(If Kenny really thinks about it, the whole thing probably starts like this.)

"Well, there was this one time," Kenny says, sitting on the steps of Satan's onyx palace while Damien leans on the marble railing beside him. A scowl mars his face, but then Damien wears a perpetual scowl, so Kenny thinks nothing of it. The sky above them is overcast with dark, ominous clouds; a regular sight in this part of the underworld. Kenny turns his head upwards and watches them swirling overhead; he traces the outline of an imagined hummingbird with his eyes before he continues. "Before Jesus Christ moved to Imaginationland. He was on that TV show he had, do you remember it?"

Damien doesn't answer; anyone else might think he wasn't paying any attention at all. Instead, Kenny nods, knowing better by now.

"And someone called in asking about the Apocalypse and shit. It was probably Cartman, now that I think about it; the guy sounded like Cartman's pretending-to-be-someone-else voice. And Jesus got this wild look in his eyes, kind of angry and scared almost, and started ranting about prophesies in the bible and junk. Good triumphing in the end and epic battles of good versus evil."

He pauses, trying to remember what it was that Jesus had said, exactly. The words are mixed up in his mind with images of Bebe, sitting on the couch in her low cut v-neck, batting his hands away when he tries to slip a hand around her waist.

"I'm sure it was that stupid passage in the book of Revelations," Damien answers dismissively.

"You mean there are others?" Kenny asks, turning to him and frowning at the look on his face.

"Actually, yeah," Damien says, huffing out a laugh that freaks Kenny out more than anything. "There are others. Others that don't always end with good beating the evil."

There's something dangerous in the way he's smiling, something that chills Kenny to bone and makes fear churn in his stomach unpleasantly. He thinks back to all the times he's stayed with Damien while he waits to get back to South Park, sifts between the frowns, scowls, and grimaces in his memory and realizes with a start that he's never seen Damien smile like this before.

He doesn't like it. Not at all.

For the first time in years, Kenny feels upside-down, remembering a truth that's always felt more like a novelty more often than not.

This is the Antichrist, he thinks; begot and born into evil. He can't be trusted.

"Come on," Damien says, still smiling in a way that makes something primal and irrational curl up inside of Kenny's stomach. "Let's go get something to eat."

"Actually," he replies, standing and watching the floor intently, willing his nausea to dissipate. "It's been 12 hours now. I should probably get back."

He looks up again, relief flooding his chest when he sees that Damien's back to scowling. Just like that, he's a teenager again, Kenny's age and hanging out with a friend.

"Whatever," Damien answers, shrugging and stuffing his hands in his pockets. "See you next time, then."

He turns and starts climbing the steep, obsidian stairs leading up to the castle.

"Hey, Damien!" he calls, curious. The other boy stops and turns back around slowly, angrily. "Why did you want to know?"

But then that twisted excuse for a smile claws its way back onto Damien's face, and Kenny gets the urge to turn tail and run. He wishes he'd never asked.

"No reason," Damien says, his voice sounding different from before, darker somehow, more menacing. Kenny thinks: this is the voice of the Antichrist. "It's almost my birthday. I'll be of age soon."

Damien laughs at that, like it's some kind of joke Kenny doesn't get. Kenny shudders—violently—and suddenly can't take it anymore. This isn't the laugh he's grown up hearing; this isn't who Damien is at all. This is what humans conjure up from the darkest corners of their souls late at night, what they told legends about from the beginning of time, sitting in caves paralyzed with fear as shamans and psychics caught tiny glimpses of the real thing and struggled to explain them in common terms.

Kenny wants to run, wants to feel the cold bite of the May snow in South Park, forget the way this new Damien has temporarily stolen his friend away.

The laughter dies out abruptly, and when Kenny looks up, he sees Damien watching him again, just Damien. His eyebrows are raised in a plain gesture of you're still here?, and Kenny sighs.

"I'll see you, then. I guess."

Damien rolls his eyes and nods, the corners of his lips twitching slightly.

"Sooner or later, yeah."

So Kenny closes his eyes and concentrates. Soon enough, he's sitting somewhere just south of the county line, the snow melting around him from the residual heat, the cloth of his parka and jeans steaming slightly.

It takes Kenny a long time to forget the exact level of terror Damien accidentally inflicted on him that day.

But he does, eventually, forget.

(But Damien, he knows it starts more like this)

"So what, now that you've got another new asshole telling you how to run Hell, you decide to turn into this great parent? I don't fucking buy it."


But shit, Damien doesn't want to hear it. He's sick of Satan waltzing into his life depending on the type of guy he's dating at the moment, sick of being seventeen and trapped between an overbearing father and the devil himself.

"Whatever," Damien says, crosses his arms over his chest and scowls at the floor.

"It won't be that bad, I promise," Satan says, placating. "At least you've been to South Park before."

"Like eight years ago, Dad."

Satan looks like he wants to say something else, but Damien just turns on his heel and storms off. He can hear Satan saying something to Montague, the current Love of His Life, and Damien clenches his jaw and nearly runs out into the blazing hot afternoon.

He's had his bags packed, sure, because as much as he hates earth, he hates Hell more so. Any excuse to just get the fuck out would be better than rotting away in sheer boredom like he's been doing for the last two years. There's no way he's going to spend his eighteenth birthday burning in Hell, alone.

Calling it his 18th birthday is a little bit of a stretch, since technically Damien remembers when Satan dated Nostradamus a couple earth-centuries back and they'd both made Damien plan out his Very First Apocalypse. But time flows differently in hell, in jumps and starts like an old car that's not quite sure whether it's running or stalling. Plus there'd been that stretch of decades where he'd liked being six-and-a-half years old and so hadn't aged at all. Come to think of it, it wasn't until he'd left South Park as a fourth-grader that he'd decided to let himself age at a relatively normal pace. But his point, really, is that eighteen is kind of a Really Big Deal, and even though he hates Satan's reasoning, he can't really help being a little bit excited about finally leaving Hell again.

He doesn't notice he's left the palace grounds until he literally runs into Beelzebub.

"Oh Damien, sorry about that," the demon says, jumping up and brushing down his long black robes. "Didn't see you there."

"Watch where you're going," Damien says angrily, and Beelzebub bows to him once in acknowledgment.

"Of course. I was distracted, you see."

"Yeah, me too, I guess."

Beelzebub frowns at that. He pulls off his hood, revealing a long, jagged scar that goes from the top of his eyebrow back over his pasty scalp. Damien frowns at the look of concern on his face.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"No," Damien says, scowling and looking away.

In the caves above them, the fires of Hell rage, as countless souls suffer everlasting torment. The light is enough to bathe this section of Hell with bright, scorching light. It reminds Damien of a desert wasteland. He's always hated the desert.

"You know Satan only has your best interests at heart," Montague says, like he knows what they'd been arguing about.

One of the many things Damien hates about Hell is that it's worse than high school when it comes to circulating rumors. Everybody always knows everything.

"Damien?" Satan's voice says from behind him. Damien fights the urge to sigh. "Can we talk?"

Beelzebub bows to Satan respectfully before he walks off, presumably to go do whatever it is demons do around Hell—Damien's lived here for what feels like eternity and he still doesn't really know.

"Fine," Damien answers, gritting his teeth as he follows Satan up the winding rock stairs that lead to the upper levels of Hell.

Satan sits on his favorite flower-print couch in an area of Hell that doesn't quite get enough firelight to be properly lit, picking up one of the hot pink throw pillows and fidgeting with it. Damien stands a few feet to the right, imagining setting that hideous couch on fire once and for all.

"Damien, I've been wanting you to go back to Earth for some time now," Satan begins after a deep breath. "Since before Montague and I started our relationship."

"Really?" Damien asks derisively.

"Yes. You know there is less than a year until you turn 18."

"One hundred eighty four days," Damien says. Not that he's been keeping track or anything.

"Right, exactly." Satan drops the pillow he's been holding and stands. Suddenly, his entire demeanor changes. "The time of your reign approaches."

"Really?" Damien asks again, this time much more interested. "And—and you'll let me rule alone? When the time comes?"

Satan smiles warmly, ruining the ominous impression he'd been giving off.

"You're old enough to make your own decisions," Satan says. "That's why I want you on earth for a few months before the 31st. To get a feel for independence."

Damien feels a smile begin to curl up his face. His eyes start to burn in excitement, the palms of his hands tingle with restless energy and anticipation.


"But you do have to go to school."

"What?" Damien blinks, all his iniquitous plans disappearing from his thoughts. "But I'll only be enrolled for like two months before—"

"Those are my rules, Damien," Satan says firmly, and Damien spares a moment to curse Montague and his Parental Counseling classes. "You want the apocalypse to happen, you go to school."

"Fine," Damien says. He scowls at the floor for a moment before deciding that, all right, fine, maybe going to Park County High for the beginning of the school year won't be so difficult. Probably. "When should I leave?"

"If you want to get there in time to move in, get used to the town and have a few weeks to yourself before registration, I'd suggest sometime this week," Satan says, obviously pleased with himself. "I can come with you, to get you settled. If you like."

"No, it's fine, Dad," Damien answers, letting his eyes trail up over the dingy cave walls surrounding them. "I'll do it on my own."

Damien rushes off after that, hardly noticing the shouts of pain around him. He's got more important things to worry about. After all, he's got an apocalypse to start.

First thing he does after that little conversation is find War, Plague, Famine, and Death, because what's an Antichrist without his four horsemen?

Death is always the easiest to find, since she's had this weird fascination with Kenny since he first started dying and has steadily progressed to stalking him when he's around Hell, and stalking his usual haunts when he's not.

He finds her sitting before the giant black gates, filing the bones of her fingers to a sharp point while her pack of Hell hounds lay basking in the glow of the mid-afternoon heat. To their left is a giant rink of hardened obsidian, shining black as several damned souls spend a couple lazy hours skating across it. Every so often, Death looks up from her nails to the rink; Damien thinks she may be imagining the form of a certain teenager in an orange parka. Then again, she could be imagining the gruesome sounds those souls would make if she sent her hounds to rip them apart. It's always hard to tell with Death.

The next time she looks up, she spots Damien. Her hood is up, but even so Damien knows her lips are curling up into a smirk. She stands but makes no move to come closer; at Damien's approach, the hell hounds' ears prick, but none of them wakes fully.

"Death," he says when he's within earshot. "Find a dog-sitter or something; we're getting the fuck out of here."

"Hyacinth," she corrects, waving her arm and banishing her tattered black cloak to the depths of her closet or something.

She's little more than a half-rotted corpse, which grosses Damien out every time.


"Hyacinth," she repeats, running a hand through her lank hair and leaving pale blonde streaks in their wake. Damien tries really hard not to think it makes her look like a skunk. The last time he insulted her anything, Damien had ended up spending a weekend in Utah, the closest thing she could find to purgatory without sending him to Heaven. It had been awful. "It's a name, Damien. I like it. It's got a nice ring to it."

"You're kidding right? That's a plant. It's a flowering plant. No way we're starting the apocalypse with you naming yourself after a flower."

She contemplates this for a moment, running a finger along a delicate scar on her neck, where the skin is becoming less rotted as he watches. Then, she snaps her fingers. A pair of luggage appears at her feet.

"The apocalypse you say?" she says, in an obvious attempt to change the subject. "Have you found the others?"

"Not yet."

"I'll save you the trouble."

She snaps her fingers again, and this time, War, Famine, and Plague appear, all in varying states of irritation.

"I've told you not to fucking do that while I'm in the middle of scaring Priests, Death!" War says, waving her blood-soaked hands around menacingly.

"Hyacinth," Death says patiently, and War growls in irritation. "And don't be so prissy; we're going on a field trip."

Famine turns her grey, bloodshot eyes to Damien.

"The time of reckoning?" she prompts in a small, wavering voice.

"It approaches," Damien answers. Almost against his will, he feels his eyes begin to glow again. War smiles, the anger seeming to melt away. "Are we ready?"

"We have been, Damien," Plague assures, shifting momentarily to a horde of locust before reforming. "We only await your word."

"Then let's begin," Damien says.

"Awesome," Death says.

She smiles, revealing a set of jagged, decaying teeth quickly becoming more human. She snaps her fingers again, and with a flash of lightning, they are gone.


There is a level in Hell that is so awful, Damien himself hates venturing in there. Its tortures are so unspeakably terrible that only the most evil bastards deserve such a fate. Damien's heard that Barbara Streisand is bound for this particular level of Hell, and at this moment, he feels a brief pang of sympathy for her. It's there and gone within the span of seconds though, because sympathy is pretty damn exhausting, and really, it was humans who first invented the horrific torture found in this particular level of Hell.

Damien is living through it right now, on the dreaded Registration Day.

He's waiting in line.

Death, War, Plague, and Famine are with him, which makes the ordeal slightly more bearable. Still, Damien has to physically restrain himself from causing mass destruction with every minute that passes. There's a long line of people that stretches to the other end of the courtyard to the cafeteria, currently closed. Whining teenagers and their long-suffering parents make up idle chatter around them. It's slowly driving him crazy.

Beside him, War is tugging on one of the thick dreadlocks she's given herself. War, well, "Matti," has that look on her face, the one that says she's about two minutes away from causing a civil war just for fun.

"This totally sucks," she says.

"Worse than the time Bacchus broke up with Satan," Plague—Levi agrees, nodding solemnly. Wisps of his lanky white hair float across his forehead with the movement, and he runs a hand over it gently, as if afraid he'll break the strands with more force. He's so pale that if he were human, someone would think he'd never seen the sun. Which isn't too far from the truth, actually. "Remember? Satan forced at least a decade of Christmas onto us to prove he was over it."

All of them suppress a shudder at the thought.

"You're the ones who wanted to come early," Damien says, scowling at the lot of them.

Famine (Beth) at least has the courtesy to look somewhat embarrassed by their poor decision making; her dark skin flushes even darker as she runs a hand over the length of her long braid. Matti rolls her eyes.

"That was Death's idea," she says.

"Hyacinth!" Death answers. "And so what? None of us are going to die of boredom yet, right?"

"I might," Beth says.

"No you won't." Hyacinth winks and leans in, bites her lip around a smile like she's telling them all a great secret. "I know a thing or two about that, you know."

"Damien?" a voice calls from behind them, and the group turns in near unison to inspect the newcomer.

It's snowing around them because of course it snows the last week of August in South Park; Damien really shouldn't be as surprised as he is about it. It makes the boy look like a pale blue smear across the snow. There's a flash of blonde hair beneath a dark beige hat, a sparkle of eyes that almost exactly match the shade of his sweater before a name is connected to the face.

"Pip?" Damien says incredulously.

Pip beams, his head tucking down slightly as he comes to a stop on the snow just to their left. From the cafeteria is a muffled voice, the unmistakable sound of cafeteria doors squeaking open, and the line begins to move. They are the last in line, so when Pip falls into step beside him, he has no real excuse to wave the boy away.

"These are my, um, friends," Damien says, motioning to the others. "Hyacinth, Beth, Levi, and Matti."

They all reluctantly shake hands with Pip, except for Hyacinth, who smiles vaguely and waves Pip away with nails painted lavender (lavender of all things. They'd nearly destroyed the house during that argument).

"What brings you back to South Park, Damien?" Pip asks as they near the cafeteria entrance.

"You know," Damien answers, purposefully vague. Damien only dimly remembers Pip—mostly he remembers the shade of his eyes and the way his body didn't quite explode to bits back in the fourth grade. Still, he doesn't like the idea of lying to him, not when he was the first human to take an interest in Damien, not when he's the first person to speak to him at school again. "Wanted a change of scenery, I guess."

"I suppose South Park is a descent change from Hell, then?"


Matti makes a weird scoffing sound in the back of her throat; she tosses sections of her meticulously dreadlocked hair out of her face and mutters something to Beth that has them both snickering. Damien scowls at them but says nothing.

They approach the cafeteria quicker than what Damien had been expecting, but when they reach the place, he finds out why. Instead of anything productive, they're each handed a list of other areas around the school they need to check in with, like the world's most boring scavenger hunt, with seven different lines to wait in.

"We're heading up to the counselors' offices first," Hyacinth says happily. She sweeps her gaze over Pip quickly, a smile on her face that Damien doesn't really like. "Text me if you see Kenny, yeah?"

"Whatever," Damien says, scowling at the group as they wander off, leaving him alone with Pip.

"How does your friend know Kenny?" Pip asks after a moment of slightly awkward silence.

"They've met a couple of times before." Damien scowls down at his list, realizes suddenly that he doesn't know where anything is at this school. "Where's the Nurse's office?"

"This way," Pip answers. He grabs hold of Damien's wrist lightly for a moment, steering them towards the nearest building before letting go. "It's on the other side of the Principle's office."

A faint tingle of warmth circles his wrist all the way down the hallway, one that Damien's surprisingly reluctant to explain away.

After the nurse triple-checks their shot records, they go to the opposite end of the school, where the student council volunteers snap pictures of them for their IDs. There's a small moment of concern when Damien accidentally breaks the camera, but Wendy assures them both that she'd come prepared for every possibility, and so they're hurried out to accommodate the slowly lengthening line behind them. Then, they head to the counseling center for print outs-of their class schedules and finally, back upstairs to the book room for their textbooks.

It's—not as unpleasant as Damien had assumed it would be.

Pip is so unfailingly polite; it should drive Damien fucking crazy. Hell has its fair share of gentlemen, and yeah, every single one of them has died multiple times at Damien's hands because of it. But far from making Damien want to rip Pip's eyeballs out to hear him politely ask for them back, Pip's good-natured politeness makes him want to stick around. It makes him want to see if he can corrupt Pip's soul a little bit.

In Damien's mortal form, it's impossible to see the soul's weaknesses, but he'd bet money that Pip's soul has just the slightest red blemish on it; a thin tendril of rage that simmers below the cheerful exterior. Damien wants to bring it out.

He ignores a text from Hyacinth (ARE YOU DONE EYE-FUCKING THE MORTAL YET??? WE'RE HUNGRY AND ABOUT TO LEAVE WITHOUT YOU Damien is going to murder her violently before October rolls around) and scowls at the tower of books placed before him.

"If we just lit a match to these right now, do you think it'd be a legit excuse for our teachers?" Damien asks, more to see the scandalized look on Ms Whatever-her-name-was than anything.

"Perhaps," Pip answers, grabbing his stack and stumbling slightly from the weight. "If we make it look like a technical thing."

That surprises a huff from Damien. He grabs his books and scowls again to keep a smile from accidentally escaping into the world.

"Are you hungry?" he asks, seemingly out of nowhere.

A faint humming noise is Pip's only response for a moment. Then, he looks up from where he's been eyeing the staircase that's looming ever closer. "I'm sorry?"

"Are you hungry?" Damien asks again, unable to take the question back after he's asked it.

"A bit," Pip admits. They begin climbing down the stairs, and really, what kind of school puts a bookroom on the second floor? "I missed breakfast."

Damien doesn't need to look at his watch to know that they've wasted the better part of the afternoon here at school. He frowns again, sets his books down on the last step to pull his phone out again and respond to Death's message.

Go on without me. I'll catch up.

"Come on then," Damien says. "There's a pizza place nearby, right?"

"Well yes, but—" and he trips over Damien's haphazardly stacked books, sending him and almost a dozen books sprawling along the hallway.

There are still a few stragglers left loitering around the school, and a handful of them witness Pip's fall. A couple laugh at Pip's misfortune, and after Pip's pulled himself up and dusted invisible dirt from his sweater, Damien lets himself smirk.

"Smooth, Pip," Damien says, gathering up his books. He thinks for a moment, grabs two of Pip's books as well, so the boy doesn't accidentally kill himself walking to the car. "Come on."

It's not a long walk to the parking lot, and so less than a minute later he reaches his car, Pip trailing after him. He dumps the books in his trunk carelessly, and when his phone buzzes again, he notices Death's response to his text.

Oh, so you've graduated to ACTUAL fucking now? You work fast sweetie.

I swear to Satan, Death, Damien types out viciously, I will murder you in your sleep.


Damien rolls his eyes and slams the trunk closed.

"Get in," he bites out to Pip, jamming his phone into his jacket pocket.

Pip does so without complaint.

Because there are few things on Earth more evil than early registration, Damien finds himself with almost two weeks before school starts, with no one to entertain him except for insane demons, Kenny, and surprisingly, Pip. Ever since talking with him on registration day, he's managed to pretty easily assimilate into Damien's day-to-day life. Kenny gives him shit about it, but he gets suspiciously silent when Damien mentions Hyacinth, so he figures it all evens out.

"Is your father still in Hell?" Pip asks one day when Kenny and the others have gone out to have a snow battle (War—Matti of course, sits out the battle, because you can't simulate warfare with her and expect her to not raze a city to the ground, mortal form or no).

Damien turns away from the window, where Levi dodges a strategic assault from Kenny and Hyacinth. Pip has his chin resting in his palm, leaning against the windowsill casually. But his eyes are trained on Damien, and it throws him for a second, makes him do a mental double-take to remember what Pip'd asked.

"Yeah," Damien answers cautiously. He still hasn't mentioned that Matti, Levi, Beth, and Hyacinth are demons whose immortal forms must be summoned on Halloween night to bring forth one thousand years of darkness to the land, but he thinks that's only because Pip hasn't asked about it yet. It's frustratingly difficult to keep secrets from the boy. "Just me. And well, the rest. Why?"

"Just curious I suppose," Pip says. He stares out the window again for a moment; Damien watches the way the sunlight hits the line of his jaw before Pip continues. "Did—did he mention how long you'd stay this time?"

"Yeah," he repeats before he can think about it. Give or take a millennium, he thinks and smirks a little to himself.

He turns around, leans against the windowsill and studies the ugly beige carpeting, the scowl slowly slipping off his face. Pip mirrors the movement until their shoulders are only just touching. He thinks about the last time he'd been in town, how quickly he had to say goodbye, thinks that maybe Pip doesn't want that to happen again.

"Until Satan calls me back, I guess," Damien says.


"But I'm pretty sure he won't do that for a while," he adds inexplicably.

It's the truth, since Satan won't call him back unless they royally fuck up or the thousand years of his reign are over and it's Satan's turn to rule. But Pip doesn't need to know that, despite his mouth's persistent urge to tell Pip Things He Really Doesn't Need To Know.

Either way, it makes Pip smile again, a small, private upturn of his lips, and Damien'll count that as a win.

Kenny and the others ruin the moment when they barge into the house, dragging in gusts of snow and wind, falling over each other in their haste to get into the warmth. Hyacinth is the first to notice the two of them; she watches them in that annoying way she's developed, where she hardly blinks and somehow projects disapproval without moving a muscle on her face. Then, Kenny pulls off his parka, laughing at something Beth said, and her attention snaps away.

Damien lets out a breath he doesn't realize he'd been holding.

"Do you want to go, I don't know, anywhere else?" Damien asks. He feels suddenly like he can't breathe, needs to get out before Hyacinth's piercing gaze can work its magic on him. "We can go for a walk or something."

Pip watches him for an uncomfortable few seconds. He smiles again, grabs his coat and hat while everyone else wanders into the kitchen.

"I would like that, yes," Pip says, slipping into his coat.

"Damien, are you going out?" Hyacinth's voice floats in from the kitchen.

Damien pulls on his thickest sweater and grabs his keys, resolutely ignoring her.

"Come on," he says, ushering Pip out the door as Hyacinth reenters the living room.

"Damien!" she calls sharply. "We need to talk about—"

But Damien's already closed the door on her. He scowls at Pip waiting patiently at the curb, tucks his hands into his pockets, and leads the way into the town. They walk in silence, Damien watching the edge of the sidewalk mostly, turning every now and then to study Pip beside him.

"Did you want to go anywhere specific, Damien?" Pip asks after a few blocks.

Damien shrugs at that. In truth, he doesn't really know South Park all that well, but he's willing to bet that there's not too much for two teenagers to do.

(He can think of one thing though, and forces the thought out of his mind, unprepared for the greedy flush that steals over him at the thought.)

"Mostly, I just need to get away from everyone sometimes."

Pip nods like he understands that, and veers off the main road to a small walking trail through the snow.

"They're demons, aren't they?" Pip asks sometime later, as they climb up a gently sloping hill. Damien blinks, unsure what to say to that. "Hyacinth and the others. They're from Hell as well."

And that time he says it like a statement, like he knows this for a fact, and there's really no way Damien can dispute it, despite the fact that that's not technically true.

"They're harmless," he says instead, lying mostly by omission. 'Demon' is probably the closest word to describe them, but in reality they're much more powerful than any mere demon. Damien can control demons. Even in his wildest fantasies, it wouldn't even cross his mind to control someone like War or Death. It's probably best that Pip doesn't know this. Still, he hesitates slightly before adding, "They're in mortal forms though, so they don't have any of their powers."

"Right-o then," Pip replies faintly. He tugs at the side of his hat, tilting it so it covers his right ear. "Kenny seems to get on well with them."

"Have you ever known Kenny not to be nice to anyone? Plus, they give him food."

"Honestly, before this year, Kenny and I hardly ever spoke." Finally, they come up to the top of the hill. Below them a few thin pines sprout, signaling the beginning of the forest that surrounds South Park. Pip points to a small path that leads into the forest; Damien eyes it suspiciously. Pip shrugs. "You said you needed to get away from everyone."

Damien sighs and starts down the hill, Pip trailing behind him.

It turns out that Pip knows the forest pretty well. After around fifteen minutes all of the city sounds have disappeared and nothing but snow-covered fir trees surround them. Here and there, a rabbit will hop across their path, or else a sparrow will swoop by, but other than that, they're alone. Finally, they emerge into a clearing, surrounded by dense foliage on all sides. The tree cover is so dense around the small area that sunlight struggles to penetrate, and so it gives off the feeling of an early twilight.

"Do you like it?" Pip asks. "I sometimes come here to think. And well, be alone."

Damien doesn't answer right away. He takes a few steps into the center of the copse, craning his neck to look up at the circle of treetops.

"How far away from the town is this?" Damien says instead of answering. "You can't hear a thing from here."

"Not very far, actually," is the response. Pip motions to their right. "Stark's Pond is about a ten-minutes walk in that direction, and from there it's less than five from South Park." Damien paces the circumference of the area, scanning their surroundings for any sort of movement. "I just found the place one day," Pip continues when Damien doesn't respond. "Got lost in the wood and stumbled across this little clearing. I doubt anyone knows where it is."

"Really?" After a moment, Damien sits on a sturdy-looking log, leans back until he's lying down, and clasps his hands beneath his head. Pip takes that as some sort of cue and sits on a stump close to Damien's head. "It's quiet, at least."

Pip makes a strange humming noise in the back of his throat, a sound that makes something warm curl up pleasantly in the pit of Damien's stomach.

This, he thinks to himself, is very close to perfect.

"Dude, okay, so I saw some Halloween decorations today at the J-mart," Kyle says, sprawled across Stan's couch in a way that Stan's pretty sure he designed many years ago to take up the most space possible. "No joke. Halloween."

Stan leans against the doorway to the kitchen, a bag of potato chips dangling from his hand.

"Seriously?" he asks, watching the way Kyle hikes one leg up almost over the back of the couch. "No fucking way."

"Dude yeah," Kyle says. He flails a little, craning his neck to an impossible-looking angle, so his wide brown eyes land on Stan and pin him in place. "It's ridiculous."

Stan contemplates this for a moment, decides that yeah, pretty ridiculous considering it's not even September yet, and nods his head once in agreement. He pushes off of the wall and jumps onto the sofa beside Kyle, in a space that is almost big enough to accommodate him.

"I heard someone talking about Thanksgiving the other day," Stan says, offering Kyle his bag of chips.

"Fucking crazy," Kyle mumbles, sitting up to give Stan more room and stealing a few handfuls of chips while he's at it. "Is Kenny coming over?"

"I don't know," Stan admits, grabbing the remote and starting whatever movie Kyle had put in. "He said he might, but he's been hanging around Damien and those weirdo friends of his ever since they moved in."

Kyle frowns even as the movie starts. The opening credits to Spiderman start, which, fuck yes, Stan hasn't seen this movie in months, before Kyle says anything.

"Damien," he repeats. "Like, the Antichrist from the fourth grade Damien?"



"Why?" Stan asks, because something about the way he frowns makes little warning bells ring in Stan's mind. Usually Kyle has pretty good instincts, and Stan's not really liking the way he snatches the remote from Stan's hands to pause the movie and frown some more. "Do you think we should be worried?"

"You don't think it's suspicious?" Kyle asks. "The Antichrist shows up in South Park out of the blue, and he brings along these mysterious people with him? They could be demons."

"Or they could be just weirdos," Stan says. "I mean, they are friends with the Antichrist. They're probably like, just out of town goth kids."

"Maybe," Kyle answers, but he's clearly still troubled.

"Well, school starts tomorrow. We could probably find out more about them then. If you think it's worth caring about."

Kyle is quiet for so long that Stan starts to wonder if he maybe has learned how to sleep with his eyes open. Finally, he runs a hand over his hair (pulled back to keep it out of his face) and turns back to the TV set.

"It's probably nothing."

He hits play again and after a brief hesitation scoots closer to Stan. Stan smiles to himself and warps an arm around Kyle's shoulder. He gives himself a few minutes to reflect on what an awesome Super Best Friend he has, pulls Kyle closer to himself so they're both more comfortable, and enjoys his last night without school.

Lunch is probably the best part about school, in Kenny's opinion. It's closely followed by breakfast, but that's only because when he gets to school early enough, that's two guaranteed meals in one day. After the long hours spent going over various syllabi today, Kenny's especially grateful for the hour the school gives them to eat. He bolts out of his economics class the second the bell rings, weaving his way through the slower students, mind already on the possible lunch options for the day.

He's suitably distracted, so of course, that's when he pretty much collides with the very solid body of someone just outside the cafeteria.

"Dude, watch out," Cartman's voice grumbles. Kenny grins.

"Hey, dude," he answers, spinning around and practically dragging Cartman into the cafeteria behind him. "I haven't seen you in ages. Did you get Cobb for economics this semester?"

"Kerhle," is Cartman's response. Cartman sweeps his gaze around the building as they walk, eyes narrowing as they reach the beginning of the line. Chili beans, Kenny thinks, sweet. "I heard Cobb's tests are really easy."

Kenny hums in response, his attention caught between the different flavors of milk before him. He spies a lone carton of apple juice and snatches it up, triumphant.

"Fuck yes! Juice! Wait, what?"

"I hate you, Kenny," Cartman sighs.

Kenny sticks his tongue out in response, plainly visible with the hood of his parka down, and swipes his ID card at the front of the line. He offers the cashier one of his best puppy-dog smiles (he's learned that if he butters up to them, they'll sometimes let him take a couple extra cartons of milk with him).

"Kenny! Over here!" Stan calls from a table to their right.

Kenny waves and wanders over to the table, Cartman trailing after him. Stan is sitting in between Kyle and Wendy, his arm wrapped casually around Wendy's waist. Kenny frowns slightly at the sight. The last he'd heard, Stan and Wendy were in the 'off-again' phase of their relationship. He wonders what could have happened to get them into 'on-again.' He locks gazes with Kyle for a second before sitting his tray down and looking away.

He dumps his white rice into his chili beans and says, "Hey, dudes."

After a second's contemplation, he adds his corn bread to the mix.

"Hey Kenny." Kyle grimaces at the mess Kenny's making with his food. "Dude, that's gross."

"Whatever," Kenny replies, squeezing some mustard and ketchup into his bowl before shoveling the concoction into his mouth. "You're just jealous that you didn't think of it first."

"I heard you made some new friends over the break," Cartman says. Kenny swallows his mouthful, taking the moment to look around the cafeteria. "Did they already get tired of you or what?"

"Fuck you dude," he answers, frowning slightly. "And I don't know where they went. I figured they'd be around since, you know, food, but I don't see them."

"Who did you meet over the summer break?" Wendy asks politely, pulling away from Stan.

"Damien and a few of his friends moved into town a last month," Kenny says, nearly tripping over the word 'friends.'

He doubts that Damien would like it very much if he told the whole damn school about his 'friends'. It's true that none of Damien's demon friends actually came out and introduced themselves as demons, but then Kenny's known Death for pretty much a lifetime now. Damien and Hyacinth would have to be really stupid to not guess Kenny would be able to tell who she is.

Also, hey, not his business. If Death and three other as yet unidentified demons want to run around South Park disguised as teenagers, Kenny won't rat them out.

Stan and Kyle share a look, one of those Super Best Friends stares that makes Kenny feel like scenery, before either of them says something.

"Has he mentioned why he's suddenly back in town?" Kyle asks in a way that Kenny supposes is meant to be casual.

"Don't know," Kenny says, scraping the last bits of his chili from the little plastic bowl. "They really should make these portions bigger."

Just then a pair of arms wrap around his neck. He sees pale purple nail polish and gets a whiff of something sickly sweet—a little like roses shriveling up on a tombstone—before he realizes who it is.

"We were looking for you, Kenny," Hyacinth says, pulling away from Kenny enough so that he can turn around.

"I'm sure Damien was worried," Kenny answers sarcastically.

"Pip was," she explains. She grins, a flash of teeth a little too sharp to be completely normal. "You know how he is."

Kenny nods, fighting the urge to smirk widely. Hyacinth rolls her eyes and passes him a white paper bag, and for a second Kenny's heart stops, all thoughts about Damien and Pip's star-crossed lovers routine wiped from his mind.

"Did—did you get me McDonalds?" he asks, nearly ripping the bag into pieces to get to the treasures within. Sure enough, three burgers sit happily at the bottom of the bag for him. "Unholy shit dude, I fucking love you."

Hyacinth smiles faintly at that. Her gaze sweeps once around the circular table quickly before settling back onto Kenny.

"This is Hyacinth," Kenny says promptly around a mouthful of burger, waving a hand in her direction. "She's a friend of Damien's. Hyacinth, that's Cartman, Wendy, Stan, and Kyle."

They all exchange awkward pleasantries while Kenny finishes his burgers. After a moment, Hyacinth picks a long strand of blonde hair off her shirt and says "I'll see you after school?"


"Okay. Bye," she says, letting her eyes linger on each of his table-mates for a while before turning and wandering off.

Kenny turns back in his seat and drains the last of his apple juice.

"Kenny, when did you get a girlfriend?" Wendy asks.

"Did you see her teeth?" Stan flails an arm as he says it, motioning vaguely to his mouth.

"Well done, Kenny. Well done," Cartman says, sipping his chocolate milk thoughtfully.

"You guys are retarded," Kenny responds as the bell rings. "We're just friends."

"Right," Stan says, drawing the word out into at least three syllables.

Kenny rolls his eyes and chucks his empty tray into one of the garbage cans by the door.

"Whatever you guys," he says, pulling his hood up again. "Does anyone have English with Trujillo next?"

"I do," Wendy says. "I'll walk with you."

She gives Stan a peck on the lips that has Cartman making gagging noises before Stan and Kyle head into the science hall. Cartman mumbles something about art class and goes upstairs.

Kenny and Wendy walk in complete silence to class.

"How did you spend your vacation?" Kenny asks when it seems like Wendy won't offer her own conversation-starter.

"Looking up different scholarships," she says. She smiles brightly then, like she's just gotten a brilliant idea. "There are a couple that don't have any requirements, too. Like, there's this one at the end of October; this organization is giving away a 5000-dollar scholarship as the grand prize to a costume contest. If you want I can email you some links?"

For a moment, Kenny's pathetically grateful for the hood of his parka, since it completely hides his grimace. It's been almost a personal mission of Wendy's to get him to go to college, ever since she heard their freshman year that he really wasn't planning on going. It's not that he doesn't want to go; contrary to popular belief, he does kind of like school. It's just—well, he knows Karen really has her heart set on a certain private college, and Kenny'll be damned if his kid sister doesn't get into the school of her choice because his dumb ass decided to waste all their family's savings.

"Sure Wendy," he answers, but Wendy's already frowning at him, like she knows his entire internal monologue and doesn't like it much.

"You shouldn't waste your potential, Kenny," she says as they reach their class. "I know you're smarter than people give you credit for. If you just turned in your work this year and stopped slacking—"

"Yeah I get it," he grits out, weaving his way through the desks and picking one at the back of the class.

Wendy gives him a look that tells him very plainly this conversation is not over and then takes her habitual seat in the front row. Kenny scowls down at his desk. It was such a promising start to the afternoon, too. There was chili and burgers. Just then, Pip walks in. He smiles tentatively when he sees Kenny.

"Hey, Pip."

"Hello, Kenny," Pip returns, taking the seat to Kenny's right. "I didn't think you'd take AP English."

Kenny shrugs, and for a crazy moment feels like his heartbeat might be loud enough for the whole class to hear.

"I just like English," he explains, ignores the back of Wendy's head because he can nearly hear her going I-told-you-so.

"Oh, of course."

Mrs. Trujillo, a tall woman with a severe-looking bun, snaps the door closed, and a hush falls over the class. Kenny pulls out his battered, old notebook and tries really hard not to succumb to the after-lunch nap.

Somehow, Kenny survives the day with little to no bodily harm inflicted upon him, despite the 45 grueling minutes of weightlifting he had to endure for sixth period. He rushes out of his last class the same way he has for the past three years, without any regard for whoever is in his way, and so he's not surprised when he runs right into Kyle out in the school's courtyard.

"Dude, I was just looking for you!" Kenny lies happily, picking himself up off the floor and wiping away probably-imagined chunks of dirt. "I can't believe we don't have any classes together."

"Yeah," Kyle says, his eyes sweeping around the bodies shuffling around them.

Kenny doesn't reply to that, just turns to where Kyle's gaze has settled. Stan and Wendy are walking hand-in-hand, deep in conversation about something. There's a wrinkle in Stan's forehead, a glare on Wendy's face. They climb down the steps to the parking lot and don't seem to notice Kyle or Kenny.

"You wanna come over to my place?" Kenny asks, watching the way Kyle's shoulders slump ever so slightly. "I think I might need help with some homework."

He doesn't, not really. What he really wants is to get that dejected look off Kyle's face, and sometimes that involves actually doing his homework in the name of friendship. Plus, Kyle knows that Kenny's never got anything in his fridge except cheap beer and ketchup, so he always brings food over. There's a joke about Stan and Kyle being Kenny's parents in there somewhere, but he pushes that out of his mind and thinks longingly of dinner instead.

Kyle shows up on Kenny's doorstep about an hour and a half after they left the school. Park High is technically inside the Beaverton county line, but it's the only high school for the next twenty miles and isn't really all that far away, considering, so the walk isn't normally that big of a deal. But today, Kyle meanders for the last twenty minutes, something in the line of his shoulders that just reads exhausted. And anyway, when he finally shows up at Kenny's he brings with him a huge blue Tupperware container that Mrs. Broflovski very obviously packed for him, an amazing smell wafting up and making Kenny's mouth water.

"Hey dude," he says, moving away and watching Kyle's slow walk inside.

He's being careful, afraid to spill. Soup or stew is on the menu tonight. Kenny really hopes he brought those homemade bagels that Mrs. Broflovski makes; they're fucking amazing.

"I brought Tzimmes," Kyle says. He looks back to Kenny and rolls his eyes, a smile finally tugging at the corners of his mouth. "Sweet potato stew."

"Fuck yes," Kenny breathes, rushing to the dingy kitchen after him. "I am all over that."

"Where's Karen?" Kyle asks while Kenny is busy looking for a somewhat clean bowl.

"At her friend's house," Kenny answers pouring himself a heaping portion of stew and digging in.

The friend in question is named Sophia. She's fifteen and from Middle Park. She lives in a nice enough house, and her room (second floor, window on the left) is tidy enough that Kenny feels comfortable letting Karen go over unsupervised whenever she wants. He keeps this to himself though, because no one needs to know how far Karen's Guardian Angel goes to protect her, and sometimes he creeps himself out wandering around the state as Mysterion.

Kenny finds that while he's been pondering the intricacies of his alter-ego, Kyle has set up a would-be desk on the opposite end of the table, his textbooks stacked a little haphazardly around a notebook and several loose leafs of paper. Kenny sighs into his half-empty bowl. Even pineapple chunks won't distract him from the promise of homework for long.

Except, yeah, that is pineapple hanging out in Kenny's stew. Fuck, he loves Kyle's mom; if the boy wasn't hopelessly in love with his best friend, Kenny would marry into that family just for the food. Which reminds him suddenly of the reason he invited Kyle over, and he frowns.

"So," Kenny starts. He fiddles with his spoon for a second, unwilling to meet Kyle's eyes for unfathomable reasons. He looks up, and there it is, the phrase tell me what's up with you and Stan, on the tip of his tongue, but the words shrivel up somewhere in his throat. What comes out instead is, "Have you started reading that Hyde book yet?"

"You mean Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?"

Kenny nods, tries his hardest to look like he hasn't already read the story two or three times over the summer break.

It's not—not—Kenny's fault that the damn story had been interesting. And then it was just so short that he'd been sure there was more to it somewhere, and well, whatever, the point is that Kyle stares at Kenny like he's grown a second head.

"Does Trujillo just not like you're class or something? We've had her for one day, Kenny. Our class doesn't have to start reading it until next week."

"Oh," Kenny says.

He really wanted to talk to someone about it. Maybe if he can sneak up on his teacher next week and pretend like he doesn't understand it...Kyle frowns at him, that special sort of frown that means he's connecting the dots and has realized Kenny's doing that thing where he doesn't want anyone to know he's not dumb as a lamppost. Warning bells start going off in Kenny's mind.

"Kenny, I don't—"

"What's up with you and Stan?" he says, grasping at the first thing that pops into mind.

The look on Kyle's face would be pretty priceless if it didn't make Kenny feel like a jackass for bringing it up. Kyle snaps his mouth shut, cutting off whatever he'd been about to say. Fear flashes across his face, like a cornered animal looking for a way out, then settles, determined.

"What do you mean?"

It's stubborn, the cornered animal bracing for a fight. Kenny cringes.

"It's just," he says, stops. Breathes. "You two are different. Did something happen over the break?"

"No," Kyle says automatically, makes a weird growling noise in the back of his throat. "Maybe. Not really. It's kind of a long story."

"Would you rather be doing your calculus homework?"

Kyle fiddles with his pencil, a sure sign that he would rather be doing his calculus homework than discussing this. Kenny tries again.

"How did Wendy and Stan get back together?"

It looks like that was the right question to ask, or wrong, depending on which way he looks at it. Kyle's expression sort of crumples. He sighs again and runs a hand over the top of his head, the perfect picture of dejection.

"Because I told him to," Kyle says, like it's being forced out of him under threat of death.

What Kenny gets from the story—with Kyle not looking up from the kitchen table for most of the painful story—is that Stan and Kyle were having one of their weekly not-date date-nights, and there was an argument that came dangerously close to forcing Kyle out of the closet. So Kyle, intending to change the subject, brought up "Stan's pathetic excuse for a relationship with Wendy."

Kenny winces at the way Kyle makes the air-quotes there; Stan has always been weird about Wendy.

"What did Stan say to that?"

"He got all pink around the ears," Kyle says, the corners of his lips twitching. "He asked me if that was how I really felt, and I said that I didn't give a flying fuck about his relationship with Wendy."

"So what, he got back with her to spite you?"

"What? No," Kyle answers. He looks up for a moment, a brief flash of—something—crossing his face, before he shakes his head and looks away. "Maybe. I don't know. I just—I wasn't thinking about what we were saying, not really. You know? I just didn't want him to—I didn't want him to find out that I—"

But he can't seem to finish the sentence. He swallows once, twice, then drops his head into his hands and makes an ugly, anguished noise. It makes something in Kenny's stomach clench painfully.

"I don't know why he does this," Kyle says into his arms. "He's got to know that I—what it does to me."

Kenny circles around the table at that, because he can't just sit there and listen to that dying animal sound in Kyle's voice without offering some type of comfort. But he looks down at Kyle's slumped, dejected form, and for once, can't think of anything to say. He clasps Kyle's shoulder and shakes him gently, just enough to get his attention.

"Come on," he says. "That table can't be comfortable."

They relocate to Kenny's room. Kyle collapses onto Kenny's bed, both arms pillowing his head as he sighs up to the ceiling. He looks pretty miserable, and Kenny remembers then that Wendy had mentioned a date right after class this afternoon.

Kenny thinks about it for a moment, then shrugs to himself and curls up beside Kyle, his head pillowed on Kyle's stomach. The kitchen, after all, is no place for Kyle to have a complete breakdown, and anyway Kenny's a little bit of a whore for affection, so there's no better place to offer his friend comfort than his bed.

And that sounds...really bad, even in his head. For once he does not actually mean for that to sound like he's a sex-addict. Still, Kyle frowns at him like he knows what Kenny's thinking.

"Don't worry, Kyle," Kenny says with a smile. "Your virtue is safe with me."

He pats Kyle's thigh to emphasize his point. Kyle rolls his eyes.

"My virtue?" he repeats. "Did you seriously just say that?"

But the teasing look on his face disappears a handful of seconds later; it's replaced by a wistful sort of frown as he looks back up at the ceiling.

"You love Stan," Kenny says because sometimes it's good to start out with the obvious.

"Yeah," Kyle admits, like he's surprising himself. "I can't help it, you know?"

"Um, no, actually."

Kenny doesn't see Kyle's shrug; he feels it.

"It's like, okay, say you have a favorite sweater," Kyle starts. Kenny frowns at that, but Kyle taps his fingers thoughtfully against the base of Kenny's neck, so he refrains from commenting and closes his eyes. "It fits perfectly right, and like, it's just warm enough to wear with a heavier coat or to wear on its own in the warmer months. But then you find a hole somewhere on the torso. There's no way you're getting rid of the sweater, right? It's perfect. So you keep on wearing it even though it has a hole, and wearing it over again just makes the hole bigger and bigger. It lets cold air seep into your chest, but you still try to ignore the way it's not quite the same. And sometimes, you look in the mirror and see the hole, and all you can do is sigh, because even if you patch it up, you'll still be able to see the stitching or the weird-colored patch that you used to cover it up. And the stitching will wear out eventually too, because once the fabric of your sweater is worn there's no way it's coming back, no way you can ever have the sweater the way it was before. It's not ruined, not really, just different, a little less awesome, but it's still better than any other sweater you've ever had, so what the fuck are you supposed to do?"

"I don't know dude," Kenny says, and hates that it sounds so flippant.

Kyle doesn't seem to notice though. He drapes his arm high on Kenny's chest, almost around his neck, and Kenny snuggles into the contact, tries to give all the emotional support he can without knowing what to say.

"We never got around to doing any homework," he says eventually.

Apparently, it's the right thing to say. Kyle makes a noise, something like a laugh but maybe also a sob, and Kenny does him a favor and pretends it's a laugh.

September slowly bleeds into October, and somehow it starts feeling like there aren't enough hours in the day to Damien. The four horsepeople are starting to get antsy, and, if he's honest with himself, Damien can't really blame them. Two months ago Damien would have been itching under his skin to get the preparations for his reign ready, would have been torturing bullies at school to pass the time, but now—

But now Damien finds he doesn't want it to be the 31st yet. He wants to pretend like he doesn't know why, but Damien's never been good with lying to himself, and so he grits his teeth and admits it to himself.

He doesn't want to give up Pip, is the thing.

Damien has a plan for the Apocalypse. He's gone over it countless times with War, Famine, Plague, and Death, and it's foolproof. But there's no place for a boy like Pip in their new world order. Pip is too—he's too everything. It drives Damien crazy, that he's so soft-spoken and polite (genuinely polite, how is that even possible in the twenty first century), so nice and just. He's everything that Damien isn't, and sometimes Damien wonders what the fuck he's doing.

"Damien?" Pip says quietly, jerking Damien out of his depressing broodings. Pip is frowning at him a little, a small wrinkle in between his eyebrows that shouldn't be as interesting as it is. "Are you quite all right?"

"Yeah," Damien lies, scowls down at the textbook he's supposed to be reading.

They're in Pip's room today; the room's dull beige walls are undecorated and boring. Damien's sitting cross-legged at the foot of the bed, while Pip sits and writes an essay at his desk. Everything about the place is bland and so fucking agreeable, the grey-brown curtains to the pinstriped sheets and the unadorned walls, just like Pip except not like him at all, and Damien can't stand it.

"Why don't you have anything on your walls?" Damien asks, uncrossing his legs and extending them out towards the door.

Pip turns to him again, closes his book carefully and swivels his chair all the way around. He gives Damien his full attention, in a way that no one before ever had. Damien commands attention normally, but it's out of fear, so half the time when he talks to anyone there's an underlying thread of terror, panic, or regret that the person's focusing on. Pip isn't like that. He looks at Damien and really sees him.

"Wasn't necessary," Pip answers. Damien watches the way strands of his hair fall into his eyes when he looks away. "And anyway, I don't much mind the room as it is."

"You're a liar," Damien says and sits up. "Don't even try to sell me that bullshit. This room is boring, Pip. It's so boring it's depressing. It's so boringly depressing in fact, that we need to fix it right the fuck now."

"What?" Pip looks vaguely startled, watches the way Damien picks up his jacket with a weird look on his face. "You mean right now?"

"Yeah, right now," Damien drawls. "It's not like you have any homework."

"I have an essay—"

"That's not due until next week," Damien says. "Come on, there's a Wal-Mart in Middle Park that stays open all night. I'm sure we can find some stuff."

Pip protests again, but Damien just shakes his head and grabs him by the forearm, intending to haul him up. But then Pip winces away at the barest touch of his arm, and Damien jerks back like he's been sprayed with holy water.

"Sorry," Pip says automatically, and that somehow makes anger and self-loathing boil up in Damien.

It's a new feeling, hating himself, and Damien really doesn't like it.

"No," he says, hates the way Pip flinches again at the sound of his voice. "You don't have to be sorry for anything, Pip. If you don't want me grabbing you—"

"It's not that," Pip says.

He hesitates for a second before pulling up his sleeve. He grimaces slightly when the material of his shirt grazes his arm—suddenly revealed to be covered in ugly, dark bruises.

"Oh," Damien says dumbly.

That's when the anger hits him again, because these are handprints Damien's seeing on Pip's skin, someone grabbing hard enough to leave a puffy mark, someone holding him down.

"Who did this to you?" Damien asks, and his voice is quiet this time, almost deathly so.

"It's not important," Pip says, tugging his sleeve back down, looking away.

"Yeah, it sort of is," Damien says, feeling the first flickering of heat pooling in the space between his fingers. A soft breeze flutters the papers on Pip's desk, one that Damien's trying to keep from becoming a whirlwind. "Pip, someone hurt you; they have no fucking right. Did they—"

But he stops himself, imagining Pip covered in bruises, all of them carefully hidden by layers of clothing. Something angry and dark and possessive burns through Damien at the thought, that someone would hurt what's his—

"No," Pip says, apparently not needing Damien to finish his thoughts. "I got away from him quickly."

"Tell me."

"No," Pip says again. "I don't want you killing anyone because of me."

"Newsflash Pip," Damien snaps. "I'm the fucking Antichrist. It's kind of what I do. Someone fucks with something that's mine and I make them pay for it. Who was it? I can go through every single asshole who has ever fucked with you if you don't want to tell me; I'll unleash an era of torment onto Park County High that'll—"

"I don't want you to do that."

"Right, what can I do then?" Damien asks sarcastically.

He means it half like a threat, means to say he'll burn the school to the ground for Pip, but doesn't really get the chance.

"You can kiss me," Pip says, a delicate pink staining his cheekbones.


Only then does he realize just how close he'd gotten. He's basically looming over Pip, both his hands gently cradling Pip's bruised forearm.

"How do you even exist?" Damien asks, but it comes out almost like a whisper.

Damien's in trouble, if he's already this deep, but he doesn't even care. He leans down just a little bit and then his lips are fitted against Pip's. Pip exhales against him, surprised, happy or both, opens his mouth a little. That's all the encouragement Damien needs. He curls his tongue into Pip's mouth, needing to taste him, needing him like the Antichrist hasn't needed anything before. Pip makes a tiny choked off sound in the back of his throat and Damien just drinks it up. He cups the back of Pip's head to keep him close, even when they take a deep shuddering breath and separate.

After more or less an hour (where Damien is very persuasive), he pulls out one of the twin daggers he hides in a compartment in each of his boots, presses it hilt-first into Pip's hand. Pip looks startled for a second, eyes wide, hair just a little tousled from all the times Damien's run his fingers through it in just now, fumbles with the blade for a second.

"Here," Damien says, knowing Pip will probably never stab anyone, but it gives him a sick sort of pleasure to imagine Pip slicing through a bully's skin with a blade that's designed to pierce the skin of demons, Satan, and the Antichrist himself.

"I can't," Pip says, trying to hand it back.

"Just, keep it," Damien insists, shoving his hands into his pockets. He shrugs. "It's one of the only things in the whole damn universe that can injure me and keep me down. No one else will even stand a chance."

"You know I wouldn't—"

"Yeah, I know," Damien answers, weirdly earnest and intense. He takes another step towards Pip. "But you can bluff you're way to safety if you need to, though. Point a knife to anyone's jugular and they're bound to get off your back." When Pip continues to look hesitant, Damien adds, in a much quieter tone, "Look, just keep it wherever. I don't care where. For me."

And that seems to be the key phrase. Pip examines the dagger again, more closely this time. He crosses to his desk and places it carefully into its drawer. Damien tries very hard not to think of metaphors that involve words like promise ring.

"Don't think this gets you out of decorating this boring ass room," Damien says into the silence. They're not through talking about that nameless fucker who dared to touch Pip, but Damien's learned to pick his battles, and so he saves that argument for another day. Also, he feels triumphant now, with his dagger tucked safely away in Pip's things; he thinks maybe he can change the subject now.

Pip laughs a little, hesitates slightly before planting a sweet, chaste kiss on the corner of Damien's mouth.

"I don't want black curtains," he says.

"We'll see about that," Damien responds, scowling heavily to force away the blush he feels spreading up his neck.

Pip smiles at him, darts away to grab his coat and hat. Damien watches him, traces the lines of his body with his eyes.

This is going to change everything.

Stan can admit that to date, he's got kind of a lot on his plate. He's not giving Wendy or Kyle the attention either of them deserve, mostly because they've finally convinced him to take all the AP and Dual Credit courses the school offers. With that, football practices, and the homecoming game just around the corner, he doesn't really have a lot of spare time anymore.

Mostly, he spends his nights at either Wendy's or Kyle's houses, doing homework or complaining about doing homework. If he hadn't gotten with Wendy, he'd probably have a little bit more free time on his hands, but—well. If he's honest with himself, he's not entirely sure why he got back together with her. The night he got back together with her, he and Kyle had had an argument that left him feeling weirdly hollowed-out, and then she'd called him. Kyle had said that he didn't care what Stan did with his sex life anyway. Kyle's never liked Stan's relationship with Wendy; he always calls it self-destructive and unhealthy, and well.

He really doesn't want to admit it, but he thinks he may have just gotten back with her to see if Kyle really meant it, and maybe, just to see if he really meant it.

It's fucked up, he knows, and Stan can't really figure out why, doesn't really want to find out why, if he's honest with himself.

His point is that he spends a lot of time studying now, because the two most important people in his have IQs over 100. Kenny's sometimes around, but less now that he's started hanging out with those new kids.

Kyle doesn't like this new development to Kenny's schedule. He thinks those new kids are a bad influence on Kenny. Then again, Stan's pretty sure Kyle thinks he and Stan are Kenny's adoptive parents or something and assumes they have the right to tell Kenny how to live his life. Either way, Kenny doesn't really need anybody influencing him to bring out his destructive qualities.

"Exactly," Kyle says when Stan points this out. "He's already enough of a trainwreck on his own without any help. He doesn't need encouragement in that respect."

"How do you know those people are encouraging him to do bad things? What if they're like, helping him find a job or something? I mean, have you actually talked with any of them for longer than five minutes?" Kyle wrinkles his nose in a way that tells Stan he doesn't have a good enough answer to those questions. Encouraged, he continues. "You should at least get to know these guys before assuming they're so terrible."

"That's a great idea," Kyle says after a pause.

He pulls out his cell, and Stan has a couple of wonderful seconds where he actually thinks Kyle agrees with him before his brain catches up with him. He blinks and looks back up at Kyle, textbook momentarily forgotten again.

"Wait. What?"

But Kyle doesn't answer him; he's already on the phone, a tiny wrinkle creasing the delicate skin between his eyebrows. Stan resists the urge to smooth the wrinkle away with his thumb. Instead, he turns back to his textbook with a vague sense of doom swirling around in his stomach.

"That's great, Kenny," Kyle informs his phone. "We'll be there."

Stan refuses to look up, already knowing the triumphantly smug smirk that'll be plastered across Kyle's face. It's a good look on Kyle, but not when Stan's the one who feels like an idiot because of it.

"Come on, get up," Kyle says, jumping up from his place on the floor. "We're going over to Damien's."

"What?" Stan asks again, like his brain has completely deserted him.

Kyle smiles at him then, a tiny upturn of lips that does something magical and softens the smugness out of his features. It's there and gone in the blink of an eye though, and by the time Stan reminds himself to breathe, he's been pulled to his feet and shoved towards the back door.

"Kenny's there, and he thinks it's a great idea for us to get to know his new friends," Kyle explains once they've pulled on their jackets. "We'll finish our homework when we get back."

"Fine," Stan says, because okay, he doesn't really have a problem with the new kids anyway, and if it takes him away from statistics for more than an hour, he's willing to give it a try.

One suspiciously silent car-ride later, Stan's pulling up in front of an old, larger-than-average house that, as far as Stan knows, has been sitting abandoned on the outskirts of South Park for years. An unused swing set sits rusting in the front yard, under the shadow of an ancient, blackened elm. The building itself has been renovated only enough to make it habitable, so it gives off creepy, haunted house vibes. Stan shoots Kyle a sideways look, but Kyle's already getting out of the car.

"Of course Damien lives in a haunted fucking house," Stan mutters. He shoves his keys into his pockets and hauls himself out of the car with a frustrated sigh. "Kyle! Dammit, wait up!"

Kenny's girlfriend (or non-girlfriend, or whatever she is; Stan isn't sure) greets them, after a long uncomfortable moment where she just stares. Eventually, she raises one white-blond eyebrow.

"Stan Marsh and Kyle Broflovski," she says, "we've been expecting you."

How she manages to make a single statement freaky, Stan isn't sure, but chills crawl their way up his spine as he follows her inside.

The inside is less creepy than the outside, but not by much. The girl—her name started with an 'H,' Stan thinks—leads them down a dark hallway, old-fashioned gas lamps bathing the walls in a half-hearted glow.

They end up in what had probably once been a study but has been converted into a game room. Kenny is in there, sitting in the armrest of one of the sofas. His hood is down and he's smiling in a way Stan hasn't seen in a long time. The tall, lanky guy that Stan's seen shadowing Damien at school is playing one of those modern-warfare games with a girl. She has a single long braid that goes down her back, which whips around from side to side in a way that reminds Stan a little of a tail. The other girl, the one with shoulder-length dreadlocks, is casting weirdly hungry looks at the TV screen while talking to—

"Cartman?" Stan asks and the five members of the room all turn to him.

"Dudes," Cartman drawls, turning back to the girl and continuing their conversation like Stan hadn't interrupted.

He doesn't get the chance to be offended though, because at that moment Kenny nearly tackles him from the force of his hug.

"Shit, sorry, I misjudged the distance," Kenny says a little sheepishly. "I'm just—really glad you guys came."

"Yeah," Stan says, refusing to feel guilty about it. Kyle frowns a little, letting Stan know that he at least has no problem feeling guilty about neglecting one of their best friends.

"Let me introduce you guys," Kenny adds, detangling himself from Stan enough to turn around. "Hey, weirdos!"

Cartman and the girl he's been talking to turn and glare at them, but the other two hardly pause their video game. Kenny points to the girl with the dreadlocks.

"That's Matti," Kenny says. She waves happily. "Matti's not allowed to play games of violence."

"She gets carried away," the other girl says, and Matti scowls at her.

"I do not."

"Right," the other girl answers, rolling her copper-colored eyes. "Let me remind you of the Chess Game of 2004—"

"That wasn't even my fault!"

"Matti, you burned the house down," the other girl says. Matti goes suspiciously silent at that. The girl nods, clearly pleased with herself. She turns to Stan and Kyle and lifts a hand in greeting. "I'm Beth. I'm obviously the sanest one you'll find here."

"I resent that," Kenny says, although the look on his face says that he's not too sure about his own sanity. He shakes his head and pats the thin, albino looking boy on the shoulder. "And this is Levi. You've already met Hyacinth, too. Guys, this is Stan and Kyle."

Hyacinth, Stan thinks, and quickly repeats the name six or seven times in his head so he doesn't forget it again. Levi stands and shakes both his and Kyle's hands.

"Nice to meet you," Levi says. His voice is weirdly deep, a little like there might be bees buzzing in the back of his throat instead of vocal chords. "Kenny's told us all about you."

"Has he?" Kyle asks, his eyebrows going up. "Just what's he been saying about us?"

"The standard slanderous lies, I assume," Hyacinth says.

Stan nearly jumps a foot in the air. He could have sworn that she'd wandered into the kitchen earlier. How did she end up behind him again?

"Mother fuck, Hy, don't do that," Kenny breathes, clutching at his heart dramatically. "One of these days you're gonna accidentally kill me from the shock."

"No I won't," Hyacinth says, a small, secretive smile tugging at the corners of her lips. "Not accidentally at least."

This is apparently uproariously funny to Beth, Matti, and Levi. Kenny shushes them with a half-crazed flapping motion of his arm and pulls Kyle over to the far side of the room. Beth abandons her Xbox controller and hurries after them.

"Are you showing him my Baba Ganoush?" she calls after them. "Because if you are, don't! It's an abomination; it's an atrocity; it's—"

"A work of art, is what it is," Kenny calls from the kitchen. "And Kyle'll appreciate it, won't you Kyle?"

Stan wanders over to the couch, trying not to feel awkward or out of place.

"Where's Damien?" he asks once the commotion in the kitchen has faded to an unintelligible murmur.

"On a date," Levi says, turning the controller over in his hands a few times.

"Really?" Stan asks, surprised. "Who with?"

"Who else?" Matti replies. At Stan's clearly confused look, she continues. "Pip."

Stan can feel his brain stutter to a halt.

"What?" he says. "Since when have they know?"

"They've been butt-fuck buddies since the fourth grade," Cartman drawls. "Try to keep up, Stan."

"Not completely true, but close enough," Levi says, picking up the other controller Beth had dropped earlier. "Want to play?"

"What about, um, Beth?" Stan asks, already taking it from him. Levi restarts the thing; ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE VII flashes across the screen in blood red letters. "She won't be back for a while. Her and Kenny share a weird affinity for food."

He and Matti seem to have an entire conversation in one look; it's a little impressive. Especially when he manages to shoot Stan's character without even looking at the TV. He smiles faintly as his avatar dances a weird jig over Stan's corpse.

"Got to stay focused, Stan," he says.

There's only one thing Stan can say to that.

"Oh, it's on now, dude."

Kyle and Beth return a few minutes later with two plates of some mysterious, delicious smelling food each.

"Feeding time," Beth says from the doorway.

It's enough for Levi to pause the video game and stop Cartman and Matti's conversation—which Stan notices with growing horror is about war tactics of World War II—but not enough to make anyone move. Levi takes a plate from Beth and curls himself deeper into the sofa. Cartman and Matti rush into the kitchen right when Kenny explodes out; naturally, Kenny nearly topples to the ground. He's only saved by Hyacinth, who grabs him by the scruff of his shirt. Kyle crosses to Stan and hands him a plate.

"So this is nice," Kyle says, low enough for only Stan to hear.

"Yeah," Stan says, picking at the meal in front of him. "Do you think Satan came up to earth with Damien too?"

"I don't think so. Someone would have mentioned him by now."

"That's fucking awesome," Stan says and takes a tentative bite. "Imagine living on your own with a houseful of teenagers?"

"Yeah," Kyle agrees, perching on the armrest by Stan's side. "You were right, for once."

"You know I love it when you say things like that," Stan teases, eyes the way a faint blush spreads over Kyle's cheeks, even as he rolls his eyes.

"Whatever," Kyle mumbles, and Stan beams at him.

Two hours later, Matti's managed to take over Zombie Apocalypse VII, mumbling to herself in a terrifyingly intense way. She kicked both Stan and Levi off the game, claiming that if she played alone it would keep her from killing any actual people. Stan mostly thinks she was kidding about the killing.

Hyacinth is sitting at the foot of the couch, Kenny asleep with his head pillowed in her lap. Cartman went home about a half hour previous, with a promise to bring over all his war movies next Saturday. Beth was the first to head up to bed, almost an hour ago, followed closely by Levi, so when Damien and Pip stumble in at five after three, Matti, Kyle, Stan, and Hyacinth are the only ones who see them at first.

"Hello everyone," Pip says, pulling off his coat and rubbing his eyes. "It's been a rather long day, hasn't it?"

"Depending on how you look at it, the day's just started," Hyacinth says, tucking a stray lock of Kenny's hair behind his ear. Her eyes sweep over Damien and Pip slowly, like she can see everything that they've been doing in the way they're standing or something. She doesn't seem to need to blink, which fills Stan with a sudden, irrepressible sensation of terror. "You should go to bed, Pip."

Damien glares at her for a while, before tugging gently on Pip's wrist and ushering him into the hall again, in the direction of the stairs.

"Nice to see you, Stan, Kyle," Pip's voice says from the hallway.

"You too," Stan and Kyle say in unison, just loud enough for Kenny two blink awake.

"Who let Matti start killing things?" he mumbles slowly.

"You mean I need permission from someone?" Matti asks, not bothering to turn to Kenny.

Damien reenters the room then, cutting off whatever Kenny might have said to that. Hyacinth turns her unblinking stare to him, and he nods once, turns on his heel and goes into the kitchen. Hyacinth gently extracts herself from Kenny's death grip (Stan's had Kenny fall asleep on him before, knows from experience how hard it is to get Kenny to let the fuck go when he's half-asleep and comfortable) and follows Damien into the kitchen.

"We should probably go," Stan says around a yawn. Kyle stands in response to this. "I doubt I'll be able to drag myself out of bed for school later."

"You could stay here," Kenny says, pushing himself into a sitting position after a few seconds. "This house has like, three spare bedrooms even with all these crazy people living here."

"I take offense to the term 'crazy people,'" Matti says distractedly.

"Only because you're not really people," Kenny retorts. "But seriously, Stan. I doubt Damien would have a problem with you guys staying over the night."

"It's fine, dude," Kyle answers. "I told my mom I'd be at Stan's tonight, and you know how she gets."

"Yeah," Kenny says. "Okay, let me walk you out."

He hauls himself up right as a loud crash comes from the kitchen. Almost immediately, Matti's upended the sofa and crouches behind it like a barricade with—wait, is that a dagger in her hand? Where did she even get a dagger.

"Sweet fuck, don't move that fast, Matti," Kenny says. "It's not natural."

"Get down," she says in a tone of voice that has Stan crouching down and pulling Kyle down beside him without a second's hesitation.

Less than a second later, an honest-to-god explosion rips through the kitchen, sending porcelain, silverware, pots and pans, and fire into the living room. Kenny, who's still standing, gets knocked off his feet and thrown into the television. Normal humans would probably knock the set over, but Kenny breaks through the screen and sends a flash of electricity into the room.

"Oh my god, you killed Kenny," Stan says automatically.

"No I didn't," Hyacinth snaps.

When Stan peeks over the sofa he sees her and Damien standing in the doorway, their clothes singed a little but otherwise unharmed.

"He's pretty dead though," Matti says, poking at one of Kenny's blackened feet.

Hyacinth crosses over to the body, crouches down beside it and runs her hands along Kenny's ankle. She darts a quick look to Stan and Kyle before focusing on Damien again.

"What does it mean?"

"What do you think it means?" Damien asks.

His eyes start to glow then, a faint orange color that Stan remembers from his childhood.

"We'll show ourselves out," Kyle says suddenly, grabbing Stan by the wrist and nearly dragging him out.

Right. Escaping now sounds like a good plan.

Once they're in the safety of Stan's car, Kyle turns to him, confusion written clearly along the lines of his face.

"What do you think that was all about?"

"I don't know dude," Stan says, starting the car. "But I think you may have been right about them being demons."

"Yeah," Kyle answers. He rests his chin in his hand, stares out the window as they pull out of the driveway. "Too bad, though. They seemed pretty cool."

"Right up until the explosion in the kitchen."

"Well, yeah," is the response. "I mean, obviously."

The rest of the drive home is spent mostly in silence, both of them lost in thought. The question neither of them wants to ask hangs in the air like a sickness.

What exactly are four demons and the Antichrist doing in South Park?

Hours later, Kenny wakes up feeling vaguely nauseous. He sits up, pulling the hood of his parka down and rubbing at his eyes with the heel of his palm. Around him, suspiciously perky clouds float by, and groups of happy people walk around, chatting pleasantly to one another. He hauls himself to his feet, checking to see if there are any burn scars left on his hands or feet. When he dies, he never ends up with evidence of his gruesome departure, but then it never hurts to double check.

He hasn't been to heaven in a long time.

It hasn't changed much, which isn't really a surprise, except that there were never any good food places in heaven and Kenny hadn't eaten much before he got turned into a giant extension cord. He thinks he should try looking around for Sadaam's chocolate chip/nuclear weapons factory when he sees an angel making his way towards him.

Raphael looks much the same as he did ten years ago; his armor shines in an appropriately impressive way as he flies towards Kenny, his gilded wings hardly moving as he approaches.

"Kenny," he says, "we've been waiting for you."

Dread starts to swirl around Kenny's stomach as he follows Raphael to the familiar council chamber. The room is empty this time around, which gives Kenny hope that Satan's forces aren't about to attack the world.

"Just sit wherever," Raphael says. He goes to a desk quietly gathering dust in the corner and starts shuffling papers around. Kenny suddenly feels like he's at a doctor's office or something. "God should be here soon."

"Wait, God?" Kenny asks, unable to keep the shrill squeak out of his voice. "What does God need to talk to me for?"

Kenny's gotten over the fact that he's not good enough to have a permanent place in heaven. He's gotten over the fact that heaven's army seems to see him as its own personal call boy, and that he only ever ends up in paradise when they need something from him. He has. He's even gotten over the fact that despite being the universe's savior, all the angels treat him with a detached sort of unimportance. Sure, it's given him a little bit of an inferiority complex, is probably one of the reasons he's such a train wreck on earth most of the time, but mostly, he's over it.

But that doesn't mean he's not bitter about it.

Raphael shrugs which is perfect, really, just amazing.

"I didn't ask," he says, and goes back to shuffling papers. Kenny sighs dramatically and hops up to sit on the shiny tabletop.

"Of course you didn't," Kenny mumbles. Raphael looks over at him and scowls darkly. Kenny smirks and unable to resist, adds, "Hey, are you like, his Personal Assistant or something? Does he make you get his dry cleaning too?"

"My clothes are all machine-washable," a wry voice says from behind him. Raphael bows immediately and quickly disappears before Kenny can even think about turning around. "It is good to see you, Kenny."

Kenny takes a deep breath and turns around, so he's sitting cross-legged on the table and looking across it. God is only just visible over the high backs of the chairs and tabletop, so after a second he sighs and floats up to be more or less eye level with Kenny.

"Hey," Kenny says, keeping his tone purposefully casual. "You wanted to see me? What trick did you want me to perform this time?"

Kenny flinches inwardly at the sharp bite in his tone. He's lucky if God doesn't throw any of that eternal damnation his way just for being a little shit.

"I need your help, Kenny," God says in a perfectly calm voice. It makes Kenny feel momentarily ashamed of himself. "The time of reckoning is fast approaching."

"If this is you trying to tell me that Satan wants to take over the world again—"

"No," God says. "Not Satan."

It takes Kenny probably longer than it really should to fit the pieces together, considering that he's only been going to school with the fucking Antichrist for a whole month now.

"Damien?" Kenny asks, unable to keep the incredulity out of his voice. "Why would Damien want to—"

"Bring about one thousand years of darkness to the land?" God asks and wow, Kenny never thought God would be the type to interrupt people. "That was his entire purpose, once."

"Oh...kay," Kenny responds slowly.

He's still not really buying it. After a second he hops off the table and starts pacing around the room. God watches him, His eyes are eerily placid and understanding. It's hard to look directly at God for any long period of time, not just because He's pretty weird looking, but because up here in heaven He's constantly surrounded by a brightly shimmering light that burns Kenny's retinas if he looks for too long.

"So what do you want me to do about it?"

"His brothers were handsome and tall, but the Lord was not pleased with them," God says, and his voice takes on that weird biblical quality that Kenny's heard from both Satan and Damien sometimes. "And so He went out the meet the Evil One and was cursed by his idols for it. But He drew The Evil One's own sword; He beheaded him, and removed reproach from the people of Israel."

Kenny frowns.

"If you think I'm going to behead Damien anytime soon you're in for a disappointment," he can't help but say. "Especially since Death is hanging around him and all."

"Not you, Kenny," God says. Weird, Kenny isn't actually expecting that to hurt as much as it does. "You must find the one who can."

"Right," Kenny says, not a little bitterly. Apparently he's been reduced to a Messenger-boy now. "And how am I supposed to do that?'

"You'll know him when you know him," is the response.

"What does that even mean?" Kenny asks, but God is already floating himself off the table and calmly exiting the room. Oh hell no, that's just not happening. He scrambles after God, who moves much quicker than a weirdly shaped animal-thing really has any right to. "Wait a minute. God! Why doesn't Jesus just come down and battle it out? Isn't that how it's supposed to go?"

"My son is busy in Siberia with the other Super Best Friends," he says calmly, leading them through a more secluded area of heaven that Kenny's never seen.

A pair of tall stone-like pillars flank an entrance into a courtyard, where an ancient oak sits aging quietly.

"You'd think an apocalypse would rank a little higher on his to-do list than whatever's going on in Siberia," Kenny mumbles, shoving his hands into his pockets and frowning.

God moves over to sit near the base of the tree, looks up into the branches as if lost in thought.

"My son understands many things," God finally says. He beckons for Kenny to come sit by Him, and Kenny does (because really, how is he supposed to deny God?). "And Jesus knows that the only way to stop an apocalypse is if the Antichrist willingly stops it, or his power is wrestled away from him."

Kenny gets it loud and clear then. He can imagine someone asking Damien very politely to stop the apocalypse and has to hold back hysterical laughter at the thought. Damien would annihilate them.

"So why can't Jesus do that then?"

"And so He went out to meet the The Evil One, and was cursed by his idols for it," God says again, very slowly, like He wants Kenny to remember this. "But He drew The Evil One's own sword. That is how you will know."

"Right," Kenny says, even though he has no fucking clue what that means. "Okay, so summarizing: Apocalypse. Damien needs to be killed but not by Jesus or me. Find who it is and have him cut off Damien's head with his 'own sword,' or whatever. Do I get a time frame for this too? A deadline or something?"

"When the red moon glows on the Hallowed Eve."

"Okay, this really isn't fair," Kenny says, and he's definitely not whining when he says it. "I know you speak like normal people. I've heard you. Is this just because you don't like me or something? Because if it is, then that's a little harsh, don't you think? I mean, already you kick me out of here like I'm some kind of—"

"Kenny," God says gently, and when Kenny looks at him again, there's a sad frown on His face. "You can't stay here because you have been marked for greater things." Gently still, like he's afraid Kenny might bolt, He picks up Kenny's wrist and places his palm flat against the tree trunk. The spot under his palm turns an ugly, ashen grey, a color that begins to spread up the tree like a slow poison. Kenny snatches his hand away. "However much I may regret it."

"What do you—what the fuck—"

But God just shakes his head. After a few seconds, He sighs heavily and waves his hand, a little like he's trying to get rid of the mist. Kenny feels reality start to crumble away at the edges, feels more than sees God's thoughtful, almost regretful stare before heaven dissolves around him. He resists the urge to beg for a place here and closes his eyes.

When he opens them again, he's in bed; wrapped snugly in a thick quilt he's never seen before. Today is October 11th. He's got three weeks to keep the world from going to shit.

Basically, he's fucked.

Damien's been having a lot of arguments with Hyacinth lately. If he's honest with himself, he thinks she picks a lot of their fights on purpose because the other horsepeople have a tendency to bow to Damien's demands like they're supposed to. They're all in their mortal forms, after all, and since Damien's the only one who can unleash them onto the Earth, it means he's got at least some sort of power over them.

Death is a different story. First, even in her mortal form, Hyacinth can summon some dark magic when she's really pissed off, so she's less dependent on Damien in that respect. And also, the Infernal Hierarchy has always been unclear about her position in Hell anyway. Technically, she rules over the gates of Hell with her hounds and Cerberus, but she's never taken orders from either Damien or Satan, as far as Damien knows. Plus, Death is about as old as Satan himself, which makes it weird for him to try to boss her around, even if she is in the form of an 18 year old girl.

He doesn't like to fight with her, but lately she's taken to talking to him about his relationship with Pip. It's a sore subject for him, so it inevitably ends with one or both of them flying off the handle and setting things on fire.

But, he's been noticing recently, she's got a point. It's almost mid-October and they aren't any closer to the End of Days than they were in August.

However, Damien is very vocal on how that is absolutely not Pip's fault, despite Hyacinth's theories about how Pip is distracting him. First it's really nobody's damn business if Damien likes hanging out with some mortal kid who, by all accounts, is a total wimp.

Truth is, he doesn't really know why he keeps Pip around. Pip is—fun, in an irritating sort of way. The kind of fun that Damien normally would never even consider to be interesting. It's weird.

He—likes Pip, is the thing, likes him in a way that is both painful and comforting. He's never felt like this before, never even thought he'd want to feel like this before. He finds that he doesn't want to give it up, not if he doesn't have to.

"Hey, can we talk?" Beth asks him one afternoon after school.

She's alone, which is weird for Famine, since lately she and the other horsepeople have been hanging around with Kenny's friends almost nightly. Damien scowls down at his phone for a moment, where his half-finished missive to Pip glows in the dim light of his room.

"What's up?" Damien asks, setting his phone aside carefully.

Beth takes a couple of steps into his room, searches for a place to sit. Eventually she perches herself on the edge of Damien's bed, one of her long black fingernails tracing the stripes on his bedspread.

"We need to talk about Pip," she says, and seriously, is he going to have to have this argument again?

"What about him?" Damien asks, because he's not about to make this easy for her.

"I've been talking to Levi and Matti," she starts, "And you know how Hyacinth feels about him."

"What I do with Pip is none of your damn business."

"I know that," Beth snaps back. When she looks back up at him, she looks a little contrite, which is a start. "But. Okay, look. Have you thought at all about what you're going to do with him once we start this? Are you going to make him your own personal sex slave? Because in the new world order—"

"Are you shitting me?" Damien asks, feeling white hot anger start to burn in the back of his throat. "I would never do that kind of thing to Pip."

"Really?" Beth asks grimly. "That's exactly what he is to you right now, isn't he?"

"No," Damien says. "No fucking way."

That's so far from the truth it's not even funny. It was Pip who wanted this; he'd asked Damien to kiss him. Pip wants whatever it is they have between them.

But then again, how can Damien know that for sure? Damien's been known to use his magic impulsively, sometimes even subconsciously. What if he'd somehow coerced Pip into this? What if Pip doesn't even want him?

What if Damien's been forcing Pip, all this time?

He stands abruptly, bile rising in his throat, something ugly and nameless swirling like a tornado through his body. He has to find Pip.

"Damien, where are you going?"

But Damien hardly hears Beth as he storms out of his room, only thinking to grab his phone when he's almost at the door. He doesn't bother walking, doesn't bother running; instead, he closes his eyes and whispers a quick chant to himself. He disappears in a puff of black smoke and reappears outside Pip's house. He thinks of all the times he's appeared in Pip's bedroom, without even asking for permission, and feels that same sickness rise in his gut again. He swallows it down, forces his legs to climb up the three steps of the porch, and knocks firmly on the door.

It's a Saturday and still quite early at that, the sun only just beginning to set over the mountaintops, but Pip answers the door after less than thirty seconds. He's already in his pajamas, a pair of low-riding pants and a long-sleeved black shirt that looks about two sizes too big on him.

"Damien," Pip says, surprised. "I wasn't expecting you."

Is that pleasantly surprised? Or I-just-found-out-I-need-a-root-canal surprised?

"Can I come in?" he asks, remembering all the times he's barged into Pip's house, just expecting to be welcomed.

Fuck, how has he never noticed?

"Of course," Pip says, moving aside, a tiny furrow forming along his brow. "Are you quite all right, Damien? You're acting a bit strangely."

"I'm fine," Damien lies, sidesteps Pip when he leans in for a kiss. "We need to talk."

"Oh," Pip says. After a moment, he shakes himself and closes the door. "My foster parents are in the living room."

So of course he leads them up to his room; they make as little noise as possible climbing up the stairs to the second floor. Pip's foster family has always been slightly neglectful of Pip, and normally that would fill Damien with outrage, but right now he can't help be anything but grateful for the way they pay them little to no attention whatsoever. Pip closes the door behind them softly. After a second's contemplation, he clicks the lock into place.

"What did you want to talk about?" Pip asks, looking anywhere but at Damien.

"I—" Damien starts, but the words fizzle up in his throat; he's sure of the answer suddenly, half-terrified to hear it said aloud. And hey, that's a new feeling: terror. Damien doesn't like it. "Pip, I—look at me when I'm talking to you, dammit."

Pip doesn't flinch at the sharp bite of his words, but the line of his shoulders slumps. He sighs, a little like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders, and finally meets his gaze. Damien's surprised by the sadness he sees there, the over-wet sheen of his eyes derailing his train of thought.

"If you've come to tell me that we're over, I'd rather it be quick," Pip says, a tiny quaver in his voice.

"What? Fuck, Pip, that's not it," and before he can even think about it, he crosses the distance that separates them, buries one hand in Pip's hair—not tied back for once, and Damien loves that he can run his fingers through it—and kisses him softly.

Pip leans into the kiss, wraps his arms around Damien's waist and just holds on. Damien pulls away, but this is not what he came here for; this is in fact the exact opposite of what Damien came to find out.

"Pip," Damien says. "You—you know I'd give you anything, right?"

"What?" Pip asks, leaning back just enough so he can look into Damien's eyes.

"I would. I'd burn the school to the ground if you asked me to. I'd move all of South Park to Australia if you wanted. But I don't know—I mean. I want this—" so fucking bad it hurts "But if it's not what you want, then I can give you that too."

Pip stares at him for long enough that Damien feels his dread as a painful ache in his chest, but then finally, Pip shakes his head and laughs weakly.

"I seem to remember that I was the one who asked for this in the first place," Pip says mildly.

"Yeah, well," Damien scowls, unsure how to respond. The certainty he'd felt while talking to Beth is fading now, the soft press of Pip's body encouraging something that feels disgustingly like hope. "I've been told I'm pretty persuasive, even when I don't exactly mean to be."

Pip hums in response, like he doesn't exactly agree.

"Damien," Pip says, his voice quiet, intimate. "Do you know what I want?" Pip looks away at that, a faint pink blush dusting his cheeks.

The last dregs of sunlight slip from the room, the dim light forcing Pip's eyelashes into high relief. Most of the time, they're so pale that they're nearly invisible, and so it's fascinating to see how long they look in this light, fanning over Pip's eyes demurely.

"What do you want?" Damien asks, because it is after all what he came here to find out.

"I would very much like for you to take me to bed."

Damien's pretty sure he stops breathing (he doesn't really need to anyway). His only response is to kiss Pip again, a dirty, wet, open-mouthed kiss that crowds Pip back into his bed. Pip's mouth is amazing. He could stay lost in it forever. He loves the way Pip is so fucking careful, the way he nips teasingly at Damien's lower lip when they separate. Damien runs his hands up and down Pip's chest, drags the material of his shirt upwards and pushes him flat on his back, pinning him down with one hand over his heart.

"Are you sure about this?" Damien asks because now that he looks closely, he can tell that Pip is shaking a little bit, a fine tremor all along his body that makes Damien doubt himself again.

"Yes," Pip says breathlessly. "Just don't break me in half or the like."

And Damien laughs at that, has no choice but to lean back down and kiss him again. He gets distracted by the underside of Pip's jaw, licks a stripe down his neck and nips at his collar bone, snarls when he reaches the upper hem of the shirt. Pip makes a thin, whining sound in the back of his throat, pushes Damien just far enough away so that he can drag his shirt off. Damien takes that moment to fumble his own shirt off, stares at the way light spills across Pip's chest from the still-open window.

This, he thinks to himself, this is what temptation looks like.

"Come here," Pip says, and unholy fuck, that is officially the hottest thing Damien's ever heard, Pip bossing him around in that unfailingly polite way of his; demanding things from Damien without even raising his voice.

It drives Damien fucking crazy, and maybe it's not that wild explosion that Damien had wanted from him at the beginning, but it's something so perfectly Pip that he can't imagine Pip any other way. At the beginning, he'd wanted to corrupt Pip, make him sharper around the edges, and instead the opposite's happened. Pip is the one who's slowly changing Damien, and Damien's not sure if he minds at all.

He kisses Pip again, unable to stay away from the soft pink lips for too long, curls his tongue around Pip's even as he slowly grinds down into Pip, where he can feel Pip hardening. They've gotten this far before, rutting against each other and making out shirtless, but this time it's different. This time Pip takes a shuddering breath, kisses the spot just under Damien's ear that breaks him a little, and traces the hem of Damien's jeans tentatively. Damien drags his nails down Pip's chest, a long pink mark that scratches over one of Pip's erect nipples and causes the boy to arch his back helplessly. Damien licks over it to soothe the angry red mark, toys with the other one aimlessly while Pip thrashes his head from side to side, making tiny, quiet half-noises.

"Have you ever done this before?" Damien asks, hooks his thumbs over Pip's pajama bottoms and slowly begins to pull them down.

"No," Pip breathes, and something about his voice breaks Damien.

"Okay," he says, pushes up to his elbows and resists the urge to just ravage Pip then and there. Damien wants this to be perfect, wants Pip love this, if it's his first time. "Do you have anything to make it easier?"

"Under the bed," Pip says, gasping a little as Damien finally slides a hand along Pip's cock. "Hurry."

"I will, I will," Damien says, and scrambles off the bed.

He finds a tiny bottle of all-natural hair tonic, and it's slick, warms deliciously on the tips of Damien's fingers. Quickly as he can, he rips off his jeans and underwear and slides back up Pip's body, kissing every inch of skin he can reach. His mouth stays on Pip's bellybutton, flicking his tongue in and out as he slowly—slowly teases along the rim of Pip's hole.

"Talk to me, Pip," Damien says as his finger slides in up to the first digit. He moves his mouth lower, closer to the thick thatch of blonde hair. He takes a deep breath, soaking up that musky smell of Pip. "Tell me what it feels like."

"It feels—" Pip chokes off when Damien places a chaste kiss on the tip of his cock. A hand buries itself in Damien's hair and Damien smirks, licks his lips and wraps his lips around the head. "Amazing. Damien. It feels—your mouth—"

Damien manages to get another slicked finger into him while Pip slowly loses his mind. Damien finds he likes the taste of him, the way certain sounds are connected to the amount of pressure Damien applies to the underside of his cock, the choked-off moans that escape him when Damien swallows him down as far as he'll go.

"Damien, I—I'm going to—"

"Don't," Damien says, pulling off with an obscenely wet noise. Pip groans and drops his head back onto the mattress. Two of Damien's fingers are deep inside of Pip now, and Pip's hips snap back quickly, like he's trying to fuck himself on them but they're not enough. He scissors his fingers, urging Pip to open up wider, licks into his mouth to distract him from the inevitable burn. "You ready?"

"Yes," he says, pushing back onto Damien's fingers. "Yes. Damien, please."

Slowly, he pulls his fingers out, relishes in the high, frustrated sound Pip makes as Damien slicks himself up. He's so hard now he can barely think straight, has to throw all of his concentration on pushing into Pip slowly.

Whatever Pip said, Damien knows he's not relaxed enough from a two fingers. A wrinkle furrows Pip's brow, and Damien kisses it softly as he rolls his hips inexorably forward. He palms Pip's cock to distract him from the burn, kisses him again and again because he can't get enough of the way Pip looks right now, splayed open and writhing and so fucking perfect, all for Damien. Only for Damien.

And finally, he's all the way inside Pip, can feel him clenching as he fights to relax his muscles. Damien kisses him and kisses him, teases his cock with feather-like caresses and hikes one leg up around Damien's waist. It shifts the angle, pushes Damien a few centimeters deeper, causes a wrecked, desperate sound to escape out of Pip. Damien forces himself to stay that way, coaxing, tempting, but not moving, until Pip tentatively pushes down into Damien.

"Yes," he whispers again, screws his eyes shut so Damien can't see his eyes blown wide with lust. "Damien."

It's all the permission Damien needs. With more strength than he's ever thought he has, he pulls out slowly, rocks back in as gently as he can. It's almost too much, this slow rhythm, and when Damien shifts slightly, changes the angle again, Pip's eyes snap open and his mouth opens on a silent shout.

"There we go," Damien gasps out, and fuck, finally, he pushes in again, harder, faster, and keeps going. And Pip, Pip bears down on it like a porn star, opens up to him and takes, until he's panting out a steady rhythm of choked off gasps and half-formed words.

"Damien," Pip says, a half-sob, and Damien slithers a hand between them, strokes Pip hard and fast to match Damien's unrelenting thrusts. Less than a minute later, Pip bites his lip around a moan and comes; Damien feels it in the way his body contracts around his cock, closing in around him impossibly tighter, like he never wants Damien's cock out of his body again, and Damien thrusts once, twice, three times, bites the side of Pip's neck hard enough to draw blood, and comes.

When he comes back to himself—hours, minutes, seconds later—he presses a lazy, open-mouthed kiss to the side of Pip's jaw and slowly pulls out. Pip makes a strangled noise in protest, but doesn't move until Damien collapses back onto the bed. Then, it's just to curl up into the crook of Damien's shoulder.

"How was that for a first time?" Damien asks, not a little smugly. The effect is probably ruined a little by the way he's half-panting for breath.

"Perfect," Pip says, closing his eyes and smiling dreamily. "Will you spend the night?"

"Yeah," Damien says, tries really hard not to think about what his horsepeople would have to say about that. "Whatever you want, Pip."

"Okay," Pip says, kisses him softly on the shoulder. "I love you," he mumbles into the skin there, and Damien's heart stops for a second.

"I—" Damien starts, but can't quite finish the thought.

Pip's asleep between one breath and the next, though, so it hardly matters.

Except that it does. It matters a whole fucking lot.

Later, when Pip's breath has evened out and the house has gone to sleep around them, Damien lays awake, thinking. On the other side of the room, Pip's alarm clock tells him that it's two-fifty six in the morning. The numbers glow an eerie blue color in the darkness of the room. October 16th now, his brain tells him. Fifteen days. Damien sighs, softly so that the movement of his chest doesn't jostle Pip and wake him up (the boy is a surprisingly light sleeper). He runs a hand through the still-damp strands of Pip's hair, kisses him lightly just above his eye and quietly slips out of the bed. Hyacinth and Beth are right. He can't keep doing this to himself, or to Pip.

He shouldn't be able to fall in love, is the thing. He's a thing of evil (so they say), can't quite tell the difference between myth and reality when it comes to his birth. He grew up with Satan and his convoluted relationships as his only models to build his interpersonal relationship skills, which...sort of explains a lot, come to think of it.

But it doesn't explain this. It doesn't explain this gnawing, eviscerating feeling that claws its way up Damien's stomach, that destroys him with the innocuous things that make up his day-to-day life.

Mortals waste away their lives looking for this, wanting what Damien sort of hates. He hates that he's constantly hovering on the edge of destruction, that he's given so much of himself to a single boy. Mortals are idiots if this is what they want out of life. Damien—he thinks he's in fucking love, and he hates it.


And the thing of it is, he wouldn't even care at this point, but he's not on earth to fall in love and live like a goddamn storybook. He's here for a very specific purpose, and that purpose doesn't leave any room for a person like Pip. As quietly as he can, Damien slips back into his clothes, ignores as best he can the painful tugging in his chest when he has to close the door on Pip's room.

He's got more important things to worry about now.

(That's a lie, a fucking lie, there is nothing more important than Pip, but for the sake of his sanity, he has to pretend.)

He walks home this time, letting the frigid night chill away some of Damien's bitterness. He tries not to think about what just happened, about the beautiful noises Pip had made when Damien had slid into him, the look on his face when he'd finally come, like he'd had a revelation. He fills his head with battle plans and complex spells, the artifacts he'll need to unleash the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse onto the world.

(It only mostly works; in the back of his head he still hears Pip's shuddering gasps. He'll probably never forget the way Pip had felt under him, and if that was the only time he'd ever be with Pip, then he doesn't feel guilty about cherishing the memory.)

When he gets home, everyone's still awake. Beth and Levi are talking quietly on the staircase, while Matti sits in the living room reading something that Cartman brought by the other day.

"We need blood," Damien says to them all. "Preferably human blood. By tomorrow night."

They all sit up, excitement written clearly across all of their faces.

"You mean we're starting?" Matti asks, tossing the book over her shoulder.

"Yeah," Damien says.

Hyacinth slithers in from the kitchen then, blinks slowly at the four of them before her gaze settles on Damien.

"And Pip?" she asks.

"Won't be an issue," Damien says, but even to his own ears it sounds like a lie.

The only one who seems to notice is Hyacinth (nothing ever gets by her). Beth and Levi rush upstairs, laughing and plotting as they go. Matti smiles, all sharp teeth, before she follows them up.

"I'm glad you made the right choice, Damien," she says halfway up.

"Yeah, whatever," Damien says, scowling at the floor. Matti stops on the stairs, and for a second Damien thinks she might actually try talking about feelings again, but no. She lets out a long, loud breath that could be interpreted as a sigh and finishes climbing up the steps. When he hears the door to her room close, he turns to Hyacinth. "Are you happy now?"

"No," Hyacinth says bluntly. "Do you think I can't smell that mortal all over you, Damien? I know you're not done with him, even if you think you are."

"What do you want me to do?" Damien asks. "We're done. I finished it. If we don't go to school on Monday, which won't even be a problem with everyone in their immortal forms, I'll never have to see him again."

"I'd feel better about this if you killed him."

"Not gonna happen," Damien says automatically.

Hyacinth doesn't say anything for a moment. She stares at him unblinkingly, like she can read his thoughts.

"Yes, I see how much you've finished with him," she says. She turns and starts climbing up the stairs. "If he interferes," she tosses over her shoulder, "know that I won't hesitate to do what you should have."

"He's a mortal, Death," Damien snaps. "What can he do? After you're all released, the only thing that will be able to stop us is me."

"That's what I'm afraid of," Hyacinth says. "Goodnight Damien."

Damien doesn't answer. He waits until he hears Hyacinth's footsteps fade into silence before he sighs, collapses onto the bottom stair and drops his head into his hands.

He doesn't move for a long time.


It's just about three a.m. the next night when they steal into the forest. It's a quarter moon tonight, but because it set so early in the night, it's appropriately dark. Damien leads the way to their improvised decompression chamber, a little outcrop in the forest just far enough from the town that no one would bother to wander through, especially this late at night.

Damien spent the better part of the afternoon preparing for tonight, half-convinced that Pip would find him defiling their hang-out spot. When they all finally reach the small circular area, it's nearly unrecognizable.

Black candles hover along the perimeter of the area, enough to bathe the night in a dim, flickering glow. The light casts deep, menacing shadows around the space that normally looks warm and inviting. In the center of the clearing, where there once sat a tiny circle of rocks for a campfire, a long, low-lying table now waits patiently for them, and on its surface, an inverted pentagram nearly glows in the candlelight, a goat's head meticulously drawn within the inverted star. Every now and then, the light makes it seem to cast sideways glances at the group as they approach.

Precariously placed on an upended stump, sit both a silver dagger goblet, glittering happily in the semidarkness.

"Okay," Damien says. "Who wants to go first?"

"I'll go," Matti says from under the hood of her black robes. She crosses to the table and lays down across the pentagram, taking care to align her feet and hands with the points of the star. "I've been dying to kill people all fucking week."

Hyacinth stifles a quick snort, but besides that the others all move to encircle the table in silence. Damien takes his spot at the head of the altar, feels the first sparks of infernal magic pool in his palms as he flexes his fingers. He sweeps his gaze along the perimeter of their makeshift Decompression Chamber, ostensibly to make sure no one is secretly spying. Disappointment, just a tiny flicker of it, and he realizes that he'd been half-expecting Pip's steady blue gaze to find his through the trees. He forces that out of his mind and picks up the dagger. It glints innocently in the candlelight, and for a second, that too brings a sharp wave of nostalgia over Pip's stupid smile.

"In the name of Satan, the Unholy Father," Damien begins, not letting a hint of weakness mar his voice, "I command the forces of Darkness to open wide the Gates of Hell. Come forth and answer to your name Azazel, who is known as Sekhemet, who is feared as Shiva, whose name means destruction of mankind by his own hand."

A gust of icy wind rattles through the surrounding forest, enough that it momentarily dims the candlelight despite the heavy protective spells Damien had cast last night. He slices his palm carefully, just enough for a thin ribbon of blood to bloom along the pale skin and picks up the goblet. A few drops of blood trickle into the liquid; it hisses violently and after a few seconds, the concoction turns a deep red.

"Here," he says, handing it over to Matti. "Drink and come forth, you who rides the red horse and brings War onto the Earth."

Mattie swallows a mouthful of the mixture, her hood tipping back as she sits up to drink. There's a flash of combustion, and a fire springs underneath the table. Matti gags, runs a hand along her mouth as she coughs violently. The fire under her rages, catches onto the legs of the table and spreads to the corners.

"Unholy fuck," she gasps out. "What the fuck did you put in that?"

Damien assumes she means the question rhetorically, since it was her idea to have them drink a fast-acting poison anyway, so their spirits wouldn't be trapped in their mortal bodies for longer than they needed to be.

"Speak the invocation," Damien growls, even as ominous grey clouds begin to form overhead.

"Right," Matti says. "The invocation." She clears her throat, and with it the first bolt of lightning flashes in the night. "The thunders of wrath slumber in the North, those which rest not, and know not time."

"Woe be to the Earth," the others say as a steady rumble of thunder roars in the distance.

"My iniquity shall be great," Matti says, her voice ragged as she struggles for breath. She lies back onto the table, her fingers clutching both sides of the table despite the flames now engulfing her. "This is the weirdest feeling ever; remind me never to let Damien kill me again."

"So it is done," Damien says, ignoring the comment and placing his palm flat against her forehead.

The flames lick his arm, catches the end of his robes on fire, but Damien ignores that for the moment. For a second, the tableau is frozen, even the flames seem to freeze in place. Then, Matti screams, a deep guttural sound that's more like a crash of thunder or the roar of a wounded beast. A bolt of lightning races down from the sky and strikes her, so bright it blinds Damien momentarily. When his vision clears enough, only Matti's robes remain as a charred pile of useless fabric in the center of the blaze. Damien pulls his arm away, the flames on his robes dying quickly.

"Levi, Beth, you're up," he says, trying not to stare at the way ugly red welts start to spring up on his raw, red skin. He's always found it strange that burns like this don't hurt him.

Levi and Beth each take a long swallow from the goblet and casually step into the flames, one after the other.

"Oh ye that range in the South and are the lanterns of sorrow, bring forth the army of Hell," they intone as one.

There's a rumbling in the earth, what could pass for an earthquake if Damien didn't know for a fact that around the state, hundred of hellmouths are ripping up the snow-covered land. Damien raises his hands to the sky, summons twin bolts of lightning to strike both Levi and Beth.

"I summon forth Dagon and Balaam, who are Mormo and Astaroth, who are both the Legion and the Leviathan, one and many, many in one. Come forward Plague, come forward Famine!" he cries, and the flames roar up again, engulfing the weirdly contorting shapes of Levi and Beth, past almost the tops of the surrounding trees.

Another flash of lightning, one last rumble of thunder, and a horde of locust erupt into the sky, winding a path towards South Park. After a handful of seconds, the fire dies down to glowing embers. Hyacinth pulls off her hood, pulling her hair out and letting it spill across her shoulders in sharp contrast.

"Are you really ready for this?" she asks, just above a whisper.

No, he wants to say. I need more time with this world.

"I will be by next week," he says instead.

"Good. You'll call the others when we'll need them, right?"

"Yeah." Damien looks up, past the tops of their grove, where he can already see thin wisps of smoke from the direction of Denver. "Let them have their fun for a while."

"Come on then," Hyacinth says. "We have school tomorrow."

Damien laughs at that, kicks aside a clump of grey snow as he passes the fire.

"Right," he answers, following the slowly retreating form of Death, "Because our Economics test is so high on our list of priorities right now."

Hyacinth doesn't answer, but Damien didn't expect her to anyway.

Predictably, the apocalypse starts and they're not even excused from school.

Okay, well, technically the apocalypse hasn't started yet, because God had told Kenny that it'd be "on the something something Hallow's Eve," which probably means the thirty-first since, you know, Halloweeen. Also, Damien and Hyacinth are still hanging around, not trying very hard to look like they're not the ones responsible for the way the world's gone to shit in the past couple of days.

However, Kenny wakes up on the twenty-sixth and he can see at least six fires raging within South Park. He sighs and peels himself out of bed, spends a couple of confused, half-asleep minutes searching for his parka before he realizes that he wore it to sleep last night and stumbles into the kitchen.

Hyacinth is there, which makes him pause, and once his brain switches into Awake Mode it causes a panic in him. This is Death, no matter what she says, and she's in Kenny's house while the world goes to shit, and fuck, where is Karen; if anything fucking happens to her—

"Quit worrying," Hyacinth says, playing with a dull steak knife. "Even when you don't say anything, you always manage to worry loudly. Your sister is fine," she adds when Kenny doesn't move from his spot at the doorway.

Kenny lets his bones go liquid with relief, stumbles into the kitchen and takes the seat opposite Hyacinth at the kitchen table.

"What's up?" he asks when he can't think of anything better to say.

"Nothing," she says. "Just waiting on you."

With that she stands, throws the knife lazily, where it embeds itself half an inch deep into the drywall beside the fridge.

"Where are Damien and Pip?" Kenny asks.

He knows better than to ask about Beth, Matti, and Levi though. If the news reports are anything to go by, those three have been very busy. Kenny ignores the sharp spike of frustration, except that of course they were three of the four horsemen of the apocalypse; how had Kenny missed that?

"Damien and Pip are no longer an item," Hyacinth says lightly, wandering over to the sidewalk, where a spotless white sports car gleams in the early morning light. Quietly, almost to herself, she adds, "At least, they better not be."

"Why not?" Kenny asks, only momentarily distracted by Hyacinth's car. Come to think of it, Kenny's not seen Damien and Pip together for the past ten days or so. To be fair, he's been preoccupied with the end of the world and everything, so he hadn't really noticed. When he jumps into the passenger seat, he notices that the interior is white leather; cool. "I thought they were good for each other."

"They really aren't," Hyacinth says.

The engine comes to life with a roar and, with no regard to traffic (if there was any, Kenny would be so dead before nine today), swerves onto the main road.

"Is this some sort of weird jealousy thing?" Kenny asks after a second. He fiddles with the radio, but all he gets is static and weird Satanic-sounding chants, so he turns it off again. "Because if it is, I thought we had something special."

Hyacinth scowls at that, and unholy fuck, that is one of the scariest things Kenny's ever seen. The air inside the car drops until Kenny's breath comes out as a thick mist, her skin darkens to a light grey, like it might peel off if someone were to touch it. It occurs to Kenny that Death isn't in her true form, that she's somehow trapped inside a mortal body, that every now and then her power must try to explode out of the meat bag she's chained to, and it must be fucking painful. But it lasts for just a handful of seconds, before she blinks quickly, nearly drives them off the road into someone's house, and shakes her head, flooding the car with warmth.

"This isn't about you, Kenny," she says, and Kenny pretends like that doesn't hurt his ego. "This is about Damien finishing what he started. He can't do that with Pip around."

"Why not?"

Hyacinth breaks abruptly, nearly sending Kenny crashing into the windshield. The car behind them honks, but they both ignore it. The streetlight before them turns yellow, and a few seconds later, an eighteen-wheeler barrels through the intersection, its horn blaring an ominous warning.

"Look, we never told you why we were here," she starts.

"I figured it out eventually."

Hyacinth quirks the side of her mouth, shifts the car into gear and pushes them onto the interstate.

"Good," she says. "So you know what Damien needs to do. And Pip—complicates things. So we took Pip out of the equation."

"Please tell me you did not kill Pip," Kenny says as they pull into the school parking lot a few minutes later.

"Of course not," Hyacinth says, waving her hand dismissively. "But I will if he gets in our way."

Kenny sits in her car, mulling her words over, until Hyacinth calls out for him and he scrambles out. The bell rings minutes later, and he probably promises to meet Hyacinth for lunch later, but doesn't really pay attention to the conversation.

The only class Kenny has with Pip is after lunch, so he won't be able to talk to him until then, if Hyacinth is right and him and Damien really did split. Kenny doesn't really believe that they did; from what he can tell it would have been Hyacinth's idea, and there's no way Damien would take orders from anyone, even Death. But Kenny does have Damien for Pre-cal second period, and now that he's noticing, the antichrist does look more pissed off with the world than normal, and he won't look at Kenny for the whole class.

Plus, for the past month, Pip has been waiting outside the class for Damien, and his absence says more than Damien ever could.

Kenny gets it, halfway through Mrs. Garcia's math class. He's about two more minutes away from sleep when he sits up all the way, nearly throws out an obscenity in his excitement while he's at it.

God had said he would know him when he knew him, and aside from the weird sexual vibes Kenny got from that phrase, the certainty he feels pooling around his chest is enough evidence for Kenny to search out Pip right when the bell for lunch rings.

Kenny finds Pip eventually, eating a sandwich with his back pressed against a brick wall, under a secluded stairwell near the English Hall. Every now and then, he looks around quickly, shrinks back into the shadows a little ebit more. He looks like he's hiding from someone.

Of course he's hiding from someone, Kenny thinks to himself, and looks around himself, in case Hyacinth's spotted him or Damien decides to come around. But they're completely alone, which is a miracle in itself. Pip sees him almost immediately, and a tiny flicker of panic crosses his face before it's replaced by a weak smile.

Pip looks like shit. Pip's already pale to begin with, but now his skin's got this pasty quality to it that Kenny knows from experience comes with an ugly fight with insomnia. There are bags under his eyes, twin circles of dark skin that could almost pass for bruises. His eyes are red-rimmed and over-bright, not like he's been crying, but like he maybe was about to give in to the urge. Kenny's glad he found Pip when he did.

"Hey," Kenny says when he's in the shade of the stairwell too.

"Hello, Kenny," Pip says. "How are you?"

"Can't complain, really," he answers, sits beside him, back resting against the brick wall, refuses to meet the other boy's gaze. "I heard you and Damien—"

"Yes," Pip interrupts. He swallows audibly. "If it's all right with you, I'd rather not talk about it."

Kenny holds up his hands.

"Okay, hey, I can do that. I actually came over to talk to you about something different." That gains Pip's full attention, at any rate. Kenny tries to think of the best way to say the world needs you to kill your ex before Halloween. "So, I talked to God the other day," he starts, already convinced Pip won't believe him. He sounds so fucking crazy. "And he warned me about an apocalypse that's being brought about by D—um, by someone who we won't name but is pretty obviously behind an apocalypse."

Pip flinches a little, like Kenny had started yelling and threatening him.

"Of course," Pip says, "It would make a great deal of sense."

"Right," Kenny answers, bites back his sarcastic retort because Pip looks like a scared deer about to bolt. "So, um, funny thing about this particular end of days. God said—it doesn't matter what he'd said, exactly, but the short end of it is that you're the only one who can stop it."

Pip sets his sandwich down carefully on the ground beside him. He takes his hat off and runs a hand through his hair, closes his eyes while he does so. He looks so damn defeated that Kenny has to resist the urge to wrap him up in a companionable hug, to let the other boy know that Kenny cares. Instead, he waits out the impulse until Pip sighs.

"Even if I believed you, Kenny, how am I supposed to do that?"

Kenny looks away, lets his gaze sweep over the football field and the neatly lined rows of portables off to their side. He almost misses the strange look that passes over Pip's face, one that looks like horror and resignation mixed into one. Kenny gets it; saving the world is kind of a lot to ask of a kid.

"I don't know," Kenny admits. "God wasn't really all that forthright when he talked to me."

The bell startles the shit out of Kenny then. Pip stands like he'd been expecting it and holds out a hand to Kenny, who's a little busy trying not to have a heart attack.

"Don't worry though," Kenny says, serious like he seldom ever is. "We'll figure something out."

"I'm sure you will, Kenny," Pip says, smiles a tight smile that doesn't quite reach his eyes.

Kenny wants to say something, anything that will maybe help Pip through this—he's been through bad breakups before, knows the ugly, ripped-apart feeling Pip must be trying to endure—but there's nothing he can really say that will help. Plus, there's a booming voice in his head that keeps reminding him that He drew the Evil One's own sword, and beheaded him.

"I'll see you around," Kenny says then, because he can't think of anything better to say.

"Yes, I suppose you will," Pip answers.

"Hey, and Pip? I'm sorry," he adds, once Pip is almost out of earshot.

Kenny watches the way Pip freezes for a second, before he turns and gives Kenny a genuine smile. He notices the way it lights up Pip's face, the way it makes him look innocent again for a couple of seconds, and his heart breaks a little when it dims away to something wistful and broken.

"Thank you, Kenny," Pip says before he disappears up the stairs and to the English hall.

"Don't thank me just yet," Kenny mumbles to himself.

He stands there while a flood of students starts to scramble by him, thinks about the next few days, thinks about the happiness he'd seen in both Damien and Pip not even two weeks ago. He hates that he has to be so involved in this, hates that he has to stick himself in the middle of Damien and Pip's lover's tiff. Mostly though, he hates that he's just told Pip he has to kill the boy he very obviously still loves (because even if he didn't say it, he knows it, knows that Pip's going to have to, and it makes him sick a little).

Pip isn't there when he stumbles into class seconds before the tardy bell. Kenny can't say that he blames the boy for ditching. He does have a lot to mull over, after all.

"You've got to be kidding me."

Stan stands framed by his doorway in utter disbelief. Before him, Wendy scowls, clearly unimpressed.

"I'm being serious!" she says, tossing her hair out of her face emphatically. "This year, whoever wins the costume contest gets a five hundred dollar scholarship. I told Kenny about it too!"

"No way Wendy," Stan says, crossing his arms and shaking his head. "I don't care if they give a million dollars to the winner. I am not dressing up as Raggedy Andy for Halloween this year."

Again, Stan very much doesn't add as an afterthought. A cold breeze whips by, and Stan rubs at his arms, notes the seconds that pass by where Wendy very much doesn't back down. Stan feels his resolve crumbling.

"Look, do you want to come in?" he asks, fighting the inevitable. He is not going to be Raggedy Andy this year. No fucking way.

"I can't," she says. She doesn't move from her spot on Stan's doorstep. After a second, she bites her lip and adds, "I have a study session in Beaverton in half an hour."

"Right," says Stan, "of course you do."

Wendy scowls, but after a minute, the look grows a little softer. She reaches out to him, but stops at the last second, her hand hovering in the space between them, like there's a pane of glass separating them.

"I already bought the costumes," she says. She talks over Stan's undignified squawk of indignation. "I'll bring them over later in the week."

"Wait, Wendy, you can't just—" Stan says, frustrated, but she's already turned tail and run, so Stan doesn't bother to finish his thought.

He watches her pile into her electric car, waits until she's pulled out of his driveway before he curses under his breath. Of course she'd bought their costumes before even bothering to consult Stan. Apparently, she's under the impression that Halloween has never been much of a big deal to him. Which, fuck, if that's true then she's obviously not been paying very much attention over the course of their entire lives.

Slamming doors is a childish endeavor best suited to more dramatic interactions, Stan reminds himself, and counts to five slowly before carefully (and silently) shutting it again.

He takes the stairs two at a time in an attempt to dissipate the sudden nervous energy that thrums through his body. It's been a habit of his since middle school—when his legs had finally grown long enough to skip a stair. He takes a moment to rub his hands together before he pushes the door to his bedroom open.

The blast of icy wind that assails him as he steps in is unexpected, but what really catches Stan's attention is the lanky form of his best friend halfway under his bed, with only his legs poking out from underneath. A thin strip of pale skin is exposed to the chilly air from where his jacket had ridden up.

"Kyle?" he asks incredulously.

The form under his bed twitches at Stan's voice. There's a loud crack and a string of muffled curses as Kyle emerges from under his bed with a scowl on his face. His hair has been meticulously straightened today, and it hangs around his face a little wildly after the excursion under Stan's bed. In his left hand, he clutches truly hideous pair of Stan's old pajama bottoms, once blue but now a faded turquoise from age.

"Have you seen my hat?" Kyle asks, instead of explaining how he's managed to get upstairs into Stan's room without him noticing. Kyle throws Stan's pajamas across the room and glares at them darkly. "I can't find it anywhere."

"Uh, have you tried looking through your own room?" Stan tries.

He's rewarded for his concern with Kyle's middle finger, which is just rude, really. Kyle shouldn't be so mean with his best friend, especially when he's faced with the ominous certainty of being humiliated for Halloween again.

"Okay, what's up, dude?" Kyle asks, frowning at Stan. "I haven't seen you pout this hard since fourth grade."

"I'm not pouting," Stan says, crosses his arms and fails spectacularly at not-pouting.


Kyle dusts off his indecently skinny jeans and hops up onto Stan's bed. He raises an eyebrow in a way Stan's never managed to imitate, and Stan feels his irritation melt into something more like dread. He sighs.

"It's Wendy," Stan begins, pauses at the weird, almost panicked look that flashes over Kyle's features. "She wants me to, to—"

Stan's voice shrivels up in his throat at just the image of himself he conjures up, with the facepaint and hideous red wig and God what has he gotten himself into?

"It's okay, Stan," Kyle says. His lips quirk into a smile that somehow doesn't look quite right. "It's okay if you're not ready for some things."

Stan blinks.


Kyle looks down at the floor, his smile widening and becoming more real. Stan notices that from that angle, Kyle's eyelashes go on forever. When he looks up again, there's a full-blown smirk on his face.

"Ha, funny," Stan says. "No. She wants to dress up as Raggedy Anne for Halloween." When Kyle continues to stare at him, Stan waves his arms around. "And she wants me to dress up as her Andy!"

"Okay," Kyle says. "So?"

"There's a contest. For money. And makeup! Kyle, I don't think you understand the seriousness of my problem here."

"Sorry," Kyle says, perfect deadpan.

Stan sighs and crawls into his bed with his back leaning against the wall, close enough to Kyle that their shoulders bump.

"The thing is," Stan starts after a few seconds of silence, trying to put into words the tetchy feeling in his stomach. "She does all these things right, and just expects me to go along with her. Like, my opinion hardly even matters to her." He hesitates for a second, because he doesn't think he's ever said this next part out loud, and it scares the fuck out of him. "I don't know why I keep going back to her."

Kyle has nothing to say to that, but he doesn't move away either. Stan lets the press of Kyle's shoulder be reassurance enough.

Damien is in New York for the night, standing on the rooftop of some forgotten building while the neighborhood burns around him. There are people screaming and car horns blaring, and the sounds of destruction and death are soothing, remind him of home for a few long seconds. He eyes the skyline, wonders if it would be worth the effort to magically summon Matti, but at that moment he hears a faint repetitive rumbling sound in the distance. If he concentrates hard enough, he can hear the sound of thousands of feet marching in a steady cadence through the carnage. Damien smirks to himself. Perfect.

He disappears in a flash of smoke, reappears on West 77th street, where War has assembled an army of demons and other grotesque monsters in the pavilion just outside the museum. Hundreds are marching into and out of the area, some in perfect synchronization, others in a whirlwind of chaos and destruction. War swoops down to him in her demon form, her wing-span so wide it momentarily overshadows the moon. She lands by his side, snaps her beak once and morphs back into something resembling her mortal form.

"Is it time already?" she asks with a frown.

"Yeah," Damien says. He can feel the electricity surging around him, a steady pulse that's been increasing for weeks now. It's only a few hours now before he comes of age, when his powers will be fully realized on Earth, and he can't fucking wait now.

"All right," she says, casts one last look around the scene around them.

Then, she sighs and transforms back into her demon form. She bats her heavy leathery wings and ascends into the night sky, an eerie, ear-splitting shriek escaping her.

"Find Famine and Plague before you get back to South Park!" Damien calls after her.

War doesn't give any sign of acknowledgement, but then her shadowy presence veers sharply to the right on the horizon, like she's abruptly changed course. That's answer enough for Damien. As easy as blinking now, Damien teleports himself back to the outskirts of South Park, where the town sleeps peacefully, comparatively speaking anyway.

The temperature change is a little jarring, going from the warmth of New York City burning to the perpetual snow-traps of South Park, and for a second it reminds Damien of the first few weeks he'd been back in the town. He remembers again Registration day, the way Pip's hair shone in the sunlight and—

Okay, he really needs to stop with this sappy pining bullshit.

He was the one who broke things off with Pip, who finally gave in to Hyacinth's reasoning. He's found that if he doesn't think about it, he hates himself a little less. It's a little easier now with everything that's going on, with the way magic thrums in his veins, to forget the way Pip shuddered underneath him when he came, but not by much.

Damien shakes his head once to clear it, ducks into the forest and hurries to his and Pip's favorite hang-out spot. Hyacinth is already there, along with War, Famine, and Plague.

"What kept you?" Hyacinth asks, moving into the center of the clearing.

War, Famine, and Plague spread out around her. Damien moves to stand within their imaginary circle and ignores Hyacinth's remark. He feels it immediately when his magic touches the energy of the other horsepeople; it's a steady press of low-level electricity just under his skin, something that feels like the calm before a storm.

He feels it when the seconds cross them past midnight, feels a sudden influx of energy surge through his body that leaves him lightheaded for a second, energy and magic that wants to explode out of his skin and into the universe. It's time.

"Ready?" he asks. The others nod, strangely quiet now that their moment has finally come. Damien raises his arms, feels the static energy crackle around them as the others follow suit. "O Death," he begins, and immediately the ground beneath them begins to tremble, like it's only been waiting for Damien to call to it. "Unleash your judgment upon this realm."

"We summon you," the others chant, and Damien reaches into his boot and pulls out his dagger, ignores the stubborn voice in his head that reminds him where its pair is.

He hands it over wordlessly to Hyacinth, who takes it and in one quick, steady motion, slices through her neck. Blood gushes out of the wound as she tumbles to the ground, her body making wet, rattling noises as she takes desperate breaths.

She takes one long, slow breath, and with the exhale, everything around them stills. Hyacinth's breath hangs in the air like smoke frozen in place, and her skin turns grey, rots and flakes away in places. When she looks up, her eyes lock with Damien's, a pair of sunken, solid black eyes that look more like eye sockets than anything else. She pulls herself up, the skin on her hands shriveling away until only the sharp grey-white bones remain. She looks away, uses the last moments of stillness to summon her ragged black cloak.

Then, like someone suddenly turned the volume up again, an icy wind blasts through the clearing with a ferocious roar. Death pulls the hood of her cloak up over her face.

"Ready?" she asks, her voice like a whisper in Damien's mind.

He nods.

Death raises one hand, palm out, and mutters something in Latin. The Earth makes a sound like a wounded beast, rips open at the seams and with a low creaking noise, Damien feels the Gates of Hell open. He has a vision of hellmouths all around the world ripping open in violent earthquakes and volcanoes, children and parents alike screaming and dying. He smiles.

"Perfect," he says, and as one, they turn to head into South Park, to observe their handiwork firsthand.

Stan stumbles out of bed at way-too-fucking-early in the morning and doesn't even bother pulling open his blinds. He stumbles into his bathroom still half-asleep and starts to pull on the costume Wendy gave him.

"For the record," Stan tells his reflection as he adjusts his red wig, "it can never be said that I don't take Halloween seriously."

He's never missed the chance to dress up on Halloween, is the thing, and Wendy sprung this horrifying idea on him early enough in the month that he'd not had any reason to go looking for a different costume. There are a few explosions and a lot of screaming going on outside as he's getting ready, but Stan doesn't really think much of them until there's a knock on his door.

He stumbles down the stairs, forcing the sleep-fog to clear from his brain. When he answers it, Wendy is standing there, her Raggedy Ann costume in one hand and a hairy looking fur ball thing in the other.

"Hey, Stan," she says cautiously. "Can I come in?"

"Sure," Stan answers. Wendy crosses inside and Stan notices idly that Craig's front yard is on fire. He closes the door. "What did you want to talk about? Why aren't you in costume yet?"

"That's what I wanted to talk to you about," she says. "Stan, why are we still dating?"

That wakes him up all the way.


"Why are we still dating?" Wendy repeats, frowning slightly. She takes a step towards him, and Stan backs away, bringing his hands up like he can stop the flood of words about to pour out of her mouth. "We've been doing this for years, Stan. Have you ever wondered why?"

"Because—I love you," Stan tries, but even to his own ears it sounds like a question.

"If that were true, why do we keep breaking up?" Wendy looks away. She places her costume along the top of Stan's couch, the little red polka dots sharply contrasting against the crisp blue of the dress.

"Are you," Stan tries, and the words dry up in his throat. "Wait. Are you breaking up with me?"

"I'm tired, Stan," she answers. "I'm tired of us playing this game."

"You are," Stan says, his voice rising a few octaves in indignation. "You are totally breaking up with me!"

"I'm sorry, Stan."

"No way dude," Stan says, and that finally makes Wendy's head snap back to him. "You made me put this stupid costume on! We can break up, fine, if that's what you want, but you have to at least share in my humiliation!"

"What are you—Stan," and now Wendy sounds annoyed. "I'm not putting on the Raggedy Ann costume for you. And in case you didn't notice, Stan, there are more important things to worry about than a silly Halloween costume!"

"What can be more important than Halloween, Wendy?" Stan asks seriously.

"The Apocalypse!" she says, frustrated, marches over to one of the windows and pulls back the curtains.

Outside is—well, okay. It looks like the apocalypse hit South Park again. Craig's front yard is still on fire, which his brain only just realizes is something out-of-the-ordinary. Everyone's running around in the standard South Park Panic Mode, looting things and crashing into each other and running cars into buildings. Stan's pretty amazed that he hadn't realized it sooner.

"Huh," Stan says.

Wendy makes a frustrated sound in the back of her throat. She pulls on the hairy thing she'd brought with her, which ends up being a Chewbacca mask.

"Go find Kyle and Kenny," Wendy says, her voice sounding echoing weirdly in the mask. "Make sure they haven't gotten themselves killed."

"Wait, Wendy, you can't just—What is your obsession with Chewbacca anyway!!"

But Wendy's already stormed out no doubt heading off to save the world or something. Stan pouts for all of ten minutes before he realizes that Kyle, Kyle can solve everything and rushes back into his room to find his phone.

Kyle eventually agrees to meet Stan at his house to talk about the end of the world, and because Stan is actually a manipulative bastard sometimes, doesn't tell him until he's safely trapped in Stan's house about Wendy's betrayal.

"No way, dude," Kyle says because he's so fucking smart. He possibly also saw the costume Wendy conveniently left on the sofa. "I know where this is going. No way am I dressing up as a girl."

"Raggedy Ann!" Stan says in his most convincing voice. "Kyle. Please?" Kyle crosses his arms over his chest and scowls. Stan pouts, turns his most pathetic look to Kyle, who predictably hesitates. Kyle's never been able to resist Stan's puppy dog eyes. "It's the end of the world, Kyle! I can't run around looking like an idiot on my own, can I? Plus, dude, I just got dumped."

"Dammit," Kyle says and snatches up the costume viciously.

Stan beams at him.

"Dude, I love you so hard right now," he says, giving in the urge to pull Kyle into a manly best-friend's hug.

"Get off me, dude," Kyle says, pushing Stan away.

The tops of his cheeks are flushed though, so Stan knows he'll get over his anger. Kyle disappears into one of the downstairs bathrooms for around fifteen minutes, time that Stan spends trying to think up ways to stop the end of the world.

They should probably call up Kenny. He's got a little bit more experience handling angels and demons and shit like that. Stan's just pulled out his cell phone to text Kenny when Kyle steps back into the living room. Stan looks up from his message and—


"Well?" Kyle says after Stan stares at him for a couple of seconds.

"You look—"

Stan's brain has apparently stuttered to a stop. Kyle is standing there in that indecently short blue dress, candy-cane stockings that come up just above his knees. The top of the costume stretches tightly over Kyle's chest; because Wendy and Kyle have around the same build if the weight is distributed around slightly. He's pulled the little white bonnet over his own hair, which pools out around the bottom of the cap. He's holding the red wig in his hands, fiddling with the strands of yarn, barely covering up what looks like miles of Kyle's sculpted thighs.

Kyle looks—he looks fucking hot.

"Stan?" Kyle tries again. Stan shakes his head and notices then that Kyle's frowning at him around a flush, one that is spreading down the length of Kyle's neck. "Are you okay dude?"

"Yeah," Stan says weakly, swallowing heavily. Vaguely, he thinks that he should be making light of the situation; that's what friends would do with each other right? Not stare at Kyle's bare thighs when he drops the wig down on the sofa. "I'm. Uh. You look—"

"Don't even," Kyle says and collapses onto the sofa.

The dress rides up, because that is what dresses do apparently, they ride up (and how is that even possible that should be illegal), and the top of the skirt comes so fucking close to—

"Uh, Apocalypse," Stan says intelligently, forcing himself to look away from his friend (Your friend, he thinks to himself. Dammit Stan, this is your Best Friend; you can't be attracted to him.).

"Right," Kyle says. Stan snatches a quick glance at Kyle, who is trying vainly to pull down the skirt a little. "Have you tried calling Kenny? He probably knows more about this than we do."

Just then, the doorbell rings. Stan rushes to answer it because he needs any type of distraction to get himself away from Kyle right now. He's expecting Kenny, since Kenny has a creepy habit of turning up exactly when they need him most, but when he opens the door, Pip is the one standing there.

He's dressed in an angel's costume, which Stan thinks is more than a little ironic.

"Stan," Pip says, looking more than a little terrified. "I need your help."

School finally gets cancelled due to the apparent end of the world. Kenny thinks it's probably got a lot more to do with the fact that most of the buildings for the school are a giant bonfire of white-hot flames instead of the school district's interest in anyone's soul. However, this means that the apocalypse has officially started, and since Kenny has never really been one to keep up with the news, it all feels sort of anticlimactic.

Then again, if he'd bothered to turn on the radio when he woke up, he probably would have heard about school being cancelled. There are probably other things he'd have heard about too, political things that aren't very interesting to him. But Kenny did wake up today sometime just after two in the afternoon, so he was mostly scrambling out his door in a blind panic this afternoon.

So he sighs, looks around the abandoned area, where puddles of melted snow mix with blood and ash. There's a couple of cars parked along the side of one wall, and Kenny wonders just who the fuck would be stupid enough to be at school at a time like this when he recognizes one of the cars. He races over to Stan's beat up hybrid, sure for one terrifying moment that him and Kyle were killed last night, and fuck, why would they be stupid enough to drive anywhere during the fucking apocalypse?

The car is empty. Kenny runs a hand over the top of his parka, frustrated.

"Hey asshole, over here," Cartman's voice says from the shadow of an upturned garbage can. Kenny looks over and sure enough, there's Cartman, hands crossed over his chest and a scowl on his face.

"Cartman!" Kenny calls, more gratified than he'd ever admit. He rushes over and only just manages to avoid colliding with him when he slips on a patch of icy cement. "What are you doing here? Have you seen Stan or Kyle?"

"Yeah, they're the douchebags who dragged me to school on the greatest day ever," Cartman says.

Kenny chooses to ignore that and instead follows him wordlessly into the nearest building, which ends up being the auditorium. They cross all the way to the stage in silence, but when Kenny sees Stan, alive and unharmed, he can't help the happy sound that comes out of his mouth. Stan looks up sharply, smiles when he sees who it is.

Then Kenny notices what he's wearing, and swallows back a laugh.

"Stan!" Kenny says, jumping up onto the stage. "I thought you might have died. Where's Kyle. Also, what the fuck are you wearing?"

"It's Halloween," Stan responds stubbornly, crossing his arms over his totally fucking ridiculous costume. He shakes his head, and Kenny watches the way the thick strands of red yarn bounce around in glee. "And it was Wendy's idea. Blame her. There was a scholarship or something? But--"

"Oh," Kenny says, pulls the hood of his parka off. He may still have a thing against costume-contests. He blames Korn and pirate ghosts, but he's not worn a Halloween costume since fourth grade. Also, he thinks he remembers Wendy mentioning the contest to him once before. "Right. So where's your Raggedy Ann then?"

Stan blushes so hard it's noticeable through the thin layer of white face paint he's got on.

"I don't care where Wendy is," he mumbles darkly. "She decided last minute to pull out her Chubaca costume." Kenny laughs at that, loud and for so long that tears threaten to spill out of his eyes. "Dude, shut up! It's not that funny!"

"It kind of is," Kenny says, catching his breath. "I mean, it's a standard case of Fool Me Once, Shame on Me, Fool Me Twice--"

"Oh fuck off."

Stan looks away, fiddles with whatever he'd been holding before Kenny came by, except—

"Holy shit dude, is that a gun?"

"Yeah," Stan says, shrugs sheepishly. "They're um. They're Christophe's."

"You brought The Mole with you to school?"

"Non," The Mole says, appearing out of fucking nowhere and scaring the shit out of Kenny. "Zey interrupted me."

"Well it's not like you would have gotten very far in your save-the-goddamn-world scheme if we hadn't have shown up with Pip," Stan says defensively.

"Wait, back up," Kenny says, his gaze darting between Stan and The Mole. "Pip's here too?"

"Yeah," Cartman says. He's climbed the steps up to the stage while Kenny wasn't looking, and is sitting on a hideous purple armchair that's gathering dust towards the back. "He came to us looking for help to destroy his cock-sucking boyfriend."

"He came to Kyle and me," Stan corrects automatically, although he does notice that Stan's neck flushes a little at the mention of Kyle. "No one would ask you to help them stop the apocalypse."

"Whatever, Stan." Cartman makes a great show of dusting off the bottom of his jeans. "Like I give a fuck."

"So where are Kyle and Pip?" Kenny asks after a second.

"Backstage," Stan says.

He's holding the gun somewhat awkwardly, both hands wrapped tightly around the handle, fingers no where near the trigger. After a second he carefully places it back on a wobbly table. It would be endearing, considering how often Stan's had to handle a gun in his life, if the apocalypse wasn't going on or anything.

"Okay," Kenny says because he still can't really wrap his mind around what's going on. "Let's try from the beginning. What's going on?"

He may still be half-asleep. Stan and Christophe share a look that seems to say you or me? Christophe pulls a cigarette out of wherever it is he keeps them and lights up, watching Stan with dark eyes. Stan sighs.

"Okay," he starts. "So, apocalypse. We probably should have seen it coming."

"I kind of did," Kenny admits grudgingly. Stan and Christophe both raise an eyebrow, and Kenny wishes for a second he knew how to do that. He never could get his eyebrows to move independently. "It's not like I could tell anyone! God told me!"

Which is how Kenny ends up explaining how he'd gone up to heaven that last time he'd died, and the little conversation he'd had with His Holiest of Holies. He leaves out the thing with the tree and it withering beneath his palm, because just thinking about it makes a shiver run up his spine. Plus, he's pretty sure God had implied that Kenny would never have a permanent place in heaven, and he isn't particularly fond of that idea.

"So that's where Pip got the idea from," Stan says sometime later. "We'd thought Damien had told him."

"Why would Damien tell the only person who could destroy him that he could—well, destroy him?"

"Dude, Damien was totally Pip's bitch," Cartman says. "He told Pip everything."

Which, okay, yeah, that was kind of true. Except that for this, it wasn't. Kenny wonders then what Pip must think of this, and like thinking of him summons the boy, Pip wanders into the room, looking just a little bit lost. He's in a long white gown-thing, and for a second Kenny thinks that he's dressed himself up as a bride before he notices the halo. Pip smiles.

"Hello, Kenny."

"Hey, Pip," Kenny says. "Apparently it's time to share with the class."

Pip blinks and looks away, his hair covering most of his face. He hikes up the robe just enough to expose his legs, where there's a holster of some kind strapped to his calf. From it he pulls out a fragile-looking dagger. Its blade shines like highly polished glass.

"This is Damien's," Pip says. "He gave it to me back when—" he stops, takes a deep breath, "before. I only thought of it last night, but he'd told me it was one of the only things in the universe that could injure him."

"His brothers were handsome and tall, but the Lord was not pleased with them," Kenny says, remembering suddenly the weird prophecy from before. "And so He went out the meet the Evil One and was cursed by his idols for it. But He drew The Evil One's own sword; He beheaded him, and removed reproach from the people of Israel. It's what God said."

"God told you," Christophe says around a snort. "You realize, Kenny, you are one of ze only people who can say that with a straight face?"

Kenny shrugs.

"How are we going to get Pip close enough to—"

"I am not going to murder Damien." Pip looks up from where he's been fiddling with the point of his knife. His finger slips and Kenny sees a bright flash of blood appear across Pip's pointer. "Oh dear," he says. The blade clatters to the floor as he hastily presses his thumb along the wound. "I mean, there has to be another way."

"You think you can just ask Damien if he will please stop zis apocalypse?" Christophe shakes his head. "No fucking way."

"You don't know that," Pip says, sweeps his gaze around the group of them. "None of you know Damien like I do."

"Um," Kenny says, raising his hand a little sheepishly. "Not to sound like, condescending or whatever, but I've known Damien for pretty much my entire fucking life and, well, I kind of have to agree with The Mole here."

"Righto." Pip takes a deep breath, lets it out slowly. "I didn't mean to—"

But Kyle takes that moment to appear from the bowels of the building, and Kenny has to stop everything because, holy shit what is he wearing?

"Holy shit dude," Kenny says. "What are you wearing?"

"Not important," Kyle says, but Cartman bursts out laughing, and Stan turns an improbable shade of red and Christophe just rolls his eyes, so Kenny's got to be missing something here.

"My fault," Stan says, looking at anywhere but Kyle. "Wendy bailed on me."

"So you immediately thought, who else would be crazy enough to dress up as Raggedy Anne for me?"

"Kenny," Kyle says, his voice inching into drop it, so Kenny does.

"If we are done with ze interruptions—"

But yeah, apparently not, not even close. There's a really ominous rumbling noise from the parking lot, and seconds later the entire left side of the auditorium decides to explode away.

Experience has taught Kenny to have terrifyingly acute duck-and-run instincts, so almost immediately he's rushed to Pip and tackles him into hiding behind a stack of stage platforms near the back. Christophe mutters a curse, and Kenny's pretty sure that was The Mole running towards the fireball, going to retrieve Pip's knife. He'd bet money on it.

Dense clouds of dust and smoke obscure everything for precious seconds. When everything's more or less settled the knife rushes through the air and impales itself in the floor by Kenny's feet. Kenny wrenches it out and hands it to Pip, handle first.

"Keep it safe," Kenny says, and jumps out from behind his hiding place.

The debris clears enough for Kenny to finally get a glimpse of their would-be attacker, and when he does, he swears his heart stops for a second.

Hyacinth is standing in the middle of the wreckage, dressed in the classic tattered robes Kenny knows so well. The claw-like bones of her hand are wrapped around her scythe. It's so cliché that Kenny thinks he would find it hilarious if he wasn't currently terrified.

"Kenny," she says, her voice the same as it had been not days ago. "I'm looking for Pip."

"I figured you might be," Kenny says, taking a step towards her and hoping Pip isn't stupid enough to show his face. "You just missed him."

"You're lying."

Kenny's always hated the fact that she can so easily read him.

"What do you need Pip for?"

And that's Stan's voice, stepping out from wherever he'd taken cover. His voice hardly even wavered, although he does hesitate slightly when Death drifts towards them. Kyle follows him out moments later.

"You already know," she answers.

She raises her arm, the one holding the scythe, and the platforms Pip has been hiding behind burst into flame. Kenny jumps away from the fire, watching as Pip and Cartman both come darting out from behind.

"Hello, Hyacinth," Pip says pleasantly. If Kenny didn't know any better, he would swear that Pip was just inviting his old friend to have tea or something.

"Hello, Pip," she responds. "I've been looking for you."

"I don't think it should have been too difficult for you."

Death shrugs slightly. It's a strange movement to see coming from the shrouded figure. Her hood is up, but Kenny gets the impression that for a second, she darts her gaze over to Kenny before answering.

"Perhaps not."

"You can't take Pip," Kyle says suddenly. "We won't let you!"

He takes an angry step forward, but Stan grabs him by the wrist to keep him away.

"Kyle," Stan whispers, loud enough for it to carry in the eerily silent room.

(Kenny would think that with the apocalypse happening, there would be more running and screaming going on outside, but maybe that creepy silence just follows Death around.)

Death turns to Kyle then, unmistakably. He swallows loudly, but sets his jaw and crosses his arms, determined.

"I do not want to kill you, Kyle," she says after a moment. "Or any of you. The others have grown fond of you. But I will kill you if I have to."

"You can't just—"

"Kyle, stop." Pip shuffles, like he's unsure of himself, before taking a deep breath and stepping forward. "I will go with you," he says, "if you don't hurt them."

"You misunderstand," is the reply. "I didn't come to take you anywhere."

She snaps her fingers, and suddenly Pip is standing right in front of her. Before anyone else can move, she's wrapped her claws around Pip's neck and lifts him until his feet are dangling off the floor. Pip's hands go to his throat automatically. Christophe springs out from his hiding place then with his gun raised, and it seems to snap Kyle and Stan into motion too. Death just knocks the end of her scythe against the floor, though, and all of them go flying off in different directions. Kenny hits one of the fancy auditorium chairs, catches the metal armrest against his temple, and for a second all he sees are stars.

"I just want your soul, Pip," Death says, loud enough for her voice to carry, probably so that all of them can hear.

Kenny sits up in time to watch her drop Pip, to see him fall like an empty shell. His body hits the ground with a quiet thump, the sound a deer makes in the woods when you've shot it just right. Get up, he thinks, so loud he's sure everyone can hear it. Pip, wake up. We need you.

Death begins to glide away, and that's what finally helps Kenny find his voice again.

"Why don't you just kill the rest of us then, too?" he tries not to scream at her; tries not to look at the crumpled form of Pip on the ground beside her, at the way his halo has been crumpled by the fall.

"Your friends will be useful in the new world order," Death says, like it's no big fucking deal. She pulls the hood of her cloak back, and that pretty teenage face flickers back onto her skull. She smiles. "And I need you, Kenny," she adds, crosses the feet between them and gently runs the back of her hand along Kenny's cheek.

Then she presses her lips to Kenny's, open-mouthed and chaste. It feels—weird, a little like falling off the side of a mountain, a little like that time he'd kissed Butters in sixth grade (so in love and so fucking happy he'd finally kissed Butters). She pulls away after a second and Kenny exhales.

"I would say that I'm sorry, Kenny," Death says, just for Kenny's ears, and shit, shit, he can't breathe. He can feel his chest constricting every time he tries to take a panicked inhale how is he even supposed to—"but really, I'm not."

She just looks at him for a few long seconds, as Kenny sinks to his knees and clutches at his throat. He hates suffocating to death, why would she fucking do this to him? Then, she snaps her fingers and disappears.

Kenny feels his vision start to blur. The room starts spinning, and he thinks he can make out a few smudges that may or may not be Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Christophe all rushing to his side.

"Don't," Kenny manages to gasp out, and that's when he feels a weird crawling sensation along his entire body.

It's a little like the time he was burned alive, like his skin was drying right onto his bones and fuck, that was a terrible way to go too. It's okay, he tries to say, but there's not enough breath in his lungs to form words now. He looks down at his hands and sees that slowly his flesh and muscles and shit, everything, is disappearing, until his glistening bones start to show through. He thinks of God then, of the tree in his courtyard withering beneath Kenny's palm, but then the dark edges of reality swallow him up, and he can't think about it anymore.

It feels like an eternity later when Kenny blinks awake. Everyone is looming over him, and for a second he feels nauseous, like he's suffering from the worst hangover ever.

"Holy shit dude," he mumbles.

"Kenny, are you okay?" Kyle asks.

"What did she do to you?" Christophe asks, motioning down to Kenny's arms.

He looks, and he feels sick again. All of his flesh, his muscles and tendons are just...gone. Kenny flexes his hands, just to make sure they're real, and the claw-like bones curl into menacing-looking fists. There's a tickling sensation in the back of his mind, like maybe he could bring the flesh back if he concentrated hard enough.

"It doesn't matter," Kenny says. "We have more important things to worry about." Then he looks up, remembering with a jolt. "What about Pip? Is—is he okay?"

Stan and Kyle look away, to where Pip's form has been moved. It's lying on its back a few feet away, the eyes closed like he might be sleeping.

"Dead," Christophe says curtly. He extends a hand to Kenny, who ignores it and hauls himself up. "We must find Damien."

"Right," Kenny says. "I'm sure I know exactly how this story ends."

But when Christophe hands him a gun, Kenny takes it and follows him wordlessly out the door, Stan, Kyle, and Cartman right behind.

The problem is that he shouldn't have a problem right now. The apocalypse is going off without a hitch, and when Damien looks around the burning remains of what used to be downtown Denver, he knows he should feel proud. Instead, he feels a strange yawning emptiness in his chest, like he's missing something important.

And well, Pip isn't here, is the problem. He shouldn't—he shouldn't be thinking about it still, after all he was the one who broke it off. But he is, and he can't stop, and Pip should be here. He should be joining Damien on this day; he should be here to smile sweetly and say something inappropriately polite, and he isn't.

Damien scowls and lights the nearest building on fire, tries to take his mind off of this train of thought.

Everything's been going according to plan. War's gone to Europe to subdue the entire area; Plague and Famine are either in the Middle East, Africa, or Russia. Death is supposed to be out conquering China, Japan and the Koreas, but it becomes clear that's exactly what she isn't doing when Damien spots her gliding serenely towards him.

She looks different, although Damien can't quite place why. She's still wearing her billowing cloak, the hood pulled down low over her face, and her scythe glistens faintly with freshly spilled blood. But there's just something off about her.

"What are you doing here?" he calls when she's within earshot.

"I had business to take care of," Death says, comes to a halt and turns away.

"What business could have been more important than taking over China?" he asks, circling her like a vulture until she's facing him again.

For a second she sort of flickers in and out of existence, here-and-gone-and-back. It stops Damien's heart for a second, because that can only happen when—

"What happened to your magic?" he asks urgently. "Did you, Hyacinth dammit, did you name your successor while you were away?"

"I didn't mean to!"

That's bad. That's really fucking awful.

"How do you expect to conquer an entire geological area when you're sharing your powers with some—Do you fucking realize—" and then he stops, because two ideas hit him suddenly. Kenny he thinks, of course, and then— "Wait. What do you mean 'you didn't mean to?'"

Death makes a sound deep in the back of her throat, but remains silent. Damien scowls at her. She was in South Park when she was supposed to be committing mass genocide in the Pacific; there was only one thing that could have been more important than that. But then that would mean...


"Pip," Damien breathes, all of his anger leaving him in a rush. Death flinches slightly, and that's all the evidence Damien needs to know it's the truth. But no, it can't be; Pip wasn't an issue anymore. That's why Damien broke up with him, to keep him safe. "What did you do to Pip?"


But with a crack of lightning, Damien is gone.

Damien finds him at school.

Technically, he finds Stan, Kyle, Cartman, Christophe, and Kenny about ten minutes outside of Denver, and they take him to Pip's body lying peacefully on the floor, but he honestly doesn't really bother with any of the other boys. Kenny is everyone's main focus right now, which is understandable since he may have just acquired a portion of Death's powers and may be well on his way to freaking the fuck out. Kenny takes a few quick breaths that look like hyperventilation, but Damien just moves past them and kneels beside Pip's body.

"What are you doing here?" Kyle asks again, angry.

Damien hasn't answered him the last eight times he's asked, and this time isn't any different. He doesn't even look embarrassed to be wearing what looks like some sort of dress. The others watch him then too, except for Kenny, who curls more and more into himself. His shoulders are shaking.

"I don't have time for this," Damien mutters.

He hesitates slightly, presses his hand against Pip's limp frame.

Fuck, he looks gorgeous. Dressed head-to-toe in white, he looks like what Damien imagines all the angels looked like after the fall. His halo hangs crooked from when he fell, no doubt, and there are dirt stains along the side of his arm. The bottom of his robes is a little tattered already, but thankfully, there isn't any blood.

He looks alive.

He looks like any moment now, he'll open his eyes and smile at Damien, like he was just sleeping. It fucking kills him. Damien was supposed to keep him safe, was supposed to watch out for him, that was why he gave Pip that damned dagger.

The dagger that can kill Damien.

It's strapped to Pip's leg, if Damien remembers correctly, and yes, it's still there when Damien hikes up Pip's robes a little. He pulls it out and just looks at it for a long moment.

"What are you doing?" And that's Stan this time, his voice halfway between anger and confusion.

"Getting Pip back," he says, his grip tightening around the hilt of his dagger.

He thinks of Pip's face when he gave it to the boy, the way he'd tasted when they'd first kissed. He can't be dead. Damien has to do this.

And that was Death's entire point, wasn't it? She thought Pip was dangerous, and so she did the only thing that made sense to her. But it would have been better if she hadn't done anything at all; Damien might have been able to go on if Pip were still safe, if he were somewhere Damien could see him.

"How are you going to do that?" Cartman asks, stepping away from Kenny and inching towards Damien. "Everyone else's powers are dependent on your magic, aren't they?" Everyone's attention snaps to Cartman, and after a second he flushes hotly and says, "What? I can know things!"

"How the fuck—" Kyle begins.

"Matti told me okay?" Cartman says defensively. "Once I'd figured out she was War."

"So if Damien dies, that just ends the apocalypse?" Stan asks.

"That's what Kenny was implying," Kyle says. "Kenny, what was that thing?"

"He took the Evil One's own sword," Kenny says, his voice small and flat. "He beheaded him, and removed reproach from the people."

Damien frowns at Kenny, distracted momentarily from Pip's form.

"Where did you hear that garbage?"

Kenny shrugs.


Damien shakes his head.

"I don't have time for this," he says again, and drops his head. He runs a hand along the back of his neck, follows the bumps of his spine until they connect with the back of his skull, and guides the tip of his dagger there. "Don't wait up, you guys."

"That's gonna hurt," Kenny supplies.

Damien ignores him. He takes a deep breath, then before he can chicken out of it, plunges the dagger into his neck to the hilt. And mother fucking shit, Kenny was right, that fucking hurts, but it only lasts for a few seconds. Then he blacks out, severs his only connection with the mortal world.

Hell is in the middle of a giant party when Damien gets there. No one seems to notice his arrival, since from what he can gather there's been one massive bender going on since he first unleashed War.

It takes him almost an hour to find Pip, who is sitting on a rock overlooking one of the larger party areas all around Hell. He's watching the party with a sad look on his face, his white robes tucked neatly under him. Damien gets a sick urge to wrap the boy in his arms and never let him go. Instead, Damien sighs and climbs up to Pip's sitting place. Pip spots him, and he doesn't run away at least. His lips turn up in a half-hearted sort of smile, the kind of smile that says he very much isn't happy.

Damien hates that smile.

"Hey," he says, at a loss now that he can finally talk to Pip again.

"Hello, Damien," Pip answers, looking back out over the landscape. "What are you doing here? I would have thought you've a bit on your plate."

"Yeah," Damien says. "Uh. A lot to do."

"I gathered as much, yes. And—And Hyacinth?"

Anger wells up in Damien at the mention of her name. How can Pip be so fucking blasé about this? About the demon that killed him for no reason more than he might get in the way?

"It's complicated," Damien says, the awkwardness between them making his anger fizzle down into something more timid. "I came to talk to you."

"You did?" Pip turns to him again, his blue eyes searching. Damien feels like he's been covered in battery acid, like inches of skin and muscle are peeling away and revealing something bloody and raw. "What did you need to tell me?"

"I didn't want Death to kill you," he says before he can chicken out of it. "I didn't mean for this to happen, Pip. You were supposed to be safe."

"Safe," Pip repeats, and stands. The two feet between them suddenly feels like an abyss. "How safe can one be when the world is ending, I wonder?"

"What do you want from me, Pip?" he asks, desperate suddenly to know the answer. "You know what I am; you've known from the start. I can't change that."

"Are you sure about that?" Pip takes a few steps closer, until his robes are fluttering close enough that Damien could reach out and grab a handful, if he wanted. "You're here, aren't you?"

"Because you weren't supposed to die," Damien snaps. "You were supposed to stay safe, and that didn't happen. So I came to make it happen."

Pip stares at him for a long time after that. Damien scowls and looks away. He doesn't know how to articulate his feelings, how to tell Pip that he's more important than anything that could possibly happen, than millennia of planning. He stays silent instead.

"What do you want from me?" he finally asks.

"Go back to earth," he says immediately, and can't figure out if he wants Pip to say yes or no. After all, when Damien had seen his corpse on the floor, there hadn't even been a doubt about what needed to happen. But now, now that he's realizing just what going back to earth would mean, he's not so sure.

"I don't," Pip starts, and takes a deep breath before finishing. "I don't want to live on earth if there's an apocalypse going on."

"Well, about that," Damien says. "It's not. Not anymore."

"What do you mean?"

Damien looks out over the crowd, the thousands of dead souls celebrating because it was supposed to be Damien's big day, and instead he's back down here. He wonders when the horsemen will show up and spoil everything. Maybe they are already down here.

"My mortal form can't leave the earth," he says. "It's got powers and everything, right? But it can't cross into the afterlife. I had to get out of it to follow you down here."

Pip shakes his head at that, the halo swinging with the force of his movements.

"You killed yourself?" Damien nods. "So what happened to Mattie and the others?"

"Probably they're down here by now too," Damien says. "They can't exist on earth the way they are now without me to ground them. Without me, they get sucked back into Hell."

"But why?" Pip asks. "Why would you do that?"

"Pip," Damien says. He grabs Pip's wrist gently to pull him close, makes sure he's looking Damien in the eye when he speaks again. "Before, when I—you know. I thought I knew what I wanted. But, I didn't. I know now."

"You do?"

"Yes," Damien says. He lets himself smile, just a little, just enough so Pip knows he's serious. "Pip. I just want you."

And finally, Pip smiles, and it's like every cliché known to fucking man, and Damien has no choice but to kiss him, chaste and sweet like the first time. And it doesn't matter then what his dad'll say in a few hours, or how the fuck he's going to explain this to War or Plague or Famine. It doesn't matter so much that he'll have to send Pip back up to earth because right now Pip's wrapped his arms around Damien's neck, buried his face in the crook of Damien's neck. Damien isn't lying to Pip either; he thinks he knows what he needs, and all he really needs is Pip.

And this? This right here, Pip in his arms while Hell burns around them, this is all that Damien really needs.