Oh, here's to my sweet Satan. The one whose little path would make me sad.
Of all things, he doesn’t expect to wake up in LAX. The Tom Bradley International Terminal, to be precise. From before the renovation; dingy and shabby and worn, seeped in a miasma of weariness and urgency, despite its seemingly abandoned state. It’s the emptiness, more than anything, that gives the illusion away.
“So… is this Hell, then?” he says, to the empty space. He can’t think of anything else it would be, despite the obvious unfamiliarity.
From behind, a voice says:
“What an odd question, coming from you.”
He freezes, just for one moment. Holds tight against a composure he can feel slipping like sand. Then:
Crowley turns. And, yes, there. Sitting nearby on one of the battered plastic benches, perched like a queen and reading what looks to be a handmade, photocopied booklet, is Rowena.
“Hello, dear. How are you feeling?”
“What are you doing here?”
She looks up, head tilted in curiosity. “Same as you, I expect. How’d you go? Lucifer?”
“Er…” How to answer that? What can he bring himself to say about it? “Close enough.”
He expects… something. Scorn, maybe. Or derision, if Rowena already knows what he’s too afraid to tell her.
Except all she does is cluck her tongue and say, “Well. I suppose it doesn’t matter. You’re here now. After I arrived I’d, well… ‘hoped’ isn’t the word. Had a feeling you might not be far behind.” And, it’s strange. Because the words should be cold, should be cruel. But they aren’t. They’re… something else. Something Crowley doesn’t want to think about.
Rowena folds her booklet and stands. “Come on. I’ll take you to the others.”
“Others?” Then: “You… waited for me?”
Rowena smiles at him. “Of course, dear. What else would I do?”
He opens his mouth for a retort; something hurt and hurtful, waits for the familiar swell of pain and betrayal and hate-sharpened love that will bring the wording, waits for it to crest and break and…
And it never comes. Not the emotion, not the words. Crowley blinks, then closes his mouth. He feels— No. That’s not right. He remembers how he felt, in those hours before the end. A churning mess of resignation and defeat and determination. Exhausted and filthy and shredded by the knowledge that nothing he’d done, nothing he could do, had any lasting meaning, would leave any sort of legacy bar one of failure and defeat. Hundred of years of struggle and suffering and all he’d amounted to had been a speed-bump diversion in someone else’s story; a bit-part player in a grand melodrama written for another actor. He’d been so tired. He’d wanted out. So he’d taken it, angry and hopeless and—
And now? Now he feels… nothing. But not in the way he’s used to; that cold-burning numbness of a beast flayed open by Hell. This nothing is… quiet. Calm. Contented, maybe, although he’s not used enough to the feeling to truly know. Things were what they were now are what they are. Dwelling on them won’t help. There’s nowhere to go but forward.
Crowley—the creature that had once been Crowley, and supposes still is, until he decides otherwise—feels the soft touch of a hand against his cheek. It isn’t really a hand and it isn’t really a cheek, in the same way this isn’t really LAX and the being in front of him isn’t really his mother.
She’s not a Rowena, Crowley thinks, with a sudden, almost giddy clarity. She just plays one on TV.
“Are you all right, dear?”
Is he? “It’s… a lot to take in,” he eventually manages.
Rowena pats him on the cheek, then smiles, soft and fond. And it really is; no malice, no scheming, no ill-intent. In this place, there’s no use for any of that.
“I know. Here, I got you a brochure.” She hands him one of the shabby little print-outs. On the cover, in awful Papyrus font, is written: TRANSITION AND YOU: A Users guide to whats Next. Crowley’s lip curls up in the lingering remains of what he thinks of as professional pride.
“Where did you get this? Who wrote it?”
“There’s an information booth inside, next to the Bulgari store. It’s near the lounge, I’ll show you. There are more leaflets, on all kinds of things. Left by whomever’s come before, I suppose.” She makes a gesture with her head, encouraging Crowley to follow. After a moment, he offers her his arm in invitation. She takes it, without hesitating, and they start walking.
“Who runs this place?” he asks, as he follows her past the empty TSA checkpoint.
“I don’t know, dear. No one, I’d assume. It just… is.”
There are people beyond the gate; not many, but more than in the empty foyer. Crowley sees Ramiel and Dagon, sitting on some chairs and pouring over flier printed on hideous goldenrod. When they see Crowley they smile, and give him a wave. He returns it.
“We’ll be up in a minute,” Dagon calls. “The others have been waiting for you.” It should be a threat, but it isn’t. She sounds… happy.
“‘The others’?” Crowley asks Rowena. “Who else is here?”
“Oh, you know.” She waves a hand. “Everyone, eventually. If you look hard enough. But for now, we’re gathering in the lounge.”
“One World or Star Alliance?”
Rowena just laughs. She has quite a beautiful laugh when she’s happy, Crowley thinks. He’s never really noticed before. “It’s a little posher than that. The metaphor starts to break down the further you get from the gates.” Then: “It’s quite a party in there. Tell me, did you ever meet Balthazar? He is very charming. And handsome.”
This earns him another laugh, and a pat on the arm. “Oh, don’t be like that. Besides, I’m not really your mother.” And again, there’s that strange disconnect. Because the words should hurt, should be said with intent to hurt. But they don’t, and they aren’t. They’re just… a truth. In this place, there are no mothers and no sons. Just souls, resting and waiting to move on.
“What happens now?”
“That’s what we’re trying to decide, dear. It’s in the brochure.” She taps his paper for emphasis. “I was thinking next time I quite might like to be God, although I’m told it takes a lot of work.”
“We… get to choose?” How novel.
“Of course. You know this, you’ve been through it before. We all have. Don’t worry, the last session’s always the clearest but other memories come back in time. If you’re curious, there’s an archive downstairs. It’s very disorganized, but if you work out the filing system, you can look yourself up.”
“Look up… what? Past lives?” He doesn’t remember any—
Except, no. If he thinks, he can remember things. Things that don’t belong. Like a daughter, perhaps. And a… a spaceship? Or more than one. Strange.
“I suppose, if you like.” Rowena pulls them to a stop. “Ah, here. The booth.”
The information “booth” isn’t so much that as it is a haphazard pile of poorly-made leaflets and fliers. They have titles like, The Gods Guide for Beginners and Extras: the Quiet Life. Typos and awful clip art feature heavily. Crowley picks up Other times and other worlds and flicks through, one-handed. As he does, he starts straightening some of the piles.
“The lounge is just up those stairs,” Rowena is saying, pointing to a pair of glass sliding doors leading through to what looks, impossibly, like a huge marble staircase warmed in sunlight and wound in richly blooming wisteria. “Take whatever you like, but there’s already quite a collection. Some people even have ideas for new sessions, but we all thought we’d wait for the boys. It seems only polite, since they ran the last one.”
Crowley makes a noncommittal sound, eying the overflowing table. “Go on up,” he says. “I’ll be right there.”
“As you like, dear.” Rowena kisses his cheek, and he embraces her briefly in return. A sense of admiration and warmth rushes over him as he does. She had a hard role, he thinks. So did he. They had fun while it lasted and they did well. They should both be proud.
He smiles, watching her retreat through the sliding doors and up the ostentatious, out-of place staircase. Above, the wrap party is in full-swing, waiting on the last stragglers to stumble through the doors. In a little while, he’ll go and join them. See the old faces again, have a few drinks. Try and decide what he wants to do next.
In a little while.
For now, though, this “information booth” is in a terrible state. And someone really needs to vet the fliers, for typos if nothing else. And, well. What’s time, in this place? It’s not like anyone’s in a hurry, and yet still, somehow, no one’s been bothered doing just a little bit of organizing. Typical. Well, nothing to it. Be the change you want to see, and all that.
So, the-thing-that-was-Crowley rolls up its metaphorical sleeves, and gets to work.
Yes, there are two paths you can go by. But in the long run, there's still time to change the road you're on.