He hesitated at the doorway. He wasn't sure he should be here. Forty years was a long time to a mortal, if no more than the blink of an eye to him.
The blink of an eye, yet it had also been an eternity. He rested his hand upon the door, knowing what he would find on the other side but uncertain he could face it. He didn't feel prepared to deal with this end.
The end of Ezekiel's life.
He was dying. As promised, he had been given his second chance of life on Earth, but time had taken its course, left its mark, and was running out for the once- again mortal man. Ezekiel would face an easy, gentle passing, much less traumatic than his first death. This time his heart would simply give out on him in the night as he slept. He wouldn't feel a thing. It was merely his time, and there was nothing anyone could do to change that fact. But the devil needed to see him, just one last time before then. He was rather certain that it was the very last time he would ever see Ezekiel Stone, living or dead.
Forty years before, the detective had sent the last of the hundred and thirteen escaped demons back to Hell. He had completed his mission, served his penance, and was due his promised reward.
And Lucifer had kept his word. Ezekiel had been returned to the land of the living, his demonic body given true life, true pulsing, human blood. He had re- entered the world appearing exactly as he had left it--with that same bad haircut and five o'clock shadow, the same baggy overcoat with thirty-six dollars and twenty-seven cents in the pocket. Only this time, the clock wouldn't restart for him every morning. He had been freed from that frozen moment in time, freed to do as he wished with the rest of his life.
"I didn't think you'd really do it," Stone had said, when he'd first looked out at the world again through a living man's eyes.
"I keep my promises, Ezekiel. I told you that."
"So you did." He'd looked at Lucifer and asked, "So...what now?"
"What now? Well, that's up to you. You're a clever boy, you'll figure something out. A long time has passed--nearly twenty-five years since your death. You shouldn't find it too difficult to create a new identity. Not many people are likely to believe you're the same man who was killed in the line of duty in New York City, all those years ago."
Ezekiel had nodded in agreement, and paused a moment before asking, "Will I...ever see you again?"
"Why, the way you ask that, I'd almost think you cared."
An almost apologetic note had tinged the man's voice as he replied, "Yeah, well...maybe I do. Kind of. I don't...really know."
"No, you don't," the devil had agreed, regret coloring his words. He'd tried. By all that was unholy, he'd tried to make Ezekiel Stone care, to make Ezekiel love him. But the man had never been able to fully give his heart to Lucifer--what had held him back, neither man nor devil seemed entirely certain. Perhaps it had simply been too much to expect someone with an inherently good, if flawed, soul to be able to give his heart to someone as dark and corrupt as the devil.
Lucifer had walked up to Ezekiel, looked him straight in the eyes, and said, "You fuck this up and you bet your ass you'll be seeing me again. You know when, you know how, and you know what to expect. The ball's in your court now. Good luck to you, Ezekiel."
And he'd left, before Ezekiel could say anything, or before he himself could do something he'd regret. He hadn't asked for or expected a goodbye fuck, or even a final kiss. It would have been...inappropriate. Too difficult, too messy. It had been much easier to simply leave.
He had never revealed himself to Stone since that day. Not that he hadn't kept an eye on him, from near and from afar. He thought often about the nights they had spent together--finding solace, indulging in desperate passions--but he'd always held back when temptation urged him to revisit those nights. This was Ezekiel's time, now. His life to live, his decisions to make. If he wanted to find his way back to Lucifer's "loving embrace", he knew what choices to make that would lead him there. The path to eternal damnation was an easy one, if a man was willing.
The devil was not surprised, however, to watch Ezekiel as he took a different path with his second chance at life. The former detective found work doing what he always did best--helping people. He never stayed in one place for very long, instead moving from town to town, job to job, as he was needed. He made new associates, friends, and very occasionally lovers. Nothing lasted, except for a friendship with a young runaway boy who became Ezekiel's frequent companion in his travels. That Ezekiel saw the boy as the son he'd never had a chance to father was obvious to the devil. And a good parent he would have been, having taken the lessons of his own father's abusiveness to heart and avoiding the trap of repeating those same mistakes himself.
He never reunited with Rosalyn. Perhaps he realized that the shock of his return would have been more than she could have taken, more than she could have accepted. Or perhaps he realized too many years had gone by--he had changed, she had changed, and to return to the past would have been impossible, no matter how good it might have been years before.
The devil liked to believe, though, that it was because of him that Ezekiel never went back to Rosalyn. He wanted to believe he'd left some mark on Stone's heart, but he could never be certain. He could have stolen into the man's thoughts to find out, but he was not certain he'd be happy with what he found there. It was easier to leave Stone's motivations a mystery, to allow himself to believe what he wished.
And now the time he'd dreaded was here. Time for Ezekiel Stone to die. Time for his soul to pass on, to be judged as worthy of eternal happiness or damned once again to eternal suffering. The devil had dreaded this moment, because he had a very strong feeling as to what the judgement would be this time. Stone would leave this world, and leave Lucifer behind forever. He would go to the one place the devil would never be able to reach him again--Heaven.
But Lucifer could avoid the moment no longer. The clock was ticking and he was wasting time, staring at a wooden door and brooding instead of looking into his beloved mortal's eyes one last time. He took a step forward. The door creaked open, and he stepped into a room illuminated only by the soft light of the moon outside. Ezekiel was in bed, asleep. Lucifer approached slowly, taking what time he could to study the figure lying at rest before him. Ezekiel was old, now, with gray thinning hair and wrinkled skin, but still...still, he was beautiful. So very beautiful. In his sleep it was so easy to see the younger man that had been the devil's lover, his servant--his in every way, except for his heart. Lucifer walked to the bed and sat gently on the edge, not wanting to disturb the man's sleep. He needed time to watch, to think, to remember. To try to figure out how he was possibly going to deal with losing the only thing that mattered to him. Going through that once, eons before, had been terrible enough. To have to go through the same thing a second time...he wasn't certain he could take it.
He hadn't intended to awaken Ezekiel. He thought he would only come here to hold vigil, to observe in silence as he had for years. But Ezekiel must have sensed his nearness. Lucifer watched as the mortal man stirred in his sleep, his eyes eventually opening to look up into Lucifer's watchful gaze.
"Is it time?" he asked, his voice weak and rough.
"I had...a feeling, it would be soon. I've been waiting for it."
Lucifer nodded slightly. There was no fear in Ezekiel's voice. He knew it was his time to move on. Lucifer could not think of what to say. He waited for Ezekiel to continue.
"All of these years, I never saw you...but I knew you were with me, watching."
"I didn't want to interfere. This was your second chance, after all."
"How did I do?"
Lucifer gave him a small smile. "As much as it pains me to say it, you lived a...good life, Ezekiel."
"I can't answer that. You'll know soon enough."
Ezekiel reached for his hand. Lucifer felt the old but still familiar fingers wrap around his own. The touch was agonizing. He almost wanted to pull away, but he couldn't. Ezekiel held his gaze and said, "I missed you. I didn't...know it, back then...not until after you were gone. I realized...I had come...to love you. It just took me a long time to accept it...and to forgive you for the things you did. But I do, now. I forgive you. I love you, Morning Star."
No words had ever hurt so badly. To be loved, to be forgiven...two things he knew he did not deserve, and yet Ezekiel gave them to him without asking. "You don't...know how much that means. How it hurts." He clutched the mortal's hand tighter. "But I thank you for it. And I still love you, Ezekiel. I always will," he answered, struggling to keep his emotions under control.
He could feel Ezekiel's life force beginning to waver. It was too soon! Far too soon. There was so much more to say. He needed more time. He needed eternity with this soul, not just a few fleeting seconds.
He leaned down to kiss the dying man's forehead, trying to find the words to express his heart's ache. "If I am the Morning Star, then you, Ezekel Stone, you are...my Midnight Sun. The one bright light in my endless darkness. I will never forget you."
He met Ezekiel's lips for one last kiss, one to carry with him for eternity. He tasted Ezekiel's love for him, felt it fully for the first time. In return he opened his soul to the mortal, let him feel his terrible, painful love in all of its agonizing glory, how desperately he needed Ezekiel and did not want to let him go.
There was just time enough to ask Ezekiel to come with him, to return to the darkness. Time enough to ask Ezekiel to pledge his soul to the devil, to eternal damnation, so that they could be together. Decades before, Lucifer had sworn that he would never allow God to take this mortal away from him. He would have asked this of Ezekiel without a second thought, and he knew that should he ask, Ezekiel would say yes to him.
He couldn't do it. He couldn't damn Ezekiel to come back to the darkness with him. Lucifer loved the man enough to want his soul to know the happiness and light of Heaven, even if it meant they would never be together again. Lucifer would bear the pain of their separation, knowing Ezekiel's soul was at peace, and would never know suffering again.
One final breath escaped the mortal's lips as Lucifer broke the kiss. His chance to ask was past. One whisper of air and Ezekiel was gone, the light fading out from his open, questioning eyes. His soul was freed from its tired, useless shell, and it slipped away from those mortal remains easily. Lucifer watched, and he saw and then felt the glorious brightness that was Ezekiel's soul float up from the bed, hover, and then wrap around the devil in one final caress.
Ezekiel's voice filled his mind, full and strong now instead of weak and fading. Everyone gets a second chance someday, Morning Star. You gave me mine, and I am yours. Follow me, when you're ready. I'll be waiting...follow me...
He could not find his own voice to answer Ezekiel's parting words. He ached as the light pulled away from him and floated upward, dissipating into the air at last and leaving behind only darkness.
And then Lucifer began to grieve.
They were coming for him. He knew they would be, eventually. He'd been waiting for them for some time.
His brothers. His once loyal, devoted legion of fallen angels were now prepared to rebel against him, just as they had rebelled against their father so many ages ago. He had always known this day would come. It was inevitable, and the time was finally here.
He didn't mind. Since Ezekiel's death, the devil's heart just hadn't been in his "work" any more. He was tired. Tired of it all. Torture and suffering no longer interested him. He saw the petty power struggles within his domain as no more than meaningless games, and he couldn't be bothered with them. He visited Earth rarely, no longer amused by the pranks he used to play to pass the time, nor by the more complex amusements of tempting and damning souls. Empty diversions, all of them. Everything just left him feeling empty. He spent most of his time alone, up here on this balcony, or drifting aimlessly through the dark clouds of his domain.
The others saw his condition and took note. To them, their leader had grown soft, listless...vulnerable. They couldn't comprehend the changes he had gone through, nor the reasons why. He refused to answer their questions, knowing they would not understand. Their hearts still burned with the fire of vengeance and retribution. His only burned for one thing.
Lucifer stood on the ancient, wind-buffeted high spire in the center of his kingdom. Once he had seen a kind of beauty in this place; now he only saw it as his billions of damned souls did, as a place of sorrow and darkness, of eternal night and suffering. The winds carried the bitter stench of death, decay, and burning flesh. The winds also carried the distant screeches and cries of his brothers, still far off for now, but growing closer by the minute.
Yes, they were on their way. They would descend upon him at any moment. And no matter how he hard he would fight, how many of his brothers he wounded or even killed in the battle, they would defeat him in the end. He was one against an army of thousands, for he knew that not even those few he considered his closest allies would stand at his side in this battle. No, he knew what would happen. They would capture him and drag him down to the worst, lowest dungeons of Hell. They would leave him there with the most wicked of his damned souls, leave him at the "mercy" of those worst demons in a prison that he would be lucky to escape from in ten thousand years' time.
Part of him was ready to accept that fate. Such was the inevitable price of power and glory, he knew quite well. Just as his mortal souls paid for their sinful lives, so he would be held accountable for his own. But another part of him rejected such an end--the part that had always been a rebel, that had urged him to object to his father's need for complete submission and compliance so very long ago.
He gazed up at the bleary, smoke-filled skies. Squinting into the darkness, he could swear that high up above, he could make out the distant glimmer of one bright star. He had first spotted that speck of light it in the dark sky not long after Ezekiel's passing. Was it his Midnight Sun, he had wondered? Or was it merely a figment of his disturbed mind?
He wasn't certain. But every time he looked up at that star and meditated upon it, he felt a strange sense of peace fill him, as if some of the weight of his dark soul was lightening. If he stayed focused on the star for a long period of time, he began to imagine that he could even fly to it, buoyed by the sensation of light with which it filled him. Perhaps for once, he thought, his battered wings could find the power to fight against the downward pull of his soul and allow him to break free of this miserable prison.
What did he have to lose if he failed?
And if he succeeded...
It was a long shot, he knew that. He was very likely going insane, imagining this bright star, thinking it was Ezekiel there to guide him to Heaven. But turning his gaze back down to the fiery world below him, to the infinite pain, suffering and misery that soon would be his to share in, he decided that embracing an insane vision would be better than accepting the fate awaiting him here.
If he followed this star, he might find his way to a better place. Back to Ezekiel. Back to Heaven, yes, if God would take him. He supposed he could suck up his pride for once and ask.
After all, he thought with a smile, at least now he had one friend up there who would put in a good word for him.
He looked back up at the skies and, sure enough, his star was still there. Waiting for him. Calling to him, telling him to follow his heart. He stretched his wings. He didn't feel tired any longer. In fact, he felt stronger than he had in a very, very long time. Maybe he was strong enough to make it. He supposed there was only one way to find out.
He stepped off from the balcony and took flight.
* End *