Hell - 202█-1984
Hanratty Vermington was strange. For the past 20 years it had sat comatose with its legs crossed in the centre 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 usually took several seconds whenever it did. It was as though it had fallen asleep with its eyes open.
Because of this, and because the possum had an unnatural ability to recover from injury, mid-caste demons made a hobby of daring each other to push Vermington farther and farther. Sett figured a full ten percent of conversations in the prison’s break room were bets on whether or not someone could finally crack the possum in C019. It was so often torn apart that putting it back together had become Sett’s full-time job.
Tonight’s shift — in spite of a shitty rest of the day — was unremarkable. The goat sat on the floor next to Vermington, Their legs folded under them, deftly pulling glowing silver threads through the pieces of broken skin, helped by the abnormal way it seemed to crawl back into place. It was like a jigsaw puzzle that wanted to be put back together, and had the power to help that along. There were nights where Sett talked to their charge. Besides their — ugh, how many things was he now… besides their father figure/boyfriend/abuser/rapist: John, Ratty was the only person available to talk to. They told themselves it wasn’t too strange, likened the practice to talking to a favourite toy while you repaired it.
“Here we are…” Sett muttered in a faux motherly tone as they tied off the last stitch. The day had been difficult, the kind that made the tiny immortal wish for an effective means of suicide. Despite it’s comatose state, Sett struggled to raise their voice to the possum, still anxious about crying — showing weakness — in front of anyone.
They had become so familiar with each other. The grey-white blend of it’s fur a comforting and soft contrast against the goat’s own peach-brown spotted white. The possum was not in fact gray up close, Sett noticed that almost immediately. There was no spot on its body where its fur was entirely one colour. Instead, individual strands of black and white blended together in such a way where the possum was a slightly different colour from every angle. Sett wondered if anyone else had noticed that. Surely no one in Hell cared enough.
Sett fantasized tonight as they often did about what would happen if it came back to life somehow, what would happen if ‘it’ became ‘she’? A distant dream. In all their research, no 'cure' for this kind of paralysis had ever come up, and Sett was absolutely certain it never would. 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?” Sett asked. The possum stayed silent. This, for Sett's needs, was just about as good as a yes.
“Yes, of course. Thank you.” The goat nodded resting their back against the possum and leaning into it like a seat-back. Firm, but with just enough give to sit comfortably. It made some slow, instinctual moves as if responding to the goat's presence, not waking enough to actually listen.
“So, I think I’ve told you about John before?” The first few words were usually a little odd. “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 of course, but… He um, left a reminder on a blank part of the wall in my bedroom and-”
Sett took a deep breath, feeling the anxiety rattle in their lungs. “I do not think I want to talk about this actually.” This was weird. It was fucking weird to talk to a corpse. Quasi-cuddling one definitely crossed a line.
“I do not feel safe going home tonight, Ratty… Would you mind terribly if I stayed at yours?” They were only half kidding. More silence, the flopped air around their joke a deafening reminder of just how alone they were. “You always know just what to say Miss Vermington.”
More silence, not a great recovery. Sett watched their own tears dry on the warm 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 existing: wanting to scream and run and carve into one's self until there was little enough left to make the underside of a boot feel comfortable. Whenever Sett pictured the possum escaping, they cast themselves as little more than dead weight.
There were border camps. A group of rogue demons had set up shelter outside of the hierarchy's control. 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.
“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.
And then the possum stirred: not it's occasional slow-motion moves of instinct, but actual movement. It rolled to one side, put far more of its weight on Sett than they could handle, then slipped, cracking her nose off of the concrete. Sett jumped to their feet, trembling as they backed into a corner and pulled a long needle from their subspace sewing kits. They pointed the sharp end at the now living corpse, their heart roaring in their ears.
And then she screamed. For roughly 15 seconds the possum's voice 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 of orange anguish through the subspace of the cell and knocking Sett's weapon out of their hand.
She stopped abruptly, her breathing barely audible against the now absent wall of sound. One swallow and her torn throat was coated in a layer of spit. Two and she found herself able to breathe again. Three, four, and five were all dedicated to suppressing coughing fits. She looked up at Sett, face to face with a stranger with a weapon in what felt like ten minutes to her.
“What… did you… just say?” She asked between lungfuls of air. Sett, terrified, shaking, and now openly weeping, pulled another needle out of subspace.
“What did you say?” Ratty repeated, reaching out to try and calm the goat. It took a moment for them to register the question, then another few moments to compose themselves enough to answer.
“I- we do not belong here?” Sett offered
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 Ratty not to go directly from her cell to the exit, a move that would have definitely gotten her caught. She was loud and punkish, uncomfortable leaving any silence between the two as they made their way to Sett's apartment. She talked a lot for someone who had not spoken in 20 years. There was an accent too; a very pronounced northern Ontario cut. She was a little annoying to say the least, but then again, Sett wasn't socialized enough to find anyone who actually talked not annoying. More than anything it was exciting to get to know her again.
As an advantage of their caste, Sett was allowed to ‘check out’ any prisoner they wanted for 24 hours at a time, although that took some convincing too. In the end, Ratty won by promising — although in a somewhat mocking tone of voice — that she would stand guard while Sett slept.
Ratty’s long stride brought her to the door first, too focused on escaping to focus on letting Sett keep up.
“So, okay. I get it, but what if-” She started in on a new plan for what must have been the millionth time that night.
“Miss Vermington," Sett cut her off, the frustration of digging for their keys tipping them over the edge. “I really am sorry, but I have had a very long day. I am — as you seem to be — 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?” Sett dropped their keys, their hand hovering a few inches from its lock. Ratty did not understand what she had just asked. “I see that all the time in movies or whatever. Emissary of so and so, or whatever.”
She was definitely cocky.
“That-” Sett swallowed hard. “That is a very serious proposition.” Ratty stopped, the change in their tone forcing her to consider the shorter woman. She took a moment to change as she — with a few seconds of silent calculation — figured that what she had just asked was incredibly forward to say the least. She forced her toe to stop tapping, un-tensed her posture, and took a step back from the door as she realized she was hovering.
“Of course. I’m sorry.” She gave a polite nod.
“An honest mistake,” Sett’s tension dropped off as they were enveloped with the smell of their apartment, dropping their medicine bag on the floor and deftly stepping around the heaps of books. “Watch your step please.”
Ratty stood stock still as the door shut behind her, trying to calculate a safe path and becoming immediately distracted by the eclectic decoration. Some piles of books had been left sitting long enough to have their own decorative ecosystems: a scented candle or butterfly pin-board marking them as a permanent fixture.
“You collect butterflies?” Ratty asked. The last time she saw preserved insects of any kind would have been during a grade-school trip to the Royal Botanical Gardens.
“Hm? Oh, all kinds of bugs actually!” Sett smiled as the stove clicked to life under their kettle. “We like to catch our own when we go up to earth, but, well, opportunities to do that have been slim as of late, and John really only has an eye for conventional beauty.”
“John is your…?” Ratty asked.
“Boss," Sett kept it short. “He gets free passage to earth.”
“Cool… could we…?” Tonight was a night for letting the ends of questions hang, evidently.
“No, no. He would actually be our main obstacle in getting out,” Sett explained as they plucked a few select leaves from a foggy glass jar and folded them into a piece of cloth. “Would you like some- is there a reason you’re still on the welcome mat?” the goat asked
“I- uh, my paws are dirty from the walk over, and I don’t want to track dirt through your apartment.”
“Oh!” Sett laughed “I wouldn’t worry about it," They nodded towards the door to their room. “The restroom is through there.”
“Right, for sure.” Ratty tiptoed through the living room, no more reassured than before as she all but tripped her way through the stacks. Sett listened to the floor creak beneath their new charge as she went out of sight, content to blindly go through the motions and keep an ear open for anything that might end up falling over. Ratty’s sound stopped suddenly before the bathroom, distracted by-
Ah, of course.
The possum stood for a few moments, then kept tiptoeing through the mess having finished reading. A few seconds of running water, a few more minutes of silence. The kettle’s whistle rose to cut off any hope of continued snooping. That was fine, Ratty was trustable enough.
They set the folded towel of tea into a white teapot, watching strings of green swirl off of the fluffy mass as the pot filled with water.
Ice water would be nice too, actually. Ratty hadn’t had anything to drink in a while, and there was rarely a cold day in Hell when you needed one. To that end, they broke a tray of ice into a tall jug and set it under the filtered tap. Then, a quiet moment to breathe in the steam, letting the forced expression of having a guest fall from their face. There was no use in showing a false Sett to a real Ratty.
“So…” They jumped as the possum came up behind them. It was difficult — at least for someone as bad at eye contact as Sett — not to notice the smear of fresh black ink against her pink fingers. “Shitty boss, huh?”
Sett took a deep breath, not quite ready to talk about that yet. “Yeah.”
“Can I help?”
“I could do dinner for you tonight, let you relax?” She offered.
“You cook?” Sett asked
“I’m a fantastic cook.” The possum smiled.
“We would, but we don’t really… eat… all that often," Of course not, Ratty noticed for the first time that Sett had no visible mouth. The little goat set the teapot and jug down on their coffee table, gesturing to have the possum sit next to them. “Though we do appreciate the gesture.”
“Is ‘we’ like, a royal ‘we’ in this context?”
“I- yes, sorry, it’s- we don’t want to call it a social crutch, but…”
“Just a habit then.” The possum gave a charming little smile, sitting as she picked up the water jug. Her wrist shook as she tried to pour herself a glass. She was not used to feeling weak: a commute with a bag full of a few textbooks and 60 students worth of papers was enough to keep her in not-terrible shape. Probably not a good idea to attempt to escape until she was a fully operational creature again.
The pair sat quietly, possum watching the goat as they ignored their tea for a moment in favour of the delicately bunched line of tobacco on their rolling paper.
“Why make your own?” Ratty asked.
“Manufactured cigarettes have strychnine in them.” Sett answered, reaching for their jug on instinct, not realizing it had been moved before the tip of their claw knocked it all over the floor. “Fuck.” They hissed as they lifted their hooves out of the water. They searched frantically for a dry spot to set their cigarette down on.
“Here.” Ratty said, scooting forward and sticking her tongue out.
“What?” Sett asked.
“For your roll-up,” She said around her tongue. “You can just roll it up and-”
“Oh, uh…” The demon sat forward, carefully 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 Sett’s cheeks. They flicked the roll closed, wrapping a few strings of subspace thread around the tip, lighting it with the concentrated will of the universe, 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.
“What can I say,” Sett shrugged “I am an addict.” They let the silence hang as Sett punched a small hole in their skin with one claw and took the first pull, conscious of how they looked with their mouth torn all the way open.
“So, you’ve asked a lot of questions tonight, now we think we ought to. What do you do for a living, miss Vermington?” Sett asked.
“I’m a contemporary history professor, and I write freelance for a Toronto based bi-weekly.”
“Oh, how is that?”
“It’s, uh- Well I’m pretty sure that second job got me killed, so not great.”
“Mm," Sett took another drag. “What about hobbies?”
“You don’t talk to a lot of people, huh?”
“No, but indulge us anyway.” Sett said, giving the possum their full attention.
“Uh, I cook, I build stuff, I’m a painter, urbex, I like politics but that’s not- I sometimes write poetry, I guess?”
“Oh! We write poetry as well, actually, would you like to see some?”
“‘Cool’!” Sett repeated, forgetting about the wet carpet as they got up and interrogated a few stacks of books, lifting one off of another and briefly reading the covers of each. “We just have to find one of our journals…”
“For sure, for sure…” It was fun to watch the goat flit from stack to stack. “So... how serious is emisary-ing? Is that the demon equivalent of like: ‘I wanna get you pregnant?’” Ratty asked, never one to know not when to press an issue.
“Actually it would be ‘we want to get you pregnant’, and if that’s what you wanted, Miss Vermington, you should have led with that...” The goat teased, their eyes dancing over a page. “...don’t like this one… no, but in all seriousness we would have to be very much in love with you.” The goat said, matter-of-fact.
“You’re not in love with me yet?” Ratty teased.
“Well we could hardly commit myself to monogamy.”
“I was hoping you would say something like that.”
“Well, good. I suppose 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, pulling at the skin over their mouth as they broke into a gentle smile.
“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. “How’s that poem coming?”
“We can’t find any that aren’t, uh, well, tragic. I’d like to show you something nice…” Sett trailed off, closing the seventh journal in a row with nothing to show for it. They took a moment to watch the embers at the tip of their cigarette cast themselves off into the accidental lake below. “Do you really think you could get us out of here?”
“‘Us’ as in you, or ‘us’ as in both of us?
“Both of us, Miss Vermington.”
“Probably.” Ratty nodded.
A twin bed was rarely enough for two people to spend a night in. For Ratty, half of the free bedrooms within ten kilometres of her job were twins. Suffice to say she made do with what she had, getting awkwardly intimate with anyone who needed to sleep over. Sett on the other hand rarely had anyone but John over, and he preferred not to sleep with them.
Despite trying to focus on literally anything else Ratty found her eyes drifting naturally towards the message John had left last night through. She was convinced by the end of the night that he had put some variety of demonic curse on the letters to make them un-not-look-at-able. The only curse seemed to be to scramble them through the warped glass of Sett’s ashtray, rising and falling on Sett’s chest:
I’m your boss.
Who’d believe you?
I’m the fucking devil baby.
John had clearly written the number “4” before thinking of what he was actually going to write there, further proof of just how much of a dick-shit he was.
“So- Okay-” Ratty started, her voice scratchy from a few pulls off of Sett’s joint. “He just… writes that on your wall… and leaves?”
Sett nodded, their gaze lulling tiredly from the ceiling to the wall. “This is a normal escalation of his regular behaviour. I’m not surprised. We think we’re— I should stop. I’m probably just gonna hang my banjo up over top and try and-" They answered, staring, detached, at the dripping black ink.
“Oh my God! shut the fuck up!” The possum rolled over, failing to account for the size of the bed nestling her snout directly into the goats armpit. Neither of them seemed to the other to mind. “Irrelevant. He is an asshole and I am going to kill him.”
Sett took another long drag, finally crossing the line between ‘I smoke to help with my anxiety’ and ‘has the back of my hand always looked like that?’ threshold. It was a shock to no one, least of all Ratty, that the only weed available in Hell were mids with stupid names.
“Have you ever killed anyone before Miss Vermington?” Sett asked.
“It’s Ratty, please. And also, I don’t remember, but probably. I spent a lot of time thinking about killing Nazis.”
“Are you not supposed to remain unbiased as a reporter?” Sett asked.
“Nothing more unbiased than cracking some Nazi skull, ma’am.” Ratty winked.
“But, so you think you might have killed someone, but you do not remember?” Sett pressed, high enough to forget about being polite.
“Yeah, I mean I have this whole blank spot in my memory that ends with me being blown up and starts with… kind of a long story, I guess”
“Would you like to tell it?”
“I’d rather not, actually.”
“Hm,” Sett turned over, dropping a clump of ash into the possum’s massive mess of half-curly hair. “Tell me a different story then.”
“Oh yeah?” Ratty looked up from the goat’s armpit. “What kind of story?”
“Well, the first story that comes to mind basically 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.”
Sett 'humphed, dissatisfied with the quality of Ratty’s story.
“Well okay then. You tell me one; set the bar for me.” Ratty prodded. Sett sat up in the bed, straightening their back as though preparing for an era defining speech the likes of Winston Churchill’s We Shall Fight on the Beaches or the great Doctor King’s I Have a Dream.
“We…” Sett began, falling a hush over the crowd of one. “...went on a few dates with Jesus Christ when he was around.”
And silence… a perfectly preserved moment of history suspended in crystalline amber… broken as Ratty spoke forth: “No fucking way.”
“It is true.” The goat bragged, self-satisfied.
“Was he a good fuck?”
“Well, I mean, there’s a reason they call her the Virgin Mary for nothing.” Sett 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,” Sett admitted, letting down their faux gravitas for a quiet laugh.
“Did Jesus have an Oedipus complex?” Ratty pushed further.
“No, actually. I just thought it would be funny to say," Sett put their laughter on pause, something clearly building behind their eyes as they turned to look at Ratty. “Do you?” They asked.
“Not telling. I am not going to tell you that. That's a secret.” Ratty stammered.
“Oh my goodness! You totally do!”
“No! Fuck off!” Ratty giggled, turning to swat the question out of Sett.
And she froze as she came to comprehend the goat, the skin around where their lips should have been pulling and splitting like warm rubber. It was — admittedly — reviling, and yet watching this woman laugh, their mouth torn and bleeding from the effort, Hell managed somehow to slip away from around the pair. It was a cool, end of summer Friday evening, laughing with a weird girl they met through work.
And so she just watched. Content to sink comfortably into the glossy yellow glow of the goat’s glowing eyes, the way they scrunched their snout, and their laugh: weak and crackling, but there.
“You have a beautiful smile Sett.” Ratty said, dropping her facade.
They stopped abruptly, covering their mouth as they turned back over, reexamining the doll that came to life for any signs of mockery. Her goofy grin, her beautifully tired eyes, she was certainly less suave than Sett 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 wanted that yet.
“Aren’t you scared?” Sett asked, letting their hand fall slightly and leaning in towards the possum.
“I- what? No, I-”
“Of- I’m sorry- I mean, of, uh, being in Hell.” Sett wiped the blood from their claw, strings of their lower lip curling back up to meet their upper counterparts.
Ratty blinked up at the goat, stuck in a limbo between a state of lesbian hypnosis and thinking about the future. She chewed the thought for a moment, sat up, and turned so she was sitting upright on the bed.
“Not really? I made it this far, so… I mean basically it goes: you put me back so you don't get in trouble, I break out, I come getcha, we bust out," She turned, forcing a smile. “I've done harder things than that on a Wednesday night. That's basically just four things.”
Sett sat up behind Ratty, considering their next words carefully; “You are here because you did something bad, and while I’m not sure it’s your fault, you did do bad things. That is- Actually, I am sorry," They cut themselves off, trying 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. Sett stared down at the possum’s hands for a moment before nodding.
“Yeah, but you gotta put out the small fires before you start working on the big ones, right? As soon as we get out, I can set to work fixing every shitty thing I have ever done. I mean that’s basically back to normal, right?” The possum grinned, igniting the goat’s own drive for the first time in a long time.
That was just four things.
20 years in hell flew by: a combination of sleeping through 12 hours of torture every time she was captured, and a simple fact of Hell’s design. Part of it’s intentional metaphysical makeup kept time thin: 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 straw poking through choppy waters at worst.
Ratty spent most of her time in and out — but mostly out — of prison. She had become a recognized face in the border camps, enough of a name by the time she arrived to earn her a few sympathy meals in exchange for an odd job or two.
Sett made regular journeys to the border camps on their time off too, and for once in their infinite memory, they found themselves in a good mood. They spent their shifts absentmindedly, able for the first time to look forward to next weekend’s trip to whatever tent city of militant anarchists Ratty had nestled herself into.
Living with distant fear was so much more comfortable than living with present fear, and tonight — more than a little drunk — Sett feared absolutely fucking nothing.
They had spent the night on a small scrap wood stage, a rare opportunity to perform in front of anyone who wasn’t Ratty. On earth, tonight would have been her 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 cool growling that hovered just above the warm sharps of their banjo, filling the room with their comforting presence. They plucked away tiredly at the last song of the night, a hollow ache filling their chest as they grew to miss the music before it had had a chance to say goodbye.
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 a rising star in the hierarchy: Crozi, who declared themselves the patron of “knowledge of who you can and need to be’, whatever that meant.
They sat tapping their claws in abject protest of any semblance of rhythm 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, and in return, Ratty would neutralize a small amount of competition on her way out.
Ratty sat, wrapped until the end of Sett’s set, turning to Crozi only once the goat had taken their bow and stepped down from the flimsy riser.
“So... you think we can pull it off, right?” This was not the first time Ratty had asked. Crozi continued drumming the table, annoyed. “I mean we’re as prepared as-”
“I don’t know if you deserve that certainty.” This was also not the first time Ratty had heard that in response.
“Wh- c’mon.” Talking to Crozi got difficult sometimes. In addition to a complete refusal to make eye contact with lessers, they spent their tenure on earth in the middle ages, and in so doing picked up the annoying affect of a faux-sophisticate.
“If you must ask, you will never know.” The ram raised their chin in the most coached high-society posturing Ratty had seen in her life.
“No, listen, okay-” The possum grabbed Crozi’s chin and forced it back into the normal people zone, earning herself an affronted glare which she graciously ignored. “I know you’re ambivalent to me, but what about Sett?”
“Yes, indeed. What about Sett?” The greater demon drawled. “Saint to all but itself, should I concern myself, lost already to the ales and wines?” Crozi nodded towards Sett’s preferred bar-stool, currently home to a spinning little goat with a fresh drink. Ratty watched for just long enough to make sure they were okay before turning back on Crozi.
“You should absolutely ‘concern yourself’ asshole.” The ram blinked — putting on airs of ‘stunned’ for perhaps for the first time since the two had met.
"I will not tell your future, Hanratty. 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," They hissed. “What I can tell you is that — if anyone is at risk — it is at you.”
Ratty rolled her eyes. “Yeah, thank you. Always a plea-”
“Quiet.” Crozi interrupted. “Your abilities are naught compared to mine and theirs. You have some nebulous skill written into your brain, and an amount of strength to be considered minuscule, even by the standards of a mortal. You are vermin, and perhaps beyond that: only proof that luck is blind. All you have is instinct. They, on the other hand, are not susceptible to mortal wounds. if anyone’s not ready it’s you.” Crozi simmered, Ratty glared for a few moments, waiting for the water to calm enough to interject again.
"No, no my apologies!” Should have waited longer. “You can also drop into a coma at a moment's notice, and the time-movement thing, what do you call it?
“It’s called time-stepping and its fucking cool…” the possum grumbled.
“Forgive me. In my age, I even forget the simplest of abilities."
“Okay! Fine!” Ratty sat back, dejected, choosing to watch her wife gather enough social stature to be hoisted onto a table.
“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 Sett. “...of course, them.”
“Everyone! Everyone everyone everyone," The goat gathered what limited attention was available, sweeping it into range with their arms. “Hold on- Ratty come get up on the table," They tapped the cheap wood with a hoof. Ratty glanced around for a moment, then — with the requisite amount of encouraging nods — complied, struggling to look at anything in front of so many people.
“This is my — what are we calling it now? Girlfriend is good, what do you think? Yes. This is our girlfriend: Ratty, and we love her very much.” They forced the possum’s arm into the air like a boxing champ, forcing air either into or out of Ratty’s lungs. Right, breathing. Squicked by the crowd, she breathed a sigh of relief as Sett spun her so they were face to face.
“I’m sorry for getting drunk," They whispered. “I know- well, okay. I am also sorry for making you get up on the table.”
“S’alright hun. Can I get down now?”
“We will allow that if you do one thing for me first.”
“Gotta say it back.”
“I love you.”
“Oh, is that all?” Ratty swallowed hard as she drowned out the rest of the world. Just the two of them, the goat fighting back a bout of giggles as her flicking tail threatened to topple the table. “Sett, goddess of the mountains, of gay 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, and as fleeting as they have been — have meant the world to me. I cannot wait to start our lives together.”
Sett stared, stunned at her best friend as they processed: first their girlfriend’s words, then every good memory Ratty had brought them. They blinked, noticing as they did that their eyes had welled over. They dove into Ratty’s chest, tipping the table and sending them both to the floor.
And Ratty laughed, a quiet signal that Sett’s attack hadn’t damaged anything.
They would make it out of Hell,
And if they didn’t, it didn’t matter.
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, so a fifth thing: getting captured, was made part of the itinerary.
And who better to do it than Sett: the noble demon double agent whose time in the outskirts would raise eyebrows no more. Of course they were tracking down the notorious Ratty Vermington… There might have even been an award, a lovely ceremony should they decide to stay long enough to see it.
The monster was dragged in by a fistful of hair, too dangerous to be allowed any dignity as she was handed off to the prison handlers. The handlers put her on the end of a collared stick, too cowardly to take risks like the ones that would burn whatever ‘Sett’ was short for into the history books.
“I thought you loved me!” Ratty screamed, yanking and pushing against the sharp steel of her collar. The possum had no trouble making her performance believable. Her handlers laughed, Sett turned at the threshold, the back of their dress fluttering in a constructed wind as they let the flesh around their mouth fall open, pulling the most over-the-top caricature of the vile upper-crust demons they had grown up around they could manage.
“And how many times will you make that mistake, Miss Vermington?” They sneered, savouring every moment as the facility's automated doors slid shut behind them. Ratty kicked and sobbed all the way to her cell, hissing and spitting at the authority-less pawns of the authoritarian afterlife hierarchy's aristocratic regime.
Lotta ten dollar words.
Tonight was her last night in Hell one way or another, and the last night her enemy would be so easily accessible, so why not savour it by making their days as hard as possible?
She slipped into her coma almost as soon as she touched down in her cell, not conscious enough to register her shoulder coming loose from its socket as anything but a mild inconvenience. The first wave of ‘welcome back’ pain only barely clipped her perception as she dulled her senses. Sitting patiently, she watched the lights around her flicker, watching the air bend as it searched for a way to hurt her.
Her two handlers were eventually joined by a curious warden, a thumb hooked proudly through the belt loop that held his solid steel baton in place. They chatted idly, the superior briefly showing off the baton’s taser.
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 in keeping with the interchangeable nature of the sinners who wore them, prisoners had regular access to weapons both improvised and designed, nobody was safe. All of this just to generate fear and tension for the people put ‘in charge’. It also had the side benefit of being fucking convenient for anyone on their way out.
Ratty — although she had no memory of actually doing it — had definitely broken tougher nuts than this.
So, plan: Knock out #1, grab his baton, knock out #2 and #3. Slip on a uniform and walk out the front door. Easy.
As though stepping out of the way, her personal light show shut itself down, leaving just a few moments for her to clench her jaw before slipping 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 as though whatever decided her punishment had been holding back, scared of what was to come. As though the experience machine had to index the physical sensation of “take it out on them, not me.”
She stood as the last remnant of her pain dragged its way out of her back like a cluster of arrows pulled all the way through her chest. It was surprisingly refreshing, like the feeling of taking off some particularly tight shackles.
The dull ache in her dislocated shoulder came back slowly, a gentle nudge pushing her towards the bars.
She sat, just staring for a moment...
Then took a deep breath, forcing time to slow around her in the same way she forced it to speed up for her 20 years spent comatose...
And sprung at the bars like a caged animal, slipping through with her arm still dangling out of its socket before the guards had a chance to register movement.
She swung at #1, using the impact with his chin to pop it back in and immediately diving south for his 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, rolling over onto her back and jamming her new baton up into #1’s crotch, satisfied with the taser’s shower of 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 crushing his windpipe in the same motion. 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.
And #3 was… fuck. #3 was a foot away from the riot alarm. Ratty tossed her baton on instinct, holding her breath as it landed a couple feet short and rolled. It finished it’s journey under #3’s boot, rolling in just the right way to send his head to the cement floor with the kind of crack he was unlikely to recover from. Ratty gave a small fist-bump, sending a shooting pain through her still-not-fully-secure arm.
“Ow...” She whined, massaging the joint. That would be easy enough to ignore soon.
Sett checked their watch compulsively. It was a gift, one of the only personal items Ratty had been left with, and clicking through the time zones gave them some odd comfort.
They stopped the little LCD map on New York City for the sixth or seventh time that night, staring into the centre of the highlighted timezone. That’s where they would come out: An unassuming office building owned in part by the hierarchy, 1983, New Years day, between 15 and 30 minutes to midnight.
Making Ratty their emissary was no longer a question of whether or not Sett 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. It was not work that could be done with shaking hands.
John had already been through tonight to congratulate Sett on bringing Ratty in. He hadn’t noticed the cupboard full of supplies they were subconsciously guarding or the fact that their usually messy floor was entirely clear of their books and butterflies. Odds were low that he would visit again.
Still, better safe than sorry. They had cut along the edges of their carpet and rolled it into one corner of the room, ready to be released if the latticework pattern of sigils needed to be hidden. The carpet would do nothing to mask the sweet smell of burning lacquer, but anything Sett could do to minimize their chance of getting caught was at least a little worth it.
They spent a lot of that night on their stomach, measuring each angle with a combination of extensive scrutiny and flicking between reality and a subspace blueprint they had spent their nights off drawing up.
The thread was infinite, but their spool was not. Somewhere in the almost perfect weave was a missing half-foot of slack. Some anchor somewhere- maybe it was that one? Needed a few inches to… the left? The left.
There we go… The goat released a satisfied sigh of relief as the move sent slack through the entire configuration. They knelt and tugged on the loose end of the thread, begging for all they could get from those few inches. It strained for just a moment — weighing it’s want for the goat to succeed against the hard and fast rules of its construction — and gave just enough to latch onto the last anchor.
And it was done. Sett took a step back to admire their work: an intricate crisscross of shimmering gold that gave way to two small clearings, one for themselves, and one for Ratty. Their banjo sat un-strung between the two clearings, waiting for the possum’s own soul to be threaded through it.
The goat felt a pang of guilt as their partner crossed their mind again. 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.
Sett picked up their banjo and unfurled the carpet, feeling a little more anxiety ebb away as it was temporarily extinguished. Still, they couldn’t stay in here. There was just enough clear space on the bed to lie down on, the rest crowded with the mess that had to be moved out of the way for the ceremony. Sett took their seat on the edge, glaring 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 wallpaper. They slept on the couch to avoid looking at it, to avoid letting those words watch as they slept. Win or lose, this was the last time they would ever see it.
They tried to pull a needle from switchspace as they sat back, forgetting that their spool was fully taxed until nothing actually formed between 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.
No, actually. The knife felt wrong in their hands. The way the blade rattled in the handle was more annoying than comforting, and so they set it aside, going over the skeleton of a plan that Ratty had laid out.
It wasn’t a very good plan actually, not a lot of substance beyond ‘fight and leave’. There was no guiding their racing thoughts into anything productive at this moment. Instead, their anxiety dictated it was time to think about torture.
John would chain them to the ceiling when they were young, using their body as a literal punching bag, and why not? He was already despicable, charged with, responsible for, and taking sole glee in nothing but suffering across the entirety of his miserable life. A creature designed by the elder gods to create pain was incompatible with the idea of child rearing.
That lasted only until the little demon was just barely ‘old enough’. That was when Hell came down hard on Sett. 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.
Sett was not designed for hurting people.
That thought loop ended when they heard the front door handle punch through the adjacent wall.
“Sett?” Ratty voice, thank god. The goat swallowed hard, setting aside the rolodex of worse options that had jumped to the front of their mind.
“Bedroom.” They called. Ratty stopped in the centre of the door frame, just ahead of the turned up pull-out couch.
“In the couch?” She gave it a weak kick.
“In the actual bedroom, Ratty.” Sett leaned over and gave a weak smile through the doorway. Ratty turned, going from a vague look of confused discomfort to a full faced grin as she caught sight of her partner.
“Hey!” Her voice was like fresh air. She shifted her weight onto the handle of an axe, trying to force some casualty into her posture. She had clearly seen better days.
And yet, for a moment it felt almost like Ratty had simply come home from a long day. Sett stifled a laugh at how they must’ve looked: Ratty coming home with a bloody axe, her partner waiting with a knife in close reach. Ratty laughed too, mostly out of nerves. She was really just a possum shaped bundle of nerves.
“Where did you get an axe from?” Sett asked. Ratty looked down at the weapon, sizing it up as though it was the first time she had ever seen it.
“Uh- fire box? I think.”
“Alright.” Sett smiled. “Are you ready?”
Ratty took a deep breath, gazed into her wife’s eyes, and nodded.
An ache dissolving shower and half an hour later Ratty and Sett knelt in their respective clearings in the latticework. She watched patiently as Sett threaded the white thread of her soul up through the the tailpiece of their banjo, smiling as they noticed the goat savouring the tone of her soul against the drum.
Her eyes followed the silver threads up through the head of the instrument and stopped where they did: at four tightly tied anchors. Sett’s hand sat there, idly twisting and plucking, searching for a tune to bring to the resonator.
Ratty shifted on her knees, careful not to distract her soon-to-be wife. The goat’s eyes twitched back and forth gently under their soft lids, sparkling softly as each note revealed itself in turn. Their lips shimmered with the fresh blood of trimming back the skin, dripping down their chin as they mouthed silently silently through the verses as they came to them. Each word Ratty managed to pick out rose like roots from the thread, further binding her into the ritual.
She scooted closer, hoping to catch a few more words and jumping as her shower-damp fur sizzled on the boundary of her clearing.
“Sorry," Ratty settled back into her spot. The goat’s eyes flickered open, mostly confused, and a little annoyed to be interrupted. “I didn’t realize it-”
“It’s okay. I didn’t notice until you spoke, actually...” Sett smiled.
“Cool," The possum shifted anxiously. “I love you.”
“I love you too.” And with that, they began to strum.
“Is this a song I would recognize?” Ratty asked.
“I’m not sure. It’ll be our song, none of the texts I read were clear on whether that’s something preexisting in the both of us, or something we create together… I just need to find where we start...” 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 climaxing in a pair of pin-pricks under her skin as her new horns pushed their way through her scalp and into fresh air. They stopped, poking just an inch above their fluffy mess of freshly shampooed hair.
“That wasn’t so bad.” Ratty reached up to touch the budding tips, then froze as their eyes met Sett’s.
“Oh, hun…” The tight lipped expression of sympathetic guilt brought up a familiar urge to skip through pain. The ritual was too delicate to skip. Too important, too. 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, as long as everything else was blocked out, this would be just fine.
Her entire body tensed suddenly as the residual pain of her prison break was pulled from her extremities into the centre of her chest and out through the threads of her soul. She watched, squinting through the light as it travelled like a signal, up through the Banjo, an aggressive and thrumming distortion of the instrument’s range.
“I love you Ratty.” Sett whispered, almost too quiet to be heard.
“I love you t--” The words caught in Ratty’s throat as her blood-soaked nubs pushed forward into a full pair of tight coils. It was hard to know just how much of her skin was torn by the keratin outcroppings when the only signal was searing pain. Harder still when it refused to stop at her scalp, shooting down the back of her neck like a pair of careless scalpels running their way down 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, found Sett’s lap much closer than before. Every inch of the demon’s damp fur 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 sudden effort of holding a grinding wall of sound in her throat.
“Sing, Ratty.” Sett said, as though feeling the pain for themselves. Ratty growled into the soft fabric of their dress, not ready to give that last bastion yet.
“I love you. Sing.” Sett repeated. Ratty felt her body start to split as it had done before only in the most traumatic moments of her childhood, 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. Sett’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 melodic scream, and the banjo 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 love for only a moment as she watched the rolling tides. 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.
She 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 her face resting on their soft, felt the quiet buzzing of the banjo, still calming down from its last note. Ratty slumped over, flinching as her new horns thunked against the hollow body of the instrument, and curled closer to her partner. The ringing in her ears faded slowly, even her advanced biology 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 to return. Her head felt heavy, the line between her fur and her wife’s grinding closer and closer to nothing with each silent 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.” Sett laughed, stroking the pain out of the base of their wife’s new horns.
“I love you so much.”
“I love you too.”
The higher you got in Hell, the more the hierarchy let their gods play fast and loose with space and time with the general excuse that a simple concrete prison was probably far too good for the likes of Adolf Hitler.
Of course, John had no concept of fairness to begin with. Instead of trapping ol’ one ball in an infinite maze of suffocating incinerators, forever forced to perceive the pathetic downfall of die infinite Reiche, he chose instead to make his office pretty, and 'Dolf shared a cell with a dude who watched too many videos of babies falling over.
“Ratty!” The demon called from his throne as though greeting an old friend, rising ridged red pillars with each step down. “I gotta hand it to you buddy! Bagged my babe, escaped my prison, it’d be impressive if- well, actually, y’know what? It’s actually pretty damn impressive!”
Approaches with arms outstretched
Backs ratty and sett towards the edge of the platform
C’mon, bring it in. Haven’t seen you since day one!
Ratty stops, standing firm.
Raises her axe and jabs John in the chest with the flat end.
C’mon man! I was just about to offer you a job!
John dropped his arms dejectedly.
Creates the feeling of receiving an email from a coworker titled ‘sorry for calling you ‘man’
Take over for your old man
Oh yeah ratty’s dad is the god king of linear time
Forgot to mention that
Not super relevant to the story. She had some feelings about it when she was a kid, now she realizes that just about every dad is shitty in one way or another
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.
Ratty turned to look at her wife,
catching a confident eye and feeling her heart swell.
Gonna have to turn you down on that one cap’n.
John snaps his fingers
Looks expectantly at ratty
Confused at his own hand
Looks at Ratty’s horns
Oh my god you did!
What do people say at weddings
The threads in her hands wove themselves into thick, braided bundles of rope,
Ratty tensing up
Struggling to keep a grip
Good for you! Really, I mean good for you.
We’ll just do this the old fashion way then.
Paused for a minute
Cleaning a tooth with his tongue
The gods eyes burst into flames as his throne crumbled behind him, sending the concrete pillar down towards ratty and sett
Walks away casually
Unleashing her coiled tension into the debris
Waiting for the entirety of her coiled tension to drain into the axe
Blasting the concrete away
In the same motion
Spinning and throwing the axe at John
Sett stumbles as their slack is suddenly brought tight by the move.
It’s barely an effort for john to catch the axe
Sett the slack go limp around their wrists
This was stupid
This never should have happened
As ratty took off
Closing the distance between her and john
And then didn't duck a set of three concrete pillars
Bashes her across the jaw
She gets in one good jab
Goes for the axe
Elbow comes down on her head
Ratty goes down
Could have- woah!
Ratty kicks at John’s knee
Could have done way better Sett, just so you know.
Axe handle comes down on her head
Didn’t help that the entirety of hell also spun in the opposite direction
With eyes shut
Sett, their aura warm peach against the blackness, shuttering frigid white
a chain, red hot and dangling from her chest, and
John, that same chain hooked to his belt.
Lotta fight, but-
Picks up ratty
I mean really?
Ratty struggles to shake herself awake
Dives for the chain
It disappears as her eyes open
Falls through it, cracking her snout off of the hard ground.
There was an amount of surprised excitement in John’s voice.
“Is that the first time you’re seeing that?”
Ratty’s eyes lull closed again
John twiddled the chain,
Sett falls to their knees.
“You had no idea! Now that is just sad. I’m really sorry, buddy.”
John spun the axe, bringing it down on Ratty’s stomach, just for fun at this point.
“You backed the wrong goat, Hanratty. Sett is mine.”
This sux, huh ratty
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 she 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 centre of guilt to 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, Sett?”
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, Sett caught a glimpse of movement.
her beautifully tired eyes doing their best to focus on their own.
For a moment, Sett 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, Sett reeled their head back and slammed their forehead into John’s nose, knocking him back and giving Sett 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?”
And back again
Ratty nodded as she felt the thread pull the ache out of her nerves.
No more pain
Ignore the pain.
“One more go.”
Time begins to rewind in her body
Seemingly in and out of this universe with the amount of fixing it needs to do
Feels like she owes it to set
“You fucking bitch!” John regained his composure
Ratty pushed herself back to her feet, using the dropped axe as a cane.
She glared right through John,
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 Sett was no longer wrapped around her body, They were in her heart.
They were not going down without a fight.
Never go down without a fight.
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 theirs to control, things to triage.
One more go.
“Hey, okay actually- listen, Sapphomet-”
John pivoted hard, seeing the two finally working as one.
“Lets talk about-”
Time stopped again as
Ratty lunged at the dog,
the threads in her arm tensing like a spring,
John throws up a rod on instinct
Axe comes through it
Up through the stone
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 as ratty let time slip again, snapping the axe handle as the force slipped it from Ratty’s hands.
He spun it, forming a new red concrete head
leaving his body to push out the original.
swung it overhead like an executioner,
burying it in the ground as Sett pulled a fistful of rope, forcing Ratty to time-step 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.
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 centre as they shook with Sett’s effort.
One final yank and they snapped together, bringing Ratty to the ground out of John’s reach.
Sett 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 savoured the moment, watching the dog — paralyzed — 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 dive tackles john
the same latticework pattern that made her an emissary weaving its way out below her feet
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, time-stepping to worsen the impact and feeling nothing as every bone in her wrist was pulverized and reformed.
John fell back, struggling to keep any amount of height as the possum took hold of the rope between her and Sett.
The goat stumbled forward, catching themselves on the possum’s back and letting out a little slack.
John went for a punch,
catching only rope and having his wrist tied behind him at an angle that held him with his chest and neck perfectly exposed.
Sett 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. Sett 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.
Sett 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.
He would not stay dead.
But he would know to stay away.
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.
DEC 31, 1983
New Years Eve.
Another boring night.
Every night was boring for Becca.
Every night was spent waiting for her shift to end, every night a half finished game of solitaire in front of her, every night her walkman jammed, every night she adamantly refused to listen to earth radio. It was bad enough that she had to comply with a bunch of stupid rules around the era’s technology, it was a bridge too far to stoop so low as to listen to a celebration of the next mortal year.
She entertained for a moment, as she did every night, that perhaps she might not be a desk demon, but in fact a mortal trapped in Hell. It was her job to do customs for anyone that escaped, and nobody ever escaped. A truly ironic existence, or at least close enough to whatever irony actually was that her internal monologue did not bother to correct her.
All of this musing as — as happened every night — 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 earth born emissary with enough wounds to put a pause on an army. It was the first time anyone had actually looked at her since she started on earth.
"Are you- are you customs?" Sett asked.
"I, uh- I think so? Are you leaving?" Becca responded.
"We- I'm- Uh, Sapphomet... Sett, actually. This is Ratty," They dragged the possum over, paying more attention to planting her feet in the right spots than actually reaching the desk. “We need… we need... documents for uh, immigration to earth? And… I think it’s called re-naturalization? I'm sorry this is- we have had a rough night."
“Get some- get some money for all the time I spent in Hell, too," Ratty slurred. “Gotta be a grant… always a grant...” her head lulled with the effort of speaking.
"For sure, yes I definitely have papers for that kind of thing somewhere." Becca shuffled her walkman under a pile of office detritus as the time to do actual work came down. Silence hung between the two parties as — without breaking eye contact — Becca successfully spilled coffee all over her computer terminal.
“Yes, and can we have them, please?” Sett nudged.
“Oh, yeah! Yes, I’m sorry, here-” Becca dove beneath her desk, producing two heavy binders and a stapled stack of forums. “Application for your allotted uh, 10k in repatriation expenses, permanent residency on earth… and- sorry, are you Canadian?” she asked.
“Oh we totally are, oops.” Ratty nodded.
“Right, and you’re staying permanently?”
“Okay, one more of these uh, expense applications, and I will actually get you the Canadian versions… that’s quite a bit more money actually- I would invest that, if I were you. Can I ask, actually, what, like, happened to you two?” Becca let her curiosity get the better of her as she dove back under the desk.
“Killed the devil.” The possum mumbled, clearly exhausted. She spoke like someone very sure of herself despite most of her blood being outside of her body. Becca nodded politely over the lip of their desk, feeling weird about her boss being dead.
"Not, Lucifer. Just- did you know John the Architect?" Sett corrected.
“I’m gonna kill him next.” Ratty refused to wait for an answer.
“No, you’re not. He’s very nice and you don’t have to.”
“Okay.” She seemed disappointed.
“So, what do I do now?” Becca asked, coming up with another pair of binders and forms, more lost than she had ever been in her life.
"I- I'm not sure,” Sett 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." Sett said.
"Gonna start a company. American dream!"
"This is not the time to- Ratty." Sett commanded. Ratty caught their eye, choosing not to finish what she was saying as the goat lodged the binders under their free arm and gave a polite ‘goodbye’ nod.
“Oh! Wait!” Becca dove back under her desk for a third time, producing a thermos and offering it to the pair. “Hot chocolate," She smiled. “It’s cold out there.”
Ratty took a step back from Sett as the two hit the sidewalk.
“It’s okay, I can stand on my own," She swayed on her feet, laughing to herself as she recognized the neighbourhood. “Hell’s Kitchen...” She sighed with a smile. Sett looked up at their wife, breaking into their own fit of giggles at the absolute absurdity of what they had just done together.
“You know anyone we can stay with in New York?” The goat ribbed. The countdown to midnight started just a few blocks away.
“In 1983?” Ratty teased. It was warm enough to be drizzling at the height of december, and breathing real air never felt so good.
“Well, we can probably stay here until at least the end of the year.” Sett said, less and less aware of their tears as they cooled and blended with the rain on their cheeks. They let their eyes lull closed as their eyes as their wife wiped them away, unintentionally replacing them with a smear of blood.
“Ah shit, sorry.” Ratty said, trying to lick a clean patch on her thumb through the caked on grime. Sett shook their head, giving their first free smile in centuries. Somewhere, the organized countdown devolved into a crowd of cheers, a select few corrals trying to push the din it into a chorus of ‘Auld Lang Syne’
And for a moment an infinite weight lifted from their shoulders. They just stood there, looking at each other: Ratty with her tired eyes and goofy grin, Sett smiling quietly under the bliss of new potential.
“Happy New Year Sett.”
“Happy New Year Hanratty.”
And then they kissed.