Hanrattyline Vermington was strange. For 20 years it had sat with its legs crossed in the center of its cell, staring right through the bars, right through the bars of the adjacent cell, and right through the back wall of the prison. No amount of torture phased it. It very rarely blinked, and it took several seconds when it did. It was as though it had fallen asleep with its eyes open.
Because of this, it was often taken on as a challenge by mid-caste demons to test their abilities. Sapphomet estimated a full ten percent of conversations in the prison’s breakroom were bets on whether or not someone could break the possum in C019. It was so often torn apart that it had become Sapphomet’s full-time job to put it back together again.
Tonight’s shift - in spite of the rest of the day - was unremarkable. The goat sat, Their legs folded under them, deftly pulling glowing silver threads through the last pieces of broken skin. It was like a jigsaw puzzle, they thought to themselves. There were nights where they talked to their charge. Besides John, Ratty was really the only person available to talk to. They told themselves it wasn’t too strange, likened it to talking to a favorite toy while you repaired it.
“Here we are…” Sapphomet muttered in a faux motherly tone as they tied off the last stitch. The day had been rough. Despite it’s comatose state, Sapphomet struggled to raise their voice, still anxious about crying in front of the possum. They had become so familiar with each other. The grey-white blend of it’s fur an incredible contrast against the goat’s own stark white. They found it fascinating: the possum was not in fact gray. There was no spot on its body where its fur was entirely one colour. Individual strands of black and white blended together from a distance. Sapphomet wondered if anyone else had noticed what they had.
What it would be like if it came to life? It was a persistent fantasy. What would happen if ‘it’ became ‘she’? This was a distant dream. Sapphomet was absolutely sure that it wouldn’t. Anyone that could sleep through 20 years of being sublimated and sewn back together over and over again wasn't going to suddenly stand up and start dancing.
“Do you mind if we talk?” Sapphomet asked. The possum stayed silent as ever. This - at least for a conversation - was just about as good as a yes.
“Yes, of course. Thank you.” The goat turned, resting their back against the possum and leaning in. It’s back was firm, but with just enough give to adjust comfortably. That wasn’t new; it made some slow, instinctual moves. It was comforting.
“So, I think I’ve told you about John before?” It was always weird to get into. “We uh... he said something tonight that really rattled me, and I’m not sure what to do, really.” They felt a familiar knot in their throat. “I mean I have to go back to my apartment eventually but… He wrote on this like, blank part of the wall and-”
Sapphomet took a deep breath, feeling it rattle in their lungs. “I do not think I want to talk about this actually.” It was always weird like this. Sitting back to back made it feel like the other woman was breathing. It did breathe, about once every 6 minutes.
“I do not know if I can go home… Would you mind terribly if I stayed at yours tonight?” They joked. More silence. “You always know just what to say Ms. Vermington.”
More silence. Sapphomet watched their own tears dry on the cement between their crossed legs. It had been a long, long time since they had the energy to be afraid of John. It was just a part of staying alive: wanting to scream and run and, well, maybe get out of here with the possum. Dead weight, they thought.
There were border camps. People made it out of the prison fairly regularly, but nobody really ever made it out of hell. As long as he was alive John would track them down. This was, without a doubt, Hell.
“We do not belong here.” The two had a lot in common: sucked into bad situations, doing bad things because they didn’t have a choice. There were nights in their early childhood where Sapphomet dreamt of becoming an angel. Heaven wasn’t like that. It was a stupid dream.
The possum sturred. Not the occasional slow-motion moves of instinct, but actually sturred. It rolled to one side, putting far more weight on Sapphomet, slipping, and cracking her nose off of the payment. Sapphomet jumped, backing into a corner and pulling a long needle from subspace. They pointed the sharp end at the now living corpse, their heart roaring in their ears.
And then Ratty screamed. For roughly 15 seconds she tore at the lining of her throat as every piece of torment from the past 20 years crashed into her reborn ego at once. The pain grew out of her, sending spikes out through the subspace of the cell and knocking the switchspace weapon out of Sapphomet’s hand. She stopped abruptly, her breathing barely audible against the wall of sound. Ratty swallowed hard, coating her torn throat in a layer of spit and audibly choking at the effort. She glanced at Sapphomet, up at the ceiling, at the bars of her cell, seeing them all for the first time, then back to Sapphomet.
“What… did you… just say?” She asked between lungfuls of air. Sapphomet, terrified, shaking, now openly weeping, pulled another needle out of subspace.
“What did you say?” Ratty repeated. It took a moment for the goat to register the question. Took another few moments to compose herself enough to answer.
“I- we do not belong here?” The possum’s chest rose and fell violently, taking more time with each breath as she began to calm down.
“Do you-” She coughed. “D’you wanna bust out with me?”
It was difficult to convince the possum not to try it on her first night. She was cocky, brash, talked louder than Sapphomet had ever pictured. She had an accent too; a very pronounced northern Ontarian cut. It was cute. Exciting to get to know her again.
As an advantage of their caste, Sapphomet was allowed to ‘check out’ any prisoner they wanted for 24 hours at a time. All it took to convince Ratty was the promise of a more comfortable bed. She still stomped slightly as the two climbed up to Sapphomet’s apartment, frustrated and chewing on escape plans. She got to the door first, stopping and hovering as the goat caught up.
“So, okay. I get it, but what if-” She started for what must have been the millionth time that night.
“Miss Vermington.” Sapphomet cut her off, suddenly frustrated with digging for their keys. “I really am sorry, but I have had a very long day. I am all for fantasizing about breaking out, but it is just not possible.”
“What if you made me like, one of your disciples? That’s a thing, right?” Sapphomet froze, their key hovering a few inches from its lock. “I see that all the time in movies or whatever. Emissary of so and so, or whatever.”
She was definitely brash.
“That-” Sapphomet swallowed hard. “That is a very serious proposition.” Ratty stopped, suddenly considering the shorter woman. Her energy changed; stopped tapping her toe, untensed her posture, took a step back from the door as she realized she was hovering.
“Of course. I’m sorry.”
“Honest mistake.” They pushed through the door, dropping their medicine bag on the counter. “Just, let us get to know each other. Tea?”
“Yeah, yes please.” Ratty stood, stuck on the welcome mat.
“I- uh, my paws are super dirty from the walk over and I don’t want to track dirt through your apartment.”
“Oh, uh worry not about it. Just go get a wet towel, I guess.” Sapphomet nodded towards their room as the stove clicked to life under their kettle. “The restroom is through there.”
Ratty tiptoed through the living room, careful to put her feet down in spots that already looked kind of dirty. Sapphomet listened to the floor creak beneath her, content to blindly go through the motions. It stopped suddenly in the bedroom, tension rising in the silence. What was she- oh shit.
Ratty kept walking, seemingly having finished reading. A few seconds of running water, a few more minutes of silence. Sapphomet stopped being able to snoop as the kettle came to a boil.
They took down a small box of tea and a teapot, watching strings of green swirl off of the leaves as the pot filled with water. Ice water would be nice too, they thought. They broke a tray of ice into a tall jug and threw it under the filtered tap. They took a quiet moment to breathe in the steam, letting their face fall.
“So…” Sapphomet jumped as Ratty came up behind her. It was impossible not to notice the smear of fresh black ink against her pink fingers. “Shitty boyfriend?”
Sapphomet took a deep breath, not quite ready to talk about that yet. “Yeah.”
“Can I help?”
Ratty watched the little goat set the teapot and jug down on their coffee table, gesturing to have the possum sit. She sat, her wrist shaking as she tried to pour herself a glass of each. She felt weirdly weak: her muscles had atrophied over the past 25 years. It was probably not a good idea to attempt to escape like this, not until she was a fully operational creature again at least.
The pair sat quietly, possum watching goat delicately bunch a line of rolling tobacco on a small piece of paper. They reached for the water jug, both of them too focused on the cigarette being rolled to avoid knocking it over.
“Fuck.” Sapphomet hissed as the water pooled around their feet. They placed their open cigarette carefully on a dry part of the table and stood up to get another jug.
“Wait.” Ratty said, sticking her tongue out.
“What?” Sapphomet asked.
“For your rollup.”
“Oh, uh…” The demon sat back down, lifting the paper to the possum’s tongue and struggling to find a place to put their eyes as they wet the sticky edge. The two settled on direct eye contact, Ratty’s bemused, smug curiosity bringing a blush out of Sapphomet’s cheeks. They flicked the roll closed, wrapping a few strings around the tip, lighting it and lifting it to the spot where their mouth should have been in one movement
“I didn’t expect you to actually do that.” Ratty grinned. Sapphomet laughed, breaking the awkward moment.
“What can I say, I am desperate.” They teased back. They let the silence hang as Sapphomet took the first pull through a small hole in their skin, conscious of how they looked with their mouth torn all the way open.
“So, what do you do?” Sapphomet asked
“I’m a reporter, I work for MICE Magazine, actually.”
“Oh, how is that?”
“It’s, uh- Well I’m dead, so not that great.”
“Mm.” Sapphomet took another drag.
“So, how serious is Emisaryship?” Ratty asked, never one to know not when to press an issue.
“Oh, I would have to be in love with you.” The goat said, matter-of-fact.
“You’re not in love with me yet?” Ratty teased.
“Well, I am in love with an idea I projected onto you while you were in a coma.”
“Oh yeah? How disappointing am I so far?”\
“Oh, very.” They ribbed back, breaking their skin into a slight smile.
“Well, I’m sure I’ll fix that eventually.” Ratty took a sip of their tea, feeling some tension slip out of their body as she did. “So, what are you like, a demon of?”
“I am actually not a demon, I am just the patron deity of bisexual chaos. I just ended up in hell through…” Sapphomet trailed off, struggling to figure out how to phrase it. “Unfortunate circumstances.”
“You do something evil?” Ratty asked.
“No, no. Just bad luck.” Sapphomet’s expression fell. They took a moment to watch the embers at the tip of their cigarette glow and put itself out. “Do you really think you could get us out of here?”
“Probably.” Ratty nodded, watching a clump of ash fall into the damp section of carpet.
A twin bed was rarely enough for two people. For Ratty - she made do in college, getting awkwardly intimate with anyone who needed to sleep over. Sapphomet, well, just never had anyone but John over, and he very rarely slept.
Ratty eyed the message John had left last night through the warped glass of an ashtray, rising and falling on Sapphomet’s chest:
I’m your boss.
Who’d believe you?
I’m the fucking devil baby.
He had clearly written the “4” before thinking of what he was actually going to write there.
“So- Okay-” Ratty started, her voice scratchy from a few pulls off of Sapphomet’s joint. “He just… writes that on your wall… and leaves?” Sapphomet nodded.
“It is, a pretty normal escalation of his regular behaviour. I should have seen this coming." They replied, staring, detached, at their ceiling fan.
“Oh my God shut the fuck up.” The possum rolled over, failing to account for the size of the bed nestling her snout into the goats armpit. They didn’t seem to mind. “Irrelevant. He is an asshole and I am going to kill him.”
Sapphomet took a long drag, finally crossing the ‘become fascinated with the back of your hand’ threshold. “Have you ever killed anyone before Miss Vermington?”
“It’s Ratty, please. And also, I don’t remember, but probably.”
“You do not remember?”
“Would you like to tell it?”
“Eh. Not really.”
“Hm.” Sapphomet turned, dropping a clump of ash into the possum’s massive mess of half-curly hair.
“Tell me a different story then.”
“Oh yeah?” She looked up from the goat’s armpit. “What kind of story?”
“The first story that comes to mind like, every single time someone tells me to tell a story is about how the first time I had sex was in a hot tub at a Super 8 motel.”
“Oh goodness. That sounds awful.”
“Oh absolutely. It's also just a shitty story, like I just told all of it.”
Sapphomet 'humped, dissatisfied with her story.
“Well okay then. You tell a story; set the bar for me.” Ratty prodded.
“I went on a few dates with Jesus Christ when he was in his 20s.”
“No fucking way.” Ratty balked
“It is true.” The goat bragged, self-satisfied.
“Was he a good fuck?”
“Well, I mean, they do not call her the virgin mary for nothing.” Sapphomet joked. Ratty stared at them in silence for a few moments, trying to process what she had just heard.
“What the fuck does that mean?” She broke into a cackle.
“I have no idea,” Sapphomet admitted, letting down their faux seriousness for a quiet laugh.
“Did Jesus have an Oedipus complex?” Ratty poked further.
“No, actually. I just thought it would be funny to say.” Sapphomet paused, something clearly building behind their eyes. “Do you?” They asked.
“Not… telling. I’m not going to tell you that. That's a secret.” Ratty stammered.
“My goodness! You totally do!”
“No! Fuck off!” Ratty giggled, watching the skin around where Sapphomet’s lips should have been pull and tear like warm rubber. It was - admitably - reviling. Kinda gross, and yet, somehow, watching this woman laugh, their mouth bleeding from the effort, Hell slipped away from around the two of them. It was a cool summer evening, laughing with a cool girl they met through work.
The possum just watches. Content with the glossy yellow glow of the goat’s eyes, the way they scrunched their snout, the two of them more than a little high.
“You have a beautiful smile Sapphomet.” Ratty said.
They stopped abruptly, remembering to cover their mouth as they turned back over, reexamining the doll that came to life. Her goofy grin, her beautifully tired eyes, certainly less suave than they had originally imagined, but then again nobody was that suave. She made a go at it, genuinely and without remorse, and that was pretty nice.
Both of them wondered privately if the other was going to kiss them. Both also wondered if they were ready for that.
“Are you not scared?” Sapphomet asked, stunning the staring possum.
“I- what? No, I-”
“Of being in Hell, I mean.”
Ratty blinked, snapped out of her lesbian trance. She sat up, turned her legs so she was upright on the bed.
“You mentioned earlier that there are safe spots, right?” She started quietly. Sapphomet nodded.
“Border camps, beyond the no-man's land, and the other eight circles beyond that. A group of rogue demons set up a shelter outside of the hierarchy's control.” They explained. Ratty rolled her shoulders, making more of an effort to keep her back straight, and probably ends up over straightening it in the process.
“Well, no, then. Easy. You put me back so you don't get in trouble, I break out, I cross no man's land, and I'm free.” She turned, forcing a smile. “I've done harding things than that. That's basically just 4 things.”
Sapphomet sat up behind her, chewing their next words; “You are here because you did something, and I do not think it is your fault, but you did do bad things. That is- Actually, I am sorry.” They tried to wave away the thought. “I’m sorry, ignore me. That is the last thing-”
“Am I afraid of what those things might be?” Ratty prodded. Sapphomet nodded.
“Yes. I am, but there is more to cope with right now than just that, and as soon as we get out, I'm going to fix every shitty thing I have ever done.” Conviction; that’s what Ratty had in spades. A drive to do what she thought was right no matter what. For the first time in a long time Sapphomet felt that same drive: compassion, and a legitimate yearning to give new friend that chance, and maybe to fix some of her own mistakes in the process.
20 years in hell flew by for Ratty: it came down to a combination of sleeping through 12 hours of torture every time she was captured, and a simple fact of the prison’s design. Part of it’s metaphysical design was that you never got enough time to do anything: 15 minutes felt like 10, you woke up early if you slept at all, the moments where you caught your breath were always fleeting at best, and a nose poking up through choppy waters at worst.
But nevertheless, 20 years flew by with Ratty in and out - mostly out - of prison. Sapphomet made regular journeys to the border camps on their time off, and for once in their infinite memory, they found herself in a good mood more than a tenth of the time. They had friends, and every odd weekend felt like a vacation from hell: a shitty, run down camping trip, but a vacation nonetheless. Living with distant fear was so much easier than living with constant fear, and tonight - more than a little drunk - they feared absolutely fucking nothing.
They had spent a lot of the night on a small stage built from scrap wood, singing and playing their lute for a crowded mess-tent turned bar. On earth, tonight would have been Ratty’s birthday, but neither of them kept track that well.
The goat had a beautiful voice in the same way they had a beautiful smile, a hiss that hovered just above the din, filling the room with their cool and comforting presence. They plucked away tiredly: this was the last song for tonight, and they missed the music already.
In the opposite corner sat Ratty, craning her neck to watch her girlfriend - or, maybe fiance at this point? Hard to tell really, love didn’t work like that in hell - finish their set. Across from her sat Crozi - a rising star in the hierarchy - tapping their claws boredly against the chipboard table. It was in their mutual interest to work together: Crozi; gifted with knowledge of the future had helped them plan their escape. In return, Ratty would neutralize a small amount of competition.
They always had this distant gaze. It was the kind of thing that made them hard to talk to until you got used to it, and something that made their disciples easy to spot. They had once described themselves as “A demon of guided truths and division to true reality - knowledge of who you can and need to be.” This, after pointing out a follower who had ended up in hell specifically because of their influence.
Ratty turned to them as Sapphomet finished, nodded to the crowd, and curtseyed through the curtain behind her.
“So, you think we can pull it off?” This was not the first time Ratty had asked. Crozi continued drumming the table, annoyed.
“I don’t know if you deserve that knowledge.” This was also not the first time Ratty had heard that.
“Wh- cmon.” Talking to Crozi got difficult sometimes. They had spent their tenure on earth in the middle ages and picked up the annoying affect of a faux-sophisticate.
“If you must ask, you will never know.” The ram raised their chin arrogantly.
“No, listen. I know you’re ambivalent to me, but what about Sapphomet?”
“Yes, indeed. What about Sapphomet?” The greater demon drawled. “Saint to all but herself, should I concern myself, lost already to the ales and wines?” Crozi glared.
“You should be worried.” Crozi blinked - perhaps for the first time since the two had met - stunned at the possum’s gall.
"I will not tell your future, Hanrattyline. I am not a carnival trick, nor one to flash my wisdom at those lost in its stupor. Though - should it please - perhaps a coin or two to lay out some cards if you like.” The ram drilled. “What I can tell you is that - if anyone is at risk - it is at you.”
“Yeah. Always a plea-”
“Quiet.” They interrupted. “Your abilities are naught compared to mine and theirs. You have martial arts written into your brain, and an amount of strength to be considered minuscule, even by the standards of a mortal."
“Well- okay hold on. Neo-”
"You are no chosen one, Hanrattyline. You are vermin, and perhaps beyond that: only proof that luck is blind. If I could finish: you have no memory of your abilities. All you have is instinct. They, on the other hand, cannot be slain, if anyone’s not ready it’s you.” Crozi simmered, Ratty waited to interject again.
"No, my apologies. You can also blink to and fro, and drop into a coma at a moment's notice. In my age, I even forget the simplest of abilities."
“Okay. Sorry. Always nice talking to you Crozi.” Ratty sat back, dejected.
“That said…” Crozi started once the universe mandated proper-amount-of-silence had passed. “You are a possum with an unquestionable amount of dumb luck, and-” They nodded at Sapphomet, drawing Ratty’s attention back to the woman of her dreams, currently trying their best to climb up onto a table. “Of course, her.”
“Everyone! Everyone everyone everyone.” The goat seemed to be trying to gather attention, sweeping it towards their with their arms. “Hold on- Ratty come get up on the table.” They gestured to the spot beside her. Ratty complied, bashful in front of so many people.
“This is my - what are we calling it now? Girlfriend is good, iunno… uh. This is my girlfriend: Ratty, and I love her so much.” They forced the possum’s arm into the air like a boxing champ. Ratty’s throat started to close as she felt increasingly squicked by the crowd. Sapphomet spun her so they were face to face, giving her a quick peck and leaving the taste of blood on their lips. Realistically, it looked like a mouth-first headbutt.
“I’m sorry for getting drunk.” They whispered. “I know- well-”
“S’alright hun. Can I get down off the table now?”
“You gotta do one more thing first.”
“Gotta say it back.”
“I love you.”
“Oh, is that all?” Ratty grinned down at the love of her life, fighting back a bout of giggles as her swishing tail threatened to topple the table. “Sapphomet, Goddess of the mountains, of love and chaos, weaver of the ties that bind: I love you with all of my heart. The 20 years since we met - as rough as they have been - have meant the world to me. I cannot wait to start our lives together.” Sapphomet stared, stunned at her best friend. They blinked, trying to keep their eyes from welling over before diving into her girlfriend’s chest, tipping the table and sending them both to the floor.
They laughed, Ratty secure in the knowledge that they wouldn’t need Crozi - or anyone else - to get out of here.
Moving from the inside of the prison to the outside of hell was a lot easier than moving from the border camps to the outside of Hell. The only way out was through John, which is why it made sense to make getting captured part of the plan. Sapphomet reported Ratty, dragging her over the threshold of the massive concrete structure by a fistfull of hair. It had to be that way - if the hierarchy thought that Sapphomet was on their side, they were a lot less likely to check their apartment when Ratty inevitably disappeared again. Every handoff had gone similarly since they had decided to escape. Sapphomet would throw Ratty to the handlers, the handlers would put her on the end of a collared stick, and they would make a performance out of being as stereotypically villainous/innocent as possible.
“I thought you loved me!” Ratty screamed for the hundredth time, channeling the sting of her collar’s spikes into faux throat tearing anguish. Her handlers laughed, Sapphomet turned at the threshold, letting the flesh around their mouth fall open in an over-the-top caricature of the upper-crust demons they had grown up around.
“And how many times will you make that mistake?” They laughed, slamming the door behind her. Ratty sobbed all the way to her cell, giving up ease of navigation in favor of selling the illusion.
She was - as usual - shoved through the too-narrow bars of her cell, forcing her to pop her shoulder out of its socket or have her neck snapped against the metal collar. She chose to leave it out, regretting that almost immediately as it broke her fall.
She slipped into her coma almost immediately, the first wave of ‘welcome back’ pain just barely clipping her as she dulled her senses. She sat patiently, watching the lights around her flicker, watching the air bend as it searched for a way to hurt her. Once she had her fill of the lightshow, she turned her attention to the small group of observers that had gathered around the front of her cell.
Her two handlers had been joined by a warden, a thumb hooked proudly through his leather belt. A solid steel baton with a taser mounted on the mean end took pride in place just below his fat fist.
It was important to remember that this was still Hell. For these people, fear of a violent uprising was part of their torture. They had been cops or soldiers in their previous lives, and had grown accustomed to being the unquestionably most well armed people in whatever room they walked into. In a riot, a baton might as well be a squirt-gun. Uniforms changed sizes to fit whoever wore them, the prison was built with purposeful security flaws, at certain times of day prisoners even had direct access to emergency equipment, all it would take to put a fire-axe in the hands of an escapee was to turn down away from the crowd. All of this, just to generate fear and tension for the people put in charge.
Ratty - although her memory was shot - had broken tougher nuts than this before.
So, plan: Knock out #1, grab his baton, knock out #2 and #3. Slip on a uniform and walk out the front door. Easy.
With that, her personal light show ended. She clenched her jaw, stuck her thumbs into her fists, and slipped out of her coma, letting it all come at once. She kept her eyes locked on #1, her body twisting with the effort of keeping composed.
This was nothing.
There were times in her before-life where she had been in more pain than this.
It felt almost as though whatever decided her punishment had been holding back, scared of what was to come.
She pushed herself through the last of it, the pain dragging its way out of her back like an arrow pulled through every inch of her body. It was surprisingly refreshing.
The dull ache in her dislocated shoulder came back slowly, a gentle nudge reminding her of her way through the bars.
She sat, just staring for a moment...
Then took a deep breath…
And sprung at the bars like a caged animal, slipping through with her arm still dangling out of its socket. She swung at #1, using the impact to pop it back in, then immediately diving south for the baton. Her fist closed around the rubber grip as #2 stomped into the side of her knee, snapping her leg cleanly and knocking her to the ground. She watched #3’s boots back away slowly - a coward without a weapon - as she rolled over onto her back. She jammed her new baton up into #1’s crotch, satisfied with the taser’s brilliant white sparks.
#1 went down hard as Ratty spun, jamming the heel of her soft shoe into the warden’s throat, re-breaking her leg and knocking the wind out of him. She stood, undoing what little progress her bones had done as she smacked the top of her skull into #2’s chin, sending them down as well.
She turned to see #3, feet away from a riot alarm, and tossed her baton on instinct. It landed a couple feet short, rolling the rest of the way and finishing it’s journey under #3’s boot, rolling in just the right way to send his head to the cement floor with a crack. Ratty gave a small fist-bump, sending a shooting pain through her still-not-fully-secure arm.
So… uniforms. Both of the guard-uniform tops had been stained with head-blood, and the warden’s pants had a whole burned in the crotch. Some distant part of Ratty remembered being better at planning.
Oh well, no one was likely to notice the miss-match.
Making someone your emissary was a challenge for a lot of reasons. It was no-longer a question of whether or not Sapphomet loved their partner enough to go through with it, but it was still painful, intricate, and illegal in any sense of the word that mattered in hell.
Sapphomet checked their watch - one of the only personal items Ratty had been left with - clicking the ‘search’ button until New York was highlighted on a small LCD map of the earth. That’s where they would come out if all went to plan: An unassuming office building - owned in part by the hierarchy. 1983, New Years day, 30 minutes until midnight.
John had already been through tonight. He hadn’t noticed the cupboard full of supplies they were subconsciously guarding, odds were low that he would visit again. Still, the knowledge that he might was enough to make their hands shake through the work. If he found out, they wouldn’t be killed. Something far worse was more likely.
Still, better safe than sorry. Their carpet was rolled into one corner, ready to be unrolled and hide most of the threads drawn across their hardwood floor if need be. Every fan they could find was working overtime pushing the sweet smell of burning lacquer out through the window.
Sapphomet had spent a lot of the night on their stomach, measuring each angle with their eyes: the thread was infinite, but their spool was not. The weave needed to be just perfect, and right now they were missing half a foot of slack. The goat stood, suddenly aware of a misplaced anchor. They crossed the room, sliding it a few inches to the left and giving a satisfied sigh of relief as it sent slack through the entire configuration. They knelt and tugged on the thread, begging for all they could get from those few inches. It strained for a moment - seeming to want the goat to succeed - and gave just enough to latch onto the last anchor.
And it was done. Sapphomet took a step back to admire their work: an intricate criss-cross of shimmering gold that gave way to two small clearings, one for her, and one for Ratty. The goat felt a pang of guilt as the possum’s name crossed their mind. If either of them fucked up, the last thing they had ever said to each other was-
Actually, it was better not to think like that.
They would see each other again.
The carpet gave a satisfying slap as it rolled back over the thread pattern, extinguishing most of it. Sapphomet pulled their bed back down from where they had tilted it up against the wall and took their seat on the edge. They took one last look at the graffiti that had haunted them for the past several years:
I’m your boss.
Who’d believe you?
I’m the fucking devil baby.
The black ink had faded, the original raised edge now indistinguishable from the rest of the drywall. They rarely noticed it unless they were looking, but it always sat in the back of their mind as a reminder of John’s possessiveness, the words watching them as they slept. Win or lose, this was the last time they would ever see it.
They sat back on their bed, taking in the damp smell of the pillows, and just waited. At this point, it was up to Ratty to make it here safely.
They tried to pull a needle from switchspace, forgetting that their spool was fully taxed out at the moment until nothing actually came from their fingers. They gulped, rolling over and diving their claw into a dresser drawer. For the first time since they were young, their knuckles went white around the handle of a knife instead of a needle.
So that fire axe ended up coming in handy. Turns out stopping one guard from hitting an alarm didn’t stop every other guard who came upon three almost-corpses from calling it in.
So, alarms had gone off, Ratty had changed uniforms twice before realizing that blood-covered was not a rare thing anymore and settled on dressing like a heavily wounded guard, and picked up a fire-axe for just-in-case. She was definitely selling the heavily wounded part: limping along and keeping her sore arm close to her chest.
She ducked under a falling bulkhead into the prison’s main elevator, standing shoulder to shoulder with a few more fleeing guards. Nothing she couldn’t handle, but better not to pop off if she didn’t need to.
“Rioters got you good, huh?” A taller bear behind her gave a ‘friendly’ punch that sent more pain through her arm. She straightened her back, doing her best impression of an authority figure.
“Uh, yes. Yeah. Going to, definitely need stitches after this one.” Ratty bluffed.
“I heard that rat from downstairs started it. I told John they oughta put her somewhere safer than this-”
“Oh, you know him?” someone in the opposite corner asked.
“Well, no, but I sent it up the chain. You know how bureaucracy is though.” The bear ribbed, apparently unable to stop himself from punctuating his statements with punches.
“Mmhmm…” Ratty nodded.
“What’s your name, there?” The bear asked, leaning forward to get a good look at Ratty.
I’m- uh,” Ratty started, racking her brain for the name of another possum who was bad enough to go to hell. “I’m… Dan… Castilinetta.” She panicked. Dan Castilinetta, as it happened, was not a possum, but noone in that elevator car seemed to know that.
“Huh. No kidding?”
“Dang, I love The Simpsons. Your voice sounds different on TV.”
“Yes, they do… uh… they do computers on it.” This was such a shitty lie. This was awful. Was she always this fucking bad at this?
“Crazy.” The bear muttered, seemingly satisfied with that answer. Ratty decided to ignore the horrible anxiety of a bad lie, and instead focused on the rising seven segment display, pretending that that was what was making her gums bleed. Chose to focus on her pain and the knowledge that - with Sapphomet’s help - it would be gone soon.
She had a private moment, picturing their golden threads wrapping her battered and torn body, picturing their arms around her neck, their gentle and precise hands stitching her back together, and wondering - perhaps selfishly - what their golden eyes would look like under the moonlight.
The elevator stopped on the exit level, the doors giving way to a huddled crowd of guards too cowardly to actually fight back, huddled into clumps like cliques in a highschool cafeteria. Ratty clenched her fists around the handle of her axe, fighting the instinct to timestep and draw attention to herself.
Keeping your head down, unfortunately, does not usually work for the most-wanted. It was hard to tell how it kicked off: A wordless yelp, a pointed finger perhaps. What was easy to tell, was that suddenly everyone in the room knew where Ratty was. She stepped up onto a chair, launching herself above the crowd and stepping off of a few shoulders before being grabbed. The air leapt out of her lungs as she was dragged back down under the mob. Zipping through legs, she spotted the edge of an open vent. Locking her eyes on the improvised exit, she stood axe-first, knocking the closest body back with the handle and jumping from their chest. She swung the axe at an overhead pipe, scalding herself with the resulting steam and swinging feet first into the vent.
Which was annoying, because feet first, holding an axe with your hands above your head really wasn’t the best way to crawl through a vent, but she made it.
“On my way, babe…” She muttered, shimmying blindly through the tight metal corridor. “On my way…”
There was still some to do before the ceremony started, but Sapphomet’s hands were shaking too much to get any of the hyper-intricate work done. Watching their hands shake made them picture them cupped in Ratty’s. They felt privately embarrassed, relying on their partner’s hands to steady hers.
They were unhealthily co-dependent, but it was better than being alone: Sapphomet was fine with putting their doll back together if it meant she would be around to keep them steady.
They set their knife aside, more annoyed with the rattle than comforted by the weapon. They tried to go over the plan in their head, trying to guide their racing thoughts into something productive. That - if they were honest with themselves - was never going to happen.
What occupied their thoughts instead was every torture they had ever witnessed across the short infinity of their life. Each repeat started low and basey with what they had experienced: something devoutly to be wish’d by most who had endured actual Hell: John would chain their to the ceiling, using their body has a literal punching bag, because why not? He was already despicable, charged with and responsible for nothing but suffering across the entirety of his miserable life.
That lasted until they was just barely ‘old enough’. That was when Hell came down on Sapphomet. Hard to think about, and hard not to think about. The best they could conjure was the image of his lifeless corpse, and even that was coloured with guilt. Killing him was the right thing to do, but it didn’t change how they felt about it.
Sapphomet was not designed for hurting people.
They were jumped out of their thought-loop as they heard their front door swing open, crashing against the wall.
“Sap?” Ratty called from the foyer. The goat swallowed hard, setting aside the explosion of negative thoughts that jumped to the forefront of their mind.
“Bedroom.” They watched the possum stop just ahead of the pullout couch, having spent more nights together away from John’s graffiti.
“In the couch?” She gave it a weak kick.
“In the actual bedroom, Ratty.” Sapphomet leaned to make themselves visible through the doorway. Ratty turned, going from a vague look of discomfort to a full faced grin as she caught sight of her partner. Still, Sapphomet saw the aches in her posture.
“Hey.” She shifted her weight, trying to force some casualty into her posture. Just because she was in pain, didn’t mean she didn’t want to set her wife at ease. For a moment it felt almost like Ratty had simply come home from a long day. Sapphomet laughed at how they must’ve looked: coming home to see your wife, reaching for a knife, shaking on their bedside. Ratty laughed too, mostly out of nerves. A possum shaped bundle of nerves.
“Ready?” Sapphomet asked. Ratty nodded.
It took a short, ache dissolving shower and half an hour to put Ratty and Sapphomet in their spots, Ratty’s steady hands singed at the tips, having helped her wife guide the white hot threads of her soul through eyelets of their lute’s tuning mechanism. The possum watched them shimmer, curious to see so much of her own soul outside of her body. She followed the silver threads up through the head of the instrument, down through the body, and stopped where they did: at twenty-four tightly tied anchors. Sapphomet’s hand sat there, idly plucking, trying their best to find a tune before they moved to where the entire body would resinate.
Ratty shifted on her knees, careful not to distract her wife - or, well, soon-to-be. She watched the goats eyes twitch under their soft lids, glowing more brightly than she had ever seen before. Their lips shimmered with the fresh blood of hanging their mouth open, it dripped down their chin as they mouthed silently. Each word Ratty picked out solidifying their roots in the center of this ritual. Their fur still damn from the shower, the floorboards smoking from the effort of pulling their souls together.
“Vela.” Ratty called her wife by their first name for the first time since she had learned it. The goat’s eyes flickered open, a little confused, a little annoyed to be interrupted. “Do you mind if I call you that?”
“Now is certainly the time if you ever planned on it.” Sapphomet nodded.
“I love you.”
“I love you too.” With that, they began to strum.
“Would I recognize this song?” Ratty asked, trying to distract herself from the fear of oncoming pain.
“You might. It’ll be our song, I just need to find it.” They began to strum more confidently, their throat’s voice taking over from their head.
Ratty’s headache came on slowly, pressure building gradually under the front of her crown. She felt a pair of pinches underneath her skin as her new horns started to push their way through her scalp, and then they stopped, the only thing left a dull ache of punctured skin.
“That wasn’t so bad.” Ratty reached up to touch the budding tips.
“Oh, hun…” The pang of guilt on Sapphomets face signalling a rising urge to skip through this. The ritual was delicate, however, and part of it was the pain. No skipping, Ratty chose to refocus.
The feeling of damp fur, slicked back from her forehead.
Her snout, twitching involuntarily from the smoke of the floorboards.
As long as she kept grounded, this would be just fine.
Her entire body tensed as the pain of the evening so far was pulled from her extremities into the center of her chest and out through the threads of her soul. She watched it travel like a signal, up into the lute, heard it played back to her as a rough and loud distortion.
“I love you Ratty.” Sapphomet said, almost too quiet to be heard.
“I love you t--” Ratty started, the words caught in her throat as the nubs pushed forward into a full pair of rings. It was hard to know just how much of her skin was torn by the keratin outcroppings. The pain, searing, shot down the back of her neck like a pair of rough scalpels running from the top of her forehead all the way to the small of her back, her shoulder-blades pushing up through the perceived wounds like a pair of useless wings. She threw herself forward as the pain reached her stomach. She found Sapphomet’s lap in an instant - closer than before. Every inch of the demon’s skin was a cool comfort against the pain. She felt her teeth chip and reform with the effort of clenching her jaw, felt her throat tear with the effort of holding back a scream.
“Scream, Ratty.” Sapphomet said, as though feeling the pain for herself. Ratty growled into the soft fabric of their dress, not ready to give that last bastion yet.
“I love you. Scream.” Sapphomet repeated. Ratty felt her body start to split as it had done before, skipping out of control in an instinctive effort to escape. An inch to the left, an inch to the right, over and over and over again several times a second, sending a melodic drone out from her body. Sapphomet’s playing adjusted accordingly.
“Ratty.” The goat was firm this time. Ratty caved, opening her mouth wide enough to force her ears back against her skull and feeling her teeth finally reform for good, each a little more jagged than when they had started. Her growl became a scream, and the lute began to scream with her, its strings suddenly burning bright gold with the feedback of every Ratty across every universe.
In an instant,
She felt dogs teeth tear her throat out, felt cold cement against her back start to warm with her blood, saw the eyes of an animal with fear and pity and love and the knowledge that it had killed its master. She died, and returned.
She felt her spine snap, felt the invasive fingers of a machine dig under her skin and bore out her flawed biology, felt cold, industrial metal parts take over her body, felt the love of a machine for only a moment. She died, and returned.
She felt her body rot in a ditch, cold mud against her aching back, anguish at the reward of a long life spent in prison: freedom. She died, and returned.
She felt welts form on her body. She died, and returned.
She felt herself simply disappear, die, and return.
She felt her heart stop as an act of plain bad luck, died, and returned.
Felt her mind disappear to unintelligible nonsense, died, and returned.
Over and over again a thousand micro-lives and deaths, all at once.
In an instant,
She felt her wife’s hand on the back of her head, felt their soft thighs under their face, felt the quiet buzzing of the lute, still calming down from its last note. Ratty slumped over, her new horns thunking against the hollow body of the instrument, and curled closer to her partner. Her hearing returned slowly, finding it hard to adjust to the relative quiet after the din of every universe she had ever existed in.
“I love you. It’s okay now. You did so good.” Over and over again, just waiting for their partner’s hearing to return. Her head felt heavy, the line between her fur and her wife’s seeming to sand down closer and closer to nothing with each second that passed.
“Rock n’ roll.” Ratty stammered, pushing out the first thought that came to her mind as a signal that she was okay.
“So rock n’ roll.” Sapphomet laughed, stroking their wife’s horns.
“I love you so much.”
“I love you too.”
The higher you got in Hell, the less concrete things got: sometimes it had to be an entrance, sometimes it was just John’s office, tonight it was going to be Ratty and Sapphomet’s exit. The greater demon had clearly noticed something was up, flattened the peak into a platform, and sat, waiting for the two of them to arrive. He was, in retrospect, a little too confident. He stood as goat and possum arrived on the platform, met them with his hands in his pockets, not at all concerned with what was to come next.
“You’ve done fairly well for yourself, Hanrattyline.” The demon smiled, his red eyes glowing with some sick glee. “Bagged my babe, fought your way out of my prison, I would be impressed if I wasn’t- well. No, actually I am quite impressed.” He ground the toe of his oxfords into the rough dirt. The door was always behind him, metaphorically speaking. There was no leaving without killing him.
“Give up now and I’ll incorporate you into the hierarchy.” No amount of plea in John’s last bargain. Ratty stopped a few meters shy, Sapphomet stopping behind her. She tightened her grip on the axe, pressing the soft heel of her palm into the threads she had wrapped in with the handle. It was heavy with potential, almost begging to be swung, discontent with the stillness.
“Yeah, I don’t uh-” Ratty turned to look at her wife, catching a confident eye and feeling her heart swell. “I really don’t think I’m gonna do that cap’n.”
John shrugged at this. “Pity.” He snapped his fingers, enveloping Ratty in a scorching wind, trying to burn her out of existence layer by layer. Her horns buzzed, sending a feeling of euphoria through her entire snout. The threads in her hands wove themselves into thick, braided bundles of rope, and the wind simply passed her over, just barely licking the tips of her ears. It’s over as quickly as it started.
“Huh. Old fashioned way, then?” John teased, breaking into a sprint and pulling a polearm out of switchspace and charging the pair. Sapphomet tensed their ropes around the possum’s hands as she swung her axe up through the long wooden shaft, snapping it and sending it back to subspace before it could make contact. Ratty spun the axe, bringing it back down into his neck.
The greater demon groaned, grabbing the axe out of the wound and Ratty’s hands in one motion and jabbing her with the handle. Sapphomet backed off as their partner fell, suddenly too focused on John to keep their ropes tight. Another swing of the axe took the bottom half of Ratty’s jaw off, leaving it crushed against the floor and struggling to reform.
The ropes had all but fallen away at this point, the ones not pinned under the possum had shriveled back into Sapphomet’s spool. Ratty kicked desperately at John’s knee, missing terribly and having her foot caught by the greater demon. He yanked her into the air, pulling her leg out of its socket and just barely tearing the skin. She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to block out the pain and come up with another plan, and saw something. She could see Sapphomet, her aura frigid white against the blackness, a chain, red hot and dangling from her chest, and John, that same chain hooked to his belt.
Ratty clenched her teeth and shook her way out of John’s grip, diving for the chain and falling straight through it, cracking her snout off of the hard ground.
“Oh, I see!” There was an amount of surprised excitement in John’s voice. “Is that the first time you’re seeing that?”
Ratty watched, eyes closed, as John twiddled the chain, bringing Sapphomet - weeping softly - to their knees in an instant.
“You had no idea. Now that is just sad. I’m almost sorry.” John spun the axe, bringing it down on Ratty’s stomach, just for fun at this point. “You backed the wrong goat, Hanrattyline. Sapphomet is mine.”
Ratty rolled over, having passed the plateau where she could have inflicted more pain on herself by doing so, and just stared at her partner, the threads loose in their claws, stock still on the ground. Ratty tried not to think how quickly they had fucked that up as the axe was once again brought down on her, finding a home in her chest.
That was the best way to describe it. There was nothing to feel but the aching center of guilt that rot away in her chest: the promises she made, her best friend just a few feet away, her eyes blank with fear.
“So, this was fun. It’s been a while since I got my hands dirty, we should really do this more often, wouldn’t you agree, Sapphomet?” John drawled as he stepped over the pre-corpse. She watched as the black figure came to completely eclipse the smaller demon. Unable to focus on what he was saying, she chose instead to use what energy she had left to drag herself around the visual blockade. If she ended up dying any faster because of it, she could at least say she tried to be there when she- well, when, uh. Double hell? Didn’t matter. She was there.
And for a moment, through the triangle formed by John’s arm and torso, Sapphomet caught a glimpse of movement. A possum, her beautifully tired eyes doing their best to focus on their own. For a moment, Sapphomet felt compelled to give her a smile. To show her that it was all okay.
And that wasn’t going to happen with John standing over them like this. Secure in the knowledge that this couldn’t make things any worse, Sapphomet reeled their head back and slammed their forehead into John’s nose, knocking him back and giving Sapphomet the opportunity to duck under his arm. They slid to a halt next to Ratty, quickly diving into her wounds with a rough lattice pattern, sewing their doll back together as they had done so many times before.
“One more go, c’mon Ratty.” They smiled. “One more. I’ll keep you together, just one more go, okay?”
Ratty nodded as she felt the thread pull the ache out of her body. “One more go.” She grinned.
“You fucking bitch.” John regained his composure as Ratty pushed herself back to her feet, using the dropped axe as a cane. She glared right through John, her eyes now glowing red with the same energy as Sapphomet. She felt her stitches pull tight, sinking into her flesh as they bound more with her spirit than her body. The lattice pattern remained, keeping everything aligned, but Sapphomet was no longer wrapped around her body, They were in her heart.
They were not going down without a fight.
Sapphomet too, felt this differently than their last attempt. They were supporting instead of binding, felt as though the support was in their control, that they weren't just being used as a useful piece of medical equipment, but that they was the only one who could do this job. It was hers to control, hers to triage.
One more go.
“Sapphomet-” John pivoted hard, seeing the two finally working as one. “Lets talk about-”
Ratty lunged at the dog, the threads in her arm tensing like a spring, ready to swing the axe up into the demons chest. His ribs went one at a time, each with a satisfying crack: one, two, and stopping in the third. John barked, snapping the axe handle as the force slipped it from Ratty’s hands. He spun it, forming a new black head from switchspace and leaving his body to push out the original.
He swung it overhead like an executioner, burying it in the ground as Sapphomet pulled a fistful of rope, forcing Ratty to timestep out of the way. The threads stayed synchronized with her body as she moved laterally through time. She stepped back into the fray, stomping the axe out of the greater demon’s hands and kicking it backwards towards her partner.
John growled, fed up, as he grabbed Ratty’s throat in his paw, lifting her off the ground and trying to crush the air from her body. She stomped desperately into his hip, leaving him unphased. She wound up and tried again, cracking her femur with the effort. Again, barely phased.
The possum felt light in her veins as the edges of her vision started to fade into darkness, felt the threads that had previously slipped through her skin further consolidate in her center as they shook with Sapphomet’s effort. One final yank and they snapped together, bringing Ratty to the ground out of John’s reach.
Sapphomet took the axe in their hands, now free to manipulate the binding with their heart instead of their hands. The fear had all but gone from their body, replaced with a burning determination that pushed its way up through their throat and made their ears ring. They wrapped the head of the axe around their chain, now visible to the whole world, and stared down John.
The goat savored the moment, watching the dog - paralized - run through the stages of grief. They turned to their wife once they had had their fill, a brilliant excitement in her eyes, and yanked the corner of the axe through a loop of the chain. It shattered instantly, peppering the three with flecks of hot metal.
Ratty kicked one last time, snapping John’s leg at the knee and bringing him down with a thud. She climbed to her knees, the same latticework pattern that made her an emissary weaving its way out below her feet, this time pulling and flexing with ease as it encompassed her partner. She took a clump of the greater demon’s hair in her fist, yanking his head back as she drove a closed fist up into his healing ribs, timestepping to worsen the impact and barely flinching as every bone in her wrist was pulverised and reformed.
John fell back, struggling to keep any amount of height as the possum took hold of the rope between her and Sapphomet. The goat stumbled forwards, catching herself on the possum’s back and letting out a little slack.
John went for a punch, missed, catching only rope and having his wrist tied behind him at an angle that held him with his chest and neck perfectly exposed.
Sapphomet felt the weight of the axe in their hands, suddenly powerfully aware of its potential, suddenly feeling the same discontentment with keeping it still, the same coiling in their muscles as it begged to taste blood. They ached over this as their wife fell, bringing John to the ground in a perfect impression of a man sentenced to death by beheading.
Two sets of eyes lay before her: a possum, deep and black and tired and pleading for the end of this, and a dog’s: still full of hate. It was always hate, since the day they were created all they had ever known was hate, and for a long time it felt like love. It felt, just normal.
Of course, not anymore. Sapphomet had felt love before, but they had never had someone like this. This was love: Ratty’s torn body, refusing to give up after being carved to shreds. Love was Vela, overcoming their fear and finally fighting the man who had kept them prisoner for their entire infinite lifespan.
Love was not a chain, it was a rope, and it had taken too long to find that out.
Sapphomet raised the axe above their head, for the first time noticing the ache of straining to hold their wife together. For the first time noticing the shake of their limbs. For the first time letting herself collapse into the drop of the axe.
And John was gone.
They collapsed into their wife, the pooling blood somehow soothing her. Ratty pulled them in closer, bringing them within kicking distance of the still-mouthing head. They tried to do the same with the rest of the heavy corpse, broke down crying when they couldn’t, and instead just buried their face in their wife’s chest, feeling their tears track through the grime that had built up on the possum’s shirt.
John was gone.
He would never hurt them again.
DEC 31, 1983
New Years Eve.
Another boring night.
Every night was boring for Becca.
Every night spent waiting for her shift to end: a half finished game of solitaire in front of her, her walkman jammed, adamantly refusing to listen to the radio. It was bad enough she had to comply with this era’s technology rules, she was not going to stoop so low as to listen to a celebration of the next mortal year.
She entertained for a moment, as she often did, that perhaps she might not be a desk demon, but that she was in fact in Hell: that this was her Hell. It was her job to do customs for anyone that escaped from hell, and nobody ever escaped. Ironic. Or, well, close enough to irony that her internal monologue did not bother to correct her.
All of this as a small goat shambled into the lobby, half-carrying a near-dead possum over their shoulder.
Becca jumped as the pair turned to look at her: one lesser demon, and one earthly emissary. It was the first time anyone had looked at her since she started.
"Are you- are you customs?" Sapphomet asked.
"I, uh- I think so? Are you leaving?" Becca responded.
"We- I'm- Uh, Sapphomet." They dragged the possum over, paying more attention to planting her feet in the right spots than actually reaching the desk. Still, they made it. “We need "We need, documents for uh, immigration to earth? I'm sorry this is- we have had a rough night."
"Seems like it. I, uh, I think I've got the papers somewhere?" Becca said. Silence hung between the two parties for a few moments, the distant sound of Time Square miraculously amplified as Becca got stuck in the process of trying to figure out what was going on.
“Yes, can we have them, please.” Sapphomet nudged.
“Oh, yeah. Sorry, here-” Becca dove beneath her desk, producing two heavy binders and slapping them down on the counter. “What happened to you two?” She asked.
“Killed the devil.” The possum slurred, speaking up for the first time, clearly exhausted. She seemed very sure of herself for someone whose blood was mostly out of her body. Becca nodded back politely, feeling weird about her boss being dead.
"Not, Lucifer. Just John." Sapphomet corrected.
“I’m gonna kill him next.” The possum muttered.
“No, you’re not. He’s very nice and you don’t have to.”
“What do I do now?” Becca asked, more lost than she had ever been in her life.
"I- I'm not sure,” Sapphomet started. “isn't it your job to like, deal with people who escape?"
“You're the first two people I’ve seen in the entire time I’ve worked here, so I don't really think anyone would notice if I just left."
"Come work for us!" The possum piped up again.
"No, okay. Ratty stop talking." Sapphomet said.
"Gonna start a company. American dream."
"This is not the time to- Ratty." Sapphomet commanded. Ratty caught her wife's eye, choosing to finish what she was saying. Sapphomet lodged the binders under their free arm, giving a polite nod as they turned towards the exit.
“Oh! Wait.” Becca went back under her desk, producing a thermos. She brought it around the desk and offered it to Ratty. “Hot chocolate. It’s cold out there.” She smiled up at the couple.
Ratty took a step back as the two hit the sidewalk outside.
“It’s okay, I can stand on my own.” She swayed on her feet, taking in the neighborhood and laughing to herself as the countdown to midnight started just a few blocks away; absolutely deafening even from this far away. It was warm enough to be raining instead of snowing, but it was still refreshing to breathe real air again.
“Hell’s Kitchen.” She explained between bouts of quiet laughter. Sapphomet looked up at their wife, laughing at the absurdity of the situation, of what they had just done together.
“You know anyone we can stay with in New York?” The goat ribbed.
“In 1983?” Ratty teased.
“Well, we can probably stay here until the end of the year at least.” Sapphomet laughed, less and less aware of them as tears cooled off and blended with the rain on their cheeks. They shut their eyes as their partner wiped them away, replacing them with a smear of blood.
“Oops, sorry.” Ratty said. Sapphomet shook their head, giving their first free smile in centuries. Somewhere, the organized countdown devolved into a crowd of cheers, a select few select voices trying to push it into a chorus of “Auld Lang Syne”
And for a moment, the whole world seemed to disappear in a bubble around them, an infinite weight lifted from their shoulders. They just stood there, looking at each other: Ratty with her tired eyes and goofy grin, Sapphomet smiling quietly under the bliss of new potential.
“Happy New Year Sapphomet.”
“Happy New Year Hanrattyline.”
And then they kissed.