hell, which seemed so far against the divine plan that he found himself questioning for a moment if redemption - if getting out of this place - really was possible. But then he sighed and looked down at his food again. Of course leaving wasn't possible. What had been done topside determined what happened to you after the fact: no one could atone for the sins already committed. Some creatures simply weren't ones of heaven, and they ended up here to do what they were good at and ply their sinful trade. But at least for the moment here didn't feel like the worst place imaginable.
Here felt even more welcoming as he took his final spoonful of the stew he and Angel had created. Such a strange combination of flavors that somehow worked. And all from their garden: their project as friends because Angel liked being around him. His eyes traveled around the table and a novel new thought occurred to him: all of these creatures here were at ease with him for this moment.
He now had abundant opportunity for conversation before him, and yet Alastor still found Angel's most entertaining and desirable of all. He observed the spider, joking with Husker and adding more sausage and étouffée to Charlie's plate, assuring her she could have as much as she wanted without waiting for others to finish first. Alastor smiled more:perhaps he and Angel should go out for a meal together again soon just like during their first walk. Or better still perhaps one day they ought to try cooking a meal together just for each other - they could eat at their leisure out in the garden, no one to stop and stare, no idiotic televisions to mock them, and all of their attention for each other.
"Everyone's done!" Nifty suddenly sprang up from her chair, looking around at all the empty and nearly empty plates. "I'll get the dishes!" She dashed around the table, gathering plates.
"Nifty!" Alastor held out his microphone to stop her from running into the kitchen. "You may put them in the sink to soak but then you must come back for dessert. Cleaning can happen later."
Nifty bit her lip, glancing around and bouncing on her feet in hesitation.
"I can help with the dishes later." Abel offered. "I work at a cafe - I'm used to it. If that's okay with you, Miss Nifty."
Nifty beamed. "Yay, a new cleaning partner! I'll wait for that!" She zipped into the kitchen and came right back out and returned to her seat.
Alastor snapped his fingers: dessert plates and cups and glasses appeared while his shadow poured coffee and set out some choice liquor. When the shadow poured Abel's cup, the fish demon responded with a terrified grin. Louise took his hand and squeezed it again until his smile relaxed.
Alastor sighed and decided to put an end to this last person who had some fear of him. "Since we have some new guests, and since I only had a limited opportunity to introduce myself before, allow me to be clear. I'm merely a sponsor of this hotel for entertainment to starve off the sheer boredom of being one of the most powerful overlords in hell. And as a consequence, if I had any intention of hurting you, I would have already done so."
Abel looked at him and took a deep breath. He nodded and seemed to relax just a little.
"Alastor…" Charlie smiled nervously at him, "don't scare them - I mean, it sounds like you're trying not to scare them, but maybe you could do it in a less scary way?"
"It's just his groove, princess - his style, his song." Steve leaned back in his chair. "The point is, friends, he's a cool cat to you as long as you're one to him." He looked to Abel and Louise.
Louise looked to Alastor. "We understand, Alastor. Not perfectly maybe but…we're still happy to be here."
"Yeah." Abel nodded. "This place seems like a good thing - and if you're part of it too in any way, then thank you."
Alastor gave a slight nod back.
Angel stood up. "Well, if Al's done making a power move, I'm gonna get dessert. Smiles, eyes closed - it's a surprise."
Some static flared between Alastor's ears and his smile tightened. Not that he was admitting his little announcement had indeed been a small 'power move', but if it was, suddenly being ordered to close his eyes definitely undermined it. "It's dessert time, certainly I'm allowed to see—"
"But I want you to be surprised." Angel pouted and moved close, hands clasped. "Please… Come on, Alastor, you know I won't quit until you do it, and it's getting cold so -"
Alastor sighed deeply, crossed his arms, then closed his eyes. As long as Angel didn't come out with a sugar coated television set, how bad could it be? Actually, a sugar coated television set to tear into might be fun now that he thought of it…
A strangely familiar scent met his nose. After so many years of focusing on the smell of blood and meat and fear, something warm and sweet flooded his senses and for a moment he remembered his mother.
"Ta da! Okay, Al, open your eyes!"
When Alastor opened his eyes, he saw that Angel had set two platters on the table and a plate specifically in front of the Radio Demon all bearing golden brought fist-sized knots of…what looked like fried dough covered in powered sugar and cinnamon. Alastor blinked. "Beignets?"
"Been who's?" Angel grinned. "Ain't that a type of fancy doughnut? Not quite but close - zeppolis! Freshly fried! No one dislikes zeps! Dig in, everyone!"
Angel grabbed some from the platter and everyone else did too.
Alastor looked down at the balls of dough. His shadow appeared and looked at them as well. It inhaled and leaned forward in a motion of yearning. He and Alastor shared a glance. Then Alastor carefully cut a piece of the creation and placed it in his mouth.
Yes, indeed, it wasn't exactly a beignet but so very close. Sweet and warm and how had Angel known? Across the table Alastor noticed Angel eyeing him with an expectant grin. Alastor considered finishing the remaining bites of this single pastry, merely taking a sip of his coffee and excusing himself to bed. But… this wasn't a game and Angel wasn't an opponent. And so Alastor nodded and smiled more and then proceeded to carefully eat every zeppoli on his plate. And soon the rest of the table had dispatched the full amount of them as well.
Louise and Abel walked back to the envy district after dinner. They weren't quite ready to move in tonight but…they were both quite sure they were ready to make the hotel their new home.
"It'll be nice being around other demons who just…want to be nice too." Louise smiled.
Abel nodded. "Yeah, and Alastor's…he's…he's creepy but he really is okay. And It feels good knowing he's there to protect the place."
Louise nodded. "And the princess is very kind too. And the food was great. You can help with the kitchen stuff on weekends, I'll help cleaning the rooms at night."
"I'm really glad we found this place, Louise."
"Me too, Abel."
"And I'm really glad we found each other." He took her hand and blushed.
She blushed and smiled. "Me too." She moved closer and nuzzled against his shoulder.
Abel smiled a lot. Then the glanced to the side awkwardly. "So, um…I know the princess said we had room options. When we move in do you want to do…two rooms on different floors…or two rooms next to each other or…um…"
Her eyes hazed a little. "Well, it seems like canoodling isn't against hotel rules considering the princess and her girlfriend live there together. And we spend a lot of time together anyway. One room to share sounds nice."
Abel smiled very much.
Louise held back a chuckle. "And would you like two beds or one?"
"I-" he squeaked, eyes wide.
She shrugged. "Okay, we'll go with two…" When he glanced at her she smiled up at him. "They can always get pushed together eventually."
"Louise!" He looked down awkwardly but still kept smiling.
They had reached Louise's building. Abel stepped inside the vestibule with her. She turned to him with surprise. He took bother her hands in his. "I know I'm shy sometimes but…if we're really going to take this new step then I want to tell you right now - I love you, Louise.
Her eyes went very wide.
Then Louise jumped up, holding over his shoulders tightly, and kissed him on the mouth. His arms went around her in surprise to hold her up.
She pulled back, breathless and smiling. "I love you too, Abel. And I'm not going anywhere in heaven or hell without you."
He smiled so much then pulled her in for another kiss.
I hope you enjoyed the chapter! The next one will be the last one in this story, and then I'll be taking a break to work on the sequel. Alastor and Angel will keep getting closer as Alastor realizes just what his new friend means to him 3