So for those of you who don't follow me on Tumblr, I am officially a Homestuck now. I have a Pesterchum handle and everything (it's eccentricAuthorator, so if you have Pesterchum, you should hit me up). And that's all I am going to say about the Homestucks now.

Only a few more chapters left! Yay! I guess. A lot of you have been pestering me with your Lucifer feels and I just sdjgkhalgk laghal asldkjfhsdl I'm about to compound them.

Many thanks to Keefer, Kathrin J Pearl, Chris Bran Norling, BookwormI, Nerdette92, Sennasanthia, KitCat 1995, GoForTehGig, Black Lightning Bolt, Wictory, Sexy. Lil. Emo, and Mems for your lovely reviews to Chapter 20!

Celestial City, 2:45 PM local time.

His head was killing him. He'd had awful hangovers before, but this one truly felt like the hangover from Hell. He groaned and curled up tighter to himself, trying not to feel the sheets shifting under him or the dull, light pressure against his hand.

Huh? He warily opened one eye. He had his phone in his hand. He distinctly remembered putting his phone on the nightstand to charge, but apparently that hadn't worked because his phone was dead now. He groaned again and slowly shifted into a sitting position. He plugged his phone in and looked around.

He was still in the Presidential Suite, and still alone, if the one set of clothing—his white suit, to be precise—strewn across the floor was anything to go by. He tried not to reflect on the irony that he woke up alone more often than a married man should. He idly wondered where Meg was, if she'd gone home last night, tried to bring himself to care. But he couldn't.

He fell backwards onto the middle of the mattress, letting his legs dangle over the side. His bed at home wasn't quite as bit as this one and, hung over or not, he did enjoy letting his six-foot-one frame sprawl out across the sheets.

What had happened? He remembered getting out of the car and heading to the ballroom (he hadn't wanted to be there in the first place), drinking a lot of whiskey (how else could he block out the last few hours?), pissing off Meg for some reason (why did it matter?), coming up here and drinking some more Scotch (that had probably been a mistake), asking Balthazar to come up (they'd made love, hadn't they? And Balthazar marked him but he let it happen because he'd wanted it to happen for months now, and he couldn't even summon the self-preservation to hope Meg wouldn't see, which she surely would), falling into a light albeit drunken doze with the man in his arms (oh, Christ, that had been sweet, more than he deserved, but he took it anyway), waking up shortly before midnight (he just wanted to go back to sleep; it was so nice laying next to him), getting dressed (being as careful as possible to not wake up Balthazar because he looked so peaceful, far more relaxed than he ever did while awake), stumbling back downstairs to ring in his birthday (he must have been a hot mess because he remembered absolutely nothing about it, not that he wanted to), not getting back up to the suite until two-thirty in the morning (he must have been alone because the sheets definitely looked like they'd been fucked in and Meg probably would have flipped out, but then again, he'd started to think his affair was obvious despite how blissfully unaware she seemed to be), discovering that Balthazar had left (he tried to swallow the hurt that bubbled up inside him but he remembered that he'd just made him and Singer get rid of his brother's body earlier that night; he could barely stand to look at himself, so how the Hell could he expect Balthazar to wait for him?), passing back out (but he must have put on some music first, or why else would Blue Öyster Cult be playing over the speakers?), waking up to a text message (that must have been why his phone was in his hand. Who sent it? What did it say? He must have been wasted still), and then… nothing. This. Whatever "this" was.

His phone buzzed irritatingly on the nightstand as soon as it had a sufficient charge. He picked himself up off the bed and checked the screen.

Oh. The text had been from Balthazar. Rumor is, Michael means to kill you very soon. Be careful. It had arrived at 11:37 that morning, and apparently he'd called Balthazar a few minutes later. He wondered if that had been what finally killed his phone's battery. The conversation only lasted about two minutes, so it was possible. He turned his phone back off and let it continue charging.

According to Balthazar, Michael was after his blood now. Fine. Let the bastard come for him. He wasn't going down without a fight.

Dubai, 9:00 PM local time.

Inias and Samandriel had exhausted nearly all of their resources in ascertaining the hotel that Chuck Milligan was staying at, but they did finally confirm it. Even better, the hotel was only a block away from theirs. But they knew they had to move fast, because Chuck had apparently canceled his reservation effective the next morning. They had to move now.

This was how they ended up knocking on the door of Chuck's suite shortly after nine o'clock.

Neither of them had actually met Chuck Milligan before—although they had both seen pictures—so they didn't really know what to expect. But what they'd fathomed was completely wrong.

Inias had imagined Chuck to be about six inches taller, and he'd never seen him wearing glasses. Samandriel hadn't expected him to be wearing a bathrobe.

Chuck blinked up at them. He wasn't sure how concerned or confused he should be, but he decided that "very" was probably appropriate. "You must be Inias Collins and Samandriel Benedict," he said. "I'm assuming you're here to tell me about Gabriel. I already know."

Inias and Samandriel exchanged glances. "No," Inias said quickly. "That's not it at all. H-how did you know our names?"

Chuck let out a short sigh, glanced up and down the hallway, and stepped back. "You might as well come in."

Inias and Samandriel looked at each other again before Inias led the way inside.

"I know the names of just about everyone my sons employ," Chuck explained. He continued walking through the kitchen and living area to the bedroom as he walked, and the two young men hesitantly followed him. "Besides, you look like people Castiel would have working for him. You remind me of him." He didn't really look at them as he spoke. He moved around the room in a flurry, taking suits out of the closet and packing them in a garment bag.

"Thank you, sir," Inias said, sounding puzzled.

"Just 'Chuck.' Formalities aren't necessary." He paused for a moment and looked from one of them to the other. "So. Tell me. If you're not here to tell me about Gabriel, why are you here? I thought Charlie told you lot I was in Egypt."

"She did," Samandriel said quickly. "I just… haven't quite gotten used to the time difference. Last night, I was out on the balcony and I saw you talking to her. That was what made it pretty clear she lied to us."

Chuck chuckled briefly, although there was no real mirth behind the sound. "Well, I don't know whether to feel relieved or like an idiot. Lately, I've been leaning a little more toward the latter." He zipped up his garment bag and hung it on the door behind Samandriel.

"Why?" Inias asked. "And… what happened to Gabriel? We… when we spoke to Castiel earlier, he didn't mention anything about Gabriel."

Chuck sighed and rubbed his eyes for a minute. "I guess it's possible he doesn't know. Well, both your questions have the same answer." He sat on the edge of his bed, carefully studying the joint of the wall and the floor. "I got a call this morning from Joshua. Apparently…" He looked up at them. "Gabriel died last night." He let out a shuddering sigh and closed his eyes, trying to keep himself from breaking down again. It wouldn't do to crumble, no matter how much he wanted to. He had no qualms about Inias and Samandriel seeing him like this, but he really needed to finish packing and getting ready for his flight the next morning. He'd mislaid his passport but he always assumed he'd have a bit of extra time to find it. "And from what Joshua tells me, Lucifer was the one who killed him. I… I don't know what happened. I thought…" Chuck shook his head. "But it doesn't matter anymore. Gabriel's dead and Lucifer…" He tried to summon anger against his son, but all he felt was the cold crush of heartbreak. He simply couldn't comprehend how one of his sons could possibly take the life of his brother. It didn't seem real. How could something like this actually happen? How could Lucifer…? "Anyway. I'm heading back home. I was wrong about a lot of things. I had hoped my sons didn't need me around anymore. I had hoped I didn't need to settle their disputes anymore. I had hoped…" He ran his fingers through his hair. "I had hoped I'd taught them well. But when one of my sons kills his brother, I suppose it just illustrates that I haven't taught them anything. I failed."

"Sir. Chuck. I don't know if it's any consolation, but maybe there is some good that can come out of this. Celestial City has been in a state of mayhem basically since you left. Your return will only be a good thing," Samandriel said quietly. He looked to be devastated by the news, but that wasn't surprising. He and Inias had only met Gabriel Milligan once, but the man left a lasting impression. It was almost unfathomable that he was gone.

"I hope so," Chuck murmured.

A beat of silence passed before Inias broke it. "I'm sorry about Gabriel. He… he was a good man."

Chuck nodded briefly and stood up. "Thank you. So, why did Castiel send you two here? Was it to talk me into coming back? Because you can tell him I'm coming back anyway."

"I believe that may have been the initial intent, but I'm not certain anymore. He may have had something different in mind." Inias glanced at his watch. "He said he would be calling us again at three AM our time. We'll ask him then."

"Alright." Chuck cast a glance back at his half-packed suitcase. "If you don't mind, boys, I… I need to be alone for a little while. All of this… it's a bit much to take in at once."

"Do you already have a flight?" Inias asked.

"Yes. I'm leaving tomorrow at noon. It was the earliest I could get a charter."

"Alright, sir. We'll be back before then, I'm sure."

"I'm leaving here around nine," Chuck said. "If you intend to speak to me before I get on my flight, you should do it before I check out."

"We'll be back," Samandriel reassured him.

Chuck nodded with a half-smile. "I don't doubt that."

"Do you think Castiel really doesn't know?" Samandriel asked as soon as they were safely ensconced in their own hotel room. His expression spoke volumes to his worry. He didn't like the idea of Castiel not being aware of his own brother's death.

Inias rubbed his temples. "I have no idea. If he knew, why wouldn't he tell us? Unless he had a good reason for it…"

"But what reason could that be?"

Inias shook his head. "Again, I have no idea. I guess we'll just have to ask him when he calls back."

Samandriel sighed and practically threw himself onto the bed. "Well, in that case, I'm gonna take a nap. We've got, what, five hours before he said he'd call back?"

"Yes. By the way, great timing on finally adjusting to the local time. Right when we're about to be heading back home."

"Yeah, yeah," Samandriel mumbled, his face already buried in the pillow. "I knew it would happen."

Inias chuckled softly and settled himself next to Samandriel, kicking off his shoes. As the younger man drifted off, still fully clothed, he stayed awake, lazily rubbing his back and waiting for the phone to ring.

He must have fallen asleep. During the intervening hours, he'd turned off the overhead light before climbing back onto the bed. His head had tilted back against the wall in a light doze, his thoughts gradually merging into dreams. He vaguely recalled Samandriel sleepily removing his own jacket and shoes and climbing under the bedspread, jostling Inias slightly. The younger man was now snoring softly.

It was quiet and peaceful there, with the windows shut. But when the call finally did come through, it jolted Inias awake. The phone fell out of his hand and onto the plushly-carpeted floor, and he scrambled to retrieve it before it woke Samandriel. No need for both of them to be awake right now.


"Good morning, Inias. Did you manage to contact my father?"

"Y-yes." He glanced at Samandriel's still-sleeping form. "He's making preparations to return home. It's just that… I don't know what you intended for us to accomplish. It appears there's been some bad news." He swallowed hard. He didn't like the idea that he would be the one to break this news to Castiel. "Your brother Gabriel is dead."

There was a beat of silence. Then— "Hold on." The next minute was just a stream of muffled voices—it could have been two or three, Inias wasn't sure—but when Castiel finally came back on the line, he said, "Gabriel isn't dead."

"He… what? But… your father was called by Joshua. Joshua told him—"

"I know what Joshua told my father. I'm telling you that he's wrong. Gabriel is alive."

"Are you sure, though?"

"I am positive. He's sitting right across from me."

"Then how—"

"It's a very long story. What I need you to do, though, is find my father again and relay a message. Tell him that Gabriel is still alive, but that it is imperative that he returns anyway. Michael means to kill Lucifer in retaliation, and my father is the only one who can put a stop to it."

"But… why not Gabriel?"

Castiel sighed. "I have been working with Gabriel for the past few days to protect a pair of… assets that Michael and Lucifer have been determined to acquire. We cannot let them locate these assets. Gabriel faked his death to ensure that these assets would remain far from Michael and Lucifer. If Gabriel was to reemerge alive, I believe that Michael and Lucifer would return their attention to apprehending these two. I repeat, that is something we cannot allow to happen. As I said, my father is the only one who can stop this. And I also believe that, were Gabriel to reveal that he'd deceived all of us—especially like this, when most of my family is grieving someone who isn't actually dead—they will be… angry."

"Oh," Inias said. "So you want Samandriel and me to tell your father that his son isn't actually dead and it's all a big misunderstanding." The insolence in his tone was almost palpable.

"Inias." There was something akin to a smile in Castiel's voice. "My father is not like Michael and Lucifer. My brothers will be enraged. At this point, I don't believe my father will feel anything but relief. But you must stress to him that he needs to come home anyway. Michael is out for Lucifer's blood. We've passed along the information to him and told him to be careful, but if my father returns, I believe Michael will see sense and relent."

"We can do that. His flight leaves tomorrow at noon, but of course, I look forward to being a harbinger of joy."

"Yes. I imagine he's in a great deal of emotional pain right now. We didn't—well, I shouldn't say 'we,' because this was entirely Gabriel's idea. He didn't tell me anything until after the fact. His intent was not to hurt his family, but to save another."

Inias wasn't sure exactly what Castiel was talking about. "I see. So you knew that Gabriel was rumored to be dead?"

"I did.

"Why didn't you tell us before we went to see your father?"

"Because I didn't know if he knew already. If I told you and he didn't know, I'm assuming you would have told him."

"Of course."

"But Gabriel is still alive. And I would have told you the opposite. I would have been lying to you and lying to my father, and a lie like that would cause everyone a great deal of pain and worry. Being the cause of that, especially when I know for a fact that such information is inaccurate, would not have sat well."

"Alright. I… I think I understand. What were we supposed to accomplish by meeting with your father today?"

"You accomplished exactly what you were supposed to. You found out how much he knew about the situation here, and you learned what his plans were. You said he has a flight home tomorrow, correct?"

"Yes. At noon. He said it was the earliest he could charter a flight. He was actually in the middle of packing when we spoke to him."

"Good." Castiel sighed with relief. "As soon as my father is on the plane, you and Samandriel can come home."

"We both look forward to it."

He chuckled softly. "I imagine so. Just remember to let my father know that Gabriel is still alive."

"We will. We'll talk to him before he leaves."

"Thank you." Castiel hung up without waiting for a response, and Inias felt a smile cross his face. So, Gabriel was definitely still alive. It seemed as though the metaphorical clouds had parted. When everything was said and done, Chuck would return, the Milligans would rejoice, and they would all rest more easily.

He set his alarm for three hours from now, crawled under the duvet, and pulled Samandriel to him. The blonde stirred in his sleep but didn't wake up. That was fine. He'd been through a lot in the last thirty-six hours. They both had. He deserved what sleep he got.

Inias would tell him the good news in the morning. For right now, they could just enjoy the rest of the night.


I don't have ships. I have an armada.