Reunion - 2004
For some reason it was easier to be a paranormal criminal than a paranormal courier. True, most crimes were a lot easier when one was incredibly hard to kill, but it would probably still be fun if Ratty could die.
Sett had warned her not to do anything explicitly death-defying time and time again. Only two more years until YouTube came into being and shot the probability of something like “Possum Survives Falling Off Building” going the 2005 equivalent of viral through the roof. That would be the end of her career.
Of course, there would be no career in the first place without the possum who could dive off a six story building or charge through a hail of gunfire. The people who hired her did so because they knew a Ratty job was a job that got done no matter what.
She wasn’t technically brought here explicitly to do anything illegal today, but museums had insurance, and royal museums - when they couldn’t be fucked to display paranormal artifacts properly - preferred payouts to dead patrons.
She circled slowly around a glass display case in the Royal Ontario Museum’s “Earth’s Treasures” section, more fascinated with the way her thoughts seemed to reflect off of the sharp black curves of the stone than the actual beauty of it.
“You sure I can’t convince you to part with it?” Ratty did her best impression of a disappointed collector; insurance claims were about theatre. She caught the curator’s glare as she huffed, never happy to work with the possum. Ratty wasn’t crazy about her, either.
It was business: the curator cared about history, the courier cared about feeding her rapidly growing family of rejects and freaks. Neither of them thought about insurance until they had to.
“Isn't there something you could do? ‘enchanted glass’ or something of that tone...” The curator drawled. Ratty stopped circling, leaning in so her face was almost against the glass. She could feel the stone licking at her cheeks: a hungry energy that had already sent a few interns into an early progeria-addled retirement.
“I mean… it’s a rock.” Ratty stood, now content to stay away from the evil little thing. “The only thing that makes it special is that it’s got a charm, and it occasionally kills people.” The same could be said for most of Earth’s treasures, honestly.
“And it’s history.” The curator seemed incapable of not huffing every word she spoke.
“No, yeah-” Ratty peeled a white card off of the side of the displaced case, showing it to the curator. “I read it. For sure. If you wanted someone to uh- fact check your history… I’m 20th century... actually can you-” She stuck the white card to the glass, blocking the curators line of sight. “Tell me what it is.”
“It’s a stone.”
Ratty nodded, then peeled the card back off. “And one more time?”
“It’s a priceless, one-of-a-kind, gemstone.”
“See, charm.” She tossed the card aside, focusing instead on the drywall divider between this and the next-door storage room, tapping along it until she found a decent gap between two studs.
“You only like it because it’s telling you to like it. Plus, and I don’t wanna be rude but-” Then to the entrance, she knelt to go through her duffle bag and slipped a pair of thick, black, elbow length gloves. “For one thing, you guys pay like shit and have no expertise. Do- Here’s a thing: did y’all know that the last time my wife was here, y’all made them fucking cry? You made a trillion year old- ugh, never mind.”
She slipped on the other glove as she fumed. “Oh, and that’s not to mention-” Ratty pushed past the curator and pointed out the massive black totem pole that ran up the centre of the stairwell. “-THAT is a near constant-barrage on the spiritual immune systems of everyone who comes near this building. I’m no expert in indigenous stuff, and this is definitely a tangent, but building your museum around a monument to like, an ongoing cultural genocide is…” Ratty sucked air through her teeth, trying to cool off with the breeze as she noticed some of the regular museum patrons staring.
“Anyway…” She stammered, returning to the cordoned off ‘Earth’s Treasures’ room. The curator’s impatience turned to frustration, glaring down the possum as she realized what Ratty was about to do. “...here's what I’m willing to do for you.”
Ratty tipped the display case, shattering glass across the floor like a dropped bag of marbles. “I’m gonna steal this… and then, uh, leave.” Ratty said, deciding to skip the monologue of an explanation she had prepared. The three - Ratty, the curator, her guard - stood in stunned silence for just a moment as a few patrons gathered at the door to see what kind of glass was broken.
And then, as though responding to a starting pistol, everyone moved at once.
Ratty ducked, taking the stone in her gloved hand. Even through the thick, enchanted rubber she could feel it’s sucking, cold energy.
She charged headlong directly into the spot she had scoped out in the drywall. Of course, there was something on the other side, because generally rooms have things in them. “Y’know what I just realized, actually-” Her voice caught in her now broken and dust-filled nose as she attempted to yank herself loose. The curator’s personal guard cornered her. “I actually - and thank you for pointing this out - totally forgot my bag.” She dug the toe of her boot into the remaining drywall and hopped up over the guard, scooping up the black duffle by the handle and backing out of the room. A cloud of curious museum-goers had blocked the way to the stairs, and the only other option was the adjacent hall, where she would have to try her luck with more drywall...
There was also a balcony...
A careful person could survive a 20 foot drop onto marble, probably.
She backed up as close as she could get to the stone half-wall of the rotunda. Then, throwing up a quick sign-of-the-horns, toppled herself over the edge in a perfect stage-dive. Her tail mostly broke her fall. Not enough to completely avoid a definitely-audible crack when she hit the ground, but enough to justify hopping up from the roll.
Whatever shook itself loose in her spine pulled itself back into alignment as she limped towards the west exit. A pair of cops had already responded to the alarm, both bewildered, one holding a half open ticket-book. He dropped it and pulled his gun from it’s holster as full function returned to the possum’s legs.
North exit, then. The ridiculous price of admission kept the front hall largely empty: those who paid rushed to get their money's worth. No one here to stand between her and gunfire, which - she felt the need to clarify internally - was a good thing.
The limited number of museum guards on staff barricaded the entrance, supported in part by a swarm of Toronto’s finest on the other side of the glass barrier. Somehow, exactly two people had thought to cover the exit to the ground-floor gift shop.
Ratty once again chose to forget that she was practising pretending to be mortal as she tossed herself through the glass, through a pile of plush toys, and back to her feet.
“Sorry!” She felt a pang of guilt at the clerk’s face: a combination of ‘oh shit there’s a robbery going on’ and ‘man, I just fucking stacked those’. Ratty shattered her third piece of glass in the past several minutes pushing through the front door. In a moment of instinct, she grabbed the now-free push-bar and swung blindly at the pair of awaiting cops.
Police officers were unlike everyone she had ever fought in one key way: they were cowards. The kind that - even after watching her trip and fall all the way over the hood of a taxi - were deterred enough by a door handle to keep back if they couldn’t be absolutely assured the balance of power was in their favour.
“Sorry!” Ratty waved at the driver, turned, dropped her weapon, and sprinted across the rest of the street.
That was another thing she was very good at doing: disappearing. She stripped off her gloves, turning them inside out over the rock, then over each other, and stuffed them into her duffle. She then tossed the bag a few feet in front of her, reversed her jacket, then pulled a ball cap and sunglasses from the duffle as she slung it back over her shoulder. She stuffed her hair through the hole in the back of her cap, and emerged cautiously on the other side of the alley.
Throat full of white-hot adrenaline.
Got away with it again, Vermington.
It took Sett one look at the stone to recognize it. They spent a half-hour cross-checking it with the relevant historical texts, looking for some excuse not to track down it’s owner.
They hated TV studios. The corporatization of performance turned art into mechanism in the worst way possible: art became machine, begging to be greased with the blood of the worker. Low effort talk-shows were the worst of this: people’s lives condensed into timber, hammered together to prop up a soulless figurehead, an icon icon of other people’s hard work.
If it were up to them they would never appear even remotely close to a TV studio. On those rare occasions they felt the urge to perform, hollow floors that boomed when her audience stomped were more than satisfying.
All of this to avoid thinking about The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Angel and Sett had joined a tour-group. They broke off during a photo-op, walking with the straight back of someone who - at the very least - looked like they were supposed to be there. A pair of black headphones and a confident stride could get anyone in anywhere.
A half-minute of weaving through a traffic jam of producers, various stagehands, and other TV etc., landed the pair at the door to Ellen’s dressing room. The cheap drywall construction seemed just barely to dam a familiar energy: hungry, dark, tendril’s licking at their cheeks, the whole nine yards. Sett wondered how many the elder god: Decay, sitting comfortably on the other side, had killed.
The lesser demon gripped and un-gripped the doorknob, failing to calm their nerves. Their heart froze in their chest as the star-marked door in front of them swung open, revealing the god’s grotesque, hairless face, contorted into a wide, toothy smile. Sett’s stomach turned further as they took in the odd, stump of a snout in the centre of her face, the strange, monkey-like ear flaps, it’s brilliantly white soulless eyes.
The creature had called itself ‘human’ when it first manifested here: the first of its kind. For some reason, TV audiences really got a kick out of that.
“Well don’t just stand out there! Come in!”
There was no trusting an elder god. In mortal realms they played a few steps ahead of everyone else. Still, Sett was here to talk, and talking over the door frame wasn’t going to get them far, so - against their better judgment - Sett followed Ellen back into her dressing room.
It was cushy; real in the same way that a third floor office with no windows was real. A revolting combination of medical brightness and claustrophobia, topped off with the outdated trappings of Hollywoodian Americana.
Beautiful, isn’t it?
Ellen comes upon the instant realization that, if we were going to fight over control of this narrative, she would lose. She makes the decision, without coaxing, to stay within quotation marks for the time being, because she understands that this is my turf, motherfucker.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Ellen’s peppy drawl cut through the silence of the dressing room, now isolated from the rest of the building. “Bland! Very ‘earth’” She smiled, taking a beat to savour her next move. “How is Hell, by the way?”
Sett caught Ellen’s stylist’s eye for a moment, seemingly content to ignore everything said between the pair as they perfectly dishevelled the god’s hair. They swallowed their rising anxiety.
“I left, actually.”
“Right, of course. You’ll have to forgive me, these kinds of things just tend to slip my mind.” That was an outright lie, and Ellen made no attempt to cover it up. “Awfully boring though, last time you were there, wasn’t it?” This was cat and mouse for her.
“I’m here for a reason, Ellen.” Sett said, their voice taking on a rare sharp edge.
“Oh c’mon. Play with me.” The god whined.
“Okay, yes, fine. Let’s skip ahead: you and I banter a bit, you show me a photo, I act surprised: ‘Oh it’s my [whatever] of [whatever]! Wherever did you find it?’ as though I don’t know. Yes it’s mine, no it can’t be neutralized, put it in an arcane-proofed safe and hope nobody ever finds out about it.” Ellen lectured, annoyed enough with the goat’s impatience that she forgot to pretend to breathe. She also did not get away with saying ‘[‘ or ‘]’ and therefore said ‘square bracket’ out loud like a fucking dolt.
“Now, c’mon… How did you find Hell?” Ellen pressed. Sett sighed, taking their hand out of their purse and abandoning the PDA they had been cradling.
“Fine. Last time I was in hell it was-” Sett started.
“Oh do please be specific.” Ellen cut them off.
“Yes. Fine. A prison in the middle, border camps, big wall.” They did their best to keep the imagery out of their mind. Ellen’s toothy smile turned smug as she steepled her fingers, seemingly holding one string of Sett’s tied around each.
“What about John? How’s John?” She was just teasing now. Even with the god-like ability to warp reality, she couldn’t conceal the knowledge of John’s fate behind her eyes. Truly, she just liked watching the goat squirm.
“John has been… removed from his former position.” Sett said, matter of fact.
“Oh yes! I know! Isn’t it fantastic? And they - I mean the sinners - they still don't suspect anything?” Ellen prodded.
That threw Sett completely off of their composure.
“Pardon me?” They stuttered.
“Oh- oh isn’t that rich.” Ellen’s voice crackled in her throat: the low tones of a predator catching their sharp edges on the smooth surface of reality. “No, nothing. I just thought - you of all demons would know what Hell really looked like.”
What Hell really looked like?
The latter portion of their stay was admittedly better than the first, but they had made a deal with the devil. That’s how it’s supposed to be: you compromise your morals in a way that makes you feel better in the short term, and worse in the long term.
What Hell really looked like?
It was primitive, sure. More sinners meant less time for each individual one. There was miles of blue sky between a really shitty prison and No Exit, but John was never one to waste time on fancy torture. Pain worked.
What Hell really looked like?
Sett felt an ache behind their eyes as they tried to push Decay’s poison out of their brain. She could tell the little goat was aching not to cry in front of her, sucking up every moment as they ran over this internal turmoil.
What Hell really looked like?
And then the door opened behind them.
“Boss?” A rabbit poked her head through, snapping the situation like the latex skin of a balloon. “Curtains in five, we need you for lighting.”
“Oh, yes, of course.” Ellen smiled, dropping the previous conversation. “Eleanor, would you actually come in for just a moment? This is Sett-” The elder god gestured. “-we used to work together.”
Eleanor nodded impatiently at the goat. “How’s it going?”
“Never so bad it couldn’t be worse.” Sett gave a weak smile, taking some comfort in the way their voice parroted their wife’s in this moment.
“Sett and I were just talking about you, actually.” Ellen lied. It was pointless to argue: she had an agenda, and Eleanor seemed smart enough to avoid trusting a single thing her boss said. The four let the silence hang after that, Angel not at all breaking from form as she continued to stand, motionless in the corner.
“Okay… Well… Curtains in five.” Eleanor said, clearly trying to keep annoyance out of her voice.
“I look forward to seeing you then!” Ellen grinned, waving cheerfully as the rabbit left. That was fucking weird.
“Such a bright rising star, Sapph. You’re really going to want to watch that one.” Ellen smiled.
“I don’t watch your show.” Sett snapped back, cold and curt.
“Oh no, I know, but I mean you’re really going to- eheh.” Ellen cut herself off, stifling a giggle as something jumped into her mind. “Don’t touch that dial, Sett. You’re really going to want to see how this plays out.”
With that, the elder god stood, crossed the room, and stopped deliberately on the threshold.
“Was there anything you needed?” Ellen asked, both feet over the line.
“What did you mean about Hell?” Sett asked, dropping their pride for a shot at reassurance.
“Hm! So sorry, that’s all the time we have for today.” Ellen stood stock still in the doorway as if to emphasize: I have plenty of time, I just want to keep fucking with you. “Oh! and thank you so much for the whole - I mean I know it's been YEARS at this point but the Angelcorp breakout has been really good for me.” Ellen winked. “See you around.”
And with that, she was gone, leaving Sett to contemplate in stunned silence. They jumped for the second time in a quarter hour as Angel set a gentle hand on them from behind. “Jesus Christ, Angel.” Sett snapped, trying to slow their heart with their hand.
“Would you like to go home now?” The drone asked, unphased.
“Wh- where’s Ratty?” Sett asked.
“She’s at home, talking to Pokey about your shared anni-” Angel stopped herself, a white progress bar flashing across her visor. Angel had been several hundred years out of date when she had travelled back from the 2900s. She was several hundred years older now, living rough, far out of range of anyone who could put her back together in the intended way. “She is talking to Ms. Jozwiak about a fasinating new open-source operating system she has just completed.” She corrected.
“Can you- Can you call her?” Sett stammered.
“Ratty speaking” The possum mouthed a silent apology at Pokey, flashing a blank phone screen at the lizard by way of explanation. Caller ID was one of the things she missed most about the future, but Pokey figured Sett would be calling.
“Ratty.” Sett’s voice held a clear note of slow-burning panic, obvious enough to make Pokey hunch their shoulders from several meters away.
“What’s up, hun?” Ratty asked.
“If we were still in Hell, you would tell me.” Sett said, telling instead of asking, and in so doing willing it to be true.
“Sett- What?” Ratty stammered, caught completely off guard.
“I mean- I know you love me, like I know. And, I’ve been a really good partner to you, and this is a really long con if-” The goat’s breath hitched in her throat as panic overtook them. “Are we still in Hell?” They begged.
Ratty turned it over in her mind for just a second, stopping short of a quick ‘no’
It wouldn’t be convincing, and it wasn’t like Ratty had any proof to the contrary. Earth was Hell in its own way, even outside of the paranormal sector.
Bush was president, Harper was coming up as PM, Angel Computers had effectively put a surveillance device in every home. Two of those three were making more money than god off of the global war on terror, having orchestrated the flash point themselves.
To be honest, Earth might just be Hell.
“I mean, are you-”
“No, Sett. I’m your wife. I was born in Toronto General Hospital in 1998. I grew up just south of Etobicoke and spent almost every summer in a small town outside Bobcaygeon. I have never loved anyone like I love you.” Ratty said, her voice firm and caring as it spilled out of her. “If you are in Hell, then we are in Hell together, and I am as willing as ever to bust out with you.”
“I-” Sett paused, steadying themselves again as they came back down ever so slowly from their panic attack. Deep breaths. Deep breaths. Of course Ratty wasn’t a demon, of course she wasn’t a double agent from Hell. Their marriage had not been perfect, but then again, wouldn’t a demon want to make it perfect and save themselves the trouble?
“Decay got in your head, I’m guessing?” Ratty asked.
“Yeah, sorry.” Sett said.
“It’s cool. You still want to do date night?”
“Can I pick the spot?” ‘The spot’ was very likely to be a stress-free meal they could bring home with them.
“Yeah, for sure.”
“And after that?” Physical affection was a well known treatment for anxiety.
“Whatever you want.” The possum’s voice wrapped Sett like a blanket, even through the crackling speakers of their cell phone.
They struggled to hang up, spending most of their energy on anxiety-quelling breathing exercises. The room had pulled away for a moment, leaving Sett in a blank void, accompanied only - now more often than not during a panic attack - by their reflection in rich black.
They had forgotten where they were for just a moment. No big deal. Angel, the dressing room, the stylist desperately trying not to look the little goat in the eyes.
“I- I’m sorry about that.” Sett stammered, clutching their cell phone like the single free pole on a packed subway, no less anxious than if they were at risk of being tossed to the floor and trampled at the next station.
The stylist waved their hand, still not meeting Sett’s gaze. “Not the worst thing I’ve uh- worked through.” They shrugged.
That really was all there was to be done here. As shitty as Ellen was, “It's my [whatever] of [whatever]!” and “Yes it’s mine, no it can’t be neutralized, put it in an arcane-proofed safe and hope nobody ever finds out about it.” was really all Sett had come to California for. They really hated the weather: a dry and constant reminder of the arrogance of plastic capitalism. It was a small blessing that Ellen was so short.
“So… Angel…” Sett turned to their mechanical friend. “Portal? Uh, my bedroom, if you could.” They wanted to have some time alone to think. Ratty would be working for another half-hour trying to find a place in their safe where the stone wouldn’t react with anything else, and they wanted to be comfortable.
Angel nodded, pulling a slow-to-populate gate from the wall and having to physically hold it open with her shaking arms as Sett stepped through.
“Might want to have Fern or Steph look at that, huh?” They asked.
“Yes.” Angel nodded, letting the portal close, leaving Sett to their thoughts.
They sat on the edge of their bed, staring at the ripples in the aging carpet as their mind continued to race. Time sped along, kept them busy, kept them tired. There was a new kind of anguish in their eyes: they had rarely kept up with Earth affairs, but they had been through eternity enough times to know how this world played out. What they were doing to help was minuscule.
Their black reflection hovered over them, little more than a pair of hoof-prints in the carpet. It was always when they felt emptiest that the other Sett showed up. They rarely did anything, just stood, sometimes sat, always watched.
The original threw themselves back into the duvet. Ratty never made the bed, Sett didn’t see the point in it either. They picked up Ratty’s pillow, burying their snout in the soft fabric and taking a deep inhale of her scent. Demons did not smell like Ratty smelled. Demons, Sett thought, smelled like sulphur, fire and brimstone, all that bullshit. Ratty - or at least her pillow - smelled like... oily hair.
Sett rolled over, catching the lower half of their squashed face in the mirror. They wondered if they smelled like fire and brimstone and sulphur, and whether they had just gotten too used to it to be able to tell. Ratty would have told her. She could be mean like that, without thinking. A demon wouldn’t accidentally blurt out the kinds of things Ratty blurted out. The goat avoided moving anything but their eyes as the possum poked her head into the room. A demon would have been able to see the other Sett.
“Hey! There you are.” She smiled, same as ever. “Sorry, is it alone time?”
Would a demon ask? Would a demon, knowing that they were on the verge of being found out, pretend to be nicer than they actually were. Would a possum, understanding that her wife was in a shitty place, turn up all of the things they loved about her?
She didn’t look like a demon. Sett’s eyes flitted back to the mirror: a reminder of what a demon looked like.
“No, I think I'm done.” Sett said, a solemn note creeping into their voice. They relinquished Ratty’s pillow as the possum plopped down on the bed next to them, diving into her purse and coming up with a plush monarch butterfly. She pulled the pair closer with her tail: a move she had practised many times before.
“I brought you a friend.” Ratty smiled, ducking behind the faux creature and wiggling its arms with her fingers.
“Your nose is broken.” Sett noticed, now examining the crook of it up close.
“You’re not even going to say hi?” Ratty teased. Sett rolled their eyes, then got down on the plush’s eyeliner.
“Hello.” Sett bounced softly in place, a mix of pedantic, quietly delighted, and still trailing melancholy. “What’s your name?” They asked.
“I dunno!” Ratty said, the falsetto she put on completely fitting of the tiny creature. “Ratty didn’t think of one while she was stealing me!”
Ratty sat up, twisting her wrists so she could still puppet the plush and look it in the eyes. She glared down at the bug, miming a little bit of shame into the felt. “We said we weren't going to tell them about the stealing.” Ratty scolded the black plastic eyes. Sett snatched the butterfly from Ratty, taking on a faux protective stance as they plopped it into their lap.
Sett looked down at the gift in their lap as they stroked its antennae.
This… probably wasn’t Hell.
They smiled up at Ratty, their eyes damp from the stress of the day. Ratty smiled back.
“What do you want to do for dinner tonight?” She asked. Sett took a deep breath.
“Can we order in, actually?” They got anxious eating in public.
“Yeah,” God, she was so warm. “For sure.”
“For sure.” Sett parroted.
There’s a bar in Oakville, just outside of Toronto, and there's no telling if it existed in 2004, but they had this deal where you can get 60 wings for 30 bucks, and Sett ate roughly once a month. While they very rarely felt actually ‘hungry’ in the way a mortal would define it, they either picked at whatever Ratty made - enjoying its taste more than relying on it to fill them up - or ate a lot.
That was date night, and it was comfortable. Sett’s mouth bled profusely, tingeing everything they swallowed with a stinging edge of copper. It made it hard to go out for dinner, waiters would pass them over, kitchen staff would huddle at the door, just watching. It was embarrassing.
So, 60 chicken wings, a half-pound of weed, whatever was cheap and microwaveable at the nearest convenience store, sweatpants, and a ‘nothing movie’ was as close to a perfect date as Sett ever felt like they needed.
They sat, fascinatedly picking chicken from a bone as though performing brain surgery, a near-dead blunt hanging off their lip.
“I think they changed the recipe.” Ratty said, scrutinizing her own wing.
“You think?” Sett turned, barely noticing as a clump of ash went tumbling down the front of their chest and between the couch cushions.
“Yeah, it tastes more like ketchup this time.” Ratty nodded, the clear and clinical tone of a non-partisan third party taking over from wherever in her brain her journalism training was stored.
“Ketchup…” Sett turned back to their own wing. “Huh. I don’t actually taste any ketchup at all.” They tossed the now completely clean bone into a pile with its siblings, wiping their claws on their cheap, light gray sweatpants. They froze half way through, realizing what they had done.
“Aw fuck, your pants.” Ratty pointed, her paw formed into a weird spider-claw to keep three of her five fingers clean.
“It’s uh, fine.” Sett shrugged, slipping them off and taking with it the remaining sauce, thoroughly soiling the ball of fabric. “I was done with them anyway.”
“Nice butt, babe.” Ratty snatched the pants and tossed them directly into their shared laundry pile.
“Yes, thank you.” Sett gave a mock bow. “I grew it myself.”
“Well, excellent work.” Ratty teased, worming a finger into one of the leg-holes of their underwear and giving it a teasing snap. Sett’s bow deepened until the tip of their elbow touched the floor, where they tipped right over it and fell.
“You’re all the way out there, huh, kid?” Ratty asked, eliciting a short eruption of giggles from her wife’s crumpled form.
“Yeah…” They nodded, staring at the possum’s feet. “Can you… turn off the movie?”
“Sure.” Ratty stepped over Sett, hitting the red light on the power-bar that powered everything in their TV cabinet. Sett shot up behind her, crossing to the kitchen and flicking on the radio that hung from the bottom of the cabinets.
“Rrrrrradio time.” Sett grumbled, dragging out the ‘R’. “It’s time for radio.” They wandered dizzily back to the living room and tripped over a folded piece of carpet directly into her wife’s arms.
“Woah there.” Ratty said, suddenly taking on her wife’s entire weight. They looked up into Ratty’s eyes, their own a massive pair of quivering half-moons.
“Ratty Vermin, you’re my hero.” They said, injecting all the faux-reverence they had ever received into their voice at once.
“Okay, buddy.” Ratty smiled, doing her best not to laugh.
“You need to get more high so I'm not- I'm not being a silly goat.” Sett said, pressing their face into Ratty’s chest.
“I would, but if I take my hands off of you you're gonna fall.” Ratty said.
“Easy solution.” Sett slumped over, just barely able to reach Ratty’s almost untouched joint with the tips of their claws. They came back up, honestly astonished when Ratty stood firm. “You’re strong.” They said, perching the joint on her lips and lighting it with a bundle of threads.
Ratty sucked it back, still not quite sure how to properly smoke weed after something like 80 years of experience, and came up coughing.
“Wow, fuck.” She shimmied a free hand away from her wife and plucked the cigarette from her lips, taking a second to try and read whatever she had written on the filter. It was Headband: the strain of weed that - when smoked - makes you feel like you’re wearing a headband.
“Go on, Ratty.” Sett teased, trying to nudge Ratty along.
“‘Go on’ what?” Ratty asked.
“Make some of those noises you make when weed hits you good.” Sett said, gently nudging the possum’s wrist with their fist.
“What are you talking about, miss?”
“Y’know, like-” Sett stood up to their full height, clearing their throat like a true thespian, their weak vocal chords coiling in preparation for the loudest sound they had ever attempted before. “Ahem.”
“SEEEEEWIE!” Sett hog-called, throwing their head back before snapping to attention in time to finish: “I’ll tell you what, that’s some good- some good- pfft.” They broke down laughing mid-sentence.
“Like uh-” Ratty started. “Jeez Louise! That’ll knock you right over and put you back up with your head on the floor.” She rambled, the curvature of the sentence resting perfectly in her northern drawl. Sett choked on their laughter, burying their face back in Ratty’s chest.
“That'll- ooo-ee. That'll put your therapist out of a job.” The goat’s laughter turned into a wordless scream, just barely broken up by hitches of delight as they stomped their hooves.
“You gotta stop. I’m gonna pee.” Sett managed, out of breath between fits.
“That’ll-” Ratty started, barely able to contain her own laughter at this point. “That’ll make your wife pee.”
“RATTY!” The goat’s voice snapped, leaving only the quiet squeak of the floorboards under their bouncing hooves as their psychic voice took over again. The pair let the laughter die naturally, Ratty seemingly trying to wave it out of their face while Sett shuddered quietly into her chest.
The radio returned gently as it faded, something slow-dance-y, accepting the silence as a gift as the possum began to rock, guiding the goat in a simple waltz.
“This is nice.” Sett said, listening more to their wife’s heartbeat than the music going on behind them. Sett had always had poor circulation: an odd thing for a creature constructed to perfection. Ratty - rated cold-handed by other mortals - was like a warm and airy blanket to Sett. She was incredibly comfortable to slow dance with.
“I’m glad this is like… a thing.” Ratty mumbled into the top of Sett’s head.
“We could just do this.” Sett ventured. “We have savings.”
“We don’t… have that much, Sett.” Ratty said.
“We could sell the tea shop.”
“You want to retire?” Ratty turned the possibility over in her mind. Sett was more than old enough for it.
“I want you to retire. Or change jobs- you could-” They stopped, realizing as their wife did that their masters degree would not exist until at least 2023.
There was no telling exactly how unkillable the possum actually was. It was reckless to keep putting herself in harm's way. Any one of the near-death experiences they had gone through together - or any of the ones Ratty had faced alone - could have been the last: The fall that caught her neck exactly right, the randomly enchanted artifact that overwrote whatever power she had gained from her connection to Sett, not to mention fates worse than death.
There had been times where an unsatisfied employer of the courier had threatened throwing her into the lake, letting her drown and come back to life over and over again until she was found. Granted, that employer had since been replaced, and nobody quite so cruel had shown up in his place, but it left its mark. Ratty would sometimes refuse to shower because of it. When she swam, she would hold her breath for as long as possible, just to see how much time she would have to escape.
Ratty, Sett thought, had been through enough. In the less-than-humble opinion of one lower caste demon, Ratty had ‘made good’. She - of course - disagreed. Every good thing she had tried to do in her time back on earth had failed. Sett was a totem of their goodness, and until at least they could live comfortably, it would have been wrong for Ratty to rest.
Something akin to guilt shot through the goat as they felt Ratty tense up in their arms.
“Sorry.” They offered meekly.
“No, it’s okay. I want you to talk to me when-” Ratty started, realizing too late that she was doing her diplomat voice. “Do you think we would be happy like that?” She asked.
“I would be happy if I knew you were safe.”
“Is that all?” Ratty pulled back, flashing her overconfident grin and eagerly turning onto the first exit from this line of thought. “It takes a hell of a lot to kill Me. It took a bomb going off in my chest the first time, and that was before I was soul-bound to the whole… whatever keeps you alive.”
It wasn’t about the fall really. It was the sudden stop that changed Sett’s mood. It just felt bad. That was the only word for it. The undead spent a surprising amount of time thinking about death, and it sat in Sett’s gut like a curling stone.
“I don’t-” Ratty choked on her words, bringing Sett back from their thoughts, realizing only now that their wife had started to shudder. “I don’t feel good when I slow down.” She croaked, clearly fighting back tears. She had clearly gone through the same thought process in reverse. Her options were to give up or leave Sett in a constant state of panic. That didn’t sit too well either.
“We can- let’s talk about this when we’re sober.” Sett said.
“Yeah.” Ratty sighed, a weight lifted off their chest for the time being. “Sorry. This- this is the only difference I-”
“It’s okay, I am also sorry.”
“When we’re sober.”
“When we’re sober.”
They re-embraced, each content to forget about it for the time being and just sway as the drug in their system pulled their thoughts along the current. Soon enough, it had slipped completely from either of their minds, now only present in the memories of the walls around them.
Sett dropped slowly, their exhaustion getting the better of them as they decided suddenly to sit on the ground. They snatched the little card that had come with the weed off the coffee table, turning it over in their claws.
“This is supposed to be a sativa?” They asked, their head rolling around on the limits of their neck.
“Apparently.” Ratty smiled down at the blasted little goat, “You’re really in and out of it here, huh Settler?”
“Heh. Settler.” Sett repeated, reaching up to play with the hem of Ratty’s boxers. “Why are you still wearing pants?”
“I- these are my boxers.” Ratty said, her face suddenly flushed.
“Take ‘em off.” Sett commanded, her usual god-domme tone replaced with the tight growl of an inebriated pervert.
“You are in a state where I don’t think that would be right.” Ratty said, gently nudging Sett’s hand away from her genitals.
“Fair.” Sett waved the thought away. “Then, my banjo, and a tall black coffee, Hanratty.”
“Oh, yes ma’am.” The possum curtseyed sarcastically as she made her way to the bedroom. “We gonna get soul-of-the-south-Sett tonight?” She called, struggling with the clasp that held Sett’s banjo to its stand.
“You know it, baby!” Sett shouted, the quiet thrum of their tail against the floor more fitting for the lead singer of a hair-metal band than a tiny goat about to pluck out some melancholy about the real devil being capitalism. They brought the instrument to their lap, fumbling clumsily into a sloppy rhythm. “Can you- can you make me a tea too?”
“Sure, hun.” Ratty went straight to the kitchen, setting the coffee maker going and watching the near-black fluid swirl around the cloudy pot. She suddenly found herself absent from her surroundings, snapped into her own head with the click of the plastic switch on their kettle.
Sett didn’t get it.
Ratty wasn’t going to tell them that, but giving up now would be fatalist. This was it, for the rest of her life, until it killed her. The idea that she had 'made good' already or that she ever would was stupid. She wasn't so chauvinistic as to believe Sett needed protection, but Ratty knew she would die one day, she planned on dying one day, and before that happened the world needed to be better.
She ended up in Hell for a reason. She was a bad person. Despite everything she had done before being nabbed by Angelcorp - her teaching, her reporting, every single thing that ran her fingers raw - she was at least firm in the knowledge that her good deeds were buried under 13 feet of dead bodies.
It wasn't fair. But then again, that's life.
Ratty returned to the kitchen as the kettle began to whistle. In the living room, she set the kettle down on a coaster next to a strainer full of dried green tea. Coffee pot and straw in the other hand, she raised it to Sett's lips, still hanging open, still with a little wing-sauce in one corner. They took a deep sip of coffee, relishing in the way it tore at their throat.
"You still hungry?" Ratty asked, setting the coffee down on the coffee table, thus fulfilling its purpose.
"Little bit, but I want to play right now." They said, a sudden stride of confidence taking over their hands.
"Mind if I vamp?" Lyrics to the tune had begun to bubble in the back of Ratty's mind.
"Sing, my angel, sing." Sett replied.
Ratty began to rock with the tempo, every gritty folk song she had ever heard bubbling to the front of her mind as words began to assemble themselves in her mouth:
I lived… my life...
Under the devil's thumb,
Working every evening 'til my fingers were numb.
Finally set me free and oh boy did I run,
But my mind still feels the shackles, and the work isn't done."
"Keep going. Keep going." Sett pushed.
"Hold on, hold on. I gotta find a spot to jump back in."
"Here… here." Sett punctuated the start of each bar.
"Babe if you're saying 'here', then I can't jump in."
"Okay well then… I will be quiet, I guess."
"Don't stop playing, though…
I saw a dead woman come back to life.
They took me by the heart and took me for a ride.
I ain't never, seen, a mouth so wide
Couldn't believe it when I saw the demon actually smile."
Sett's head began to bounce as they drummed out a supporting beat on the body of their banjo between strums.
"Keep it going." They muttered.
"Oh you couldn't stop me with a cement wall right now…
Now I settled down with that demon belle,
Got to know the way to love so terribly well
But with the devil just behind me you could hardly tell
That me and my girl ever escaped from Hell."
They kept on like this for hours, weaving a genre-diverse folk ballad of each of their lives as the radio - now overpowered - just sat and listened, playing for no one.
And at some point, after it had been cleared for broadcast, the midnight DJ announced that, in distant, sunny California, a stagehand by the name of Eleanor Sloth-Bunny Jr. had been crushed to death on the set of the Ellen DeGeneres Show.