Actions

Work Header

Out of Practice

Work Text:

It's a difficult dilemma, to be sure. And not one Linda can share with any of her colleagues, not without getting so abstract that she might as well not be saying anything—speaking in elaborate metaphors. No, she has to puzzle this one out herself.

What it comes down to is weighing the benefits for one patient against those for another. As their therapist, Linda has an ethical responsibility to both of them. So would it benefit Charlotte Richards, to have a shared session with Lucifer? Even if she is ignorant of the full context, she knows that she had a connection with Lucifer in her missing time. But then, could Lucifer really deal with Charlotte as her own person; is it possible for him to put aside that her body once housed his divine mother, Goddess of all—

"Linda?" Pete asks, from the couch opposite her chair.

Pete is an all-around stand-up guy. A social worker, director of a nonprofit dedicated to anti-gang efforts. He's been seeing Linda for the last eight years for anxiety and depression, but he's in a good place now. So she doesn't have to feel that guilty, as she admits, "Pete, I'm so sorry, I tuned out there."

And because Pete is such a good guy, instead of looking cross or impatient that she hasn't heard a word he's said in three minutes and he pays her to listen, his brow furrows worriedly. "Is anything wrong?"

"No," Linda says reflexively, and then hears the lie. "Yes," she changes it to. "But not with you. It's a...personal concern."

"If you need to go," Pete suggests, solicitous.

Linda shakes her head. "No, it's not anything I can do anything about..." Unless she could; but was it even her right—she gives her head a shake, straightens up in her chair. "Excuse me, please, go on. You were telling me about your new workout?"

"Yeah, that..." Pete frowns at her slightly. "Linda, if you do have something—it's really okay. You're the most attentive therapist I've ever had—you took calls in the hospital earlier this year, even! If you're having an off day—all of us, we're only human, isn't that what you've been trying to drill into my thick skull for all these years?"

Linda manages to chuckle more than snort, just barely. "Yes," she says. "Only human. Thank you for your understanding, Pete. But I'm here with you and this is your session, so why don't you tell me again why I should really check this gym out?"

 


 

It's not the first time, is the thing. The first time with Pete, maybe. But if he talked to any of Linda's other patients—

—Almost any of them—

It's one of the founding principles of being a good therapist, that no patient's problems are fundamentally more important. One can't help but having more favorite and less favorite clients; it's impossible for anyone, even a trained counselor, to relate to people and not form opinions about them, to not get attached. And in specific circumstances, one person may take precedence; someone in immediate crisis must be a priority.

But all patients are human beings. And all human beings are deserving of compassion, everyone living their lives on this same planet together, trying to get their shit together. Some people have an easier time of it than others; some people need more help sometimes, or different kinds of help. But ultimately, no one's problems are more important—or less—than anyone else's.

Linda's always believed that, inevitable personal biases aside. Her sense of empathy is decently developed; when she's with a client, her attention is on them, on their needs and struggles. She can compartmentalize such that her own issues and concerns for others stay safely boxed away. She's been able to do that for years; she's damned good at her job, and that's a big part of why.

...So do the same rules apply when her patient isn't human? When he's a celestial entity who has gone to Hell and back and plotted to storm the gates of Heaven, and none of that is a metaphor no matter how much she might wish it still was? When his mother and father made the universe and could possibly unmake it?

Linda's read the Bible by now, front to back, up to and including the Book of Revelation—and maybe that's an allegory for the fall of Rome; or maybe she has the Dragon who will end the world on her couch weekly, and a shot at talking him out of it.

If it's irresponsible of her as a therapist to be thinking about Lucifer during another client's session—is it any less irresponsible of her as a human being, to not be thinking about her own role in possibly averting the Apocalypse?

(Of course she doesn't seriously think Lucifer would start the Apocalypse.

She hopes she doesn't think it.

She's going to stop thinking about it now.)

But it's one thing to look at the bigger picture. To back away far enough to try to take in the full magnitude of what she's facing. Maybe it's necessary, but it's not her job. Her job is the people who make up that picture. She can't be boggling at the forest when she's supposed to be tending the trees.

She really needs to talk about this with someone. Dig deep and figure out her work/life/celestial-insider balance.

Or she could take a shortcut.

 


 

It's a slow week for supernatural calamities. Or, if there is a new Biblical figure in town or a magic weapon on the loose, Lucifer's not ready to talk about it. He's in a contemplative mood, and they spend most of his session discussing monogamy and how is it even a thing.

Linda isn't clear what happened in Lucifer's last case to propel him down this line of thought. Over the last couple years he's learned something about propriety and privacy, such that he doesn't share every irrelevant personal detail of the people he's met in his police work. It's professionally reassuring, even if it does leave her personally curious sometimes.

His preoccupation now doesn't seem to be anything specific to Chloe, and Lucifer doesn't pick up on Linda's hints that his interest in fidelity might have a more relevant application. Honestly, him considering human nature in the abstract, not just how it directly relates to his own experience, is a big enough step for Linda to want to encourage it. And she did her thesis work on human sexuality, so she's not out of her depth for once.

There is the mild problem that when Lucifer is talking like this, calm and curious, quick-witted and with insight honed by eons—eons!—of existence, he's even more attractive than usual. Which is, at the least, distracting. Lucifer's very presence is a test of sexual willpower, temptation incarnate. That's a divine fact of life, one Linda's still coming to terms with over a year after they stopped sleeping together, and better understanding the why makes it only marginally easier to manage.

It's annoying when he's not even her type, really—the height, sure; but he's so pale and lanky, and his look is too carefully tailored and assembled. And yet when he's sitting there across from her, talking with that slightly too affected accent... She has vivid flashes of ripping off his immaculate suit and getting her skin against his at least once a session. Without fail.

It's definitely something with him—she has a few photos of Lucifer, and they don't do much for her; his voice in voicemail messages has no particular effect. But that same voice live over the phone—much less the whole being before her...

Linda wonders if he can turn it off. It might have never crossed his mind to try; why would he even want to?

Oblivious to her distraction—hopefully oblivious, or at least pretending to be; he doesn't comment on it, anyway, with his peculiar intermittent sense of courtesy—Lucifer hashes out monogamy. The very concept puzzles him; he's hard-pressed to understand why one would want a partner all to oneself in bed, much less in a relationship. But as they talk he works through his innate abhorrence of limitations and settles on fascination; greed and envy are two of the deadly sins, after all, and as a sexual fetish, exclusivity almost makes sense to him.

Their conversation winds to a close with less than ten minutes left on the clock (technically; in practice Linda is sure not to book anyone within an hour of Lucifer's sessions. It saves having to explain holes in the wall and so forth.) She's managed, with about eighty percent certainty, to talk him out of trying monogamy-as-kink with any of tonight's paramours—Los Angeles is not ready for the Devil going steady with someone, especially not some poor horny soul just looking for a great lay, not cosmic consequence. Also Chloe doesn't deserve even more mixed messages than she's already getting.

So, good deed done for the day, Linda clears her throat, says, "Lucifer, may I ask you something? Unrelated to our session now."

His eyes light up with intrigue. "Please!"

"Your gift. For drawing out desires," she says. "When people tell you what they want—it's situational, isn't it? It's what someone wants at the particular time you ask. So it can change."

"If we're talking about someone's innermost longing, then that tends to be fairly stable," Lucifer says. "But yes, it can change with the person over time."

"I was wondering if you could work it on me again now. Ask me what I want."

His eyebrows go up, and Linda tacks on, "Or not—only if you're okay with it, of course. And if you don't feel like it might negatively impact our patient-therapist dynamic, which, I suppose it would, though that's hardly textbook anyway, so maybe—"

"I can, if you'd like," Lucifer says, as if she hadn't said anything. He's smiling, one degree too warm to be teasing. Sitting legs crossed, folded hands resting on his knee and was he sitting like that all along, or did he just slide into that pose now—expectant, waiting?

"I hoped it might..." Linda gives her head a shake. "—But, no, this is wrong, it's using you—at the very least, imposing on a friendship. And you might—would—no one really wants to know what's going on in their therapist's head; you're right, it's a bad idea, forget I asked—"

"Doctor," Lucifer says, and his lips ripple, like he's suppressing a chuckle—or else changed what he was going to say on the verge of it leaving his tongue, because there's a slight pause, awkward only in that he's so rarely awkward in any way. "I've heard the deepest, darkest desires of thousands of mortal men and women. If yours in particular managed to shock or appall me—I'd be terribly impressed."

Shock or appall, no, Linda doubts she has it in her. Not when that "thousands" is rounding down, possibly by several orders of magnitude.

But some more minor shame, for which he would lose respect for her—and when did it start mattering, that the Devil himself respected her? Not just accepting the authority of her expertise, the baseline that any therapist requires to be effective—and that Linda somehow earned that much is not so minor and possibly literally a miracle—but more. That he looks at her and sees a person. A friend.

But if she's going to be an effective therapist—if she's going to be a friend to anyone—she needs this.

It's cheating, Linda knows. Physician, heal thyself—quick, with a preternatural gift, while she makes everyone else take the long way of laborious self-analysis. But she's a mortal woman, trying to help the Devil himself; she needs whatever advantages she can get.

Linda straightens her spine, crosses her legs and squares her shoulders. "Do it," she says. "Please."

Lucifer smiles—maybe a little fixed, a little forced, and she almost stops him, because if he's uncomfortable with this after all—but then he's leaning forward to catch her eyes, and his are bottomless black, all-encompassing. "So now, tell me, Doctor Linda," he says, silken smooth and velvet soft, "what do you want?"

"I—" and she licks her lips, stalling out of instinct, because he's her patient and the distance between them is necessary, healthy and helpful; this session should be about him, not her—"I want—" but his eyes are so dark, so unfathomably interested; this is about him, because there's nothing he wants more than this, nothing he wants more than every truth he can reach—

"I want to—" and for an excruciating moment she fears she'll blurt out, 'have sex with you again'—because some part of her definitely does want that, wants to have sex with Lucifer knowing exactly what she's doing; she wants to fuck the Devil, wants to make a fallen angel come—

But what she actually says is, "I want to help people."

Lucifer's smile isn't forced anymore. "Oh, Doctor, tell me something I don't already know. Who do you want to help?"

"I want to help people like me," Linda says. "People who've been caught up in this—this celestial insanity. Who've had their world overturned and are struggling to put any pieces back in place. People like me, like Charlotte Richards, who doesn't get the half of what she's dealing with. And everyone else involved, or who are going to be, whether they realize it or not—everyone who's been or will be hurt and exposed and changed, and they don't know why, don't know what to do with this new world. If I could help them make sense of it—what little sense I've managed to find myself—I couldn't do much, but I could do something, maybe."

"You could," Lucifer says. "Of course you could."

He leans back, settling against the couch. He's no longer smiling, but his eyes are still holding hers, and Linda is still speaking. "I want to help everyone on the other side, too—like Maze, and Amenadiel, who are trying to figure out this world that's not what they were made for, but they're doing their best.

"And I want to help you, Lucifer, though you're so far outside anything I ever studied—except so many of the patterns of behavior fit? But maybe that's only because you've been on Earth long enough to imitate us, or maybe it's all just metaphor, like I used to think you were speaking in. All I have to offer you is platitudes, and theories derived from human minds and human experiences, and maybe they're relevant insofar as you relate to humans, but they're hardly reliably applicable, and in the long-term—and it's long, so much longer than I ever imagined—from that perspective, I might be doing you more harm than—"

"No, you're not," Lucifer interrupts her. Softly spoken, but it stops her cold as if he'd shouted.

Linda sags back in her chair. There's sweat on her forehead, itchy on her upper lip; her lungs are heaving like she completed two marathon spin sessions back to back.

It feels good. It feels fantastic, almost embarrassingly amazing.

Lucifer sitting across from her is motionless. Not a hair or a thread out of place. She's not certain he's breathing, until he speaks. "Doctor," he says. "Linda." He leans forward, picks up a glass from the table. Pulls out his flask, but when she shakes her head he pours her water from the pitcher instead.

When he pushes the glass against her hand, she manages to get her fingers around it, takes a gulp. The water is room temperature but soothing. She puts down the glass mostly drained, brushes a strand of hair from her eyes that might just be her imagination and says, "Thank you."

"You're...welcome?" Those words don't come easily to that too-smooth tongue. His favors are usually for something more tangible than gratitude. "Did it, ah, help?"

"It did," Linda says. "I know what I have to do...I knew anyway, really. But I needed the...clarity. To be sure."

"And what's that?"

"I have to close my practice," Linda says.

Lucifer is obviously braced, and yet he still can't hide the hurt that flashes across his face—he's always so vividly expressive; it's a wonder he can keep any secret. But he masters it enough to say, "Of course, if that's what you want."

"I'll have to reassign my clients," Linda muses, thinking out loud. "Recommend them other therapists. I've got choices for most of them already, only passed on a few, but I've been thinking about this for...a while, really, if I'm honest. Pete will get along great with Gary, I'm sure. And Dr. Kim did offer to—"

"And who do you have in mind for me?" Lucifer asks. "To pass me along to?"

"You mean..." Linda frowns at him with a little hurt of her own, along with guilt, that he'd accept her confessed failure so readily. "So you want to start seeing another therapist?"

"Certainly not!" Lucifer has the gall to look affronted. "But if I must, I'd like to know what hapless fool you hate enough to fob me off onto. I know I'm hardly a—a model patient, but I thought—"

"Wait, go back," Linda says, waving her hands like she's directing a landing plane. "Why must you anything?"

"If you're closing your practice..."

"My general psychotherapy practice," Linda clarifies. "In order to specialize in my, umm, unique cases."

Lucifer blinks once, twice, and for a ridiculous and slightly terrifying moment she thinks she sees a blush rising in his cheeks—and then he's grinning, manic, with too many teeth. "Oh, unique—that would be me, then."

"You," Linda confirms. "And Charlotte. Amenadiel, if we can work through our personal issues. Maze, if or when she's interested. And any others who have been or might be affected by the celestial and the supernatural—which, there aren't that many, but...but it's a big deal for those of us there are?" she ends, lamely.

In her head it felt like something real, something she could focus on—for the rest of her life, easily. She already has the outlines of half a dozen books in mind—none of which would she be able to publish as anything but fiction, but still. She can imagine herself as the next Freud of the uncanny, founding an entire new field of liminal psychotherapy, exploring both the psychology of the preternatural and the psychology of the human interacting with those other existences.

But spoken aloud it sounds myopic, simultaneously an egotistical flight of fancy and a banal reaction to the extraordinary. And when there are so many people out there with—real problems, she can't honestly say; but problems she's trained to actually help with, rather than stumbling around just trying to make sense of the basics—

"You, Doctor," Lucifer says. Is that edge in his tone doubt? Mockery? "As counselor to the Heavens and Hell and those caught in between...what an idea. That sounds—" and she cringes—"—marvelous! You're perfect for it!"

"I—I am?"

"Well, look at all you've accomplished with me!" and Lucifer actually gestures at himself, shameless, with all the panache of an artist unveiling a masterpiece.

"I can, uh, hardly take credit for..." and Linda is now imagining going public for real, Lucifer revealed as her client, and oh, yeah, what the hell was she thinking...

Or what the Hell, because if he were revealed, the entire truth out—if he were known for who he is, not just who he was, and all he's done... Linda straightens up in her seat, clears her throat. "Lucifer, seriously, you know that all you've accomplished, how far you've come—that's all your doing. I've helped you with the process, but the changes you've made, the growth—that's thanks to you and the work you've put into this."

"Which I couldn't have done without you," Lucifer says, and means it, honest as he always and yet almost never is. "I wouldn't have had a clue where to start. And if you could help me, imagine what you could do for all those poor troubled people who aren't—well. Me."

If that's meant to be self-deprecation, his smirk spoils it. It's so very Lucifer, to take perverse pride in being the universe's posterchild for maladjustment. Though as defense mechanisms go, it's far from his worst. And really, it's such a human reaction.

"It's not as if there are that many people in this situation," Linda demurs. "Not enough to maintain a real practice, but I have enough savings to get by for a few years. At least I'll have more time; I could get to one of those books I've been meaning to write..."

"I wouldn't be so sure of that," Lucifer says, thoughtfully. "If it gets around to the right places that you've this specialty..."

Linda frowns at him. "What do you mean? Are there other angels living elsewhere on Earth? Or demons?"

"Not that I know of," Lucifer says. "I was thinking more about humans. All the hunters, for one."

"Hunters?"

"You know, the ones who go after the more dangerous creatures out there. Lesser fiends, like those laughably misnamed children of Cain."

"Who?"

"Vampires," Lucifer says. "Though the Cain thing is what they're going with lately, I've heard. Unfortunate publicity, the wrong kind of popularity. Actually, now that I think about it, some of them might be interested in your services too, with their drinking problems..."

"There are vampires?" Linda clarifies. "Real vampires?"

"Well, not here," Lucifer says. "Not in LA, or most of the West Coast, not since I moved topside. A few in the Seattle area, maybe, but most of the small fry keep their distance when angels are about. We're a different weight class, so to speak."

"Vampires," Linda says. "I never... What about werewolves—no. No, don't answer that, I don't want to know."

Lucifer's smile is anything but reassuring. "Tell me if ever you do," he says. "But yes, if you do hang out a shingle, you won't lack for clientele. And until then, you needn't worry about getting by. It's high time I paid you what you deserve."

"You do," Linda says. Once they'd switched over from their...unorthodox bartering, he'd always been prompt with the checks.

He arches a brow at her now. "I pay your normal hourly rate, but I'm hardly normal. It's an imbalance I'm happy to right. Or else," and his face darkens, "call it hazard pay. A bonus for what we have and will put you through."

That, Linda could almost accept, except for the guilt that would come with it. "I told you before, it was my choice to work with you—to be friends with you. It's still my choice. And not one you're going to pay me for."

Lucifer exhales an irritated puff of air. "Then what do you want me to pay you for?"

"You don't have to. I told you, I've got savings—"

"But I want to," Lucifer says, petulant as a toddler begging for candy.

"Lucifer, you're my client; I'm not yours," Linda says. "I'm not looking to make a deal with the Devil."

Which is the wrong thing to say; she regrets it the moment she sees his face shutter up. "Fine, then." He stands. "I'll see you next week, Doctor. Good luck with your project."

His anger she can take. Real hurt is harder. "Lucifer, wait. Talk to me—if I'm as good a therapist as you say, then hopefully you've learned to communicate some of what you're feeling?"

That freezes him in his tracks, and the look he casts back at her is almost admiring. Linda probably shouldn't be flattered that the Devil appreciates her manipulation tactics. For now she puts that aside, asks, "Why is it so important to you, that you support me in this?"

"Why is it important to you that I don't?"

It's a fair question. Linda takes a breath, with it the time to consider. Lucifer doesn't sit back down, but he doesn't move toward the door either, waiting. He listens when she finally says, "It's not that I don't appreciate the offer; I do. I'm grateful for it. And it would help me.

"But as much as I want to expand, the work we do here, the two of us—it's important. What I am to you, what I can do for you—our client-therapist relationship is already unconventional in dubiously ethical ways. There are times I'm afraid to say to you what I have to. If I'm financially dependent on you, that's an additional pressure to make the process that much more complicated."

The 'dubiously ethical' just makes him smirk, opening his mouth to accept the compliment—but he shuts it again as she continues, shoulders shrinking to mar the crisp lines of his suit. He waits until she's done speaking to ask, quietly, "You're afraid of me?"

"Sometimes, yes," Linda says frankly. "I'm only human, Lucifer."

"I wouldn't hurt you," he says. "You know I've never killed a human—"

"I know that," Linda says. To underline it she stands up, takes a willing step toward him. "I'm not afraid for my physical safety—if anything, I had more concerns on that front before you showed me the truth." At his querying look she tips her chin at the picture frame behind him, the patch job it covers. "You did punch a hole in my wall. Finding out your true nature put that in a different perspective; I trust your restraint. But I'm closer to you now. And with closeness comes a degree of fear. You could hurt me now, badly. Not physically—worse than that."

He's looking ready to bolt for the door; before he can, she adds, "And I could hurt you. I have. Sometimes it's my job; I have to push you out of your comfort zones. But sometimes I just make mistakes. And if you became my patron, so to speak, I'm afraid such complications would make that more likely."

Lucifer narrows his eyes, not threatening but analytical. "So you're afraid that if you feel you owed me, you couldn't be as effective a therapist for me. And that very inability would incur a greater debt in your sense of obligation, which in turn would render itself that much more difficult to pay off. "

"That's...one way to put it."

"Quite the wicked trap." He's admiring again. "But simple enough to disarm. If I started a trust, you wouldn't be directly beholden, as I'd have no way to rescind the stipend. A charitable foundation, perhaps, to fund your research—yes, that would work. It allows for expansion, and donations would provide a convenient way to accept compensation from clients who'd be challenging to bill conventionally. I'll call my accountant tomorrow, she can arrange the most beneficial write-offs—"

"Lucifer!" Linda throws up her hands before she thinks too deeply about who could be the Devil's accountant and what kind of loopholes they could arrange. "This isn't just about the money—"

"It's not?" He looks surprised—innocently so, so innocently that Linda doesn't get that she's backed right into another trap. Not until he smiles, wicked as sin. Though not cruel at all. "Well, then, there's no trouble. Because if this isn't about money, then you don't have to worry about owing me. You'll never be in the Devil's debt, Doctor; what I owe you, I'll never be able to repay, however much wealth I throw at you. Or at your foundation—what shall we call it? The Psychiatric Research Institute of Celestial Kin? Or the Society for Living Under Theologic—"

"I haven't yet agreed to any—"

"Linda," and Lucifer takes a step to close the distance between them. This close he should tower over her, and yet somehow he seems to face her eye to eye. He takes her hands in his, says, "Please. Let me do this much. I need—I want to be a part of this."

His eyes are dark enough to make her cheeks heat. But she's got some pride. And a couple years of tested self-control. "Then can you tell me why you want to?"

"Because this isn't just about me," Lucifer says. "What you want to do, who you want to help—there are people who need it. Or who will need it, someday. Some of those people matter to me very much. And others...should matter to me. People I could hurt, or have. People my family have hurt, and they deserve to be helped."

His hands tighten around hers, not enough to be painful but a plea for her not to pull away, as he continues, "When I...when I showed you, when you saw me, you told me after that you got over it because of Maze. It wasn't something you could do by yourself. No one should have to get through that alone. And I want you to be there, if you're willing, if you want to be. For anyone who needs you."

One day she'll have to talk to him about this perception that sharing his real self is the most traumatic thing he can do to a person. Ideally, a day that it's no longer true for her.

For now, she can do this. "All right," Linda says. "All right—I'll talk to your accountant, at least."

"Excellent!" Lucifer beams, squeezes her hands and let go.

"But no promises," Linda says, putting up a warning finger. "And if I do go forward with this, we are not naming the foundation PRICK."

"In that case, what about—"

"No. I can come up with the name myself."

Lucifer's pout is as practiced as any four-year-old's. "Oh, very well. You're available tomorrow evening? We can meet at Lux. Or here, if you'd prefer?"

"Lux would be fine," Linda says. "We can have a celebratory drink afterwards." She could invite Maze. Her human friends...perhaps not yet. Not until she's found a way to reasonably explain her career change, as her new area of focus will raise some questions in normal society. A sabbatical, maybe? Anyone who knows Lucifer, in any guise, would know she's well deserving of a break.

"I'd be honored to buy you that drink," Lucifer says.

"Lucifer." Linda puts her hand on his arm, and he smiles down at her, friendly but vaguely puzzled, as if he can't for the life of him imagine what she has to say. "Thank you for this. For your support," Linda tells him. "However this works out for me, whether anything comes of it—everything you've offered means a lot to me."

"Any time, Doctor," Lucifer says, such a casual promise of eternity. "Any time."