Charlie pressed her lips into a tight line as she listened to the sounds coming from Vaggie’s phone. She hadn’t blinked once since the recording began.
She'd known what to expect, and yet, she wasn’t prepared to hear…well… all of that.
Vaggie tapped the screen and the recording stopped in the middle of a horrid gurgling. If the love of her afterlife didn’t get the idea by now, she never would.
“I’m sorry, hun,” she said, resting her slight hand on Charlie’s shoulder. “I hope that wasn’t too much. I just want to make sure you really understand who we’re dealing with here.”
Charlie mustered a smile and set her own hand atop Vaggie’s. “No, it’s fine. I’m glad you showed me.” She gave her a gentle squeeze before continuing.
“I’m not…” she began, “I’m not sure what I should do with this.”
With a soft plea in her eyes she looked at Vaggie, shifting from eye to eyepatch.
“What should I do?”
Vaggie crossed her arms and tapped a finger on her elbow.
“I guess… I guess talk to him?” she answers with an exaggerated shrug. “I would, but you know how he is when I try to tell him anything. If he’s still doing this… We can’t have him running the hotel with you. We can’t.”
“You’re right, but without him…” she trailed off and Vaggie shook her head.
“It’s not worth it Charlie. We can find another way.”
Charlie didn’t say it out loud but the look she gave her did. They both knew how long it’d taken them just to get the hotel “running”, how long it’d taken to get even Angel Dust to help, how close they’d been to shutting the whole thing down before Alastor walked into their lives.
He very well may be their only chance.
Could she give that up? Even if it turned out Alastor really was still…
Charlie took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. First things first.
“I’ll talk to him. Don’t you worry Vaggie, I got this!”
Charlie swooped in to plant a kiss on her beloved's cheek and gathered her coat from the armrest before marching off. Vaggie watched her go with a weary smile.
“Go get ‘em, tiger."
Alastor sat across from Charlie in their shared office and smiled widely.
She tried to look as authoritative as possible; she made it a point to lean against the edge of her desk, hands on her hips and a convincing frown on her face.
“You know I love to see you smile, darling,” Alastor said with a lilt in his distorted voice, and Charlie’s brow furrowed. “So what’s this rendezvous all about?”
The recordings. The mass murder. The screaming. The torture.
“I need to know you’re not still doing…really any of that,” she asserted and Alastor’s red eyes widened.
“Oh no, my dear! I’ve grown weary of that old shtick.” He waved his hand as if swatting a gnat. “I’ve found less tacky ways to get my kicks. That’s why I’m here, after all!”
She didn’t answer right away and instead looked him over. He sat with his back straight as an arrow, legs crossed at the knees and hands laced firmly in his lap. He was a hard demon to read.
“ Al… you’re basically in charge at this hotel. Next to me, of course. You need to set an example. We need to set an example. Why would our guests try to redeem themselves if we won’t?”
“And I agree wholeheartedly,” he said, a faint but steady heartbeat eked out from the static around him before slipping back into the white noise.
“I’m not sure you’re taking this seriously.”
He chuckled and adjusted his monocle. “My, my Charlie you’ve got yourself all worked up.” He stood up and Charlie felt the sudden but fleeting urge to run. “There’s no need for you to worry.”
“I want to believe you. I really do. I’m just not sure that I can.”
“Hmm,” his voice lowered to a soft rumble and whatever frequency he’d been on sharpened ever so slightly. He took a seat beside Charlie, still towering over her and wrapped an arm around her that squeezed her to his chest
Her body stiffened in silent panic. It still caught her off guard when he did that.
“I’m nothing if not a man of my word,” Alastor confessed more to the room than to her, “But what can I do to convince you?”
She made sure he was finished before peeling herself out of his red and black grip.
“Well… I guess…” she cleared her throat and inched away without realizing it, “I’m not sure. Maybe if…maybe i’d feel better if you didn’t disappear on random nights. I know it’s none of my business what you do with your free time, so you don’t have to stay here…” What was she getting at? “I just…I don’t know.”
“Ah! Are you suggesting a curfew?” He sounded almost delighted.
“No! No, that would be silly. You’re not a child.”
Alastor stood back up and took the demon princess by the hand, pulling her towards him into a easy twirl.
“If a curfew would appease you, I’m happy to oblige, my dear” he said, guiding her into something of a waltz as a nostalgic song shivered into the air.
She didn’t bother to fight whatever he was doing and let him lead her around the sparse room. “I…are you sure? I’m sure we can think of a better idea.”
“Of course! Gives me an excuse to spend more time with Hell’s most charming gal,” he said with a wink.
She wasn’t impressed.
“Alastor, come on…”
“And tell you what!” he exclaimed while dipping her, “I’ll even let your beau call me whenever she wants! No questions asked! You have my number, yes? Just give it to her next time you see her!”
Why was he so excited?
“You really don’t have to do this.” The more enthused he seemed the more wary she felt about this idea.
“Oh, it’s not about ‘have to’, darling. I don’t do anything I don’t want to.” His dark eyelids lowered and his shark-like smile brightened.
She swallowed any further protest.
“Okay, I mean… If you really want to,” she said, more meekly than she meant to.
At some point the dance had ended and the music had scratched to a halt, but Charlie hadn’t noticed when.
“But…” She knew she was testing a boundary but couldn’t stop herself from asking. “Why?”
With a twitch of his fingers, Alastor manifested his cane and twirled it in his hands like a baton as he started to wander about the room. His eyes roamed over the contents of a bookshelf like he hadn’t really noticed them till now.
Charlie watched him with ever growing curiosity, but she wisely kept her distance.
“If we’re gonna keep running this place together, we need to trust each other,” he said simply, “We’re partners, after all.”
She found herself toying with the ends of her long blonde hair.
“That’s true…” she offered, and he was quiet for a beat too long. Just long enough to make her acutely aware of that noise that surrounded him – a radio tuned to nothing, but almost something…
Alastor had turned his attention back to her and it almost startled her when she realized.
His lips closed over his teeth, perhaps an attempt to soften his face, and his eyes held her gaze almost like a puppy would…
It took her a moment to realize what was happening...
“Alright, alright,” she sighed and he beamed once more, throwing his arms up in celebration.
“Wonderful! Then it’s settled!”
He crossed the threshold to the door and held it wide open. He gave her a pointed look.
“Meeting adjourned?” he purred with a tilt of his head, and she returned something between a smile and a grimace.
Alastor had won. Charlie didn’t know what exactly, or what it meant, but he’d won. And there was not a damn thing she could do about it.
“Meeting adjourned,” she conceded and Alastor held out a gloved hand toward the empty hall.