Lockie Dowling does not decide to summon a demon. Really. These things just happen to him.
His earliest memory is his Nanny singing to him about fire and death, and the infinite power held in his fragile hands. He was born in a convent full of what had turned out to be satanic nuns. His real legal given name is Warlock .
He feels, on days where things are particularly jarring--like when he figured out, aged nine, that not everyone refers to all living things as brother or sister--- that he's the setup for a joke without a punchline.
He used to dream of crushing people with the heel of his boot.
These things just happen to him.
Lockie Dowling doesn't decide to summon a demon, but it happens anyway. These things often do, and he's more or less learned how to roll with it, carrying all the wry disdain of a man who's seen someone accidentally kill the begonias and discreetly will them back to life one time.
Some context, perhaps, is in order.
The bell above the door rings, and the proprietor of A. Z. Fell & Co. immediately rears up, looking thunderous.
The young man that stumbles in is frantic, disheveled, and wearing an odd combination of clothes---what appears to be a luxurious fur coat, glossy and sable, over a ratty, sweat-stained white shirt and a pair of absurdly patterned shorts, his eyes hidden by round, mirrored sunglasses.
He skitters in and slams the door shut, bypassing the man working up to a frosty glower that could reliably be called Vengeful, and settles in to stare at a bookshelf.
"Excuse me," says Aziraphale, who had been having a perfectly lovely time rearranging his first editions of Oscar Wilde's works, "How may I help you?"
He startles, and looks down at the looming angel with a hunted expression in his eyes, visible only because his glasses are sliding down his nose. It's a strange sight, a man being loomed over by a person whose curly head barely clears his shoulder, but here we are.
The young man opens his mouth, and says, in a barely comprehensible rush, "I'm gonna be straight with you, I'm only here to hide from my ex because I just saw him from across the street, and I'm honestly too hungover to deal with looking at him--actually, it's pretty debatable how sober I am, but I'm really sorry, I'll leave soon. Also? I'm lost."
This is around the time that Aziraphale would have softened, because many people have sought refuge in his bookshop--he isn't quite certain why, but human hindbrains read this place as safe , and he doesn't mind them coming in and staying for a few hours, as long as they don't actually try to purchase anything. He might have sat the boy down, or offered him some tea, or asked him gently about this ex of his, but, well.
The boy's sunglasses are dangling precariously off the tip of his nose, and this leaves Aziraphale with the horrifying weight of recognition. The years have changed him, of course--he is much, much taller, and there is stubble on his chin and he's got acne scars littered over his cheeks, but his hair is roughly the same--far too long to be proper--and, well.
When you essentially raise a boy for eleven years of his life, you more or less have his face imprinted onto you. Warlock Dowling could have been wearing a paper bag on his head, and Aziraphale is reasonably sure he'd have recognised him.
So, thrown off his rhythm as he is, Aziraphale only nods, and Warlock seems to relax a little.
"Thanks," he says, and looks back at the bookshelf, seemingly unaware that Aziraphale is having what might be a Small Crisis.
Unbeknownst to Aziraphale, who is quite busy spiralling down a thought pile that is largely a number of exclamation marks, born of the fact that he'd honestly never expected to see the Little Antichrist That Wasn't again, Lockie Dowling is thinking that he should probably buy something so that the strange man will stop looking at him with wide watery blue eyes that are bordering on stricken.
"Uh, how much is that one for?" he says awkwardly, pointing at a book at random.
Aziraphale stares for a moment, and it's a testament to how thrown he is that he actually tells him the price.
"I'll take it," says the boy whose skinned knees Aziraphale once miracled better with soft touches.
"Oh--'course," says Aziraphale, dazed, accent slipping into something he hadn't used in a good while, "I'll do that righ' away, m'boy."
He rings up the purchase--the purchase ---right away, and watches with bemusement as the boy pokes his head out of the shop gingerly, holding the book to his chest. He turns and grins at him, and waves goodbye.
And then he's gone.
Aziraphale sits there for a few minutes, thinking of literally any other way he could have reacted. He doesn't quite know how to feel.
Lockie, meanwhile, is so relieved that he successfully avoided Oliver Stevens--- a boy he had dated for a summer when he was fifteen and back in England for the holiday and ghosted immediately after because he had no idea how to handle human feelings---that he only registers what happened once he's walked back to his flat.
This takes quite a while, because he's still new to Soho, and quite hungover, and his phone has run out of charge so he can't even check for the directions back to his flatshare--but he eventually ends up wobbling through his door and looking down at his purchase and realizing that:
1) The man from that bookshop earlier was frighteningly familiar. Not immediately, but there was a second where his accent slipped into something much more rural, and he couldn't quite place it,
2) the book he just bought is a leather-bound number, with the words DEVILS AND DEMONS AND OTHER DASTARDLY BEINGS, VOLUME IV; SUMMONINGS AND COMMUNICATION embossed in gold, and
3) he just paid a hundred pounds for a book to get out of an awkward situation.
...sounds about right.
"---and I just stared at him, Crowley!" Aziraphale is saying, eyes wide and wringing his hands, distraught.
"I mean," says Crowley, valiantly attempting to not feel the emotions that he is feeling, "he was alright, wasn't he? Not in trouble or anything?"
"Well, he mentioned an, ah--an ex--"
"Yeah, no, angel, I meant-- real trouble?"
"No," Aziraphale mumbles, wilting slightly, "but he did look a bit. Rumpled. And he was wearing the most absurd coat, and these silly sunglasses---I bet that's your influence all over, my dear!"
Crowley tries not to feel any pride, at that. He does not succeed.
"You're telling me," says Omar, in clear disbelief, "that old man Fell actually sold you something?"
"...you know this guy?"
The bundle of blankets and sheets on Omar's lap shifts, and parts wide enough to reveal Lockie's other roommate, who says, stuffily, "Yeah! This is the man Karo says tried to threaten her for trying to buy a--I dunno, it was some Shakespeare book or something, right, and she swears he just had a first edition Dickens lying around ."
"I saw a massive snake in there once, and I think Fell honestly would have let it bite me if I didn't tell him I just wanted to get out of the rain," says Omar, gravely.
Lockie takes a moment to register this information, and says, "Hey, wait---is this the same shop Heidi just lived in for a little while? Because the guy wouldn't sell her anything, but he was cool with her staying overnight for some reason?"
"Same bloke," says Artie, sniffing, from his blanket cocoon, "Also there's sometimes a Bentley parked outside, and a pointy looking man we're pretty sure is Fell's husband."
"Didn't see that," says Lockie, then frowns, "You guys seem to know an awful lot about some bookstore in Soho."
"Fell's like a--" Omar pauses, hand stilling from where he's buried it in the blanket cocoon, presumably stroking Artie's hair, "what's the word? A cryptid?"
"Oh my god," says Lockie.
"No one knows how old he is, he's been around forever," says Artie, in a matter-of-fact tone, "and he's just--so weird. I'm pretty sure there's a Reddit forum and some twitter threads floating around about him."
Artie likely would have said more, but he chooses this moment to go very still and then scramble off the sofa and run full tilt towards the bathroom, hands clasped over his mouth. Which is just as well--Lockie has no idea what to do with any of this information.
"I feel like I should go give this back," says Lockie, once Omar has gently carried Artie back from his seventh toilet detour of the morning.
"I will kill you," says Artie, hoarsely, "that's a fucking miracle you're holding there, mate."
"...we need to pay the rent--" Lockie points out, with no little amount of anxiety--it's only recently that he'd figured out how money does and doesn't work, and this is just. An awful slip-up, and he really doesn't want to be the one falling short on their share of the rent again---
Omar leans in and looks at the cover pensively, which has never meant good things.
"We could try summoning a demon first though, right?" he says, "And also? I've been meaning to ask, what's with the coat?"
"In what universe is that a good idea?" Lockie demands, throwing his hands up, "The heel of my boot can't crush people for real, Omar!"
"Also, the coat is because you and Artie finally fucked last week," says Lockie, proudly, "Heidi and I had a bet going."
I'm sure you know where this is going.
Warlock "Lockie" Dowling may not have decided to summon a demon, but he sure didn't decide to Not Do it.
Heidi Jones is regarded largely as less woman and more Entity. This is a fact universally accepted---she is small and plump and wears calculatedly unthreatening sweaters, but she walks with purpose and has the air of someone that has seen some Shit.
When Lockie first met her, aged sixteen and balls-deep in an emo phase so intense he insisted that everyone call him War , he was reminded abruptly and bizarrely of his old Nanny. Not that Heidi, with her artfully messy buns and (at the time) obsession with MCR, was anything like Nanny. It was more the general aura, kind of.
Which is why he isn't surprised when Heidi's only reaction to "hey please help us with the incomprehensible numbers associated with this demon summoning ritual" is a long-suffering sigh.
Lockie, who is watering his plants (Camille, showing some worrying spotting on the leaves), waits for the question--the one he knows he should have asked in the beginning.
"What, exactly, is this summoning for?" Heidi asks, because she is also the only person he knows with any forethought.
"Well--hold on a second," he says, and leans in towards Camille, and hisses, with all the venom he can muster, "you're in optimal conditions, you just got that fancy new fertilizer, you have no excuse for acting up like this---keep this up and you'll be relegated to the fucking bin, asshole, don't think I won't do it!"
"...are you threatening your plants again," says Heidi, sounding even more long-suffering
"Yep," says Lockie.
"Jesus," she says.
"It's an old habit!" he says, defensively, "and it helps relieve stress, okay, and they like people talking to them!"
He's honestly lucky he still doesn't call them Brother or Sister or Little Sibling of Indeterminate Gender. Thanks, Francis.
"I don't---the summoning?" she prompts.
Lockie is silent for a few moments, and then says, quietly, "You know how I showed up at your place last night?"
"And convinced me to get ugly drunk with you and cry while watching The Bachelorette," Heidi says, drily, "and called in sick and stumbled home looking like the manic pixie nightmare babe you are."
"...Yes," he says, and takes a deep breath, "I'm having---my dad called, yesterday. I'm officially disowned and cut off."
"Lockie--" says Heidi, softly.
"Got the call while I was at work and I lost it in the back room," he tells her, "Mom wouldn't--she wouldn't even talk to me."
"Jesus, that's awful--"
"Tell her about Fell!" Omar calls out from a room over, unaware that Lockie is ten seconds away from crying into Daniel the Fern.
Lockie takes a deep breath, and forces his voice into something less wet and cracked and vulnerable.
"Also I bought this book from that Fell guy," he tells her, and she sighs.
"We aren't done talking about this, Lockie," she says.
"But will you help us with the fiddly witch bits?"
He waits, and waters Daniel the Fern (who is doing its absolute most) until she says, "My uncle has notes on some summoning shit, let me call him. And send me the pages, there are precautions you can take so you don't lose a soul or something."
That last one is a sentence that heavily implies that Heidi has had experience with things that can take your soul, and may have seemed jarring coming from anyone else. From Heidi, it is not.
"Nice," he says, and hangs up before the call can get any more emotional.
After a pause, he turns back to Camille, who he imagines is drooping a little more than before.
"I'm sorry," he says, quietly, "it isn't your fault--let's move you somewhere else, you're probably just. Getting cramped."
And, feeling inexplicably small, he picks up the pot, and moves it to a spot by the window.
When Crowley decided to be a Nanny for the Antichrist, he didn't expect to become half of a parental unit.
After Warlock's eleventh birthday, he'd very carefully not thought of the boy--it was easy, at first, because Adam and the Apocawasn't happened immediately after, and then quite a bit more difficult because when you hold a baby in your arms and raise it, it's hard to Not Think About him.
He and Aziraphale had done their part, and fucked it up spectacularly. Anything more would be--
But he'd just be sitting around, sometimes, and he'd see someone do something obscenely irritating, and he'd be hit with the temptation to broaden his vowels into something much more Northern, and tell a small boy about how he'll crush everything under the heel of his boot someday.
---which is fucking absurd, he isn't, wasn't, the boy's mother. Nevermind that Harriet Dowling never spent any time with the boy, never mind that he and Aziraphale taught him to walk and to speak and to climb on top of the fridge and steal cookies and ride a bicycle and tie his laces and do little coin tricks and stick aforementioned coins to the sidewalk and watch gleefully as people got upset about it and---
Stupid. The boy likely doesn't even remember them.
work of art changed group name to lemon time
work of art: it's a joäk there's a meme or something
work of art: like the cursive for demon looks like lemon? with a capital L?
warbaby: explaining it makes it like ten times lamer artie im
dycicle: yeah idc
dycicle: heres what I got ok
warbaby changed omar to discount waluigi
discount waluigi: WHY
warbaby: SHAVE THE MOUSTACHE OFF YOU ABOMINATION
dycicle: my uncle says don't smudge the circle n u should be ok this seems like a p legit ritual
dycicle: also dont touch the numbers all u need to do is do the runes nd incantation
discount waluigi: cool now to fIND A VIRGIN WHO THE FUCK DO WE KNOW THATS A VIRGIN
warbaby: actually that means someone whos never had their blood used in a spell or smth
discount waluigi: why
discount waluigi: do u know this
warbaby: oh my old nanny told me when I was a kid lol
warbaby: she told me virginity's a construct
discount waluigi: what the f u c k lockie how old were u
warbaby: idk like 8 i think
warbaby: why do we never ask heidi how she knows stuff??? this is a weird thing for ur uncle to just have on hand man why does he have a dos and donts pdf for demon summoning
dycicle: idk man my mom's side of the family all have weird hobbies. My cousins fam straight up used to live by a literal prophecy book
discount waluigi: what
discount waluigi: wait wdym """"used to""""
dycicle: idk apparently they ran out?? My uncle isn't from that part, he's just independently witchy.
warbaby: god thats so valid
work of art: hey guys unrelated but im looking thru the book and does the symbol for the antichrist look a little like the m-25 route or am i finally dying
work of art: camera.png
discount waluigi: holy shit babe
"He looked familiar," Lockie says, as Omar gleefully shoves aside the sofa, to make room for Artie and his blood bowl.
"Who?" Artie asks, muffled by his stuffy nose and the handkerchief he's tied around the lower half of his face to avoid snotting all over the little bowl of blood he's holding. The bowl, Lockie is bemused to note, is the Winnie the Pooh bowl he usually eats breakfast out of.
"Fell," he says pensively, drawing out some protective runes on his wrist with an eyeliner pencil, "I dunno, I just can't shake it. He looked really familiar."
"Karo and a lot of the people at uni talk about him a lot," Omar says, from where he has moved on to shoving the carpet aside. "Hey, this place is really dusty, should we vacuum?"
"...you think we should vacuum before we summon our demon," says Artie, slowly.
"But I've talked to Karo once," he says, "and I don't really swing with your uni crew, you guys are all I have here. I just--there was something about him."
Omar grunts, and says, "Can't be that you fancy him, your type is usually just weird assholes."
"Fell's kind of an asshole," Artie says. "And definitely weird."
Lockie is so outraged that he shakes off his pondering and glowers up at Omar. "What do you mean my type is weird assholes?"
"Mason Riley," Omar says, flatly, "broke our door down because you tried breaking it off, and then threatened to out you about being a t---er, being a word I can't say because it's really rude but it starts with a T---at work."
"...alright, that was bad, but it was also once---"
"When was this? " Artie demands, looking aghast.
"A month before you moved in, love," Omar says, and adds, "and that might have been once, but we still get calls from that bloke with the bone collection who was way too into dead bodies."
"I thought it was an aesthetic! Turns out he's just in a cult," Lockie says, mournfully. He dips his fingers into the blood---his own, in fact---and starts laying out the circle.
Artie rolls his eyes heavenward, and says, "Fell and his fuck-off snake and his no-sales policy in his goddamn bookshop sound right up your alley, then."
This is a statement that, for some reason, fills Lockie with such revulsion that he actually retches. He pictures Fell's face, the flyaway pale curls and his round, cherubic face, and picturing this in any sexual context actually turns his stomach. This is, he thinks, not a face he's attracted to, he just---
"Okay, Artie, hit up the incantation," says Omar, cheerfully.
Artie obliges, reading out the Latin from the book with practiced ease, which handily betrays his posh roots.
---it just looks familiar. Makes him think of gardens, though Fell doesn't look like the type to actually venture outside his bookshop, his face just reminds him of--
Something's happening. The circle's glowing, the runes laid out in careful strokes going from a dirty red to a blinding bluish glow.
"Hey, fun fact," says Omar, eyeing the circle with growing trepidation, "I'm having second thoughts."
"Too late," says Artie bracingly, "Quick, have any of us thought of what to do once this bugger actually shows up?"
" Francis " Lockie mutters, a dawning sort of realisation coming over him. He feels giddy with it.
Lockie wants to explain, wants to pause the circle blaring out white light in the shape of a language he doesn't know, painted into the floor in his own blood, wants to run back to the bookshop and ask Brother Francis---if it is Francis---when he had his teeth worked on, they look really nice, I love your new displaced-from-the1940s look ---
But the circle is not going to stop just because Lockie Dowling thought at it, and it spits out a spindly-looking figure onto the dusty floor despite his misgivings.
"What," Aziraphale is saying, "will we do if we run into him again?"
"Nothing," says Crowley, a little venomously, "he probably won't recognise us. He probably doesn't even remember us, and even if he did---"
"Oh, my dear," says Aziraphale, softly, reaching out to touch him gently on the shoulder. Crowley nearly recoils, because he's just about vibrating with feelings, but holds still and allows himself to have that comfort.
"---and even if he did," says Crowley, "What would we do? Tell him we were only there because we thought he was the Antichrist? And ditched him immediately when we figured out he was the wrong boy?"
Aziraphale doesn't answer, looking stricken.
"But," he says, "You cared for him, Crowley---I cared for him---I'd go as far as to say we even loved him."
Crowley sniffs, and takes a long swig of his bottle of port. He sighs and looks up at the ceiling, uncaring if his sunglasses slide further down his nose, a feat only achieved when he is like this---loose-limbed and warm and alone with Aziraphale. He is upset and shaking with--with some emotion he has no interest in naming---but he is safe.
"Fat lot of good it's done anyone," he mutters.
"I'd like to think," Aziraphale says, "that we did good by him. When we were with him."
Crowley is silent. His chest aches.
"I tried," he says, hoarsely. "I tried to do good by him."
His chest is, right now, a very concentrated point of pain. He hasn't felt anything like this since--
"You did," Aziraphale murmurs, looking pensively at his glass, "I'm sure you did, my dear."
Crowley, who is by now quite certain that the space behind his ribs is on fire, clutches at his chest and says, "Ah---Angel, something's wrong."
"Crowley, you're glowing!" he says, alarmed.
"Yes---fuck, I'd fucking noticed," he spits, and might have said more, but he feels himself get pulled aggressively, and then everything gets very blurry and very confusing.
Aziraphale, for his part, sees his companion just. Disappear from his position on his armchair.
"Fuck ," he says, for what might be for second time since the dawn of the world.
The glowing calms down, and the leggy figure scrambles haphazardly to its feet.
"You think we can ask it to pay off our rent?" asks Artie, under his breath.
"There's a banishment incantation, right?" says Omar, faintly. He seems to have done a complete 180° on his attitude of current happenings and looks very much like he wants to climb out the fire escape. Which, Lockie is sure is broken anyway.
The demon---and the book says that it should be a demon--- straightens in a disoriented way, all limbs, and reveals itself to be. Well. Man-shaped.
Man-shaped, with brilliant red hair that looks like it's been knocked askew by the fall, dressed in black from head to toe and wearing smoky black sunglasses.
"What the bloody fuck," he hisses, and Lockie thinks his tongue might be forked, "is this?"
"Um," says Omar, voice having climbed several pitches. "Hello. We've summoned you?"
"Are you British?" says Artie, wide-eyed.
"No , I'm not bloody British," says the demon, in a British accent. Then he looks down and says, "Is--is this a summoning? Have you lot fucking summoned me?"
"Uh," says Omar.
"This is unbelievable, I thought I asked him to burn all those books---" then, his face twists in a manner that indicates he's squinting at them. "You don't look much like witches."
"And you don't look much like a demon," Artie points out, because he has no self preservation instinct. Being the only Indian kid in his Eton class has given him a backbone of steel. "Actually, you look familiar. Do you live around here?"
Now, one might be tempted to wonder why Lockie hasn't spoken since the demon, all pointy edges and smoky glasses, stumbled out of thin air. And one would be correct in wondering.
Fresh off of the realization that Brother Fucking Francis---you know, the guy covered in dirt who once took Lockie out for a walk in the middle of the woods and convinced a deer to let a fucking five year old pet it---might be running a mildly infamous bookstore of all things, Lockie's brain has decided to go careening down memory lane while his body is just standing in the living room with a demon.
And it's because of this trip, this one foot he has in the memories of brighter times, when he had a garden and laughter and two people who spoke to him like he held the world in the palms of his hands, that he says what he is about to say next.
Or, perhaps it's because his dad called him yesterday while he was on a double shift at the shop, and told him that he was cut off. No looking back, marooned in England where he'd run away as soon as he could, because he'd needed to get away as soon as he could.
Or, maybe he just knows. After all, when someone essentially raises you for eleven years, you have their faces kind of imprinted onto you. Took a while with Francis, but honestly, the lack of dirt threw him off.
"---I don't grant wishes," the demon is saying, in an exasperated tone that's at once familiar and very different. New accent, Lockie thinks.
He--he?---doesn't appear to have noticed Lockie, which is fair. Artie's kind of in his face, and Omar's shuffled to a side in an attempt to protect him, but ends up looking terrified instead.
"We've got these sigils to stop you from taking our souls, but honestly, I wouldn't mind losing that to get the toilet fixed--hasn't flushed in months," Artie says.
"What exactly," says the demon slowly, "am I going to do with your soul?"
"I dunno, eat it?"
"I'm in hell," says Omar.
"Nah," says the demon, and he grins sharply. And that's when Lockie's sure . "Hell's a lot damper. Overcrowded, too. All mildew and pus, you wouldn't like it."
Artie opens his mouth to say something else---probably something ill-advised---but is cut off by Lockie.
"Nanny?" he says, very quietly.
And then the demon looks away from where he's looking bemused down at his roommates, and at him. And his face--
"Oh," says Nanny Ashtoreth, voice immediately turning softer, not quite the same as before, but close enough that Lockie wants to cry. "Oh, Warlock? My boy, is that--"
He doesn't finish, because he suddenly has an armful of Lockie.
"Don't cross the--nevermind," says Omar, from very far away.
"Oh, sweetheart," Nanny croons, and he sounds the same, except absolutely not. But well. It's been years. Nothing stays the same, really, and all that matters is that Nanny hugs him back.
"You look different," Lockie tells him, wetly.
Nanny Ashtoreth, who has apparently swapped her severe tweed for leather jeans, barks out a laugh and holds him tighter.
"Did he just call the demon Nanny?" asks Omar, faintly.
"This explains a lot about him," says Artie.