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An original story by
Jennifer Poulos

Characters, situations, and settings copyright © 2002-2003 Jennifer Poulos.

Day Seven: Cataclysm

Heart had tried to watch television in the morning, but there were mostly religious services on, and she quickly found she couldn't abide their ridiculous posturing and bloated self-importance. She crawled back into bed with Seraph, who was still asleep and would probably not be up until early afternoon. Stretching out on the bed and cradling her head in her arm, she spent several hours merely observing the succubus, memorizing every curve of her face, every soft heave of breath, every strand of hair.

She fascinated over her high cheekbones, the arch of her lip. Every lash held new splendor, the cleft of her throat was a rapture, the softness of her bosom a treasure. She engrossed herself in the pale white skin of her torso, which arched so gracefully down her hips and became the treacherous power of her nimble legs. Her thighs were like sculpted marble, and made a graceful curve down to her calves, from there tapering down to her gleaming lilac hooves, which twitched so cutely for a moment as she seemed to be having a dream.

She longed so much to touch her, to wake her, to be able to talk, and cuddle, and laugh. She did not want to wake her because she didn't want to interrupt her fitful sleep. But she longed so much for Seraph's company that just being with her was well enough. Finally, after several sighs from the succubus, Heart realized she was awake.

"Beloved?" she asked, worried. "I didn't wake you, did I?"

Seraph rolled over. "No, beloved, I've been awake for about twenty minutes. How long have you been laying there?"

"Since I woke up," Heart replied with a smile.

"Since sunrise?" Seraph asked, shocked. "What have you been doing all this time?"

"Gazing at you," Heart blushed. Seraph blushed, too.

"Weren't you bored?" she asked.

"No, beloved," Heart smiled. "I just wanted to be with you. I had fun watching you sleep! You're so beautiful."

Seraph turned even redder as she snuggled herself into the crook of Heart's arm.

"I can't believe you weren't bored," she rebutted.

Heart chuckled and squeezed the succubus.

"Looking at you can never be boring," she said definitively, putting all end to the discussion.

They stayed in bed, arms wrapped around each other, for almost another hour, just enjoying the feel of each other's skin on their own. It made them both feel so comfortable, so secure, just lying there, just touching. The strength of their unity was expressed in their embrace, which only tightened as they occasionally nuzzled one another.

Finally, Seraph looked up at Heart with mischief in her eyes.

"Are you ready to try the Jacuzzi yet?"

Heart's eyes brightened at the suggestion.

"Yes!" she cried eagerly, jumping up and following Seraph into the bathroom.

Very quickly, Heart discovered that Mama was quite right to push the Jacuzzi as a selling point. She was sure that if this were the only splendor offered by their humble home, she would have been perfectly happy, as long as she could spend long hours luxuriating in this state. She and Seraph chatted about the possibility of going to the Central Park Zoo the next weekend, filling the earliest parts of the afternoon with delight.

Their recreation suffered a momentary interruption, however, when with a sudden urgent jingle, the phone rang. It startled Heart, who had never heard a phone ring before, but Seraph sighed and rose.

"I'll get it," she sighed. A few moments later, she reappeared at the bathroom door, and Heart noticed the gravity in her expression.

"What's wrong?" she asked, worried that their day was spoilt.

Seraph shook her head. "A pipe burst in the club, and the whole floor is covered in water."

"Oh, no! You'll have to go in, won't you?" Heart's tone of voice made her disappointment evident.

"No, beloved," Seraph smiled. "Tony's got it under control. He's got all the bouncers wet-vaccing the floor. He just wanted Thor's cell number."

"Oh, goody!" Heart clapped in delight. "But those poor bouncers. Should we go in and help them?"

"Beloved, we're relaxing. It's Heart Rest Day," Seraph insisted. "Tony was eager to do it. I think he's trying to brown-nose me, but at least he's doing a good job."

Heart blushed with the first comment, and was pleased to hear that Tony was obliging, but she felt it necessary to reprove Seraph for her character assessment. This only endeared Seraph into a passionate kiss, and a lot of splashing and giggling, as they settled into a day destined for them to enjoy each other.

Lipton had awakened to find breakfast had already been prepared, and Thor was flipping through an issue of a Guns and Ammo from Lipton's coffee table. He was not altogether happy finding the Thunder God in his apartment once again, but Thor's cheerful demeanor and clever observations were such a compliment to his own that he found he liked the big lug's company. The fact that Thor could cook much better than he could also inclined him not to ask the god to leave.

"What the heck do you do for fun?" Thor said when Lipton sat down, his hands full with a loaded plate of eggs, bacon, sausage, and pancakes.

"Shoot guns. Fight with swords. Kickboxing. You know, totally unaggressive pursuits."

Thor chuckled. "No, really, Lipton, what do you do when you're not working, or training for work?"

Lipton sighed. "Not much. Sit here and watch the world self-destruct."

"Self-destruct? How?" Thor was shocked at his friend's cynicism.

"What do you mean how, Thor?" Lipton demanded heatedly, brandishing his fork about as he gestured. "Every day I go out there, and I see kids who've been shot by other kids. I see girls who should be in eighth grade offering themselves to strangers for sex. I see mothers and fathers who have turned their children into cowering wrecks. Humanity sucks." Chuckling, and remembering who he was addressing, he added, "I don't need to tell you that."

"No, you don't, 'cuz I'll never believe it," Thor snapped back, but only in the spirit of the conversation. "I see all those things, too. And I see other things. Look at what happened to this city with the World Trade Center! All those supplies that flooded in from all over the place, donated by people who weren't there—”

"I'd like to forget the World Trade Center, thank you," Lipton shot back. "In my professional opinion, it was a shitty day."

Thor chuckled without mirth, catching his friend's meaning.

"Besides," Lipton continued. "Why can't people do that all the time? Why can't people be nicer to each other? It would make my job a helluva lot easier."

"Well, you're not a total pessimist," Thor observed, astutely, "because you have the job you do."

Lipton sighed. "No, I guess not," he grudgingly agreed.

The gravity of the moment was relieved by a faint sound that grew louder as Thor removed its source from his pocket. That it was a cell phone amused Lipton, but the musical ring was "Ride of the Valkyries" in digital beeps. Suppressing the urge to sing about killing rabbits, Lipton instead burst out laughing. He couldn't contain it all through Thor's conversation, which except for the greeting was mostly silent on his end.

"Be right there," Thor said at the end.

Despite his disappointment at those words, Lipton couldn't resist delaying him a minute to poke some fun.

"What the hell does a god need with a cell phone?"

Thor shrugged. "People might suspect I'm not normal," he said, deadpan.

"Yeah, but Thor — 'Ride of the Valkyries'?"

"Hey, any one o' those girls could kick your ass, boy!" Thor scolded good-naturedly. Sighing, he added, "I gotta go to the club. They got a busted pipe, and we have to clean up the carpets before Miss Seraph's paintings are damaged. She'd have a shit-fit if that happened."

"She doesn't know?" Lipton asked innocently.

"She's not even there," Thor imparted. "She's spending the day with Miss Heart. Alone." He emphasized the last with a pointed glare before exiting.

Lipton grinned when he shut the door. He quickly finished breakfast, showered, and dressed. He checked the ammo in his 9mm and his .38, slipped into his trench coat, grabbed several extra clips, and looked out the window. Grinning like the Cheshire cat, he too left the apartment and hurried downstairs, out to the street, and around to the alley. There, he poked at a small pile of rags — one with a most suspicious halo that only he could see.

"I'm going to go see Seraph Darkfell," he said. Mary looked up at him in shock.

"Why are you telling me?" she demanded.

"Because you're invited, if you promise to behave."

"I don't think that's a good idea," Mary cautioned. Lipton was immediately suspicious.

"What did you do to her, Mary?" he demanded in a voice that threatened wrath.

"Nothing!" Mary desperately protested. "I just can't do it!"

He grabbed her arm and pulled her to her feet. She made no protest as he walked her down the street, and even relaxed her glamour, smoothing out the rags into her normal attire.

"Why can't you do it?" he wanted to know.

"Lipton," she warned, eyeing him. Then, sighing in resolution, she replied, "I made a promise."

Lipton laughed. "A promise! From you? All right, I get it now."

"What?" She turned to him, color heightening in her cheeks.

"You made a promise to leave her alone," Lipton said in a teasing voice. "And of all people, you definitely keep your promises."

"So then why don't you let go of my arm?"

"Because you're coming with me,"

"I can't!"

"Well, I'm not going alone, and I can't go with Thor. You're the only other supernatural being I'm friends with. You don't have to do anything, just stand there and look all holy. All right?"

Mary thought about it for a moment, thought about what had transpired the day before in her son's office, and her promise to him. She had said she wouldn't harm the succubus, but she had never said a thing about not paying the demon a visit. Besides, JC wouldn't make such a radical decision without reason; she knew him better than that. If there was a practical purpose for him leaving her alone, she wanted to see what it was.

In short, she wanted to see for herself this love from so unholy a creature.

"Fine, whatever," she said, trying to sound much less eager than she felt. "But if trouble starts, you're on your own."

"That's all I wanted to hear," Lipton grinned, and they both hastened to the Village.

Gabriel and Michael had passed a rather dull night atop the building that overlooked Lipton's, and had whiled away the hours playing gin rummy. That had worn thin, though, with the dawn, and finally, each of them had slipped into private reverie, neither one of them really needing sleep, and thus not bothering with it, as they might miss their target. Mary had not stirred all night, and she showed no signs of doing so all morning. Gabriel mused that the two might have to live there, if this kept up.

Michael's chuckle was cut short with an exclamation that made Gabriel wince. But the latter knew his partner's temper, and knew such words were reserved only for the severest of circumstances. He was immediately on his guard.

"What's the matter?" he asked.

"Thor's taking off," Michael pointed.

The big man was making his way down the street, talking on his cell phone. Gabriel raised an eyebrow.

"I wonder why he's deserting his post," he said.

"It better be pretty damn important," Michael began to fly off after Thor.

"Wait! We're supposed to be watching the Scion!" Gabriel protested, flying off after his partner.

"I didn't trust that guy," Michael narrowed his eyes at the war god below. He had largely ignored Gabriel's protest, and was focused only on Thor now.

"He must have a good reason," Gabriel urged.

"Like I said — he'd better."

Michael was not to be stopped, and Gabriel scrupled to desert him, although it meant they, too, were deserting their posts. Mary hadn't gone anywhere in the last twelve hours, and showed no signs of leaving her own perch under Lipton's apartment. Recalling her reaction to her son's questions, he chuckled inwardly and realized she was there waiting devotedly for the detective. Even now, she might be with him, admiring him in what Gabriel presumed was her demure manner. He really didn't know from experience what Mary's heart was like, but he knew a crush when he saw one, and thought they would probably be in this strange and futile courtship.

Or at least he hoped so. These thoughts calmed him, but they did not pacify him. He followed Michael in a silent state of turmoil, knowing he'd never forgive either of them if the detective were harmed.

It was in this way that they failed to observe Lipton and Mary's departure.

It did not go wholly unnoticed, however.

Resolved, Alphonse Lorenzo watched as Lipton exited his building, conversed with that rather striking young homeless girl, and then departed with her. He trailed them at a distance with such stealth as would have made his friend proud, had he not been the object of it. His particular attention was given, however, to his friend's companion. At first glance, sitting in the alley as she was, she'd looked like she was dressed in rags, but Lorenzo soon realized that this must have been a trick of the light, because her leather trench coat was unscathed, and of expensive make.

He observed her for some blocks, enjoying the way the sunlight hit her, which gave her the illusion of having a bright halo. Lost in his reflections, he changed his opinion quickly; not a halo, a crown. Certainly a crown, as her regal and self-assured walk suggested. The sun never seemed to leave her, either, so he was left with this pleasant thought even in the darkness of the subway, as he covertly joined them on the train to Greenwich Village.

The girl had such an ethereal quality to her that Lorenzo was unable to place her age; she could have been sixteen or sixty, but her face, or what few glimpses he caught of it, was pure beauty. His thoughts fleeted for a moment to the ammo Lipton had let him handle the previous evening, and for just a moment, he wondered if this was his holy friend that he thought was Mary. If it was, Lorenzo decided, he could see why Lipton believed this, as the girl was grace itself in every sense of the word.

Soon, he began to just gaze at her, and his mind wandered to much more intimate thoughts. He tried to imagine ministering to her, which drifted him into pleasant reflections of what the velvet of her touch must feel like, what rapture the soft glide of her caress must be. Before he knew it, his mind had fixed on the taste of her lips, the scent of her perfume, her figure pressed against him as he held her in his arms…

Starting, he crossed himself. Lipton's demonic mistress must be infecting my mind!

This caused him a brief glance of suspicion directed at Lipton's companion, but very brief. She was above and beyond such reproach. Lorenzo didn't know why he knew this, and that made him uneasy, but she was the most pious woman he had ever set eyes upon. He was ashamed of his lustful thoughts, especially of fixing them on a creature so perfect, so… holy.

He spent the rest of the ride in silent prayer, dutifully saying his rosary, feeling all the more miserable because he could not even get her image out of his head long enough to pray for forgiveness for his own lust of her.

"The time has come!"

Bhaalor raised his club to the garrison of demons on the field before him.

Today, no mines, no explosions wracked it. Today, from the front stairs of his castle, the Warlord of Hell addressed his troops, all in the orderly ranks they kept, and prepared them for war.

"Seraph Darkfell is going to die, and she will die today!"

The demons cheered, growled, sneered; they were beginning to taste the blood that was soon coming.

"We'll tear off her arms and legs, and feast on them tonight!"

Another cry of agreement issued from the crowd.

"We'll shit on her bones!"

His minions liked this idea, too.

"Are you ready to kill?"

The crowd was enthusiastic in its confirmation.

"ARE YOU READY TO KILL?" Bhaalor demanded again, his voice echoing all over the battlefield.

"YEAH!" the crowd roared back.

Bhaalor then turned his attention to the surface world, and waited for Temporiel's signal.

Observing this spectacle from afar, Faust and Aphrodite could only shake their heads.

"Poor Seraph," Aphrodite said sadly.

"Bhaalor's as witty and eloquent as ever," Faust observed bitingly.

"I wish there was something we could do,"

Faust glanced at her for a moment, his mind struggling with an abhorrent decision. But his conscience actually got the best of him, and he placed a hesitant arm around Aphrodite.

"Seraph is no mere trifle," he said by way of comfort. "She's gracefully evaded every obstacle in her path. She'll be quite all right… I hope."

"Why Faust, I do believe you care!" Aphrodite teased, snuggling closer to him despite his flinching.

"Well, I must urge secrecy," was the reply. "If everyone found out, it could cause more uproar in this place than our errant friend's new romance."

Eventually, relaxing became too much for even Heart and Seraph, and they got dressed and sat out on the balcony to play backgammon. They chatted happily some more about life on the Surface, and Seraph tried to tell Heart as much as she could about how humans structured their world.

Finally, after muttering something to herself, Heart asked, "And what do cops do?"

Seraph wrinkled her brow. "Cops are policeman, dear."

"Oh! Law-enforcers," Heart said.


"So what's homicide?"

Seraph narrowed her eyes. "Those are the guys that investigate murders," she explained. "Why?"

"Murders!" Heart exclaimed, aghast. "Well, then why would that 'homicide cop' want to talk to you?"

"I don't know," Seraph said, puzzled. "I haven't killed any humans. And you know everyone I have killed."

"Do you think he would be asking about the death of demons?" Heart asked. "I don't know how much sense that makes…"

"Why are you wondering about all this?" Seraph queried, conjecturing suddenly what Heart had been muttering about.

"Well, that 'homicide cop' is here, in the building," Heart said, staring off into space. Concentrating really hard, she added, "But he's on the floor below ours."

Seraph's eyes widened.

"I'm gonna kill Thor," she growled.

"If Thor gave him the address, dear, he'd already be here," Heart pointed out. "He just knows it's somewhere in the building. Oh! He's on his way up."

"Is he alone? Or are there other cops with him?" Seraph asked fearfully.

"He's not alone, but I don't think the other lady's a cop," Heart said. "In fact, she looks familiar, but I can't quite place her—"

She broke off and went to the door, opening it to a stunned detective. His fist was poised to knock, and the expression on his face was one of sheepish embarrassment mixed with recognition and resolve. It was quickly replaced with a look of horror, and he suddenly pushed Heart aside to charge into the room with his weapon drawn.

Heart turned in shock, watching his partner follow him, but a moment revealed the source of Lipton's alarm.

Angels. A host of them, led by Cherubiel, headed straight for the balcony, their chariots drawn by Pegasi so fierce their breath steamed.

"Seraph!" she screamed. "Get off the balcony!"

The stranger grabbed the detective.

"No, Bruce!" she cried. "It's too dangerous!"

Seraph charged toward them, weapon in hand, and stood beside Heart. She noted with interest that the detective made no move for her; his eyes and gun were trained at the incoming host.

Heart had her sword ready, but she looked at the detective.

"Excuse me, Mr. Bruce?" she asked.

"It's Lipton, Bruce Lipton," he corrected. "What?"

"What are you doing here?"

"Bruce, look!" Before he could answer, Mary grabbed his arm and pointed out to Cherubiel and his squadron. The gargoyles were shaking away their slumber and setting to flight as the horsemen approached. The first one fully awake rent the air with such an awful cry that even the supernatural beings in the room covered their ears. They all took up the cry, leaping toward the Charioteers, who tried to beat them back with their whips. Soon Angels and gargoyles were in an all-out dogfight, crisscrossing through the air with the sounds of thunder and piercing wails. The occupants of the apartment looked at one another, stunned.

"There's something rotten in the state of Denmark," Heart scowled, her mind at alert.

"Be ready for anything," Seraph added.

As Lipton nodded in silent agreement, the whole building began to shake. The entire room was a bounce-house of twitching, shaking, rumbling, as though an earthquake had begun in the floor beneath their feet. A sound like a freight train echoed through the apartment.

"My God, what is that smell!" cried a voice behind them.

They all turned to look at the doorway, where another human man stood. Short and stocky, with a thick, close-cut mane of almost-black hair covering his head and in a goatee around his chin, he was dressed in the livery of a priest. His round face was kindly, but his stern eyes meant business as they focused on Seraph.

"It is the stench of Hell!" he added, pointing at Seraph. "And you, demon, have brought it!"

He took a step into the room, and began to feel the pitch and roll of the ethereal earthquake. This did not lessen his determination. Lipton, however, matched it by making his way so that finally, he stood before the succubus and blocked the priest's line of sight.

"Lorenzo, you—" he began to shout, but was cut off by a loud, shrill whistle, like a pot of tea finished steeping. Their attention was now collectively drawn to the center of the room, where a hole began to open, pouring fourth steam, and various imps, demons, and devils, as though a volcano had erupted. They began to attack, howling a battlecry as they swept in.

Heart and Seraph started swinging at them wildly with their weapons, but Lipton was having trouble shooting them, keeping up with their speed. He wished like hell he'd brought more and other weapons with him… when suddenly his mind was brought to a weighty item in his inside pocket. He grabbed it as the little bastards began to gnaw at his ankles and calves, the bolder ones scaling his trench coat and biting for his arms and neck. Hilt in his hand, he started peeling them off and hurling them back down the hole from whence they came, and then he leaped onto the kitchen counter. Finally clear of them, he held out his new toy, acquired only two nights before in another battle.

"Hasen!" he cried, and the flame blade sprang from the sword, merrily flickering with a holy light that seemed to drive the lesser demons and devils away.

Mary had sauntered very gracefully over to Lorenzo and stood at his shoulder. Before the demon-volcano erupted, she had had a chance to hiss in his ear, "What you smell is shit. Shit and brimstone."

To Lorenzo, she might as well have been singing the "Halleluiah Chorus," for all of the melody her tone created in his ears. He had remained stunned for a moment by her voice. As the wave of demons flooded from the unnatural hole that had formed in the floor, he stood there, petrified, shocked that he could be witnessing this. He believed in demons, and knew much about them through his dealings with Lipton, but he had always believed them to be figurative. He never expected to be confronted with such a vivid proof of their existence. As he fumbled for his holy water, kicking at them as they approached, he kept an eye on Lipton, and saw him invoke the sword.

As soon as Lorenzo realized what Lipton had, his entire body went numb, and he began to have the sensation of floating. His vision and hearing were fine, but they seemed to be happening to someone else, with him as a mute observer. With sudden sureness, he found his vial of holy water, and opened it, glad of the generous amount he had brought. He noticed the smaller demons didn't come too close to him, and so he began to advance. They backed further and further away, frustrated anger on their faces. When he finally came to the head of the group, positioned between his allies and the demons, he raised his arm and splattered a line of holy water across the floor.

Lipton was impressed as a shining blue line of holy energy etched itself into the floor, the light driving the demons further back. Deep admiration coursed through him as he realized his old friend was a more powerful ally that he'd originally thought. He jumped back off the counter, heading for the edge of the line as Lorenzo repeated the action on the opposite direction.

"Hey!" Seraph cried, backing away from the line herself. He'd almost hit her with the splatter the second time. "Watch where you throw that crap!"

Lorenzo began to advance upon her.

"Ye spawn of Satan," he cried, trying his best to sound like Peter Cushing. He poised his arm to splash her with the lethal fluid in his vial. "I will send you back to the Hell that created you!"

"No!" Heart cried, jumping in front of Seraph and taking the hit herself. It absorbed into her skin and caused her halo to glow so brightly, Seraph had to back away and the humans covered their eyes.

"Ooh! Holy water!" she squealed with delight.

"Hey, priest!" Mary approached him. "Let me have a hit of that!"

Lorenzo frowned at her verbiage, but splashed her nonetheless. How could he deny the one true angel in the room?

"There, demon," he glared at Seraph, who had to back even further away from the two angels. "Cower from the light of God—"

He was cut off by the look of terror that crossed the faces of everyone in the room, Lipton's being the most grotesque mask of all. He had never seen his friend so frightened, so afraid… but the heavy hand on his shoulder and the deep growl behind him paralyzed him again with fear. He didn't even look behind him, although as he was picked up and thrown through the air he caught a glimpse of a massive chest and deadly twin spikes rising from a nearly neckless head. Then things went black for a few minutes.

"Bhaalor," Seraph growled, her fear turned to anger, "What an honor." Violet fire flared around her trident.

Finding his voice, Lipton said, "The Demon Lord of No Neck."

"Don't piss him off," Mary whispered. "This is not a nice guy."

Bhaalor only smirked at him and turned his attention back to Seraph. He didn't waste any time as he swept down his great morningstar, slamming it into the floor as Seraph nimbly leapt back. The line of holy water dimmed in the sight of such evil, and he passed right through it and pursued her.

Before anyone had a chance to move, five more demons sprung from the hole. Licking their chops, they each picked a target without regard for who was around. Lipton recalled the recognition the demons had had in his first encounter with Mary, and also noticed the clothes these demons were wearing.

They had to be elite. There was no question. One wore an SS uniform, and a couple of them had various ornaments collected from past victims displayed on their attire. There was even a redcoat, making Lipton's Longfellow echo through the recesses his mind. The redcoat went after Mary, licking his lips in gleeful anticipation, showing he knew full well who he was advancing upon.

Two of them faced off with him. They were both dressed in the armor of some Renaissance culture, but they also had slings of ammo around their torsos, and really big guns.

Lipton looked at those guns and thought, Oh shit. Then he leaped over the counter, wishing the sword's blade would retreat. To his surprise, it did, and he dropped it when he'd reached cover, grabbing the pistol Mary had given him. He was not ignorant that a trail of bullets had followed him the entire way, one even nicking his coat.

Mary, with a flap of her wings, heaved herself in the air, then showered a rain of gunfire on all three of the demons that had advanced on her and Lipton. They were all too willing to fire back, though, and she found herself crouching in the chandelier, taking cover once again.

Heart stole a glance around as the remaining two demons advanced on her. One, who was dressed in black fatigues and a turban, had a machete and a sawed-off shotgun. The other was the SS officer, who looked quite at home with his Luger. Heart could see the taint of damnation and sickly bruise-like aura that floated around the guns, and decided to follow Mary. For cover, she blew a burst of holy light right in their faces, which burned them a little and dazzled their eyes just long enough to fly up to the chandelier.

"This won't hold both of us, sweetie," Mary cautioned between rounds.

Heart considered this as she dodged the too-close shots of all five demons. She looked down at the detective, the poor human all alone behind the counter, and said to Mary, "Cover me, please?"

Mary frowned and nodded, switching to a semi-automatic and drawing their fire with her own. She watched, though, with admiration as Heart bravely flew straight for Lipton, ducking with him behind the counter while the shooters were aiming for the chandelier.

Heart looked at the detective, who was bewildered at the sudden company.

"You're here to help us, right?" she asked.

"Kind of." Lipton leaned over the counter to take a few shots, then ducked again. The demons had regrouped, and had overturned furniture to use as cover. He wondered what the couple thought of the mess their new home was becoming.

"Seraph thinks you're here to hurt her," Heart observed, starting to draw shapes on the floor. They blazed with a pale blue light which extended itself from the rest of her aura, and Lipton allowed his mind to briefly wonder what kind of spell she was casting.

"For what?"

"Homicide. You are a homicide cop, right?"

"Who did she kill?" Lipton replied dismissively.

"Well, demons and those angels the other night—"

"Demons? No such thing," Lipton said, but he winked. As he leaned up and started firing again, he continued, "Officially, all the demons I know your girlfriend killed were mob hits. Seraph's not connected with the mob, is she?"

Heart thought of Tony, and said, "Well—"

"Okay, I know about Tony Scorciano, but his family is harmless. Their button-men are all old farts, and most of their business is laundering, like Tony does." He gave her a pointed glance as he ducked back down.

"What does that have to do with killing people?"

"Nothing, and technically neither do you guys." He offered her a wry grin.

"Then why are you here?" Heart had finished her drawing, but she waited patiently for an answer.

"Well, if you hadn't noticed, I'm not exactly clueless as to what you are," he explained, raising an eyebrow at her. "And you wouldn't believe what's happened to me ever since you got here. If you had any idea what I've been through, you'd understand."

"Tell me," the angel prodded.

He looked at her incredulously, weapon reloaded and ready for the next futile attempt.

"Um… later," he said. "Just do your thing, so I can do my thing."

He leaned over the counter again, but he heard Heart's voice chanting behind him in a language that was so symphonic, so beautiful, that it brought tears to his eyes. It was almost as though she were singing, and that song touched his heart, pulling at it with an overwhelming love. Her words were no less beautiful, and the icing on the cake for him was that he could understand them.

"O essence of Love that is in me/grant my love the potency/to spread through the vicinity/and protect those who are helping me. "

Heart sat in the center of her glowing glyph, and her aura did seem to expand, a soft blue mist that spread around the room. The more it expanded, the louder the screeching from the minor minions was, and there was an audible sizzle as the holy power became too much for them. Several of them disappeared to ash on the floor. The survivors jumped down the hole to escape the poisonous air.

The higher minions, though, weren't affected by it at all. The worst it did for them, and for Bhaalor, was diminish their field of vision. For a few moments, gunshots stopped, from both blinded sides. All that could be heard were the cries of gargoyles and the beating of hooves from outside.

Seraph, after dodging Bhaalor's first blow, had found herself dodging a flurry of them, and the detective's blessed ammo hadn't made her life easier. She had tried to go for the spare bedroom, but it was blocked by the other demons, and when they had finally retreated into it, she'd realized it was off-limits. She couldn't dodge Bhaalor's blows forever, but the others seemed to be at a stand-off with his minions, and Seraph had known she was on her own. The priest was still out cold, and she had been surprised at herself by being disappointed by that. He would have come in handy…

She had tried to stay away from the cross-fire, but Bhaalor seemed determined to work her toward it. Then, suddenly, a fog as thick as smoke rolled through the room, comprised entirely of what felt like… Heart. It was as though the angel had turned herself into this thick mist, and was using it to envelope Seraph. She couldn't see a thing, but, more importantly, neither could Bhaalor.

She knew the counter was to her left, and she immediately hurled herself in that direction as she heard the grunts of surprise and frustration from Bhaalor and his lieutenants. Gliding in, she misjudged the distance and bounced off the far wall, crashing into Heart.

The mist abruptly fell.

As Seraph rose to her knees, Lipton turned and offered her a hand.

"Seraph Darkfell, I presume," he said. She took his hand and shook it.

"But of course," she replied wryly. She chanced a peek over the counter, then ducked quickly as several bullets turned the toaster oven next to her into scrap.

"Do you still have that happy little toy of yours?" she asked him. Lipton nodded, brow wrinkled in confusion. "Good. We're all going to rush him."

There was no time for questions or complaints. All three of them rose and ran around the counter, the blade of Lipton's sword burning angrily at the sight of so much unholiness. Lipton took his left, Seraph his right, and Heart found herself at his back. She immediately gave up her position as a hail of bullets came flying toward her. All of them hit Bhaalor squarely in the back, but bounced off with a prolonged and sickening thud. Heart found herself on the floor next to the priest. She put a hand on his head.

"Holy light within this soul/Shine ye bright and make him whole."

As the priest began to stir, she jumped back behind the counter and cast another spell.

"With my love that never ends/protect my lover and my friend."

A pale blue aura surrounded Seraph and Lipton, all of whose blows were being effectively blocked by Bhaalor's club. However, the aura seemed to lend both of them, especially Seraph, a bit of strength as well, and suddenly Bhaalor was overmatched. Caught between Seraph and Lipton, he could only continue to parry and dodge.

Heart looked at this in satisfaction, then looked at the demons who'd taken cover in the spare bedroom. Mary was firing semi-automatic rounds at them still, and all they could do was fire wildly back — at her, at their boss and his tormentors, and everywhere around the room. She crawled behind the counter and into the bedroom, watching as Cherubiel's minions fought the gargoyles. Neither side seemed to be able to secure the upper hand, which was both a distress and a relief to her. There was nothing she could do to either empower the gargoyles or weaken the Charioteers. She sat by, feeling helpless for a moment, trying to think of a spell to help, when an idea struck her.

Jumping up, she ran to the side of the balcony and looked up at the sky. Except in the very early morning, it had been overcast. Seraph had said it might snow. Snow had a nasty effect on feathers…

Thor is real, which means there are others who are real…

"Gods of rain, gods of snow/unleash your arctic storm below!"

The effect could not have been greater. The dark sky darkened, and the wind rose to a howling crescendo. The Charioteers began to have trouble keeping their glide-paths, as the ever-shifting gale had no clear current. Worse for them was the snow and ice that collected in their wings and the wings of their steeds, which burdened them down and made them slower. None of this affected the sturdier gargoyles, whose stone bodies could cut more effectively through the wind, with snow rolling off their backs.

Heart laughed with joy as the Charioteers were forced to retreat. She waved at the gargoyles as they flooded the apartment and flew straight into the spare bedroom. Her glee diminished, however, with Cherubiel's departing glare.

Meanwhile, Lorenzo was battling his fear, ill-aimed bullets, and the freezing wind, which had blown open both balcony doors. Moments later, when he'd finally somewhat composed himself, a huge cloud of black came billowing through the door and into the next room.

What most occupied his attention, however, was the behemoth that was fighting Lipton and the succubus. He'd come here to do an exorcism; here was the perfect candidate. He began to realize that if he timed things just right, he might be able to ensnare them both, sending them back to Hell where they belonged. Giddily, he began the rites. As he hit the giant demon with the holy water, it steamed, and Bhaalor howled in pain.

Swinging wildly in blinding agony, the massive demon caught Lipton full in the stomach. The detective, winded but amazingly still conscious, found himself flying through the air. He crashed into the wall, imprinting it with his body, and slumped to the floor, momentarily dazed. After a few moments, he shook his head to see a blurry but very bright angel kneeling before him.

"No," he moaned, free-associating. "I'm not ready to go."

"It's not time yet," a familiar voice pierced the gloom.

"Mary!" he exclaimed, still in a stupor. "I love Mary."

The Virgin Mother started, her eyes widening for a moment. He loves me? she wondered. No… he can't… She shook her head, trying to reason that he'd meant something else, something more platonic and far less… tempting. She set to work on rousing him before he said anything else.

Lorenzo had heard the exchange as well. Never at any moment had he ever thought himself capable of the emotions running through his mind. Despair, anger, jealousy, hatred, all coursed through his veins. He couldn't understand it, couldn't like it, but he was unable to let it go. He glared at the dueling demons. It had to be their influence. He read faster.

Seraph was matching Bhaalor thrust for parry, but she was unable to equal him in strength. She found herself losing ground to him until the thin sheen of snow that had piled on the balcony was beneath her feet. She couldn't duck around him; he'd swing his club in a wide arc and force her back further. The air around her crackled with pale blue energy, contrasted by the cold glow of the fire from her trident.

As Bhaalor stepped out into the open air, the snow beneath him sizzled with the sudden hellish heat. Small wisps of steam floated from various parts of his skin the moment the snowflakes touched it. Outside, the wind blew away the foul and sickening stench of Bhaalor and his demons, but in turn blew snow across their fields of vision. Seraph very soon found herself at a major disadvantage as the surface of the balcony was slick with a sheen of ice. The footwork she had to do to continue eluding his crushing blows had doubled in difficulty, and keeping her balance was now the more urgent priority.

Heart watched this with dismay, and realized that she'd had enough of snow. She looked up, wondering if she had the strength within her to counter her original spell. What could she possibly cast to make the storm go away? She fumbled for the words to make it happen.

"Winds of passion, winds of change," she began, then faltered, her mind a tornado of chaos. "Leave, go away, disperse… this, this… This squall, storm, gale!"

As they always did when she evoked a spell, her words echoed through the wind, but the storm just shook more snow on them as though spicing them up for a meal. Desperate, Heart stole a glance at Seraph, anguishing that she couldn't think straight. It was cold, she felt as though someone had lumped a great stone on her back, and Seraph was having more and more trouble with the ice.

All the frustration at seeing her lover thus encumbered finally strained Heart's patience, and she cried out, "Stop the snow!"

Suddenly, and as though with great purpose, the snow stopped falling. A thin ray of sunlight pierced the sky, and seemed to push the clouds aside. The clouds looked as though they were reluctant to leave, yet scared to argue; they swirled about threateningly for just a moment before being cast off toward Connecticut on a steady and swift wind. It was still cold, and there was still snow on the ground, but the white city was now bathed in sunlight that made it sparkle like a jewel set on the green cloth of the river. Heart's breath caught in her throat.

Right at that moment, though, Seraph let out a yell. Heart didn't have time to wonder why the storm had suddenly decided to listen. She looked over just in time to see the succubus completely lose her footing on the ice. Seraph folded forward in an attempt to catch her footing, but left herself completely undefended. Bhaalor took the opportunity afforded him and swung for some point halfway across the city, Babe Ruth reborn. Seraph's limp form sparked more brightly as her body left the business end of the club, then dimmed out altogether as she was thrown over the balcony and off into the distance.

Heart jumped up and, on reflex, leaped off the balcony to save her lover. She was gliding through midair over lower Manhattan, nearly reaching the end of the Village before it occurred to her to be afraid. She was free-floating through the air, keeping a surprisingly steady altitude, gliding like a rocket. Washington Square Park went beneath her in a green blur, and moments later, Union Square was another spot of green among the grey. As the Empire State Building loomed closer and closer, her fear grew greater and greater, but so did her awe.

She was flying. Somehow, she was airborne, and staying that way. She wasn't sure what was keeping her aloft, until she felt the tingling pain in her back. And then her joy was overwhelming. All of the hope that had left her feeling empty and desperate now flooded back in a bright, warm ray of light. She could face the entire Heavenly Host, could back down Bhaalor in a heartbeat.

Her wings were back, as though they'd never been gone.

She hadn't been able to feel her wings before because somehow, they'd been numbed. The sudden activity was now arousing them from their slumber, and feeling rushed into them in tiny daggers of circulation. She didn't dare move them, but she could even feel her feathers brushing against her back, a sensation she thought she'd never feel again. She wanted to fly up into the clouds, and let the whole world hear her elation, feel the swelling in her heart as she flew close to the bright sun.

For now though, that was impossible. Heart's wings had captured the updraft provided by the stormy wind, as well as the city below. Seraph was the priority, and she was ever closer. Heart risked one last glance at the Empire State Building, then formed an idea based from a movie she'd caught back when they were living in the hotel. In that one, a giant ape had climbed the building, and, gripping the antenna on top, had fought off fighter pilots that were shooting at him. It wasn't till he let go of the antenna that he'd fallen.

She had to stop Seraph's unwanted voyage, but needed her wings to wake up to make the stop herself. There was no time for chants or magick, there was only her, Seraph, the building and the wind. With a mighty effort, she flexed her wings, the circulation exploding all over her back in sparks of newly-roused nerves. She was rewarded by just enough of an increase in speed to allow her to grab Seraph, embracing her tightly in one arm as she desperately grabbed for the antenna with the other. Gripping it despite the resistance of their momentum, she cried out from exertion. The force was almost crushing as it wracked through both her and Seraph's bodies, waving them like flags atop the landmark.

Then, finally, they were released, and dropped down to rest on the building's roof.

Heart pulled Seraph up, allowing the dazed succubus to grab the antenna. They worked themselves up, supporting themselves from it as though it were a walking stick. Seraph shook her head, trying to clear the dimness that had taken over when the full force of Bhaalor's blow caught up with her. There were deep cuts in her abdomen that were bleeding profusely down the front of her skirt, and she was having trouble standing all the way up. Heart muttered to herself in angelic and touched the area lightly, infusing it with her pale blue aura.

Gulping for breath, Seraph asked, "How am I still alive?"

"The shield I put up around you absorbed Bhaalor's blow," Heart replied, trying to check the succubus's wounds. "Are you hurt anywhere else?"

"No, I just need to catch my breath," Seraph heaved.

She promptly lost her breath again, as well as her footing, when she looked around to see the entire city stretched out before her from its highest point. If she squinted, she could barely make out home, which was exploding with blue flashes.

"How the hell did we get up here?" she asked, looking at Heart in wonder. Her eyes widened when Heart flexed her wings, which were finally back to full capacity. "Your wings! But… how?"

"I think maybe the Virgin Queen gave them back to me," Heart breathed.

"Yeah, I was wondering what she was doing there," Seraph replied, her voice laced with suspicion. "But she wasn't trying to kill me, so she demanded secondary attention."

"Well, we have to get back," Heart told her, taking a shaky glance back toward their apartment. "Are you sure you're all right?"

"I'll survive," Seraph replied, rising to her full stature. Her abdomen still ached with a dull flame, and each breath was fire in her lungs, but she flexed her own wings. "If you give me a push, anyway."

Heart smiled, and took Seraph's hand. They looked at one another, their eyes full of mutual admiration, their love flooding between them in an almost-visible current. Then they both jumped, feet-first, from the building. Down, down they sailed, Heart beginning to panic for a moment, still unsure of her wings. They'd caught the air, but she hesitated for just a moment.

Then, flexing muscles that had grown a bit weak from disuse, she managed to heave her wings several times, carrying them both up over the city, over the wind and weather. They were so high, they could see the outline of the island to their east and the rolling suburbs to their west. From this height, Heart began a deep, spiraling descent, an arrow fired straight for the top floor of their building. She had to point her wings to steady them when they hit the wind again, but it served to slow them, the wind rushing across their faces, plastering their lips into smiles. Their landing was controlled, Heart passing the balcony and hooking up to alight them upon it like butterflies.

Seraph had her weapon at the ready, but glanced around for her adversary. Puzzled, she wondered aloud, "Where's Bhaalor?"

Bhaalor had had little time to enjoy his victory over Seraph. Moments later, he could feel all his muscles stiffen, his body dragging back toward the portal that led to the Highway. He struggled to turn, only to see the priest through the haze of smoke and debris.

The young human had a cross in his hand, held aloft as though it were Excalibur, and his other hand was busy with the decanter of holy water, splashing it on the Lord of War liberally. He hadn't been paying attention to the puny little man, and thus allowed the cleric to get most of the way through the Rites of Exorcism. Bhaalor could feel the pull, as though the hole were a great vacuum trying to suck him back down to Hell. He cried out, the sounds of his agony echoing over the gunfire and explosions from the bedroom. He tried to swing at the priest before he could finish, tried to distract him or somehow just stop him.

"In nomine Padre!" Lorenzo cried out, splashing the huge crimson-skinned beast with the decanter.

"Fili!" He splashed the fiend again.

"Et Spiritu Sancti!"

With this last and final blow, Bhaalor's skin was ablaze with pain and holy light, the gravity becoming more powerful than he could handle. His yell reached a crescendo as the force seemed to rip through his back, into his abdomen, and yank him down, pulling harder and harder until he crashed all the way back into Hell.

Lorenzo took a deep breath and wiped his sweaty brow, secretly awed by the effect he had created. Then he turned as another explosion of stone and debris blasted out of the bedroom, blowing him down on the seat of his pants. Everything seemed to move in slow motion as he watched the last of the gargoyles chase the wounded and dismembered demons out of the bedroom, and toward the hole. Breathing hard and fumbling through his bag, his hand wrapped in dismay around the grip of his pistol. He pulled it out and wildly pulled the trigger, aiming toward the hole, toward the demons as they ran by the balcony door.

The shot echoed throughout the whole apartment, stopping everything as Seraph halted her charge into the room. One of the demon-minions slammed into her as he made for the hole, knocking her over and landing on top of her. One of the gargoyles grabbed him and, with all the power of its stone claws, quartered the demon by its limbs. A shower of black blood exploded over Seraph before the pieces were hurled down the hole near her head. She rose, and looked over at Heart, crying out in pain and panic.

Lorenzo, Lipton and Mary watched in grief as the bullet hit the angel square in the chest. The impact knocked her full off her feet, and she landed flat on her back, the dull sound echoing through the apartment and stunning everyone to silence. Lipton glared at Lorenzo as the priest pushed himself to his feet. The former walked over to his friend, smacking him with an upward sweep across the back of the head, like he'd seen Al's mother do.

"What the hell are you doing!" the detective exclaimed. "Do you know what you just did?"

Lorenzo stood there, frozen, stunned, staring at the havoc he'd wrought. His whole body felt numb, but his mind was blazing with pain, the scene before him branding itself into his moral code, his very judgment of himself.

Seraph had scrambled to her lover, and was now cradling the angel in her arms, rocking back and forth, softly calling her name. Everything had gone dull; all color had removed itself from the room. A huge angry lump was forming in her throat and she had to fight it to softly call Heart's name. Tears stung her eyes and crumbled her whole face with anguish.

A bladed boot-heel to her side prompted her to look into Mary's face, the golden halo searing her eyes and reddening her skin.

"You can kill me now," she said, tears streaming down her face. "She's dead; I want to be, too."

Mary was taken aback, both by the demon's words, and by the visible torment that she displayed. Curiously, she reached down, using a finger to wipe a stain of tears from Seraph's face, then licking them from her finger.

"Tears? From a demon?" she said aloud, confused. She looked at Lipton, knowing, and fearing, the truth.

"I told you," Lipton smirked. From beside him, however, Lorenzo fumed.

"If you won't do it," he announced, striding purposely forward with his satchel on his shoulder. "Then I will."

Mary's face contorted with sudden indignation. She rose a finger and pointed at the priest, surrounded suddenly by a bright golden light. Her trench-coat seemed to blend into itself as her halo shaped itself into a bright golden crown; unadorned but delicately-wrought. Her dark grey wings spread out, covering the demon and the angel, blocking them from Lorenzo's line of sight.

The aura permeated the room, bringing with it a terrible yet comfortable, almost safe, feeling. There was eternal love welling from her golden light, but also an even hand of force that would brook no misbehavior. There was the joy of angels, and the sorrow of a mother grieved, thickening in the room as her holy light grew more and more intense.

"Alphonse Lorenzo," she intoned, her voice echoing with power. "You have been a pest."

Before he even had time to be anguished by the weight of her ire, Father Alphonse Lorenzo disappeared in a flash of exploding golden motes. Lipton hopped up, looking at Mary, his hand on his gun.

Mary laughed, harmony itself. "Would you take me on, Detective? Would you really try to hurt me?"

Lipton holstered his gun.

"I wouldn't stand a chance," he conceded. "But for the record, the artists definitely got it wrong."

The bright and gentle smile Mary proffered him proved him wrong. He stared at his feet, scowling, feeling his face get hot.

"Your friend is safe," she told him. "He's just not… here."

Purposefully, finished with Lipton for the moment, she turned her full attention to the succubus and the wounded angel. She could see Heart's aura glowing dimly, almost imperceptibly, and knew her time was running out. She leaned down, and pressed Seraph's hand onto the wound.

Seraph was in awe. She had always presumed that Mary could incinerate her just with the glow of her halo. She was certain Mary had come here to kill her. At its worst, Mary's radiance was agitating, bright, and hot on her skin. The swell of emotion accompanying Mary's aura brought fresh tears to her eyes. The lump in her throat threatened to cut off her breath, and a warm coal burned deep in the pit of her stomach and she let the Virgin Mother handle her.

Mary's glow overtook both Heart and Seraph for just a moment, and then faded out as it was replaced by Seraph's crimson and jet hues. Strands of demonic energy wove themselves into the paleness of Heart's aura, but all Seraph knew was that she could save Heart if only she loved her enough. She didn't know how she knew this, but the conviction of it made her press her hand harder against the bleeding flesh of Heart's bosom, made her close her eyes and concentrate with every ounce of her being on making Heart all right again.

Slowly, as though the pale blue was seeking its own place, tendrils of energy began snaking through the black and red, illuminating both of them in a soft lavender glow that lit up the room like daylight. They wove a net that surrounded both angel and demon, reaching the height of its intensity between Seraph's hand and Heart's chest. Lipton had to shield his eyes, but he noted with intrigue Mary had to as well. The lavender light reflected in shimmering sparkles from her pale habit, and Lipton wound up turning to avoid the glare.

Suddenly, Heart stirred, taking a deep breath, as though rising to the surface of murky waters. Seraph, shocked, moved her hand away from Heart's chest, revealing it to be as white and smooth as it had been before. The light faded, seeming to fall into them in layers, drifting like fallen cobweb. Seraph pulled Heart closer, and the two embraced one another as if their lives depended on their hanging on tightly. Seraph sobbed, rocking them back and forth, the angel's head buried in her bosom.

"Well," Lipton approached Mary. "I guess you've done your good deed for the day."

Mary arched a brow at him.

"Some of us do more than one good deed in a day," she quipped, prompting a smirk from him. After a pause, she added, "Besides, I didn't do anything. They did."

Lipton nodded. "Are you shocked?"

Mary frowned.

"Shocked? No. Surprised. Awed. The balance we've come to accept has been severely disrupted. I'm curious to see what the future will bring them."

"So you're going to leave them alone?" Lipton asked hopefully.

"I've got to leave town for a bit," she replied. "I won't be anywhere near them."

"Where are you going?" Lipton asked, his face lengthening in dismay.

Grinning, Mary replied, "To do my good deed for the day."

A wry smile on his face, Lipton poked her teasingly.

"I see how it is," he said. "You're going off to help someone else, and you're just leaving us high and dry."

Mary glanced at him coquettishly, her countenance widening in mirth.

"I never said that," she said, spreading her arms out wide and illuminating the room with her glow.

Heart and Seraph both turned to look at her as a forceful wind began to blow around the apartment. Mary's figure was lifted about two feet from the floor with no movement from her majestic, outspread wings, and a shower of golden motes flowed around her in a spiraling pattern. She glided forward, withdrawing from her robes a tarnished silver circlet, the one Lipton had seen her with the very day they met.

"Harteriel Serafina," she said. "I believe this belongs to you." She handed the item to Heart, then turned her full attention to Seraph. Heart took it with a limp arm, then let it drop. She said nothing, only stared in awe. The Virgin Mother smiled benevolently down at the succubus, her arms outspread, as though looking for a hug from a favorite child.

"Seraph Darkfell," she announced, her voice full with the authority and regality of her rank. "You are forgiven."

The golden dust collapsed in on itself as Mary vanished from its center, punctuating her ordinance with an air of finality. The whole room became completely silent, no one daring to move or even breath, lest they break the ambiance Mary had left behind.

It was Lipton who moved first, striding over to the girls and offering them each a hand up.

"What just happened?" Seraph asked him, incredulous.

"I think you just got the Mother's blessing," Lipton replied, a charming smile on his face.

"Did she say why she restored my wings?" Heart asked, still woozy from her near-death experience.

Lipton frowned. "She didn't do anything to them," he replied, stunned. "Didn't you notice yourself flying up to the chandelier?"

Heart frowned for a moment, then her face lit up. "I did, didn't I!"

Seraph turned, enamored, stroking her wings.

"My angel," she whispered, awed by the shimmering white feathers, soft strands of pearl that swept gracefully down Heart's wings.

"And when I first saw you at the café, you had them then, too," Lipton finalized. Heart's breath caught in her throat.

"Seraph… do you know what this means?" she breathed.

Seraph was snuggling Heart's wing, but she met Heart's excited gaze with a contented smile.

"It means I haven't Fallen!"

The effect on Seraph was immediate and intense. She grabbed Heart in a bear hug, jumping up and down with glee. Heart's head bobbed up and down with the impact, chagrinned by her lover's delight, but enjoying it all the same.

"You've got your wings back!" Seraph singsonged over and over with child-like joy.

"Seraph!" Heart broke the embrace and held up the halo with a puzzled glance. "Maybe this will explain it."

"Whose halo is that?" Seraph wondered, reaching out for it. It lit up with a light blue flame and she jerked her hand back, chuckling. "Oh. Must be one of your spares."

Heart wasn't paying attention.

"Oh, dear!" She looked at Lipton with dismay. Seraph stopped and looked at her with curiosity. "We have a guest! Our first guest!" She glanced around the house, wincing at the damage to walls, furniture, appliances.

Seraph gave Lipton a once-over, her lips curled in a suspicious sneer.

"I was sorry to hear about the club," Lipton said, hoping to placate her. In reply to Seraph's raised eyebrow, he added, "Thor told me, on his way out from my place."

"What else did he tell you?" she hissed back.

"Just to stay away from you."

"Why didn't you?"

Heart stopped her survey of the damage and gave her his undivided attention as well.

Lipton looked at both their expectant faces and quickly said, "That's gonna take awhile to explain."

"I've got time," Seraph said, checking a non-existent watch and tapping her hoof.

"Seraph, let's at least try to be hospitable," Heart scolded. "Why don't you offer our guest a drink, while I tidy up a bit."

The strained expression on Seraph's face as she followed her lover's suggestion amused Lipton. The succubus was reluctant, nervous, shifting uncomfortably from hoof to hoof as she mumbled, "What do you want to drink."

"I'll have a beer if you've got one," Lipton sighed. "It's been a long day."

As Seraph went to the kitchen, Heart wandered around the house, chanting in angelic. Lipton marveled once again at the simplicity and directness of her magick, the symphonic chords of her native language.

"Clean the carpet, clean the halls/clean the kitchen, mend the walls/Sweep the dust and throw it out/we've got visitors about!"

Lipton ducked as a chair and a sofa flew over his head, their broken frames melting together into wholeness once again. Motes of dust and debris flew about the house, watering his eyes and running his nose, to fix themselves into the spots from whence they came. Plaster reapplied itself flawlessly to the walls, and the hardwood floor reclaimed its long, slender tiles from where they'd been scattered by Bhaalor's entrance. A coffee table nearly brained him, but he took cover under it once it came back to its proper place.

Then came a sound from the spare bedroom that Lipton could only describe as a rockslide. He had but a moment to puzzle this before the gargoyles, fully healed by Heart's magick, flew out the door and resumed their perches on the balcony.

Lipton shielded himself for long moments from the flying debris, before he noticed the tapping hoof beside his head. He peered out from under the table, getting a liberal view beneath the succubus's skirt. He could feel himself rise to the occasion and quickly averted his eyes.

Seraph leaned over and handed him a frosty mug.

"What's the matter?" she wondered. "Scared of a little flying furniture?"

Lipton looked past her to the angel, who was lounging in a plush armchair with a glass of wine. Her constructive storm was over, and the room was no longer the battleground it had lately been. It was the apartment of two beautiful girls, who loved each other more than most could love in a lifetime. It was a home.

Crawling out from under the table with a sheepish grin, Lipton placed his beer on a coaster set out for him. He sighed, reaching for a slice of cheese and a cracker from a dish Heart had set out. Seraph had sat on the sofa across from his chair, and was looking at him expectantly.

Finally, after finishing his snack, he said, "I'm here because almost a week ago I was assigned to a murder case. Multiple victims, all alleged gang-members. They'd tried to rape a girl, and another girl came in and kicked their asses."

Heart and Seraph glanced at each other, their expressions in direct opposition. Seraph scowled, Heart winked at her.

"Yeah?" Seraph coaxed, squirming in her seat.

"Since then, I've been laid off my case by Archangels, fought angels alongside a mythological god, and am being lusted after by the Mother of Christ. All because of you two."

"Us?" Heart asked, dismay marring her pretty face. "I'm sorry if we made you have a bad week."

Lipton offered her a quick grin in response.

"Tell me more about the Archangels," Seraph leaned forward, now interested. "Was it those horse-heads that tried to come in through the balcony?"

Lipton shook his head. "No, it was Gabriel and Michael."

Seraph whistled and sat back in her seat. Heart's jaw dropped at the mention of the names, and her face paled.

"I don't think they're after you guys!" Lipton assured her. "They're the ones who closed my case. They've got it explained as a mob hit, nothing to do with either of you. Besides, they've seen you dance, Miss Darkfell, and they didn't attack then."

Seraph refused to be placated. To Heart, she said, "We've got to watch our backs for a bit, beloved."

Heart nodded, but without much conviction. She looked at the detective, eyes pleading.

"Why don't you think they're after us?" she asked.

"Well," Lipton began, after a huge swallow of beer. "When I got handed the case, I suspected a few things right away…"

Before Lipton had a chance to continue, the slight draft that was slipping under the balcony doors became a sudden breeze. All three turned warily to the doors, wind whipping the girls' hair, but the doors remained shut. Before they'd completely turned back to give one another a puzzled glance, a rainbow shower of sparkling motes appeared over the edge of the table that was closest to Heart. She stood in surprise; Seraph likewise rose, her trident in her hands.

The magical glimmer took on a rectangular shape, began to solidify. With a final punctuation from the wind, it formed the shape of a sealed envelope, which drifted, feather-like, down to the table. It was a plain white envelope with a tiny heart logo in the return address corner.

Heart tore open the envelope and pulled out a single sheet of white paper with red lettering, and a very short message in the center. The letterhead was a pair of hearts, linked together in a stylized airbrush scrawl, bearing the words "Heavenly Hearts; a division of Fisher Enterprises."

The words in the center were: Harteriel Serafina and Seraph Darkfell: MATCH APPROVED.


To be concluded.

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