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Fandom: Bandom (Bob Bryar, Patrick Stump, Brian Schechter, with Pete Wentz, PatD, TYV, and CS)
Pairing: Patrick/Brian, Bob/Brian, Brian/Patrick/Bob
Rating: NC-17
Word Count: 14,000 words
Spoilers: n/a
Warnings: crack, clichés, consensual infidelity, a bit of gore, and major character death that doesn’t stick - In fact, everyone in this story is dead.
Author's Note: For the thingama_bob challenge. Prompt by mahoni, found here. I restrained myself from titling this Also Evil, Also Into Cats. :D The title I did use is from the correct lyrics in the FOB song: “w. a. m. s.” I took a lot of mythos from Christianity, Dead Like Me, Good Omens, and various urban legends and mashed them together. This fic would never have been possible without saekokato. ♥, love! (Also, this totally counts for my “afterlife” square for my au_bingo.)
Disclaimer: Everyone here belongs to themselves or Pete Wentz.
Summary: Bob dies, and that’s when all of his problems start.

:: :: ::

Head’s in Heaven, Soles’re in Hell

:: :: ::

The walls are a sickly yellow color, and the room stretches on forever. Chairs line the walls, and they’re all filled with people, who look less than thrilled to be there.

Bob’s head is hurting and fuzzy, like he has the worst hangover in the history of hangovers, but he doesn’t remember drinking any booze recently. He’s sitting in an uncomfortable plastic chair that’s a hideous puke green. He assumes that it’s supposed to match the paint on the walls. He shifts to adjust his ass, because the chair is ridiculously uncomfortable. It was probably designed by sadists and probably for high school students.

Bob also has crusties around his eyes, like when he wakes up in the morning – especially during allergy season, and it’s difficult to pry and keep his eyes open. The yellow wall paint and green chairs don’t help matters.

His hand is wrapped around a piece of paper. He scrapes at his eyes to clear them and reads what’s written on the paper: 29,858.

Bob frowns at it for a moment before he examines his surroundings more carefully. Hanging from the ceiling is a huge neon sign, like the ones in the windows of bars everywhere, displaying the number 19,001.

He squints at the sign as it slowly changes to 19,002, and Bob has no fucking clue what the hell is going on with his life. Neon signs do not change their shape. He keeps watching the sign. In fact, he’s pretty sure he’s gawking at it.

The number slowly changes to 19,003 after what feels like an eternity.

Bob leans back in his chair, letting the back of his skull connect with the wall. The only thing it does is make his head hurt more.

With his head against the wall, Bob takes survey of the other people in the room. He’s surrounded by some pretty sketchy people. Okay, that’s a lie. Most of them look like soccer moms and dads in business suits. There are also a few punk kids, but something makes Bob think they’re sketchy people. Like the soccer mom next door has a freezer full of butchered stray cats. And the dads in suits have embezzled enough money to buy their own Caribbean island.

As Bob looks from one person to the next, he sees wisps of something dark out of the corner of his eye, but whenever he tries to look at the wisps directly, they disappear.

Something sick settles in Bob’s gut. He’s sitting in a waiting room with people he doesn’t know and a number that’s more than ten thousand away from answering the ten thousand questions he has about what the fuck is going on. He’s maybe freaking out a little.

His eyes immediately drop to his shoes, and he refuses to look at anyone. He most definitely refuses to make eye contact with anyone. He decides to categorize every scuff on his shoe based on the object that created it, how long it had been there, color, and size.

It’s a good plan, except there’s a puddle of something disturbingly like blood under the chair of the kid sitting next to him. It forms a square puddle.

Bob’s eyebrows set into a frown, and he looks up at the kid.

The kid gives Bob a twisted smirk that does nothing to ease the sick feeling in Bob’s stomach. “What, fucker? Haven’t you ever seen a dead kid before?”

Bob quickly looks the kid up and down. He has an open slash down the front of his face, right along the crease of his nose, and there’s another, longer gash across the kid’s stomach, directly under the rib cage. Bob can see the white of several ribs, and there are many pinkish bulbous things that are probably organs, and Bob does not want to think about that.

“The fuck?” Bob mutters.

The kid shrugs. "The little bitch actually got a lucky shot in. Now I'm stuck here waiting for my fucking number to be called."

Bob blinks, and the kid laughs. The laugh sounds evil. Not evil like “I’ll get you, my pretty!” but evil that makes people want to sleep with a light on. It sends a shiver up Bob’s spine, but Bob covers it up. Working the club scene meant never showing weakness, something Bob had figured out back when he was the chubby drum kid being picked on all the time.

Bob looks away and doesn’t look back at the kid and his gaping stomach wound.

He makes the mistake of looking closer at the rest of the other people. Most of the people around him have some horrible wound, and the ones that don’t look too pale to be healthy.

This is like no ER Bob’s ever been in.

Something nasty clicks in Bob’s head. It’s not the ER. There’s no way the kid would be so calm with his guts falling out. He’d be unconscious and wheeled into the OR on a stretcher.

No, this isn’t the ER.

Bob’s fucking dead.

He swallows hard and forces himself to look down at his shoes again. He takes deep, even breathes, and if he really needs to, he could stick his head between his knees. Except he won’t. There’s no fucking way he’s going to faint, not after the indignity of being dead first.

He’s supposed to be at his aunt’s birthday party tonight. If it’s still tonight. He’d been trying to think up a decent excuse for weeks to decline the invitation. Ironically, he finally has a decent excuse not to go.

:: :: ::

Bob has no idea how long he’s been sitting. His ass is numb, and he’s fallen asleep twice – once between 21,998 and 25,343 and again between 27, 949 and 29, 123. The parts of his body that aren’t numb ache. It’s a deep ache, too.

The kid with his guts hanging out is gone and with him the blood. He was replaced by a girl who would be hot if there were meat on her bones.

Bob’s stuck to keeping his gaze down except to check the counter. He’s thinking about the girl’s shoes. They’re stripper heels with blood red, lacy straps winding up her leg.

The paper in his hand flashes really damn hot, and he releases a string of creative obscenities as he drops the paper to the floor.

He inspects his hand, which is totally fucking burned. As he watches, the burn fades back to skin again before the ash of the paper hits the floor.

The neon sign displays the number 29,858. Bob will never forget that number. He’s looked at it close to a trillion times in the past eternity and a half.

He quickly stands up, and his limbs all protest the movement. He heads to the door that just appeared at the end of the aisle. He goes as quickly as he can, but none of his body parts seem to want to respond to his brain.

He tries to step it up. He’d seen what had happened to 26, 457 when she was too slow to make it through the door, and Bob isn't all that interested in finding out what it'd feel like to be a human-shaped piece of charcoal.

He manages to hop through the doorway just before it disappears again. Only just, because the back of his left leg is completely fucking burned. And, Christ, Bob can smell his own charred skin.

Bob curses as he surveys the damage on his leg, but the charred skin quickly fades away into unblemished skin. Too bad Bob’s pants don’t do the same.

He looks away from his leg and examines his surroundings. He’s in an office. The walls are a deep violet, and the desk is a deep mahogany.

The man sitting behind the desk has a crooked grin and his feet propped on top of the desk.

The name plate reads, “Gabriel Saporta.”

“Sit down, Robert Bryar,” Saporta says. His grin doesn’t flag at all.

Bob narrows his eyes suspiciously, but he’s overcome with the urge to sit. At least this chair is a hell of a lot more comfortable than the last one.

“You’ve been Naughty, Mr. Bryar,” Saporta says. He’s still grinning, and Bob is struck by the thought that he’s probably always grinning. It’s pretty fucking creepy.

“Not to my knowledge,” Bob says. “Santa always brought me presents.”

Saporta laughs heartily. Bob’s almost relieved that it doesn’t sound as evil as the kid’s had. The laugh is still pretty fucking evil, though.

“I like a man with cajones,” Saporta says. “And you won’t be a fucking douchebag about it. Plus, you’re intact.” He pauses before he says, “You strike me as a man who does whatever the fuck he wants.”

Bob raises his eyebrows. “I’m not going to my aunt’s birthday party tonight if that’s what you mean.”

Saporta laughs again. “I like you, kid.”

Saporta drops his legs down from the desks and furiously writes something down on a piece of paper before he hands it to Bob.

Bob would love to protest or ask what the hell is going on, especially because there’s nothing written on the piece of paper. It’s blank. But Saporta is rounding his desk and throwing Bob out the way he came.

Except Bob doesn’t end up back in the waiting room. He’s in another waiting room. This one looks pretty normal to him; even though, there are no other people waiting. There’s even a coffee table with magazines on it.

He walks up to the kid sitting behind a counter and hands him the piece of paper Saporta gave him. The kid looks like a scene kid, with floppy hair in his face and a nose ring. Bob prepares himself for an attitude.

“Take a seat,” the kid says. There’s absolutely no attitude there, and Bob’s a little surprised.

Bob takes a seat and grabs a magazine from the coffee table. He flips it open to a random page and begins to read.

Bob makes it as far as something he’d rather not think about ever again that involves a cat, a razor, and a bathtub full of ice before he throws the magazine back on the table.

The cover mocks him. The title of the magazine is Incubus. He should have read it before he started to read. He also should have thought everything through. With the day he’s having, he should have known it wouldn’t have been Men’s Health.

Luckily, the kid calls out Bob’s name, and Bob follows the kid through the same door Bob had entered through.

It leads to another office. This one is a deep forest green, and there’s a woman behind the desk. According to the name plaque, her name is Victoria Asher.

“Welcome, Robert Bryar,” she says sweetly. He voice is sweet enough for Bob to suspect that the woman really isn’t sweet at all, and she’s waiting for the right moment to shank Bob in a lung. “I’m here to give you your assignment.”

Bob doubts she’s going to say anything useful, like explaining what the fuck is going on. He’s sick of being confused, and the sickness in his gut has only grown in size.

“What’s my assignment?” Bob finds himself asking. Even though, he didn’t form the words himself. It’s weird. He didn’t think those words, yet they came from his mouth.

“I’m so glad you asked!” Asher says. Her tone is still sweet, and it creeps Bob out more than Saporta’s grin. “You’re my new intern!”

“And what exactly do you do?” Bob asks. This time those are his words.

“I’m a femme fatal,” she says. She gives Bob a saccharine smile.

Bob finds himself taking a step back. “You don’t expect me to be a…”

“Oh, no,” Asher says, deeply concerned. Or feigning deep concern. Bob really can’t tell. “You’re going back to Earth to wreck havoc. I have a laundry list of havoc for you to wreck! Saporta’s been on my back about it for the past three hundred years. I’m glad he finally gave me an intern.”

“Uh,” Bob says.

“Don’t worry, Nate will help you out with the basics,” she says. “Nate! It’s time to train Robert Bryar!”

“It’s Bob,” Bob says automatically.

The kid from before sticks his head through the doorway. “Yeah, Victoria?”

“Bob needs to be trained,” she announces.

The kid looks Bob up and down. “Sure.”

:: :: ::

Bob isn’t sure of half of the things that Nate told him, most of which included fire and pain.

But then Asher breezes into the room and says, “Have you told him about knifes?”

Nate shakes his head.

Asher sighs. “Nate’s a pyro,” she explains.

She grabs Bob by the arm. Her long fingernails cut into Bob’s skin painfully. She drags him back into her office. Except it’s not her office anymore. It’s an apartment. It’s a fully furnished, very modern apartment. Everything is black and white and stainless steel. Something about it doesn’t seem as surreal as everything else. It seems solid, real. But it doesn’t feel like a place that should be lived in.

“This is yours,” Asher says. “On the fridge you’ll find the list of things you need to do that week. Do those and we’ll take care of your expenses.”

“Like food?” Bob asks, realizing he hasn’t eaten in a very long time.

“Exactly,” Asher says. “Your wallet’s on the kitchen counter. Your keys are next to it. The only rule? Stay the hell away from your former life. No contacting friends, family, anyone. You’re dead to them. And don’t tell anyone you’re dead, either. You cannot believe the amount of paperwork you’ll have to fill out if an encounter occurs. Plus, you’ll lose this cushy job and have to work down in the Pit.”

Bob frowns. It’s bad enough he’s dead, but not being able to see his friends or family again? That’s a kick in the balls. Also, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to figure out what Asher means by “Pit.”

Asher gives Bob a satisfactory nod and heads out the front door. Bob doesn’t even have to look to know that she’s not in the hallway.

Bob doesn’t know where to start. His new apartment is Spartan. There are three rooms, so Bob starts with what’s closest: the living room. There’s a black, leather couch looking out over a huge window. The skyline is unmistakable. He’s staring directly at the fucking Chrysler Building.

Bob is pretty sure he died in Chicago. He’s really fuzzy on the details, and frankly, he really, really doesn’t want to remember. Being dead and not able to see his mother or friends is traumatic enough, thank you very fucking much.

The next room is the kitchen. There’s a piece of paper on the refrigerator. Bob doesn’t want to look at it. Not just yet.

The last room is the bedroom with adjacent bath. There’s nothing on the sterile, white walls. In fact, the only items in the room are the king-sized bed with black bedclothes and what look to be satin sheets, a medium-sized, empty black dresser, a black lamp with a white shade on the bedside table, and a small digital clock with bright red numbers sitting next to the lamp.

He didn’t see a computer anywhere, so he adds it to his mental shopping list, right after buy a shopping list and buy clothing.

Bob takes a deep breath and holds it for a moment before he releases it. He’s exhausted. He’s beyond exhausted. He wants nothing more than to crawl into the bed and pass out for the next century. Except the clock says that it’s 10:04 a.m. If he wants to eat ever, he needs to do whatever is on the list on the refrigerator.

He wanders back to the kitchen and has time to read the first part of the sentence before someone knocks on his door. The first part of the note says, Make someone take the blame.

He doubts the person at the door is Asher. She probably wouldn’t knock.

Bob wants to look out the peephole to see who the hell would knock on his door, especially when he’s been in the apartment for all of ten minutes, but there’s no peephole, forcing Bob to open the door to see who it is.

It’s a short dude wearing a fedora. He has very blue, earnest eyes.

Bob stares at him a moment before saying, “Hi?”

“Hey,” the dude says. “I’m Patrick from next door. I saw you move in and wanted to welcome you.”

“Thanks,” Bob says. He’s still a bit skeptical. He never moved in. There were no boxes. There is nothing in the apartment that makes it look lived in. There aren’t even clothes. If Bob were to guess, he’d also say that the refrigerator is empty.

“Are you new to the city?” Patrick asks. He seems nice enough. Just a polite neighbor, for which Bob is extremely grateful.

“Yeah,” Bob says. “I’m originally from Chicago.”

Patrick smiles up at him. “Me, too.” The smile wilts a bit as Patrick studies Bob’s face.

“Cool,” Bob says.

“I need to head out to work,” Patrick says, “but I’ll probably see you around.”

“Sure,” Bob says. “Nice to meet you.”

Patrick flashes Bob another smile (it looks forced) and heads off down the hall.

Bob shrugs to himself and heads back into his apartment to read the paper on the refrigerator door. It says exactly what Bob thought it would: Bob has to make someone take the blame for another person’s crime.

Bob wants to lodge a complaint about his placement, but he doesn’t know who to complain to. Instead, Bob grabs the keys and wallet. The keys go into Bob’s pocket, and he leafs through the wallet. There’s fifty bucks in cash, two credit cards, an ATM card for Bank of America, and a frequent sub sandwich card at some deli that Bob’s doesn’t know. Everything is in Bob’s name.

Bob shoves the wallet into a pocket.

:: :: ::

The doorman gives Bob a nod as he leaves. Bob almost asks him what a dead guy’s to do in New York, but he refrains from doing so. Bob’s sure that could only end in paperwork. He never thought being dead would have so much bureaucracy to it.

Bob takes note of where his apartment building is and heads off down the avenue.

The first store Bob comes across is a department store. He ends up buying socks, boxers, jeans, a couple hoodies, and several black t-shirts. One moron pointed out that Bob’s pants were ripped. Bob had said that was why he was buying pants. As an after thought, he grabs a plateware set, glasses, and a silverware set, because he doubts that Asher took care of that, either.

With his arms full of bags, he returns to his apartment. The doorman gives him a strange look that’s all raised eyebrows but says nothing, even when Bob comes back downstairs again.

“Um,” Bob says.

The doorman looks at him expectantly.

“I’m new,” Bob says. “Where’s the nearest grocery store?”

The doorman gives Bob a contemplative look. “You a hippy, organic type or do you not care where your food comes from?”

“As long as there’re no cockroaches in it, I’m good,” Bob says. “I’m Bob,” he adds, realizing that he hadn’t introduced himself, and his Momma raised him better than that.

“Brian,” the doorman says. “I have the day shift.”

There’s something off about Brian, and Bob can’t put his finger on it. He seems like he’s somehow out of place. Bob’s eyes keep bouncing down to Brian’s neck tattoo and back up to his face.

“What brings you to New York?” Brian asks. It sounds like a lazy drawl, but there’s an odd undertone to it that suggests Brian’s really curious and trying to hide it.

“Haven’t a clue,” Bob says honestly. “A new start, I suppose.”

“Yeah,” Brian says. “I know the feeling. Look, for the nearest grocery, head left for two blocks than down the avenue for another block. For the best grocery, go right four blocks.”

“Thanks, man,” Bob says and heads out.

:: :: ::

When Bob returns with a new laptop and groceries, there’s a person in his apartment. He’s sprawled along the couch, all long legs and elbows.

Bob’s not even surprised. “Why didn’t Asher come herself?”

The man looks up. “She’s busy.”

“And Nate?” Bob prompts.

“He’s busy, too,” the man says with a wave of his hand. “I’m Ryland, your babysitter.”

Bob crosses his arms over his chest and looks as unimpressed as he can.

“I’m your case manager,” Ryland says.

“I’ve only been here a couple of hours,” Bob points out. “But if you’re the person I complain to, I’ll be glad to.”

“You can complain to me, but I’m not going to do anything about it,” Ryland explains. “Especially if it’s about your placement.”

“Why are you here?” Bob asks.

“I was wondering why you haven’t started on the list Victoria gave you,” Ryland says. “Victoria’s wondering the same thing. You’ve had more than enough time. You’ve met hundreds of people and have conversations with at least six of them.”

“I doubt the cashiers count,” Bob snorts. He’s majorly crept out by the idea that Ryland’s been watching him go about his day.

“They do,” Ryland says. “But you should probably keep your sights set on your building. Easier access and all.”

“Is that why I was sent, you know?” Bob asks, because he has to know.

Ryland tips his head back and laughs. “God doesn’t give a shit who you boff. It’s all about who you are inside.”

“Oh,” Bob says faintly.

“Look,” Ryland says. “You’re new to this game, which is why Victoria started you off easy, so I’ll throw you a bone.” He gracefully picks himself up off Bob’s couch and strides out the door.

Bob stares at the door until there’s the knock he knew was coming but didn’t want to think about.

There can only be one of two people on the other side of the door. Or both of them, but Bob doesn’t want it to be either. He wants a moment to himself to sulk. He never had a chance to sulk and think about his death – or his life. He feels that he needs to be alone, feel sorry for himself, freak out, then get the hell over it, and move on with his unlife. This continuous stream of people is not copasetic with Bob’s plans.

The person knocks again.

Bob sighs and opens the door to see Patrick standing on the other side looking mildly concerned.

“May I come in?” he asks.

Bob steps aside and lets Patrick into his apartment.

Patrick sits down on the couch, looking a lot more compact than Ryland had. He wrinkles his nose. Which. Is kinda cute.

“Do you have a cat?” he asks.

“No,” Bob says with a shake of his head. “Are they even allowed in the building? Are you allergic or something?”

“Yeah, on both accounts,” Patrick says. “They’re evil creatures; you don’t want one anyway.”

Bob frowns slightly.

“Your friend said you wanted to talk to me?” Patrick presses.

“Uh,” Bob says, cursing Ryland before he remembers that Ryland’s very dead and probably very evil. “Internet,” he blurts. “I was wondering about a wireless internet connection for the apartment.”

“Oh,” Patrick says. “You’re going to have to talk to the super about that.”

“Okay,” Bob says. “Thanks.”

“That’s all?” Patrick asks, skeptical. “Do you need help unpacking or something?”

“No, I’m good,” Bob says. “Thanks, though.”

Patrick gives him an odd look, but he lets Bob be.

:: :: ::

Bob has nothing to do with his time, so he wanders the streets, trying to familiarize himself with the city. He wanders, but he keeps his eyes open for crimes being committed, like he’s some sort of freaky vigilante. If Ryland is keeping check on him, Bob might as well show a little pretense.

He ends up on a bench in Times Square, watching people bustle by. Everyone is in such a hurry. They have so much to do and not enough time to fit it all into their day. Bob remembers being like that, especially in college. The only reward he had for his efforts is that he’s now an intern for a demon and asked to Do Evil Things in her name. Or Saporta’s name. Bob’s not too clear who he’s doing this for, but it certainly isn’t for himself.

And he doesn’t want to know what the consequences are if he doesn’t. Obviously the Pit. And a whole bunch of paperwork. But it’s everything that goes with those. It’s not something he’s interested in finding out.

“Stop!” Bob hears as a man races passed him. Bob instinctively stretches out his legs and the man falls onto his face, taking out a second man. The purse he has in his hands flies out and ends up in front of another man.

The first man pushes himself up off the concrete and races off. The second man looks down at his twisted legs and picks up the purse. In the corner of his vision, Bob can see black vapors around the second man. Bob’s only seen those once before, but he’s pretty sure he knows what those mean.

A middle-aged woman rounds the corner and shrieks, “That’s the man who stole my purse!” She points at the second man. The first man is long gone.

There’s a mounted cop behind her. The cop dismounts and grabs the second man, who’s looking on in shock.

“Is this the man you saw running away?” the cop asks Bob.

“Yeah,” Bob lies. There. Job done.

The cop cuffs the second man, which Bob thinks is a bit harsh for a purse-snatcher, and over her radio says, “Bring the FBI down to 42nd. I’ve got someone who might interest them.”

She then cuffs the man to the bench next to Bob.

“Excuse me,” she says to Bob. “And thank you for apprehending a dangerous fugitive.”

Bob frowns at her in confusion, but he stands up and says, “You’re welcome.”

The cop hands the woman back her purse. “I’m going to need both of you to head down to the station with me to fill out some paperwork.”

Bob keeps his groan internalized. It’s like he can’t escape paperwork.

:: :: ::

Luckily, the station is two blocks away. The paperwork is painless. It just is a statement saying that he witnessed the theft and tripped the man. Which is a total lie, and Bob’s not even sure how the legal system will react to having a dead man signing legal documents. He figures that someone Below will take care of that.

Not so luckily, Ryland is waiting for him when he returns to his apartment.

“What now?” Bob asks. “I did what Asher wanted.”

Ryland looks horribly put upon. “You assisted the FBI with the capture of a dangerous fugitive. He slaughtered a bus full of kindergarteners in the Midwest. He wasn’t an innocent.”

“It was never specified that it needed to be an innocent,” Bob argues. As far as Bob sees it, it’s a good thing that felon is no longer at large. “It’s not like I did a formal background check on the man.”

Ryland gives Bob a dirty look, and Bob doesn’t need to look out of the corner of his eyes to see the black vapors that Ryland is emitting.

“Didn’t Nate tell you how to identify someone who’s Naughty or Nice?”

Bob folds his arms across his chest. “No,” he says. “And neither did any of Santa’s other helpers.”

Ryland gives Bob a wry expression. “I’ll send someone along to make up for the blanks in your education.”

:: :: ::

The moment Ryland leaves, another man crashes through Bob’s door.

“Hi,” the man says genially. “I’m Alex.”

“Bob,” Bob says.

“Ryland says you’re a tricky one,” Alex says, making himself at home on Bob’s couch. “Victoria’s irate, but Gabe thinks it’s fucking hilarious.”

“There weren’t exactly detailed instructions,” Bob feels compelled to point out.

“There never will be, either,” Alex says. “You know, you should get a television for your place. It’s kinda boring.”

“I moved in this morning,” Bob says dryly.

Alex shrugs. “So, what did Nate teach you?”

Bob shrugs in return. “It was mostly about fire.”

Alex smirks. It’s not as crooked as Saporta’s smirk, but it’s pretty damn close. “He likes fire.”

“I gathered,” Bob says.

“Anyway,” Alex says blithely. “Ryland wanted me to teach you how to recognize someone Nice.”

Bob raises his eyebrows expectantly.

“They have an aura,” Alex says. “It’s kinda like a light is on behind their heads, you know, like all those paintings of Jesus from the Middle Ages.”

“A light,” Bob repeats incredulously.

“It’s kinda whitish,” Alex elaborates, which is not exactly helpful.

“And how do I recognize someone who’s Naughty?” Bob asks, thinking he already knows the answer. Those black vapors have to be there for a reason.

“They don’t have the light,” Alex says. He waves his hands about his head as if to demonstrate that there’s no light there, not that Bob expected there to be: he works with Asher, Ryland, Nate, and Saporta.

“No light,” Bob repeats. “That’s it?”

“Yeah,” Alex says.

Bob decides to keep his mouth shut about the black vapors and how he’s never seen anyone with a light. If demons can’t see their own aura – or just don’t notice it – Bob figures he can use that to his advantage to stay Good while being paid to Do Evil.

“Oh,” Alex says. “There are also Reapers. They’re just harvesters. They aren’t Naughty or Nice. They just do their jobs and stick to themselves. It takes practice to notice a Reaper, but it’s an assload of paperwork if you tag one. They’re kinda untouchable, you know?”

Bob doesn’t know. “How do I recognize one?” The last thing he wants is paperwork, damn it!

“They kinda – It’s like. Huh.” Alex pauses and looks pensive. “It’s like they’re there, but they’re really not. It’s a perception thing. You’ll know what I’m talking about the first time you see one.”

“That’s… not at all helpful,” Bob says with a scowl.

Alex shrugs. “Anyway, I need to be off.”

:: :: ::

Bob’s on his way out in the morning when he catches the tail end of a conversation between Patrick and Brian.

“He doesn’t have a cat,” Patrick hisses.

“So?” Brian asks. “Neither do I.”

“Because they’re evil,” Patrick says. “That doesn’t explain the partial aura.”

“Maybe it was someone who helped him move in,” Brian suggests.

Patrick snorts. “He stinks of Hell. I’m going to Save him if you’re with me or not.”

Bob rounds a corner, and the conversation stops. He smiles and nods to both of them on his way out.

:: :: ::

Bob wanders uptown, walking along the Hudson Parkway – the sidewalk between the Hudson and the Parkway, not alongside the actual road. Bob was never suicidal, and he’s not exactly sure if he can die, because he already has. Not that he remembers it or anything.

He’s almost passed the docks where there are huge lines of huge cars ready to drop passengers off on huge boats when he hears yowling. It’s faint, and at first Bob thinks that it might be some sort of engine echoing over the water. It’s probably bouncing off the rocks down by the edge of the river.

Except it’s not, because it’s coming from behind a dumpster. Bob hopes it’s not cats, because cats have claws. He likes cats and all, it’s just he likes his face intact more. And interrupting a catfight is a great way to have his face cut to ribbons.

Instead, he finds a box of puppies. Their eyes have barely opened, and they’re yipping pitifully.

It’s not like Bob can leave them there. He’s not coldhearted like the bastard who dumped the puppies. However, he has no idea what to do with a box full of six, newborn puppies. He doesn’t even know what breed they are. They’re grey with brown and matted with something that is hopefully water. And one of them looks up at Bob and attempts to let loose a ferocious bark. It sounds like someone stepped on a squeak toy.

No, Bob can’t leave them behind the dumpster.

He hauls up the box, and the puppies squirm, upsetting the balance of the box. There’s something oozing on the bottom of the box that Bob would rather not think about, and he knows he has to scrub his hands more than thoroughly later.

One of the puppies tries to make a break for it. It leaps into Bob’s face, but it only makes it as far as Bob’s neck before it becomes tangled in Bob’s sweatshirt. Bob has to set the box back down before he can untangle the puppy, who seems more than happy to stay in Bob’s clothes.

Bob sticks the wayward puppy into the pouch of his sweatshirt where it curls up and presumably goes to sleep. At least it’s not squirming anymore.

The rest of the puppies settle down, and Bob carries the box under his arm. He has no idea where to bring them. He hasn’t been in the city for long enough to know where to drop off abandoned puppies.

He bets that Brian would know.

:: :: ::

Bob softly places the box on the floor by his feet.

Brian gives him an apprehensive look, and he eyes the box as if it contained all the evils in the world.

Bob gently pulls the sleeping puppy from the pouch in his sweatshirt and shows it to Brian.

“The fuck?” Brian asks.

“I found them by the cruise ship docks,” Bob explains. “I don’t know where to bring them.”

“Them?” Brian asks with a raise of his eyebrows.

“There are five more in the box,” Bob states.

The puppies in the box begin to squirm again. Their tiny nails scratch against the corrugated box, and Bob can hear snuffling.

A dark spot on one corner of the box grows.

“Oh, hell no!” Brian shouts. “Those mutts did not piss all over my lobby!”

“They’re puppies for fucks sake,” Bob says. “They’re not exactly paper trained.”

Brian sneers at the box, and the puppy in Bob’s hands squirms.

“I think I might need another box,” Bob says.

“Okay,” Brian says with a sigh. “I’ll see if I can find another box.”

“Awesome,” Bob says.

“Evil,” Brian mutters to himself as he shakes his head. Bob’s pretty sure he isn’t mean to hear it. “I fucking doubt it.”

“Where’s the nearest shelter?” Bob asks as Brian disappears into a storage room.

Brian reemerges with a large box. “I’m off in ten minutes. If you can hold on, I’ll show you there.”

“Oh,” Bob says. “Is that a service you offer all the tenants?”

“Don’t push it,” Brian growls.

Bob shrugs and offers Brian the puppy he’s holding.

Brian declines.

:: :: ::

The shelter Brian brings Bob to is small and has a Mom and Pop feel to it. Bob had no idea that any place in New York City could feel Mom and Pop.

A twentysomething is standing behind the counter. There’s something off about him, too, and Bob’s not entirely sure it’s the overwhelming smell of dog. The guy gives Brian a large grin.

“Brian! What brings you crosstown?” the guy asks. His grin stays stuck to his face.

“This is Bob,” Brian says. “He’s a new tenant in my building.”

“Hi, Bob!” the guy bubbles. “I’m Brendon.”

“Hi,” Bob says. “I found some puppies.” He places the box of puppies on the counter.

Brendon opens it greedily. “Five puppies!” he exclaims. He then coos at them.

“Five?” Brian repeats looking to Bob suspiciously.

Bob shrugs and takes the sixth pup out of the pouch of his sweatshirt. “I’m keeping this one.”

“But!” Brian protests.

“Dogs are allowed,” Bob says. His neighbor on the other side of Patrick has a tiny dog-thing. It took Bob about ten minutes to figure out that she was walking a dog and not a rat.

“You seem more like the cat type,” Brian protests weakly.

“I think they’re a lab-collie mix,” Brendon says, and then yells, “Hey, Jon! We have puppies!”

Another twentysomething appears in the doorway to the backroom. Bob’s never seen someone appear so quickly. He doubts the guy would move as quickly if the building were on fire.

“Puppies?” Jon asks eagerly.

Brendon takes one out of the box and examines it. It squirms and whines. Brendon lifts a floppy ear, opens its mouth, and runs his fingers along its gut.

“I think they’re a bit malnourished and possibly dehydrated,” Brendon assesses. “But they’re otherwise okay.”

“I’ll grab the formula,” Jon announces and ducks back out of the room.

“I’d be happy to give you some formula,” Brendon offers Bob. “These poor, little guys should still be with their mother.” There’s a serious and cynical undertone to Brendon’s words that seem to contradict his bubbly personality. Bob doesn’t know how he should process that information. “I’ll give you the name of our vet to have your new pup checked out.”

“Thanks,” Bob says.

:: :: ::

“Brendon’s mostly harmless,” Brain says as he runs a finger along the ridge of a Red Bull can. “He’s really enthusiastic about his job.”

They returned from the shelter and subsequent pet store stop to Bob’s apartment. Bob had doled out Red Bull. Bob’s already gone through a can, but Brian is less enthusiastic.

“He seemed a bit off to me,” Bob says thoughtfully.

It takes Brian a second too long to shrug and say, “It’s just Brendon.”

Bob narrows his eyes suspiciously.

Brian takes a long pull on his Red Bull.

Someone knocks furiously on Bob’s door.

“You gonna answer that?” Brian mutters.

“Yeah, yeah,” Bob grumbles back. But he opens the door to find a very angry Patrick.

Without asking for permission, Patrick storms into Bob’s apartment, pointing an accusatory finger at Brian.

“Um, what?” Bob asks.

Patrick nearly slips on a chew toy, and both Bob and Brian have to keep themselves from laughing.

“The fuck?!” Patrick demands. Bob’s not sure what he’s addressing: his beef with Brian or the presence of a chew toy.

“Bob rescued half a dozen puppies from a dumpster,” Brian says. He has a sadistic smile that Bob’s never seen on someone who didn’t have wisps of black smoke wafting off their person.

Patrick stops short. “…What?”

“He. Rescued. Puppies,” Brian repeats. “Puppies.”

Bob points to a dog bed in the corner. The puppy Bob had chosen, or really, the one who chose Bob, is curled up, snuffling in his sleep.

“Puppies,” Patrick repeats faintly. He sits down heavily on Bob’s couch. “Puppies.”

“Is there something wrong?” Bob asks eventually.

Brian snorts, and Patrick shoots him a deadly glare.

“He thought you were Evil,” Brian says, and Bob can hear the capital letter.

“It seems to be going around,” Bob says under his breath.

Patrick gives Brian an even deadlier look.

“He met Brendon today,” Brian says, and Bob wants to make a connection, but he’s not sure there is one there.

“Brendon,” Patrick repeats.

“Did you break Patrick?” Bob asks.

“No,” Patrick says tersely. “I Googled you.”

“Um,” Bob says. He’s not sure what else to say. Because, creepy.

“You’re dead,” Patrick says. “Dead, dead, very much dead.”

Bob winces. He rapidly tries to think of a loophole, something that would not end with Bob explaining that he is dead and that he’s the demon intern to a femme fatal.

“I figured that you must have faked your own death,” Patrick continues. “But there were no warrants against you, and there were no unexplained deaths in your area, no debt, no pregnant girlfriend, so.”

“Um,” Bob repeats.

“For fuck’s sake, Patrick,” Brian says, thoroughly exasperated. “Cut the kid a break. He’s been dead for two damn days.”

Bob’s head snaps to Brian so quickly he thinks he tore something in his neck.

Brian laughs heartily, but there’s nothing malicious to it.

“How – What – I don’t – ” Bob stammers.

“And in that time he rescued puppies,” Brian adds. “He didn’t find them and turn them into pies after tearing their heads off with his teeth.”

Bob makes a horrified face.

“But,” Patrick protests, “his aura.”

“You were arguing about me this morning!” Bob realizes. “Wait.” There are more pressing issues to deal with than who’s been talking behind whose back. “How the fuck do you guys know this shit?”

Patrick slumps backwards against the back of the couch and bangs his head several times.

“This is going to result in a fuckton of paperwork,” Patrick moans.

Brian gives him a wry expression. “You’d never know based on his attitude, but Patrick’s – ”

“Oh, Hell, no!” Patrick snaps. “You don’t get to out me!”

“Well, tell the nice man who rescues puppies what you are,” Brian says slyly.

“Fuck you, Schechter,” Patrick says.

Bob watches the entire exchange feeling dizzy. There’s a feeling in the pit of his stomach that’s ridiculously close to anxiety, and he doesn’t want that feeling to mature into something monstrous.

Patrick scoffs and says, “I’m an Angel.”

Bob stares at him.

Brian, Bob is fairly certain, giggles.

“An Angel,” Bob says. “So you were on the Nice List?”

Patrick scowls.

“I’m a Reaper,” Brain admits. “It’s how I knew you were dead.”

“And so’s Brendon,” Bob concludes.

Brian shrugs. “Well, now that the introductions are out of the way, can you straighten yourself out for Patrick? His panties need to be unwound.” Brian leers at Patrick and adds, “Or removed.”

Patrick blushes and pulls his fedora down to hide his eyes.

“I have no idea what’s going on with me,” Bob admits and a thought hits him. “Are – are you two sleeping together?”

Brian shrugs, and Patrick groans and blushes some more.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Bob says.

“Our relationship isn’t what Patrick wants to discuss,” Brian says.

Bob looks to Patrick, who’s still trying to hide underneath his fedora.

“Have you named the dog yet?” Patrick asks quickly.

“No,” Bob says slowly. He doubts that’s what Patrick wants to ask. Bob turns to Brian. “How did you know I’m dead?”

Brian shrugs. “It’s part of my training to identify the Expiration – uh, Death Date everyone has. Your Death Date was two days ago.”

“Wait,” Bob says. “Two days?” He thought it would be at least three based on how long he had spent in the waiting room.

“Yeah,” Brian says. “Thursday.” He pokes Bob in the center of his forehead.

Bob blinks and swats Brian’s hand away.

“And all that time in – ” Bob cuts himself off. He’s not sure how much he’s supposed to say about the waiting room.

“Death kinda has its own time,” Brian explains. He pokes at Patrick’s thigh. “Don’t be a pussy. Tell Bob about your concerns.”

Patrick bats at Brian’s fingers. “You’re on the Naughty List,” he says sullenly.

Bob nods. “I know.”

“But you rescued puppies,” Patrick protests.

“I know,” Bob repeats.

“People on the Naughty List don’t rescue puppies,” Patrick insists. “Not to save them.”

“I did,” Bob says.

“Then someone must have messed up,” Brian says. “It’s been known to happen from time to time.”

“His aura,” Patrick says lamely.

“Can I fix it?” Bob asks Brian eagerly.

Brian shrugs, which is in no way helpful.

“I think Patrick’s in shock,” Bob says, looking over to Patrick, who still has his fedora pulled down.

“He just thought you ate puppies for breakfast,” Brian says, patting Patrick’s thigh consolingly.

Patrick slaps Brian’s hand away.

“I think it’s time for us to go,” Brian says. He tugs at Patrick’s hand until Patrick follows him out of the apartment.

:: :: ::

Bob pretends he can’t hear through his walls, and thinking about it makes him blush even when he’s alone.

:: :: ::

The note on the refrigerator stays blank, which is just fine with Bob.

:: :: ::

Now that Patrick doesn’t think that Bob eats puppies for breakfast, he’s a lot more welcoming than he had been. And a lot less secretive.

Brian always finds himself in Bob’s apartment after his shift helping Bob feed and train his puppy… Until Patrick collects Brian, and what always follows makes Bob blush. Bob hasn’t blushed this much since he was fifteen and trying to win the affections of Molly Monroe in his third period science class.

His life falls into a strange pattern until the note on his refrigerator is no longer blank.

Tear them apart.

Bob feels his stomach give out. He doesn’t need to ask who the note is about. He knows, and Asher knows that he knows. He can’t do that to a person. Both on ethical grounds and… he hasn’t a clue as to how to go about it.

Ryland bangs into Bob’s apartment like a hurricane.

“Yeah?” Bob asks.

“You’re not the only case I’m managing,” Ryland says. “I take my eyes off you for a moment and you’re friends with an Angel and a Reaper, who appear to have a very active sex life together.”

Bob feels his face heat.

“And you have a dog,” Ryland says, scrunching up his face in distaste. “Why not a cat? Cat’s are Evil.”

“So I’ve heard,” Bob says dryly.

“You’ve been given a more advanced task,” Ryland says. “And you have a week to do it.”

Bob really wants to retort, “And if I don’t?” But he can’t bring himself to ask it. He’s still waiting for the paperwork from his original conversation with Patrick and Brian.

He doesn’t have to wait long, because a stack of papers appear in Ryland’s arms, and he hands them off to Bob.

“These need to be completed by tomorrow,” Ryland says, and he’s off again.

Bob examines the pile of paper in his hands. There must be at least fifty pages.

He sighs, dumps the papers onto his coffee table, and goes in search of a pen.

:: Part Two ::



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