-- Francis Hackett, "The Dead Aviator"
"I wanted somewhere that was you," Elaine answered. He didn't spin to look at her. He'd known she was there. She was everywhere. It was a state of omniscient being he'd found a good deal more obnoxious in her predecessor.
"This is me?" He swept a hand out in a vaguely all-encompassing gesture.
"As much as anything is," Elaine answered, perching on a stool in front of the bar. "It's the place you chose."
"Chose. Choice is a strange concept coming from the new architect of reality." Lucifer moved to the piano, fingers drifting across the keys, a few stray bars of music rising and falling into the empty, still cavern of silence, dying away again without an echo.
"I'm more of an improv kind of overlord. Off the cuff," Elaine answered. "Fix me a drink?"
"You're too young. And omnipotent. You can fix your own," Lucifer played a few bars of Chopin, and then looked at her again. "Improv," he repeated, mouth quirked in a smile. "It doesn't really work like that, does it." It was a statement, rather than a question.
"No," Elaine admitted. Lucifer stood and moved behind the bar, mixing a cosmopolitan in an unspoken reward for the truth. He appreciated the candor, at least. "But things will be different."
"They always are. Or they appear to be. The change itself is a constant enough to make it invalidating. Change is constant, and thus nothing really changes," Lucifer said.
Her lips pursed. "You're kind of full of crap, sometimes."
"We can't all be omniscient."
"No, but you're closer than most."
"Closer to the sun than an ant doesn't mean I can feel the heat any better," Lucifer stuck an umbrella in the drink without being asked and passed it to her. "This won't change my mind."
"No. I know. But this can last. Forever, if I wanted it to." Elaine looked around, and for a moment she looked like nothing more than a human child with the power to make a stubborn tantrum destroy universes. "I could keep you here. I could keep you in this moment, and be here with you for forever. If I don't let you, you can never leave."
He leaned against the bar and smiled slightly. "But you won't. So why are we here?" She sagged. The dusty gold color of the walls bled to a slow red and the rounded edges of the bar turned jagged and strange. "Are you finished being dramatic?"
"Are you finished being superior?" But the walls drift back to the right shade, and the bar ceases digging into his forearms. "Talk to me. Tell me what to do." He didn't answer, and the air in the club is still and stagnant, but the pink liquid of her drink swirled as she ran a finger through it. "You won't." He stayed silent, and Elaine sighed. "Tell me a story."
Lucifer arched an eyebrow. "A story. You know all the stories that have ever been told. All of my stories."
"I've never heard you tell them." Elaine looked at him. "I know what it will be like. I'm there, as it happens. As you tell me about it, and as what you talk about happened."
"Which means that I tell you one. That you've mapped out my fate. And you wonder why I left an exit door."
"I didn't map anything. There are possibilities. . ." Elaine trailed off and groaned, then dropped her head theatrically to the bar. "Deity headaches suck."
"Then do away with it. Or choose to have it never have existed at all"
"I like feeling something. I'm afraid of what happens when I forget what that's like."
"So don't forget." He knows what he'll tell her, and what she'll ask, already. But he asks anyway. "What do you want to hear about?"
"Tell me about Michael. Tell me your favorite memory of him. And the worst."
Lucifer falls silent, and the seconds would have stretched on and on into strained silence, if time had moved at all, here, and Elaine were a person. But there was no time, and this place was just a shaped memory outside of reality, and Elaine was no more a girl than he was a man.
He began, and she listened with the rapt attention of one who didn't know the ending to every story that had ever happened, or would ever happen. He had to admire the effort she put into the act.
"We were the first born. The fathers of the cosmos, if you care to be poetic about it, though we were more the tools used to sculpt it, I suppose. You would likely have greater insight. In those days, all we did, we did together. As brothers and partners." He smiled a little, saw the shape of its curve echoed in her lips. "Even early on, the rest of the Host were. . . different."
"Less," Elaine murmured.
"Designed to be. Pawns when we were Bishops, I suppose, to use a crude and overworked metaphor." Lucifer tapped a finger against the bar. "They thought in straight lines and the immediacy of their tiny spheres. Michael thought of the broader picture. Of what would be. But he thought of it without wondering why. Without ever questioning. When I questioned, the others didn't understand what it was, at first. That was my true apple in the orchard, you know. The first crack in the ice that started it all. It wasn't temptation, or pride - though I had that as well."
"You took pride in your pride," Elaine commented. "Double sin whammy."
"That was beneath you," Lucifer told her, though he smiled, still. "It wasn't apples or knowledge. It was questioning that started it all. The gall to question the Plan, and its creator. The temerity to wonder if what was before us was all that offered. The others didn't listen, at first. But Michael listened. For every question I asked, he offered an answer. They shrank away, he never did. He didn't question, but he could answer in ways that satisfied me."
"For a little while," Elaine said.
"For ages. But time is relative. For someone who wanted to hear, you're interrupting frequently. Shall I just let you tell me what I'll be saying?" Elaine waved a hand for him to go on, and Lucifer reached to stir the umbrella through her drink. "I would ask, and he would answer. He had no real answers, but it didn't matter at first. And then we met Death. It's difficult to understand where she fit into the world we'd seen. The Endless exist everywhere, within everything. Powerful, but less than Michael and I. And yet not. They were beyond what we could be, and less than we began as. The Silver City was no more immune to change than anywhere else, but we hadn't quite understood that until the first angel succumbed to Lilith, and then it sank in when Death came for one of our brothers."
"You never thought of them as brothers. Except for Michael," Elaine told him.
Lucifer didn't bother answering. It was the truth, but Elaine already knew that. She was new to her nature. Lucifer had long since stopped needing to verbalize what was already known, if it was ever an urge he'd had to begin with. He didn't think that it was. Michael, sometimes, had spoken just to hear it aloud. If it had ever been a habit Lucifer shared, he thought it had been learned from Michael, and forgotten in Michael's absence. "She was difficult. Death. It was jarring to be faced with the possibility of a finite existence for the Host, who considered themselves immortal. They didn't understand that nothing is immortal. Not even the Creator."
"They. You thought of them as different from you and Michael, even then," Elaine said.
Lucifer paused, considering. The answer was already known, but the question wasn't one he'd pondered often. His own opinions he knew, but Michael's he'd never thought on. "He did as well. I was more to him than they were." Not because they were first, or because they were the most powerful and favored, but because they were them - brothers. Michael had called the others his brothers, but he had thought of Lucifer as something different.
"Duh," Elaine told him with an insufferable teenage smugness.
Lucifer had greater tolerance for teenagers than most mortals. They questioned what those older than them accepted. "Smugness ill-suits a deity," he informed her blithely, ignoring the eye roll. They were imitations of the real girl she'd been, and he knew it. His niece's way of holding on to parts of what she'd been by pretending. He had no vested interest in robbing her of her illusions. They'd fade soon enough on their own, and he would be long gone from this realm and this scripted life. "When she'd gone, I asked Michael why, if there was a Plan, we didn't know what it was. Why we, who were the firstborn and the highest of the Angels, why we had no more knowledge of our purpose than the others."
Elaine was silent, and Lucifer looked at her. She wore the same form he'd come to know her in, for the moment. No idealized features or taller height as she sometimes appeared with, now that she could. He saw nothing of his brother in her features. It seemed strange that she didn't echo him. "I don't have to. You're his echo and his opposite. When you leave, you take what Michael really left behind with you."
That wasn't quite true. But Lucifer let it pass. Partial truths were better than none at all. "He would have said I was the one who left him behind."
She didn't deny it. "What did he answer?"
"He didn't. He asked a question. It was the first time Michael had ever questioned anything. He answered my questions, he explained his reasoning. He reassured, and he obeyed. But he never questioned. But he asked me why do you need to know? And I loved him then, for that question. Because the others were confused, and I knew that they could be shown how to question. But Michael chose that moment to ask his own. I felt kin to him, then. More than I had before, or would again, and for that I loved him first, and above all others."
"Amongst other reasons," Elaine said. She sipped her drink, finally, licking her lips and then asking. "That was your favorite moment? What was the worst?"
"A moment later. When I answered him."
"You asked him why he didn't need to know," Elaine told him.
"And he said that he had faith that it was best left unknown. He was content knowing that someone greater than him knew, and would guide him." Lucifer's lips curled, bitter and slight. "And I knew then that something would change, and that we were not created for the same reasons, or to walk the same path forever, and that eventually our roads would fork and we would part. I believed that I would find my own path. Instead, I did exactly what I was expected to."
"But you did it with flair." Elaine stood, and the bar vanished. "You were too proud to believe that there was someone who could be a better architect for your life than you would be, so you set out to. And now you'll write your own story."
"Will I?" Even after all of this, Lucifer doubted it, sometimes. That there wasn't some guiding string that was dictating his future.
"You miss him."
"Every moment, since the day I left Heaven with a third of the Host and took up reign in Hell, I missed him."
Elaine slid her hand into his. It felt deceptively warm and human one moment, and smooth and too-light the next, an illusion offered for the sake of her own comfort, and abandoned for his. She knew he preferred to see things as they were. "I wish I'd really known him."
"He was stubborn, self-righteous, and impossibly old fashioned. You wouldn't have liked him."
"Well, I wasn't always that hot on you, either." The room shifted and vanished, and they floated in a gray sea of nothingness, save for the piano he was abruptly sitting on. "Play me something?"
Lucifer flexed his fingers. "A song before I go? You won't request a piano version of Stairway to Heaven, will you?"
"Piano bars stopped being cool before I was even born, you know. If the ever even were. Maybe back in like. . . the Brat Pack days."
"Rat pack." Lucifer's fingers moved over the keys, picking out random notes before his fingers settled into Chopin. As the last notes faded, the gray turned back to the vivid colors of reality, and they slipped back into time. He turned to say goodbye, but she was already gone. And she'd have known what he meant to say, anyway. He felt the last touch of lips against his skin, and then he was past the edge, and moving on to worlds where his fate was unfettered.