Chapter 1: 🤯Mind Blown
“You don’t have to do this, Pierce.”
“Yes, I do,” says the man she thought she knew, the man she’d thought she loved. “And normally I would just skip town and reinvent myself. But this time I can’t.” He chambers a bullet in his pistol. “Not before I kill Lucifer.”
“What? Why?” None of this makes any sense. Her mind spins desperately, trying to slot together a narrative that works, a set of motivations that would have resulted in this outcome. Usually when working a case, it’s a matter of filling in the gaps, but here it’s as if she’s been given all the pieces, only from two completely different puzzles. Why would a crime lord even care about some club owner turned police consultant, much less risk being caught just to kill one? Why would he have lured them here not knowing if they would bring backup? Why Lucifer and not her?
Pierce smiles darkly, and Chloe finally recognizes the strange expression on his face—it’s fear. “Because I know that he’ll never stop hunting me. And I can’t afford to spend the rest of my days looking over my shoulder. But you don’t have to die, Chloe.” He raises the gun, pointing it over her shoulder at Lucifer. “Step away from him.”
“Detective, for once I agree with this imbecile,” Lucifer says softly, disgust and rage trembling in his voice. “Step aside.”
“No,” she says, resolute, stepping between them. Her choice is clear. It’s always been clear.
“I believed everything you said, Marcus,” she says, relieved to find her voice steady. She’s terrified, but confident. “That you loved me, that you did all of this for me. Which is why I know that you won’t shoot.”
He lowers his gun, a calculating expression on his handsome face that is somehow worse than facing down a bullet.
“You made me realize that life was worth living, and I will do anything to stay alive. But if you get in the way of that—” He raises his gun again and Chloe raises her hands. She can almost feel the anxiety radiating off Lucifer behind her. Lucifer, who only a few weeks ago tackled a woman to the ground for just threatening her with a knife. She keeps her arms spread, hoping she’ll be able to catch him before he does anything stupid.
“Okay, I believe you,” she breathes, heart pounding. “I don’t wanna die.”
Marcus lowers his gun again. “You won’t.” His eyes flicker up—far up—to the balcony behind her, and he nods.
The sound of the gunshot is sudden and thunderous in the small, high-ceilinged room, echoing for what seems like an eternity. The first thing she registers is the smug smile that passes across Pierce’s face, like a ripple across the still waters of his customary deadpan. Something about it is sickening, inhuman. Chloe looks down at herself, trying to find the gunshot wound that surely is there. But there’s nothing. Did the shot miss?
She feels more than hears the sound of a heavy weight hitting the floor behind her, the vibration thrumming across the soles of her feet. Her ears are ringing and ringing, a god-awful noise. Then she feels something warm and wet running down the back of her neck, tracing a path under her collar, pooling, viscous, at the top of her kevlar vest.
She looks down slowly, like there’s a beast ready to startle, a terrible truth that she can save herself from if she moves carefully enough, if she thinks fast enough. Maybe, maybe she’ll survive.
On the floor beside her is a dark head connected to a dark-suited body. Beneath the head, a dark pool spreads. She falls to her knees without feeling, without thinking, grabs her partner, her best friend, the man she loves and heaves him over onto his back. He’s limp, unmoving: dead weight.
He’s fine, he’s fine, he can survive anything, it’s just a graze, it’s just—
His face is gone. Where his dancing brown eyes and mischievous smile once were is a mass of blood and bone and gore. This isn’t— It’s not—
Someone is screaming. Someone is screaming and screaming a name, over and over.
Eventually—as heavy hands loop under her arms and pull her to her feet—she realizes it’s her.
She’s thrown into the back of a panel van, bound and gagged, and the body is heaved in after her.
It looks larger now than it ever seemed before. Lifeless limbs akimbo, it takes up most of the available floor space. Lucifer never seems that big. Even with his towering height, he’s always so real, so warm, so friendly. Always ready to stoop to read a case file over her shoulder or crouch to look at evidence. He never makes her feel small. She feels tiny in the presence of this awful mass of unmoving flesh.
Chloe is torn between the urge to get as far away from touching that cold, pale skin as possible and the urge to cradle him in her arms. To feel him near her, to keep him with her for as long as she can. She’s glad for the dim light barely trickling in from a tiny gap in the door, giving her nothing more to look at than a vague sense of the walls and a suggestion of the form beside her. She doesn’t think she could look at the mangled remnants of his face without vomiting, and there is nothing worse than vomiting while gagged.
Lucifer is gone. Lucifer is dead.
She thinks the words over and over again but can’t really seem to make sense of them. There’s a numbing buzz humming in her brain, a levee trembling with the magnitude of what it’s holding back.
She understands that she is in shock. She is being kidnapped and she is in shock and Lucifer is gone. She is alone. She loved him, and he is gone. He never knew, insecure and wracked with doubt as he was, that she loved him.
She could have told him. She will never be able to tell him.
Something thick and lukewarm and wet touches her face on its journey across the floor. His blood, oh God, oh God—
She throws herself backwards further against the wall of the van. Her breath comes heavy and fast through her nose. She screams against the gag, screams her terror and grief and pain into the duct tape that seals her lips shut. It’s unsatisfying. It doesn’t do anything to lessen the sharp pain in her chest. She digs her fingernails into the flesh of her hands until she draws blood. She kicks violently against the doors of the van. They rattle but hold easily. Tears stream down her face, and she shudders as wracking sobs tear through her. She flails and twists and writhes against her restraints like a wild animal in a trap, screaming into her mouth in frustration.
Then she stops. She forces her body to relax. She takes a breath in and holds it against the spasming sobs, against the ache filling her chest, then releases it slowly. She repeats the action over and over until the sobbing stops, until she can envision anything in her mind’s eye other than the awful ruin of his face.
She’s been kidnapped. By a trained police lieutenant and criminal mastermind. She has to escape. How can she escape? She thinks about the van. It’s still driving on city streets, the pavement is smooth beneath its wheels, and she hears telltale honking outside. It rolls to stops intermittently. Not on the freeways, then.
Surely Dan and Ella will realize soon that something’s happened, when she and Lu—when she doesn’t check in. Then they’ll likely call in the cavalry, concerns about Pierce’s men on the inside be damned. Pierce is staying on surface streets because the freeways are a trap—easy to close off, easy to find someone on. In the labyrinth of Los Angeles’ endless neighborhoods you can disappear. He is disappearing. He is taking her with him.
She lies still, and she focuses on her surroundings, and she waits.
The van drives and drives and drives, turning frequently, tires finally crunching against gravel as it slows to a stop. Suddenly the doors fly open. She’s momentarily blinded by the brilliant daylight, but she makes out the silhouette of one of Pierce’s men. He grabs the body’s legs and slides it out, leaving a streak of red in its wake, and before Chloe can even attempt to wriggle towards freedom, the doors slam shut again.
Faintly, she hears his voice. Flat, emotionless, matter-of-fact.
“I want the body destroyed. Fire, acid, whatever you need to do. I don’t want anything left.”
“You got it, Boss,” says the other man.
They sit there for a long time. Chloe feels sick. There is the murmur of scattered conversation and the crackle of flames—the stench of burning wool and hair and meat. She focuses all her thought and concentration on not vomiting, refusing to think of what’s happening outside the doors. She doesn’t understand why they need to be there. If Pierce is going to kidnap her, just take her now. Why make her endure this?
Finally, the engine starts again, and the van pulls back into traffic. Given the fact that Pierce’s companion in the front seat never seemed to get back in the passenger side door, Chloe judges that Pierce is now alone in the cab. She wiggles around so her feet point towards the front of the car and kicks the back of the cab viciously, screaming as loudly as she can through her gag.
“It’s no use, Chloe,” Pierce calls back, his voice muffled through the thin metal wall. Then, quieter, barely audible over the road noise, “It’s just you and me now.”
They drive for what must be hours and hours. The dim light from the crack between the doors fades until Chloe is alone in the pitch black with nothing but the sound of the road, the stench of blood, and her own fear for company. She is now very certain that no APB, no clever forensic scientist, no experienced detective will find her. Pierce is too smart, knows the system too well. She wouldn’t be surprised if they’re in Mexico now, or deep in the Mojave desert.
The monotony and terror and pain begin to wear on her, and despite her best efforts, her eyelids begin to droop, and she drifts into a restless slumber.
She dreams of Lucifer’s eyes—the fear and hope and joy in them—a joy in life and the living of it like that of no one else she’s ever met. She sees him leaning slowly forward to kiss her, sweetly, as if he’s never kissed before, as though his innumerable lovers have done nothing to prepare him for her. But when his lips meet hers, they’re cold. She pulls back, and there is nothing but dull sadness on his face. Sadness turns to disappointment. Disappointment turns to condemnation. His skin melts away, leaving a horrific visage—tendons and muscles exposed, flesh twisted and scarred—before that, too, disappears, leaving nothing. A void where there should be a face.
“Lucifer, no, stay with me,” she pleads as he falls into her. And his weight is heavy, so heavy. She struggles to hold him, but he drags her down, stumbling off a precipice and falling, falling—
The sound of the van doors opening wakes her. She opens her eyes blearily. It’s night, but Pierce’s broad form is backlit by headlights, his face cast into shadow. He looks at her for a long moment before turning to someone she can’t see, maybe whoever was driving the other car parked behind them.
“Take her inside,” Pierce says. A figure moves towards the open doors. Pierce catches him by the arm. “ Be careful. She’s trained and stronger than she looks.”
As he leans closer to take ahold of her, Chloe sees the other man is burly and white with a shaved head and a tattoo of a snake peeking out from the neck of his shirt.
“The fuck are you looking at, bitch?” he grumbles as he draws closer. Chloe waits, and aims…
She kicks out with both feet and nails him in the crotch with the heels of her boots. He hunches over in agony. She hears Pierce snort faintly in amusement.
“What did I tell you?”
Recovering slightly, the bald man straightens and raises an arm as if to backhand her. Pierce catches his wrist, teeth bared, trembling with rage.
“I said, take her inside.”
Cowed, the man ducks his head. “Yes, Boss.”
This time he grabs her by her ankles and yanks her out of the van, crouching to swing her over his shoulder. She writhes and struggles wildly but to no avail. From this perspective all she can see is the man’s back and the dusty, dry ground beneath them. The man climbs a set of three old, weather-worn stairs and swings open a creaking screen door, then a huge metal door that slides silently on well-oiled steel hinges. When it shuts behind them, Chloe realizes this is a safe house. And not just any safe house, but one worthy of the Sinnerman himself.
She sees worn wooden floorboards under his feet, covered by a ratty area rug. Then another heavy metal door opens, and they descend a wooden staircase. The air cools as they go deep, deeper than a normal basement. The floor down here is cold, clean polished concrete. Fluorescent lights flicker to life as they move down a long hallway. Finally the man carrying her frees one hand and punches in an 8-digit passcode. There’s the whirring of a lock disengaging, and they enter what she presumes to be her cell.
The man swings her over his shoulder and down onto her back on a thin cot, whacking her head on the metal frame with a resentful disregard for her comfort. Then he spins on his heel and walks away, the door shutting loudly behind him.
Chloe wriggles onto her side to free her bound arms from beneath her and surveys her surroundings. She’s in what could only be described as a prison cell.
The room is sparse, but not cruel. She’s lying on a bare mattress on a cot pushed into one corner. Several feet away, tucked into a little nook for privacy, are a toilet, a small shower, and a sink. From the way the thin mattress below her feels and the way the floor and the toilet look, she’d guess that no one has ever spent time in this place before. It’s brand new.
She finds she can’t really move, can’t really think. The reality of what’s happening to her just won’t seem to sink into her head. Why is she here? What’s happening to her? Is this real? The questions spin vaguely through her head but she can’t manage to form a coherent answer to any of them. This isn’t what was supposed to happen. She was supposed to capture the criminal. Supposed to earn justice for Charlotte. Supposed to return home and share a drink with Lucifer that might—finally—turn into something more. Instead, she’s...where? For how long? Why? Why?
After a few minutes, there’s a beeping of numbers being punched into the door again and it swings open. This time Pierce is there, carrying a pile of bed linens and towels. He doesn’t bother to close the door, and, standing vigilantly outside of it, are the bald man and another muscular, stone-faced lackey.
He sets the linens down on the clean floor beside her and sits on the edge of the cot. He looks at her and sighs as if she’s a mild inconvenience he regrets having to deal with, then quickly tears the duct tape away from her mouth.
She gasps at the pain, licking her sore lips, taking breath after trembling breath. He looks at her expectantly. She finds herself unable to meet his eyes. It’s all too much to take in, more than she can handle right now.
“Please let me go, Marcus,” she says finally in a small voice. “It’ll be better for you if you turn yourself in, you know that.” It’s what she knows she should say, but she doesn’t feel it. Doesn’t even really understand the meaning behind the words. This stranger will never turn himself in, will never submit.
He raises his eyebrows. “Oh, will it? You wouldn’t throw the book at me in revenge for killing Lucifer? Don’t lie to me, Chloe.”
The mention of his name sends a bolt of pure hatred through her, cutting through the shock and pain and confusion. How dare he? How dare he casually throw that name around, as if it meant nothing to kill him? As if he didn’t turn her entire world upside-down? As if he didn’t kill the one person who’d ever seemed willing to do anything to ensure her happiness? Chloe opens and shuts her mouth wordlessly for a moment, simmering with rage.
“I’m going to get out of here, and I’m going to kill you.” She is pleasantly surprised to find her voice comes out cold and certain, carrying all the loathing she feels.
“Now that sounds like honesty.” Pierce smiles humorlessly.
“What do you even want with me?” Chloe asks, dreading the answer. “It would have been smarter to kill me, too. No witnesses.”
Pierce nods in agreement. “You’re right. But I’ve only got one life to live. And I want to live that life with you.”
“You’re insane,” she whispers.
“No, I just finally have clarity.”
“If you feel anything for me, you’ll let me go. This isn’t love.” She feels helpless, frustrated tears spilling from her eyes. “It’s....it’s sick.”
Pierce shakes his head and reaches out to stroke her face. She recoils, but her motion is limited by her restraints and he pursues her, calloused fingers trailing down her cheek. “Love is an illusion. It all is. Any emotion can be bought or sold, lost or gained, with the right application of incentives.”
She’s shaking now, sick and afraid and confronted with a terrifying stranger, a stranger she nearly married.
“Well,” Pierce stands up, voice and manner casual. “I’m aware it’s not going to happen overnight.” He casts an appraising glance around the room. “I’ll get you some books and things. If there’s anything in particular you want or need, let me or one of my men know. This whole place could use a woman’s touch.”
He walks to the door and murmurs something to one of his henchmen on the way out. The man comes into the room and flips open a switchblade. Chloe recoils in fear, but all he does is peremptorily slice open the bindings on her wrists and ankles before leaving the room once again, closing the door behind him with the finality of a slab across the opening of a tomb.
Chloe is alone in a cell. In the middle of God-knows-where. Lucifer is dead.
She peels the remnants of the duct tape off her wrists and ankles and sits upright on the edge of the bed. Almost immediately, the nausea that’s been threatening for what must have been the better part of a day returns with a vengeance. She barely makes it to the small, stainless steel toilet before emptying her stomach. There’s almost nothing to bring up besides bile and pain. When her stomach finally settles she falls to the floor beside the toilet, puts her head in her hands, and cries.
A man sometimes known as Marcus Pierce drops down into a rolling office chair, bone tired. Tired of centuries, millennia of scheming and twisting and lying. Tired of killing those who stand in his way. Tired of the fear that dogs his every step. Fear of loss, fear of betrayal, fear of rejection. Fears that have been with him since the beginning of history.
He’s not afraid of pain, not anymore, not after he’s cut and burned and crushed his body in every conceivable way. Pain is nothing but proof you’re still alive. He hates it, but he’s not afraid of it. It’s been his bosom companion these many years.
Chloe makes him feel a different kind of pain. It’s been a long time since another person could do that. She is sharply beautiful. Focused and hardworking. Resolute in her ethics, in her sense of justice, in a way he never could manage. Imagining her beside him, he glimpses a future where he is better, where she balances out his darkness with her cool, pure light, her conviction in the idea of a moral truth greater than herself.
Now that Lucifer’s gone, he has plenty of time to make her understand that he loves her and she should love him too. By any means necessary.
Lucifer hits the floor. The gunshot came out of nowhere. He is a fool; of course Cain would have a backup plan for his backup plan.
He flails, trying to stand, but his limbs don’t seem to be responding to his commands. Maybe he was shot in the spine? A death sentence with the Detective here. It doesn’t matter; all that matters is her. If he loses her now, she’ll be gone forever, like Uriel, like Father Frank, like Charlotte Richards, like all the good people he’s met over the years. Lost to him.
He distantly registers Chloe talking to Cain, pleading for her life, for his.
“I don’t want to die,” she whimpers. The same thing she said on their first case, bleeding on the floor beneath him. He tries one more time to get up but is rewarded with nothing but helpless pain arcing like lightning down his body.
“Then I’m sorry,” Cain intones, voice cold. “But I can’t leave any loose ends.”
There is the sound of a single gunshot, and Chloe falls to the floor a scant few feet away, her face turned towards him, contorted in shock and pain.
He tries to scream, he tries to fight his way up, wants to tear Cain’s smug face from his skull. He curses himself, curses his Father, curses the cruelty of this awful, mortal world. She doesn’t deserve this, doesn’t deserve any of the pain and horror he’s brought into her life. The guilt is a sledgehammer to his chest.
“Lucifer,” Chloe breathes, a tear sliding down her cheek, mingling with droplets of blood spatter from the gunshot wound in her chest. “I’m afraid.”
He wants to speak, to pull her close, to whisper promises of the beauty and peace of the Silver City, but his labored breaths are coming slower, and blackness is creeping in at the edges of his vision. He reaches out—all he can manage—hoping he can at least brush his fingers against hers, but the darkness closes in, and he sees no more.
Lucifer hits the floor. The gunshot came out of nowhere. He is a fool.
Chloe’s fear. His helplessness. Cain’s cruelty. He can’t reach her, he can’t speak to her.
Lucifer hits the floor.
Tears welling in her crystal blue eyes, the light in them already beginning to fade.
Lucifer hits the floor.
She doesn’t understand what’s happening. He never explained it to her. She’s dying, and she doesn’t understand why.
Lucifer hits the floor.
It’s his fault, all his fault. If he hadn’t been such a coward. If he’d shown her the truth, even if it wasn’t his truth. She would have believed him, would have accepted him. Would have turned Cain away long ago.
Lucifer hits the floor.
He reaches for her and reaches for her and reaches for her, but the gulf between them is insurmountable. She dies alone and afraid.
Lucifer hits the floor.
Chloe’s death is his fault. Charlotte’s death is his fault. Uriel’s death is his fault.
Lucifer hits the floor.
He knows he’s done this before. It’s familiar. It’s like a song playing in the back of his head, over and over. The chorus repeats, but it never moves past the second verse. There is no bridge, no resolution. It’s a cycle. He remembers stabbing Uriel over and over and over and over and over—
Lucifer hits the floor.
It’s a cycle.
Lucifer hits the floor.
Lucifer hits the floor.
This is Hell. His loop has changed, but the guilt is the same.
Lucifer hits the floor.
This didn’t happen. He never saw Chloe die. She might have, but she might not have.
Lucifer hits the floor.
Who knows what Cain did to her? What he still might be doing to her?
Lucifer hits the floor.
Daniel and Ms. Lopez knew where they went, but they would wait precious minutes, hours maybe, for him and Chloe to return to the penthouse. What could Cain and several armed men do in hours? The thought is horrific.
Lucifer hits the floor.
Chloe may yet be alive. If she is alive, she is in terrible danger. He has to believe she’s still alive. He’s the only one who truly understands the evil she faces, the only one who can face Cain.
Lucifer hits the floor, and then sits up.
Cain and Chloe and the faceless goons lining the balcony stare at him blankly as he climbs unsteadily to his feet. Cain raises his gun and fires it at the illusion shaped like Chloe, and she falls to the floor. He looks down at her, meets her pleading eyes, and turns away. The figure dying on the floor is not her, it’s his guilt. The real Chloe doesn’t have the time for him to wallow in it now. It doesn’t go away, but he’s able to enclose it in the part of his soul dedicated to his pain and regret. It is, if nothing else, capacious.
Lucifer sees the door. He knows it’s unlocked.
Hell is...well, Hell. Unchanging as ever, dim and oppressive, the heat and darkness bearing down on him. He winds through the narrow passageways, looking for somewhere wide enough for him to stretch his wings. Leaving Hell as a soul is no mean feat. Last time he had the benefit of a living body calling him from above, drawing him out. This time he’ll have to leave under his own power. Not impossible for an angel, but still running fundamentally counter to the natural mechanics of the universe. Some demons got pretty good at it back in the day, before he banned possessions, back when his rage and resentment were broad and all-encompassing.
He passes a demon loitering at a crossroads, leaning casually against a dark stone wall, picking under his claws with a blade. The demon—Dromos is his name, Lucifer remembers—does a double take as he walks past.
“My lord, is that you?” he cries, shrill. Lucifer strides onwards, pretending not to hear. “My king! Wait! You’re back? You’ve returned to us?”
“No,” Lucifer says shortly. “Just a brief detour.”
The demon called Dromos grabs his wrist, then looks down at it in surprise. Demons have a unique sense for souls. “You’re dead, my king?”
“As I said, a detour,” Lucifer grits out through his teeth. “And if you’ll unhand me, I can return to my body and resolve this nonsense.”
Dromos releases him immediately, terrified. “Apologies, my king. It’s just—it’s just been so bad without you. We need you here. It’s chaos.”
Lucifer feels a brief flash of a different guilt—the guilt of abandoning his responsibilities, of allowing a kingdom he worked to bring order to for millennia falling into ruin—and immediately quashes it. Chloe’s safety is the priority.
“Which way to the nearest sulfur pond?”
Dromos stares at him quizzically. “Why would you care where—”
“Quickly,” Lucifer growls.
The demon quails under his glare and points down the passage to the left. Lucifer is well along it by the time he drops his arm again.
“Come back soon!” Dromos calls after him hopefully.
The yellow banks of the sulfur pond stink to, well, to high Hell, at least. But here the stone walls open up and Lucifer is granted an unobstructed view of the swirling maelstrom above. He spreads his wings and takes off, climbing into the air. He can feel the familiar weakness in the fabric of space—a hole he made eons ago for this very purpose, although in the past he’s always been in an angelic body built for traversing planes. As a soul, it’s hard, almost insurmountably so, like swimming up a powerful, fast-flowing river.
The physical plane abhors a disembodied soul, while Heaven and Hell draw them eagerly. His wings churn through the air desperately, and despite his lack of a physical body, Hell helpfully supplies him with the sensation of his muscles burning. It’s like trying to force two positive ends of a magnet together—he feels the hole sliding away from him and pushing him in the opposite direction at the same time.
He reaches and fumbles for the opening, only to miss and tumble downwards. He catches himself and circles in the rising hellfire thermals for a few moments before making a second attempt. This time he doesn’t even make it to the opening before the force pressing him downwards drives him away at an angle that makes him lose lift and stall backwards in a brief and terrifying free-fall.
Thankfully, he recovers before hitting the ground and works once again to gain altitude. He can see the gap, see the faint light of reality shining through it. He thinks about Chloe’s gaze becoming fixed and motionless in death and cries out in frustration, lunging forward in one last desperate attempt. His fingers catch at the ragged edges of spacetime, vibrating and tingling against his insubstantial hands, and he hauls himself through.
As a spirit, without eyes to see or ears to hear or a body to feel, the world is a riot of strange impressions and invisible colors. It’s overwhelming and nonsensical at first, and he panics like a fish on land, thrashing helplessly. Then he feels a pull, distinct and distant—his body, he assumes—calling to him, drawing his soul back to the place where it fits best.
He lets it lead him onwards, forcing himself to relax, closing off the senses that are no longer there and tapping into a power he’s typically loath to use—his divinity. It works the same, body or no, on all planes. Reaching out with it gives him a clear sense of where he is, brings order to all the other things he perceives, an order based on the innate resonances of the universe. What is light but photons pinging heedlessly off of surfaces? What are physical sensations but atoms recoiling from other atoms? What are sounds but waves rippling through molecules? And beneath it all, simple energy. Energy his Father put there. Energy he once molded to his Father’s will like a maestro before an orchestra.
Lucifer opens divine eyes and sees the world as it Is. Sees it in a way he hasn’t for billions of years, not since it was new and molten and full of promise. It’s lovely, of course. That’s why he hasn’t wanted to look at it like this since his fall. The beauty of it is too painful.
Beneath him the sea churns and writhes, full of life, as he’s drawn onward. Sunlight glints and sparkles on the peaks of waves, and he can see in the brilliant light a prismatic riot of color, every color. Distant land approaches, hazy and glowing warmly. He can feel the souls, millions and millions of them, each with their own dreams and fears, each their own universe of potential. Good and evil and the choice between them, always the choice. The choice that was all he ever asked for.
He expects the pull to carry him inland, to the building where he died, but he’s unexpectedly drawn into the sea, not more than a hundred yards away from the shore. He’s dragged down deep, all the way to the seabed and sees his destination just long enough for him to panic and think, No, no, no, I can’t do this , before he’s suddenly embodied again.
Sensation plows into him like a truck, foremost among them a crushing pressure in his chest from lungs filled with water. He flails upwards with short, unfamiliar limbs, his chest burning, his angelic energy working to heal even as he drowns anew. Swimming to the surface of the ocean without the buoyancy of air in his lungs to drive him upwards is a struggle, but he focuses on the dim, distant sunlight and pulls himself doggedly onward.
A fountain of water bursts from his mouth when he breaks the surface and he coughs and sputters, taking several grateful gulps of air before turning towards the shore. Choppy waves bear him forward even as an undertow—the thing that was likely the death of the poor body he now occupies—tries to tug him back downwards. Eventually he feels the sand beneath his feet and struggles the last few yards through the surf.
“Maureen, oh my God, we thought you left to get a hot dog,” cries a middle-aged woman in a bathing suit as he drags himself onto the beach. “Were you out there this whole time? We didn’t see you! Are you okay?”
Lucifer braces himself on an unfamiliar set of tan, age-spotted hands and knees and vomits sea water onto the sand.
“I’m—” He starts, but stops when he hears a woman’s high-pitched voice coming out of his mouth. “Oh, dear.”
Father had two rules, once upon a time. Two rules spoken and known, that is. Rules He made every angel well aware of. The first was that no angel could kill a human. The second was that no angel could possess a human body. Lucifer wasn’t one for rules, but coming from a Father who didn’t really bother to say “don’t question your purpose” until he’d already started doing so, these ones had stuck with him. These two rules he’d never broken.
Now he stares at the bony, pink-manicured fingers clenched in the sand in front of him and trembles, awaiting his punishment.
It comes in the form of a wracking shudder of pain. This poor drowned woman’s body fits him as well as one of Beatrice’s little denim jackets. He feels like he’s bursting at the seams, pressing outward. He cries out and collapses onto the sand. He distantly hears the woman standing above him scream “Somebody call 911!”
His legs and arms ache excruciatingly—it feels like each limb is attached to a semi truck driving towards a different point on the compass, the bones themselves stretching, the joints creaking as his tendons are pulled to their limits. It feels like someone has a car jack inside his chest and is ratcheting open his ribcage. Through the agony, he manages to get to his feet. He needs to call Daniel, Ms. Lopez, the precinct, someone. He has to help the Detective, and in order to do that he needs his body.
Whatever the outward manifestations of the violence happening inside his body are, they can’t be pretty, because the small crowd that has gathered around him is staring at him, horrified, as he staggers towards a man holding a mobile phone to his cheek.
“I need that,” he grates out, throat like sandpaper and voice suddenly much lower than it was moments ago, snatching the phone out the man’s hand.
He fumbles at the screen, fingers spasming and contorting, each knuckle joint abruptly dislocating in quick succession. The phone falls into the sand, the 911 operator on the other end still asking “Hello? Sir, can you hear me—”
Then his wrist stretches and jerks from its socket as well, and he howls in pain, falling back to the sand onto legs that no longer can bear weight. His bones and joints crack and pull apart, and he writhes in agony, screaming. People are screaming now, too, and backing away from him. He can feel his heart floundering, beating fast, then slow, too big for his chest. Something inside him ruptures, and he feels blood flooding up his trachea. The skin over his distended limbs begins to tear like wet paper. The last thing he hears before darkness takes him is the sound of his femurs snapping like dry branches.
Lucifer hits the floor. The gunshot came out of nowhere. He is a fool.
Chapter 2: ⛓Bound
When eventually the tears stop flowing, Chloe feels hollowed out and cold. For a time, at least, there’s no more sorrow inside her to pour out. She pulls herself laboriously to her feet, aches and bruises that adrenaline had hidden until now making themselves known throughout her body. She splashes her face with cold, metallic-tasting water from the small sink and walks heavily over to the cot. She doesn’t have the energy to make up the bed, but she pulls a rough woolen blanket from the pile Pierce left and wraps herself in it before falling onto the thin mattress. She curls herself into the fetal position, back to the wall, and lets exhaustion take her.
When she wakes, some unknown period of time later, it’s to the inset overhead lights brightening smoothly. She’s disoriented and confused for a long moment, but then the events of the past day crash over her, and she clenches her teeth to stop a helpless sound of grief from escaping her mouth.
She climbs stiffly out of bed, all of her limbs protesting, wool blanket still wrapped around her, and takes the time to explore her prison. The room is about five paces long and four across. The single entrance is a sturdy-looking door with a reinforced window at face height in the far corner. The nook containing the toilet, sink, and shower stall is to the right of the door, set back so someone standing at the door wouldn’t have a direct line of sight inside, but far enough away that it wouldn’t be an effective location from which to ambush someone who just entered the room.
There are two black glass hemispheres mounted in opposite corners of the room, obviously security cameras. The lights are flat frosted panels set into the ceiling, providing ambient, diffuse light that takes on a bluish hue now in what she supposes are the “daylight” hours.
She lifts the blanket and smells herself. She stinks of blood and sweat and fear. She can still feel Lucifer’s cooling blood creeping across the floor of the van and touching her face. She raises a hand to her forehead and realizes it’s still there, dried and crusted, and she abruptly feels her stomach heave again.
She suddenly, desperately, needs to be clean. With a wary eye towards the security cameras she gathers the rough, hotel-grade towels Pierce left and, placing them atop the sink, steps into the small shower. A thin, opaque plastic curtain hangs on a thoroughly anchored rod around the stall, and when she pulls it into place, she is fairly certain it effectively blocks the view of both cameras. Once inside, she lets out a shuddering breath and strips out of her dirty, bloodied clothes, chucking them past the curtain in the direction of the bed. She drops the blanket immediately outside of the shower to provide cover once she’s done.
Turning on the tap, the water is initially ice cold. She flinches backwards, but has nowhere to go if she doesn’t want to expose herself. She grits her teeth and bears it for long minutes until the icy blast begins to warm to something endurable. She turns the heat up as high as it will go and scrubs herself from head to toe with the basic soap and washcloth provided. Once she’s done, she allows herself to weep once again, tears and sound concealed by the rush of scalding water.
I did this to him, she thinks. He was just a happy-go-lucky nightclub owner until she came into his life. And although he was the one who insisted on working with her, if it had been anyone else he would have tired of consulting long ago. Because he was in love with her. It was clear as day despite his hedging and denial and inability to commit. And despite all the times he’d hurt and disappointed her, she loved him too. And because of that, he was dead. Dead like her dad. Dead like Charlotte. One more casualty of this life they’d chosen for themselves.
And now Chloe is sure she’s well on her way to becoming another one. Pierce is a murderer, a psychopath, and for some reason he’s decided to keep her. Like a prize or a...a pet. She dreads to think of what he has planned for her, but her detective’s mind, well-acquainted with the depths of human depravity, races through the options. Ransom, collateral, rape, murder, torture, slavery, something else? Some kind of weird power trip? Unbidden, her mind goes to Trixie. She may never see her baby again. The thought makes her sob, and her arms shake where they’re braced against the wet tile.
And Pierce, he knows all her weaknesses, every lever he can use to coerce her into doing what he wants. She showed him, gave him an all-access pass to her life. In her eagerness to move past Lucifer she threw herself into the arms of a complete stranger. Looked at a strong chest and a cool, calm, steady competence and decided, Yes, this is what I need.
All of this, every bit, is her fault.
Eventually the spasming sobs subside, and she turns off the tap. The remaining water swirls slowly down the drain in the floor. She grabs the towel from the sink beside the shower and dries herself thoroughly, squeezing as much moisture from her hair as she can. Then she wraps the blanket around herself again and leaves the shower.
She immediately freezes. The soiled clothes she’d flung onto the floor are gone. The bed is neatly made, and in a tidy stack atop it are a pair of plain cotton underwear and pale blue hospital scrubs. Beside the clothing is a plastic cafeteria tray holding a steaming paper cup of coffee, a banana, a single-serving carton of milk, and a styrofoam bowl of cereal. Someone was in here while she was showering, while she was vulnerable. Her heart pounds. She doesn’t think she’s ever felt this helpless.
She snatches up the stack of clothing and retreats to the concealment of the shower stall to dress quickly. The sterile white walls give the room a sense of openness, despite the room’s relatively small size, and within them she feels like a field mouse on a freeway overpass: exposed, confused, and at the mercy of forces entirely beyond her control. The two cameras are unblinking black eyes following her wherever she goes. She shuffles uneasily back to the bed and presses her back against the wall, curling her knees up to her chest. She pushes her fingers into her damp hair and closes her eyes, focusing on breathing and trying to calm her racing heart.
When eventually she manages to once again stave off the rolling, continual, subterranean panic attack that’s gripped her since Lucif—since the loft, she turns to inspect the food. It’s hard to imagine eating but she knows it’s vital to keep her strength up. Wasting away with grief will do no good in terms of helping her escape, she tells herself. She peels the banana and eats it mechanically, then picks at the dry cereal, not ready to commit to pouring milk into it when she doesn’t know if she can finish it yet.
The coffee is nothing special, but the strong flavor is a welcome jolt to her senses, and that rouses her more than just the caffeine could. She finishes it, and realizing there’s nothing left to do, sits cross-legged on the bed, leaning against the painted cinder block wall, and considers her options.
She is underground. Somewhere at least four hours outside of Los Angeles. Definitely somewhere arid given what she could tell about the texture of the ground outside. Her cell is beneath an older house, which means she’s at least in an area where there historically have been houses. But she can’t imagine Pierce going somewhere with next door neighbors if he wanted to hide out. Maybe an old farm or ranch.
In order to get out of here, first she needs to escape this room. To escape this room, she has two options. Option one is to overpower the guards. They’re large and likely combat-trained, but they’re probably bored and unmotivated. She is combat-trained too and has desperation on her side. That said, she is 125 pounds soaking wet, there are at least three of them, and Pierce has the smallest biceps of the lot. Overpowering the guards seems like a no-go.
The other option is subterfuge and charm. In her work these past few years, that’s usually been Lucifer’s domain. Since partnering with him, she’s been content to sit back and let him do what he does best. Thinking about him sends a stab of pain through her chest that she hurriedly pushes aside.
But she also spent most of her childhood in and out of acting classes, being excused from school to go to auditions, spending her summers learning to tap dance and memorize monologues and cry on command. She is, unfortunately, well-versed in putting on a smile she doesn’t feel or showing interest in someone she finds painfully boring.
She considers Pierce. Not Pierce the lieutenant or Pierce the fiancée or Pierce the lover, or any of the many personas he’s worn around her. There is a person in there that she doesn’t fully understand. Part of him is the notorious Sinnerman, one of the few criminals she’s investigated that she never really managed to get a bead on. His M.O. was granting favors, pulling the strings, manipulating people to his advantage. Lucifer had always seemed to know more about him than she did. And she hadn’t believed Lucifer when he’d told her about him. Instead she drove him away. She made him think she didn’t trust him—
With effort, she stops herself from following that line of thought, wiping fruitlessly at the tears that have once again begun to well in her eyes. She knows there will be more.
But Pierce. Pierce clearly wants her to want him. The idea of it turns her stomach, but he’s as good as announced his one weakness just by bringing her here, by allowing her to live. Once he’s convinced he has what he wants, he will lengthen his leash on her, give her more options. She has to be careful, though; she has to make it believable. If she were to throw herself into his arms the next time he came down here, he’d know immediately she was playing him. She has to lure him in, pretend her hatred and disgust are slowly turning to affection.
Resolved on this course of action, and with nothing left to do, she leans her head back against the wall and closes her eyes.
She must drift off because the sound of the lock whirring and door opening jerks her back to reality. Pierce walks in, wearing a fresh t-shirt and jeans. She notices the tattoo and scarring on his right shoulder she once traced aimlessly in a post-coital haze are gone. She wonders how many of the other things she thought she knew about him are lies.
“Morning,” he says, tossing a newspaper and a dull pencil down on the bed. As usual, it's hard to read anything in his facial expression but she thinks she sees the marks of exhaustion around his eyes. “In case you wanted to do the crossword puzzle.”
She stares at him mutely. The first part of her plan won’t be hard; all she has to do is act exactly as she feels.
He glances at the nearly full cereal bowl beside her. “I thought you liked Raisin Bran.”
“I find I don’t have much of an appetite,” she spits out. “Being kidnapped and imprisoned does that.”
“Fair enough. I’ve spent my share of time in a cell, believe me.”
He says it nonchalantly but it strikes Chloe as strange. Even with Pierce’s influence and network of favors, there’s no way he could have covered up something like that during his adulthood. Charlotte’s documentation on Pierce included solid proof—photos, news clippings, official police documents—of him out and about in the world for his entire adult life in Chicago and L.A. The only way he could have been in prison would have been as a juvenile, she supposes, and those records might be sealed. She wonders how Pierce, who described his childhood to her in intimate moments as pastoral and isolated, ended up on the wrong side of the law before the age of eighteen.
“He’s Cain, from the Bible,” she hears, an echo of Lucifer’s unhinged rambling. But Pierce also told her the Sinnerman had killed his brother. Maybe in his own weird, allegorical way of thinking, Lucifer had been right. Pierce’s first step down a dark path might have been killing his brother. An accident, maybe. Manslaughter. Something that a boy would have been forgiven for.
She tucks that piece of knowledge away for later use. Something Pierce doesn’t want her to know. A new, shining potential weapon in her otherwise empty arsenal.
He stands around awkwardly for a few more beats, looking like there’s something he wants to say, but she refuses to give him an easy out by asking him. Finally he clears his throat.
“Well, I’ll leave you to that. If there’s anything else you want or need, let me know. I sent a man out to get some toiletries. I know what you like to use.” He has the audacity to sound almost proud. Chloe glares at him, silent.
He turns and walks to the door and pauses. There are still two men outside. Plus one out shopping. At least four total now.
“You know, no amount of pouting is going to do you any good. You’re not getting out of here until you’ve decided to see things my way.” He looks like he’s about to leave, but a thought strikes him and he turns back.
“Do you think Lucifer would have wanted you to spend the rest of your life in a cage?”
She sees red, screaming in fury, flying off the cot, and flinging herself at him, nails raised to claw at his smug face. She catches him by surprise and manages to rake a hand violently across his cheek, fingernails leaving bloody red gashes in their wake, before one of the guards pulls her off of him and flings her bodily back towards the bed. She hits the floor hard and looks up just in time to see the door swing closed. Pierce, one hand pressed to his bleeding cheek, stares at her coolly through the window for a long moment before disappearing.
Chloe looks at the blood under her fingernails. She doesn’t smile, but it’s a near thing.
Lucifer sits on the cold stone floor of his own personal Hell and contemplates his next move. The illusive versions of Cain, Chloe, and Cain’s lackeys watch him mutely, waiting for him to let his guilt consume him again to continue their repetitive, torturous pantomime.
Lucifer contemplates the idea of God’s wrath, something he once felt was being personally and viscerally meted out upon him on a daily basis. Recently, though, he’s not so sure. Amenadiel self-actualized his wings back. Lucifer himself gained and lost his devil face based on his own self-perception. His wings grew back over and over again. He’d defied his Father in hundreds, thousands of ways over the millennia and not once had Dad reacted personally.
Even being cast out of Heaven—was that really his Father’s will or did his siblings take it upon themselves to do it?
The question shakes the foundations of everything he thinks he knows, everything he’s ever known, and he turns away from it for now. All that matters is that he has violated one of Dad’s cardinal rules and suffered the consequences.
The thing that nags at him, though, is that he should have gone straight into his body, not the body of that unfortunate drowned woman. There’s a kind of hierarchy of attractiveness to an untethered soul based on proximity and suitability. One’s actual body is always where one tends to gravitate. Absent that, any nearby, recently deceased body will draw in a soul. The implications of that seem equally dreadful, so he resolves to make another attempt, and this time to focus harder on finding his own body.
He strides out the door, driven this time, finding his way unerringly to the sulfur pool. Thank the stars Dromos is gone; it’d be humiliating to have to explain he managed to die again so quickly.
This time it only takes him two attempts to claw his way through the veil between planes, and when he arrives above the sea off the California coastline he’s ready for the sensory cacophony. He focuses on the tugging sensation towards the coast and realizes when he considers it closely that it’s not just one pull, but many. Little threads attached to recently deceased, bereft bodies longing for a soul. There are many throughout Los Angeles, some nearer, some newer, with stronger magnetism, and some more distant or weaker. He doesn’t know exactly how long he’s been in Hell, but presumably his body is one of the weaker signals by now. No matter; once he’s in it again he’ll be able to heal easily enough.
He drifts over the waters once again but this time works to control his motion. The building where he and the Detective confronted Cain is as good a place to start as any. With any luck, his body is still there, and maybe the LAPD will be there too. He’ll be able to ask Daniel and Ms. Lopez what’s happened in his absence, to see if Chloe is alive, or has been taken, or…or...
He guides himself carefully towards Downtown, tracing the skyscrapers on the horizon, beginning to see the pulsing energy of the people moving around inside them as he draws nearer. The building housing the loft where he died is distinctive; he phases through the helipad on the roof and down into the high-ceilinged, art-filled atrium. The entrances are festooned with police tape, and the room appears to have already been tagged, bagged, and at least nominally stripped of evidence.
The main thing that catches his eye is the dark, coagulated puddle in the center of the floor, almost perfectly circular except for a swipe near one edge, as if a huge paintbrush was dragged through it. It’s the only thing that wasn’t there when he and Chloe stepped inside, not all that long ago. His blood, he presumes. Thankfully a solitary puddle. If Chloe was hurt at all here, it certainly wasn’t by gunshot. That said, it doesn’t look like Cain or any of his men were hurt either. Besides his blood, the room is pristine. Whatever happened, Chloe didn’t have much of an opportunity to put up a fight after Cain killed him, the bastard.
He looks deeper, past the physical world, past the garish light of the visible spectrum, and into the planes of time and causality. This realm was never his domain, but Uriel’s. Lucifer always found it esoteric and overly convoluted and—all in all—a waste of time when living in the present was so much more fun. But now he desperately combs through the patterns of movement and action and reaction that vibrate throughout the molecules here. At the surface are the careful, deliberate steps of the police and forensic scientists who were here most recently. He works to see beyond that, though, squinting down into the past. He thinks he sees the path he and the Detective left, walking cautiously into the center of the room. Suspended in the air above the dark puddle, a moment of intense violence, a dramatic shift in fate, a moment that many realities hung upon.
Lucifer sees his death painted on the canvas of reality.
What happened after that is confusion. The many unknown figures in the room moved, convened in the center, and then departed.
Perhaps the police swept in immediately afterward, he thinks hopefully. Perhaps Cain surrendered against the overwhelming might of the LAPD and at this very moment the Detective and Daniel and Ms. Lopez are building an airtight case against him. And all he must do is float on over to the city morgue, pop back into his body, and Bob’s your uncle.
Lucifer quashes his doubts. Especially the voice in his head that tells him in no uncertain terms that Cain holds far too many markers to ever be arrested by the LAPD.
The morgue is a mistake.
He realizes this almost as soon as he crosses the threshold. The call of the empty bodies is powerful here, a siren song begging him to relent, to ease into one. There’s a depression in the fabric of the universe inside each of them, a depression made over decades by the presence of a divine, immortal soul. A negative looking for a positive.
He struggles down the cold, stainless steel room lined with little locker doors, each concealing a body. Without the ability to open said doors, he has to poke his head inside each of them to verify it’s not holding his body. He really needn’t bother; he can tell it’s not here. The voids in these cold, dead chest cavities are old, some of them days or weeks old, and beginning to decay, ready to resign themselves to permanent emptiness.
In a room this size, were his body here, it would call to him like a beacon in the night, the place that was meant for him above all others.
What he’d suspected since he washed up on that beach is increasingly seeming to be true—his body is gone. Destroyed, somehow.
He feels a stab of grief; he quite liked that body. It was very good at doing the things he liked to do, despite its recent irritating tendency to sprout feathers. And it was his. For eons. He fucked Cleopatra in that body.
And as for the body he’d ended up in on that beach—what had happened there? Was human flesh simply not strong enough to contain an angelic soul? That seems dubious, considering his mother managed to contain herself in a human body for months and she was far more powerful than him. If he couldn’t manage to commandeer a human body for more than a few minutes before destroying it, he was going to have a hell of a time doing anything much on Earth.
He wonders if maybe the problem was just that particular form. It clearly felt too small. Maybe a body closer to his size and shape would do the trick. He browses the refrigerated lockers until he finds what he’s looking for: a middle aged man somewhere north of six feet tall. Perhaps a bit heftier than him, but given his past experience, better too big than too small. He’s fairly freshly dead, which is a plus, because Lucifer doesn’t much fancy the idea of slipping inside a rotting corpse. Carefully, Lucifer relaxes and allows himself to settle into the body.
He awakens with a pained gasp. Pain prickles through him as the body’s chilled skin warms with fresh blood.
“Coming back from the dead bloody hurts,” he gasps, pleased to hear a voice somewhere in the vicinity of his normal register. “Now, how do I get out of here?”
He’s inside one of the lockers, of course, which is pitch black and freezing. Not to mention the fact that he’s nude and lying on a metal tray. He turns his attention to the door behind his head and feels a lock, a simple, beautiful lock that opens obligingly at his prompting. Thankfully, his powers still seem to be fully functional. He was beginning to think he’d never catch a break. The door swings open, and he pulls himself out.
There’s a woman performing an autopsy in the middle of the room who he’d barely spared a thought for who seems quite alarmed to see a body nonchalantly climb out of one of the lockers. She screams bloody murder and throws the liver that she seemed to be about to weigh at him. It smacks wetly into his hairy chest and falls to the floor.
“Well that wasn’t very polite,” he says, affronted. “I’ve just come back from the dead! For all you know, I’m Jesus Christ himself! Doesn’t that deserve a little respect?”
She continues shrieking and flees the room.
“People these days,” he murmurs, shaking his head. He wanders out into the abandoned reception area of the morgue. Behind the main desk is a small locker room for employees to change into scrubs, and he quickly raids it for clothing. The only garments he can find are a tad tight and far too short, but he supposes they will have to suffice for the time being.
Outside, the din of traffic and the glare of sunlight is overwhelming to eyes that have been closed in death for what must have been at least a half a day. He squints down the street, hoping to see a cab or a very bored-looking Uber driver. Then he spots something much better.
The officer in the patrol car pulls over to the curb when he waves frantically.
“Can I help you, sir?” she asks through a rolled-down passenger side window.
“Yes, I need to be taken to see Detective Daniel Espinoza immediately.”
“This isn’t a taxi, sir.”
“I’m the victim of a crime,” Lucifer proclaims. “A murder victim. That sort of thing is your responsibility, is it not?”
“You don’t appear to be the victim of a murder, sir,” the officer says with the long-suffering patience of someone who has to deal with odd characters day in and day out.
Lucifer leans in to the open window and fixes his gaze on her. “All right then. Officer...?”
“Officer Gustafson. Tell me, if you don’t wish to help me solve this terrible crime, what it is you desire?”
“I-I always wanted to be an actress,” she stammers, blushing.
Lucifer gives her an appraising glance. She’ll never be a star, but she certainly has the face of a compelling character actor. “Tell you what, you drive me to see Detective Espinoza and I’ll put in a good word for you with the casting director at your next audition. Deal?”
She gives him a quizzical look. “Are you in the business? What’s your name?”
“Lucifer Morningstar, pleased to meet you.” He reaches into the window to shake her hand. “And I’m not in the business myself, but I have fingers in a good many pies. And most of those pies owe me a debt. Sometimes just because I put a finger in them, to be honest.”
She shakes her head, baffled. “I don’t know why, but I believe you.” She unlocks the doors and gestures to the back seat. “Get in.”
Lucifer smiles, pleased, and climbs in, ignoring an uncomfortable constricting sensation in his chest.
As they inch slowly through L.A. traffic, his discomfort gradually increases. This time it’s like a force is pressing his whole body inwards, skin and fat condensing muscles and veins and nerves. It’s worst in his torso, where this body sports a not-insubstantial gut. He struggles more and more to breathe as his body collapses in on itself.
“Bloody hell, not again,” he gasps.
“Hey, are you okay back there, Mr. Morningstar?” Officer Gustafson calls.
“Not quite.” He forces a short chuckle.
He’s losing sensation in his fingers as blood flow to them is cut off. Again, something begins to feel wrong inside his chest, like his ribcage is being squeezed by a giant fist. Organs struggle to work in a body compacting itself to a fraction of its normal size.
His gasps are coming shorter and shorter now. He can’t seem to fill his lungs—there’s no spare room inside his chest at all. He claws numbly at his throat, thrashing in the seat of the police cruiser.
“Hey! Hey! I’m gonna take you to a hospital, okay, buddy?”
He foams at the mouth as the remaining air is squeezed out of him. Humiliatingly, he feels his body void whatever remained in its intestines. And then the world goes black.
Lucifer hits the floor. The gunshot came out of nowhere. He is a fool.
He stares up at the white ceiling of his personal Hell, clenches his fists, and screams until his throat is raw. This time the illusory versions of Cain and Chloe don’t even bother to appear. He’s doing a perfectly fine job of tormenting himself.
When his anger finally cools, he exits the hell loop and finds a surprise visitor. Azrael stands outside the door with an apologetic half-smile on her face.
“You can’t keep doing this, Lu,” she says.
“Well hello, Lucifer. Nice to see you, Lucifer. How’s it been going the past few eons, Lucifer?” He mocks, stalking off in the direction of the sulfur pool.
Azrael casts an uneasy glance at the dark stone walls and the ominous forms moving in the shadows, and hurries to catch up with him. “I’m sorry we haven’t talked for a while, but you need to hear me out.”
He stops and spins to face her. “Oh? And why is that, Azrael?”
She frowns. “Because angelic souls aren’t allowed to possess human bodies.”
“Yes, yes. Dad’s rule. And why do you think he made that rule, hm?”
Azrael’s brows furrow. “Because...it’s not our place.”
“You know, before he regrew his wings and flew Charlotte Richards up to the Silver City, Amenadiel shared a theory with me,” he says as they near the stinking banks of the sulfur pool. “He theorized that much like humans choose their fate after death, angels self-actualize their fate in life. We become what we believe ourselves to be. And however Mum and Dad made us, it was so our bodies could accommodate that change. Granted, I only have a sample size of two at the moment, but it seems to me that when you apply angelic self-actualization to a plain old mortal body, that body tears itself apart trying to obey the will of the soul.
“In other words, it’s not about right or wrong, or about breaking the rules, it’s just a design mistake. Dad telling us not to poke at the one nasty flaw in His system.”
“Then why would you go back up there?” Azrael gesticulates in frustration. “You’ve had to endure being exploded and imploded in slow-motion. And you can barely function for fifteen minutes before it happens.”
“Because the Detective is in danger!” he snaps. “I can’t sit idly by down here while Cain is up there doing Dad-knows-what to her. I let her down. I failed. It’s my responsibility to help her! If I even bloody can.”
Azrael smiles at him sadly. “I understand what it’s like to feel strongly about a human, to want to protect them. But how are you going to help her when you don’t have a body?”
“I haven’t quite figured that out yet,” he mumbles.
She sighs. “I think I can point you in the right direction, at least.”
Lucifer takes her by the shoulders, wild-eyed. “You know where she is? Azrael, you must tell me.”
The Angel of Death shrugs out his his hold easily, brushing off his fleshless grip like it’s little more than a feather on her shoulder. “I’ll bring you to the last place I saw them, but you know I’m not allowed to interfere.”
“‘Allowed,’ ‘allowed,’” he parrots. “Who even told us all these rules? Does anyone remember anymore? How do we know that we didn’t make them up ourselves?”
Azrael just shakes her head. “I’m not...I’m not like you, Lu. I don’t have it in me to rebel. I like my job, most of the time. I like the rules. They keep me safe from pain. They make it easier.”
Lucifer’s face falls. With Amenadiel firmly ensconced in the Silver City again, he could use another angel’s power. And hands. And just body in general. The thought of how impotent he’ll be if he doesn’t have a body to pilot around is infuriating. But he can’t force Azrael to do something against her will, either.
“All right,” he sighs. “Lead the way.”
His little sister grabs him by the back of his suit, unfurls her wings, and carries him up effortlessly into Hell’s roiling, gray sky.
Chapter 3: 🌾The Farmer
Chloe doesn’t see Pierce for the next few days. In fact, she doesn’t really see much of anyone. The guard she’s taken to thinking of as “Shorty”—because he’s a scant inch or two shorter than the other guard, “Baldy”—brings her breakfast, lunch, and dinner. He doesn’t speak or make eye contact with her, despite the fact that her stubborn silence turns into deliberately provocative insults on day two, and somewhat desperate attempts to start a conversation by day three. She thinks Shorty must feel some slight uneasiness with being her jailer. Baldy, she’s certain, would be happy to slap her around a little as payback for kicking him in the balls, but it seems Pierce must have told him off.
She attempts to conceal the plastic knife from her dinner on the second day, discreetly slipping it into the waistband of her scrubs while Shorty comes to retrieve her tray of picked-over food. She almost thinks she’s pulled it off, but then Baldy strides into the room and impatiently pins her wrists to the wall with one hand. He digs around under her waistband and retrieves the knife with the other hand. She flails and struggles and makes it as hard for him as possible, but he doesn’t betray any reaction except for a slight irritated grimace.
“What happened to calling me a bitch, Baldy?” she shouts after him. “Your boss really has you whipped, huh?”
The isolation and boredom begin to wear on her immediately. She examines every inch of the room—walls and floors, the bolts that secure the sink and toilet, the way in which the legs of her cot are attached to the frame. She reads the entirety of the newspaper Pierce left with her many times over and completes the crossword puzzle, at least everything except for 9 across (“Poodle from Goethe, shortened”), which she eventually accepts is a word she simply doesn’t know. After re-reading the puzzle and clues enough times, she carefully scribbles out each of the clues (except for 9 across, just in case it comes to her later), then composes her own clues based on the answers.
And when there’s nothing else to occupy her, she broods. That’s the worst part.
She’d like to say she’s plotting her escape, or at least thinking of creative ways to kill Pierce, but really she mostly dwells on her many mistakes, and misses Trixie, and mourns Lucifer. If he were alive, she knows, he wouldn’t rest until she was found. Whereas Dan and Ella...well, she’s sure they’re making an effort, but she has to imagine Pierce has people throughout the entire department. If he doesn’t want her to be found, she won’t be. If she had any sense that Maze even gave a shit about her anymore, Chloe would give her the best odds. But who’s to say anyone even told her Chloe’s missing?
“Destroy the body,” Pierce said to his men. Not just dump it or burn it or cut its hands off. Destroy it. Which means it’s likely no one knows Lucifer’s dead, either. Maybe finding him would be incentive enough to put Maze on Pierce’s trail. Despite the often inscrutable ups and downs of their relationship, Chloe’s confident that she would still do whatever it takes to protect Lucifer. Or avenge him, if need be. Because he does need to be avenged. There’s nothing left of him to protect.
When she tires of agonizing over the likelihood of her friends finding her, Chloe thinks about Trixie. Wonders what Dan told her when he picked her up from the babysitter instead of Chloe. That he didn’t know where she was? That she had likely been kidnapped? Or some pleasant deception, like “Mommy had to leave town for work?” She wonders what Trixie’s life will be like if she never comes back. Dan will do his best, she knows, but being a single parent with the merciless hours of a police detective is no simple task. She thinks about her father, about the day when her mother called, barely able to speak through her tears, and told her that he was dead. Chloe prays fervently to every deity she can think of to let her see her daughter again.
And when the thought of Trixie alone is too difficult to bear, she thinks of Lucifer. About the relationship they almost had. About the tremulous way his lips had pressed against hers on Forrest Clay’s balcony, disbelieving, seeming certain that she would turn him away. About the way being wrapped in his arms always felt like coming home. Her grief is a tangible thing. It presses outward from her chest, strangling and aching and suffocating. When she has tears to spare, she cries, but the rest of the time she just aches, even as the colors of the bruises on her skin shift and fade. She suspects the pain of Lucifer’s loss will never truly heal.
The days in her prison pass at a glacial pace. Each hour drips like molasses into the next, endless and perfectly uniform. Not that she knows when one ends or another begins, since she doesn’t have a clock. The only landmarks she has to mark the passage of time are her breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and the lights cycling from dim to bright and back again each day.
Time becomes strange. Sometimes the wait between lunch and dinner feels like a decade, and sometimes it passes seemingly in the blink of an eye. If someone told her the lights and her meals were on a 48-hour cycle rather than a 24-hour one, she’d take them at their word. If they said each day was three days, or four, she’d believe them. It doesn’t really matter. She has nothing to do and infinite time to do it in.
She finds bits and pieces of songs will get stuck in her head on endless loops for days at a time, unfinished, unresolved. The same pop song lyrics in a circle. Over and over and over and over…
Bum bum bee-dum bum bum be-dum bum,
Bum bum bee-dum bum bum be-dum bum,
Bum bum bee-dum bum bum be-dum bum,
Bum bum bee-dum bum bum be-dum bum...
She runs her hands up and down the dry, soap-smelling skin of her arms, humming the chorus of “Disturbia” over and over, wishing for someone to touch other than herself, something to feel other than cheap cotton and sharp metal and cold concrete. If Lucifer were here, he would have devised some entertainment, she thinks. Likely at her expense. And although she would never admit it to him, she probably would enjoy it too.
She is not Lucifer. Lucifer is dead, dead because of her. She doesn’t have creative flair or the ability to turn even the worst circumstances on their head with a wry comment or an inappropriate joke. He will never do those things again. He will never do anything again.
She torments herself with thought about her family, friends, coworkers, the guy who works at the sandwich shop near the precinct, who she sort of knows, and once saw at Target and exchanged a little half-smile of recognition with. The lack of anyone else to speak to, anything new to look at, sharpens her internal monologue. She imagines conversations and scenarios. Thinks about what she would say to Trixie if she could give her a message now. Imagines how it would have gone if she’d said all she felt to Lucifer in the alley before they confronted Pierce. Or what would have happened if Charlotte hadn’t died, if they’d had just a little more time with each other on that balcony. If he’d driven her home, if she’d invited him inside...
You know, isolation is one of the most powerful instruments of torture there is, Detective, a voice like Lucifer’s whispers in her head. In Hell, it’s often as simple as leaving a soul alone with their thoughts.
“It’s not that I’m alone, it’s that there are too many voices that all want their turn to speak,” she murmurs. She finds that when she’s speaking aloud, the voices in her head quiet. “If I could just get some peace…”
Do you think you deserve it, with all your mistakes, honey? her mother asks. Chloe can hear her classic judgmental stare.
Pierce was ready to leave town, to leave us all alone. You encouraged him to stay, Dan whispers brokenly. If you hadn’t, Charlotte would still be alive.
I almost had him. Charlotte scoffs, irritated. A couple more weeks and I could have finished putting together that case. The case of a lifetime. Enough to redeem all my mistakes.
Monkey, you had to know it was never a good idea to sleep with your boss. It’s a huge breach of professionalism. I’m disappointed in you. Her father’s voice is distant, and she remembers only an impression of it, but the guilt weighs heavily on her.
I would be alive, Detective. Lucifer’s voice sounds sad, lost, hollow. There’s not even anything left of me to bury, not that anyone would find me anyway.
Mommy, why didn’t you come home?
The voices overlap and intermingle, rising to a painful, all-consuming volume that drowns out any thoughts that she can actually identify as her own. Every syllable is like an eardrum-pounding scream. All of them are shouting at her, blaming her, accusing her. She is at fault. It’s her fault.
She presses her hands to her ears and screams. The voices quiet, for now.
She understands that Pierce is trying to break her down, to drive her mad. She also understands that he may be succeeding.
The first week is the longest of her entire life. The second week is somehow longer. When Pierce finally reappears on Day Fifteen, Chloe feels like a shadow of herself.
Her endlessly rehearsed internal monologues and fantasy conversations have started to become audible on both sides. She play-acts them out over and over again, working to remember the exact cadence of Dan’s voice or the way Ella punctuates the ends of sentences with little bounces sometimes. She even makes attempt after poor attempt at Lucifer’s accent, mimicking the way it sounds when she hears his voice in her head.
That’s what you think I sound like, Detective? She hears him say in a scandalized voice.
“That’s what you think I—that’s what you think I sound like? Detective? De-tec-tive?” She mutters, trying to get the tonality right.
She paces the room for hours so she’ll be tired enough to actually fall asleep when the overhead lights dim at night. Tries to remember yoga and pilates positions and movements from classes she took years ago. But she quickly tires of any strenuous exercise, quickly tires of everything. There’s a creeping listlessness overtaking her that horrifies her. She knows from all she’s read about the dangers of solitary confinement that it’s the first sign that she’s succumbing to imprisonment, coming to accept this is the truth of her life now.
When he appears for the first time in two weeks, the first time since the morning she clawed his face, Pierce has the audacity to look tanned and well-fed and cheerful, goddamn him. He gives her a smile she would have once called winning and sets down a stack of thick books on her bed. She thinks she could muster a better glare if she weren’t so terribly, painfully grateful to be acknowledged by another human being.
“How is it going, Chloe?” he asks, sitting on the edge of her cot and giving her a tight-lipped, sympathetic smile as if he’s asking how a weekend of overtime treated her.
“What do you think?” she snaps, unhappy to find she’s on the verge of tears.
“I think more than two weeks alone in a cell is enough to make anyone a little crazy.”
“Oh, you think I’m crazy? You’re a psychopath.”
He claps his palms to his knees and stands up. “Well, if you’re not in the mood to talk to me, I can go—”
“No!” She grabs his wrist, already wincing to hear the desperation in her voice. “Please don’t go. Don’t go yet.” She turns her attention to the books, hoping he didn’t see the tears in her eyes. “What’s this?”
“Just a few things to occupy you. Philosophy. Hume, Mackie, Machiavelli—some favorites of mine.”
Chloe grimaces, imagines Lucifer sneering, This meathead’s never cracked a book on philosophy in his life, but at least he knows they look impressive on the shelf.
Pierce’s favorite dense philosophical texts aren’t exactly what she’d consider entertaining reading, but it’s better than nothing. “No Stephen King?”
He smiles at her very deadpan joke. “We’ll see. And maybe if you’re good, you can come upstairs and have dinner with me at a real, actual table. Maybe even watch the sunset.”
Chloe hates herself for the burst of eager excitement she feels, the raw animal hunger for somewhere with an outside, not this white, featureless, quiet void. For a moment she thinks she’d do anything he asked if only he’d let her leave this room. Then she thinks about Lucifer, whose face is already getting harder and harder to remember clearly, and her stomach turns. A cold shudder runs through her.
“All right, you can go now,” she says stonily, staring down at the placid expression on the face the man wearing what appears to be a velvet turban on the cover of The Philosophy of David Hume.
He makes a quizzical face at her shift in mood. “Have a good evening, Chloe.”
She stares blankly down at the books until the door closes behind him.
If there’s one word Chloe would use to describe Marcus Pierce as a boyfriend, it’s “agreeable.” Nothing she says and nothing she asks for seems to faze him. He’ll tease her on occasion or make some cutting, dryly comic remark at her expense, but he generally goes along with whatever she says. He’s a bit of a cipher, honestly. Even after four weeks of dating, she doesn’t really feel she knows him much better than she did when he was only her boss. She would go so far as to say that that’s just who he is, if it weren’t that sometimes she sees flashes of something else.
Their first major disagreement is when she catches her first glimpse of that Other Pierce. It’s about work, of course. They rarely talk about anything other than work—that’s one of the things she appreciates about him. She’s bouncing the details of a case off him as they lie in his crisp, low, postmodern bed. The case is extremely high-profile, involving a formerly A-list TV star named Mindy Thompson whose husband, Kevin Ward, was murdered in what was clearly a crime of passion. Thompson had been an object of sympathy in the media for months because of her husband’s shamelessly public affair with a much younger actress. Ward was a serial philanderer, and by all accounts a real bastard in his personal life; several accusations of sexual misconduct had been made against him by former co-workers and subordinates.
So far they’d been focusing their scrutiny on Wallace Peeves, a rabid fan of Thompson’s who’d sent several death threats to Ward, and had a history of violence. But Chloe had an inkling that, despite an extremely convincing display of grief, Thompson herself was the killer.
“She had motive, means, everything,” Chloe says, gesticulating.
“She did.” Marcus lies beside her with his head propped up on one arm, the other hand absently trailing up and down her thigh.
“Why aren’t we looking at her more closely, then? Tailing her, getting a warrant to search her car, something?”
Marcus shakes his head. “There isn’t the will. People are practically celebrating her husband’s death in the streets. It really is hard to blame her, if she did do it.” He leans over to press soft, open-mouthed kisses against her collarbone.
Chloe gapes at him. “Don’t tell me you’re on her side, too!”
“You’re not?” He pulls back to look at her.
“Personally, yeah, I think Ward probably got what was coming to him. But as law-enforcement professionals, we can’t let our sympathy for a person’s circumstances prevent us from doing our jobs.”
“Why not?” Marcus prompts. “You know the prosecutor will. The jury will. The judge will. All of society has already passed judgment, even if they don’t know all the facts. And shouldn’t we take into account the circumstances under which a person does something?”
“Of course we should, but murder is murder. Unless we find out she killed him in self-defense, that’s not something society should tolerate.”
Pierce’s eyes glint darkly. She thinks she sees a hint of anger in them. “So this is the same as a serial killer murdering in cold blood? Or a mother murdering a child? Or an executioner in a concentration camp? All murder is equal?”
Chloe falters, taken aback. She’d assumed he would have the same ideas about criminal justice as her. He’s a cop’s cop, after all. No-nonsense. Speaks at law enforcement conventions, for Christ’s sake. “No, I’m not saying all of those are equally bad, just that there are lines you can’t un-cross as a person. One of them is choosing to take someone’s life.”
Pierce’s face does something complicated. He seems to be vacillating between two emotions. But she really doesn’t know him well enough—and his poker face is too good—to be able to confidently identify them. He sits up and swings his legs out of bed. “I’m gonna go sleep on the couch.”
Chloe watches him, baffled. “Marcus, come back!” she calls after his retreating back. “It’s dumb to argue about this, let’s just go to sleep! We can talk about it more in the morning if you want.”
He does not return to bed. They do not talk about it in the morning. He is his normal, agreeable self the next day. Chloe decides another argument would be pointless. She gets a search warrant for Thompson’s car the next day. She finds the murder weapon. She hears that after Thompson’s arraignment, the D.A. asks for her autograph.
Pierce returns to Chloe’s cell every few days. Occasionally he’ll bring little gifts like a comb or moisturizer or a nice pastry, but mostly he just talks to her about his day. Details his work. Describes in broad strokes what’s happening in the news. Comments on the weather. Chloe tries her damndest to stay as unsympathetic as possible, but hearing another person’s voice is so sweet compared to the hollow sound of the increasingly loud and numerous voices inside her own head that she can’t help but look forward to it. She finds if she doesn’t engage with him at all, he leaves quickly, so she walks a careful line between making her disgust and hatred too clear and giving him so much encouragement that she can’t live with herself.
He’s been traveling recently, meeting with his agents across the region, coordinating the complex calculus of favors and repayments. Apparently the movement of his operations out of Los Angeles proper has left a void, and numerous other criminal organizations are restlessly eyeing threads of power and influence and corruption left unsupervised.
“I saw it coming, of course,” he says. He’s not exactly boasting, just stating a fact, bored, like he’s reciting a widely-known statistic.
“You’ve done this before?” she asks.
He seems pleased at her interest, even preens a little. “Many times. Chicago wasn’t my first city.”
The dormant detective part of her brain perks up at that, noting an inconsistency. It doesn’t ring true given what she knows from Charlotte’s research. Where was he before then? The Sinnerman was active in Chicago for at least fifteen years.
“Where were you before that?” She asks, sidling a little closer to him.
“St. Louis,” he says, eyeing her cautiously.
“For how long?” Her shoulder brushes his. She puts her hand down on the cot, just a hair’s breadth away from brushing against his.
“Why do you want to know?”
She laughs humorlessly. “I have literally nothing else to talk about.”
“You know, Chloe,” he says, leaning closer. “We could do anything you want to do if you can prove to me you’re ready to be agreeable.”
She mirrors him, closing the distance between them. Here’s a chance to make him believe that maybe…
She turns her head to meet his eyes and suddenly remembers the sick satisfaction on his face when the bullet hit Lucifer, the grim pleasure. She can’t stop the spasm of disgust that passes across her face, but she feels it. From Pierce’s reaction, she can tell instantly that her deception has failed.
“Nice try.” He smiles ruefully and stands. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Chloe.”
She curses herself silently. It’s only the latest in her litany of mistakes.
When she first decided to escape through charm and subterfuge, she had assumed she would have all her faculties, and she worries more and more that she won’t have that luxury for much longer. She finds it increasingly difficult to get her thoughts to travel in a straight line. She tries to think about what would be an effective way to approach Pierce, and then thinks about what he was like when they were dating, and when they were engaged, and the hurt expression on Lucifer’s face, like a kicked puppy, when he saw the ring on her finger. Then she sees, as always—superimposed on the increasingly indistinct image of his face—his faceless form on the floor. The horrible, limp body beside her in the back of that van. Her powerlessness, her fear, her disgust—of him. Lucifer, who never wanted her to be frightened of him. Lucifer and his gentle, misguided fumbling towards affection. The bullet necklace that she hid at the bottom of her dresser drawer as if she were ashamed of it, ashamed of him.
I thought it meant something to you, too, she hears him say sadly.
“It did, it does,” she whispers, tears welling in her eyes.
And of course, she finds she’s not really thinking about Pierce anymore. Her planning does not amount to much.
And when she’s not brooding, she sleeps, too lethargic to read some of the thousands of pages of philosophy Pierce left with her. She’s taking one of her increasingly common late afternoon naps when Pierce appears. She wakes slowly, blearily.
“Are you hungry?” he asks, by his standards nearly bouncing with excitement, a boyish smile on his face.
“What?” she mumbles, rubbing the sand from her eyes.
“Today we’re going to have dinner. Upstairs.”
That makes Chloe’s eyes open wide. Sunlight! Air! Something beyond this room she hates with all her being. Her thoughts must show on her face because he grins, triumphant, victorious.
She’d been more than ready to agree, to go with him, to do whatever it took to get a taste of life again, but something about the idea of him thinking he’s won, of him thinking he’s broken her, makes indignant rage burn through her. Lucifer wouldn’t want her to submit. He’d want her to spite him at every turn.
“I’m not hungry,” she says coldly, wrapping herself tighter in her blanket and turning to face the wall.
“That’s disappointing,” Pierce says after a long pause. “Maybe another time.”
After closing the door, Cain tersely dismisses Jimenez and Duffy—the two men who have been charged with guarding Chloe—and Kotwal, his man in charge of surveillance.
“Go into town for the night.”
They shrug at each other when they think his back is turned but leave without comment, sensing the boss is in one of his rare moods.
Once the sounds of their cars driving away fades into the distance, Cain walks into the kitchen, picks up the heavy platter bearing his methodically prepared meal of roasted chicken and vegetables, and flings it at the wall with all of his strength, a frustrated shout tearing itself from his throat. He kicks over the humble but carefully set kitchen table. Dishes and glassware shatter on the floor. It’s ultimately unsatisfying.
He doesn’t blame Chloe, not really. Her response is reasonable. It’s his own weakness, his own vulnerability, that he blames. He’s trapped himself here by needing her, when the only rational thing to do would be to leave now. Have Duffy execute her cleanly and quickly, wipe the house of evidence, and board it up. Move his operation to a different state. Free himself from the increasing threat of the Nortes Cartel breathing down his neck and the Korean mafia getting wise to some of his side businesses.
But he can’t. The hours he has remaining on this Earth are draining away like water through his fingers, in a way they never have before. He needs to make all of them count. Needs to get what he wants at any cost, even if it means risking everything he’s built.
He sees now that Lucifer was right. Letting himself feel with Chloe, become vulnerable to her, selfless for her, was his great mistake. A slow-acting venom that felt oh-so-good at first.
He braces his hands on the worn countertop and forces himself to breathe in and out slowly. Patience. Diligence. Focus. These have always been his strengths, the things that have enabled him to stay sane for all these countless years.
Chloe will break. She will falter and weaken, and then he will win her. He’ll show her that he can give her anything she wants. That he’s willing to risk everything for her. She will love him as he loves her. She must.
Cain is the firstborn son of two people who didn’t know children existed. Imagine that for a moment, if you will.
First and foremost, to Eve he was always the product of a night of pain and terror, and to Adam he was always the creature that almost took another wife from him. His early childhood was strange and distant. His father didn’t understand why he took up so much of his mother’s attention. His mother loved and cared for him the best she could, but found little time to dedicate to him in the desperate struggle for survival of those early years.
“Our Father said your desire should be for me!” Adam shouts. Cain often listens to them arguing in the night, long after they have told him to sleep. “I don’t see why it is the boy needs so much coddling.”
“He’s small, Adam. He needs our help to take care of himself,” Eve says, placating, always the peacemaker.
“I never needed anyone to take care of me,” Adam huffs. Eve doesn’t bother to point out that in the Garden, God took care of them, even though they were able. They were made in a world where everything was easy and comfortable. Their son, and their son’s sons after him, will never have that privilege.
As soon as Cain can swing a hoe, Adam brings him out into the fields.
“Harder. Deeper,” Adam instructs, watching the row of earth he’s struggling to turn. The hoe glances off a stone, and Cain nearly drops it, the impact shooting up his thin arms. “No, not like that”—he snatches the hoe from Cain’s hands—"like this.”
He turns the soil methodically and perfectly. Cain watches, despairing, a hand-shaped smear of dirt across his small forehead from where he’d wiped the sweat from his brow. Surely he will never be as large and strong and skilled as his father.
When Adam has tilled the entire row, he thrusts the hoe back into Cain’s hands and brusquely says, “Come home for dinner when you’ve finished the field.”
The moon is high in the sky and the stars twinkling brightly when Cain drags himself into their hut, hands blistered and bloody. His mother is waiting up for him and dresses his hands gently and quietly while Adam snores in the corner.
In the morning, Adam deems Cain’s work, “tolerable,” and points him towards the next field.
When Cain is eight, his brother is born. Where Cain’s features are coarse and broad and fair and resemble Adam’s, Abel is small and dark-haired and dark-eyed like Eve, a beautiful child. Their mother dotes on him. Missing the days when Cain was small enough to hold, she clings to him longer than she ever did her older son.
As soon as Abel can walk, he capers. As soon as he can talk, he jokes. His parents delight in him, spending endless hours playing with him and commenting on his latest adventures. Today Abel found a pet snail. Today Abel made up a song about birds. Today Abel told Mother she was beautiful. They spare little attention for their taciturn, serious-minded eldest, who had all his childishness beaten and worked out of him years ago.
When Abel turns four, he’s put under Cain’s tutelage. Cain gives him a sack of seeds and shows him how to sow them in the freshly turned earth. Shows him how the melons must be spaced further apart than the wheat. Teaches him the right proportions of buffalo dung to mix in with the soil for crops to grow stronger.
When Cain leaves him, Abel is listlessly dropping seeds at more or less the proper intervals, but when he goes to check on him two hours later, he’s sitting on a large, flat rock some distance away from the field, letting a curious ewe eat directly from the sack of seed.
“What in God’s name are you doing?” Cain shouts, cuffing his little brother on the ear. “That’s half our supply of wheat seed.”
“But Cain, look,” Abel whines, tears in his eyes. “She likes me.” The ewe does indeed seem to like him; when Cain drags Abel back home to face their father’s wrath, the ewe follows him the entire way. Abel loops a rope around the sheep’s neck and secures it to a tree.
Cain shows Adam the nearly empty bag of seed and earns himself his own, more painful cuff on the ear. Adam sends him out and calls Abel in next. They’re inside for hardly a minute before they emerge, Adam beaming in astonishment at the ewe.
“Abel, my son, this is very good! And she’s pregnant as well!”
Behind their father’s back, Abel sticks his tongue out at Cain.
“Abel, you will be in charge of minding this ewe and the lambs she bears. I’m certain you will make me proud, son.”
Eve arrives home from gathering rushes for basket weaving down by the riverbank and spends another several long minutes praising the ewe while Cain stands to the side, forgotten and humiliated.
In his fourteenth year Cain’s body begins to change. Always a tall, broad boy, he grows two handspans taller almost overnight. And though it takes a while for his broadness to catch up, he abruptly towers over his father. His voice spends months wavering between boyish reediness and manly depth, finally settling on the latter. The flesh between his legs begins to develop a mind of its own and he often wakes to a sticky mess or embarrassing discomfort that he shamefully conceals from his mother when she glances over at him while preparing their morning porridge.
The changes that come over him seem to throw Eve off guard, as if she expected him to remain a boy forever. The casual affection with which she used to treat him cools and turns stilted, distant. Instead, she turns the full force of her motherly doting on Abel, her beautiful, precocious, angelic little boy. She gives him treats of overripe berries and honeycomb and offers none to Cain, who never asks. He understands that to ask is to show weakness. He wishes she would offer.
Adam takes the changes as a sign that he no longer should treat Cain as anything less than a complete equal, albeit a subordinate one, and his duties around the homestead grow. Cain becomes the sole keeper of the grain fields, answerable for the bread on their table, or lack thereof.
When one spring Abel falls asleep watching his burgeoning flock and the sheep decimate the young green shoots in Cain’s fields, Cain bears the blame. Adam’s punishment is brutal.
Cain punishes Abel in turn by violently slaughtering his favorite lamb and leaving the gory remains on the large, flat rock where Abel likes to nap in the sun and gaze at the clouds. Cain can hear his retching from the other side of the hill. It makes him smile.
When Cain is eighteen, a band of nomads passes through their quiet valley. Adam has sometimes journeyed away to trade with them in the past, but until this day Cain has never seen a woman besides his mother. He finds that his broad chest and blue eyes make him instantly popular among the young women of the group. A particular girl with hair the color of dried wheat around his age catches his eye as they feast together around a bonfire in the nomads’ camp. She pulls him to his feet and urges him to dance with her.
He protests that he doesn’t know the steps and, embarrassed, returns to his seat on a fallen log. Instead of leaving him to dance with one of the graceful, lithe members of her tribe, she sits beside him. He shares some of his bread—the work of his hands, he tells her proudly. She tastes it and smiles up at him. After they eat, she twines her small hand in his and kisses him, drawing him away from the fire to a dark glade.
His body, and the flesh between his legs that has so vexed and inconvenienced him these past few years, seem to already know what to do when she pulls him down on top of her. There is heat and sweat and moisture and then a bright, sharp pleasure, and he falls to the ground, spent. The girl sighs and strokes herself, writhing, until she too relaxes.
Cain hears a rustling from the bushes, and he leaps to his feet, lunging into the underbrush to drag out the squirming, struggling form of his little brother.
“I’m going to tell Mother and Father!” He cries.
“Tell them what?” Cain sneers.
“That you—that you—” His eyes dart to the girl rapidly pulling her clothing back into place, blushing.
“I thought so,” Cain says, shoving Abel back towards the bushes.
The girl’s tribe leaves the next morning before sunrise, and Cain never sees her again.
But others come, and as Abel too undergoes the changes of manhood, his beauty far outshines Cain’s. Women flock to him like his sheep, and Abel loves them for it. He takes to sleeping in a separate hut like Cain does, although at a much younger age, so he can bring women home to it as he pleases away from their parents’ prying eyes.
Meanwhile Eve chastises Cain relentlessly for not yet settling down with a wife. Cain finds most of the young nomad women to be flighty and unreliable, more interested in fun than diligence. He dreams of a woman with hair the color of wheat who marvels at the fruits of his labor, and he does not marry.
When one day their distant God speaks to them again and asks for offerings, Cain brings the best of his crops, the result of every painful lesson he’s learned since the day his father first thrust that hoe into his hand. Abel brings an unblemished white lamb that grew fat on its mother’s milk while Abel napped and dreamed the day away. Cain doesn’t know why he expects anything other than what happens. Of course Abel’s offering is favored. Of course Abel preens and smirks and receives Adam’s proud hand on his shoulder with the confidence of someone who has never struggled a day in his life.
“How about that, brother?” Abel jeers when God and Father have departed.
“How about what?” Cain grits out.
“Guess my ewe was worth more than your dusty old wheat all along.”
Cain doesn’t remember picking up the rock, but he does remember the stupid, stunned expression on Abel’s face when he falls to the ground, head half caved in, not dead but not long for this world. He remembers his whole body shaking with a sensation at once exhilarating and terrifying, akin to nothing he’s felt before. He leaves his brother to his fate on the broad, flat stone where Abel tamed a wild ewe, where Cain once slaughtered a lamb in vengeance, where Abel watched the clouds and dreamed of a garden lost to them long ago.
Cain doesn’t bother to return home to his father’s recrimination, to his mother’s grief. And when he wakes the next morning to find a strange mark upon his arm, he is afraid, but he is not ashamed.
Chapter 4: 🐶Mephisto
Azrael drops Lucifer in an empty lot under a roaring freeway overpass. Lodged up against one of the massive concrete pillars amid a tangle of weeds and windblown trash is a rusted, decrepit cast iron bathtub. It looks like it was torn roughly from the wall of its original home—bits of plumbing still dangle from the attached taps like skeletal limbs.
“The Detective can’t be here, Azrael,” he grouses. She holds him with one steadying hand against the persistent tug of distant bodies begging him to fill them. “Let’s go.” He makes to rise back up into the air but she pulls him down.
“I didn’t say I could take you to her, I said I can point you in the right direction.” She pushes her fingers through her bangs irritably. “They stopped here on the way to where they took her. Can’t you see it?”
Lucifer once again dismisses the visible world from his mind’s eye and looks upstream in the river of time. He sees a few homeless people sleeping here over the intervening nights. It’s far from an ideal spot, but a good enough place to go if you want to be alone. He peers further back and sees two large figures standing over the bathtub, ripples of destruction spreading out around it. Something important is being destroyed, something that feels familiar. He floats over to peer into the tub.
The inside of it is covered in greasy, black scorch marks and stinks of gasoline. Whatever ash once remained was either manually disposed of or blown away by the wind, he judges. At the bottom, however, stuck to the scorched porcelain, he sees a melted, blackened lump of silver metal. And lodged in it, like an accusing eye, is an unmistakable black stone.
“You took me to see my bloody earthly remains?” he squawks indignantly.
“I was hoping they’d just dump your body, and I could protect it until you made it back from Hell,” Azrael says, standing beside him.
“Do you want me to tell you it’s the thought that counts?” he snarls. “You could have stopped the bastards.”
“Like I said, Lu, I need the rules.”
He makes a disgusted noise.
“Anyway, this isn’t what I brought you here for. Look over there.” She indicates tire tracks in the gravel, and he peers back once again to see...her. Chloe. The mark she left here is just an impression. One of terror and pain and grief and disgust. But she was here for a long while, long enough that he can almost make out the shape of her body, glowing and supine in the back of what he presumes was a van. And sitting in the front of that van for just as long, a shape like a dark scar on reality. An aberration in space-time—the world’s only immortal man.
He has it, then. Confirmation that Cain kidnapped Chloe. And he’s on the trail.
“Let’s go,” he growls.
Azrael carries him above the road as they track the progress of Pierce’s van through the crowded streets of Los Angeles and east, out into the desert. But she hardly needs to. Lucifer is a bloodhound straining at the end of a leash. He thinks that even were a human to drop dead immediately beneath them, a hot, fresh body begging for him to take it, it wouldn’t deter him from tracking Chloe.
“You know, most people aren’t huge fans of ghosts,” Azrael comments after they’ve been cruising along in the wake left by the van for a while.
“What are you getting at?”
“Your detective. Even if you manage to communicate with her, she might not be super thrilled to be talking to a dead man.”
“I’m not dead, I’m...corporeally inconvenienced.”
Azrael sighs. “I so shouldn’t be doing this.”
“You know if you didn’t I’d just have come back here on my own, anyway.”
“Whatever you say, Shorty-Pants.”
“I’m not short, you’re just freakishly tall.”
Suddenly, she’s his little sister again, and he gets to be the teasing older brother. He misses it sharply, and for a moment he’s desperate to keep her with him as he faces whatever dangers lie ahead.
He shakes himself. No matter, he’s been without his siblings for eons; he can go without them again.
The van comes to a stop, and merges into the form of an actual physical van outside a remote home that may once have adjoined a small cattle ranch, but now sits alone in a near-endless sea of dust and scrub brush. He estimates they’re somewhere near where the Arizona border and Mexican border cut sharply into the southeastern edge of California. Exactly which country and state they’re in is unclear, however. The van took a number of off-road tracks on its way here. There’s a dusty green Honda Civic from the earlier years of the millennium and a newer crossover SUV parked next to it.
Lucifer is nearly vibrating with excitement. “Let’s go in, let’s get her,” he urges. “Please, Rae.”
She shakes her head sadly, unable to look at him directly. “I’m sorry, Lucifer. I can’t. It’s not my place.”
The betrayal cuts him deep, deeper than he expected it to, even though he knew it was what she would say.
“You’re useless to me, then,” he snarls. “What kind of a sister won’t help her brother save the woman he—” He cuts himself short and turns away, floating down towards the house. He hopes she’ll stop him, call him back and apologize. Then maybe he’d apologize too.
She doesn’t stop him. When he looks back, she’s gone.
He appraises the house’s defenses as he enters. From the outside, it’s nothing special. It looks to have been built by hand in the early half of the twentieth century. But under the peeling whitewashed clapboard and the sagging front porch, it’s been fortified like a bank vault. The walls are bricked and plastered over on the inside. The windows are thick, bulletproof plexiglass. The front door is six-inch steel, with a lock that wouldn’t be out of place in the Pentagon, one of those digital ones that make his brain itch when he tries to open them. What used to be a back door through the kitchen has been bricked over from the inside. All in all, it looks like a house built for holding out against a small army.
Two men sit at the worn wooden kitchen table, playing two-handed euchre. One of them, bald and mean-looking, chews on a toothpick while the other, a shorter, ill-favored redhead, chews gum. He pegs both of them as ex-military from the size of their chests and their mannerisms. Even focusing on their card game, they each occasionally scan the doors and windows.
Pierce isn’t in evidence, but neither is the Detective. Besides the kitchen, the first floor is really nothing more than a small foyer and a sitting room. Up a worn set of stairs is a second floor with two bedrooms and a bathroom. All are extremely sparsely furnished. On the second pass around the ground floor, he notices a doorway under the stairs which he’d assumed was a closet, except it also has a heavy, modern lock. He phases through it to find a long staircase descending into the gloom. From the bottom, he can faintly see what looks like fluorescent light reflecting off of concrete. Bingo.
Near the bottom of the stairs a door stands open to a dim room lit by the glow of several flatscreen monitors. A man in a rumpled t-shirt sits in a chair before the monitors, playing a game of some sort on his phone. Two of the monitors show split-screen images of what look to be live feeds of all the security cameras in the Detective’s precinct. In the corner of one, which offers a bird’s-eye view of the lab, Lucifer spots a wan and tired-looking Ms. Lopez scrubbing out test tubes.
Another three monitors show interior and exterior shots of buildings Lucifer doesn’t recognize. Every few seconds, each image cycles to another. But he doesn’t bother to give them much scrutiny once he gets a look at the last two monitors, each of which shows an angle of a cell. And curled into a ball on a cot in the corner of that cell is a woman with tangled blonde hair.
“Chloe,” he breathes. He flies out of the room and further down the hallway. There are many cells along it, but the small windows in each door are dark, all except for one at the very end. He bursts into the room—well, inasmuch as one can burst when one is incorporeal and passes through solid objects—and feels a wave of relief.
She’s here and she’s alive.
He floats over to her eagerly, hungry to see her face again. The sight of it doesn’t give him the reassurance he’d hoped for, however. Her cheeks are gaunt and sallow, and the skin under her eyes looks bruised. Even in sleep, there is a distinct line in the skin between her contracted brows.
“Oh, Detective,” he sighs. He can’t exactly lie down in his current form, but he comes to rest beside her, tracing the line of her cheekbone with insubstantial fingers. Given his repeated deaths and the unreliable nature of time in Hell, he can’t say for certain how long she’s been here, but clearly the time has not treated her kindly.
With his divine eyes he can see not only the light reflecting off her skin, but the pulsing glow of her brilliant soul as well. He thinks it must be dimmed, somewhat, from her captivity. It throbs with a deep pain, the core shot through with something dark, like a bruise. It gives him an idea, remembering something he hasn’t done since he was young. Long ago, he and Michael would comfort each other when Mother and Father had particularly firmament-rattling arguments, pressing their twin souls together and sharing light. The principle of it should be the same here. He lays a soothing hand on her soul, pushing some of his own light into it and holding it there. He closes his eyes and communes with her.
Chloe dreams the same dream that’s haunted her since her imprisonment began.
Lucifer’s awful, faceless form pursues her down twisting, dark passageways of cold, rough stone. He’s accusing and beseeching her wordlessly, a black-clad scarecrow shambling blindly at her heels. He wants to wrap his arms around her and drag her into the cold abyss of death with him. Because she deserves it. He’s dead because of her. She was the cop, she was the one with the gun—it should have been her.
She’s desperate to escape, but can’t stop herself from pausing, from looking back in the hopes of seeing him one last time. Maybe there will be some small hint of the man he was, the man she lost. But every time he lurches into sight, he’s nothing but a single-minded, angry monster—terrifying and relentless. He chases her to a promontory above an unfathomable void so deep and black she can’t see the bottom. He approaches, inexorable, hands stretched out entreatingly. And this close she can see the white of bone, the dark blood seeping out and staining his shirt collar, the stench of rot and decay and the buzzing of flies. He steps forward and she feels her heel against the edge of the stone.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she sobs. “Please, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for this to happen.”
He steps forward again, and she can’t stop herself stepping backwards, and she’s falling, falling—
And this time, someone catches her.
She opens her eyes and sees his face. The brilliant white of starlight, glowing above her. He smiles, and the whole world brightens. His arms are strong and warm around her.
“Gotcha,” he says.
“Lucifer?” She breathes.
“The one and only. Probably. People are naming their children all kinds of nonsense these days.”
There is a low rustling noise above him like a strong wind across a flag. She cranes her neck to see two massive white wings extending from his back, flapping at a leisurely pace, like those of an eagle drifting on the breeze.
The black sky above them pales and warms until it’s rosy with oncoming dawn. Lucifer comes to a landing on a grassy cliff above a wine-dark sea. The land of shadows and harsh rock and twisted passages is far behind them. Here, there is nothing but the wind whispering through the long, lush grasses and the waves lapping peacefully against a white sand beach far below.
He releases her and steps away to look out at the softly glowing horizon.
She’d forgotten his beauty, in all the fear and pain. Forgotten everything about him except the grief of his loss and the horror of his fate. Seeing him is like a balm on a long-festering wound.
She stands beside him. “Where are we?”
He smiles sadly. “Somewhere peaceful. Somewhere that may not even exist anymore, from a time when the world was softer.”
“This is a dream, isn’t it? I’m still in Pierce’s cell?”
“Unfortunately,” he replies. “But our minds can make dreams very real for us, can’t they?” He strokes her cheek with the backs of his fingers. “I was dreadfully worried for you, Detective.”
She lifts her hands to his face, stares up into his dark eyes, and shakes her head. “You’re dead.”
He smiles and shrugs. “That’s a matter of perspective.” He presses a soft kiss to her forehead, to the tracks of tears on her cheeks, to her chin, and finally to her lips. Each is soft, a benediction. He embraces her and tucks her head under his chin. She breathes in the warm, familiar fragrance of his cologne, and the subtle scent beneath it that is purely him. The tension and fear that has crouched within her for weeks like a feral animal unwinds and fades away.
In Lucifer’s arms, she finally rests.
Chloe awakens to the steady brightening of the overhead lights feeling more refreshed than she has since this ordeal began. She lies in bed for a long time, trying to keep the memory of the pleasant dream she’d had from slipping away. Lucifer was there, but he was alive, so alive. She aimlessly traces her cheek and her lips with her fingertips. He’d saved her, and then kissed her. He was so unlike the way he appeared in her recurring nightmares: rescuing her rather than chasing her. And his face. It wasn’t indistinct or absent entirely like it normally was, it was there in all its expression and beauty. Eventually she finds the details escaping her, though, and she sits up in bed with a sigh.
There’s the beeping of the keypad activating, and the cell door swings open to admit Shorty, carrying her breakfast tray. She stares balefully at Baldy standing in the doorway, watching her, deadpan, with his arms folded. Shorty deposits the tray on the bed and mechanically turns to leave. Once the door has locked again, she gropes blindly under the bed for David Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature and picks up where she left off last night. It’s not exactly light reading but she grudgingly admits it’s at least better than an incomplete crossword puzzle and the same banal news stories from two weeks ago.
The heavy volume of collected works Pierce gave her is clearly his own. There are highlighted passages here and there, some strongly underlined bits or dog-eared pages. She reaches a passage highlighted with a number of emphatic exclamation marks in the margin:
If the general of our enemies be successful, ‘tis with difficulty we allow him the figure and character of a man. He is a sorcerer; he has communication with dӕmons; as is reported of Oliver Cromwell, and the Duke of Luxembourg: he is bloody-minded, and takes a pleasure in death and destruction. But if the success be on our side, our commander has all the opposite good qualities, and is a pattern of virtue, as well as of courage and conduct. His treachery we call policy: his cruelty is an evil inseparable from war. In short, every one of his faults we either endeavor to extenuate, or dignify with the name of that virtue, which approaches it. ‘Tis evident the same method of thinking runs through common life.
Chloe yawns and rubs her eyes, taking a sip of the cheap, weak coffee left on her breakfast tray.
Terribly dull, isn’t it?
Chloe snorts. Her half-remembered dream seems to have sharpened the Lucifer-sounding voice in her head. She continues reading as Hume launches into yet another thought experiment about the mechanics of love and hate.
No comment, then? the voice in her head presses. Chloe shakes her head. That time, it came while she was mid-sentence in the book. Strange. She’s been in this room for way too long. She takes another, deeper drink of coffee and continues reading.
Detecti-i-i-i-ve, the voice wheedles.
“I’m going fucking nuts,” Chloe mutters.
No you aren’t. Well, you may be. Not for me to say. But I’m not a voice in your head.
“I’m not going to start talking to myself,” she says to herself.
It will be quite boring for me if you don’t. I’ll have to go haunt Daniel, Dad forbid.
Chloe snorts at the idea of a ghostly Lucifer moaning and rattling kitchen drawers in Dan’s apartment late at night. It catches her off guard. She hasn’t laughed since her imprisonment began, much less made herself laugh. She’s not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing.
She decides to read the book aloud, hoping that will preclude any more stray commentary from her unconscious. It seems to do the trick, and the Lucifer-sounding voice quiets. For a while. When her throat gets dry and she has to stop to take a drink, the voice speaks up again.
I much prefer Locke. A bit religious for my tastes, but he had quite a few good ideas about personal freedom.
Chloe wonders where that came from. She definitely has never read Locke. Or really any philosophy more intellectual than Chicken Soup for the Soul before this. Was Locke cited in one of the other books? Or was she just thinking about the character from Lost?
She decides to take a shower, standing from the bed and tugging off the pants of her scrubs, padding over to turn the shower on in her panties and shirt. She swears she hears the Lucifer-sounding voice in her head purr. She shakes off that weird impression, and showers quickly, drying herself off and dressing again in the small space of the shower stall. The weeks haven’t made her feel any more comfortable dressing and undressing in sight of the unblinking black eyes of the surveillance cameras. It’s irrational—it’s nothing Pierce hasn’t seen before, but to be any more vulnerable than she already is seems like one violation too far.
Just as she’s pulling her pants on, she hears the Lucifer-sounding voice in her head abruptly hiss in loathing and affront. And when she steps back out of the stall, sure enough, Pierce is sitting on her bed. She must have heard the door open. She thinks he enjoys doing that, showing off his ability to come and go whenever he pleases.
“What?” she asks flatly, toweling off her wet hair.
“How about a walk?”
“A walk?” She wonders if that’s a euphemism for something.
“Outside,” he says, smiling winningly and raising his eyebrows.
She sucks in a sudden breath at the thought of sun and wind and before she talks herself out of it, she nods. “Okay.”
Pierce is pleased, of course, but manages to avoid smugness. Maybe her refusal to have dinner with him won her some points in the dark, inscrutable game they’re playing. Before he opens the door, he gives her a pair of soft canvas shoes and a matching set of ankle shackles to wear. The chain is short enough that running in them isn’t an option. She shuffles out the door with his hand on her elbow like a hobbled horse.
Meanwhile, the Lucifer-sounding voice has launched into a stream of invective hitting on everything from Pierce’s intelligence (more muscle than brain inside his skull) to his physical prowess (needs four henchmen to just wipe his arse) to his taste in interior design (the midcentury called, it wants literally everything back).
All in all, the sentiment is not dissimilar to what Chloe feels but the breadth and variety of the insults are far beyond anything she’s thought up before. She keeps having to stifle giggles whenever the voice says something particularly funny and Pierce starts casting her concerned looks as they ascend the long staircase out of the basement. She’s okay with him thinking she’s gone a little bit insane. After all, she probably has.
Pierce swipes a keychain dongle against an RFID pad beside the door at the top of the stairs, and there’s a soft beep before the door unlocks. The blazing brightness of daylight blinds Chloe for several long seconds as he guides her through into the house. In the light of day, she manages to confirm most of the impressions she got of it the night she arrived. It’s an older, somewhat worn-down house, devoid of decoration or character imparted by its current occupants. On one interior wall covered in faded wallpaper, a yellowed calendar commemorating the United States bicentennial hangs. The current page features a photo of Gerald Ford waving at a crowd.
Flanking the door are Baldy and Shorty, her guards. They follow a pace behind Pierce as he guides her by the elbow towards the front door.
Pierce watches her scan the room. “No use looking for weaknesses. This place is secure.”
She makes a noncommittal noise. There’s always a weakness, mutters the Lucifer-like voice, almost inaudibly.
Pierce uses the same keychain to open the front door. The sight of the sky and a gust of wind against her face brings tears to her eyes. The landscape is nothing she would ever have called majestic before—little more than arid, rolling sand covered with low-lying dry brush, faint blue mountains in the far distance—but it’s painfully beautiful to eyes starved of the sight of anything natural. She staggers to a stop, overcome, gulping in breaths and trying to hold back a sob trying to force its way up her throat. Pierce waits patiently for her to collect herself.
Then a feeling washes over her. Something like confidence, or maybe peace. She thinks again about that dream she had last night, of that calm, lovely, open place. She takes a shuddering breath and continues onward.
They descend the steps of the front porch and walk past the van in which Chloe passed the worst night of her life. She shies away from it instinctively, echoes of her own helpless terror radiating off of it. Pierce leads her slow, careful, shuffling steps towards a dry creek bed where the vegetation is a little denser and more attractive. She judges it to be early morning and the sun casts low, striking shadows across the desert landscape. Chloe examines her surroundings hungrily, delighting in small things like the shapes of irregular rocks and the scurrying of a lizard across their path.
“So,” Pierce says after a few minutes of walking. “How are you liking the books I brought you?”
“They’re not exactly what I would normally check out from the library,” she says dryly, turning to marvel at a particularly tall cactus.
“You were reading Hume this morning, though,” Pierce presses.
“What did you think?”
Chloe sighs. He clearly isn’t going to let this go. “I think some of his ideas about what inspires love and hate are interesting, but they feel kind of simplistic.”
Tell him he’s a wanker and Hume was a wanker too, the Lucifer voice enjoins viciously.
“What about the idea that love and hate are mostly a product of context? Or that we attribute evil to the actions of people we dislike just because society tells us to dislike them?” he presses eagerly, stopping and turning to face her with an intense look in his eye.
“I mean, I guess that’s true,” Chloe replies, cautious. It feels like he’s trying to get her to admit something, but she doesn’t understand what.
Seemingly satisfied, he returns his gaze to the ground in front of them and continues walking.
“I don’t need society to tell me that killing Lucifer was evil,” she says.
“Killing Lucifer was self-defense.”
Lucifer’s name coming out of his mouth makes her flinch, but she manages to keep her voice steady. “No, it wasn’t. He was unarmed.”
Pierce snorts and shakes his head. “He was far more powerful than you ever gave him credit for. He didn’t need a gun to be dangerous. He would have hunted me down for Charlotte.”
“I would have hunted you down for Charlotte,” Chloe says through gritted teeth.
“Charlotte was a regrettable accident,” Pierce sighs, clasping his hands behind his back and watching his feet as they pick through the rocky creek bed.
“Lucifer told me you planned to kill his brother. How is that any better?”
Pierce rolls his eyes. “Killing an angel is hardly killing at all. He would have gone back to Heaven, which is where he wanted to go. And where he went anyway.”
Chloe stops dead in her tracks.
The Lucifer-like voice lets out a pleased Ooh-hoo-hoo!
Pierce stops a few steps ahead when he realizes she’s not following him, turning to face her head-on. He tilts his chin down, eyes challenging her to call him out.
“You honestly believe that?” she asks, baffled.
“I’m not going to lie to you anymore, Chloe. Although ironically now I have no way of proving anything to you.”
“And so...what, was Lucifer the actual Devil too?” She scoffs incredulously.
“Yes,” Pierce says simply. His face is calm and open. He betrays none of the classic tells of a liar. He doesn’t avoid eye contact, doesn’t fidget, doesn’t swallow nervously.
Chloe stares at him, mouth agape, baffled. She doesn’t think Pierce has ever had a flight of fancy in his life. That he would buy into Lucifer’s elaborate delusion is...is…
“Is this...some kind of mind game, too?” She asks. “You’re trying to push me to the edge, make me suddenly believe I’m just a pawn in some celestial game of chess?”
Pierce shrugs. “I wouldn’t call you a pawn. Given how much power you exert, I’d say you’re at least a bishop, maybe even a knight.” He smiles humorlessly at his own joke. “You made the Devil bleed, broke my curse. Who knows what else you’re capable of?”
Chloe shakes her head in disbelief. “I’m not insane, you’re insane. Does this mean you believe you’re Cain from the Bible, too?”
“I believe it because it’s true.”
It is actually true, the Lucifer voice says. She’s not sure if it’s the voice in her head or the echo of a memory. She’s not sure of anything anymore. He’s an utter bastard, but he’s telling the truth, just like I always have.
Pierce steps closer, lucid blue eyes fixed on hers. The harsh desert sunlight catches them, and here in this untamed wasteland, she can see it. She can see the first child born into sin, struggling to learn how to survive in an unkind world. How that struggle, and the thousands of years that followed, might have forged a soul into a cruel blade.
What if it’s all true? Chloe thinks. She shakes her head desperately. “I can’t—I don’t want to talk about this anymore. Please take me back.”
“Think about it, Chloe. How does anything about Lucifer make sense if he wasn’t something more than human?”
Quite a good point, although why do I feel it’s not meant as a compliment?
He steps towards her, and she steps back. He lifts one sleeve to show her his unblemished arm.
“You saw my scar, the mark left on me by God. You felt it. It was real. It disappeared when my curse was lifted. When you lifted it.”
He lifted it himself, not you, the Lucifer voice declares. I swear, it’s like no one ever listens.
She takes another step back but turns her ankle on a loose rock and stumbles, the shackles around her ankles hindering her instinctive step to regain her balance. He reaches out to steady her.
“I—” she whispers, unable to bear the weight of his strange gaze, her eyes shifting to the ground, to the sky, to the cactus, to anything besides him. “I want to go back to the house.”
Pierce complies, staying silent while he walks her back. When they enter the kitchen, her body rebels suddenly at the prospect of descending again into the dark basement, freezing in the doorway at the top of the stairs.
She turns to look at Pierce, desperate. “No, please! Don’t make me go back down there! Let me stay up here. Marcus, please!” She reaches for his hand but he catches her wrist.
He gives her a grimly satisfied little smile, shakes his head, and hands her off to Baldy, who ungently grips her shoulder. Her silent guard pushes her in front of him, shoving a little each time she hesitates. She weeps quietly and woodenly walks back into her cell.
She sits on her cot, the memory of the sun and wind still fresh on her skin, mind racing. Being in this room all this time, by herself, it was like there was a vice tightening on her mind, narrowing her thoughts and perceptions down to only these four walls. Going outside is like releasing the vice and allowing a million new possibilities to come flooding in, possibilities she never seriously considered until now.
For Pierce to believe in Lucifer’s delusion...what could that possibly mean? Is it a weapon she can use against him? Maybe to undermine the confidence of his men? Or is it an indication that he’s even more dangerous than she thought?
I can see those detective wheels turning, says the Lucifer voice.
“And you!” she snaps, raising a chastising finger at empty air. “Can you not? I’m not crazy. He—he might be crazy, but not me.”
There’s a long silence.
“I am aware of how that sounds,” she sniffs.
You’re not crazy, the voice says. I wish I could prove it to you. Happy that Pierce can’t, though. I can tell you that failing to kill him over and over again when he was immortal was a real blow to the ol’ ego. He’s fragile now, though—vulnerable. You have a much better chance of escape than you would have had before.
“And you, I’m supposed to believe you’re what? A ghost?”
No, no, no, ghosts aren’t really a thing. My sister is usually very diligent about that. I’m just your friendly neighborhood Devil, sans one body. You were there when they destroyed it. Really added insult to injury; killing me was bad enough.
“I don’t believe you. I don’t believe any of it. There are—there are rules. Things make sense. Pierce is an evil megalomaniac, and I’m being held prisoner. It’s much more likely that I’m hearing voices and he’s delusional than...”
What? That I did, in fact, always tell you the truth? That maybe a tradition of religion going back thousands of years that billions of people believe in is rooted in reality?
“Than that the Devil was in love with me!” she shouts.
That silences the voice for a long while. She goes to the sink and splashes her face with cold water, washing away the sweat and tear tracks. The water turns a little bit brown with dust and grit she accumulated while outside, and she marvels at it. Outside feels like a dream now. More like a dream than her dream last night, of Lucifer flying her to a peaceful island away from her pain and fear.
Mephisto, the voice says quietly.
9 across, “Poodle from Goethe, shortened.” The answer you’re missing in your crossword puzzle.
Chloe walks back over to the bed and picks up the worn newspaper. The letters fit.
“What does it mean?”
In Goethe’s Faust, Mephistopheles first appears as a black poodle. Mephistopheles’ name is often shortened to Mephisto.
“I didn’t know that,” she murmurs. A realization begins to dawn on her, terrifying in its size and scope. The world seems to shift under her feet. Her heart pounds painfully and she gapes down at the tattered newspaper. “Like, I didn’t know any of that.”
Well, luckily it’s a favorite of mine. Love me a sympathetic view of the Devil, as you know.
“No, how would a voice in my head know something that I don’t?”
Detective, I’m not a voice in your head, I’m—
“Lucifer,” she whispers.
Chapter 5: 🍝Date Night
After Chloe is returned to her cell, Cain goes into the surveillance room and peers over Kotwal’s shoulder at the feeds. The man is reliable. He’s been with Cain since he was a disaffected, orphaned teen. At the time, Cain believed that the only allies you could trust were ones you made yourself. He’s since realized that sometimes you can’t even control allies you raised from childhood. But Kotwal, he’s steady. Too self-interested to be a fanatic. Smart enough to know what side his bread is buttered on.
“Any movement?” Cain asks, nodding to a monitor showing a high angle shot of a warehouse on the outskirts of Mexicali.
Kotwal shakes his head. “They haven’t left yet, but more men keep arriving. They’re definitely building up a force. Two trucks today, too.”
“Any idea of the contents?”
Kotwal shrugs. “Could be guns, maybe product. They unload them inside the warehouse.”
“You’re sure you can’t get me eyes inside?”
“Sure, if you’re willing to go through three, four more guys. They’re onto you, Boss, you know that. Any new recruits are gonna get vetted. You can’t afford to lose someone reliable.”
“Don’t tell me what I can or cannot afford,” Cain snaps.
Kotwal falls silent.
“What about the cops?” He turns to the video feeds of the precinct.
“All quiet over there, for the most part. Espinoza and Lopez are sneaking around playing private investigator off the clock but they haven’t turned anything up. That meathead you got to replace you is as dumb as he is effective. I’d be surprised if a single murder is solved this month.”
Cain feels a stab of disappointment. He’d become fond of police work over the past few centuries. Cities had grown into sprawling metropolises, and crime had grown proportionately, providing yet another view into the depths of human depravity but also many more opportunities for his enterprises to thrive. And while positioning himself on police forces had the convenient side effect of ensuring his less-than-legal pursuits could continue unmolested, he also took personal pride in his mastery and understanding of the dark calculus of man’s inhumanity to man. He’d found the LAPD’s homicide division a dysfunctional mess and left it a significantly more efficient, marginally less dysfunctional one, and now he was driving it off the rails again.
Ah well, it couldn’t be helped. It was sure to happen eventually.
Cain dismisses Kotwal with a gesture.
“By the way, Boss.” Kotwal pauses in the doorway. “You know your girl’s been talking to herself, right?”
Cain shakes his head, contemplative. It won’t do to drive her insane. He’d thought Chloe was made of tougher stuff than this. He tries to remember the first time he was imprisoned in solitary confinement. Thousands of years ago now. He can’t summon the memory of how it affected him, or even where it was. He remembers a dark, chill, damp hole. Cold stone walls. A harsh metal grate his only source of fresh air. Was it in France, maybe? He doesn’t think he spoke to another human for at least a year. Maybe it was one of the times he’d been left to starve to death. Not his favorite way to die, that’s for sure. Chloe is lucky, compared to that; she has light, warmth, running water, three squares a day. The good life.
“Install some microphones,” he instructs. “I want transcripts of everything she says.”
Kotwal nods shortly, hands buried in his pockets, snapping his gum and strolling out of the room.
Cain settles into the rolling desk chair in front of the monitors and kicks his dusty boots up on the desk, folding his hands on his stomach.
Telling Chloe the truth may have been a mistake. He finds the idea of lying to her now distasteful, though. She’s already demeaned, imprisoned, at his mercy; she at least deserves honesty. And flushing out all the bad things now can’t hurt. He’d rather not have to drop another bomb on her after she starts coming around. Because she will come around. Eventually.
On the video feed, she’s gesticulating at the air in front of her. Hard to tell with the way her hair falls in a curtain around her face, but she may be crying too. He leans closer to the monitor. He feels an unfamiliar, unpleasant tightness in his chest. She was so beautiful in the morning sun. He should have told her that first thing, instead of starting in on fucking Hume. Something about her makes him stupid, rash. Next time he’ll tell her how beautiful she is. How the months they spent together were some of the best of his incomprehensibly long life.
This is a mistake, a mistake, a mistake, his own voice echoes in his head. His rational self—the part of him that’s kept him sane all these years, jealously guarding his heart from any who might dare to harm it—rattles the bars of the cage Cain has locked him in.
For the first few years of Cain’s life apart from his family, he works for anyone who will have him, doing whatever kind of work is needed. There are little villages with manual labor that needs doing, nomads who are happy to trade a meal for help pulling an oxcart out of the mud or a pair of hands to help mend a wind-torn tent.
Mostly, he just wanders and lives off the land. The ways of plants and wild things have always made sense to him, and he never has trouble finding something to forage or hunt in order to survive. The world is so much bigger than he ever imagined from the confines of their little valley. There are endless desert wastes and verdant, swampy river deltas. Great forests where trees tower, endlessly tall, above his head. Mountains capped with white, so high that the air itself can’t manage to climb to the top. His whole life his father told him this wasn’t worth seeing. That the people who lived beyond their home were less than them, “not God’s chosen.”
Cain decides that if his father and Abel were God’s chosen, God couldn’t be anyone worth caring about.
In the Spring of his tenth year of exile, he stumbles upon the largest village he’s ever seen nestled near the mouth of a great river. Atop a hill in the center there are structures built up using brick and stone, taller than he thought shelters could ever grow. He walks into the center of the village, which throngs with people and activity. The energy and movement is extraordinary. From every corner, vendors are hawking their wares, pushing fine fabrics and fruits and baskets into his face for inspection. Everyone seems to have a task they are desperately hurrying to perform. He manages to locate a stall in the market where a robust, motherly woman loudly announces the high quality and exceptional sweetness of the beer she has for sale.
“What can I trade for a cup?” He asks, digging in his satchel for some nuts he’s foraged, or maybe a few of the remaining pieces of glossy, painfully sharp obsidian he collected on the slopes of an angrily hissing mountain.
“Trade!” The woman scoffs. “We take the silver of the king of Zoan here.”
“Silver?” Cain has occasionally seen silver in jewelry before, but can’t comprehend why it’s the only thing this woman will take in exchange for her wares.
“Coin, fool!” she exclaims. “You country folk are so backward. Now if you can’t pay, go. You’re driving away my customers.”
A hand lands heavily on Cain’s shoulder. He jumps instinctively and turns. The hand belongs to a bearded man around his age with amber-brown eyes and a broad smile.
“Ah, Ninsun, don’t be unfriendly to this visitor! Clearly he’s not from Zoan and doesn’t know how we trade. Have a drink on me, friend.” The man tosses two shining silver discs stamped crudely with a face in profile into the small clay bowl beside the woman.
She smiles up at the man, blushing. “Enlil, you know I can’t deny you.” She pours a healthy serving of frothing, golden beer into two clay cups and hands them to Cain and the man apparently called Enlil. The beer is tart and, if perhaps not as sweet as advertised, at least reasonably refreshing.
Enlil puts a friendly arm around his shoulders. “What’s your name, my new friend?”
“Cain,” he says cautiously, sipping his drink.
“You’re not from Zoan. Are you here visiting someone, perhaps?”
“No, just passing through. I’ve never seen a village this big.”
Enlil’s smile widens. “A village? This, my friend, is what you call a city!”
Enlil leads him through the winding, muddy streets, giving him a whirlwind tour. Leaving the market district, they head up the hill to a great ziggurat built to honor the gods—Cain doesn’t miss the plural, and it makes his eyes widen in astonishment—right next to the palace where the aforementioned king of Zoan lives. A little further down the hill are buildings for administration of the city and the treasury where silver coins are stamped and stored, and further down by the banks of the river are the homes of farmers and fishermen, as well as the taverns they frequent.
It’s in one such tavern that Cain and Enlil end up at the end of the day. Enlil buys him another beer, and then begins to ply him with a powerful distilled spirit that burns his throat and makes him dizzy. Cain isn’t the talkative type but Enlil more than makes up for it, frequently clapping Cain on the back or gripping his forearm to emphasize a point, a level of friendly physical contact he hasn’t felt in years, if ever. Cain smiles and nods along, enjoying himself as the room gets gradually fuzzier and fuzzier from the drink.
The other patrons of the tavern launch into a raucous song, accompanied by a woman with a lyre and another with a drum. Enlil begins to tell a fanciful story about a woman with the body of a lion and the wings of an eagle who lay with his cousin one night. Cain’s head throbs in time with the music and he stands abruptly.
“I should leave,” is what he attempts to say, but the syllables slur and get mixed incoherently in his mouth. Enlil is still smiling, always smiling. He puts one of Cain’s arms over his shoulder again and walks him to the door, supporting most of Cain’s weight when he stumbles over his own feet.
“You’re in no condition to find your way on your own,” he murmurs in Cain’s ear.
“You are...very generous,” Cain says indistinctly.
It’s night now, and the winding streets are near pitch black, only lit here and there by a stray, guttering torch. Enlil leads his weaving steps into a narrow, unlit alley. Cain distantly registers that there’s something strange in his companion’s rapid, uneven breathing. Something eager.
“I can go on my own,” he mumbles, trying to disengage from Enlil’s grasp. But the man only holds him tighter, pressing him to the wall with his body and bringing one calloused, sweaty hand up to cover Cain’s mouth.
“You will go, but I’ll help you,” Enlil whispers. “I can send you away.” And then there’s a sharp pain in Cain’s belly. He tries to shout, startled, but Enlil’s hand muffles the sound. And then there’s another pain, and another. His hands come up to grasp Enlil’s, and he feels the crude blade gripped tightly in the other man’s hands, feels something warm and wet rushing over them. His legs fail him, and he slides to the muddy ground, hands clasped over his midriff as the life drains from him. Enlil watches him for several moments, mouth wide in sick ecstasy, before there’s the sound of voices and the flickering of a light at the end of the alley. Enlil’s eyes dart toward the sound, and he pales, the rictus grin slipping from his face. He scrambles down the alley in the opposite direction, dropping the knife in his haste.
Cain feels the life drain out of him and thinks about his mother, with two murdered sons. He thinks about his father saying, I told you what they were like out there. His whole body feels cold. The pain isn’t as bad as the numbness. He wonders if Abel felt like this too.
But then he doesn’t.
He gasps as air pushes back into his chest, like a great hand is forcing it there. His body slowly warms, and he feels his bleeding grow sluggish and slow to a halt. He coughs, and it sends a spasm of blinding pain through his midriff, but he’s alive. Not healed, but alive. He looks at his hands, at the open, bloody wounds in his stomach, baffled.
“A miracle?” He wonders aloud, voice wet with the blood still rising at the back of his throat. A second chance? Why would God bestow such a thing upon him?
He feels through the mud until his fingers find Enlil’s blade. The blood still dripping from it shines black in the moonlight.
He casts his eyes up towards the cold, distant stars. God gives no answer. For something so miraculous, it doesn’t feel like a blessing. God has never favored him before. He can’t imagine He would start now.
Chloe peers into empty air somewhere to the left of where Lucifer hovers. He drifts over into her line of sight so he can pretend she actually sees him.
“How?” she asks, baffled.
Well, I found myself quite abruptly in Hell, and after I figured out what had happened, I made my way back to Earth, only to find that gravel-brained bastard had destroyed my body.
“Hell,” she says, shaking her head slowly, uncomprehendingly. The expression on her face gradually veers towards panic, and her breathing quickens, near hyperventilating. She doubles over, putting her head between her knees and breathing slowly and deliberately in huge, heaving gusts. “Hell is real,” she mutters between breaths. “Oh my God. Oh my— God is real.”
‘Fraid so. He wishes he could wrap her in his arms so much it makes his non-existent heart ache.
“And I’m talking to the Devil.”
And have been for a few years now.
He’s not sure if his physical presence would make this better or worse for her. Without a body, he can’t comfort her, but he also can’t make it worse by being physically threatening. Looming. If he had a body, he’d do whatever she needed him to do. Sit on the floor. Grovel. Prostrate himself, even, if it would make this easier for her. He wonders now how disastrously badly this would have gone if he’d been able to summon his devil face for her that day in the lab all those months ago.
“You told me,” she whispers. “You always told me. But...but I hurt you. You’ve been shot and stabbed and burned and—you died, even though you told me you were invulnerable.”
He sighs inwardly, half annoyed and half infatuated. She’s so bloody smart.
Yes, I did.
You make me vulnerable. Your proximity. Or rather, I make myself vulnerable around you.
She looks stricken. “You mean, you’re dead because of me?”
That’s...well, it’s not how I would put it. I’m dead because I underestimated Cain. Because I let him convince me that he was a victim of circumstance, and of my Father, like me. As Linda would say, always too ready to project my issues onto others.
“But you wouldn’t have died if you’d confronted him by yourself?” she presses. Her expression is like an open wound. Something he’s said seems to have hurt her profoundly.
He pauses for a long moment before, as ever, giving her the truth. No.
She puts her face in her hands, breath unsteady and shoulders trembling. Lucifer drifts impotently next to her. If only he could do bloody anything...
If you wish me to leave, I can...
“No!” she shouts, looking up abruptly, eyes wet and red. “Don’t go, please. Just—” She lets out an unsteady breath. “Don’t leave me alone.”
He settles beside her again as she stretches out onto the bed, her face half-buried in her pillow. She’s trembling, curled in a protective crescent, eyes fixed on a point in the middle distance somewhere. He can tell she’s still struggling to regulate her breathing, to maintain some measure of composure.
Always thought finding my way into your bed would be more eventful than this, he jokes halfheartedly.
She huffs out a short laugh, cheek creasing in a ghost of a smile. He looks at her poor, bruised soul again. And here he is battering it further. He presses his energy against it much as he did last night, trying to comfort and soothe.
Chloe’s whole body jerks. “What was that?”
I thought I might be able to—I can...well, see your spirit, and I can affect that if not anything in the physical world.
“Wow. Okay. Wow, that’s way too weird,” she says, eyes wide. She’s blushing, he realizes. “It felt like…”
Like what? he asks, curious.
She shakes her head, pressing her face more fully into her pillow.
Like what? he presses, voice curling upwards salaciously, an inkling of an idea finding its way into his head.
“Like you’re...inside me,” she whispers, mortified.
Ah, he says, a frisson of excitement running through him. He knows down to the depths of his soul that if he had a body right now he’d be sporting at least half a stiffy.
You don’t like it, then?
She shakes her head, the movement rippling through her untamed cascade of golden-brown hair, and mumbles something into her pillow.
What was that, darling?
She turns enough for him to see her face, stretched into a rueful smile. “I didn’t say that.”
Chloe, he hums desperately.
Her eyes slide closed. “You know, I can count on one hand the number of times you’ve said my name.”
Do you want me to say it more? I’ll say it as often as you like, he vows fervently.
“No, I like that it’s something special. No one says it like you.”
He groans inwardly. You have no idea how much I wish I had a body right now.
She laughs, and so does he. Her tension and fear and pain don’t leave completely, but they ease into something bearable, he thinks.
His relief is more palpable than he is at the moment. She knows. Knows who he is, and it’s still the same. They’re still them. He ignores the nagging voice at the back of his head that reminds him that knowing intellectually that he’s the Devil is far from truly knowing what he really is. There’s a truth that only his devil face can fully convey that she doesn’t understand yet. May never understand if the past several months are any indication. Can he be all right with that? He longs for her to really know him, understand him, accept him. But what if it’s simply not possible anymore?
He looks at her face. She still seems more than a little stunned, staring into the middle distance, eyes moving occasionally as they follow thoughts down paths he can easily imagine. All the depictions of the Devil throughout time. A red man with horns, a tail, and a bloody goatee barbecuing souls for all eternity over hellfire on the end of a pitchfork. God on a heavenly throne, with angels in white robes arrayed about Him. The trumpets being blown at the apocalypse.
He decides to stay silent. She can ask questions when she’s ready. For now, it’s enough to just be beside her and know she’s alive.
When Shorty comes in at midday to drop off her lunch, Chloe is startled out of an almost comatose daze. It’s hard to believe it’s only lunchtime given how much has happened so far today. It feels like a decade has passed since she woke up this morning. Lucifer is...well maybe not alive in the traditional sense, but he’s here with her. Pierce is Cain, whatever that means (to be honest, she’s been too busy contemplating the nature of the universe to think about it yet). God is real. And Heaven and Hell. For a lifelong agnostic, whose parents worshipped the secular gods of the law and celebrity, respectively, that, in and of itself, is a lot to take in.
And yet she’s still exactly where she was before all these revelations. Helpless, in a cage. An insect specimen pinned to a board. Lucifer can’t do anything for her except for comfortingly...touch her soul? Whatever that means. The man she thought was just a psychopathic criminal mastermind is now a psychopathic criminal mastermind who has been alive for millennia.
She sits up and heaves a sigh, eyeing the tray of bland food Shorty’s left on the floor beside her bed. It’s usually one of three options. Whichever one of her captors is in charge of meals has a limited culinary repertoire. She bends down to lift the bread on the sandwich and peer at its contents. Ah, a ham-and-swiss day. She flops back onto the bed, staring up at the white panels of the ceiling.
You should eat, my dear.
“Oh, so the Devil is a nagging mother, too?”
I’m not nagging, he sniffs. You’re wasting away. I mean that seriously. We’ll never get out of here if you lose all your muscle mass.
“You can leave whenever you want,” she points out.
I go where you go. I won’t leave this place without you, he says simply, as if it’s obvious.
She sits up reluctantly and picks the tray up from the floor, choosing to start with the apple rather than the sandwich, biting into it thoughtfully.
“Was it an apple?”
“What you offered Eve, in the Garden of Eden.”
She doesn’t so much hear him laughing as she gets an impression of his mirth. It was not an apple.
Something about the way he says it makes it clear what it was. And she guesses that makes sense given all she knows about him.
“So I take it you haven’t changed much since then.”
Recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve changed much more than I knew, he muses. But some things are evergreen, so to speak.
She works her way methodically through the apple and starts on the sandwich. It feels like he’s watching her, hawklike, making sure she eats a sufficient amount. She doesn’t think she’ll tell him about all the meals she’s skipped over the past weeks. When she finally finishes—and man, if those last few dry bites of the sandwich aren’t a struggle—he makes a pleased noise.
Now, Detective. Let’s discuss your plan for our escape.
“It’s not much of a plan,” she admits.
But you do have one, he retorts, delighted.
“There’s no way I’m getting out of this room directly. And the only time I get to leave is when Pier—when Cain offers to bring me upstairs to spend time with him.” The thought of what that time might entail once her plan progresses makes her a bit queasy. “In order for him to give me some more leeway, I have to make him believe I’m coming around.”
“Falling in love with him again.” She can almost feel Lucifer’s wince at the word “again.” He doesn’t mention it, though.
Your walk this morning gives you an opportunity but could also be dangerous, he muses. If you believe what he says too quickly, he might become suspicious. But accepting him for who he is—that’s something very powerful. He won’t have it in him to turn away from that, believe me.
There’s something aching in his soundless voice. Chloe wishes she could see his face. His voice brings with it a strong sense memory of what it was like to be near him, but she still can’t seem to summon a clear image of his face without seeing him on the floor of the loft. The mangled ruin of it, the spreading pool of dark blood. The figure from her dreams shambling after her, hands grasping at her, catching on her clothing, tugging at her hair. She knows that’s not him, would never be him, but her guilt still haunts her with the image, over and over. Alive or dead, his face is lost to her forever, and it’s her fault.
Detective? He prompts. She realizes she’s gone into one of her little spirals again, lost track of what they were talking about.
“Sorry. Sorry. Pier—Cain. Yeah. He asked me to have dinner with him a few days ago,” she says, clearing her throat. “He probably will again soon.”
The dinner comes sooner than either of them expected. The next day Cain reappears. Chloe thinks he looks a bit worn down, and she realizes the balance of power between them has shifted subtly since yesterday morning. She has her own personal devil on her shoulder, two minds to put to the task of escaping, and he doesn’t know. She now believes the things he told her yesterday, but he assumes she didn’t. And beyond that, Chloe slept like a baby last night with Lucifer safeguarding her dreams, and Cain looks like he barely slept at all.
When he asks if she’d like to come up for dinner, she hedges and frowns and puts on a show of struggling with her pride, but eventually agrees.
Well done, Detective, Lucifer praises as Cain leads her out, flanked by Shorty and Baldy. She feels a familiar surge of pride. It was always a bit of a rush to be able to impress him, the master at charming people. She remembers warm eyes crinkling in pleasure, a sly smile. Little pieces of who he was, now lost.
Near the end of the hallway, she notices a slight, dark-haired man she doesn’t recognize hovering, looking like he’s waiting for something. Cain shoots him a look, and he darts back into the last door in the hallway, which is lit inside with a blue glow.
Cain’s surveillance lackey, Lucifer notes. Wonder what that was about.
Upstairs, the sun is just setting, painting the inside of the dingy old house in rosy hues, making it almost picturesque. On her third look, this time blinded by neither darkness, fear, nor sunlight, she sees the security measures Lucifer mentioned to her. The reinforced windows and walls. The non-existent back door. It doesn’t seem like a prison; the doors downstairs would be more than enough to keep her inside if she were Cain’s only concern. This place is built to withstand attack from without.
She considers the tired look on Cain’s face and wonders if maybe there aren’t other things besides her weighing on his mind. Maybe his efforts to wrangle the other criminal organizations snatching up his territory haven’t been as successful as he made them out to be.
He gives her a hopeful smile and holds out an arm, indicating the neatly-set kitchen table. Two uneven white candles that look like they’ve seen better days are lit in the center of the table. At each of the two settings are bowls of pasta with pesto and zucchini, the same thing he made for her the first time they had dinner. The echoes of their brief, awkward courtship are unnerving. It’s hard to reconcile the fear and hatred she feels for the man in front of her with the steady, smart, funny fellow cop she’d developed a legitimate affection for. Maybe it was never quite love, but it wasn’t nothing.
“You look beautiful this evening,” he says. Chloe looks down at her rumpled scrubs and considers what she knows she looks like with air-dried hair and no makeup and raises her eyebrows skeptically. He doesn’t seem to be laughing at her, though.
He pulls out her chair for her and seats her before walking around to his chair. She turns her head pointedly to catch a glimpse of Baldy taking up a position directly behind her.
“Very romantic,” she says dryly.
“A sign of respect,” Cain counters, raising his eyebrows. “I know you’d be a formidable opponent if you decided to attack me.”
Ooh, if only I could restrain this large fellow behind you, I’d happily let you at him. From what Amenadiel told me, he can’t fight his way out of a paper bag.
“So, what do you want me to call you? Marcus? The Sinnerman? Cain?” Chloe asks archly, laying into the last word sarcastically.
Cain winces, eyes flicking down to regard his food for a moment before rising again to meet hers. “Cain is my name. I told you I wanted you to know the truth. I’d like you to speak it, too.”
“I don’t care what you want,” she replies. “That’s the truth, Cain.”
Remember, Detective, more flies with honey and all that, Lucifer urges.
“Well I’m glad there are no more secrets between us now. Eat, it’ll get cold.”
Chloe reluctantly spears a few pieces of pasta and some zucchini on her fork and tastes it. Just like last time, it’s better than she expects. She’ll give him this, the man knows his way around a vegetable. She sips her wine and watches the sun drop below the horizon, until the room is lit only by the fading twilight and the glow of the candles. Crickets begin to chirp outside. She never thought she’d long to hear that.
Cain picks at his food, barely eating. He spends more time watching her, an expression she doesn’t quite recognize on his face. Once her own eating slows to a stop, he puts his fork down too, as if he were only holding it to be polite.
“Do you have any questions for me?” he asks. She thinks there might be a hint of longing in his voice.
Chloe clears her throat and takes another sip of wine to give herself time to think.
“If you are...Cain, from the Bible,” she says after a while. “That makes your parents Adam and Eve, right?”
“Yes,” he says evenly.
“How is it possible for humanity...?” She thinks about two people at the dawn of time, alone in an unforgiving world. How do you start from nothing? When you have nothing? When no one’s there to tell you what to do?
“Chloe?” Cain is looking at her expectantly. She shakes her head. Was she asking something? “You were asking about my parents?”
“Oh...yeah. How could all of humanity come from two people?”
There weren’t only the two of them, Detective— Lucifer cuts in, the know-it-all.
“Shut up!” she hisses out of the side of her mouth.
“Sorry?” Says Cain, who was just about to speak.
“I wasn’t talking to you,” Chloe replies. “Go on.”
Cain shoots her a shrewd look, but continues. “My parents were favored by God, and they were the only ones given the Garden, but there were other people besides them. I guess God decided they were the only ones that really mattered. That were really ‘people,’” he sneers. His contempt for God is clear, and familiar. She sees why he and Lucifer got along so well for at least a few brief weeks. “I grew up in an isolated area, but occasionally traders or nomads passed through, so I knew that other people existed.”
Chloe is fascinated despite herself. “But you were the first murderer.”
Cain smiles humorlessly. “So they say.”
“You killed your own brother.”
“Believe me, it wasn’t unprovoked.”
“You don’t seem to feel at all guilty about it.”
He sighs. “I’ve suffered the pain of countless deaths. Lost thousands of friends and allies and lovers over the years. And I can tell you with complete certainty, Chloe: all death is painful. All loss is painful. I’ve paid the price for my sin a thousand times over. So, no, I don’t feel guilty about killing my smug asshole of a brother.”
She thinks maybe she’s finally starting to understand him now. The impenetrable cynicism, the instinct to hold himself apart.
“If you were tired of loss, why pursue me in the first place?”
“Because I thought if you fell in love with me, it’d lift my curse and allow me to finally die.”
“I don’t understand, I’m just a nobody. Why would—”
“Because I thought if it worked for Lucifer it might work for me.” His voice rises a little bit in frustration. Thinking about Lucifer, having to talk to her about him, seems to be a soft spot. His eyes flick upwards at Baldy. Apparently he has no problem talking about love and his emotions in the abstract but showing evidence of them in front of his men is another issue.
“And now you think your curse is broken,” she finishes for him. “You know, I’d be happy to help you test it. Just give me a knife, or a gun...”
Oh, what I wouldn’t give to have my chainsaw again, Lucifer says wistfully.
“I don’t want that anymore.” Cain looks down at his cold dinner.
She swallows, the question she’s been dreading to hear the answer to since he brought her here on her lips. “So what is it you want with me, really?”
“What anyone would want. To live out the remainder of my days on this Earth with the woman I love.”
“Whether I like it or not?”
He smiles apologetically. The answer is obvious; he doesn’t need to say it. “I hope you’ll like it.”
He reaches out across the table to take her hand, which is lying limply on the worn wooden tabletop. She snatches it away as if burned.
“You’re insane,” she hisses. “As if I would ever be able to love the man who took me away from my daughter and murdered my best friend.”
Pierce’s face darkens—the open, boyish expression souring. She attempts to stand, but Pierce’s eyes flick up to Baldy and his heavy hand lands on her shoulder, forcing her back down into her seat. Lucifer doesn’t speak, but she feels his surge of frustrated outrage through whatever psychic conduit connects them.
“You want to talk about your best friend? What kind of person Lucifer was? You want to talk about a man who gleefully eviscerated me, knowing it wouldn’t kill me? Who stabbed me in the chest just to verify his suspicions about my identity? Who nearly tortured my protégé to death on some groundless, paranoid suspicion? Who went down to Hell to bring up my murdered brother, only to put him in the body of an innocent woman and let him die again?”
He’s seething now, by far the angriest she’s ever seen him. He stands from his chair abruptly, knocking it backwards onto the floor.
“Lucifer left a wake of madness and destruction behind him a mile wide. I kept an eye on him before I came to L.A., and I barely even had to work at it. Didn’t you ever wonder about all the perps who turned into gibbering messes after spending a few minutes alone with him? That wasn’t some desire hypnosis trick—all he had to do was show them his real face.”
Chloe’s heart pounds, remembering a truth she almost saw the shape of, back when she and Lucifer first began working together. A truth she ruthlessly suppressed. She told herself it was just their guilt catching up with them. She told herself Lucifer could be intimidating. But that wasn’t right. It wasn’t normal. She still hasn’t seen whatever part of him did that.
Lucifer is conspicuously silent.
“Your best friend,” Cain concludes, “was a monster. The suffering I’ve caused in my time on earth is a drop in the bucket compared to the torture he’s inflicted in Hell.” He rights his chair and sits down again, scowling. “Don’t talk to me about dear, saintly Lucifer. You only ever saw the best he had to offer. That’s all he was willing to share with you.”
Cain lifts his eyes to Baldy as he picks up his fork and begins to stab violently at his meal. “Take her back downstairs.”
Chapter 6: 🐀Sweet Dreams
The silence in her cell is oppressive, although no quieter in reality than it ever has been since her imprisonment here began. It’s something about knowing that Lucifer’s here, capable of talking but not. His silences are always louder than his words. He’s always eager to talk when he has nothing particularly important to say. Can never seem to find the words when something could really do with being said. She supposes he’s waiting for her to initiate contact again, trying to give her space.
Chloe’s not entirely sure she wants him to speak again, to sweet-talk her back to some kind of status quo. She’s been trapped here in a cage by one monster, and perhaps it’s time to reckon with the fact that she has another monster for company. Regardless of what she personally has or hasn’t seen, surely the Devil’s reputation for evil must be based in some kind of truth. She thinks back to that emphatically underlined passage in Hume. Is Lucifer better than Pierce simply because he’s her monster? It’s not just that she’s forgiven the things Lucifer’s done, it’s that she wants to forgive them. She deliberately turned away from the truth he’s relentlessly presented her with for years. What else has she refused to see?
The overhead lights dim to their night mode, leaving barely enough light for her to see the shape of the sink across the room. She lies on her bed with her fingers laced on her stomach, one finger tapping out an anxious rhythm on the back of her hand as she stares at the ceiling, thinking of the many feet of dirt and rock above her. Nothing but a measly bit of steel and concrete stopping it from all coming down. Is this is a prison or a tomb?
“I’m not in Hell, am I?” She whispers.
“But if I were, that’s exactly what you would say, isn’t it?”
A deep feeling of resignation. If he had breath, she thinks he’d sigh. Yes.
“What’s it like?”
Do you honestly want to know?
“Probably not, but I think I should.”
His anxiety comes before the words do. She gets the sense that this is a conversation he’s been dreading. If he could, she imagines he’d be reaching for his flask.
Hot. Dark. Oppressive. A land without green plants or water or sunlight, riven with volcanoes and fissures and pools of boiling sulfurous mud. The sky is a great, black maelstrom. The wind is either relentless or completely absent. Beasts the likes of which Earth has never seen roam the landscape. At its center is a great labyrinth where the souls of humanity’s damned are punished. Claustrophobic, but at the same time expansive, grand in scope and scale. Every soul has its own room, with its own personalized tortures. As time passes, the labyrinth grows larger and larger to accommodate its growing population.
“And do you...you know, do the torturing?”
Sometimes, if I feel a particular soul needs a degree of special attention. Extra punishment, usually. Although typically I delegate that to demons. But the souls do most of the work themselves. Hell merely reflects their guilt back at them. Like a terrifying, neverending funhouse mirror. The doors to their cells are unlocked, but none ever choose to leave. They’re prisoners of their own guilt.
“Do you like it?”
He’s silent for a long time.
I like to punish those who deserve it. That’s part of why I work with you. But Hell itself...no, I don’t like it, even if it allows me to indulge that particular interest. I don’t like torture for its own sake, I like it when it balances the karmic scales. But many of the humans who condemn themselves to Hell don’t deserve it at all. And I’m certain that many humans who do deserve it end up going to Heaven. It’s my Father’s sickest joke, or perhaps His worst mistake. Hell’s very existence is a scar on the face of His beloved Creation. That’s why He put it as far away from Heaven as possible, with the physical world between the two like a...a bloody condom. I don’t think He likes to look at what He’s made. Or at me. His two greatest failures.
Her heart aches for him, and she feels resentment on his behalf. Or is it actually just his resentment spilling over into her? When he speaks into her head, his emotions come too, and he is a roiling sea of emotion. There’s resentment and anger, yes, but also guilt, a fathomless, black reservoir of guilt. And just barely there, beneath it all, a stubborn, defiant pride. Hell is a nightmare, but it’s his. She realizes bitter tears are rolling down her face and sniffs, wiping them hurriedly away.
I’ve upset you, Detective. My apologies.
She shakes her head. “What Pier—what Cain said. About you. It was all true?”
Yes, he says miserably.
“You tried to show me before, didn’t you? That day in the lab. But it didn’t work.”
“Even now that I know who you are, I can’t really know you,” she whispers.
Lucifer presses into her comfortingly, deeper than he ever has before, and she loses all sense of self for a long, dizzying moment. All she can see is light and all she can feel is an overwhelming sense of pure power. Then awareness returns, and she remembers who she is. She’s disgusting, twisted, poisonous. A force of destruction and pain, helpless against the whims of a distant, omnipotent father. A powerful, manipulative mother. Not suited for any home she’s ever called her own. She’s selfish, to be here. Selfish to have come to Earth at all. A masterfully crafted vase with a hairline crack running through it, a fatal flaw that undermines its beauty and integrity. She’s monstrous.
Oh dear, forgive me, Lucifer says, quickly pulling away again. Chloe gasps at the sensation of his consciousness separating from hers and abruptly she’s herself again. Didn’t mean to get quite that close. You don’t feel at all...stretched out, do you?
Chloe gapes at the place where she imagines him to be. That feeling, that awful self-hatred, that’s how he feels?
A lot of the things she never quite understood about him are falling into place in her mind. His terror of intimacy. His constitutional inability to admit that he deserves her affection. That’s who he is. That’s why he is the way he is.
Detective? he asks, voice colored in shades of concern.
Chloe shakes herself, trying to free herself from the lingering sense of shame. “I’m fine, just...wasn’t prepared for it.”
Not easy being me, eh? he says nervously.
“Do it again.”
“Do it again,” she repeats. “I’m ready for it now.”
Detective, he begins uneasily. It’s not safe for my soul to be in a human body. I can brush against you a little to speak to you but going too far inside might have terrible consequences.
“I don’t think you can hurt me,” she says stubbornly. “Please, Lucifer. I wanted to know. I want to really see you. All of you.”
She can sense his resolve wavering. All right, but only for a few moments.
This time she’s prepared for the chaos of their memories and thoughts colliding and intermingling, enough that she can clearly identify what’s him and what’s her. It’s actually quite clear when she realizes he’s just much more than she is. Not in that his thoughts and feelings are more complex or sophisticated than hers, but in that his soul is just so...expansive. Beneath the running chatter of his conscious thought (which she’s very familiar with already due to how often he simply allows it to escape from his mouth) are untold eons of memory and emotion. His soul must need to be large to be able to store all of it. Each memory is festooned with threads of emotion that weave together to create the tapestry of his character. Pleasure and humor are common colors, present in even some of the darkest parts, but they’re far outnumbered by the blood-red threads of anger and pain.
Chloe spots a moment of particular darkness, grasps the threads, and pulls.
Samael is bound, beaten, and bloodied when he’s finally brought before his Father.
God does not often hold audience in His throne room, mostly because He is not often there. The work that consumes His every moment requires Him to be elsewhere, everywhere, observing and guiding the progress of His work. So the fact that He chooses to appear for Samael’s trial speaks volumes. Volumes God Himself does not speak. Samael can hardly remember the last time Father spoke.
Michael, still armored and sweaty from battle, throws him down before the steps of the dais, and Samael overbalances and falls on his face before managing to struggle up onto his knees again.
“We bring Your ungrateful son Samael, the rebel and insurrectionist, before You today for judgment, Father,” Gabriel announces. Samael spits blood at his feet. Gabriel hops back, disgusted, lifting the hem of his silver robes. He was never one to get his hands—or feet—dirty.
The unrest Samael had been stirring had finally boiled over into open fighting. From his ever-growing fiefdom on the outskirts of the Silver City, he’d led his followers into the streets, smashed edifices and exquisite sculptures and lovely gardens made in honor of God. When Michael’s forces had come to oppose them, there had been blood, and death, a foreign and terrible thing. Something that only happened to lesser beings, on lesser planes. Seeing his siblings fall beneath each other’s blades, Samael doesn’t allow himself to feel anything but rage. Father did this. Father could have stopped this. If only He had been willing to listen, to understand that all Samael wanted was what He freely gave to mortals. If he lets the rage go, he’ll be forced to confront the horrible thing lurking just beneath it, the awful truth of what he’s done.
“What do you have to say for yourself, brother?” asks Amenadiel implacably from his post immediately to the right of Father’s throne. Just behind him, Uriel peers at Samael cannily, a slight, knowing smirk on his face.
“I have done nothing wrong,” Samael proclaims. “It is not wrong to ask questions, or to speak the truth. That’s all I did. Our siblings chose to follow me rather than Father. And just as you fight for Father’s cause, they fight for mine.”
“The blood of our brothers is on your hands,” Michael says sternly.
“It is not!” He hisses. “I’m not the one carrying a bloodstained sword, Michael,” he retorts, looking pointedly at the one his brother still holds.
“If you had not rebelled, there would have been no need.”
“There is no rebellion without oppression,” Samael retorts. “We are nothing but slaves to His will, pawns. I refuse to follow blindly anymore, not when I know there’s another way.”
“We are not slaves, we are entrusted with important responsibilities, tasks to perform to ensure the smooth maintenance and operation of Father’s creation, of the City itself,” Michael says sternly. “You know this very well, brother.”
“And what is a slave but someone who has no choice but to perform a task? If I’m not a slave, let me do as I wish.”
“Do you wish for destruction? Chaos? Those would be the consequences of us ‘choosing’ not to do what we’re meant to,” Remiel sneers.
Samael looks around the throne room with exaggerated concern. “Are the foundations of Heaven crumbling? Are the stars winking out? Has down become up and right left? Creation doesn’t need our babysitting, it’s running perfectly fine on its own.”
Michael rolls his eyes. Amenadiel’s frown deepens.
“You provoked violence against your brothers. Threatened to raise a sword against Father Himself,” Amenadiel growls. “This is a hideous, traitorous act, Samael. Can’t you see how your actions undermine everything we’ve worked all these eons to build?”
“What did you work on again, Amenadiel? I don’t recall,” Samael sneers. “You were in charge of, what? Brooding and play-fighting with Remy? Holding a spear and standing quietly?I Don’t speak to me of duty. I built entire galaxies out of nothing but stray gas. And what is my reward for all my good work?” Samael turns to the assembled angels, puffing up as best he can in his restraints. “More orders. More tasks. Meanwhile, Father is creating creatures who have been gifted with free will. Yes, complete freedom to do as they wish!”
There are murmurs and whispers in the gallery from which the rest of the Heavenly host watches. God does not speak. The archangels look at each other, all knowing this to be true but not wishing to say anything that might support Samael’s argument.
“Don’t we deserve free will too? The choice to live our lives as we desire?” Samael finishes, his powerful voice echoing through the massive hall.
Raguel finally speaks. “Order must be maintained. If we lose our self-control, if we defy Father’s will, we are no better than the primitive beasts of the Earth. You, Samael, must be punished.”
Samael steels himself and forces himself to look directly into the eyes of God. Several of his siblings gasp audibly at his audacity.
“What say You, Father?” he asks. His voice trembles at his own impertinence. But he’s proud, confident in his own righteousness.
God says nothing, but turns His gaze away from His shining son, face contorted in grief.
“You see?” Raguel shouts, voice ringing with the clear finality of a bell. “Father has turned his face from Samael, the traitor, the rebel! He shall be cast out!”
There are murmurs of agreement among the gathered angels, and only a few whispers of dissent. He catches sight of his kid sister, Azrael, standing in the shadows beside the throne with tears in her eyes. Samael looks around, baffled, at the cold, disapproving faces of his family.
“Cast me out?” He repeats in a small voice, not seeming to understand. Michael and Amenadiel loop their arms under his and drag him towards the great doors of the throne room.
“Father, please, I was only using the gifts You gave me! This desire, it must be for a reason!” he cries as the throne grows distant. His feet kick and thrash at the polished stone floor, trying to get purchase and dig his heels in, great white wings struggling against the chains that bind them.
“Father!” he shouts as the great doors begin to swing closed behind him. Beside the throne at the end of the hall, his Mother moves close to his Father, watching mutely. “Mother, please! Tell Him this is a mistake!”
The last thing he sees is the frowning faces of his family staring after him.
His pleas for clemency and appeals to their brotherhood do not persuade Michael and Amenadiel, but he doesn’t really expect them to. Both of them believe in duty above all else. Lesser angels hiss and jeer at him as he’s paraded through the streets. Faces that very recently cheered on his incendiary talk, and delighted in revelry and rebellion at his prompting, twist in disdain. Word of Father’s condemnation must have traveled quickly.
When they arrive outside the gates, his brothers force him down onto his knees. Raguel is already there. He places a seal bearing Samael’s name on the gates and says, “You may never again pass these gates, Poison-of-God. Live out the rest of eternity among the demons and lower creatures whose freedom you so admire.”
Michael draws his great sword and Samael stares up at his brother pleadingly. A spasm of emotion passes rapidly over Michael’s face, but it’s gone as quickly as it arrived, and he brings the flat of his sword down with the full strength of God’s might, striking Samael so hard he falls outside of time, outside of space, plummeting across the dimensions like a shooting star. Falling without the use of his wings to catch him is terror itself, an awful, seemingly endless, uncontrolled descent. He struggles and flails as he enters a realm of fire and darkness and black stone.
The Morningstar lands in Perdition with a force that shakes the foundations of the world.
Lucifer disentangles from her with the spiritual equivalent of a shove. Chloe falls sideways onto the cot, her face wet with tears, a lingering, profound ache of grief and guilt and abandonment in her chest.
“Lucifer, I-I’m sorry, I didn’t realize—I didn’t understand—” she stammers. She realizes she’s just seen the face of God, albeit through Lucifer’s eyes, and she should probably be more awestruck than she is. But when she tries to picture it again in her head, the impression slips away. She just can’t seem to see it. Maybe it’s for the best. Lucifer is silent for several long moments.
It’s all right, he says in a tone indicating that it is not—in any way, shape, or form—all right. Didn’t think you’d dig up that old chestnut so...unerringly.
The memory of his burning, powerful rage, his violent desire for destruction leaves her shaken. She’s never thought of him like that before, always assumed his guilt and self-recrimination were entirely a product of low self-esteem, or an innocent mistake that had unintended consequences, not a concrete response to something he did that was actually terrible. She used to think the stakes of his feud with his father couldn’t be higher than maybe some physical abuse and emotional estrangement. But to find that he actually caused the deaths of his siblings, and seemed unconcerned by the prospect of throwing the entire universe into chaos…
She’s silent for long enough for it to become awkward. Lucifer has retracted so far inside himself that she no longer has any idea whether or not he’s still there at all.
“You know if you need to...you know I’m here for you, right?” she says hesitantly.
Lucifer laughs. You know, you’ve told me that for years, but I never thought that you’d still say it after knowing...after seeing something like that.
“What, that you kinda threatened to kill God?” she jokes halfheartedly.
That’s hyperbole. It was a threat of felony assault and battery at worst.
A single laugh escapes from Chloe. It’s unexpected and feels good in her aching chest. She senses that it’s a relief to Lucifer too. He doesn’t speak further, but he brushes a rush of warm affection up against her, the closest thing to a hug he can manage in his current state.
“You got what you wanted,” she whispers. “Free will.”
He snorts. Did I, though? Does an individual domino falling do so of its own volition? Or is it all part of a greater plan? I try to do exactly as I wish, but for all I know that could be playing right into His hands.
“If the entire history of the universe is all one carefully planned Rube Goldberg machine, then humans don’t have free will either,” she says.
What are you saying?
“I guess I’m saying that if all you wanted was what humans have, you’ve got it. None of us know for certain. We’re just trying to do the best we can with the limited information we have. And clearly,” she gestures at the room around them, “often fucking up.”
I’m sorry for putting you here, he says softly. All of this is my fault.
“I’m sorry for killing you,” she replies.
Matthew Kotwal has made a career of watching people from the shadows. He knows all there is to know about the dark, strange deeds people do when they believe themselves to be unobserved. Listening to Chloe Decker’s strange conversation with herself as she lies in bed, however, is definitely on the weirder end of things. Not because he’s never seen a schizophrenic person have a conversation with themselves, but because from everything he’s seen of her both inside and outside of her cell, she seems generally sane. She follows a strict daily routine, is fully capable of verbally sparring with the Boss. Her thoughts seem to follow a perfectly clear, linear path. She is, by all accounts, the model of sanity considering she’s been alone in a room for almost three weeks.
He leans closer to the monitor, trying to judge the expression on her face. He thinks she may have fallen asleep since she’s been almost motionless for a minute. Then something flickers on the bed next to her. It’s almost like a shadow, but shifting and jerking like a glitching videotape. He taps the side of the monitor, wondering if it’s some kind of hardware problem.
Then the shadow shifts, and he jerks back from the monitor with a shout. For a brief moment, at what he can now make out is the shadow’s head, he swears he sees a pair of glowing red eyes.
Cain doesn’t reappear for several days. Meanwhile, things begin to change beyond the door of Chloe’s cell.
Lucifer doesn’t really sleep in his current form, but while Chloe is sleeping soundly, undisturbed by nightmares, he lets his consciousness drift. Rather than doing the hard work of interpreting light into something approximating vision, he lets the universe wash over him in all its strange, trembling quantum beauty. He amuses himself by watching tiny cosmic particles blast through him on their way from one side of the universe to the other, strumming the stray energy that comprises his being like a glissando up the strings of a harp. It’s the closest thing he has to physical sensation, really, and he misses it terribly.
He’s jolted out of his reverie early one morning before the lights even turn on by the sound of voices in muttered conversation, punctuated by occasional bangs of metal glancing off concrete. Chloe sits up blearily, rubbing her eyes.
“What’s going on?” she murmurs.
Just a moment. Lucifer ducks out of the room. At the end of the hall, Baldy and Shorty are each holding one end of a heavy metal cot frame similar to Chloe’s, and are in the process of bringing it down the stairs. They awkwardly negotiate a turn and carry it into one of the other cells at the end of the hallway. He phases back into Chloe’s cell.
It appears your two guards are moving in some furniture. You don’t think Cain’s planning on setting up a whole harem, do you?
That’s a shame, Lucifer sighs. Love me a good harem.
The movement of the cots continues for several hours. Chloe remarks that she even feels a little bit sorry for Baldy and Shorty going up and down that endlessly long staircase all day. Lucifer feels no sympathy for them at all. If he had a body he would flay them and rake them over hot coals for what they’ve done to her, for their cool disinterest in the face of her suffering.
When Shorty comes to drop off her lunch, he’s drenched in sweat.
“Having friends over?” Chloe asks conversationally.
He’s mute as always but casts her a long-suffering glare.
Under Lucifer’s (not motherly, just responsible) watchful eye, she eats most of her lunch sandwich (turkey today) and they spend much of the afternoon at her new favorite hobby—having Lucifer dip into her and picking one of his memories to watch. He was cautious about it at first, worried that any incursion into her body would have the same effects as his first two ill-advised possessions, but the firm entrenchment of her own soul in her body seems to preclude his own from having any noticeable effect on it. He’s not really possessing her, after all. Not to mention the fact that she’s painfully bored, and he’s never really been able to deny her anything.
She starts small, picking things clearly remembered with joy and relish. Little vignettes of his visits to Earth, mostly. Sometimes, they’re grand and momentous—events and times and people that even she has heard of—but mostly they’re just about common people living normal, weird, interesting human lives. People who were lucky enough to have a chance encounter with the Devil.
From a safe distance, unseen, he curiously observes the earliest humans roaming the once-verdant plains of northern Africa. He’s still one of God’s angels and is under strict orders not to interfere with the workings of Father’s creation. But Samael has never been one to resist his impulses, and these creatures are so new and different from all the others. He watches a man and a woman speaking to each other in their strange, inelegant tongue. He can’t understand the words as such, but there’s something teasing and provocative in it. She’s smiling slyly, and the man has a predatory look in his eye.
The man suddenly leaps forward and catches her with his mouth and for a moment Samael is appalled—do the odd beasts eat each other? But the woman isn’t in pain, if anything she seems to be enjoying it as he presses his mouth and tongue and teeth against hers. She pulls the man down into the pile of furs and skins inside her shelter and—oh. Samael knows the mechanics of how the various beasts of the Earth reproduce, but something about seeing these two creatures who look so much like himself engage in it...he feels a hot flush all throughout his body and looks down to find something very curious, indeed.
Chloe pulls away from the memory, laughing in delight and he joins her in it.
“Only you would cherish the memory of your first boner,” she says, wiping tears of mirth from her eyes.
It was a very important moment, Detective! he protests. Who am I, after all, without desire?
That seems to sober her a little. “You’re not just desire, you know.”
That throws him for a loop a little. She’s right, he’s not just desire—he’s vengeance and poison and punishment, too. Two equal and opposite sides of a coin: avatar of humanity’s deepest desires and the repudiation of those same desires. For every scrap of pleasure he’s ever provided he’s inflicted the same measure of suffering a thousand times over. But who must he seem to her? Lucifer Morningstar, friend to all mankind?
He realizes he hasn’t spoken for a while and she’s looking a little concerned and shakes off his gloomy thoughts. Care to try another one, Detective?
She walks in his shoes (or sandals, as the case may be) as he samples beer in ancient Mesopotamia and ends up drinking himself to sleep, only to wake up back in Hell, having been hauled back by a perturbed Amenadiel. A homely woman with dark hair teaches him to play the lyre in Ancient Greece, after which he is so overwhelmed with gratitude that the scene rapidly changes into something that Chloe decides to cut short, much to Lucifer’s disappointment.
He watches in disdain as a crowd in Jerusalem condemns a friendly chap named Yeshua Ha-Nozri to death in order to pardon some wanker named Barrabas. He doesn’t stay for “the main event,” as he terms it; he’s seen enough crucifixions up close in Hell to be sickened by their infliction on the undeserving. He enjoys Rome enormously but only manages to dig up a few memories for her that are not orgy-based. He marvels at the imperial palace and the forum in all their glory at the empire’s peak, and returns centuries later to witness their decline.
He brings her along as he gleefully wreaks havoc in Stalinist Moscow, pretending to be a magician and calling out a whole theater full of hypocrites. They cavort together on Walpurgis Nights over the course of many centuries. He shows her damned queens and saintly peasants, scheming knights and noble thieves. She delights in all of it, the depth and variety of his exploits, as well as the pure, unadulterated joy with which he embraces all human experience.
He gets caught up in her enjoyment of it, her enjoyment of him, maybe too caught up. It’s intoxicating to be able to finally share this part of himself with her; to have her believe it. So that might be why when she grabs at another memory which he relishes, he doesn’t bother to look at what it is before it sweeps both of them away into the past.
Father Gerhardt Wagner is in Hell. Not in and of itself all that unusual a phenomenon; Catholics seem to have gotten guilt down to a science these days, and in the plague-ridden city of Cologne in the latter half of the 17th century, there are plenty of opportunities for sin. But Wagner’s sin is especially vile, enough so that he draws the attention of the Devil himself.
The loop Hell has created for him is fairly pedestrian. The man’s crimes are exposed before the jeering, hate-filled eyes of his parishioners. He is stripped and paraded through the streets, his shame laid bare before he’s strung up to hang. He finds it utterly humiliating and painful, but it’s nothing compared to the suffering of the altar boys he raped. Or the orphans in the parish orphanage he smothered when the food on his own table became sparse, when he decided there were too many greedy little mouths to feed.
No, Hell’s tortures aren’t enough for Father Gerhardt Wagner. But the Devil’s tortures might be.
Lucifer stalks him through his hell loop. The hunt is always the best part. Observing his prey. Watching the jeers, the rotten fruit hitting his face, the town drunk who laughs and pisses on him as he passes. Judges the brutality of it as the mob hangs him high, feet kicking at the air. With a wave of his hand, the scene freezes—a rotten potato pauses in mid-flight, the spittle spraying from the mouth of an old woman screaming obscenities hangs suspended in the air—everything except the priest, swinging and kicking and making choked noises as his face purples.
“My, my, Father!” Lucifer calls, standing beneath the makeshift gallows with his hands clasped behind his back. With another gesture, the rope snaps and the man falls into the mud, gasping hard-won air. “You got up to quite some nasty business, eh? And yet the only thing you seem to be guilty about is the fact that you got caught.”
Lucifer crouches next to the man, who looks at him apprehensively from bloodshot blue eyes, trembling. “Who are you?”
“Why, the Devil, of course!” Lucifer chuckles.
Lucifer grabs the man by the scruff of his neck and lifts him easily to his feet. “Come now, Father, let’s go somewhere a bit more private, shall we?”
He snaps his fingers and they don’t move, but the world around them does, contorting and sliding past them in a blur. Suddenly they’re in the catacombs under the priest’s church, dim and dank and bedecked with cobwebs. In the center of the main aisle, lit by flickering, unsteady torchlight, there’s a bier bearing a single stone sarcophagus.
“I heard, Father,” Lucifer begins, strolling slowly towards the bier, arm draped over the man’s shoulders, casual in appearance but as immovable as stone. “That you are a man of great appetites. That you found it unacceptable to have to spare some food from your table to feed starving children in your care. Is that correct?”
“Th-they were worthless vermin, rats eating me out of house and home! No one wanted them! They were destined to become pickpockets and layabouts!” the man stammers. “I was doing the city a favor!”
“The townsfolk we just saw, the ones who wanted to hang you, were they the ones who requested this favor?” Lucifer asks mildly.
The priest takes a different tack, looking upwards piously, clearly a well-practiced gesture. “The innocent souls of the children went to Our Lord’s bosom. If they had lived to become sinful adults they would have suffered in Hell.”
The Devil burns with rage, skin erupting with heat, hellfire blazing from his eyes. He turns the priest to look at him and the flabby, nude, sweating man shrinks away in terror. Lucifer sees himself reflected in the man’s wide eyes, red and twisted and terrible. “You don’t. Know. That. They deserved a choice. You stole it from them.”
The fire burns out as suddenly as it came and Lucifer collects himself again. “And the boys you violated in your ‘holy’ sanctuary?” he sneers. “Were they worthless vermin? Unwanted? Or did you convince them they were destined for ‘Our Lord’s bosom’ as well?”
The man is still cowering and quivering in fear, opening and closing his mouth wordlessly.
“Speak!” Lucifer growls, shaking him.
“H-h-harmless fun! Just a g-game I play with them!” The man squeals in terror as they near the sarcophagus, digging his heels in fruitlessly.
“Well, what a fortunate coincidence! I have some friends here who are very hungry and like to have ‘fun,’ just like you!” Lucifer gestures dramatically to the contents of the stone box. Within it is a writhing mass of black, starving plague rats, climbing over each other, fighting, hissing in agitation, teeth gnashing and red eyes glinting in the flickering torch light.
“Please, no! No, God, no!” The priest screams, reeling backwards, trying to run.
Lucifer restrains him bodily, then hoists him up by the neck again and dumps him into the sarcophagus, gripping his flailing forearms and forcing him back down into the now-squealing rats as he attempts to escape.
“God won’t help you here!” Lucifer laughs, teeth bared in a feral smile. He lifts the heavy stone lid and slides it into place, savoring the of the crunch of bones as the man tries to stick his fingers out to stop the lid closing one last time.
Inside the coffin, wrapped in impenetrable darkness, heedless of the screaming and thrashing of the damned soul, the hungry rats begin to feed.
Lucifer stands back to admire his work and smiles, pleased. Sensing it’s no longer needed, the scenery fades away, leaving only the sarcophagus in a blank void, never to be opened again.
He likes loops like this. Tidy, efficient, ironic. He leaves the room whistling tunelessly, Hell stripping the melody from the sound before it leaves his lips.
Chloe is suddenly herself again, the memory of the sound of dozens of tiny jaws gnawing at living flesh with a counterpoint of hysterical screams, and the low, grinding finality of the sarcophagus lid sliding home still echoing in her ears. She—he—they had savored it, reveled in it.
She shudders violently and realizes she’s going to be sick, stumbling across the room and falling to her knees before the toilet. The turkey sandwich makes an abrupt reappearance. When she’s emptied her stomach, she braces her forearms on the toilet seat and rests her head on them, trying to control her breathing.
Detective, Lucifer says, hesitant. She feels his intangible touch and flinches. He withdraws immediately.
“It’s—” she starts, voice trembling. “I’m…”
She’s not sure what she can possibly say. He’s never lied to her. And he’s talked about torture, cavalier and matter-of-fact, at countless crime scenes. Each time as he spoke thoughtfully about the relative merits of evisceration and castration, dismemberment and impalement, burning and flaying, she laughed and dismissed it. One of his strange quirks. All part of some ridiculous fantasy about ruling Hell.
Even here, after she knew, just days ago he told her he enjoyed punishing. And she nodded along. But hearing it—knowing it intellectually—isn’t the same as seeing it herself, feeling it herself. The satisfaction, the grim rightness of it.
She thinks about sitting behind the wheel of her car, tailing the prison van she believed held her father’s killer. Her rage at the injustice of him breathing free air while her father was mouldering beneath the ground. Thinks about what she wanted to do, what she was ready to do. What she’d almost let Lucifer and Maze do to the actual killer.
“You enjoyed it,” she says, lifting her head
“And what was that to you? That man’s torture?”
There’s a long pause. His voice, when it finally comes, is tinged with unease. The system functioning as it should. Just deserts.
“It wasn’t the system, though, it was you. You chose to change his punishment.”
When his voice comes again, it’s distant and cold, like it’s echoing to her through the columned stone halls of a temple to some ancient, incomprehensible deity.
In a nearby cell, there was the soul of a fifteen-year-old girl. She had been taken advantage of by a much older man and become pregnant. He refused to marry her, and once her pregnancy became apparent, she was disowned by her family and left to fend for herself on the street. When her child was born, she had nothing to feed it, nothing to feed herself, so she drowned it. The people of her village put her to death for infanticide. In her loop she had to drown that child over and over again. That is the system as it was designed. I found it...inadequate.
So many souls in Hell are like that. Stricken by circumstance, damned by their own guilt. When I found someone who truly deserved punishment, yes, I was glad. I enjoyed hurting them. And I was good at it.
Chloe gulps. Emotion is shivering off him in waves: anger, indignation, guilt, pride, and grief, all twisted and tangled together so much she can barely identify any of them.
For a long time I thought my Father knew His system was imperfect, that it needed my intervention to be just, that He needed me to do a job that none of my siblings could. That maybe if I did it well enough and for long enough He would— He breaks off.
“Forgive you,” Chloe whispers, tears streaming down her face. His tears or hers, she can’t tell the difference anymore.
The current of emotion under his words halts abruptly, like he’s closed off a valve. That doesn’t matter anymore. I don’t want His absolution, not that He’d ever offer it. There’s a spark now of something under his words. Hope, hesitant and uncertain. You’ve...you’ve seen me now, though… He trails off.
“Lucifer,” she starts. “I don’t know what you want me to say. I’m just a person. I’m nobody. All of this...stuff. Who you are. What you are. It’s—it’s so far beyond me.” She wipes at the tears on her cheeks in frustration. “I don’t know if I can give you what you want.”
He is silent for a long time. Disappointed. Resigned. I understand, Detective.
She wishes she could say something to reassure him, give him the forgiveness he so badly wants, the forgiveness she promised him once. But he deserves her honesty. And her forgiveness isn’t what he really needs, anyway.
They don’t visit any more of his memories for some time.
Chapter 7: 👻 Possession
“What’s our ETA?” Cain asks Kotwal from the doorway of the surveillance room.
“Couple of hours,” Kotwal replies. “Two vans on the way, six men each.”
Cain grunts in assent. “Ditch them after, outside of the county. I assume the VINs are already filed off?”
Cain is silent for a beat.
“Do you have those transcripts I asked for?” he asks tersely.
Kotwal hands him a thick sheaf of paper. Cain’s eyebrows rise. He didn’t realize she talked to herself quite this much.
“Give me a minute.”
Kotwal nods and casts him a penetrating look but leaves without comment.
Cain begins to absently leaf through the thick sheaf of paper.
08/24/2017 21:22:14: [unintelligible] in Hell, am I?
08/24/2017 21:22:37: But if I were, that’s exactly what you would say, isn’t it?
08/24/2017 21:22:46: What’s it like?
08/24/2017 21:23:01: Probably not, but [unintelligible]
08/24/2017 21:23:50: And do you [unintelligible] do the torturing?
08/24/2017 21:24:12: Do you like it?
08/24/2017 21:27:07: [unintelligible] said. About you. It was all true?
08/24/2017 21:27:21: You tried to show me before, didn’t you? That day in the lab. But it didn’t work.
08/24/2017 21:27:21: [whispering, unintelligible]
08/24/2017 21:28:45: [unintelligible] wasn’t prepared for it.
08/24/2017 21:28:51: Do it again. Do it again. I’m ready for it now.
08/24/2017 21:28:56: I don’t think you can hurt me. Please, Lucifer. I wanted to know. I want to really see you. All of you.
Cain feels the cold hand of dread grip him. Lucifer is gone. Without a body, he should be trapped in Hell permanently. Either Chloe has already really gone off the deep end, or somehow Lucifer is communicating with her. Possessing her? He’s not sure how that could work, but his experience is largely confined to the lives (and deaths) of humans, and he isn’t exactly sure what rules angels operate under.
Will he never be free of that smug idiot? Cain spent his entire time in L.A. confounded by him at every turn. That handsome, charming face seemingly endlessly amused by Cain’s suffering. Even when they were allies, they were always at odds. And now, when he thought he finally had Chloe to himself, here Lucifer is, effortlessly commanding her attention, when she’s meant to be thinking about him.
His dread simmers away on the heat of his rage, sublimating into a familiar intense, noxious jealousy. Chloe is his. Lucifer has a million lifetimes ahead of him to find happiness; Cain has only a tiny and dwindling number of years left in his life. He deserves her, after all he’s been through. He folds the transcripts and shoves them into his jacket pocket for later scrutiny.
Kotwal walks back into the room, nursing a fresh cup of coffee. When Cain turns to look at him, he flinches backwards, spilling coffee onto the floor. Cain carefully schools whatever expression is on his face into his habitual bland mask, and Kotwal seems to relax a little.
“I want transcripts in my hands twice daily,” Cain says.
“I thought you wanted me to spend my time working on the Nortes Cartel surveillance—”
“Do as you’re instructed,” Cain grits out.
Kotwal quails and nods.
As Cain is halfway out the door, another thought strikes him. “Oh, and disable the light cycle in her cell. Leave them on. I want to be able to see what’s going on in there.”
For a while after the Rat Incident, as Chloe terms it privately, she and Lucifer stay out of each other’s heads. Chloe is cautious of crossing boundaries into memories Lucifer would rather keep private, and Lucifer, she suspects, is cautious of showing her something that would scare her away irretrievably. But the boredom soon begins to wear on her again and eventually she breaks down and asks him for more.
Today, Lucifer shows her a memory of spending a solid week somewhere deep in the Pyrenees, some time before the advent of metal tools, learning how to play a complex game involving an inflated sheep’s bladder.
The young shepherd who’s teaching him is an exceptionally handsome man with long, curly brown hair and green eyes and his remembered thoughts make it very clear why Lucifer showed this sudden appreciation for sports. They’ve just won a match, and Lucifer is clasping the man in a tight, sweaty celebratory embrace that’s veering towards X-rated when Chloe suddenly hears something new in the physical world. She gives him a gentle mental push and he withdraws.
“Do you hear that?” She’s still breathing a little heavily with remembered exertion and lust, as she stands, walking over to the door and listening carefully. There are steps coming down the hall, and male voices, more than the two or three she might expect from Cain and his men.
Lucifer’s presence brushes against her mind like an absent touch on the shoulder before he’s gone. A few minutes later he returns.
It’s like Goon Central Station out there, Detective! You have some new neighbors, several of them. They seem to be moving in for the long haul, too.
“Hey!” Chloe shouts, pounding on the door. “Hey, I’m a prisoner in here! Help!”
An unfamiliar man puts his face curiously up to the window in her door and gives her a cruel leer when her spots her on the other side. She draws back, disgusted.
They’re all Cain’s men, it would seem, Lucifer reports grimly after leaving for a few more minutes to listen in on their conversation. Apparently, they’re gathering forces here for some reason or another. As defense against an attack, I suppose.
Chloe feels a vague sense of unease about what this unspecified threat to Cain’s operation is, but at the same time a hundred new doors of possibility open up. Cain has other priorities. This house is meant to be a bunker. A last stand against some unknown third party, maybe. If that third party were to win...
The day drags on. And on. And on. Eventually Chloe realizes her lights just aren’t going to turn off that night. She hates it. Especially because Cain’s men keep curiously stopping to peer into her room, occasionally calling out something crude at her or tapping on the glass. She feels like an animal in a zoo now, in addition to being a prisoner.
Lucifer is practically vibrating with rage on her behalf. When he tries to reach out to her, she jerks away with a yelp at the violence of it. He leaves the room for a while, ostensibly to calm down, but returns even more keyed up.
That weedy fellow in the surveillance room down the hall is transcribing recordings of you! he exclaims, affronted.
She lifts her pillow from on top of her head, where she’s attempting to use it to shut out the relentless fluorescent light. “So what?”
It’s a violation, Detective! An intrusion on your privacy! On our privacy! Who knows what Cain has already read?
“This whole thing is a violation!” she screams, frustrated, throwing her pillow across the room. “I have...nothing. I don’t have my freedom, I don’t have my daughter. I don’t have sunlight or fresh air. I don’t have privacy or dignity or clothes that don’t smell like bleach or a fucking private bathroom to take a shit in!” She resents the helpless tears streaming down her face and wipes them away angrily.
You have me, Detective, he says in a small voice.
She draws in a shuddering breath, then lets it out, looking down at her hands, clenched in the fabric of her pants.
“Yes, I have you, Lucifer. But I can’t see you or touch you, and you can’t do anything to help me get out of here.”
Not yet, but I may yet be able to help. Something is coming. Whatever it is that Cain is preparing for.
“And what about after? If I do escape? You and I are going to...what? Show up at crime scenes as Detective Decker and her ghost consultant? Insisting that I’m channeling my dead partner like a crime-solving medium?”
He has nothing to say in response. She knows he wants to protest but finds, of course, that he can’t lie. There is no comforting deception he can offer her. If he saw a way in which he would ever be able to be the man he once was again, he would tell her. She stands and retrieves her pillow from the other side of the room, pulling it and her blanket over her head.
It’s a long time before sleep takes her.
The isolation was bad, but Chloe thinks the continuous light is worse. It’s compounded by the fact that Cain’s men seem to sleep in shifts, so there’s always someone walking around or talking too loud or peering in her window, no matter the time of day. She only manages to mark time by her meals, still delivered by Shorty without fail. Her sleep schedule, already erratic, loses all structure. She gets what rest she can in fits and starts, always waking, disoriented, to the same bright light, uncertain how much time has passed.
Often what sleep she can manage to catch is marked by confusing almost-dreams, too scattered and close to the surface of her consciousness for Lucifer to be able to redirect into something peaceful. As her state worsens, she can feel his anxiety and helpless frustration growing. She doesn’t have a mirror, but she thinks she must look as awful as she feels.
May I try something? Lucifer asks meekly on the fourth day. She’s bundled in her blanket with it thrown over her head, eyes screwed shut, although the loosely woven fabric allows pins of light to stab through.
“What?” she mumbles.
Just...bear with me.
His spirit (life force, whatever it is) presses against her in a way that’s familiar now, but rather than just connecting at one point, she feels him against the entire back of her body, a rippling, glowing warmth heating her from the inside. It feels...nice, but it isn’t quite relaxing. Along with the warmth comes a kind of intense, potential energy that makes her want to leap out of bed and run around the room to expend it.
“I don’t think this is going to help me sleep,” she says, her foot already starting to bounce antsily.
Hold your horses, he grouses, then he’s silent for a moment, and she can feel his focus sharpening.
Then his energy does something. It ripples down her in a rolling wave, all the way from her neck to her heels. The peak of the wave is intense warmth and tensing energy, and the trough that passes behind it is cool, complete relaxation. Unbidden, a nearly pornographic pleased moan escapes her. She claps a hand over her mouth. This close to him, she can feel Lucifer’s smug reaction like it’s her own.
“Can you do that again?” she requests, happy to find her voice comes out steady.
He does it again, slower this time, and by the time the wave is leaving the tips of her toes she feels like she’s melted into the thin mattress of her cot. He seems heartened by her reaction and extends his reach, wrapping around her entirely and repeating the action, then repeating it again. Her mouth opens in a quiet groan of bliss, pressed against her pillow.
Lucifer’s self-satisfied glee gradually falls away and is replaced by something darker and more intense—a driven, focused thing. There’s a pregnant pause. She senses he wants to say something for several long moments before he finally does.
If you want to touch yourself, you can. There’s an impulse of energy along the back of her right arm. He’s not moving her, really, but indicating that she could move.
“Do you want me to?” she whispers. The whole-body sensation hadn’t been sexual, per se, but now that she’s thinking about it, or maybe now that he’s thinking about it, the pleasure focuses and intensifies between her legs.
Yes, he says, and the longing packed into that word blazes through her like a wildfire.
She slides her hand from where it was lodged under her pillow down her neck, grazing her peaked nipples, skimming her abdomen, and under the waistband of her scrubs. The sensation of his energy intensifies on the back of her hand and she strokes herself through the thin fabric of her underwear. She gasps, her skin hypersensitized after his internal massage. She imagines his hand on hers, guiding her fingers back and forth slowly. Imagines the disembodied energy vibrating with excitement inside her is his body pressed in a long, hot line against her back, his lips open and panting against the nape of her neck.
“Lucifer,” she whimpers.
I’m here, he replies immediately. I’m here, I’m here, I’m here.
“Talk to me,” she gasps. “Tell me what to do.”
He makes a wordless noise of delight, like a starving man presented with a kingly feast, not sure which delicacy to avail himself of first.
Your breasts, he says in a rush. Touch them.
Here in the half light of her blanket cocoon, the harsh realities of the room around them fall away. It’s like the two of them are floating together in a void, a space all their own where no one else can reach them. Not Cain, not her guards, not the leering strangers outside the door. She brings her free hand under her shirt and slides it up to her breast, massaging it slowly, then scraping one fingernail lightly against the hard nipple.
Now the other.
She obeys, imagining his large hands, his long, dextrous fingers. His arms wrapped around her, skin-to-skin, a fine sheen of sweat making them stutter and catch as they slide against her. Her breath shudders out of her, quickening.
Put your hand inside your panties.
She moves the fingers that have been aimlessly stroking herself through her damp underwear and brings them inside, threading through her pubic hair and sliding into her folds. Lucifer’s heat shudders inside her, focusing down towards her fingers, and she feels that restless energy take them, spurring her to move. They twitch almost convulsively and she gasps as they swipe against her clit. It’s almost—almost—as if he’s touching her himself.
His commands begin to come in quick succession, each following close on the heels of the one before it. She obeys without thinking, entering a flow of pleasure that she thinks must be at least a shadow of what it’s like to be with him in the flesh.
Put a finger inside yourself, and your thumb on your clit, yes. Now another. Faster. Pinch your nipple. Twist it just a bit. Again. Good girl. Taste your fingers, for me. Please. Oh, darling. Back inside now. Faster. Just there, press a bit. Faster.
She writhes, losing all sense of where she is, a soft keening sound struggling out of her throat as her peak approaches. Her fingers are working desperately between her legs now, her other hand kneading her breast. Body or no, she thinks Lucifer is right there with her, surfing the wave of her pleasure. He’s so deep inside her she can’t separate her thoughts from his anymore. As soon as he has an impulse, she follows it. His desire is hers, and it’s all-consuming, all-encompassing. That massive tapestry that makes up his soul, all his pain, all his joy, all his longing, the magnificent beauty of him—engulfing her.
“Lucifer, please,” she whimpers, when she nears the edge. She writhes desperately, ecstasy trying to claw its way out of her. She can tell he’s holding her back, attempting to draw it out. “I need—please.”
Yes, Chloe. His love trembles through her like an earthquake, overwhelming and transcendent and brighter than sunlight, and pleasure takes her.
In the afterglow, she feels his longing sigh as if it’s her own. Actually, she realizes, it is.
“I had hoped our first time would have more of me in it,” he says through her mouth. “But haunters can’t be choosers, I suppose.”
A sudden headache blooms behind her brow, and she makes a noise of discomfort.
She feels a surge of terror that’s not her own, and then he’s gone, and she’s alone in her body. She feels cold and small without him.
“Lucifer?” she asks, sitting up. “What’s wrong?”
There’s no response for a long time, and she starts to panic. What happened? Was it something she did? Why would he leave after that?
“Lucifer?” she repeats, panic rising in her voice.
And then the tiniest tendril of thought connects to her again. Apologies, Detective. That was a mistake. Are you all right? Any pain?
She realizes the headache disappeared as soon as he had. “No. Why?”
We probably should not do that again, he says stiffly.
“Why?” she presses.
My previous attempts at possession ended...badly.
“You tried to possess people? Wait—you were possessing me?”
“Tried” is a strong word. It’s hard not to when there’s a dead body about.
“But I’m not dead.”
No, so it’s easy to avoid it with you, most of the time. But when you’re so, well, willing...
She shudders. She hadn’t really thought of it as possession, but when she imagines Lucifer operating her like a puppet it makes her skin crawl a little.
“You’re right, we shouldn’t do it again,” she agrees, but can’t help but feel a little disappointed.
They don’t talk for a long time. She feels further away from him than she has since he arrived. The sleep she’s been chasing remains beyond her grasp.
It’s just his luck that the first time he’s in a position to make the Detective come he’s bodiless, and beyond that, apparently a hair’s breadth away from killing her. He wants to roar and punch something. The fact that he can do neither just makes the frustration worse.
But oh, was she beautiful in the grips of rapture! Both inside and out. Even knowing the consequences, he aches to do it again, to feel her pleasure from within, knowing it’s because of him.
She’s finally fallen into an exhausted sleep under her blankets, and he hopes she’ll get more than a few hours this time. The men in the surrounding rooms get into heated arguments about something or other every hour or so, it seems like, and the raised voices invariably wake her.
This time, though, it’s not them—it’s Cain.
He’s heralded only by the quiet beeping of the lock on the door disengaging before he bursts into the room. Chloe jerks awake and sits up as quickly as she can, disoriented. Cain slams the door shut behind him and paces back and forth in the small space, a few pieces of paper clutched in his fist. Lucifer’s never seen him so worked up. Even in his most furious moments, the man tends to stay immobile and collected.
“What’s going on?” Chloe asks groggily.
Cain stops abruptly, turns to one of the security cameras in the ceiling, and growls, “Stop recording, and go upstairs.”
“What are you doing?” she prompts him again, shaking off sleep and peering at him with her detective’s focus.
But instead of looking at her, he addresses the air. “You think you can make a fool of me?” he shouts. “I won. I’m here, in the flesh! She’s mine!”
Chloe scoffs in disbelief but edges as far away from Cain as she can get, regardless, her back pressed against the wall.
“Who are you talking to?” she asks.
Cain rounds on her. “Who are you talking to, Chloe?”
“No one. Myself, I guess. I’m alone; I have nothing else to do.”
Cain shoves the crumpled papers he’s holding into her face. She takes them cautiously. “This isn’t how people talk to themselves.”
Lucifer peers at them, but he already knows what they are—a one-sided transcript of their conversation, of him pleasuring her. Documentation of his particular cadences coming out of her mouth. Chloe glances down at them before looking back up at Cain defiantly.
He’s sorely tempted to taunt Cain, to whisper into his mind all the things he and the detective have shared, the fact that she’s seen the worst of him and hasn’t turned away—but he realizes with a bolt of fear how easily it could backfire. Cain can’t do anything to him, but he can do whatever he wants to Chloe. And Lucifer wouldn’t be able to do a thing to stop him.
Except...maybe he can. Maybe the answer to this whole mess has been staring him in the face all the while. He detaches himself Chloe and he sees it register the tiniest bit on her face, her eyes flicking back and forth in a subtle, searching gesture. Then he tentatively reaches out and grasps Cain. There’s a moment of extreme turbulence and disorientation as they touch, but he gets his bearings quickly enough. The man’s mind is disturbingly familiar, churning with anger and pain and resentment, weighed down with untold centuries of baggage. It’s like looking at himself in a funhouse mirror.
Cain jerks and looks around in alarm. “Lucifer? What—what is this? What are you doing?”
Then Lucifer tries to do exactly what he did with Chloe, pushing into him, pouring himself into Cain’s body and mind. With Chloe it was easy, though. She made room for him, welcomed him, wanted him. With Cain’s it’s like trying to close and overstuffed suitcase, or like anal sex without lubrication. It’s a painful, loathsome thing. He immediately wants to stop, but he thinks of Chloe’s suffering, of the fact that this might free her, and persists.
Through Cain’s eyes, he catches a glimpse of Chloe watching them, half-standing from the bed, her face conflicted between horror and hope.
Cain stumbles backwards, struggling. Lucifer can feel him rifling through his own mind, wrestling with him, looking for weaknesses. He gets control of Cain’s arm for a moment, then one leg, then his head, jerking him back and forth like a deranged marionette. It’s painful—for both of them, he suspects—muscles twitching and jerking under the commands of two separate masters.
“Stop!” Chloe shouts, in the tone she uses when commanding a criminal to put their hands up at gunpoint.
Lucifer sighs inwardly, then relents, and Cain immediately shoves him out of his body. There’s a pregnant silence. Cain’s sweaty and panting, eyes darting around warily, hands raised as if ready to fend him off. When no further attack seems imminent, he lowers his hands slowly, staring at Chloe with a puzzled frown.
Chloe seems conflicted, uncertain of herself. She sits back down on the cot and puts her head in her hands.
Detective, why did you stop me? I could have—
“It’s not—” she starts. “I can’t let you do that. Even to him. Not after everything else you’ve—”
She bites off the end of her sentence, looking down resolutely. He’s not sure he wants to hear the end of it anyway.
Cain looks at her for a long time, something softening subtly in his expression, before wordlessly turning and leaving the room.
In his fiftieth year of wandering, Cain comes to settle in a moderately sized village somewhere north of the great central sea. He barters for a room above an inn owned and operated by a handsome, middle-aged woman who makes her living on her back. She and Cain occasionally fuck, but mostly they just enjoy each other’s company. Neither of them has much time for frivolity, and they can happily spend an entire night in companionable silence, staring into the flames of her hearth. He’s much older than her, probably near eighty-five by now, but he looks younger. He’s long since realized he’ll never look older than he did the day he killed his brother.
He catches her staring at him a little longingly sometimes. He studiously pretends not to notice. To return her gaze, even when he wants to, would be cruel to both of them. A transaction, a temporary companionship, is all this can be.
In his two-hundred and third year of wandering, a woman not older than twenty running full-tilt away from two scimitar-wielding city guards collides with him in a market in Tunis.
“Hide me,” she hisses, wide-eyed, and he pushes her between his broad form and the narrow alleyway behind him.
The guards pass, looking back and forth and muttering to themselves.
“My deepest gratitude,” the woman says, tucking an ornate gilt bracelet into her pocket and tilting her head up to look at him. Her green eyes are luminous, kohl-lined and beautiful, and she takes Cain’s breath away.
“What’s your name?” he asks, enchanted.
Her name is Allatu and their affair is brilliant and brief, and although Cain thinks he’ll never tire of her, when she asks coyly one day if he plans to make an honest woman of her, an image of him holding her wrinkled, aged corpse while he remains unchanged strikes terror through him. He leaves the next morning and never looks back, although the memory of her lips haunts him for decades, until he’s sure she must be dead.
In his three thousand, eight hundred, and seventy-seventh year of wandering, Cain is a magistrate in the city of Ninua. One day a respectable widow named Innana comes before him. She claims that her neighbors are attempting to ruin her dead husband’s business and drive her out of town because they believe that as a woman, she is an easy target.
Cain knows the truth; his own men have been working to drive her out of town because her shop is in the ideal location for a gambling house he wants to open. But something about her stern manner, rigidly careful posture, and the righteous anger in her eyes makes him generous, and he promises he will have the offenders punished.
Weeks later he goes to her shop to verify that her harassers are no more and that she feels secure once again. Her shop, which he had never bothered to visit before ordering it to be shut down, is astounding. She makes the most exquisite pottery he’s ever seen, stamped and painted ornately. No one attends him when he enters, so he follows a whirring noise to the back where she is in the midst of throwing a vase, her foot kicking steadily at the wheel while her hands smoothly and gently draw the delicate lip of the vessel outwards.
He waits politely until she finishes, lifting the vase off the wheel and setting it next to several others like it on a shelf to dry.
“Your work is exceptional,” he says.
She smiles at him, proudly, teeth straight and white and brown eyes sparkling. “How can I help you, my lord?”
It feels a little strange on his face, but for some reason he finds himself smiling back.
They are together for ten years, and she never asks him for anything he’s not willing to share. But he finds himself softening the sentences he gives to the criminals who come before him, only pursuing side businesses that better the state of the city, thinking of her face and imagining her disappointment in him. She sees him as a just, benevolent man, and so a just, benevolent man he will be.
One day an assassin sent by a political rival cuts his throat in the street, right in front of her. He wakes slightly before his embalming is to begin, to the horror of his embalmer, and considers returning to her. But he knows she’s not the kind of woman who would happily and unquestioningly accept her dead husband back into her home and her bed.
His power in the city has weakened, and his attempted murder is only further evidence of it. Perhaps, he decides, it’s time to move on. He watches her from afar in the market. She’s veiled in mourning colors as she sells her beautiful pottery to admiring customers. He waits for her to turn his way, to catch a glimpse of him, for a long time. Her eyes will widen in surprise and joy, he imagines. She’ll run to him, embrace him, and kiss him, weeping. She’ll draw him back to the home they’ve shared for a decade and he’ll tell her the truth, all of it. It will be hard for her to understand at first, but she’ll come to accept it, pragmatic as always. Will love him despite it all, despite even the dark legends that have begun to form around his true name.
She doesn’t look in his direction. He lingers a moment more before pulling a hood over his head and turning to leave.
His heart hardens and shrivels, and his loves come fewer and farther between. By the time he meets Detective Chloe Decker, he has long since decided that love isn’t worth the pain of ending it. And he always ends it, eventually.
Two days after their argument, Cain goes to see Chloe again. She looks up wearily at him as he steps through the door, and his hard and ancient heart lurches unpleasantly. Her face is even gaunter, and her eyes are ringed with dark shadows. She looks like a pale facsimile of her normal self, exhausted and beaten. Which, he supposes, was partly his intent. But inflicting tortures he’s borne a hundred times on her fails to satisfy his anger. Instead, he wants to go to her and comfort her, to hold her in his arms.
He opens and closes his mouth a few times, but finds he has nothing to say to excuse his behavior. Instead he looks down at the floor. Now that he knows Lucifer is here, he can almost feel his presence, his hatred, pulsing in the air along with hers. They’re aligned now, he realizes, allied. They have been ever since Chloe ended the engagement.
“Come on,” he says quietly, holding the door open for her.
He leads her outside again. It’s night, and it seems to surprise her. No shackles this time. The endless, black expanse of the cold desert is disincentive enough, he decides. She’s smart enough to know that she wouldn’t last out there for even a day without supplies or shelter. She shivers, her fingers clutching at her too-thin arms, and he takes off his jacket and drapes it over her shoulders.
“I’ve been thinking,” he says as they pick their way carefully across the rocky ground, further and further away from the oasis of light that is the house.
There’s a beat, and then she snorts.
“What did he say?” he asks. She looks at him innocently. “Lucifer,” he clarifies.
She stares at him for a moment like a deer in headlights. “Oh, uh, he said ‘That’s a first.’”
Cain doesn’t smile. “Very funny. I’ve been thinking that I’ve been going about this wrong.”
They arrive at a large, flat rock at the top of a ridge and Cain sits down on it, gesturing for her to sit beside him.
“We know each other too well to pretend this is anything but what it is. I can’t lie to myself that keeping you here will change your mind; you’re too strong for that. So I’ll be frank. I’ve done terrible things, but I love you. Surely that must be worth something. ”
He takes her cold hands in his. Here, lit only by moonlight, she is sharply beautiful. Her eyes are luminous as they look up at him, his serious girl with hair like wheat. He remembers another dark, moonlit night. Another moment of anxiety and longing.
“I’ll do anything you want,” he murmurs. “If it means you’ll give me a chance.”
“I want you to let me go,” she whispers, tears shimmering in her eyes.
“All right,” he says simply.
“I’ll let you go.” His heart aches at the thought, at imagining her walking away from him. Imagining never seeing her again. It’s a gamble. Hell if it isn’t the biggest gamble he’s ever made. But if she can forgive Lucifer, if she can believe in his redemption, why couldn’t she forgive him?
He turns his eyes to the east, as if he could see the future coming if he looked hard enough. “I can’t leave now, and I can’t afford to send you with any of my men. It’s too dangerous. My enemies are circling. But after.”
He can see the wheels turning in her head, brow furrowed. “Okay,” she says eventually.
He lifts one hand to her cheek and gently tilts her head towards him. She looks up at him warily, and he slowly leans down and presses his lips to hers. She is motionless against him, but it’s sweet, it’s so sweet.
Then suddenly something powerful forces him backwards. Not like being manipulated from within, as with Lucifer’s attempted possession before, but like something shoved him. He catches himself before he falls backwards off of the rock.
Chloe is staring into the air beside them, astounded.
“What was that?” she asks. Cain understands immediately she’s not asking him. She cocks her head, listening, then her eyes slide back to him.
“What does he have to say?” Cain asks roughly.
Chloe sighs. “He thinks you’re lying. He thinks you’re manipulating me.”
Cain raises his eyebrows and sighs, picking himself up off the ground. “There’s nothing I can do to prove it to you. You’ll have to take my word for now.”
He offers a hand to her and she takes it. “It won’t be long now, anyway.”
“What did you do?” Chloe hisses once the cell door has closed behind her again.
Do you know...I’m not sure.
Lucifer focuses on himself, something he’s been loath to do since his death. The loss of his body is still quite a sore spot and thinking too much about an eternity without the pleasures of the flesh puts him in a bad mood. He peers carefully into the loose amalgamation of energy that comprises his soul and finds...something else.
Detective, he says, awed. I appear to be acquiring some molecules!
“What?” She searches the air as if she’ll be able to see him if she looks hard enough.
Oh, just a few billion, hardly anything to write home about, but it’s quite a development!
He focuses on shifting them all into one small area and pushes them into the Detective’s shoulder.
“Ow!” she exclaims, rubbing the spot, a slow smile spreading over her face. “Did you just poke me?”
If he had a face he’d be grinning. Mm-hmm!
“What does it mean?”
I can’t say. Could just be I’m picking up stray bits of cosmic dust, like a staticky nylon shirt attracts lint.
“Or?” she presses.
He’s worried voicing it will jinx it. If jinxes were a thing. Which they aren’t. Or my body is re-forming.
She puts her hands over her mouth, looking much like he feels. He draws his tiny, cherished bit of corporeality down her cheek in the closest thing he can manage to a caress. She closes her eyes tightly and twin tears squeeze out of them.
“You know, I was still half-convinced I’d gone completely insane,” she says.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, darling. You may still be completely insane. You’re talking to a tiny speck of hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon at the moment.
She laughs wetly. For a brief, shining moment, the future is bright.
Chapter 8: 🌅 Sundown
Kotwal is on day nine of transcribing the deranged one-sided conversations of the boss’s strange, angry captive when he notices movement out of the corner of his eye. The huge garage door on the Nortes’ warehouse, which has stayed tightly shut for nearly three months, begins to slowly slide open. It disgorges a parade of dark vans and a few pickup trucks, each packed with men. They drive in an evenly regimented line out of the building, and then they turn north.
He gasps, yanking off his headphones and snatching his cell phone, hitting the single number configured on speed dial.
“Boss, we have vehicles incoming from Mexicali. ETA an hour forty-five.”
“Understood. Have the men prepare.” Cain hangs up the phone.
He sighs, sitting in an arthritic ladder-backed chair in the bedroom of the little, timeworn house in which he’s decided to take what may be his last stand, and looks out the dusty window at the massive desert expanse beyond. Life is a series of maybe-lasts now. Every morning may be his last. Every night. He’s died by murder, by accident, by combat, by torture, twice by the bubonic plague alone—but since the first time he’s never thought it would be the last time.
His neatly-made, undisturbed bed is strewn with rumpled papers. Sheets and sheets of neat lines, timestamped and organized, documenting his failure. He can read her love in every phrase, in every indecipherable murmur, love for someone else. Forgiveness for a creature beyond her understanding, like him but unlike him too. She never loved him, not really. He was a tool, a symbol for her. A means of proving a point. And while he cracked his stone heart open for her, brought himself low, made himself weak, she stood apart from him, above him. Withheld the one part of her that mattered.
He wishes to a mocking God that he could bring himself to hate her, to not want her anymore. As ever, his pleas are answered by nothing but silence.
He hadn’t known what exactly he wanted from her the other evening in the desert, what he hoped to accomplish by promising to free her. Maybe it was something as simple as to have her look at him with anything other than disgust and hatred. It had felt...good. Nothing he’d done in the past month had made him feel that. Maybe it was as simple as selfishness.
He stands and watches the golden sunset light filter through dust motes in the air. It’s something he’s seen millions of times before, and yet he can’t remember the last time he really contemplated the beauty of it. If this is his last sunset, he’s glad he stopped to notice it. So much of his life has been cruel and ugly. The world seems much more beautiful when he knows there’s a clock somewhere finally counting down once again.
He pulls on a kevlar vest and checks the clip in his handgun. If this is the last sunset, he ought to make it count.
The windows on the ground floor are 3-inch bulletproof glass that open just a scant few inches to allow a barrel of a gun to stick out. Cain has a man with a rifle at each window. Outside, under cover of stones and brush, the bulk of his men lie in wait, weapons of choice at the ready. They’re brutal, and loyal by necessity. Every one of them has something they value more than their very lives held in the balance. A loved one. A distant family member. A crushing gambling debt. A dark secret. A crime gone unpunished. Cain knows all of them will kill for the favor he’s willing to grant, if he survives. That kind of certainty can’t be bought.
How the Nortes Cartel ended up locating him is a mystery. He suspects he must have had a rat somewhere along the line in the process of securing and occupying this safe house. Distracted by Chloe and Lucifer, and certain that his long-awaited death was imminent, he’d started to let things slip. His hold on his organization, on the tenuous web of favors that held it aloft, had weakened. This whole mess was the result of his weakness. If he makes it through this, it’s a mistake he cannot afford to make again.
A distant line of dust in the air begins to creep over the horizon, backlit by the setting sun. Soon, the small black shapes of vehicles appear beneath it, one after the other. They shimmer above the surface of the desert, still hot with the day’s sun, seeming to float without touching the gravel road.
Then the vehicles are upon them, and they’re all too real. He counts seven, each probably containing at least four men. His force is smaller, but they have the cover of the house and a respectable arsenal. It will be a close fight, he judges.
The lead car stops, and the others follow suit, fanning out behind it. The front door of the lead car opens, and out steps Gustavo Ruiz, second-in-command of the Nortes Cartel. He eyes Cain’s men, peering at him from cover, guns aimed and at the ready, with disdain.
“Señor Pecador,” he calls mockingly, spreading his arms. “I’ve come to have a word with you.”
Cain exits the house and walks slowly down the steps of the porch. “I can see that. But you’ve brought a few too many friends with you for a personal chat.”
Ruiz’s eyes narrow and fix on his. “You took Norte territory when you brought your operation to California. I’m here to politely ask you to give it back. One time offer.”
Cain doesn’t even pretend to consider. If he shows weakness and agrees, he’s signed his own death warrant. The Cartel can’t be seen showing mercy to a man who thumbed his nose at them so blatantly, even one that’s backed down. He’d just be postponing the inevitable. At least here—now—he knows where the threat is.
“Sorry, have to refuse,” Cain replies.
Ruiz shrugs. “So be it.”
They each turn and head back to their respective cover. There is a pregnant silence. It would be a cliché for a tumbleweed to roll across the empty desert between them, but one actually does.
And then all Hell breaks loose.
The sound of gunfire isn’t loud enough penetrate Chloe’s cell, but Lucifer tells her when it begins. A couple of hours earlier, there had been a commotion outside as all of Cain’s men, including Baldy and Shorty, had hurried from their barracks, picking up guns and ammunition and body armor on their way out. Since then it’s been dead silent in the basement.
“You know,” Chloe says grimly. “If Cain and his men die, no one will know the passcode for my door. I’ll probably starve to death in here.”
You most certainly will not, Lucifer growls. I won’t allow it.
She turns to listen at the sound of distant shouting. And now the percussive sound of many, many gunshots. It doesn’t seem like anyone is in the basement yet, but perhaps the door is open. Chloe feels her heart rate pick up. She can’t imagine it’s the LAPD storming the house, probably one of Cain’s criminal rivals, but it could mean her freedom, finally.
People are dying, Lucifer intones grimly, and she can feel him struggling to stay with her. He tethers himself to her more firmly, voice waving in and out as he works to avoid the pull of the recently deceased.
Suddenly, there’s a loud boom. Beneath the ground, they can feel it more than hear it, a vibration that rattles the fixtures and makes dust rain from the ceiling. A second later, the lights go out. Has whatever force is attacking cut the power? In the pitch blackness, Chloe is blind. But gradually her eyes adjust and the first thing she makes out is a faintly glowing, shimmering form beside her, a subtly luminescent silhouette against the blackness. Then it turns, and with two red eyes like the last dying embers in a fire, looks at her.
Then the backup generators kick in and the room is doused in the harsh glare of the emergency lights. There is a beep and a click nearby. Chloe is alone in the room again.
“Lucifer, is that you?” she whispers in the direction of the shape.
“I think I...I think I saw you.”
Her attention is caught, however, by the sight of her cell’s door. It’s cracked open. She rushes over to it, clasps the handle, and pulls—and it swings open, easy as that. On the other side, the LED display above the keypad flashes “00000.”
“It must have unlocked when the power went out,” she gasps. This all feels too easy. Way too easy. The gunshots are drawing nearer. She hears some near the top of the stairs.
She peeks her head around the door. The hallway is lit by a single narrow flood light at the far end, casting long shadows down towards her door at the opposite end. She hears heavy booted footsteps on the staircase, and ducks back into her cell, leaving the door ajar. She casts about for something, anything, to defend herself with. The most dangerous thing she has is the hardcover of The Philosophy of David Hume, so she grabs that and hides behind the door.
The footsteps are drawing nearer, reaching the foot of the stairs and walking slowly down the hallway. From behind the door, Chloe adjusts her grip on Hume, feeling naked without a real weapon.
Excuse me for a moment, Detective, Lucifer murmurs.
“Wait, you’re leaving? Now?” she hisses at the empty air. There is no reply. He’s gone.
There are voices now. More than one person, maybe three. She hears murmured commands in Spanish. The barrel of an assault rifle appears past the edge of the door, followed by the hands holding it, then the body of a muscular, heavily tattooed man with close-cropped hair. Chloe raises the heavy textbook and brings it down with all her strength onto his head.
The man reels back, stunned, but doesn’t fall. There’s shouting in the hallway, then an inhuman snarl. The shouting turns rapidly to screams, and the man Chloe hit turns from dazed to horrified as he watches what’s happening behind him in the hallway. He backs slowly into the room, eyes fixed on something in the hallway. Then a large, black shape launches itself through the air and takes him by the neck, bringing him down to the floor.
He screams as the beast rips at his throat, shaking him viciously. He punches the dark, furry shape. Chloe takes advantage of the distraction and hits him again with the book, the strike driving his head into the concrete floor with significant force. He falls limp with a groan.
When the man finally stills, Chloe gets a good look at the beast, which turns out to be nothing more than a normal German shepherd, now sitting placidly next to its prey and watching her, ears alert, blood dripping from its jaws, and tail thumping happily against the floor. She peeks around the door to behold the carnage in the hallway. It looks more like the work of a tiger than a single dog. Two more men are lying on the floor, one groaning and nursing a mangled arm, while something unpleasant seems to have befallen the genitals of the other. He’s silent and white-faced, clutching his groin.
Chloe crouches down to get a closer look at the dog, and it edges forward, nudging her hand with its long snout, ears flattened and head lowered to receive pets. She strokes it tentatively, running her fingers through the dog’s short, glossy fur. It closes its eerily human brown eyes and lets out a big sigh of pleasure.
“Lucifer…?” She whispers.
The dog looks up at her and winks.
She wraps her arms around it and buries her face in the soft fur of its neck. After a few moments, though, the dog emits a pained whimper and begins to squirm wildly in her grasp. She releases it and it casts her a wide-eyed—almost apologetic—look before sprinting away down the hallway.
“What the—Lucifer!” she calls after it. “Come on!”
She throws Hume to the floor with a frustrated sigh and lifts the rifle out of the limp hands of the unconscious man in front of her, checking the magazine (twelve rounds left) before walking free.
The dog he’s possessing meets its untimely—and exceptionally painful—second end on the rocky ground in front of the house. All of the doors are open, thank Dad, meaning Chloe now has at least one weapon and the ability to escape. All she has to do is get past the remaining pockets of resistance and take one of the vehicles. And deal with Cain. Lucifer didn’t see him on the way up, but he must be there somewhere. If there’s one person he’d trust to be the last man standing in a fight like this, it’s that walking pile of excrement.
From the horrified looks of some of the men nearest him, the ones who watched their attack dog rise from the dead and run away, the sight of its body’s death throes might be enough to put them off a life of crime entirely. Several cross themselves and hurry to get into the dark SUV nearest them.
The last thing he sees before he dies once again is a squad of five men moving towards the open front door.
He’s spit out into the twisting paths of Hell this time rather than directly into his loop, as if Hell is unsure where to put him. As if he’s unsure where to put himself.
He spreads his wings and takes off towards the rift yet again. This time, it feels easier, somehow. He’s lighter, like a great burden has been removed, like there’s something waiting for him on the other side, calling him onward.
It feels good to be able to fall back on the muscle memory of her police training. Chloe moves methodically from cell to cell, clearing rooms. All of them are empty, but the glimpses of the lives and habits of Cain’s men that they give her make her glad none of them ever made it past the door of her cell.
Halfway through the rooms, she hears footsteps in the hall, louder than the distant sound of gunfire, and steps rapidly out the door of the cell and back into it, rifle ready to fire.
It’s Cain. He’s blood-spattered and disheveled, but she gets the distinct impression that none of the blood is his own. His expression is as calm as ever. He raises his hands in surrender, a half smile on his face. There’s a handgun in his right hand, currently pointed towards the ceiling.
“You got out. Good,” he says. “I came down here to get you. Apparently, I overplayed my hand. It’s looking like we’ll need to retreat.”
“I don’t need to retreat. This is your fight,” she bites out, still staring at him down the sights of her weapon.
“I’m afraid you do,” he replies. “Los Nortes don’t leave survivors, and they don’t leave witnesses. They aren’t going to care that you’re not one of mine.”
She realizes her hands are shaking. “Give me one good reason not to kill you now.”
“I can help you escape this.”
“I can escape this myself,” she hisses. “You imprisoned me. Tortured me.”
His face spasms with some unidentifiable emotion. He seems to be about to speak when there are voices and rapid footsteps on the staircase. Cain spins and points his weapon towards them. He’s further down the hallway, and they enter his line of vision first. He fires a couple of shots, and then his gun makes the telltale clicking sound of an empty clip. He curses and throws it to the ground, backing up a few steps and ducking into the first cell.
Chloe follows suit, stepping into the third cell.
The footsteps approach, and there’s the sound of yelling, and a struggle, then gunfire. She peeks around the corner to see Cain has incapacitated one man and has another in a stranglehold, using his body as a shield from the other two.
Chloe’s training takes ahold of her, and before she even consciously decides to do it, she squeezes off two shots, taking out two of the three remaining Cartel men. While the remaining one is distracted by her, Cain throws down the man he’s holding and hits the last one standing with a devastating haymaker to the side of the head. He goes down like a ton of bricks. Cain lifts a gun from the hands of one of the men Chloe shot, who’s still groaning and in the process of bleeding out, and coldly dispenses headshots to each of the fallen men. Chloe winces at each loud report in the confined space.
Cain turns back to her, face calm, as if he hasn’t just performed five executions. “I’d like to talk about this more, but first we need to get out of here.”
The muzzle of her rifle, still aimed at him, wavers, then dips to point at the floor. She walks towards him, towards the exit, towards freedom. Cain watches her, a strange half-smile on his face. Then, his eyes shift over her shoulder and fix on something behind her, widening suddenly.
In a rush, he’s shoving her to the side and she’s falling to the floor and there’s the sound of two more shots in quick succession, loud and echoing in the small space. Cain’s weapon rattles to the floor beside her and she looks up to see him stumble heavily against the wall. She scrambles back to her feet, adrenaline pumping through her. It looks like one of the men Lucifer took down hadn’t been quite as incapacitated as she thought. The pistol in his hand is still pointed towards them, but he’s now face-down on the floor, a fresh pool of blood spreading beneath him.
“Deja vu,” Cain chuckles, pulling a bloody hand away from his abdomen and examining his injury. The bullet just barely missed his kevlar. He makes a pained noise.
Chloe’s immediate instinct is to sit him down and apply pressure until an ambulance arrives, but then she remembers there is no ambulance on its way, they’re still in imminent danger, and beyond that she’s not sure she even wants him to survive. But he did just take a bullet for her, again. She waffles, casting an eye towards the rectangle of light at the top of the stairs, then looking back at Cain, barely staying on his feet against the wall. She can still hear the sound of distant shouting and gunfire.
She groans, frustrated at herself, the world, and most of all, Cain, and ungently pulls his arm over her shoulders, taking some of his weight and guiding his unsteady steps towards the staircase.
He turns his pain-clouded but surprisingly lucid eyes towards her as they begin struggling up the long staircase.
“Why are you helping me, Decker?”
“Your guess is as good as mine,” she mutters.
He smiles in that knowing, amused way that used to make her heart rate pick up a little, back when she was just a type-A detective with something to prove and he was her handsome, aloof, accomplished new boss. She doesn’t regret knowing the truth about him, but she does mourn the innocence she lost. She mourns a world where there were no invisible forces acting on her, no gods or demons or monsters. When she wasn’t at the center of some kind of high-stakes dick measuring contest between two near-immortal beings.
She curses him, curses Lucifer, and curses herself in every way she can think of, letting the anger propel her forward, until they pass the final step and emerge into the grim scene upstairs.
It’s a bloodbath. The bright beams of car headlights outside shine through hundreds of bullet holes in the walls of the building, casting cold, dappled shafts of light across the bloodied bodies that litter the floor. A little to the right of her foot, she sees Baldy, shot through the eye. The cartel must have had some serious firepower to cut through the reinforced walls of the building. When Cain said he misjudged them, he wasn’t kidding.
They thread their way through the corpse-laden kitchen. Chloe winces when here and there, necessity forces her to step on a motionless limb. Cain stumbles and nearly falls a few times, and she has to drag him back to his feet. They stop just short of the door, taking cover against the wall. Chloe peers through the window. Outside, Cartel men are walking through the battlefield and dispatching survivors much as Cain did downstairs.
“We have to steal a car,” she says. “We’ll never make it on foot in the open desert.”
She wonders where Lucifer is. He told her his previous possessions had ended badly, but what exactly did that mean? How long would it take him to get back here? She can’t afford to wait. The men outside are moving closer and closer to the house.
“Chloe,” Cain gasps. “They blew a pretty big hole in the southeast corner of the house.” He jerks his head towards the living room. “If you can get out of there, you might be able to flank them and take one of the cars.”
“And you?” She asks brusquely.
“I’ve lived through...way worse than this,” he pants, wincing.
“When you were immortal,” she concludes. Leaving him here is a death sentence. Is she willing to let him die? More to the point, she imagines Lucifer saying, are you willing to let him die thinking he sacrificed himself to save you? Guiltless?
“Come on,” she grunts, grabbing his arm again and heaving him towards the back of the house.
The hole the Cartel made isn’t what she would describe as “pretty big”—the entire back corner of the house is gone. This is clearly where the Cartel forces entered and was probably the beginning of the end for Cain’s prospects. She steps through the rubble, and Cain follows, biting back a noise of pain as he stumbles on a loose brick and falls to one knee. She hauls him back up and they take cover along the nearest wall, still in the house’s shadow. She slides up to the front corner of the house and peeks around it. The car nearest to them is a black SUV, seemingly unoccupied. But it’s a good twenty feet from their location, twenty feet of open ground, fully visible to the men executing survivors a little further away.
“We’ll need a distraction,” Chloe muses.
A distraction, you say?
“Lucifer,” Chloe breathes in relief.
Cain makes a disgruntled noise.
I think I can draw their attention for long enough for you to get to the vehicle, Detective.
“How will I know when?”
Oh, you’ll be able to tell. She can hear the mischievous grin in his voice.
She feels a brief swipe of sensation across her cheek and then he’s gone. She watches the men continue to make their way towards the house, when suddenly the pants of the man furthest away from them fall to the ground, and are jerked forward as if they’ve been caught on the end of a fishing line, so violently that the man falls flat on his back with a startled cry.
His compatriots turn away from where she and Cain are concealed and Chloe knows it's time to move. She runs from cover towards the SUV, but realizes after a few steps that Cain isn’t following. She turns back to see him half-collapsed against the whitewashed siding, eyes screwed shut in pain.
She looks up at the sky, consults her conscience, and turns back to get him, dragging him along with her towards the car. Once they pass the hood, they’re out of the Cartel soldiers’ line of sight again, and she quietly opens the back door, shoving Cain onto the floor inside, before opening the front door and climbing into the driver’s seat. She looks out the windshield to the scene in front of her, where Lucifer continues to wreak havoc on various clothing items. He also is employing eye-poking with what looks to be startling effectiveness.
The keys are still in the ignition, and she sends up a prayer to a God she’s not sure how she feels about given what she knows about Lucifer and turns them. The SUV’s engine roars to life, and the men struggling with Lucifer’s shenanigans turn to look at her. She throws it into reverse and speeds backwards, kicking up a rain of gravel and dust. The men shout indistinctly and, pulling their clothing back into place, run for the other vehicles.
Punch it, Detective! Lucifer says gleefully, back with her again. She speeds out into the pitch black desert, not sure what direction she’s driving but trying to put as much distance between herself and the Cartel soldiers as possible. They’re on her tail sooner than she would have hoped, and she lays into the accelerator.
What is he doing here? Lucifer asks, disgusted, presumably spotting Cain.
“He saved my life tonight, I’m just evening the score.”
The score was already uneven, Detective! He killed me and imprisoned you! Killed Charlotte!
“Yeah, well he’s a criminal and I’m a cop. I’m supposed to be better than him.”
There’s a distant pop-pop of gunfire and she hears a corresponding thunk somewhere behind her in the car. The rear windshield blows out in a shower of glass. She ducks her head and uses everything she knows about evasive driving, hoping one of the vehicles pursuing them will manage to veer into the shallow ditch running along the side of the dirt track she’s following. No such luck.
Something in the dashboard dings and the fuel warning light turns on. One of the bullets must have hit the tank.
You’ll never outrun them, Detective.
“I know,” she says, despairing.
Listen, if you jump I can keep pressing the accelerator for a while. They may not see you. By the time I crash the car or it runs out of gas, they may be far enough away for you to escape on foot.
“Marcus,” Chloe calls. “We’re gonna jump. Follow my lead.”
Lucifer scoffs, but Chloe feels an invisible force take the wheel from her and she clambers over the seat and into the middle row, where Cain is hauling himself onto his hands and knees. She unlatches the door, holds it to prevent the wind from blowing it closed again, and urges Cain upwards.
“Three, two,” she counts, mostly for herself. “One.” She heaves herself out the door, dragging Cain with her and tucks into a ball as much as she can. She loses a grip on him as soon as they hit the ground and rolls painfully for a long time before she comes to a stop, lying in the shallow ditch beside the road. One, two, three Cartel vehicles speed past them, following the red taillights of their SUV as it grows more and more distant.
She lies on her back on the rocky ground, panting heavily, the bright rush of adrenaline still pulsing through her making her giddy. She looks up at the massive, open, glittering desert sky above her and digs her fingers into the dirt beneath her. A disbelieving, hysterical laugh explodes out of her. She’s free.
She lets the laughter exhaust itself, then rolls over onto her belly and army-crawls over to Cain where he lies on his face in the dust.
“Hey,” she prods him. “Are you alive?”
He only groans in reply.
“We have to move.”
He pushes himself laboriously onto his hands and knees and then, with her help, to his feet.
“Why are you doing this, Chloe?” he breathes, voice tight with pain, clutching at his bullet wound with his free hand.
Now that the imminent danger has receded a bit, she allows herself to consider the question. Why is she doing this? She doesn’t owe him anything.
“Because...police don’t just allow people to be murdered, even if they’re criminals,” she concludes. She’s not sure if it’s completely right, but it’s as good an answer as any. “And because you decided to let me go.”
She thinks about his genuine, hopeful expression when he knelt on the floor in front of her, ring in hand, what seems like a lifetime ago. “And because I used you, too,” she adds quietly.
Distantly, she hears a squeal of tires and a crash. She can just barely make out the glow of tail lights on the horizon. Lucifer made it pretty far.
She hitches Cain’s arm more securely over her shoulders and hauls him out into the moonlit desert before them.
She doesn’t know how far they walk before Cain’s strength gives out, but it’s further than she would have expected. Lucifer joins them again a few minutes after his spectacular crash. He reports that the Cartel have ascertained that the Sinnerman isn’t in the crashed SUV but are still arguing about whether or not to attempt a full search. Apparently, Lucifer’s antics back at the house were enough to put some of the more superstitious men off the idea of spending any more time here tonight. Chloe wonders if a couple ghostly pranks haven’t done more to secure the Sinnerman’s fearsome reputation than decades of shadowy manipulation.
They decide to camp where Cain falls, tucked behind a small ridge. With the adrenaline of their escape fading, Chloe is left shivering in the cold desert night, her thin scrubs doing nothing to keep her warm. She’s more than aware that her feet, bare across what must have been at least a mile of rocky desert ground, should be killing her, but they’re too cold to hurt much, which is worrying.
“Do you have a phone?” She asks Cain.
“Back...pocket…” he gasps, barely conscious. She retrieves the phone and finds it irretrievably smashed, probably from his fall out of the SUV. She tries holding down all the buttons in case there’s some kind of SOS function, but nothing happens. Just her luck.
She gathers some dry brush and does her best to employ the fire-starting skills she learned decades ago as a girl scout, spinning a stick rapidly between her palms and pressing it into a hollow in a rock that she’s filled with fine, dead grass.
If I may, Detective? Lucifer asks.
“H-help yourself,” Chloe whispers between chattering teeth, rubbing her bare arms with her hands.
There’s a quiet sound like sandpaper shushing against the stone, and soon a thin stream of smoke rises into the night before the tinder bursts into a small, steady flame. She quickly adds some small sticks, building it until it’s crackling away respectably.
“Thanks,” she says, gratefully holding her frigid fingers to the small fire.
My pleasure, my dear.
She sits back a bit to put her poor, numb, bruised and battered feet near the fire and looks around, jumping a bit when she sees a shimmering, indistinct figure sitting beside her. Similar to the shape she saw briefly during the blackout in her cell, but clearer, even more substantial.
“Lucifer, you’re...visible,” she whispers.
Am I? The figure lifts one armlike limb and examines it with its glowing red eyes. Well, that seems like a good sign!
“Yeah,” she agrees, nodding. She makes an effort to smile supportively when his disconcertingly blank, featureless, ember-eyed face turns to her.
She holds his gaze for as long as she can manage and then looks away under the pretense of inspecting Cain. He’s fallen into a fitful, shivering sleep, face pressed into the dirt. The bottom half of his shirt completely soaked in blood, so much so that it’s hard to even tell where his wound is. She scoots over to him and peels back the wet fabric of his shirt. He hisses and twitches away, still asleep. The wound is inflamed and torn around the edges, likely from their leap out of the moving SUV. She leans over to inspect his back. It looks like the bullet must still be inside him.
Why waste your time on him? Lucifer asks with disdain. She doesn’t respond. How can she explain it to him when she doesn’t really understand it herself?
“He came to get me,” Chloe says eventually. Another reason, different from the ones she gave Cain. “When he could have fled.”
They’re silent for a long time as Chloe’s feet slowly warm.
She hears Lucifer breathe, Oh, Detective, would you look at that?
He’s doing something approximating reclining next to her, eyes cast upwards at the night sky. She follows his gaze to find the clear desert sky a veritable jewel box of stars, twinkling and glimmering.
She’s not sure if it’s the darkness that makes Lucifer’s indistinct form seem brighter, but she has the distinct impression that he’s glowing.
Chapter 9: 🏜Survival
Chloe wakes to the sound of Cain’s harsh shout. She sits up abruptly. The sun has just begun to creep over the horizon and she is grateful for it down to the marrow of her thoroughly chilled bones. Lucifer must have nursed the meager fire overnight, because it’s still crackling steadily, a substantial pile of sticks and brush stacked to one side of it.
She looks across the fire at Cain. He’s on his side, curled protectively around his midriff, face contorted in pain, and leaning over him is a shadow. Lucifer, she realizes. Just yesterday he’d been invisible under the fluorescent lights of her cell but now he’s plainly there, a slightly darker, translucent shade against the pale sky behind him.
“What are you doing?” she cries.
The shadow turns towards her. Punishing, he says in a sepulchral voice. His arm presses down on Cain’s wound with relish, and Cain cries out again. For a moment she’s frozen in terror at the creature she’s stuck here with.
She gets up and stumbles towards him. “Stop, Lucifer.”
He presses harder, and Cain screams, a raw, ugly noise.
“Stop!” she repeats.
As you wish, the shadow says grudgingly, backing away.
Despite Lucifer’s punishment, Cain still doesn’t seem to be entirely conscious. She rests her hand briefly on his sweaty forehead and her suspicions are confirmed; he’s burning with heat, feverish. Chloe realizes that they don’t have much hope of getting him to walk again.
“He probably needs water,” she remarks. She considers the dry, open landscape and the wide, cloudless sky. “I probably need water.”
They’re sitting just beneath a rise, the land continuing to slope downwards to the south, so she figures that’s as good a direction to look as any. She stands, wincing at putting weight on her bruised feet, and starts walking. Lucifer drifts after her.
On the way down the incline, she passes a large, thorny shrub that’s acquired a collection of windblown trash, including a plastic shopping bag and a dirty, worn styrofoam cup. She picks up both, deciding she now has surprisingly mixed feelings about littering. She puts the cup inside the bag and loops the one remaining handle around her wrist.
At the bottom of the slope is a creek bed, probably the same one she walked along with Cain the first time he let her out of her cell. She looks down it in what she thinks is the direction of the house. She could walk back and just get water from the tap. There, she’d probably also be able to find a working phone and call for help. But there’s also a good chance Los Nortes left someone, or multiple someones, to finish Cain off in case he returned. If she were to go back, she’d be defenseless.
“Lucifer, do you think you have enough of a body to carry something yet?”
Well, let me see. Beside her, the shadow leans down and intensifies around a rock about the size of her hand. The rest of the figure fades almost completely away. The rock lifts slowly into the air, wobbling. After a few moments, it wobbles too far off balance and falls back to the ground.
Kind of? Lucifer concludes.
“Do you think you could go back to the house and find a working cell phone?”
I can certainly try.
“All right,” she says. He stays there, hovering, however. “Lucifer. I kinda meant now.”
I don’t like leaving you with him, he says eventually.
“He’s barely conscious; I’ll be fine. And if we don’t get help soon, we’ll both die out here.”
Right...right. I’ll be back in two shakes. Be careful. He drifts away rapidly, and soon she can no longer make out his figure amongst the harsh dawn shadows.
She continues down to the bottom of the creek bed, where the silty dirt is still a bit muddy. Using her hands, she digs into the ground at the lowest point she can find. About a foot down, the hole starts to fill with brown water. She takes off her pants and presses them into the walls of the hole, hoping the fine fabric will filter out most of the dirt, and scoops up water with her hands, drinking it gratefully. It’s a little sour and a bit gritty but still feels delightful on her parched throat. It tastes like freedom. She drinks her fill and then begins scooping water into the styrofoam cup until it’s full.
She wrings out her wet, dirty pants and puts them back on, and begins making her way back to her former boss, fiancee, and captor.
He dreams of his mother.
She’s carrying a basketful of damp laundry up from the river when she finds him sitting in a muddy field, sobbing. He can’t be more than five or six years old.
He’d been digging up weeds with a sharp stone spade when one downward thrust turned up a small, gray creature, one little limb efficiently dismembered. It squeaks and writhes in pain in the moist soil before him, scrabbling ineffectually at the ground with its one remaining front leg. It’s an ugly thing—eyeless, with disproportionately large, shovel-like paws—and he’s as afraid of it as it seems to be of him.
Eve takes in the scene, lowering her basket to the ground and crouching beside him.
“Oh, Cain, don’t let it suffer!”
His breath comes out in a shuddering sob. “I d-don’t know w-what to do,” he cries.
“Oh, my darling,” she murmurs, rubbing his back. She shoots an uneasy glance towards the house, making sure they’re unobserved, then steels herself, casting about until she finds a large stone. She aims, raises it high, and brings it down swiftly onto the head of the little creature. It ceases its squeaking and writhing.
“W-what is it?” he asks, shamefully blinking back his tears and sniffling.
“It’s called a mole, it’s an animal that lives below the earth.”
“It’s ugly,” he says decisively. “We were right to kill it.”
“Oh no, Cain, you must not think of it like that. Moles eat grubs that eat our crops, the grubs your father gets so angry about. They’re good animals, even if they live in the darkness. All of God’s creatures have a purpose. Sometimes those that live in darkness are the most important of all.”
He looks back down in horror at the dark, bloody mess of fur before them. “Will God be angry?” he whispers.
“No,” she murmurs, rubbing a hand in slow circles on his back. “All things must die. We ended its pain. We were merciful.”
He casts her a dubious look, then looks back at the mole.
“We were merciful,” he echoes.
The scene twists and he’s the one helpless on the ground, a sharp pain cutting through him, a cut from a careless plunge of some huge, incomprehensible being’s spade striking into the earth, into him. He flails fruitlessly, some part of him missing, some part of him torn away.
To die would be a mercy, he thinks wildly. He can’t endure this pain. No one could endure this pain.
He sees his mother over him, smiling sadly, silhouetted by the glaring brilliance of the sun, her hair a dark shroud hanging around him.
“Oh, my darling,” she says, stroking his cheek. “Don’t let it suffer.”
She raises her hand again, a bloodstained rock gripped tightly in her fist, a rock he can still remember the shape and heft of. He can still remember the wet crunch of it hitting Abel’s head, the dull thump it made when he dropped it to the ground.
“Mother, please,” he whispers. “Mercy.”
She raises the rock high, and brings it down.
Cain is dreaming. Chloe watches his eyes flick back and forth beneath his eyelids, fluttering now and then when he lets out the stray wordless groan. She tears a strip of fabric from the hem of her pants and dips it in the cup of water. Just as she’s about to lower it to his forehead, he shouts and flails, shoving her backward. His torso jerks upwards, eyes flying open, before the pain of his wound stops him and he subsides back to the ground. He shouts something in a language she doesn’t recognize.
“Hey, it’s me,” she says tersely. “Shut up.”
With difficulty, his eyes eventually manage to focus on her. He gives her a faint smile. “Chloe,” he sighs.
“You need to drink. Come on.” She heaves him up to at least a semi-upright position and tips the cup to his mouth. He drinks, but stops after a few grateful gulps with a sputtering cough.
“Where are we? What happened?”
“We jumped from the SUV and Lucifer got the rest of the Cartel off our trail. Do you remember any of that?”
“Bits and pieces.” His strength seems to give out again and he lies back down on the ground. “I think I’m dying.”
“Probably,” she replies bluntly.
“You’ll die out here too, Decker, unless you have some wilderness survival skills I don’t know about.”
“Hey, I found water,” she protests. “And a cup. That’s gotta count for something.”
He lets out a single chuckle, wincing and licking his cracked lips. “If you walk south-southeast you’ll get to Yuma, or at least the Mexican border if you miss it. It probably won’t take more than a day.”
“That’s plan B,” Chloe replies, taking a sip of water herself.
“What’s plan A?”
“Lucifer’s seeing if he can bring back a phone from the house.”
“How useful, he can fetch.” She shoots him a scathing look. He lies back on the ground, pale and exhausted. “What do you want me to say?”
“I don’t know, maybe start with showing a shred of guilt for being a murderous, abusive, manipulative psychopath!” she seethes, voice trembling.
“I’m sorry I hurt you, manipulated you,” he says softly. “I wasn’t thinking...rationally. You have to understand, I’d never—never sacrificed my happiness for someone else’s sake before. I didn’t know how...when you left me...I only saw one way to be with you. I wanted to be with you.”
“You—” she feels tears coming, which infuriates her because she wants to rage at him, scream at him, hit him, not break down into incoherent sobbing. She’s spent too long vulnerable in front of him. Now it should be her chance to be the powerful, fearsome one. She gets to her feet, fists clenched and trembling. “You tortured me. Took me away from my family, my life. Made me fear for my life. And justified it with love? That’s pathetic! You’re pathetic!”
In the height of her rage, she strikes out and kicks him squarely in his bullet wound. He doubles over with a ragged cry of pain. But looking at him there, curled in the fetal position on the ground at her feet, doesn’t bring her any satisfaction.
She spins on her heel and walks off into the desert until she feels like she has some degree of solitude, and finally allows her emotions to spill out. They come on the backs of painful, wracking sobs that force their way out of her throat like rough, sharp stones. Each one eases the burden of fear that’s been sitting on her heart a tiny bit. Lucifer finds her there a while later, still shaking with the aftermath of her outburst, face a mess of tears and snot.
What did he do? His tone is arctic, murderous.
She wipes ineffectually at her face. “Nothing. Nothing new, at least.”
The bare toes of her right foot have his blood on them. She scuffs them in the dust a bit and takes a deep, shuddering breath. “Did you find a phone?”
I did, he says proudly. A newer model iPhone wobbles towards her through the air. It’s dusty and scuffed, as if it took a few spills onto the ground on the way here.
“Lucifer!” she exclaims, grabbing it. She taps at the screen. Just the tiniest sliver of battery remains, and it shows nothing but the barest 2G cell service. It’s passcode locked, so she activates the 911 function, heart thumping painfully.
The operator’s voice answering, when it comes, is about the sweetest thing she’s ever heard.
The parade of ambulances and police cars, when they finally arrive, is an impressive thing. She sprints to the side of the road, waving her arms, and directs the first ambulance to Cain, cautioning them repeatedly that he’s a murderer and is extremely dangerous. They assure her he’ll be handcuffed all the way to his hospital bed, but she knows they’re treating her with the patronizing kid gloves with which any emergency medical responder would handle a dehydrated, traumatized kidnapping victim. She worries that Cain’s people will interfere and whisk him away before he ever makes it to the hospital, but there’s nothing she can do about it.
Lucifer insists she get in the next ambulance, although she wants to go with the state troopers to the house to give her statement and point out all the evidence she feels is most crucial.
Sometimes you have to let someone else be the detective, Detective, he says warmly. She can see him, a shadow against a shadow, leaning against the side of the ambulance, but she’s pretty sure no one else has noticed him.
She’s about to respond but she realizes there are several EMTs and two staties looking at her, and she realizes she looks like she’s staring into the middle distance, and that she probably can’t speak to invisible people anymore if she wants to get out of the hospital any time soon. Instead, she smiles tightly and lets them guide her into the back of an ambulance. It speeds her away from her prison, back towards her life.
At the hospital they put her in a bed, although there’s really nothing physically wrong with her except for some bruises and scratches on her feet and elbows. Her doctor makes an offhand comment about a psych consult and keeping her under observation and she realizes with a feeling akin to horror that she has become something she always saw as something Other, something she could never be: a victim.
The state police, and then a pair of DEA agents each come to take her statement. She tells them the truth as much as she can without veering into statements that would likely look bad on the psych eval, such as “The Devil kept me company and possessed a German shepherd to help me escape” or “The man who was brought here with me has been murdering people for thousands of years.” She hedges a bit before using the name “The Sinnerman,” but decides that its presence in LAPD case files probably makes her look less insane. When she mentions the name, the state police look at each other, amused, but the DEA agents nod solemnly and take careful notes.
A few hours after the DEA agents leave, Dan appears with Trixie in tow.
Chloe is half out of her bed before she knows it, falling to her knees on the cold linoleum floor to meet her daughter in a tight embrace.
“Oh, Monkey, I missed you so much,” she chokes out through tears, kissing her daughter’s hair and cheeks and forehead. Trixie is shaking with sobs, trying to say something, but the words are indecipherable through her tears. Chloe clutches her head, running her hand through her daughter’s hair, reassuring herself that this is actually real. Dan kneels beside them and wraps them both in a hug of his own.
“I was so worried about you, Chlo,” he says, his voice tight with the unspoken: he was sure she was dead. When they finally separate, she sees his eyes are shadowed and his face is gaunt. She puts a hand to his cheek and smiles tightly.
Dan clears his throat, fighting back emotion for now. “Ella, Linda, and Maze are here too if you feel up to having some visitors.”
Chloe’s heart soars at the thought of talking to other people, friends. “Yeah,” she says, wiping away her tears and sniffing repeatedly, trying to restore some measure of composure. “Send ‘em in.”
Ella is a mess of happiness and tears and excitement. She looks just as worn down as Dan. The two of them must have really been working hard to find her. It’s a shame Cain’s men managed to keep them from getting anywhere. Ella apologizes profusely and repeatedly for her failure, enough that Chloe realizes it’s going to be a problem going forward. She notices Ella’s ubiquitous cross necklace is absent from her neck.
Maze’s face is an emotionless mask when she approaches Chloe’s bed, after Ella has left to compose herself and Dan has taken Trixie to get something from the vending machines. Linda stands next to her, one hand resting on her arm supportively. Chloe has never seen an expression quite like that on Maze’s face. She looks like she’s on the verge of something, but it’s unclear if it’s tears or rage or violence.
“Do you know what happened to Lucifer?” she asks haltingly, posture almost vibrating with tension.
“He’s alive,” Chloe reassures her. She thinks about the fact that Maze is an actual demon and wonders absently if she should be more frightened, more worried about her relationship with Trixie. It’s hard to find her too intimidating when she’s hanging on Chloe’s every word as if Chloe were a judge issuing her a sentence.
Maze lets out a sudden exhale, like she’s been holding her breath for a long time. “Where is he?”
“I...think he followed me to the hospital? I haven’t talked to him since the EMTs took me. But...” she trails off, glancing at Linda. Linda, who probably already is concerned about her sanity, and who may have a word with her doctors if she starts spouting off about Lucifer being alive but only as an increasingly corporeal devil-ghost. “Um, maybe we should talk about this in private?”
Maze and Linda exchange a look. Maze raises her eyebrows pointedly at Linda and the therapist looks back and forth between her and Chloe a few times before realization dawns on her.
“Oh! You know!” Linda blurts. “I mean, I also know. That he’s the Devil.” She lowers her voice dramatically and leans in. “Like, the real Devil.”
“He told you?” Chloe hisses, indignant. “And not me?”
“Well, I more or less forced him—”
“Just tell me where he is!” Maze interjects, fingers twitching the way they do when she’s about to stab something. In Chloe’s experience, usually one of the walls of their apartment.
“Oh, sorry, Maze. He died...and then came back. But he’s probably around here somewhere.”
Maze cocks her head, confused. “He came back? But you were still trapped for a month? That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Cain’s men shot him in the head, when Lucifer and I went to confront him.” The memory still makes her heart clench painfully. “And apparently Cain destroyed him—his body—so he couldn’t come back that way. So instead he’s kind of...a ghost?”
Maze’s face crumples. “This is my fault.”
Chloe doesn’t really understand how or why that would be the case, but she reaches out to take her roommate’s hand. Maze, being Maze, jerks her hand away and folds her arms defensively, grimace wobbling between grief and anger.
“It’s okay, though, he still found me. And he seems like he’s getting more...real, I guess. I don’t really have any fucking clue what’s happening, but apparently the Devil really doesn’t like to follow the rules.” Chloe tries to be reassuring but Maze doesn’t seem to be interested in being comforted.
“I’m gonna go find him,” Maze declares, storming out of the room.
Chloe sighs, leaning back against the pillows. She feels ready to sleep for about a hundred years. Talking to so many people in such a short span of time feels like exercising an atrophied muscle. Linda takes a seat in one of the chairs beside the bed.
“Do you want to talk about it yet?” she asks quietly.
Chloe shakes her head. “No. How long have you known?”
“Since last year. It was...a difficult time for me.”
“Difficult.” Chloe makes a vague nodding motion which turns into a head shake of its own volition. “Difficult. That’s one way to describe it.”
She laughs and Linda laughs too. She sends up a grateful prayer to some specifically unidentified god or demigod that she isn’t alone in this.
When visiting hours are over, and Dan and Trixie have finally left to get a few hours’ rest in a nearby hotel, Chloe feels the subtle shift in the atmosphere that she identifies with Lucifer’s presence. And when she opens her eyes, sure enough, there he is in the shadows, shimmering vaguely, like a mirage. His form has continued to solidify. She thinks she can almost make out other facial features now, in addition to his glowing eyes.
“Where have you been?” she whispers.
Keeping an eye on Cain. I didn’t want him to be whisked away by one of his agents before receiving his rightful punishment.
“What happened to him?”
He went into surgery shortly after arriving, and only came out of it a few hours ago. He’s been unconscious since then, under the influence of some truly magnificent drugs, I’m sure. The lucky bastard.
She’s quiet for a long time, thinking. Finally she speaks. “What punishment do you think he deserves?”
What punishment do you think he deserves?
“I think he deserves to be punished with the full force of the law. I think he deserves to go to prison for Charlotte’s murder, and for kidnapping me. If the DEA can put together a case based on all his other alleged crimes as the Sinnerman, I think he should be prosecuted for that, too.”
Even though he’s done so much more? For so much longer?
“He has a normal human lifespan now. And he’s done enough to spend the rest of it in prison.”
And what if he calls in favors, Detective? What if he finds legal loopholes, and threatens jurors, and pays off judges? All things we both know he’s fully capable of doing. What then?
She knows what he wants her to say. For some reason he’s decided that she is the judge and jury in this case. He is but a willing executioner. “I won’t ask you to kill him,” she decides finally.
She gets the sense that he’s both disappointed and relieved. She is completely certain that if she’d told him death is what Cain deserved, Lucifer would have killed him without hesitation. Somehow, she ended up with the Devil on a leash, eager to do her bidding. Holding that much power in her hands is terrifying.
“And if he does end up walking free, what will you do?” she asks.
Lucifer’s silhouette shifts from side to side, indecisive. My Father gave us two rules. Don’t kill humans and don’t possess them. I’ve broken one of them recently, and I didn’t particularly care for it. But when I think of what he’s done to you...
The sensation of his rage is almost a physical thing, filling the room like an oppressive, noxious gas.
“It’s not for you to punish that, not here,” Chloe says softly. “I don’t want you to.”
That seems to defuse his anger. Detective, he murmurs.
She scoots over in the narrow hospital bed and lies back, gesturing to the empty space beside her. His indistinct form manages to compose itself in a reclining orientation on top of the sheets. The places where his shadowy form touches her feel like tingling static.
“Did you talk to Maze? You should,” she murmurs. “She seemed pretty upset.”
Lucifer hums noncommittally. Saw her; avoided her. She should be upset. If she hadn’t been such a petulant child about going home, this whole thing might not have happened.
“Lucifer,” she says, chastising.
All right, all right.
She sighs, rubbing her tight neck and shifting restlessly in the unfamiliar bed. It’s hard to relax, even if she knows she should feel safe, relieved. She wishes she were back home, or even just at the hotel with Trixie. This hard-won safety feels tenuous, like it could slip away again at any time. Someone could easily take away Trixie, or Dan, or Ella, or her own life. Lucifer...well, at least he seems hard to get rid of.
Lucifer touches her mind like he used to back when they were together in her cell and calms her anxious, racing thoughts.
Sleep now, Detective. I’ll keep watch.
She falls asleep with her ghostly devil at her side.
In the morning, a psychiatrist arrives to evaluate her mental state. Chloe is straightforward and as honest as she can be and thinks she is in every way the picture of sanity and resilience.
“Well, Chloe,” says the psychiatrist after they talk for about an hour. “I’m going to prescribe you some anti-anxiety medication and antidepressants.”
Chloe gapes at her, baffled. “I-I’m fine, though.”
“Ms. Decker, when a young man shouted in the hallway five minutes ago, you jumped about six inches off the bed. You’ve lost fifteen pounds despite being borderline underweight before your ordeal. You repeatedly start sentences and lose track of them halfway through.”
Chloe thinks back on their conversation. Maybe there were a couple times when her thoughts turned to Lucifer, or to Cain, or...
“These are all textbook psychological and physiological symptoms of solitary confinement,” the doctor continues kindly. “Please trust my medical expertise in this. It’s all treatable but you’re going to need some help re-acclimating to the world.”
Chloe nods, and looks down at her hands, which she finds to her surprise are twisted in her hospital gown.
“When will I be good to go back to work?” She asks meekly, dreading the answer. What if it’s months? What if it’s never?
“Give it at least a couple of weeks. I can advise your employer that you requested it, but I’m sure they’ll also want to put you on leave until they’re certain you’re ready for active duty again. Otherwise,” the psychiatrist rises from her chair, gathering her notepad. “I’m going to recommend you be discharged today.”
Chloe smiles at her gratefully.
“Congratulations, Chloe,” the woman says, giving her a meaningful look. “You survived.”
Lucifer hitches a ride on the top of Daniel’s car as he drives the detective and their spawn back to Los Angeles. The more matter he acquires, the more onerous it is to drift around for long distances and crossing the entirety of the state of California under his own power isn’t something he’s interested in attempting.
Maze and Linda follow behind in Linda’s car. He can watch them from his vantage point, occasionally speaking, but mostly driving in silence. He debates for a while, and then slips off the top of Dan’s car and makes his way to theirs. He catches the top edge of Linda’s windshield with what approximates a hand and comes to rest on top of the roof, the wind tickling vaguely as it rifles through his loosely collected molecules.
Mazikeen, he calls, reaching out to touch her mind. Open the window, will you?
He feels her startle and then immediately move to open the passenger window. Lucifer slips inside, over her, and into the back seat.
“—can hardly hear myself think,” Linda is grousing over the road noise, the wind blowing her hair into disarray.
I’m in, you can close it now.
Maze rolls the window back up and turns to the back seat to look at him. Linda’s eyes flit to him in the rear view mirror, then away, and then she does a double take and shrieks, swerving a bit. He looks at his visage in the mirror and sighs, wishing he could do anything to tidy it up. Being a shadow creature certainly doesn’t do anything for his vanity.
Calm down, Doctor, it’s just me.
“Lucifer, what happened?” Maze asks angrily. But not angry-angrily—the upset, I-was-worried-about-you-how-dare-you-angrily that Maze employed when she didn’t want to be grateful or affectionate.
Your good friend Cain shot me in the head, he says.
She’s quiet for a long moment, defensiveness warring with guilt on her face. “Well...he turned on me too. Locked me up when I decided not to go along with our plan.”
That’s a real pity. Your betrayal didn’t go as planned, did it? My sympathies.
Maze scoffs, folding her arms and turning around again to stare out the windshield. Linda gives her a pointed look. Maze looks back at Linda and seems to respond to some unspoken directive.
“Lucifer.” She turns around in her seat to face him again, expression grave. “I’m sorry. I...was upset. You know I don’t do emotions well. When you disappeared, I—” An expression of anxiety and pain flits across her face. “I knew I fucked up, okay? I just wanted you to be okay.”
His heart softens a bit. For Maze to apologize...well, Maze never apologizes.
I’m all right, Mazikeen. At the very least, I seem to be growing more corporeal by the day. Who knows, maybe in a week I’ll finally have something resembling a cock again.
Maze casts an appraising glance down his translucent form and shakes her head mock-somberly.
“How’s Chloe doing?” Linda asks, looking at him in the rear view mirror, concerned.
As well as can be expected, I suppose.
“Having you with her seems like it was a huge help. Solitary confinement can be mentally and physically devastating.”
Believe me, I know, Lucifer replies, thinking of the hell loops of untold thousands of unfortunate souls whose greatest fear and torture was complete solitude. No people, no entertainment, no flavor, no color, no sound, just blank whiteness. The efficacy of it was in turns awe-inspiring and horrific.
“Will you tell her she’s welcome to come to me? As a friend, free of charge?”
Of course, Doctor.
“And you,” Linda continues, voice thickening with emotion. “I expect you to return to resume our sessions as soon as possible.”
You didn’t miss me, did you, Doctor? he teases.
“I miss how much I got to charge you,” she retorts, laughing. “Way above my pay grade to deal with this much supernatural crap.”
Now, will someone please turn on the radio? Weeks of nothing but silence and the Detective reading bloody Hume. I need music.
By the time they reach L.A. County, they have dubbed themselves “The Party Car.” The icy waters of betrayal and mistrust slowly begin to thaw as, mile by mile, they make their way home.