Chapter 1: Knowledge forbidden?
Chloe pinches the bridge of her nose and looks up from the computer screen she’s using as a shield, pretending to scrutinize the library holdings when in reality she’s actually just avoiding eye-contact with the general public. It’s been a long evening behind the reference desk and the patrons have been lining up, not really decreasing in numbers until just now, half an hour before closing time. She’d kill for a beer and a vegan sandwich from that questionable place just around the corner. For a moment to herself, really, behind a closed door. It’s her favorite fantasy whenever she is put on duty out in the trenches of the library’s non-fiction section or - as she prefers to think of it since the library management moved all printers and public computers here - Hell.
This newly arrived patron, however, pulls her thoughts back to the present.
“Hello, excuse me. Yes, hello. My name is Lucifer Morningstar." He looks like he's presenting her with a great gift as he approaches, his smile generous and wide. "What in Dad’s name do you mean by ‘the book is not available’?”
“I’m sorry?” Chloe offers him the very best version of her Professional Smile. It only hurts a tiny little bit around the corners of her mouth and some more inside her soul but all staff recently had a full day’s lecture on the importance of smiling as their boss is reviewing the library’s customer service policy. Again. “Which book are you referring to, sir?”
The man leans against the desk and shows her his cell phone. He smells of cologne and booze, though not in the same way as several of their regulars smell of booze. There are many flavors of alcoholism and most of them parade around on display in the library on a daily basis. For instance, she’s fairly certain this man won’t protest pee in the corner between historical and supernatural romance. You never really know until you catch one of them doing it and she likes to keep an open mind but it’s typically the ones you most expect.
“Ah yes, that’s right,” she says. “That book is in our reference library. Actually it’s in the section that is only open to scholars since this is a separate from, wow, 1703. Written in… Latin?”
“Come now,” he says and smiles radiantly at her. God, he’s good-looking. Definitely not one of the regulars because they have a uniform troll look accompanied by egg-breath. “Surely we can come to some sort of… agreement, Ms Decker."
His gaze lingers entirely too long at her name tag just over her right breast; she clears her throat.
“I’m afraid it’s only for scholars, sir."
She feels confident that this follows the guidelines that they have regarding the oldest material in the stacks. Politely tell them no, sorry - and smile, of course. Marcus Pierce, their new boss who’s been headhunted from Library of Congress, would probably never be caught smiling, though. That’s the difference between you and me, Decker, he had told her the other day. You have to follow orders. I don’t.
The patron regards her during a very brief moment of silence.
“Well, then I will have to become one, won’t I?” he asks, rhetorically.
“I’m, um, pretty sure it doesn’t work like that, sir,” she replies because she is nailing customer service and she’s a librarian and refuses to leave a single question unanswered.
He chuckles, a low sound at the back of his throat as his tongue darts out, quickly, to touch his lower lip. “Oh, it does.”
That’s the first time she meets Lucifer Morningstar.
The following day he arrives just as they open the doors and she recognizes him with an embarrassing flush of warmth running down her spine. Which is utterly unreasonable, but so is he. He’s dressed in a blue Prada suit and wears shoes that are probably made by designers she has never heard of. She wonders what part of this country - continent? Planet? - he owns, how deeply rooted in something rotten his wealth is. As an underpaid servant of the public and a philanthropist to boot, Chloe is against wealthy people on principle.
“Well hello again,” he greets her, bright and distracting.
She blinks. Attempts a smile that gets caught in the way he raises one hand to brush over the nape of his neck as he watches her. The pile of books she’s carrying on her hip wobbles dangerously when she goes out of her way to appear casual and throw her hair back before remembering that it’s tightly wrapped into a bun on top of her head. Right. Mr Morningstar seems to find her failed head movement delightful, regardless, judging by the way he's staring.
“Aren’t you just stacked, Ms Decker.” His voice really has no business being this sultry. “Do you want some help with those?”
At first she thinks he means her breasts, the answer how dare you forming inside her mouth, but then it dawns on her that he’s probably referring to the stack of books that are threatening to scatter at the floor any second now.
“No, it’s fine,” she snaps, jerking away from him.
The three large books on top of her pile crashes between them; at least one of them audibly breaks its back just as Dan walks by with a full book cart. He gives her a meaningful glance that Chloe sighs inwardly at. A couple of years ago she had too much wine at a staff party and ended up making out with him behind the audio-books shelves - outdated media format as a backdrop for a romance that was obsolete before it even started; so very meta of them - and then, because she really does hate emotional conflict, she had sort of dated him for two years. Those had been endless years, really, and she always wants to point out to people that she ended things with him way before he was caught selling semi-antique books stolen from the stacks down in the reference library on the black market.
Demoted to library assistant - a disgrace for anyone with a master's degree - Dan spends his days doing shelf-work and sighing dramatically at patrons and colleagues mishandling books.
“Oh, look at that,” Mr Morningstar says and leans down to pick up the fallen tomes. “Well, I suppose you could always make paper planes with it now. Speaking of, I’d still like to see that lovely Latin book we were chatting about last night.”
He hands her the books and she tries grabbing hold of them without dropping the others, too. It’s so graceful, being a librarian, she thinks. A dignified occupation, truly .
She purses her lips, regaining balance. “Believe it or not, but it’s still placed in the reference library that is available to scholars only.”
“My apologies, but that is absurd.” Mr Morningstar makes a dismissive sound. “It’s hardly an incunable. It’s just a book.”
"A very old book," she adds.
"To you, perhaps." He chuckles irritably. Which shouldn’t be humanly possible to do but she finds that he transcends a lot of things and not only because he’s wearing Prada inside a public library.
She squares her shoulders, her own irritation making her feel a little cockier now. “And we have our rules for a reason. The restricted shelves are a necessity-”
“A restricted section, huh?” He smiles but the tone of his voice is sharper now, clearly there’s some urgency in his mission that he won’t reveal. Or, she corrects herself, he probably will. At length. They always do. “Knowledge forbidden? Suspicious, reasonless. Why should their Lord envy them that? Can it be sin to know? Can it be death?”
Chloe blinks. Walks across the floor to put down the book pile randomly on Dan’s cart - he groans at her, says hey I sorted those, man but she pays him no attention - and then promptly returns to Mr Morningstar.
“I’m sorry, you were quoting Paradise Lost to me?”
He raises an eyebrow and the sharpness from before is gone. “Were you just recognizing a reference? In this day and age! Truly, Ms Decker, I am impressed.”
“Oh come on,” she says, trying to sound humble while simultaneously attempting to ignore the fact that the only reason she knows any Milton is because Ella who works with youth outreach is obsessed with him to the point of having quotes tattooed on her upper arms. “I am a librarian, after all.”
“That you are,” he retorts, voice dragging impossibly low and inviting. “That you are, indeed.”
Chloe takes a deep breath. “But you still need to be a scholar to see this particular reference section.”
For a second he merely glowers at her. He has a commanding presence, for sure, a heavy streak of power to his posture; she wonders if he’s in the military or something similar, used to commanding people. She’d probably do anything he told her. Well, apart from letting him leave sloppy fingerprints all over valuable and rare texts, of course. She’s not a barbarian .
“Bloody hell,” he mutters, mostly to himself before breaching the distance between them to look her in the eyes. There’s something ancient about his gaze, something bottomless, a hunger there that reaches out for her. Or perhaps it’s just been a really, really long time since she had sex. She swallows. “So. Tell me, what it is that you truly desire?”
She is a bit startled at first. It's not every day someone asks her about her wants, least of all in this place. Last time that comes to mind must have been a few months ago when Pierce was new and had these tedious staff appraisal sessions with everyone. He had looked at her, up and down and sideways and asked where she sees herself in five years. In your position, sir, was her first thought but she hadn’t wanted to sound delusional so she quickly made something up about constantly looking for new challenges to imbibe and oh had she mentioned that her worst trait is that she’s very hard-working? (She had, twice.) Pierce had scribbled something down - he's all about going analogue; Ella claims it's “vintage sexy” but then again, Ella has quotes from Milton’s Satan on her body in permanent ink - and nodded. Nobody knows what that was for, nobody has dared to ask. Chloe has sworn to herself to find out one of these days.
"Uh," she says now, pushing her glasses back into place. "I'd like for it to be Friday, I guess. We go out for drinks on Fridays."
Mr Morningstar looks puzzled. His smooth skin even gets a few lines as he frowns, clearly concentrating. She drags a hand over her head, forgetting once more that she’s wearing a bun and can’t wrap strands of hair sexily around her fingers.
"Come now, darling," he practically purrs. His voice hits a note that she’s pretty sure she’s only ever heard in porn before, it’s deep and throaty and makes her acutely aware of the fact that they are standing in the middle of her workplace. “Surely there is more?”
“Like what?” She leans against the nearby shelf, grateful for some support in this weird conversation.
“You tell me, Ms Decker.”
“Um, off the top of my head: higher salary, a nicer apartment, better government funding of public libraries -”
“Are you running for student council?” Mr Morningstar interrupts her, impatient now and decidedly taken by her reaction to his weirdness. “ You’re a grown woman and a librarian. Those are hardly your deepest, darkest desires.”
“No, of course they’re not.”
He draws a sharp breath, still visibly impatient but now also intrigued. She likes that look much better, it lights up his eyes and animates his features.
“Oh, but you are quite something behind those dreadful clothes, aren't you," he says then and Chloe feels slightly dizzy. “I’ll get back to you, Ms Decker. I’ll get back to you, indeed.”
When he turns on his heel he spots Dan who is finally done shelving the upper row of his load and begins moving towards the next section. It is evident by the predatory stroll and the seductive grin on his face that this week’s most annoying patron has very specific plans as he sets off after her ex-boyfriend.
“There’s no need to bother Dan, Mr Morningstar,” she shouts. Three elderly patrons shush her in a synchronized motion. ”He no longer has access to the reference library.”
“Hey !” Dan looks up at her, wounded, but says nothing else as he trudges along, even his book cart leaving a sad little hissing sound in its wake.
Mr Morningstar is back again one hour later, waggling a business card in her face and - she notices after a moment - with a ragged-looking man in tow. Chloe takes the card and eyes the visitors skeptically. At least they’re keeping their voices down. Or well, one of them is.
“Tell this lovely librarian what’s on your mind now, darling,” Mr Morningstar urges and shoves the other man forward until he nearly topples over the reference desk. “You did go through all this trouble and came all the way from England, after all.”
“Lucifer Morningstar works for the Bodleian Library,” he says, hurriedly and - oddly - without any sort of cadence to his speech. Like he’s under a thrall. “My name is Jasper Hart and I’m his colleague. Here - you can check my access card.”
“Bodleian Library, huh.” Chloe looks at them both from her side of the desk, folding her arms across her chest. Mr Morningstar nods appreciatively. She unfolds them again, adjusting her jacket. “Then you really must know the rules for reference libraries, Mr Morningstar.”
“Ah, well. I find tedious rules so very hard to remember.” He sits down on the desk, leaning in to add: “Don’t you?”
“It will be so exciting to see what you hide down there in your hortus conclusus . Shall we say an hour from now? That will give me time to, ah, browse your shelves.”
His gaze travels from her face to a female patron wearing loud heels and then further along to a tall and lanky man who is checking out a bunch of books in the self-service machine.
“Good, it’s all set then,” he answers his own question and Chloe sighs, nodding her consent.
At least this way she’ll get rid of him. Lucky for her the librarian in charge of the reference library is visiting family in Iran, so there should be an easy feat to just take this guy down there, show him his damn book and then - good riddance.
“Did you print these cards out just now? They smell new.”
“Yes.” He nods, proudly. "They are very informative."
The card in her hand has a frame of symbols and letters she can't decipher. In the middle it says, in a bold, elegant font (she had somehow expected Comic Sans) :
King of Hell (leave of absence), The Literal Devil, Satan, Beelzebub et cetera.
Polymath, Scholar of Humanity, Light-bringer (former).
Lingerie Inspector, Orgasm Donor, et al.
Chapter 2: Book-a-Librarian
Dear God, why must he be like this?
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Under normal circumstances, supervising the patrons - and the extremely extinct yet somehow still dwindling number of authorities that can feign a passable interest in library services - in need of the closed reference section is mind-numbingly boring work. Chloe has a suspicion that anything involving ‘supervising’ in many other lines of work might mean quite exciting things or at least come with a certain built-in power but supervising the scholars tampering with the valuable old texts is depressingly straight-forward. You watch them watch the incunables, manhandle the old tomes and burst into oooh and aaaah at appropriate moments when being shown the collections. If you’re lucky you can have a good daydream while doing so. No coffee because food and drinks are not allowed down there. Neither is happiness.
Having Lucifer Morningstar as company, though, can hardly be considered dull. She’ll give him that.
It is, in fact, like having a toddler on Molly - not that she would ever try that combo, it’s merely a metaphor that springs to mind - running about among the meticulously kept collections. Like a whirlwind he picks up, puts down, peeks into and asks questions. Oh, the questions. She regrets the decision to comply with his request with each step they take in the maze-like corridors made up of bookshelves.
“Lovely. I do enjoy a good maze,” Mr Morningstar exclaims. “Have you ever been to Knossos? I’m fairly certain I stood model to at least one of the frescoes there. Funny story about the minotaur - oh, this library has technology.”
He presses a button on the front of the shelf, seemingly fascinated.
Chloe opens her mouth to say something but closes it again. It’s probably not going to be worth it, she decides. If someone's reached his level of personal delusions, it's likely best to just nod and agree, the way you do to people with dementia. Of course you were in ancient Greece, sounds great, here's your daily dose of pills. Besides, she has enough on her plate trying to keep up with this man and his chaotic energy, there’s no time to delve into his erratic mind, as well.
"These are fantastic! Where can I buy them? They would be perfect for my treasury. Or - oh, my sex toy collection. I'm proud to say it merits its own little library catalogue by now.” He presses another button at random and grins as the mobile shelving system begins to move. ”Do you have orgies here, by any chance?"
“No. No, surprisingly, we don’t.”
“That is surprising, actually.” He looks out from behind a section that holds an encyclopedia from 1934 that Chloe has tried to weed since she started working here but there’s always someone with a pursed mouth and a dusty cardigan stopping her. She figures that by the time she's gotten around to it, the encyclopedia will be old enough to have passed over to the special research section anyway. “I’ve seen the way some of your older colleagues look at me, Ms Decker.”
“Well, can you blame them?” she retorts before she can really stop herself and feels the flush on her cheeks tingle furiously as she half-turns away, pretending to check something behind her.
Lucifer grins when she has to look at him again. “Oh, certainly not. Blaming people for desire is more my Father’s jam. Never agreed with it."
“I mean, most of our patrons are not… all British in fancy suits,” she adds in an attempt to save her face but it seems to barely register with him that she blurted it out in the first place, he's already somewhere else.
“I would imagine they are not, no,” he agrees, unfazed.
And proceeds by telling her a story about a monastery in Spain, a long-winded tale that she only catches half of because he’s popping in and out of the isles, tilting his head to read on the backs of the books stored there and occasionally snorting or laughing out loud.
“You should hire me, Ms Decker. I’d correct the mistakes in these old tomes in the blink of an eye. Just give me a red pen, a frumpy dress and a pair of glasses.”
Chloe experiences a brief initial profession-related moment of shock at his suggestion but as it subsides, she realises he’s smiling at her. Smiling, and not in a snide or patronising way. Not like a crushing majority of the patrons who visit these parts of the library, drunk on their own insights and wisdom and incredibly willing to impart it. No, this friendly kind of teasing is rarer than a handwritten manuscript that is actually readable, more elusive than silence in the children's section, as surprising as alcohol at a librarian conference.
Tentatively she's smiles back. “Yeah. I’m sure that would fly with the administration.”
Still smiling he asks: “Do you enjoy working here?”
"I do, actually."
“Uh, good question.” Again, he asks questions that she definitely aren’t asked a lot. It’s a little uncanny but flattering, like he somehow sees other things that most people see, like he’s looking beyond. "It's a pretty creative job, you know, apart from guiding weird people to old books. I get to help. It's often funny and a lot like investigating things, I guess. Research is what I like most. I’m very good at sorting through information."
He looks like he's still listening, like he’s actually paying attention to the words that come out of her mouth. Which no man has ever done for this long when she talks about her job, not even if she hints at the sexy librarian stereotype being real and I’mma Dewey Decimate you later if you catch my drift.
Now Ella has explicitly forbidden her to use that line and that sort of slang ever again, but Chloe is attempted to try it at least once more. It’s a good line.
“What's the most peculiar question you have been asked then?” Mr Morningstar looks out from a section of non-catalogued separates, mostly in German. “Oh, and what's the filthiest book you have? I bet it's some allusive courtly ballads from somewhere. Do you speak French?”
Chloe tries not to get dizzy from the flurry of questions, answers a few of them politely, lets others pass; he doesn’t seem to expect reactions to everything he says, he seems to just genuinely love talking. And for once, she doesn’t mind a chatty library patron. He’s funny and clearly impossibly clever, not to mention well-informed, he hasn’t destroyed anything yet and he is - to put it mildly - very aesthetically agreeable which is a completely valid criteria. It’s pleasant, she thinks. The whole thing is pleasant. Who would have thought this last night when he had swaggered in with his ridiculous demands and quips, his overwrought persona. But this is genuinely decent company. She wonders what he's playing at.
She’s so preoccupied pondering it that it’s not until they’ve come half way that she realises she’s forgotten all about his supposed coworker.
“Oh, I flew him back to Oxford.” He says as she opens a door and waits for him to pass through it.
“You what?” She rubs the back of her neck. “Oh, yeah, ‘cause you have a private jet that can travel in time? Oh, wait, don’t tell me - it’s a TARDIS, isn't it?”
A low chuckle emerges from him, then he turns around to look at her. “I’m the Devil, Ms. Decker." He pauses, raises an eyebrow. "Did I forgot to tell you? That’s odd, I tell everyone that.”
Chloe nods towards a desk in the small room they pretend is a study room for researchers but is, in fact, a slightly glorified box-room that has been painted in bright yellow to cheer the poor users up, she supposes. It was before her time here, probably initiated by Jan or Ian the digital services librarian who sometimes comes in on his days off to fix something in the library, usually involving chairs or other random pieces of furniture that he cares entirely too much about. Chloe has never dared to ask him for specifics since everyone knows Ian is a walking can of worms dressed in a mustard v-neck that washes out his indistinguishable features entirely.
Lucifer Morningstar gracefully slumps down in the chair she shows him and looks amused, as if she’s an object for study. What did he call himself on his homemade business cards? Scholar of humanity. Well, maybe this is his research. Tell people idiotic things and watch them fall apart. She won’t give him the pleasure.
“And the Devil… can time travel?” she asks, doing her best to sound as casual as he apparently is.
“Fly, of course.” He looks expectantly at her. Maybe she has misjudged him, after all. Maybe he will protest pee in some remote corner of the stacks. She hopes it’s not somewhere in an area she’s personally responsible for.
“Of course.” She reaches for her keys and walks up to the cabinet that contains the text he’s searching for.
“Is this the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, then?” he asks when she pulls out the shelf containing the separate he apparently is so desperate to get a glimpse of. She wonders, though professionalism sort of prohibits her from asking, what the hell it’s about anyway. “It looked better back in the days.”
“You’re big on religious metaphors.”
"It's not metaphors when they're real, surely a librarian should heed the importance of correct terminology."
Okay, she thinks, so maybe her professionalism ends here. Or can be stretched a little. Yanked over a few tiny little dog-eared book pages to fit her growing curiosity. She had spent most of her shift at the reference desk googling Lucifer Morningstar, no need to pretend otherwise. While he’s oddly transparent in his social media profiles - she had no problem finding him on just about every dating site in the world, available to each and all - there was very little meat to add to her fragile shell of imaginary bones.
He leans over the old book, reading it with a frown that is gradually replaced with an annoyed grimace.
“This isn’t it,” he mutters just as she’s getting ready to sneak peek at his reading. “This isn’t it at all.”
“I’m pretty sure I got the right one.”
“Oh, you did. It’s just that this book is a load of bollocks, that’s what it is.” He glares at the opened little booklet in front of him and for the first time Chloe can sense a level of anger in him, a vibrating sensation in the air between them. Within a few seconds, it’s gone again and he looks at her with his composure restored. “Maybe there was something wrong with the computer.”
“Or with your search technique,” she ventures. Nobody ever wants to admit that they were typing at random into the library catalogue, or misunderstanding the results.
He scoffs derisively but perks up as he looks at her, voice dropping to a more sultry note again.“There is nothing wrong with any technique of mine, Ms. Decker. I can prove it to you later, perhaps?”
Dear god, why must he be like this? She’s a starving creature and he’s making movements with his tongue inside his mouth, movements that render certain parts of her brain useless. Clearing her throat, she tightens her self-restraints and nods curtly at him.
“That won’t be necessary.” Chloe carefully lifts the disadvantageous separate to its proper place again and can’t help but glance at the text he had been studying. It looks to her like it’s an illustrated piece of literature of some kind, or a prayer. “A poem?"
“It’s more of an exegetical piece," he says, pushing to his feet. “It is said to comment on a prophecy that I’m investigating. But it didn’t.”
“Oh, nothing special. Hell being released, mostly.”
She’s just about to question his sanity and/or offer her assistance in trying to track down whatever it is that he’s truly searching for when they’re interrupted by voices outside the open door. The unmistakable sound of high heels - a rarity in a public library and thus always a cause for concern and noise - followed by the heavy steps of someone who is very tall and broad or at least wishes he were. This leaves her with two suspects - her boss or Toby in the reception.
“The payment is about to go through,” a female voice says. Chloe concentrates hard but cannot place it, isn’t even sure she’s heard it before in her life.
“Good. Not a moment too soon.”
Now that voice she feels like a chill in his body. That voice definitely belongs to the alpha-male also known as the Library Director Marcus Pierce. She opens her mouth and is about to say something but freezes as the voices come closer.
“You’ve covered it up in the library budget, I assume?”
“Sure,” he says. “I’ve listed it as investment money for a new shelving system for the fiction department.”
The bastard. The nerve. Those rickety old shelves really do need to be changed and his whole smarmy promise to make sure it happens, his campaign to Make the Adult Literature & Fiction Department Great Again has just been a filthy capitalist lie. A very obvious and blatant lie since the beginning of his time here but even so.
Mr Morningstar seems to pick up on her anger because he watches her intently, not saying anything while she keeps eavesdropping. As the voices fade away he searches for her gaze and she meets it, tugging at her lower lip.
“That’s…” It takes a few moments to realise that while Heels has rattled herself away, Pierce is still down here. “Shit.”
And then Marcus Pierce enters the tiny room which seems to shrink in his broad presence. He always wears black and looks like he’s going camping - a style Chloe presumes is meant to look manly. It also really makes her want to ask him if he’s put up his tent in the Teen’Scape section or the vast and empty International Languages Department. The one time she did he had glared at her until she spilled coffee on her feet.
“Hi, yes.” Chloe nods at her boss in yet another smooth recovery. She should write a self-help book on those. How to Lower Your Self-Esteem Through Awkward Encounters.
"Decker. If I had still possessed any expectations regarding your competence, it would have saddened me to learn that you don't have anything better to do with your work hours than to hang out here with-" He frowns and there is something that seems to shift in his eyes, a shade of something passing through.
Her company steps forward, unsmiling but with the same attitude as he always seems to employ.
"Lucifer Morningstar,” he says. “The devil himself."
Pierce looks at him with an unreadable expression on his face. Chloe could swear he almost flinches but that is a very fleeting reaction that’s quickly washed away by his regularly bored one. "Indeed.”
"I've been showing Mr Morningstar our closed reference library, act-"
"Didn’t ask, don't care, Decker."
“Well you walked in here, so.” She folds her arms across her chest and looks at him. The respect she has managed to stick with through these past few months is all gone now and it makes her confident. He can’t get to her if she refuses to care about him.
He folds his arms over his chest too and she grins at the absurdity of this bar brawl set-up. Will he ask her to fight to the death in the reference library? Or recite to the death, more likely. Sing now, goddess, the wrath of Achilles the scion of Peleus… Yeah, it will have to be fighting. She wonders if the Devil will help her out, ruining his Prada in the process. Unlike Pierce, he doesn’t look like much of a warrior.
"Nice tattoo. Original." Mr Morningstar’s eyes narrow slightly when he gives the ink on Pierce's upper arm his full attention, causing Pierce to take a step back.
They watch him stomp his way up the stairs and into the well-lit rooms above while the two of them remain in the dusky reference section. It feels fitting, somehow.
"Uuugh." Chloe squirms a little.
"Is he always that... douchey?"
She groans. The last conference they had attended he had been one of the speakers and the entire room had collectively groaned with sexual frustration as he went up there and tossed his jacket over a chair before beginning to rant about open access. Chloe is certain that all the chairs - conveniently clad in fancy fake leather - had damp spots on them as he finished and not only because of the lack of air conditioning. She had felt surrounded by inexplicable support for a tedious, self-centered man that afternoon; Ella clapping her hands on Chloe’s right and Dan looking unusually awake and eager on her left. He’s the future of libraries, Jan had exclaimed and Chloe had thought about all the murders depicted in literature, stacked them in her head.
"Pretty much. Shit, at this rate I'll never make head librarian.”
There’s a chuckle, she should have learned to expect it by now. “Head librarian, oh, Ms. Decker...”
“You know it doesn’t mean anything remotely like that.”
“I do not.” His face is so ridiculously beautiful when he makes himself look innocent. She wants to tousle his hair. Or fuck him against the wall. Either is fine, really. Or both. Both would be great.
She focuses, hard , on her self-restraint again. “What are you, ten?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never been ten.”
“Well, that explains so much.”
Mr Morningstar watches her with a smirk, then he’s serious again and nods towards the cabinet where the useless book shall remain, most likely untouched by human hands for the next century or so. She feels scrutinized under his gaze; her face hot and tingling.
“So, Ms Decker. How will we get the actual texts I’m looking for then?”
“We?” she asks without even considering the customer service policy but, as she does remember, she puts on her best smile again. A good smile and a selective understanding of reality, the keys to career advancement in any line of work. “We will of course go upstairs again and put the databases to good use.”
“Databases?” He grins, wide and teasing. “How wicked.”
“You’ll see.” He wiggles her eyebrows.
“Wha- ” Chloe cuts herself off, more certain than ever that this is the kind of question she does not want to ask. (Except she does which is disturbing on a whole different level.)
“So,” he continues, remarkably unbothered by the mishap with the text and with her boss, who is clearly up to some bullshit that he will, undoubtedly, get away with because of his biceps and the grievously dormant sex-lives of her profession. “I noticed before that you have a lovely library service called Book a Librarian. Isn’t that right, Ms. Decker?”
Oh no .
She groans quietly into the void of the reference library.
“I will, of course, owe you a favor, Ms Decker. Even if your service is free, the Devil likes to pay his dues. Now that is intriguing, isn’t it?” He stresses the word favor in a way that makes it sound like he’s handing her a big tote bag full of rare editions of Shakespeare. Or, since this is a modest, endlessly low-maintenance line of work - ALA pens. Or book-shaped bottles of hand sanitizer of the kind they got last year at the national conference that unfortunately only the library directors had the opportunity of attending. Such is life! So the email to the staff had stated at any rate and they did, as Jan loudly had pointed out, get a lot of those bottles as a consolation. There are rumours that state that someone had passive-aggressively poured those bottles into the coffee machine one Friday afternoon when Ian and Jan were on the upcoming Saturday librarian shift.
“Not particularly, why?”
“Make a deal with the Devil?” He looks disappointed. “Doesn’t ring any bells?”
“I know what you mean. I just don’t see why it’s thrilling.”
“Because if you help me dig up this apocalyptic prophecy that may or may not predict the death of all mankind I will help you dig up some dirt on your beloved Douche Boss.” He waits for her reaction for a fraction of a second before rambling on. “Hm, no. Librarian Ham-hands? Not quite? Douchearian - oh, I like it, it has a certain tone. How does that sound, Ms Decker?”
Completely moronic. She doesn’t say that.
“I need you to be honest with me if I’m going to help you,” she says instead.
She isn’t certain if she actually needs that or if it had just sounded good in her head. Demanding, like she’s putting her foot down the way she isn’t doing with Pierce or with Jan who keeps hinting that Chloe is sloppy with her database searches - did the exact same search last week, generated twice her articles, not sure if she knows her boolean operators to be perfectly honest with you - and has an atrocious fashion sense. Or with the little crowd of newly employed hipsterbrarians with their pink hair and vintage dresses and moderately successful fanfiction about the MCU. She knows chances are they’ll advance above and beyond her in just a few years because they are so young and look at the library with fresh eyes whereas Chloe is already past her prime and no longer in the running.
“I never lie.” Mr Morningstar says it with considerable pride.
“Right. Okay then, if you are the Devil I’m going to need you to cite your sources. I can’t evaluate the quality of your information based on heresy.”
She stares at him. Which, it has to be said, is not a bad thing to do, in general. He looks so classy with the old books as a backdrop, all tall and well-dressed, his movements smooth and agile like a cat’s. In this building full of muttering, shuffling people and their book carts, he shines brighter than the sun.
“Are you - you’re not joking, are you?”
“Nope.” She shakes her head, firmly.
She can spot something warm and almost kind in his gaze when it holds her own, a shade of appreciation flickering through his expression.
“You really are the most stubborn human I’ve ever encountered,” he says and while he words the sentence like an insult, the words land with gentle thumps in her chest.
“Sources,” she repeats. “Now.”
“You… won’t like it, Ms Decker.” He sighs.
“Oh very well then.” Lucifer looks at her and then, out of nowhere, his eyes shift red and his face, oh Sweet Dewey who art in a well-organised branch of Heaven, his face turns into every shade of nightmare for a couple of seconds. A sudden jolt of pain shoots through her head, as if her thoughts momentarily freeze in fear. And then they go surprisingly calm. Zen. Maybe there are benefits to the mindfulness exercises her mother dragged her to a couple of years ago when things ended with Dan and Chloe wasn’t so much in need of mindfulness as she was in need of celebratory dance class.
Chloe blinks. When she looks at him again he is himself and there’s a nuance of something else in his gaze, an uncertainty that definitely wasn’t there a minute ago. He takes a step away from her, waits.
“You’re the Devil.”
“Yes,” he says in a voice she has never heard him use before. It’s a low rumble, an almost-whisper; it sounds like his voice needs some time to adjust after the transformation.
“The Devil from the… Bible? Or what?”
It’s actually pretty refreshing that he is, that for once one of these absurd people she meets on a daily basis isn’t merely a drunk or a screamer or a drunk screamer with split personality or a (drunk screamer flavor optional) college graduate who yearns to mansplain the linguistics of e.e cummings or the greatness of James Joyce or Decadence in European literature and does she know that T.S Eliot liked cats? (She knows. They all know.)
“No. Bloody hell. Well, yes. Depends, really. We can talk about the Bible some other time.”
“Sure.” Chloe rubs the bridge of her nose, cursing under her breath as she manages to stain the glass in her glasses. “Wait, can you… show me again? Just so I know I’m not making this up.”
He does as she asks. This time it’s not as uncanny, the shape of his other face already imprinted on her brain, like a dot on the map. She watches without blinking once, watches with a growing sensation of wonder rather than disgust. It’s like someone had shown her the way to Narnia or handed her a Hogwarts letter, subtly erasing the firm lines of reality in pieces, allowing something else to slip through the cracks. If it’s hellfire and demons then so be it, beggars and librarians can’t be choosers.
“Right, thank you.”
The Devil can’t seem to stop staring at her, however.
“You’re not afraid, Ms Decker? The last time I showed my face to someone he, er... “ his voice trails off and that touch of uncertainty returns. It’s misplaced but intriguing , one small detail capable of softening his entire persona that is, truth be told, in dire need of some nuances to be bearable for a longer stretch of time than five minutes.
“No. I mean. People are weird,” she says. “They return our books with salami and used condoms in them. They call us to tell us they shot Kennedy. Sometimes well-paid patrons with fancy titles argue for half an hour about a one dollar fee. I just… I work in a public library. I don’t get surprised anymore.”
"Really?" He seems to examine her, scrutinize her for hidden damage or concealed trauma hiding beneath her sensible footwear or inside her blouse.
" Really ."
“This is a tragedy, a completely heart-wrenching story, Ms Decker! Has life as a public servant truly devoured so much of your spirit? And given you nothing but that crime-against-fashion-cardigan in return?”
Chloe looks down at her arms, greeted by the delightful piece of clothing that her mother had nearly accidentally burnt the last time they had a barbecue. It’s big and colorful and it makes her fuzzy inside when she thinks about how someone has crocheted all the beautiful squares and put them together. Once, Ella had suggested it has probably been as questionably manufactured as most clothes but Chloe prefers to think of it as made by a happy person. It’s a happy cardigan.
“What’s wrong with this? I got it on sale.”
“Oh, you poor doomed soul.” He shakes his head.
“Hey.” She scoffs, considering throwing an old manuscript at him before her mind leaps to another place. “ Hey . Do people really end up in Hell because of fashion crimes? I’ll have to let ALA know if that’s the case.”
The laughter is soft and relaxed and everything about it is odd but she laughs too. He looks at her with a warmth that makes her head spin.
This is Satan. Satan has booked a librarian. Or will.
“No. Most librarians, however badly dressed, have stood up for freedom of expression,” he says pleasantly and if Pierce had made hundreds of lower librarian regions moist with anticipation at that conference, she can only imagine what this man here would be able to do. The only thing librarians like more than tote bags is to hear that they are doing Important Things with their time spent showing patrons to the bathrooms and printers.
Chloe is too drunk on the freedom of expression-bit to come up with a clever retort. She tucks her cardigan a little tighter over her shoulders and climbs the stairs instead.
They have only barely made it up from the stacks when Jan’s voice cuts through the sweaty library air.
“Chloe! You’re almost late for Story Time! Your costume is ready.”
The recollection feels like a slap in the face. Story Time. Weekly torture at Headache o’clock in the Children’s Department and she has repressed the memory of ever having promised Ella to cover it this week. Why had she promised such a thing? She scrambles through her memories and the only explanation she can think of it tequila. Ah, yes . Tequila hour. Where all good decisions are made. Making a fifth Paradise Lost tattoo on your ass. (Ella.) Buying À la recherche du temps perdu - yes, in French, bien sûr - from some pretentious dude on Craigslist to impress one of the hot hipsterbrarians. (Chloe.) Sleeping with Dan. (Ella and Chloe.) Agreeing to read - act - books to children sporting a cow-attire. (Chloe. Chloe Jane goddamn Decker.)
“What on Earth is Story Time?” Mr Morningstar - the Devil, Mr Satan - asks. “It sounds dreadful.”
“Oh, it is. Thirty kids and their parents will be here in a minute. So, you want to make that appointment -”
But before she’s even finished the sentence, Mr Morningstar has vanished into what appears to be thin air.
As she walks to her sentence down at the Children’s Literature Department, Chloe picks up the business card again, nothing that the Devil hasn’t even bothered to put any actual phone number on it. She isn’t sure whether or not to feel extremely relieved of terribly disappointed.
So much for that deal with the Devil.
Up next: Lucifer vs Controlled Vocabulary, Marcus Pierce's taste in literature (spoiler: it's dull) and heist, sorry FIELD TRIP.
Chapter 3: Conditional and exclusive OR
“Have you ever heard about controlled vocabulary?”
Ms Moo smells of a decade of tight schedules and ill-planned clothing choices - polyester, Chloe thinks. So much polyester and angst that have left traces inside the cow suit she is now sporting where she sits, cross-legged on a purple pillow on the floor, surrounded by twenty-three kids and their parents.
Twenty-three pairs of eyes regard her with anticipation verging on impatience.
Add to that the twenty-three adults in the background regarding her with a mixture of glee and pity and Chloe feels pretty much done with today.
Done, as in buh-bye now, checking out, going home to have wine straight from the bag-in-box, just opening the tab and tipping her head back. (She might have done that once or twice, the last time being after her last staff meeting where the library administration held a presentation on the benefits of removing the physical boundaries of the rooms. In the words of normal humans it means removing walls between office spaces and public areas in an attempt to increase the suicide rate among librarians and/or create a transparent working environment.)
Done, as the book about cheerful animals doing pedagogical things together.
She is done. Except of course for the fact that she has another two hours of underpaid service to the public to enjoy before she can grab her tote bag and stroll out of here in her ergonomic footwear.
“And now we say goodbye,” Chloe as Ms Moo says, pouring all of her extensive joy to be alive into the words. “Can you say goodbye?”
She wishes it was a rhetorical question.
It isn’t. Of course it isn’t.
Twenty-three kids instead roar their goodbyes into the sweaty, unpleasantly sweet-smelling air of the Story Time corner.
Chloe gets to her feet which is, unfortunately, a struggle in itself considering the stuffing the suit provides in all the wrong places. Around her bottom and front, for example, as well as around the thighs. Rocking gracefully back and forth to get up, she spots Mr Morningstar standing by a nearby shelf of YA Romance, looking at her with the dirtiest expression she’s ever seen. Well, it might be that she’s reading too much into it. Might be that she considers his entire being an E-rated creature. But he’s definitely staring. And it’s definitely not helping matters inside the already overheated suit.
“Ms Moo,” he says and then he’s right next to her, offering a hand. “Allow me.”
“Great,” she mutters, grabbing hold of him thinking that she’s already dead inside so what’s another little stumble into disgrace. “You’re back. I thought Satan got scared of Story Time and left.”
“Oh I did.”
His smile is wide and yes, wicked, as his gaze travels over the bulky cow suit.
“Seriously ?” Chloe’s voice is more of a whimper. “This outfit does it for you?”
The Devil as a furry isn’t really as sexy as one might expect. Then again, it’s nowhere near as off-putting as it ought to be either, so there’s that.
“Almost anything can do it for me,” he replies, his voice sultry in a way it absolutely cannot be if there’s any scrap of logic left in this world. “I’m very open-minded about the package if I enjoy the contents.”
“Great,” she says again, but she’s allowing him to keep a hand on Ms Moo’s wide butt as she wiggles her way up and away. For support, she tells herself.
Fifteen minutes later Chloe has removed the cow suit, washed her face and applied entirely too much strawberry-scented lotion on all available body parts, feeling rebellious about going against the library policy of non-scented products because today clearly is a day when she deserves to smell of something besides quiet self-contempt. She’s even left the supposed crimes-against-fashion-cardigan behind in the staff room and feels good about life as she returns to the Adult Literature & Fiction Department.
“You disarranged the hold shelf, Chlo?” Dan pushes the book cart in front of him, almost making them both trip over it.
She frowns. “Why would I do that?”
He shrugs, looking woundedly at her the way he’s done now ever since they stopped dating. He never did get over the fact that she had been the one who reported his theft of incunables to their former boss, she supposes. And now he’s adopted the library assistant mentality stating that librarians are actively sabotaging the inner mechanics of the system out of spite, evilness and the shriveled-up little rocks that once were their souls. That they sneak around their workplace, shrouded by darkness, to sow chaos in the shelves and deliberately hide popular titles.
She’s fairly sure Dan thinks this right now.
“Why do people do anything, Chlo? Who can say? All the holds are mixed up and-” The book cart makes its sad little noise again as he adjusts his grip on it but Chloe has already lost interest in his existential woes so she looks around, hoping against all better judgement and everything that is holy - which, until until an hour ago, wasn’t much in her world - that the Devil hasn’t left.
The first sign of it is his nicely shaped butt poking out from where he stands, his tall frame leaning against the information desk where Jan sits, wide-eyed and enthusiastic . Which in Jan’s case means that her lifeless skin is lit by some kind of inner glow and that her mouth is actually moving as she speaks. Chloe hasn’t seen her coworker in this elated state since the Christmas party three years ago when Jan and Ian had started shouting at each other about citations in one of the study cells, then promptly resolved the argument by making out under the table.
"How about A hundred years of solitude?" she asks, breathlessly.
He looks like he’s considering the suggestion when he is in fact, Chloe suspects, merely thinking up new ways of shoving sexual innuendo into perfectly innocent contexts.
"I've always found the scope of it too narrow. A hundred years? That's nothing. I prefer to really be given the opportunity to penetrate the state of human solitude. Do you have anything more... lengthy?"
Yeah, she thinks. Like that.
“Have you read the older classics then?” Jan is practically combusting behind her desk, Chloe wonders if they will have to go Superabsorbent on the chair later. “Perhaps The Divine Comedy- ”
“And I compare more closely with a Giant, than merely with his arms the Giants do; consider now how great that whole must be, that with such parts as these may be compared.” Mr Morningstar smiles innocently, shifting position at the desk in a manner that looks as devious as anything else he does. The clash between those two things is almost painful. “Dante was an idiot. And he exaggerated somewhat. I’m not that big.”
“Mr Morningstar.” Chloe approaches and finds herself being shushed by Jan who's not taking her eyes off the Devil. Oh, she would love to tell Jan the truth, wholesome Jan who goes to church and likes to whine about how few young people these days that find their way to the community. These millennials and their phones, maybe they’d find God if He drove an uber. Furthermore she has a way of saying ‘community’ like it's really a death cult set on achieving the ultimate destruction of mankind, which might explain the bad rep her church gets. That, and Jan herself.
“Oh, hello.” He turns to her and smiles and Chloe isn't proud of it but she knows it's a different kind of smile than the one he gave Jan, she knows it and she feels it and she treasures it, in a way she hopes is only mildly pathetic.
"We were going to make an appointment," she says, glancing at Jan who visibly bites down hard over her jealousy. Ha! Chloe thinks, this is for saying I don't know the difference between conditional and exclusive OR. “Isn't that right, Mr Morningstar?”
"Indeed we were." He waves coyly at Jan - who moans into her coffee mug and returns to staring at the computer screen instead of his shoulders - and stands beside Chloe. "Indeed we were, Ms Decker."
“Chloe. Call me Chloe, please. I mean, I've seen your…”
Jan, who is still listening to them, coughs and Mr Morningstar’s expression turns devious.
“My…?" He leans in, his dark eyes glittering. “My what , Ms Decker?”
For a moment she doubts everything that took place in the reference library, roughly an hour and a half ago. Doubts his facial transformation, his explanation for it, his look then, the burning, shivering heat in the air as he showed himself to her. Had it, in fact, been nothing but a mirage in the sexual desert that is her life?
Then he chuckles and as they move away from Jan’s desk, he gives her an amused look.
“Chloe,” he says. “Then please call me Lucifer.”
“Right. Lucifer. And just checking here - you are the Devil?”
“The one and only. Well, at least that I know of. Doubt dear old dad would have made more like me when the prototype failed so badly.” He looks, surprisingly, a bit troubled for a moment, before his usual expression returns and he lights up again. “Oh, and I’m also a library volunteer now,” he declares and shows her a folder. “Adult Book Discussion leader, indeed.”
There really are no words for how those words strung together in a sentence make her feel, she is certain of it. No matter how well-read she might be (less that patrons think) and how intelligent she is (more than patrons think) she cannot find any word in the English language that manages to cover what a catastrophic idea that is.
“Wow. That’s -” she takes a deep breath. “You do know it’s not adult adult, right?”
“Not at present, it isn’t.”
“And you are also aware that Jan will be choosing the books with you?”
“I’m counting on it,” he purrs. “I believe she will let me have a free rein in the matter.”
“I bet that’s true for most matters,” Chloe mutters, drawing a low chuckle from the strange Devil that walks beside her.
“You are delightful when you talk like that,” he says and damn it if she doesn’t blush a little.
Once in her office - that she shares with three other librarians and five book carts in a real life human Tetris game - Lucifer seems to remember that he’s a Devil on a mission.
“So, Chloe. How do I get a hold of the old religious texts I need?” He slumps down in Joan’s chair in the desk facing Chloe’s own and picks up her librarian action figure with a smirk.
She looks at the list of resources he’s scribbled down for her on a piece of paper stolen from the Craft table down in the Children’s Literature Department. He’s enhanced the ladybug in the bottom left corner in a fashion that will forever taint her idea of ladybugs, but she quickly pushes past that and focuses on the mishmash of book titles and what mostly appears to be random thoughts. It looks like something a priest would be able to help with, but she doesn’t dare suggest it.
“These are… very specific requests. Some of them might be available in digital archives online,” she begins. It’s Librainish for good luck, you damned soul.
Lucifer shakes his head.
“I need the actual texts. I’m a very…hands-on sort of scholar.” He holds them up, waves his hands, as though she isn’t familiar with the concept of hands. Or, she adds, perhaps it’s because he wants to watch her watch him staring at said hands and imagine what they could do, with that slightly dazed expression of the enthralled women he undoubtedly leave in his wake. Does the Devil truly want to fuck her even beyond this act of his? Does the Devil want her soul? What does the Devil want apart from driving her to the brink of madness with his library visits? Chloe’s grasp of religion is incredibly shallow and mostly consists of nope and no thanks followed by not in a million years. Come to think of it, she will have to rethink that stance entirely now that she has proof of the divine. Sweet Dewey, this will take her some time.
“You will find, Chloe, that I’m a very specific kind of man.” He wiggles his eyebrows and Chloe groans.
“Yeah, well nobody’s going to let you borrow the medieval treasures. Regardless of what bribes you are imagining.”
“I don’t bribe .” He huffs and leans back in Joan’s chair again. “And they’re hardly your treasures anyway.”
“Doesn’t matter.” She folds her arms, as though it would help with her lack of authority in the face of the Devil's requests.
They’re silent for a beat. Chloe is reading and Lucifer is, it appears, attacking the issue from a different angle.
“You can come with me,” he says. “It will be the perfect heist. I mean, of course, field trip. A perfect field trip where you can frolic about in librarian Nirvana and I shall, er, examine the texts. I’ll hire you for a month and we’ll hit the libraries-”
“When you say hit …?”
“Hit, visit. Tomato, tomato.”
God, it’s tempting. It has no business being this tempting because it’s also so incredibly stupid. It’s a stupid project led by a stupid man-Devil and it will end in all sorts of stupidity - possibly jail - for all of them.
“It’s still theft even if you call it ‘examining’,” she points out, weakly.
“I’d pay you for your trouble, of course.” Lucifer looks triumphant, certain now that he’s struck gold. Apparently even the Devil knows cultural workers in the public sector are hilariously ill-compensated for their efforts. “How much does this place pay you for a month of…” he winces as his gaze travels over the parked book carts and then lands on Joan’s personal coffee mug featuring a grainy photo of her three ugly children.”Undoubtedly satisfying labor?”
Chloe does what any well-educated, experienced librarian would do when asked about her salary - she laughs coldly.
“Right then.” Lucifer reaches into his pocket and she thinks oh god no and yes please and then he hands her a thick pile of cash. Which is second best, she supposes. “Does this cover today?”
She manages a nod.
He pushes to his feet. “I have a bachelorette party to crash tonight so I must get going but I shall be back very soon for our first little trip.”
“I removed the signs outside that said no parking,” he adds, heading for the door. “Might want to look into getting those back into place.”
Chloe remains in her chair for a few minutes, mostly staring at the list in her right hand and the bills in her left; she sits there like an artful installment of unanswered questions, thinking that he didn’t actually make an appointment this time either.
She’s sensing a pattern.
Two days later, on a glorious Friday, Chloe is picked up at work by Lucifer Morningstar for their first field trip. Picked up in a Corvette, no less, and escorted to her seat by the man himself. As he parks right in front of the main entrance Chloe can hear the whole building draw a collective breath, a synchronizing gasp echoes through the feet-smelling library as she hurries out of it. It feels like freedom.
It might not be entirely like freedom, she realizes as she sits in the passenger seat going through his Google search history to help him figure out why all the library databases she had suggested are, in his own words, terribly flawed. It shocks her to her core to learn that he’s been using them, to begin with. A good ten years in this line of work and she knows that no patron will ever actually check out anything they are recommended to use, so she had mostly mentioned it casually as he strolled into the library the other day, without an appointment and five minutes before closing time.
The former delinquency is annoying; the latter is almost unforgivable.
Chloe Jane Decker is a librarian and thus religious about closing time. With fifteen minutes to go, she begins prowling the aisles and study cells, clattering her keys - her routine had been dramatically worsened once they got key cards for everything - and sighing loudly. As part of that routine, infallibly, some patrons arrive ten minutes later, jubilant that they had beat the odds and made it inside and now that they’re here, what’s Chloe’s professional opinion about The Great Gatsby as a book for their son’s high school book report.
At least Lucifer Morningstar had been gorgeous in his frustrating tardiness, that really cannot be said for most lazy last-minute drop-ins.
And he had given her cash. There’s no forgetting that either.
“You’re searching… creatively,” she says now and glances sideways at her driver. “Do you use the same search queries - words - when you search in library databases?”
“Yes?” He hums some tune she can’t make out over the music and the noise from the other cars on the road. It’s a pleasant scene all things considered, going on a little trip with a handsome man who seems to enjoy her company. Or well, need her help badly in matters that are, evidently, way out of his league. “Why?”
Chloe looks at the five most recent searches:
apocalypse + prophecy + not bloody nostradamus
Will hell come to earth and why? + not bloody sumerian
Really old prophecies about the Devil written by idiots of yore
Is the Devil well-endowed?
Prophecy + porn
She takes a deep, steadying breath telling herself that he is the Devil, not an average American Internet user, people are not this hopeless at information retrieval, this is a special case of a special not-even-man.
Deep breaths. Happy thoughts about wine and blankets and solitude.
And then she remembers that she’s a librarian and that she knows that this is indeed the average level of information literacy for the current population and she has to close her eyes for a little bit and be mindful, before she puts on her Professional Smile and looks at Lucifer.
He chuckles. “You never know if it will generate zero hits until you try. You have video tutorials for everything these days.”
“Have you ever heard about controlled vocabulary?”
“No, but it sounds terrible.” He steers the car off the main road and into the one that will take them to their destination. His hands are drumming on the wheel and he turns the music up. David Bowie, she notices with a small smile. What else. “Why can’t you simply put what you desire into whatever venue that is available and willing and see what comes out? Personally I find that’s how you achieve the best results.”
As he talks he runs one of his thumbs over the outlines of his lower lip and if that isn't a motion that will burn itself into her mind and never let go, she doesn't know what is. It also makes her turn away to look at the road ahead instead of at this impossible, provocative man by her side. He makes a noise that sounds like an amused sigh, raking a hand through the hair that is delightfully messed up by the car ride. Chloe knew there was a good reason she wore a strict bun today, too. (Who is she kidding, there is always a reason for that.) And she wants to twist her own fingers into those curls and -
“You’re still talking about database searches?” she asks faintly.
He flashes a smile and holds her gaze entirely too long. “Of course.”
They visit the Huntington - Chloe has made an appointment , demonstratively and loudly - and Lucifer is two steps ahead of her the entire time, moving from one exhibition to another, wearing out the librarian who meets with them. Her name is Jessica Templeton and she wears a suit and heels and never smiles and Chloe feels like the eccentric aunt in her company, stumbling on her own sensible flats and getting her colorful poncho stuck in the exhibition cases.
At one point Lucifer has to help free her from an incident caused by a sharp corner and his fingers get caught up in the fabric as she, too, pulls at it from another angle. He leans in and his breath is hot against the back of her hand, is a jolt of electricity inside her body.
“If we could continue,” Mrs Templeton says sharply and Chloe feels herself blush.
Lucifer manages to slip his fingers into the tight mess of yarn and metal - entirely too deftly, she decides. It does interesting things to her brain, watching the delicate and quick workings of his hands and she’s almost reluctant when he succeeds. Happy to have her poncho - another piece of clothing that her mom has tried to burn - back in one piece but disappointed that it didn’t take him longer.
“Yeah… right away.” Chloe inhales sharply, banishing the idea of her Devil companion to the depths of well, maybe not hell but somewhere equally far away. “Sorry.”
She looks at him, hoping he doesn’t notice how embarrassed she is in this moment. It cuts into layers of insecurities she didn't even know she had, renders her the introverted teenage girl who was going to auditions to please her mother, the cultural norms of who she ought to be now - as a 37 year old single woman - and why. Chloe herself doesn’t care but women like Jessica Templeton probably do and it chafes inside her.
“I think we are done here actually, Mrs Templeman,” Lucifer says.
“Yes, yes.” Lucifer waves dismissively and Chloe could kiss him.
When the other librarian has left, he looks at her, frowning.
“That’s the woman who talked to your supreme Douchelarian the other day,” he says, levelly.
“How do you know that?”
He smiles, patient, as if he’s about to explain some fundamental knowledge that everyone knows except for her. “The way she walks. I recognized her steps in those heels. Not to blow my own trumpet here, though I certainly don't mind doing a bit of that, but I am quite the connoisseur.”
“You can’t be-” Chloe stumbles over her words much like she had stumbled over herself moments ago. Today is not a day for grace of any kind. Well, when is it ever ? “You’re just joking now aren’t you?”
“I am, I’m terribly sorry.” He almost looks like he means it. “It’s the voice. I recognized her voice.”
“Well, that makes more sense.” Chloe pulls the poncho down a bit further, despite actually not being the slightest bit cold. It’s more of a fashion statement really, that makes for good and firm gestures . That’s what she had thought, buying it, at least. She makes mental notes to herself to check everything she can about Jessica Templeton and her potential relation to Marcus Pierce
“You shouldn’t let anyone make you feel insecure, by the way,” he says, completely unexpectedly, as they walk to the car later. His eyes are dark and intense and full of a strange kind of approval. “You’re clever and kind. Very funny. And, if you ask me, a perfect example of the ever so popular Sexy Librarian stereotype.”
“Well then,” she manages, her throat suddenly parched. She’s grateful for the car door providing something for her hands to occupy themselves with. “I think I will ask you for future reference.”
Lucifer grins back, bright and cheerful. “Excellent. If you are interested, I have a whole reading - well, more of a watching list that you could dig into . ”
She pretends not to hear that last bit.
“But you didn’t get to see the texts we came for, did you?” It feels like a haze. Most of this afternoon is a blur of Corvette and sexual innuendo - two cornerstones of his life, by the look of things - and various messages from Ella, saying she must come to the library bar tonight, that there will be poetry readings and that Marcus Pierce might show up.
Pulling out of the parking space outside Huntington, Lucifer nods towards a pile of what she assumed was extra suits for the Devil, placed in the backseat.
“Lucifer, you didn’t- ”
“I’m only borrowing them. Really, darling, do I have to explain the concept of libraries to a librarian?”
Chloe is drunk.
Like every Library Bar Friday she wishes she was drunk somewhere else, but like every Library Bar Fridays she will simply have to make do with what this place has to offer. Moderately chilled beer. Wine served in eco-friendly paper mugs stolen from the coffee shop down the street. Poetry readings. Ella leading a group of children's librarians in karaoke renderings of 80s music.
“This is like roaring twenties,” Lucifer says beside her, sipping wine from Jan’s extra large water bottle that she devotedly keeps with her at all times at work to never forget to hydrate. “Except it smells worse and the entertainment is terrible.”
“And here we thought this could be a concept we sell to other bars.” Chloe downs her third glass of wine and waves at Jeff for another. She could just tap into the bag-in-box behind the rabbit-shaped counter but that would break the fourth wall of their evening. "Horny librarians doing Plath to music."
"Well." Lucifer chuckles. "I'd come ."
The library bar is a funny story. Or tragic. A typical ‘is the glass half full of sweet booze or half empty of warm beer’ kind of story.
Last year Dan and Jeff, the senior library assistant - supervised by their former boss, a low-functioning alcoholic - had insisted on building “something for the staff to enjoy”. True to their calling in life - to preserve and organize matters great and small - they had constructed it out of old shelves and various Children’s Literature Department hand-me-downs.
Which is why the library now, deep in the bowels of their stacks and staff-only sections, hosts monthly gatherings with the purpose of fortifying the team spirit.
And this is why they are all the not-so-proud co-owners of a makeshift bar that looks like a tree house on cocaine.
“Why don’t anyone just tell them it’s terrible and go home?” Lucifer refills his own glass, then simply snatches the bottle and another one - for her, she presumes - and walks with her to a shelf-turned-table in front of the stage.
“Look,” Chloe says and slumps down on the chair. Screw grace and sexiness, she’s getting to the stage where life is joyous and full of wonder and need no pesky posture to keep herself upright. “The alcohol is cheap. And Ella is the best. Well not at singing, but you know. It’s a group thing.”
Does the Devil know anything about that? Her definition of hell would probably be team building exercises so she has always assumed that hell is a crowded arrival hall full of cheerful idiots shouting about self-affirmation and the power of positive thinking. Maybe it isn’t. She’s about to ask when he makes a grimace at the new song choice from the karaoke crowd.
"Well, I admittedly wasn't up here much in the 80s but the world must have looked bleak to inspire such dystopian lyrics."
"What? This song?" Chloe raises an eyebrow. The bouncy tunes of Nothing's gonna stop us now fills the spaces of silence between them.
"If the world runs out of lovers," he says and downs his drinks, picks up the bottle and pours a new one. “Horrendous.”
She laughs. "I think you're meant to focus more on the rest of it.”
“With such a bleak premise, what’s the point?” He gives her a glance that grows more serious the longer she holds it, which is long because dammit Chloe is drunk and she can’t be bothered to hide her desire to stare at this ridiculously beautiful man. Why is he even so beautiful? Surely that’s not necessary. “So, when are we breaking into your boss' office? I assume that's the reason I was invited to these... festivities ."
"Sure." Chloe isn't one not to grasp at the straws she's offered and Lucifer clearly doesn't need to inflate his ego by learning that she had asked him to come because she likes his company. Also, he's Satan. She gets lost in her own trail of thought and can’t remember what she means by it, but he is Satan. It seems fundamentally important to remember this when all she can think about is how she could drag him into the storeroom and make out. “Well, he’s over there now being admired by the hipsterbrarians and all the females over fifty so we should have a shot.”
Lucifer follows the direction of her gaze and grins as Chloe grabs him by the arm and starts sneaking out. Well, as much as you can sneak when the girl currently on stage shouts your name in between the lyrics of the song.
“He’s popular then?” They walk up the stairs to the Fiction section and Chloe wishes she had brought her bottle of wine. She’s already losing some of the relaxed happiness from before. “Mr Douchelarian?”
“Yeah, he’s apparently handsome. I haven’t noticed.”
“Is that so? I mean, you not having noticed.” Lucifer grins widely.
“Oh come on. Give me a little credit here.” Chloe huffs indignantly. “He once listed his top three novels. Moby Dick, Catcher in the Rye and Atlas Shrugged . I’d never fuck someone who read through Atlas Shrugged .”
“Ah, dear old Ayn. She was no Shakespeare. Now, Will, on the other hand...” He does that tongue-thing again now, the one that had almost sent her into a coma the other day as she was actively trying not to react. But tonight, Chloe thinks, she’s a free woman. A free woman who has dropped her poncho in her office and downed five glasses of wine (quite possibly also a few drinks somewhere along the way) and they have stolen incunables from the Huntington library together so there’s no reason she has to be all prissy and uptight and -
She was going somewhere with that stream of consciousness. She’s sure of it.
She was going somewhere. Period. Right. Office .
But then suddenly they’re standing among bookshelves and not at all in any near proximity to where Marcus Pierce has his workplace; she takes a deep breath. Ah, books. The intoxicating scent of paper and glue, of years of neglect and abuse.
Lucifer is watching her, bemused.
“You were talking to me?” she asks because she realizes that while she’s been lost in her head, he has been speaking, like a soundtrack you keep in the background.
He leans against the shelf behind him, the back of his head pushing the books backwards in a way that will make Dan quietly seethe when he finds out - Chloe isn’t going to waste her time fixing it, let’s be real - but she doesn’t care.
"Are you quite alright, you look like you might be running a temperature." His eyes narrow slightly. “Are you very drunk?”
Chloe makes a sound. In her head it sounds like a sexy and carefree mating sound. In reality, she comes to understand by the look on his face, it might come off more as if she’s blowing a raspberry.
"What is very , anyway? Such a silly measurement. I'm just… really, I just want to-" she takes a few steps, her hands on his arms and her legs a little bit unsteady and useless - this is the Devil after all - as she pulls him down for a quick kiss.
Lucifer's arms come around her waist immediately, mouth curled upwards in a grin as she leans back to look at him. Smug bastard. But his touch is gentle, his fingers trailing a path up along the side of her body while he's looking intently at her.
"Did you now?"
"Lovely," he says, smile widening. “All librarians love it when I talk about how I was the Dark Lady. Poor Will, he -”
Chloe presses herself up against him once more, with less self-doubt this time and a heartbeat that seems to tap into the rhythm of Lucifer’s own because when she tilts his head down to catch his mouth in another kiss, she swears she can hear their pulse in a heavy, intoxicating beat.
“It’s actually more that you talk way, way too much.”