There’s a man standing outside the diner. Landis catches a dark flash of movement from the window out of the corner of his eye, and looks up sharply, smiling in recognition of the lanky frame and lopsided hairdo. Naberius is leaning up against the same telephone pole as he did a month ago, this time staring intently inside the diner instead of checking his pocket watch.
“I’m going on break,” Landis announces to the mostly empty diner. No one complains - it’s the relatively dead time before lunch, with only a few singular customers sitting in booths, nursing cups of coffee. He pushes out the door, unclipping his nametag and shucking off his apron as he bounds down the steps to the sidewalk.
“Good afternoon,” Naberius says, an amused smile tugging at his lips.
“Hey!” Landis says. He bends over slightly to catch his breath, a little winded from suddenly breaking into a run. “I didn’t expect to see you back so soon.”
Naberius cocks his head quizzically. “It’s been months.”
“Maybe for you,” Landis says. “It’s only been…uh, one month, more or less, for me.”
“Ah,” Naberius says, “so it has. How are your injuries healing, then?”
“Pretty good.” Landis lifts up his uniform shirt to show off the spot where Gen’s projectile struck him in the side. There’s a clean line of scar tissue only a few inches long, curving alongside his ribs. It’s barely a scratch, compared to the scar on his forearm, but he’s had trouble sleeping on that side even since it healed up.
“Otter said it’s a miracle it didn’t get infected,” he adds. “With all the sand getting in it and whatnot. It’s the only thing that ended up lasting, though - everything else was just bruises and scrapes. I think I got pretty lucky.”
“Lucky is, perhaps, an understatement,” Naberius muses, leaning forward to examine the scar. “I can give you something to put on that scar, if you like. To make it less noticeable.”
“Does that count as part of our contract?” Landis raises an eyebrow, tugging his shirt back down a little self-consciously. Does our contract even still exist?
“It doesn’t have to.” Naberius chuckles. “Actually - that was one of the things I came to talk to you about, now that Kesi’s trial is wrapped up. Since both ends of the contract are fulfilled -”
“Does it still count as fulfilled even if I didn’t finish the fight?”
“The council ruled that it does,” Naberius says, straightening up with a smug smile. “Since the fight isn’t to be concluded.”
Landis raises the other eyebrow. “I take it Kesi didn’t get off easy, then.”
“The opposite. The council found that he never completed his contractual obligation in the first place, meaning that Genevieve should never have been obligated to do a favor for him in return.”
“So what happened?” Landis asks. He knows that Gen is fine - he’s seen her occasionally at the diner, on her way in as he’s on his way out. He wonders if maybe she’s been deliberately avoiding working shifts with him. “What’d they do to Kesi?”
“They found him guilty.” Naberius chuckles, like he’s about to tell a particularly funny joke. “I wasn’t sitting on the Council, for obvious reasons, but they opened the trial up to an audience. Austin testified, you know.”
“I know,” Landis says. The apartment has been hectic ever since they all came back from Hell - demon officials occasionally popping in and out to collect witness testimonies, Austin disappearing for half a day to speak before the Council. Maybe with Kesi convicted, the excitement can finally be over. Well, the demonic excitement at least. There’s always something.
“Anyway,” Naberius goes on, “they made Kesi fulfill the favor to Genevieve that he didn’t complete. Helping her bring her friend back to life, you know.”
“Is that it?” Landis asks. He supposes he should feel some kind of way at hearing that Aster is alive again, but the truth is, he could care less. As long as she and Gen don’t come near him, he’s got no reason to invest any energy in paying attention to them. Kesi, however, Landis is mildly invested in - and finds himself a little disappointed at the thought that Kesi got off easy. Though maybe tricking someone into fighting to the death isn’t as big of a deal in Hell as it might be among humans.
“Oh, gods, no,” Naberius says. “Of course not. The Council wouldn’t let him get off that lightly.”
“So what’d they do?” Landis asks, having a hard time concealing his impatience.
“They stripped him of his title and estate.” There’s unbridled glee in Naberius’s voice. “Of course, it was all Crocell’s originally, so it’s not really as meaningful as if it was done to one of the original demon lords. But he’s back to living as a low-class demon, which means he can’t make contracts, or challenge anyone to duels.”
“Seems fitting,” Landis says. At least he won’t be as much of a nuisance as it seemed like he was. And at least Gen and I won’t have to finish the duel.
“Anyway, given Kesi’s demotion, the Council decided that the duel won’t be continued,” Naberius says, “but it still counts as your and Genevieve’s contractual favors, as I said before. And that brings me back to my original point.”
“That our business with each other is, for all intents and purposes, concluded.” Naberius’s smile evens out into a carefully neutral expression, but something in his eyes seems troubled. “And should you choose to, you will never have to see me again.”
Is he…upset? Landis shifts his weight uncomfortably, unsure of what to say. Austin said Naberius doesn’t have a lot of friends in Hell. Maybe he likes humans better. Hell, maybe he just gets lonely. And there’s no reason not to keep the contract going - I doubt he’ll make me fight to the death again, now that the one person who wanted a duel with him is taken care of. Having a demon on our side might be a huge help if anything like Crocell crops up again.
“Well, hold on a second,” he says to Naberius. “We don’t have to completely forget about the deal, do we? Because I can’t think of anything you could do for me right now, but maybe in the future…”
“You don’t want to terminate the contract?” Naberius brightens considerably, straightening up, the smile returning to his face.
“No,” Landis says, shaking his head for emphasis. “But like I said, I don’t know when -”
Naberius holds up a finger to silence him. “I have just the thing.”
He presses his hands together for a moment, pulling them apart to reveal a square piece of paper resting in one palm, a raised seal stamped onto it in something that looks suspiciously more like blood than ink. Naberius holds the paper out to Landis - who, upon taking it, finds it to be roughly the thickness of a business card.
“My calling card,” Naberius explains. “So you won’t have to resort to animal sacrifice the next time you want my attention. Most demons give them to their humans - you simply burn it instead of completing a normal summoning ritual.”
“Huh,” Landis says, turning the card over in his hands curiously. He hadn’t even thought about the eventuality of having to summon Naberius again. At least one of us did.
“Additionally,” Naberius says, “if we are going to continue this contractual relationship, I have a favor to ask of you.”
Already? Landis looks up at Naberius. Was he waiting for me to agree to keep the contract going before he asked? Of course he’d pull this shit - I should have known better than to trust a demon.
“What’s the favor?” he asks tentatively.
“I would like you to buy me ‘french fries’,” Naberius says stiffly, making air quotes with his fingers around the name of the food. “I came to enjoy them during my time investigating you and Austin, but I find turning into a bird to eat them off the sidewalk demeaning.”
Landis looks Naberius up and down, squinting, trying to discern if he’s being serious or not. Naberius squints back at him.
“I know it is a comparatively small favor -”
“Naberius,” Landis says, “I will buy you a plate of french fries, as a friend. You don’t need to waste a favor on that.”
“Ah,” Naberius says, blinking rapidly. “Well…yes. Thank you.”
“Don’t mention it,” Landis says, barely stifling a laugh as he turns towards the diner and starts making his way back to the stairs. What a weird demon.