The smoke-filled waiting room hung with the same beige and avocado gloom as it had for the last few millennia. Good to see that the afterlife was constant, if nothing else. Gabriel sighed, manifesting himself with an appropriate form for the dimension. Being killed had given him the mother of all migraines, and as such he didn't have the imagination to come up with anything else than his vessel, with wings. It'd do.
He picked his way across the room, past the various unimpressed former-people who lounged on the decaying couches, flicking through ancient copies of "Time Death" and "Plague". He leant against the counter and knocked sharply on the corrugated plastic partition. It slid back with a snap, and a green tinted woman with red hair and a scowl stared out at him. Her sash proclaimed her "Miss Argentina". She looked him up and down, and noted his wings. She sighed.
"Another one of you? I thought Angels were supposed to be immortal."
"We are, unless someone kills us." He returned her sassy glare, too tired and migraine-ridden to even feign politeness, which was a shame, because otherwise he probably would have made a pass at her.
"You know, you really cause a back-log in the paperwork. Sit down over there, and we'll send someone down to see you... Number four thousand, seven hundred and two!" She called past him, and a pale man in a sleeping bag shuffled through the door, accompanied by a hissing rattle. Miss Argentina tutted, before scribbling something down on a notepad. "Why do they insist on camping out if they can't remember how to ward off snakes... over there, sir." The window slammed shut again.
Gabriel sighed, and surveyed the waiting room. There wasn't a chair free, but there was a space where Mr. Sleeping Bag had been standing. He walked over, manifested a chair and a bag of skittles, and began to wait.
"Hey." A high pitched squeak came from the couch across the room. Gabriel blinked. "Hey! Yo, birdman! Help a guy out here!"
A corpse he had originally thought to be headless was talking to him, gaining a heavily unimpressed glare from the tribal chief on its' right.
"Chief Full-of-Bull here won't change me back..." The tiny head guffawed and snorted. The high pitched voice was very, very annoying, rubbing up against Gabriel's migraine the way cheese rubs up against a serrated implement. "Would ya mind?" Gabriel sighed and pointed a hand vaguely in the direction of the corpse, who was wearing a frankly hideous magenta tuxedo. He wasn't in the mood to be charitable (or rather, was less so than usual), but he hoped this would at least make the talking stop. It didn't.
"Thanks, buddy, really appreciate it..." the voice gradually became lower as the corpse's head expanded. "Hat size is seven and one eighth, if you don't mind."
"You'll get what you get, and you'll shut up." Gabriel snapped, glancing over at the ghost. The ghost, now properly proportioned once more, clicked his fingers and replaced the magenta monstrosity with a black and white striped suit. This interested Gabriel.
"How did you do that?"
"Ah, no, sorry. Secrets of the trade. If I tell you, you'll tell your friends, they set up their own gigs... gotta keep the market." He shrugged, reaching into his jacket pocket and producing a handful of fat green beetles that he began to chew with a resounding crunch. "Want one?"
"No, thanks, I've got my own." He waved the bag of skittles, sighing and turning away. Silence descended for a moment, before the ghost tried again.
"So...what's with the wings, you get attacked by an emu or something?"
"No, actually, for your information I'm an Archangel. As in Angel of God, who could easily destroy you if you don't stop talking?" His headache was really getting to him, and being made to wait around for some glorified ex-psych patient to tick the right boxes and send him where he should be was not helping things. He had little respect for the pen-pushers of the Neitherworld simply because you only became one if you were a human who committed suicide. He didn't share his brothers' contempt for humans, but he did find the ones that killed themselves to be somewhat arrogant, or at the very least, unbearably petty. It smacked a little of the youngest kid saying "well if I can't get the super-barbie-deluxe-holiday-dream-house-with-matching-jet-skis-and-power-facility, then I don't want any presents at all" and then spending the rest of Christmas locked up in their room.
"Angel? No shit." The ghost knocked back another couple of beetles, crunching them thoughtfully. "So what you doing here? Aren't you guys kind of above all of this, no pun intended?"
"Normally, yes, unless one of your brothers decides to shove a knife through your heart, which really smarts, and gives me a headache the size of Japan, and I'm not happy about it, so would you please just take the hint and be quiet for a couple of centuries?"
"Right, right." The ghost held up his hands, chuckling in that forced way that people who are being bothersome do when they try not to appear bothersome. "Not my place to get involved in family problems, believe me, it's that kind of stuff that got me here in the first place, know what I mean?" He ran a hand over his dead, lank hair, and, in one movement that was surprisingly slick given his not unnoticeable girth, had crossed the room and was on his knees at Gabriel's side.
"Look, I'm gonna level with you pal, right here, right now. You and me, we've got a lot in common and I really feel like we've hit it off. You seem like just the guy to help me out of this predicament because, see, I'm not here for initial processing; I was already dead, there was an incident with a sandworm, I'm not gonna bore you with the details so let's just say that I really don't need to be here, and if you could just pop me back somewhere I can pick up my old racket again then really it'd be beneficial for everyone, know what I..."
"Beetlejuice!" Miss Argentina glowered through her window, her long eyelashes serving to accentuate her incredibly unimpressed expression. "Stop bothering Mr Gabriel. You'll get your turn to speak to Juno, now kindly let the other patrons be." She nodded, slamming the partition shut again. The ghost identified as Beetlejuice froze. Gabriel raised an eyebrow; one millimetre at a time, revelling as Beetlejuice's cowering grew in proportion to the incredulous eyebrow.
There was a long, uncomfortable silence.
"Receptionists." Beetlejuice snorted, standing uneasily. "You know I hate them."
"Wow." Gabriel crossed his legs, leaning back in the chair slightly as the ghost stood before him like a scolded puppy. "So you're the infamous Bio-Exorcist."
"Hey, well, you know... I wouldn't say "infamous"..."
"The one who's been causing trouble for years with the lines between life and death. The one who has been exorcised, what, three times now?"
"Uh... three and a half, if you count that one in Cape Town."
"And still you burst out of the Lost Souls room, refusing to let go. Now, that's commitment right there." Gabriel stood, wings rustling slightly as he circled the increasingly sheepish ghost. The smell of dead flesh and sweat surrounded the ghost like an aura, and Gabriel could detect definite undertones of sulphur and brimstone. "You do realise that it's our influence that keeps you out of Hell, right?" Beetlejuice flinched. As long as ghosts were in Limbo, or had a position in the Neitherworld, they were safe from judgement in Heaven or Hell. Most of them were in Limbo for a hundred or so years before judgement, but Beetlejuice's file had been purposefully transferred, mislaid, postponed, and who knew what else. No one was happy about it, but the angels continued to point out the alternative; would they prefer him in hell? Sure, he'd be in insufferable torment for a couple of centuries and give all the pen pushers a little peace for once, but if he had this sort of power as a ghost, did they really want to see him as a demon?
"Uh, for, uh, what it's worth, I really appreciate that. I mean, you know, I'd be happy to take my punishment, just that uh, I have a terrible allergy to... uh..."
"Soul-crushing, unrelenting torture?" Gabriel supplied.
"Uh, yeah, that's the one."
Gabriel looked the ghost up and down. He certainly didn't look like anything special. A dirty middle-aged man, maybe, but nothing especially nasty. Then again, Gabriel thought, the same could be said for Zachariah, and look what he achieved on a day to day basis. Gabriel was considering how to further demean this jumped-up, over-inflated lump of ectoplasm when the door behind them swung open, revealing a man hanging from a rope, an apologetic look on his mangled face, and a file in his hands.
"Uh... Mr Gabriel, if you could please come with me?" The hanged ghost croaked, eyes flicking from Gabriel to Beetlejuice. Gabriel sighed, and turned to Beetlejuice, poking a finger in his face.
"Don't get too cocky. We own you." He turned and left, following the hanged ghost, who showered him with apologies and stammered excuses, not that Gabriel was listening.
"Death? That's it?" Gabriel slammed his hands against the desk, staring at the assembled faceless suits. Literally. The beings in charge of the Neitherworld personnel processing department had been dead so long, they had just enough spirit left to fill out suits.
"We're really very sorry, Mr. Gabriel, but there's not a lot we can do..." A voice came from one of the suits.
"Your brother, Mr. Uriel is adapting quite well to life as a citizen of Limbo..." Another suit cut in, its' sleeves fidgeting nervously. "He's taken up a position as... as rehabilitation officer for those executed by means of corporal punishment... That's something, right?"
"Nuts to Uriel!" Gabriel shouted, standing suddenly, his wings rustling angrily. "Are you seriously telling me there's no way to get out of here? Back to the real world?" Which might not be around much longer, Gabriel thought. He bit his lip, backtracking. "I can't at least go back to Heaven?"
There was a long, uncomfortable pause.
"Negotiations of that kind..." The third suit began, its' collar twisting in such a way to imply it wasn't making eye contact... if a suit could make eye contact.
"Oh for the love of... You guys are useless." Gabriel snapped, pulling a mars bar out of his pocket. Had it been there five minutes ago? Who cared, he needed chocolate and he needed it now. He tore into it, chewing ravenously, staring at the wall. Once the sugar had began to make its' way into his bloodstream, he felt a little calmer. "Right. Start negotiating or whatever. I don't care how long it takes; I can't stay here for eternity. In the meantime, however, I will agree to whatever witness relocation crap you want me to go through."
"Wonderful!" The suits chorused, before bombarding him with forms and information.
It had been three years, in earth time, since Gabriel had been processed. He had a penthouse suite at the ritziest Neitherworld hotel, but really that was like saying he had the finest bedchambers Guantanamo bay had to offer. The news trickled in that the apocalypse was coming. The news trickled in that the apocalypse came and went. Gabriel managed to secure himself some fairly stable sources of information, through the usual avenues of bribery and corruption. But he wasn't happy. In fact, the news that the world was still very much existing made him more aggravated than if he'd heard that the Winchesters had singlehandedly built and manned a rocket made out of liquid nitrogen into a black hole at the heart of the universe. He wanted out. And, he decided, as he stared out of the window overseeing a beautiful skyline, white shag carpet tickling his toes, glass of port in one hand and lollipop in the other, he'd be damned if he was going to wait around for it (figuratively speaking).
An idea flashed into his head. A wicked, twisted idea.
"Beetlejuice." He mumbled to himself, draining the glass of port and resting it on the coffee table. "Beetlejuice." He tried again, louder, a mischievous grin creeping across his face. "Beetlejuice!"
There was a crash of thunder, and the ghost appeared in the middle of the room, looking very confused. He turned around, spotted Gabriel, and instantly raised his hands in self defence.
"Whoah, come on! This isn't fair; all I did was jump out and say boo, how was I supposed to know she had a weak heart?"
"I mean, yeah, ok, I was trying to scare her, but just enough that she'd fall down. Faint maybe. Come on, it was manslaughter at worst!"
"Ok, fine, you dragged it out of me! I killed her! I killed her and I liked it, you happy now? What? What? I'm just one guy, what do you want from me?"
"I want you to shut up." Gabriel glared at him, and a large piece of duct tape appeared over the ghost's mouth. "I didn't summon you here about any punishment. If anything... I want to strike up a deal with you."
Beetlejuice's eyes narrowed suspiciously. He peeled the duct tape away carefully, and licked his lips with a long, pointed, green tongue. "I'm listening."
"You and I... have quite a lot in common. Conmen, jokers, tricksters..." Gabriel picked up his glass and walked back to the bar, pouring out two drinks. "We're both powerful beings. But..." He handed one of the drinks to Beetlejuice, who was watching him carefully. "We're both under strict limitations." Gabriel sat down on the couch, watching as Beetlejuice examined his drink closely before determining that it wasn't going to hurt him. "I'm an angel. I'm more powerful than you. But you have more, what's the term? Geo-temporal limitations?"
"I can go places you can't, and you want me to get you out of here." The ghost finished, before downing his port and heading over to the bar to refill his drink. "So what do I get out of it?"
"Well for one, I can get the hunters to leave off you." Gabriel lied bald-facedly. "As long as you stay in North America. And I'm sure I can pull some strings down here to get some more extensions on your processing. Say... lose a couple of case files, a few pieces of incriminating evidence..." he shrugged. "Your usual bribes."
"Could you get this damn name-summoning thing lifted?"
"Mm... no." Gabriel continued to grin, and stood, walking over to the ghost. If there was one thing Gabriel prized in such negotiations, it was the ability to unnerve any opposition by staring at them and walking towards them until they were so uncomfortable they'd agree, just in the hopes that he'd back off. "Because, for one thing, that would be asking too much and they'd never buy it, and for another, I'd like to know just where you are." He pinched the ghost's cheek, and wrinkled his nose in a condescending smile. Beetlejuice slapped his hand away, pointing his finger in Gabriel's face.
"Hey, watch it pal. Or I'll..."
"You'll what?" Gabriel laughed, his wings expanding behind him. "Anything you can do, I can do better."
Beetlejuice snorted, and small puffs of smoke shot from his nostrils.
"I don't deal with angels." He turned away, straightening his lapels as he headed towards the door. "You guys are less likely to stick with your deals than humans are."
"Alright, you get me out of here, I'll keep the hunters and the angels off your back, and I'll let you keep all those miniatures you just put inside your jacket."
Beetlejuice stopped, raising an eyebrow as he glanced over his shoulder. "No back tracking?"
They watched each other closely, the atmosphere becoming noticeably tense.
"Fine." Beetlejuice straightened his lapels again, brushing dead skin from his shoulders. "But it'll take me a while. I'll find a loophole, be an outside agent. But you gotta keep the hunters off my back."
"And I will." Gabriel sniffed. "But I'll call you back periodically and make sure you're actually trying."
"What, you don't trust me?" The ghost laughed, evaporating as he touched the door handle, leaving his manic grin and glowing eyes. "Catch ya later, Gabey-baby."
Gabriel looked out over the skyline once more, sipping at his port. His brain was a mess of thoughts and ideas, his face set in concentration. After a while, he chuckled.
"Gabey-baby... A wordsmith, he's not..."