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Recoil and Grace

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Delirium sat on her sundial, just off-center from the heart of her realm, and rocked slowly side to side. Something was wrong; she was sure because she’d gone. She’d remembered that she needed to ask while she was asking because that was the way it worked sometimes and she hadn’t forgotten in the space between speaking the words and the Morningstar hearing them. Which was also how it worked sometimes.

She had said, “I am looking for my doggie,” and “I don’t want my brother to be hurt,” or close enough. She had found her doggie but the Morningstar had said no and her brother was dead. Her eyes leaked thinking about it and the tears turned into colored mice that swam in circles around her head. She had a new younger-older brother and that was fine, he smelled like snow and ash and was very nice if a little shy, but it wasn’t right. She’d remembered.

“Maybe,” a yellow mouse said as it did the breaststroke past her nose, “you didn’t remember everything.”

“There’s an itch buried in your head,” added a blue mouse as it came around her ear. “Maybe it knows.”

Delirium nodded, because there was an itch and it was buried. But she knew someone who could dig and talk but not write poetry and he could help her pull it up.

He was around here somewhere.

----

The World’s End Inn was. . .quaint, Lucifer decided, if unimaginatively named. It was also far busier than he ever allowed Lux to be, with beings of every possible description crowding the tables and filling the air with their chatter. He’d stared down a Branx warrior for a spot near the tap and stood, careful to keep out of the serving woman’s way, scanning the room and fighting his rising irritation.

He’d thought he was done with the Endless after Morpheus’ funeral. He’d wanted it, had made a point of leaving before the new Dream Lord’s reception, and yet a month hadn’t gone by before the youngest had tumbled back into his club talking in ciphers and promising trinkets and favors. He’d refused twice and had been attempting to escort her out personally when her canine companion had spoken up.

“Look, sir, I don’t have any idea what she’s talking about,” the dog had said, the Lady Delirium clinging to his neck and both of them slightly intangible. “But I think it’s important – she brought us straight here. Hasn’t dissolved once, and I’m pretty sure she’s serious about giving you her favorite dead language.”

Delirium had nodded vigorously. “You think it’s over and it’s not, Lucifer. You have to go and meet them. I’ll owe you if you’re not happy afterwards, cross my eyes. Heart. Thingy.” Not the most compelling argument but Lucifer had had nothing better to do, really, and now he was here looking for. . .someone. And the only clue he had was—

“—and then he turned into a dentist, honest, with the white coat and glasses and this really, you know, the beard thing.” A woman’s voice snagged his attention and he traced it to a booth in a corner of the room, wooden sides too high to see anything but a pale flickering light coming from inside. “So Paco just whacks him over the head with a stick, bam, and down he goes.”

Lucifer had been given nothing but the word ‘dentist’ and something about a chimpanzee to identify whoever it was he was meeting (“I remembered,” Delirium had said at one point, “so you have to go. Please, I remembered.”) so he wound his way through the crowd towards the booth, people parting with a varying degree of recognition before him.

“So we saved the baby and I got the boy and got to take the Wrath of God down a peg or two.” The voice belonged to a human, more girl than woman, of Chinese descent. She was sketching shapes in the air as she talked, the source of the lights, sending a tiny red convertible racing across the worn tabletop much to the delight of the booth’s other occupant.

“That was a good story, really good!” A young girl with a riot of yellow curls was seated precariously on a stack of cushions and clapping excitedly. “Does your boyfriend really turn into a bug? Was Eclipso really the Wrath of God? Did you get in trouble for—”

The older girl held up a hand, laughing, and the illusions vanished in a showy puff of smoke. “Just a minute, kiddo.” She looked up at Lucifer, who was leaning casually against the back of the booth. “Hi.”

“My apologies for intruding,” he said, giving her a charming smile. “May I join you? The rest of the tables are taken, I’m afraid.”

She glanced at the child, who was staring at him with a wide grin. “Sure. My boss is sitting on that side; you can slide in next to me. He’s around here somewhere. I’m Traci,” she added, holding out a hand. “Traci Thirteen, Earth, London. 2009.”

He took her hand and bowed over it slightly, feeling the bright rush of power that hummed beneath her skin. “Lucifer, 1997. I own a night club in LA.” He released her and lowered himself carefully onto the seat. No need to spook her unduly. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Traci.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Lucifer,” she said after a moment. “Great name. And wow, same planet and only twelve years apart? What are the odds?”

“It does seem strange, doesn’t it?” he agreed, watching her face closely. She hadn’t shown any signs of recognizing him, which said something about both her education and the company she kept. He hoped this wasn’t a red herring; the thought of wondering the room and striking up pointless conversations made him tired. “Coincidence is such a strange beast. Tell me, what—"

He was interrupted by the clatter of heavy glass on wood. Several foaming pints of ale hit the table all at once and a large chimpanzee in a suit and deerstalker hat dropped onto the other end of the booth with a loud sigh. It appeared that he had the correct table after all.

“I knew they were holding out on me,” the chimp said, gesturing expansively at the ale. “Dwarven Red, fresh, clear as crystal. Some idiot left it behind a couple of days ago; folks here didn’t know what they had.” He nudged a mug over to Traci. “You done with your sap story yet? And who the hell is this?”

“Ta,” Traci said, grimacing down at the mug. “I’ve just finished, the audience was very appreciative. This is Lucifer, he owns a club in LA. 1997. I don’t suppose you want this?” She asked, tapping the side of the pint.

“Thank you,” Lucifer said, pulling the ale over. “A pleasure to meet you—?”

“Detective Chimp,” he replied, brows arched comically high. It seemed this one knew the Devil when he saw him. “Here via teleportation mishap. It’s, ah.” He paused, taking a long pull off the closest pint. “Honestly, I never wanted to meet you. Thought you were retired, what the he— what brings you all the way out here?”

“Wait,” Traci broke in, her face gone pale. “You mean the actual Lucifer. Fallen angel, the Adversary, Prince of Lies, all that?”

“Yes,” he agreed, keeping his smile pleasant. “As he says, though, I’m retired. And that last is a misnomer—I don’t lie.” He turned back to the detective. “To answer your question, I came here to meet someone.”

The chimp snorted. “Strange place for it; this isn’t a place people come intentionally and it isn’t a place where things get done. I say that respectfully.”

“Undoubtedly,” Lucifer murmured, running an idle finger along the rim of his glass. “Then what is this place for?”

“Stories!” the child exclaimed, recalling Lucifer to her existence, and he realized that he didn’t know her name. Had she introduced herself? “This is a place for stories, tales of adventure and love! And other things.”

“Ah.” Of course it was. He closed his eyes for a moment and focused, sinking down into the fabric of the not-quite-a-dimension. Now that he was paying attention, he could feel Morpheus’ influence everywhere, woven into the warp and weft of the place. The Dream— the former Dream King—hadn’t created the place but he had obviously shaped it, given it structure. It was the kind of thing he would do. It also explained why the place was making him feel slightly disconnected; Morpheus had always had that effect on him.

When he pulled back into himself it was to both girls staring at him and Detective Chimp was looking down into his ale, hand tight around the mug. Lucifer grimaced; he had been quick but. . .unsubtle. Rushed. And now everyone with the slightest sensitivity knew he was here. He sighed and lifted his own pint to his lips. The ale was good, at least. Smooth and oddly sweet.

“Amazing!” The child grinned wide and guileless from across the table. There was something about the quirk of her lips that was vaguely familiar. She was a pocket dimension, perhaps, or a new star. That would explain her radiating warmth.

“You went all the way down and up again so fast! And you didn’t even tear it or anything! Now you have to tell us a story; I bet you have lots. It’s your turn anyway,” she added. “Traci told hers and Detective Chimp told one about a helmet and I told one about space cetaceans. So now it’s your turn.”

Is this what he was here for, Lucifer wondered. To tell tales to a group of children? A favor owed from one of the Endless was only worth so much. “Child, I have no knack for storytelling.”

“Traci said the same thing, but I said just talk about something that made you happy and she told me about fighting Eclipso and it was good, you heard.” She leaned forward eagerly. “What’s something that made you happy?”

Watching a pack of demons destroy themselves in petty games, he didn’t say. Arguing with those few that could match him. The sound of the Word as it shaped his name. But he’d moved past those. They had no place in his current life. And playing the piano at Lux when the nights were warm and there weren’t too many idiots in the crowd didn’t have quite the same flair. Still, there had to be something. . .

“You mentioned the Wrath of God,” he started slowly, nodding at Traci. “I don’t recognize the name but He goes through them so quickly, it’s no surprise. In the existence before time, and while the universe was young, the title was held by an angel named Raguel. We didn’t get along.” Lucifer felt a smile twist his mouth, the old one from his early days in hell, and quickly fought it down. No need to give anyone nightmares.

“He represented everything I didn’t want our Creator to be—cruel, efficient, and without pity. And his eyes. . .you could see his own doubt behind them—even as he carried out his purpose. It was terrible and I took to spending as much time as I could away from him and the shadow of our Creator’s tower. There were plenty of excuses; the universe was ready for Creation and it took a millennium to set it up and, once begun, to make sure everything was running properly. Oh yes,” he said as the detective snorted into his ale, “He really did Create your physical universe. But don’t worry; you don’t actually owe Him anything for it.” It was a visceral pleasure to say. “And He didn’t create everything. For example, pockets like this place are completely free of His influence. Most alternate planes and realms are.

“But this isn’t about Him or Raguel. Poor bastard. No, this is about the day He asked for someone to go out beyond the universe into the original dark and inspect the whole thing from without. With reason; other, less organized beings of power were creating universes of their own and things were beginning to twist out in the black, the nothing winds were making strange eddies and currents, and it would do no good if something were to tear into the new universe before it had barely begun. I volunteered and no one was surprised.

“I launched myself off the edge of the Silver City and plummeted towards the universe below, snapping my wings open to stop just short of entering it. The dark is the only place an angel can fully unfurl their wings—do it inside the Silver City and you’re accused of impropriety; do it inside the physical universe and you’re in danger of snuffing out nearby stars—and I had not had a chance to do so in a very long time. It was exhilarating and terrifying, wholly sublime. Something else I had not felt in a very long time.

“Despite my power I was still young and foolish. I did a cursory circuit and then another, much faster, and soon I was racing, just myself and the nothing wind.” He stopped and took another sip from his mug. It had been a long time, almost twelve billion years, and his memory of that early time was always hazy. Morpheus had remembered, though.

“Finally, inevitably, I flew head first into one of those other realms, tangled up my wings in the sudden reality, and tumbled gracelessly to the ground. I might even have blacked out, because one moment I was looking up into a featureless sky and the next at a pale hand reaching down to me.

“I turned away from it and rose to my feet as smoothly as I could.  I was angry at myself for being so careless and. . .proud.” And Morpheus had thrown that at him countless times over the centuries, although he also used words like ‘beautiful,’ ‘wise,’ and ‘passionate.’ Two of them were true enough but ‘wise’ had been only in comparison.

“Who was it, then?” Traci prompted when he’d let his pause go on too long, “The person holding out their hand?”

“The Dream King.” Lucifer replied. “He was glorious. Still very close to the dream stuff from which he came, his edges blurred and shifted with the landscape around us. ‘Who are you?’ he asked, and I replied, ‘Samael, called Lucifer, first among the host of the Lord.’ With exactly that amount of pomposity, I might add.

“It was all very stiff and formal, children playing at being grown. I did not know who he was, did not know about any of the Endless. Being told that there were others as old as my Creator, and independent of Him, was a revelation.

“We didn’t talk long; the encounter had recalled me to my duties. But later, back at the Silver City, I looked around myself and knew that I was anything but free, my very self dictated by the Creator’s will. It was unbearable and I rebelled, as children sometimes do.”

He had never told the Dream King of his own memories, of being young and reckless and tumbling to the other’s feet with the taste of freedom on his tongue. He could have, there near the end. But he hadn’t.

“He had a little of that rawness, the last time I saw him. Time had. . .solidified him, bound him to his ways and his duties, but something had happened. He’d been confined—Detective, you might remember the sleeping sickness that lasted most of the 1900’s?” The chimpanzee nodded. “—And being alone with nothing but his own company must have changed him, uncovered some latent spark. He was mutable again. I saw it, when he came to Hell to retrieve a personal item, and I resented him for it. He brought the wretched nature of that place into sharp relief; less my personal kingdom and more a cage. And then he simply walked out of it.

“Not much later I was given word he was returning for another lost possession, one I would have sworn he had abandoned forever.” Poor, honest Nada. He had done what he could for her, given his agreement with Morpheus and not only because the Lady Death had requested he do so. She’d been put somewhere where she had the ability leave, should she ever realize she could do so, and the denizens of Hell had been encouraged to forget her. “And at first I was pleased and entertained multiple scenarios of petty vengeance. But I remembered that first meeting, where I felt anything was possible. I realized that I had spent ten billion years trying to define myself by being everything my Creator did not want me to be. A losing game in the end, and an exhausting one.

“So I kicked everyone out, closed down Hell, and had him walk with me while I did it. I wanted him to see it. An attempt to share my epiphany with him. But he wasn’t interested in listening; that would have been the easy option and I’ll admit that, in the end, I was not kind. I did not think I could do him lasting harm—surely no one could, except perhaps himself.”

The two girls were frowning and the detective was on his fourth pint of dwarvish red. Not exactly a rapt audience. “Wait,” Traci said. “I think you skipped just a bit there in the middle.”

“Go back to the first bit,” the child agreed. “I liked that part better, with the flying and things. What about the other times you saw Dream? There had to be times in between, right?”

“The other times?” Lucifer repeated, frowning. “I saw him a number of times in my official capacity, for various diplomatic events. Then I left heaven and for a very long while there was nothing but rage and despair. I pitted the inhabitants of my realm against one another, staged petty wars and false intrigue. And launched attack after pointless attack upon heaven and the Silver City. Then, perhaps five or six billion years in—I did say it was a very long while—the first mortal souls crept into hell.” He grinned. “So I threw a party.”

“Only two of the Endless came.  Honestly I’m surprised any of them came at all; their family was fresh from multiple tragedies and I was nothing like popular. But Death and Dream came and Dream in particular seemed glad to see me. The party was a dull affair, full of inter-dimensional bottom-feeders and curiosity seekers. Eventually I left them all in the hands of my servants and pulled Dream aside to consult on the reconstruction of Hell. No one better knew the nightmares born of the mortal mind and I had this fantastic idea for layered circles. . . We talked into the night, long after the rest of the guests had been escorted out. In the morning,” and it had been incredibly arrogant, he could see that in retrospect, “I suggested we merge our realms, that he submit to the authority of Hell—"

Beside him, Traci let out a sharp bark of laughter and buried her head in her hands. “I’m so sorry,” she said, shaking slightly. “Don’t mind me.”

“What is it?” Lucifer asked, annoyed. The story was admittedly a bit high-handed but laughter was uncalled for.

“No, it’s nothing, just,” definitely laughter, “With all due respect, I hadn’t realized this was a love story. Though I was starting to wonder. Sir.” Across the table, Detective Chimp sighed and pushed her his last mug. her She clutched at it and was careful not to look in Lucifer’s direction.

“Oh!” The child beside her exclaimed, scrambling up onto the table and grabbing at his hands. “You’re in love with Dream! That’s fantastic, he’s been so sad—“

“He’s dead,” Lucifer snapped. Because he was, because Lucifer had done nothing to prevent it, because he’d been skirting around his grief all night and now here it was, staring him in the face. “He’s dead and a child I do not know now stands in his place. Anything you think I feel is irrelevant.”

“But I just saw him!” she said, brow furrowing. Her grip on his hands was warm and firm. “I brought him flowers because of Killalla and he patted my head and said they’d look nice in the garden. He’s not dead, I would know.”

Looking into her agitated face, Lucifer wondered how he had missed something so obvious. The family resemblance around her hands, her eyes, and the way space curved around her were all unmistakable. “Lady Delight,” he said, voice cold and precise. “I do not enjoy being toyed with, Lady.”

“If you’ll excuse us,” Detective Chimp broke in, rising unsteadily to his feet, “I believe that is our cue to leave. C’mon, kid.”

“What? Oh, sure.” Traci scooted away from Lucifer and around to the other side of the booth, setting Delight’s cushions on the table. “Thank you for the story. I’m sorry, just, really sorry.”

“Hell of a day,” The detective muttered, leading the way through a thick press of people; a crowd had assembled around their corner of the room. Some had the sense to look ashamed as Lucifer’s glare swept across them.

“You’re not happy,” Delight said, dropping his hands and wrapping her arms around herself. I came here because that’s what I’m supposed to do when someone is going to be happy and now you’re here and I’m here and you’re not. Happy. You’re miserable." Her voice raised in volume with every word. “I tried to help you find what you needed for your new beginning but I can’t because you lost him!”

 “Lady—“

“This isn’t what’s supposed to happen; I don’t know what to do, I don’t!” She crumpled into a tight ball right there on the table and started sobbing. Lucifer sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. ‘Hell of a day,’ indeed.  What possible reason could Delirium have for engineering this meeting? She was insane but not stupid.

“Del – damn it, Morpheus, let go, I’ve got to – Del!” A large, familiar, redheaded man—Destruction, if the rest of the day was any indication—pushed through the crowd and scooped his sister up into his arms, one large palm cradling the back of her head. She latched onto his shirt, twisting the fabric tight around her fists. “Shh, sweet sister, it’s alright. You’re alright, shh.”

“M’not,” she muttered into his neck, and then said with greater interest, “Destruction, what happened to your beard?”

“Why don’t we get you a glass of something warm, eh, and I’ll tell you about it.” He shot a look at the gathered onlookers. “Haven’t you lot got anything better to do? Move it.”

Lucifer watched them head towards the tap, Delight reaching up to play with her brother’s ponytail. For a moment he had been worried that he had been the one to break her. He was glad that was not the case.

“You’re a terrible storyteller,” a voice from behind him said. “And you made my sister cry.”

“You died.” He was careful not to turn around. Morpheus was dead; if there was anything he was sure of right now it was that.

“I did,” the voice agreed, “and then I woke up to Death’s spare bedroom and the most comprehensive scolding I’ve ever received.”  There was a pause, then, “May I sit?”

“Feel free,” Lucifer sighed, waving his hand at the other end of the booth. “I have never been able to stop you from doing whatever you like.”

Morpheus came around to the booth entrance and sat, carefully setting a beat-up leather carryall on the seat next to him. He was wearing his default humanoid aspect, the angular one with black hair and achromatic skin, and Lucifer realized with faint shock that what he saw was it. There was no sense of shifting, or immense substance just out of sight, or endless depths. There was just the man, dressed in dark jeans and an oversized blue button down, looking a little tired.

“It requires getting used to,” Morpheus said, catching him staring. “Fitting inside just one shape.”

“Freedom always requires sacrifice,” Lucifer agreed, thinking of the rushing of wind through his wings and the soft shining light of the Silver City.

“So I have learned. Samael—no, Lucifer. I have been listening.” Of course he had. He’d probably heard the whole dreadful mess. “I feel I must apologize—I did not know.”

Lucifer shook his head. “That much is obvious, sweet Morpheus. I suspect it’s because you’re a self absorbed twit. And because I was your equal, not some mortal creature to love and then leave behind.” Vicious, he supposed, but he was far past caring.

“That is. . .fair,” Morpheus said, wincing a little. “Although it has been a long time since we have talked as friends.”

“True enough. You are always bringing up my pride; I suppose that had a great deal to do with it. Fortunately I have set such things aside. Or at least,” Lucifer smiled, a small honest one. It felt strange on his face, “I have learned to be more selective in my application.”

“I’m glad to hear it. I take it your retirement is going well?” He held up a hand. “I ask for a reason, not to make inane conversation.”

“Well enough. Although I have become bored of Los Angeles—the irony does not make up for the patent facades.” It was what you got, opening a popular nightclub in the shadow of Hollywood. Even so, toying with shallow mortals had grown tiresome faster then he’d imagined possible.

“I thought that would be the case,” Morpheus said. “I’ve been thinking, and would like to make a. . .proposition. We have reached the end of our planned journey, my brother and I. His next stop is the Galaxy Fair on Throneworld, something I am less then interested in attending. I was planning on returning to my sister’s realm to think on what I’m to do with myself. However. . .there is much I have not seen. I would continue traveling, if you would travel beside me.” He looked Lucifer in the eye as he asked, hands folded calmly on the table. Only a faint stiffness to his shoulders and neck betrayed his nervousness.

“I will go with you,” Lucifer said, the words feeling like a promise, like something vast and impossible falling into place. Across from him, Morpheus let out an imperceptible breath.

“Good.”

----

“Snow,” Barnabas said patiently. Delirium shook her head, her bright yellow curls swinging around her face. “Glue. Chalk. Sand.”

“Sand isn’t white.”

“Some of it is,” he replied, sniffing. “Like paper, or flags, or teeth, or hair, or—"

“Teeth,” Delirium muttered, “pointed and rounded and flat and sometimes they fall out, whoops! And when they break, when they crack, you go to a. . . ?”

“A dentist?” Barnabas suggested.

“A dentist!” Delirium yelled, grabbing him tight and spinning them around. “You’re the best doggie, the smartest doggie! The mage loves the dentist, the Pan troglodytes loves the dwarven red, and the angel loves the dream. We have to tell him!” She dropped Barnabas to the ground, or what passed for it inside her realm, and reached for the bit of space/time that felt like pianos and monsters and light.

“Where are we going?”

“To the city of angels,” Delirium said, wrapping the universe fast around them, “to tell Lucifer it’s not too late.”