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The Dresden Omens

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The Vegas Strip was bright at night, the long ribbon of garish hotels and bonsai landmarks lit up in every shade of neon that modern science could supply. It was all terribly tacky, and Crowley was slightly ashamed to be enjoying it as much as he was. He cruised shoulder to shoulder with steadfast natives, still rich enough to afford their SUVs, and buses of gawking tourists who were taking as many pictures of his vintage Bentley as the scenery around them. Inwardly, he preened.

America was a vacation for him these days; the soil was fertile. He'd done what he'd come to do in a matter of days (and the Pray at the Pump movement was going nicely; whole trainloads of Seventh Day Adventists with one-way tickets bound for Disillusionmentshire in its wake) and was now having a rest and enjoying himself thoroughly. After Vegas he planned to head to wine country and spend a month or so sampling, and then perhaps he'd do a large-scale internet outage just to wrap up the trip, and then it would be home to London.

He cranked the radio-- it was, almost inevitably, Handel's 'Don't Stop Me Now.'

It was probably because he was content. He'd let his guard down. Simply inviting trouble.

Don't stop me NOW, because I'm having a CROWLEY. CROWLEY, WE NEED TO TALK.

Crowley nearly swerved into an H2 limousine, and it was a measure of his shock that he didn't use the opportunity to cause a massive pileup.

"Yes, my lord?" he said, trying to sound bright eyed and bushy tailed and at the ready.

IT'S ABOUT ARMAGEDDON, CROWLEY.

"What, again?"

YES. MARK TWO. SMALL SCALE TESTING. YOU REMEMBER.

"Of course. Anduriel and his boys. How is that getting along?"

IT FAILED, CROWLEY.

"That's a shame," Crowley hazarded. He'd had a feeling it wouldn't come to much. They'd handed the second Armageddon over to a very gung-ho, elite sort of a group of demons. Frankly, they scared the piss out of Crowley, because they took things so damn seriously. They had cults and secret signs, and there was a place for cults and secret signs, but there was being into it and then there was cutting all your followers' tongues out. Crowley didn't trust fanatics. "Something new in the works then? Suppose there'll be a briefing? Maybe a memo?"

WE WANT YOU TO TURN HEAVEN'S CHAMPION.

"Heaven's who?" Crowley asked, his stomach suddenly dropping.

HEAVEN'S CHAMPION. HE WHO THWARTED ANDURIEL.

His stomach found new depths to plunge to. Horror filled his voice. "You don't mean a knight. Do you? I mean, I'm not the vanquishing battle type. I tempt-"

NOT A KNIGHT, CROWLEY. NO, NO, NOTHING LIKE THAT. URIEL'S BEEN CHATTING UP A MORTAL WIZARD-

"Uriel?" Crowley warbled in terror.

CALM DOWN, CROWLEY. THIS WILL BE EASY. HE'S JUST A MORTAL. ONE OF OUR AGENTS HAS ALREADY LOOSENED HIM UP FOR YOU. WE JUST NEED YOU TO POP OVER TO CHICAGO, AND-

"Chicago? Do you realize I'm on the wrong damn coast?"

IT'S ALL AMERICA, ISN'T IT?

The words kept pouring out as he told himself desperately to shut up: "Yes, it's America. It's a whole great bleeding LOT of America, it's going to take days to-- I can't leave my car--" he trailed off in a terrified jumble. The passengers in the H2 limo had opened the back window to gawk at him as he talked to his radio. He was too shaken to miracle up one of those little headpieces and glare at them. He wouldn't need his dignity where they'd be taking him now...

OF COURSE, the radio said almost jovially.

"What?" Crowley asked weakly.

THIS IS WHY WE NEED YOU, CROWLEY. THAT HUMAN TOUCH. YOU UNDERSTAND THEM SO WELL. OLD HAND. THE LAST AGENT WAS HAVING A BIT OF TROUBLE WITH HIM, BUT WE HAVE COMPLETE FAITH IN YOU.

"Oh, good."

AND WE REMEMBER HOW MUCH HELP YOU WERE THE LAST TIME. YOU'RE GOING TO BE HELPFUL THIS TIME, AREN'T YOU, CROWLEY?

"Yes," Crowley agreed, with false brightness. "I'm your man. Look to me. You won't be disappointed."

GOOD. There was a certain smugness, he thought, in the voice. And then there was pain, in his head.

Crowley winced as knowledge poured into his mind; where the champion lived, what he looked like, his habits, his acquaintances. It was like having a journal crammed into his head, and then the pages fanned out through the squishy tissue of his brain. "Ngg."

HIS VIRTUE IS GENEROSITY. HIS VICE IS WRATH. GO GET HIM, CROWLEY.

"Just, uh, one thing. Who was the other agent?"

They told him. He wished they hadn't.

 

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Chicago was cold, after Las Vegas, and in the throes of an early winter. Crowley, intrinsically reptilian, disapproved highly; he bundled himself miserably in the most stylish black leather coat he could find. He replaced his flash snakeskin shoes with black leather boots, too, something with tread that would keep him upright in the ice. He'd bought them, not miracled them; call it an act of rebellion, shopping instead of getting right to work.

Then he found himself the best hotel in the city and went to check in. The young woman on duty was rather surprised to find his name in the computer, the room in question having been vacant five minutes before. Crowley smiled at her, called her a dear girl, and insinuated that perhaps a man who understood computers better could explain it to her. He found himself feeling a bit odd, afterward, as her eyes bore into his back; it'd been centuries since he'd tried the wrath thing. Pride, yes, all the time; lust, piece of cake, plenty of fun, but wrath was entirely too close to righteous wrath to him. It always led to smiting, if you weren't careful.

In his room, he turned the heat as high as it went, burrowed under the luxurious comforter and reached for the phone, stepping laboriously through the automated system to make a long distance call. (He had only himself to blame. The automated menu had seemed like a good idea at the time. His satisfaction at all the potential frustrations of voice recognition was a bit hollow, now, as he bellowed "England. ENGLAND," into the phone.)

"You said: Bangladesh. Is that correct? If not, please state your call's destination again."

Ten minutes later he'd melted the phone twice (and grudgingly miracled it back into being, vanishing the shards of plastic from the walls), but he finally got the call to connect to London.

"Fell's Books," a familiar voice said, and a surge of something Crowley told himself firmly was neither warmth nor relief rose up from his toes and into his chest-- only to melt away again as the voice continued: "I'm afraid we aren't available to take your call. Please call back another time or visit us; hours nine-thirty to four-thirty, with exceptions. You may leave a message aft-" and then there was a long beep.

"No," Crowley murmured, slumping into his nest of blankets. Then, louder: "Angel, listen. If you're trying to dodge a customer, don't. It's me." There was nothing but silence on the other end. "Angel, it's IMPORTANT. Look, if you pick this up, please give me a call at-" he had to fumble until he found the slip of paper with the room's number on it.

"It's important," he said again, not liking how helpless he sounded. "It's finally happened. They found a way to get round it and punish me for that mess with the Antichrist. This assignment they've got me on-- I mean, this human's been knocking out Anduriel and his bunch, discorporating them in nasty ways-- he fricasseed Urumviel, I hear. Did SOMETHING to Thorned Namshiel, nobody knows what. Dropped a chunk of ocean on Imariel. The whole order of the blackened Denarius can't deal with him and that's what they're for! I'm not meant for this! I don't have flash powers, I don't have a little silver coin to hide in when it all goes pear-shaped, I've just got ME. They had Lasciel working on him and he banished her somehow, just wiped her out of his head and handed her over to the church--and that's the go-to woman for temptation in all Below. He's got Uriel backing him--he's going to kill me!"

The dial tone told him that somewhere during his speech the ansaphone had hung up on him. He hung his head.

The chances that Aziraphale would actually hear his messages were slim. Crowley had finally convinced him to get an ansaphone in '92; what he'd bought had been antique then, and the angel was still using the same plastic brick today. He didn't know how to use it very well; he knew that the red light meant he had a message, but he'd forget to check, and if he remembered to check his method was to solemnly push buttons at random in hopes that it would do something, and three in ten times that actually resulted in him hearing the messages, as opposed to deleting them, programming the prime minister into his call recognition, or setting the little machine's internal time zone to Nova Scotia.

It was just as well. Crowley pulled the covers over his head. It'd all been so easy, he mourned. Before. The thing with Eve had been so simple it was almost an accident, really. Humans were harder now. Complicated. And it couldn't be a brute force temptation, either; if she couldn't pull it off it couldn't be done.

But Hell had been right; he did have the human touch. He'd been on earth since the beginning of it all, and nobody was denying that he'd gone a bit native. He knew what made them tick, he knew the importance of the small things as well as the large.

He'd pick his way from the outside in, get the people around the wizard to do a bit of the work for him; a campaign of large and small annoyances would help him get the man angry, and then it was a matter of getting him angry enough. The wizard had been able to use hellfire once, if he could just get him to use it again, open up that conduit to hellish influence, he could crawl back to London and call it a day.

If he wasn't roasted alive in the process.

Demons didn't have to sleep, but Crowley had picked up the habit; sometimes it settled his head. He found he couldn't, tonight; whenever he closed his eyes all he could see was a tall man extending a staff, and waves of a holy and terrible fire coming straight at him.

It was a long night.

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Crowley had wanted to start small. Well, small by the standards of Hell; they'd never come to fully understand the human response to the automobile. He'd tried to explain, once or twice, to some of his peers about how it FELT to have a car, and the sense of power, and the potential of road rage. He generally got blank stares. Your average demon didn't see the difference between a car and a piece of clothing, say; most people didn't go into rages when they tore a shirt, or had to finally get rid of their favorite pair of pants. They got a bit sullen, and moved on. It was boggling to most denizens of hell how the same person could, say, blow out a headlight and be furious for a week. People took their cars personally-- even if the car was a lamentably abused Volkswagen Beetle that had been patched and repaired in at least four different colors, with no working air conditioner or radio.

So he thought he'd start with the car; he tailed the mortal champion (who didn't look like much to write home about, a fact that terrified Crowley; it's always the unassuming ones) for a bit, waited until he left his car in a part of town it would be inconvenient to walk home from, and then sneaked out to lay his hands gently on the hood of the horrifying car, and traced an arcane and complicated sigil.

Then he'd frowned. Then he'd gritted his teeth and tried again.

The car was resisting. Owned so long by a wizard, it had built up a tolerance to supernatural meddling; it practically twanged with the man's energy, and Crowley's best efforts at doing some irreparable damage were bouncing off. He weighed his options; he could force the issue, but that would leave a bright glowing 'Crowley was here!' signature for anyone who knew how to look for it. He could go at it with a tire iron, but he wasn't sure how much that would hurt the thing, and he couldn't imagine that the wizard would actually care as long as it was still running. He did the best he could, putting out the headlights and slashing all four tires. Definitely worthy of a moment's upset; and it would keep the wizard stuck while he tried something else.

Step two, he decided, was home invasion. Nothing else put a person on edge quite as much. He'd go in, simulate a robbery, take a thing or two that looked important and call it a day.

It was easier than he'd thought; the wizard's wards were decent but his threshold was absolutely nothing to write home about. He used a tire-iron on the door, prying the lock until he could kick it in.

He stepped inside.

He stared.

The thing lying on the couch looked like a wolf had crossbred with a draft horse; it lifted its massive head and gave him a piercing stare.

"Nice doggy." He took a step back. Something about the creature was sending off frantic warning signals in his brain, some old demonic instinct telling him to run, slither, fly, do anything that would get him out of the vicinity of it.

The thing barked.

 

"A TEMPLE DOG," Crowley howled almost inaudibly into the receiver. He had an icepack clasped to his forehead, he was curled miserably in the comforter, and the slightest noise was pain. As was light, and movement, and breathing (which, at least, he'd managed to stop). He was spilling out his woes to Aziraphale's ansaphone for lack of anyone else to tell. "A temple dog. An actual demon-banishing temple dog, the thing had teeth like -- like-- I've got no idea, and it barked at me, and if I hadn't made it up the stairs-" he fell into a shuddering silence, remembering the boom and rattle of hinges as more than two hundred pounds of fur, meat, and holy protection had slammed into the door that led down to the wizard's basement apartment. And the teeth. The teeth. "...if you get this message, CALL, would you?"

The machine hung up. The dial tone almost split his head open, and he lowered the phone down with a shaking hand, sagging back into the bed to lay as still as possible until the migraine caused by the echoing, demon-driving bark was gone. For a moment, there was only warmth and blissful silence.

Someone pounded on the door. "Housekeeping!"

Demons can cry. Crowley proved it.

 

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Over the trendiest vegan breakfast burrito he had ever encountered, Crowley considered his options.

The car was out. The house was out. Very out. He could always try the wizard's office; mortals were as touchy about their jobs as they were about their cars. But that would mean risking running into his target; or worse, his target's dog. Maybe he could enlist a bit of help... a well-meaning mortal in his pocket could do wonders. If she were the right kind of mortal, he could even make a go at one of the other Cardinal Sins, Lust or Sloth or Gluttony or any combination of vices that wouldn't involve flame and potential discorporation.

The apprentice looked likely. In fact, the more Crowley looked at her, the likelier she got. He'd dismissed the whole idea out of hand; the girl's father was a bloody Knight of the Cross, after all, or had been-- but then there was that 'had been' bit of it. She'd be used to being safe from demonic forces, wouldn't she? Sheltered? Big ideals about justice and God's hand and just a bit shaken in her faith, now. Just barely grown up, too. The Bible said quite a bit about sparrows, and the meek, and the peacemakers as the receptors of extra helpings of protection from the Big Man Upstairs. One group it completely failed to mention was the adolescent and stupid. Crowley stood up without clearing his breakfast plate, walked out past a cashier who conveniently forgot that he hadn't paid, and set off for the sprawling suburbs. It was time to go tempting.

He caught a stroke of luck right off; he found her house, and hadn't had to loiter long outside at all when the girl he was after (tall, blond, and very sure of herself) headed outside, surrounded by children of varying ages who must have been her siblings, and a woman who couldn't have been anything other than her mother. They all piled into a minivan and took off. Crowley followed, risking a small miracle to make his Bentley just a bit less noticeable.

He'd been worried for a moment when they stopped off at the church, but it was only to let the mother and siblings out; the young apprentice got back in and began to drive again, finally winding up in the parking lot of a largish mall. Crowley watched the minivan climb the parking structure, looking for another spot. There was a spot for the Bentley right away (the owner of the car that'd previously occupied it would be very surprised when he discovered that it had relocated to the roof of the K-Mart across the street.) He slipped inside and into a bathroom, where he did a bit of convenient shape-shifting. This didn't involve anything supernatural, as it happened; he didn't want to get obvious about things. Happily, he already mostly looked the part. It was just the matter of a handful of water and a bit of combing. Nothing to be done about the eyes, of course; they were yellow and slitted, the kind that are generally seen a lot closer to the ground. They tended to resist any effort disguise them with magic or miracle, but a pair of trendy sunglasses did the trick neatly (and made him look cool to boot).

Fifteen minutes later, the blond girl in the minivan had finally found a parking space and waded into the tide of people in the mall. She immediately took off her jacket, the better to show her cropped shirt, and the tattoos half-visible under it. She walked proudly through the throngs, obviously enjoying the occasional gape at her piercings and dyed hair; she glanced into a few stores, looked wistfully at (but gave a strangely wide berth to) a display of iPods, and then made her way into the Hot Topic. She was admiring the new boots on the shelf, with a bit of a disappointed brow-furrow at the price tag, when the young man bumped into her.

He was tall, and perhaps twenty five. His dark hair was slicked down around his face, and he was wearing black sunglasses. He was wearing quite a lot of black, actually, and wearing it very well; nothing so gauche as safety pins, just dark, sleek clothes and a world-weary air. He looked, she thought, so genuine.

Then the aloof air disappeared, just for a second, as if he'd drawn back a blackout curtain to reveal an adorably hapless young man peeping out.

"I'm sorry!" he confided in a low voice, giving her half a smile and stepping back a pace. "My fault, you know, wasn't looking where I was going. Actually, I think I'm a bit lost."

"Oh, it's okay," she said, taking an unconscious step towards him, smiling a reassuring little smile she'd picked up from her father.

The sunglasses, the helpless look, and the accent, Crowley thought. Gets the American girls every time. "Look, I'm sure you haven't got time for this, but I'd be grateful if you'd just point me at-"

"No!" she cut him off, giving him a smile. "I do have time. Let me help. I'm from this area, I know where everything is. My name's Molly," she added.

"Tony," said Crowley, smiling back. "My name's Tony."

The young wizardess took to him at once; he was immediately attached to her side, and let himself be ferried around the mall while she played an enthusiastic tour-guide. He smiled at the right times, looked amazed at the right times, and generally seemed to be a flash young man enjoying his time on the arm of a striking young amazon.

Molly turned out to be a font of information-- not any information he personally needed, but if anyone was running low on sheer verbiage all they had to do was bring a bucket and put it near her. Crowley hadn't met anyone with such a gift for chatter since his run-in with the Chattering Order of Saint Beryl. It wasn't a bad sort of way to spend the time, the girl had a sharp eye and quick wit, and her rapid-fire gossip was all to the point and informative. If the ease with which she dragged him through the mall was any indication, she could have done a three-hour tour of Rome in an hour and a quarter flat. Crowley smiled along, agreed out loud (and occasionally internally) with her opinions on her fellow shoppers, and made no indication that he was looking frantically for a tiny gap in the conversation in which he could jam a word in edgewise.

He got it when they passed an electronics store-- Molly got rather distracted by the display, her words trailing off. Crowley seized his chance.

"You're a wizard, too," he said, leaning in conspiratorially, his lips just close enough to her ear. "Aren't you? I can tell."

Molly turned to him, her eyes wide, the heavy black eye-liner around them describing an almost perfect circle. "You, too?" She hadn't moved away; and they were at a rather intimate distance. She shot a look from left to right, and then said, even lower: "I thought you were. I could feel it."

What the girl could feel was his demonic aura, but one supernatural tingle was much like another, and unless she had a more graceful touch at magic than he suspected she'd never be the wiser. He nodded surreptitiously. "The electronics always act up around you, too?"

She shot an angry glance at the tiled floor.

Crowley took a breath, getting her attention back. His lips parted. She watched him with thinly-veiled anticipation. "I know a trick for that," he said. She moved just slightly against him, her firm, curved body pressing against his arm and side. She gave him a somewhat soppy look of admiration, her eyes shiny under the mascara and liner.

"Oh, wow. Really?"

 

Some time later, they were sitting on the roof of the parking structure with expensive coffee warming their hands. Crowley's nose was turning red; keeping the miracling to the minimum so that his companion didn't notice meant putting up with the cold. And Chicago had so much cold to offer. Buckets of it. And she seemed to like it, leaning out over the cement wall and peering through the thick, whirling snow. Crowley was dedicated, but not that dedicated; the snow was failing to land on either of them. He'd passed it off yet another 'spell,' which she quite naturally wanted to learn, along with the one that'd let her listen to the newest album of whoever they were with the german name that sounded a bit like a pastry on a bright and shiny new iPod.

He'd come up with a line of banter to distract her from the fact that he hadn't got a spell to teach her; getting the iPod to play for her had been a matter of a small miracle and a bit of demonic will. Crowley could keep a car rolling down the highway while it was on fire and missing all four tires (and had, during what below was referring to as 'last time') and wasn't about to be daunted by a cheeky little slip of plastic and circuity bits. It was really just putting up an umbrella between her excitable aura and all the little zinging electrons, but teaching that to a mortal would involve giving said mortal an insight into the universe that would send them straight to a cozy padded room to weave baskets with their toes.

But it was all moot, as she'd had plenty on her mind-- the bare mention that Crowley was a young wizard with a disapproving mentor had set her going about the White Council and the age of them all and who still did things in Latin anyway and heaven forbid they try to move with the times-- "But we can't do that, that would be haa-ard," she'd mimicked, in a helpless whine.

When she wound down to take a breath, Crowley rammed a metaphorical shoulder into the conversation to steer it to one side: "I wouldn't like to get you in trouble with your own teacher."

Molly dimpled. "Are you kidding? No way. He would love this, I mean really love this, he can fry a hard drive from fifteen paces. And he's NOT like the Council, I mean really. He's such an awesome guy, I wish you could meet him."

Crowley smiled a glossy smile to cover the gut-clenching terror that that mental image had produced. "Wish I could, too. Only I'm going back soon, don't really have the time."

"It's a shame, seriously."

"He sounds like quite a guy," he said, preparing to sow the seeds of lust. "Is he as good as all that?"

"He's better."

Crowley risked a peek into the girl's mind and blinked. Here he'd been ready to scatter the faintest suggestions of a crush and she'd already plowed the field, drilled in the seeds, coaxed and watered and gotten herself a patch of healthy shoots with a helpful and informative little garden marker stuck in the center reading "Passiflora Magistera - 'Hot for Teacher': Zones 4-9, partial shade." He'd be back to London in under a week.

He moved in for the kill. "Are you getting him a Christmas present?" he asked innocently.

"I don't know-" Her forehead wrinkled, the ring through her eyebrow shifting into a new position.

Crowley leaned in, his voice a practiced purr with a perfectly calculated amount of seduction and sincerity. "I know what I'd want, if I were him..."

The girl gave a little shiver; hormones bubbled. Lust stirred. Crowley reached into her mind with a delicate hand, gathering the temptation, stroking it, amplifying it, and with the gentlest of nudges redirecting all of it toward the idea of her mentor. A job done perfectly.

And then a hand was around his throat, and both of them were suddenly standing. Well, Molly was standing, and Crowley was sort of hanging. As he dangled in the wizardess's grip, making a strangled 'glllk' sound, he realized two things: the first was that none of her amazonian muscles were for show; the second was that she was a great deal more sensitive, magically, than he'd given her credit for.

"What are you trying to do in there?" she demanded.

"Gllk," Crowley said, desperately conciliatory, trying to pry her hands off his throat. Their spilled coffee had melted holes in the ice on the parking deck, but was already starting to freeze.

She shook him. "Are you a warlock? Are you a warlock? I thought you were trying to get into my pants, not-!"

A two-handed throw sent him sprawling into a snow-drift, ice worming its way into the neck of his leather coat and down his socks. His dark glasses landed under a nearby SUV, well out of arm's reach.

Crowley looked up at Molly. Molly looked down at Crowley. Her eyes went round again, this time with fear.

"What are you?" she asked, her words just barely audible over the wind.

Crowley crouched silently in the snow, quickly turning over plans B through G, wondering if he should attack her or try to make her forget or slink away into the storm or come up with a brilliant excuse that would let him get back in her good graces (his favorite plan, except for the part where he didn't have a brilliant excuse to hand).

A pair of figures loomed out of the snow; one was a tallish blond woman who Crowley recognized, wearing practical layers mostly in the key of white and carrying a purse that could double as luggage; the other was a shortish man in a warm fleecy coat and a woolly hat. The collar of his shirt barely showed through the collar of the jacket, but Crowley didn't need to see the little white rectangle to know a priest when he met one.

"Mom? Father Forthill?"

Woman and priest looked at Crowley, looked at Crowley's eyes, looked at each other, and didn't quite nod in tandem.

"Charity," said the priest said solemnly. "Could I borrow that bottle of Dasani?"

From the depths of the luggage-purse produced a little blue bottle of something, and Crowley watched in silent confusion for a moment when the priest took it and murmured a Latin benediction over it. Oh yes, his mind supplied after a moment. Bottled water.

Benediction. Water.

The penny dropped. Crowley's eyes widened in horror and he hissed as he made a snakelike lunge for Molly, hands extended like claws, thinking now only of taking a hostage and getting off the the parking deck before he was ignominiously melted.

He never touched the girl. A shoulder-shaped sledgehammer hit him in the ribs and smashed him back against an Escalade hard enough to dent the door; the carefully calibrated theft-detection system started to squawk in his ear as he crawled to his feet. Molly's mother didn't let him get his bearings; she wielded her purse like a warhammer, and something solid its depths connected with Crowley's temple, then his shoulder. He threw up his hands in front of him and got a kick in the stomach for his trouble, then she was on him, one solid fist catching him in the kidneys, her other hand scrabbling for purchase so that she could brain him against the concrete railing.

The snow made traction a tentative proposition; they slid as they grappled, fetching up against the low wall. Crowley's boots scrabbled on newly-frozen coffee, and it was a sense of relief that he felt himself topple over the rail, gravity ripping him out of the insane woman's hands and leaving her with a tatter of jacket and a hank of hair in her fists.

For a moment there was a sense of peace, broken only by the still-wailing car-alarm.

And then there was the ground.

The wind whipped voices and down to him, and he rolled under an overhang just in time to avoid a spray of holy-water from three stories up. He crawled behind a support pylon and huddled there, snow slowly piling up around him, until the voices went away.

 

That night, if anyone had looked in on the right room in the poshest hotel in Chicago, they'd have seen a massive bed with a sort of slumping burial mound made of comforters in the middle. A phone cord ran up the bed and disappeared into its depths, and there was a cup of tea on a silver tray beside it. Occasionally a hand snaked out of the blankets and dragged the tea into the darkness. A few moments later, the tea-cup would come back out, a sip or two emptier.

Crowley curled in his warm little fort and talked to Aziraphale's ansaphone.

"-just happened to be at the mall because they had a surprise call and one of the toy stores wanted to donate things to the church. Just happened to be right then. With a priest. Oh, no, I don't believe it for a second. That was ineffable, it wasss," Crowley moaned, lapsing into a hiss every now and then. "Someone up there hates me." (This wasn't true, but demons have a way of assuming that everything is about them. It was less a question of someone disliking him, and more of someone liking the family. Someone Up there had been providing the family transportation, news, lucky breaks and the occasional babysitter since before his young conquest had been born, and they weren't about to let a demon slip under the radar.) "And what kind of woman carries a horseshoe in her blessed purse? I want to know."

For an answer he got a beep, and then the dial tone.

This was what you got when you tried to do something nice, Crowley reflected. A spot of lust wouldn't have hurt the man that badly, would it? Had the horseshoe been strictly necessary?

No more mister nice guy, he thought darkly, and reached out for his tea again. It's time to get... human about this.