It was him. There was no mistaking it. Eric Slingby lay unconscious in the trembling arms of Alan Humphries. He was in terrible shape; his entire body was riddled with injuries and he was coated in a thick layer of blood and dirt. Alan shakily lifted his partner and hugged him, resting Eric's head in the crook of his neck. The tall man's soft breath and stubbly chin tickled Alan's skin, confirming that he was alive.
"You're sure it's him this time?" Micah smiled, already knowing the answer to the question he had asked. Alan nodded quickly. Tears poured from his tired green eyes, but this time they were from pure elation. Eric was really here. He had found him at last.
Damacles also grinned. He was happy that their long search had been positively rewarded. All they had to do now was wake Eric up and return to heaven. They could finally leave.
"Eric…" Alan whispered tenderly, stroking a few stray hairs out of Eric's face. The blonde man's cheek was slightly swollen and he had a gash on his forehead that was still bleeding. Alan wasted no time in tearing off one of his sleeves and making a makeshift bandage to tie around Eric's head. He's so hurt… Alan took in the rest of Eric's brutalized body, gently stroking his warm cheek. It could be worse, but to think that he was in that much pain…
Micah's finger started brushing against Alan's repeatedly. Alan was confused as to why this was happening, but when he took a look, he realized that the hyperactive angel had started poking Eric's cheek.
"Don't do that!" Alan squawked, pulling Eric away from Micah. Micah simply went to Eric's other cheek and resumed his poking. "Why are you even doing that?"
"We need to wake him up somehow!" Micah was clearly amused. "We've got to make sure he's competent and understands what's going on!"
A memory of Grell poking and pinching William's cheeks when the redhead had wanted attention somehow wormed its way into Alan's mind.
"You remind me of someone I knew…" Alan sighed.
The features on Eric's face twitched into a subtle frown. Noticing this instantly, Alan swatted the childish angel away and brought his face closer to Eric's. Softly but firmly, Alan called his name.
"Eric, can you hear me?"
Alan's heart nearly exploded when Eric's eyelids slowly lifted and the gaze of his hazy green eyes came to rest on Alan's face.
"Eric! You're awake!" Alan cried happily.
Eric's voice was hoarse and cracked, like he had not spoken for a long time. It lacked all of his original strength and cockiness.
Alan forced his ecstasy down so as not to frighten his beloved friend. "Eric, it's me, Alan."
Eric's reaction was dull, to say the least. "A… lan…?" He croaked, unfazed by the presence of the small man.
Alan was shocked. "Yes Eric, it's me… what's wrong?"
Unbeknownst to Alan, Eric had frequently hallucinated his little friend coming to be with him. Alan's soothing touch haunted his dreams, his soft voice echoing in the darkness that surrounded him. But whenever the strong former reaper had tried to touch or talk back, all traces of Alan vanished, and he was thrust back into the brutal reality he was living in.
"A…lan…" Eric whispered again, sounding a tad desperate. Even if Alan was just an illusion, even if the slender hand running down his cheek wasn't real, Eric would always respond to Alan's words. The mere thought of Alan's presence was enough to get him through the endless torment.
"Eric, I'm here." Alan lifted Eric's face a bit closer to his own. "It's really me. I'm here for you now."
Eric suddenly realized that unlike his delusions, Alan's touch had some force behind it. "You… re… al…?" He moaned.
"Yep, he's real." Micah popped into Eric's line of view, confusing Eric further.
"I'm very much real." Alan nodded.
It all clicked at once. Alan's voice was clear and pure, audible not only in Eric's head but in the environment around him. The gentle touches were warm, and he could see the brown strands of Alan's hair twitching ever so slightly with every movement Eric's precious friend made. There was no doubt about Alan's existence any longer.
Eric came to life instantly and clamped his arms around Alan in a tight hug. He cried Alan's name out joyfully.
The sudden gesture knocked the wind out of Alan's lungs for a moment. Struggling to breathe again, Alan wrapped his arms gently around Eric and laughed.
"Eric, I can't breathe!" Alan smiled.
"Deal with it!" Eric countered, squeezing Alan closer. "Shinigami don't need to breathe!"
"T-that's true." Alan laughed a little. He no longer cared about his squished body.
"It's really you." Eric breathed, moving one of his hands to Alan's head. Alan's hair was so soft, Eric realized, much softer than he remembered. Alan's thin body against his felt like the most natural thing in the world. He inhaled deeply, allowing Alan's gentle scent to fill his nostrils. Everything about Alan, Eric absorbed in his embrace. He cast aside everything else around him to experience Alan completely.
Damacles decided that this would be a good time to interrupt. "This is sweet and all, but I think it's time to get down to business."
"Huh?" Eric looked up, frowning.
"You didn't think we came down here for the ambiance, did you?" Damacles crossed his arms.
"Why did you interrupt them, Damacles?" Micah whined. "They were so cute…"
"Right!" Alan wormed his way out of Eric's arms. "We came to bring you to heaven!"
Eric froze in disbelief. He couldn't have heard what he thought he did. "… What?"
"That's right!" Micah chimed. "These two came and asked me to bring them here to rescue you!" He ruffled Alan and Damacles' hair. "Of course it's up to you whether you want to come or not, but we did go through an awful lot of trouble to find you."
Surprise kept a firm grip on Eric's features. "You… want to take me." He pointed at himself. "Me, a sinner. To heaven."
Eric scoffed and looked away. "That sounds nice, but impossible. Do you know what I've done? I killed 1,000 people! That sort of sin damns a person!"
"But you can come back from that!" Alan piped up, staring pleadingly at Eric. "Damacles said that you could go!"
"And what does he know?" Eric looked at the two angels. "I don't know who is who, but one of these guys looks like something a cat threw up, and the other looks greener than you were when you first joined the dispatch!"
Both angels twitched in shock, but only Damacles looked offended enough to actually punch Eric.
"What are you saying?" Alan was equally astounded. "You don't believe me?"
"Of course I-" Eric paused. He trusted Alan more than anything. But this offer… it seemed too good to be true. Residing in hell for who knows how long didn't do wonders for one's faith in others, and Eric had almost forgotten the feeling of trust that he felt with Alan.
"I do." Eric let out a long breath. "It's just that the judge of the afterlife itself didn't deem me fit for heaven, and made pretty darn sure that I wouldn't be able to go there."
Alan shook his head. "These two are actually from heaven. And if they say you're welcome there, then you're welcome." He put his hands on his slender hips. "And since when have you cared what other people said?"
Eric laughed. "Point taken."
"So you'll come? It really isn't heaven without you." Alan was sure that he had Eric convinced, but to really have the tall blonde hooked, he made a sweet, pleading expression that Eric could never resist.
"Yeah, alright." Eric looked like he was about to explode from Alan's cuteness. "I'll go."
"Thank you!" Alan squeezed Eric while Micah cheered. Damacles still looked a bit sore about Eric's previous comment, but he was pleased nonetheless.
"Well then, it's nice to meet you!" Micah nudged Alan aside a bit to shake Eric's hand. "I'm Micah!"
"Eric Slingby." Eric returned the gesture. "Er, I'm sorry about what I said before."
"Don't bother apologizing! I've been called much worse!" Micah waved it off. "Now, there are a few things we need to do before I can actually take you back.
Conditions. Of course. "I'm listening." Eric nodded.
"First, you need to accept the fact that God exists. But being a former demi-god yourself, I'm sure that's not too difficult for you to do."
Eric shrugged. "If there's a devil, there's probably a god too."
"I'll take that as a yes!" Micah chirped. Shinigami usually weren't too keen on religion, seeing as they were a kind of god, so this response was about as good as it was going to get. Fortunately for Eric, Micah knew and understood this.
"What do I have to do now?" Eric asked.
"Okay, so this next and actually last part is something that might be a bit hard, but it'll make you feel really good."
"Spill it." Eric hated to be kept waiting. Alan was becoming a bit impatient too, but he kept it hidden.
"You need to cast aside all of your sins. That means everything you've done wrong, every crime you've committed, you renounce them and leave them down here in hell where they belong."
The air grew heavier than it already was. Alan could feel the tension rise as he saw Eric's features slowly twist into a state of aggravation.
"Cast everything aside." Eric's voice was eerily calm, and yet highly unstable.
"Yes." Micah replied.
"Everything wrong I've done, every burden I've shouldered, I'm supposed to dump it aside and call it nothing."
"Pretty much, yeah."
Eric scoffed. "I collected 999 souls to try and cure my partner's disease, and you want me to turn it into nothing."
Micah pondered this for half a second. "Yeah."
"I'm sorry." Eric shook his head. "But that isn't happening."
"Eric!" Alan grabbed onto the taller male desperately. "That doesn't make sense! Why do you want to keep that horrible pain?"
"It's unforgivable, what I've done!" Eric growled. "I risked everything to save you, and this guy wants me to cast my efforts aside and say that it was all for nothing!"
"But it was!" Alan hated to say it, but it was the truth and it needed to be told. "We're both dead, Eric! Those things don't matter anymore!"
"Yeah, we're dead!" Eric jabbed a finger at Alan. "YOU'RE dead! That was my fault too! I can't ever forget that; I WON'T ever forget that!"
"Then simply allow yourself to be forgiven." Micah stated. "You can choose not to forget, but you can alleviate the pa-"
"Don't pretend to know what I feel, Micah!" Eric interrupted. He was fuming. "Saying that all my work and all of my guilt and pain were for nothing? I can't do that!"
"Stop being so difficult!" Alan yelled, actually angry for once. "It's done, over! Our lives are over! Just forget it!"
"Honestly, you're too stubborn! This can help you! We can be together!" Alan grabbed at Eric again, but this time Eric pushed him off.
"Yeah, with a ridiculous condition!" Eric shouted.
"Everything comes at a price, Eric! Surely you of all people know that!" Alan began to tear up.
"Can you two stop fighting…?" Damacles tried to speak up. "Micah, why don't you do something so we can all leave?"
The young angel's mentor shrugged. "It's his choice to come to heaven, isn't it? We can't force him."
Damacles withheld a groan and watched Alan and Eric argue. Seeing two people so close at such odds was an ugly thing. The small brunette that Damacles had come to befriend was in hysterics, screaming and begging Eric to stop being difficult and forgive himself already. Eric was refusing and continuing to say that he wouldn't let go, that he'd put too much into his actions to say that it was for naught.
"Stop it, Eric!"
"I'm not making you fight with me!"
"I'm not fighting! I'm trying to help you!"
The bickering ex-shingami were pushed to the ground. Metal against flesh greeted their ears, and a loud, inhuman screech was heard. Forgetting the argument at hand, Eric rushed to shield Alan from any danger, but upon seeing what had made the noise, Alan knew that Eric's body wouldn't protect him very well.
A large, black demon stood before them, nursing a large slash on its chest. Damacles stood before it, poised for battle with a majestic silver sword that was now stained with blood.
"A demon…!" Alan stammered, in shock.
The beast roared, aiming a taloned hand at Damacles. The angel swiftly dodged and sunk his blade into its skin and muscle.
"They're here." Eric cursed and stood up, keeping Alan close to him.
"Oh, so you could tell that there was more than one?"
Alan and Eric stood speechless. The former slowly turned to look at Micah. Micah was standing with his back toward them, blade drawn and facing down a herd of at least 7 devils. Every creature stood a head taller than Micah (who was an inch or two below Eric) with sharp curled horns and gargantuan teeth. Some of their claws were already bloody, fresh from a different kill and looking for another victim.
"Don't move." Micah's voice was low and commanding. Alan had no intention of disobeying. The demons on both sides roared, and the two angels who had accompanied Alan swung into action.