Lucifer came in the night as soon as Thomas sent Katherine away, just as Thomas had known he would. The unordained priest left a light on and said his prayers, but he understood that faith would not protect him.
Intuitively, Thomas had sensed this as a child, when he had lived in terror of the Devil hiding under his bed. The Devil could wield no power over those who denied him; he could not enter their rooms, nor their hearts. Yet even as a boy, Thomas had recognized his own weakness. He wanted to see the Devil. He was afraid the Devil might be hiding under his bed because he had imagined him there.
When he was older -- old enough to feel heat in his loins that could only have come from Hell -- he imagined what the Devil must look like. Not a creature of fire and darkness, no snake or Lord of the Flies, but a man. Rather like a painting of Jesus, with a beard and piercing blue eyes. But the Devil's gaze would not turn to heaven. He would meet the glances of men directly, without the pale, ethereal fog of divinity that obscured human emotion. The Devil would be tactile, sensual, dirty under the fingernails, with blood-red lips and a cock whose prominent outline could be seen no matter what clothing covered him.
Thomas had never had any trouble figuring out what temptation looked like.
The archangel Gabriel had shown him proof that he had a soul to save, yet not even that substantiation could give Thomas the strength to block Lucifer's arrival. When he felt heat surround him as he prepared to do battle with Gabriel, he knew without turning what held him in its clasp. He had guessed what to expect from the time Katherine told him she had seen the Devil. The Archfiend would come for Thomas as well, but his Devil would not squat on a stone and tear apart delicate flowers; his Devil would crouch over him possessively, ripping away the layers of lies that protected his own spirit.
Thomas tried not to cry out when Lucifer's black fingernails dug into his skin as the sweet, sultry voice poured into his ear, like the droning of Mass, telling him something that he already knew:
"Do you know what Hell really is, Thomas? It's being removed from God. Having His Word taken from you."
He remembered opening his eyes on the floor of the church after the vision of a shattered heaven on what was to have been the day of his ordination. He had blamed himself and his demonic fantasies for his doubts, his loss. But Gabriel had shown Thomas the truth -- that however he might feel about it, God and His angels existed. They were real. It was sweet, sickening relief finally to taste the fruit of that knowledge, to feel it snaking through him, opening his eyes to see...
Thomas had not lost His Word at all. He felt it deep within his body as Lucifer pressed close, the touch and the smell so familiar -- the stuff of a hundred shameful dreams that could never be scrubbed away in the morning. To believe in the one who fell was to believe in the One who could not fall.
And as the Devil begged him to defeat Gabriel in the name of Hell, Thomas realized that this once, their shared purpose would not be sin. He could not kill the archangel, but he could hold up a mirror and let Gabriel's own darkness swallow him.
Once he was alone, Thomas made himself relive Gabriel's death. Lucifer's brutality as he slew the archangel still shocked him, though minutes before, Thomas had clubbed Gabriel with a pipe until the fallen one stepped in to stop him. Thomas pictured the face of his Devil corrupted and covered with blood. Evil, evil, he chanted to himself, and prayed for forgiveness. As usual, God did not answer. But Thomas heard wind like a flutter of wings in the room, and knew, when he turned, what he would see.
Lucifer squatted on the foot of his bed, knees drawn up to his chest like a parody of a gargoyle. Like the first time Thomas had seen him, he wore a black coat.
"Your prayers are still sweet, Thomas," murmured a voice that held no malice, only a kind of envy. "Even He..." The Devil tipped his head toward the ceiling, so there could be no mistaking Whom he meant. "He couldn't help but be touched."
As a seminary student, Thomas had received some rudimentary training in banishing demons, but he knew he could not speak the words to remove this one from his presence, and he had no hope of controlling Lucifer; he could only attempt to control himself. He stood and faced the Prince of Darkness, who unfolded his body to rise as if he were a bat spreading its wings.
"Why are you here?"
"We both know the answer to that, Thomas." Again, he heard no scorn or wickedness, just a sort of brutal honesty that he had never encountered in the voice of a sermonizing priest. "I wouldn't be here if you hadn't left the door open."
Thomas, who had bolted the front door, latched the chain, closed all the windows and locked the door to his bedroom, couldn't suppress a bitter smile. He thought about arguments he could make -- that his inability to shut the door was a hallmark of his belief in good as well as evil, that God had given humans the free will He denied Lucifer's kind -- but the disputations seemed pedantic and immature. Far better men than himself had written treatises on the Fall and the nature of wickedness. The Devil wasn't about pure evil -- pure evil couldn't lure men away from the promise of Heaven. No, the Devil was about clouding the issue, cloaking vice in virtue, rationalizing, justifying, empowering, fulfilling wishes that should never have been made.
To cry out in despair, to hold back from the path, to turn one's face from truth, to miss the mark...these were sins, not just grand gestures of defiance or cruelty. Like all men, Thomas had committed countless small errors, oversights, willful corruptions and casual perversions. He knew what had brought him to this moment. But that didn't explain what Lucifer wanted from him.
"Why are you here?" he tried again. "Aren't there bigger sinners than me to catch, or more virtuous souls to corrupt? What is it you want?"
Quicker than sight, Lucifer was behind him, holding Thomas as he had held him in the desert, one arm around his waist and the other over his shoulder. "What do you think I want?" the Devil hissed. "Don't underestimate yourself, Thomas. The biggest sinners are insane, and the so-called virtuous souls fall so easily. It's been awhile since I've had someone as tempting as you."
"That's a pretty ironic word coming from you," Thomas strangled in response. Speech was almost impossible with Lucifer's lips brushing his ear and what had to be Lucifer's cock pressing against his ass. He'd felt it earlier but then decided that he must have been imagining it -- the archangels were androgynes, weren't they? Surely they didn't get hard holding humans.
But the Devil...the Devil was usually painted with an erect phallus. Unquenchable desire, like the Greek myth of Tantalus. Lust that could never be assuaged, like Thomas had felt since the moment those hands touched him in the desert. Had the unholy one tempted Jesus like this, when Jesus was a man? If Jesus had been human enough to give in to doubt, to ask his Father why he had been forsaken, had he been human enough to feel...this?
With a sudden, wrenching gesture, Thomas broke away, turning to stare at the male form. He was breathing too fast, and knew that revelation would not be lost on Lucifer, but he didn't care; he was sure the Devil could tell everything he was feeling, anyway. Lucifer had taken the shape that tempted Thomas most -- masculine, handsome, with long dark hair and clear eyes. Self-possessed yet seemingly vulnerable. And always hard.
"I want to see what you really look like," he demanded, ignoring the smile on Lucifer's face. "This...this is how I imagined you when I was..." Thomas stopped, stared into eyes wide with what had to be a parody of ingenuousness. "I want to see what you really look like," he said again, thinking of Medieval devils, Renaissance devils, postmodern devils melting from canvases.
A sudden flash burned his eyes like a camera strobe, leaving an impression of something huge and dark against the brightness, with twisted wings and horns and hair everywhere. It faded before the light in the room returned to normal. "But that's your image too, Doubting Thomas," Lucifer intoned. "I cannot stand in the Light, for I am only a shadow. What you see is what you make of me."
Thomas swallowed hard. "What if I wanted you to be a woman...?"
"You've never wanted me to be a woman." Lucifer's voice was kind, not like the mockery of priests -- both the ones who deplored that sin and the ones who indulged, who could name every seminarian who sucked cock. "It's not an issue for the angels, you know," he went on conversationally. "They're both-and. I was the first either-or. I could be one or the other, but not both. It's part of my punishment to be incomplete."
"Which do you prefer?"
The Devil laughed aloud, high-pitched, almost a giggle. "Prefer? I was perfected. I think Gabriel hated women more, because they breed -- they give life to more humans. He punished them far beyond anything I expected for the little sin of hope, eating an apple to get closer to God. All those women destroyed in my name, burned at the stake for doing my work, when it was men who fell." A strange expression crossed Lucifer's face -- not pity, never that, but something akin to sorrow. "They say Original Sin was a woman, you know. My daughter, the mother of death. That makes me the only angel who could give birth."
"You're not answering the question."
Again the burst of flash, the flutter of enormous wings. "Aren't you listening? I have never been human. I'm a shadow. Your shadow. Whatever your sins may be...that's what I prefer."
Thomas gulped. "But you're not just here, right now. There are other places you must be. The famine in Africa, the children being abused right nearby in the trailer park..."
"Look at me." Faster than anything human could have moved, Lucifer was right in front of him, pressed chest to chest so close that Thomas could smell his breath -- earthy, but not foul. "I am in your here and now, only here, right now. I came for you." He paused to let the words sink in. "What shall I do with you, Thomas?"
Thomas thought of Gabriel, poised to rip Mary's heart out. He thought of Job. He thought of Lot. He thought of Eve. He thought of God, who could not look upon the failings of His creations.
He looked at Lucifer and wondered: which was the greater sin in God's eyes -- to feel hatred, to despise the Devil, or to love him?
Which had Jesus done in the desert?
"I left the door open, and the light on," Thomas said. He felt his cock throb against the too-hot body pressed to his. His voice shook, but his hands did not as he slid them up Lucifer's back. "So give me what I want."
Exultation turned the corners of Lucifer's lips even as his eyes clouded with desire. "You have to tell me what it is. I can give you any kind of pleasure you can name and some you've been afraid to imagine, but first you have to make the choice. There's no formal contract for your soul. Just ask for it."
"Whatever I want?"
"I want," Thomas began harshly, and suddenly his path blazed clearly before him, "I want to make you come."
Lucifer stared as if he hadn't understood him correctly. Then his head tilted slightly to the side and his brows rose, as though he simply couldn't believe what he was hearing. "What?"
Thomas blushed, surprised that he could feel shame in the presence of the Devil. "I want to see what you look like having an orgasm."
"I can't." Lucifer's lip twisted, hardly more than a quirk, but it wasn't a smile. "You know that. Lust that can never be assuaged -- not even for a moment -- that's me."
"You said," and Thomas, feeling suddenly invincible, turned him around in his arms, so that Lucifer's back was to his bed. "You would give me anything I wanted. This is what I want. I want power over Satan. I want to make you feel bliss."
"You don't know what you're asking," Lucifer whispered. For the first time Thomas heard a note of uncertainty from the fiend who had shown no fear facing down Gabriel, nor admitting his own inability to believe. The Devil had lost control of the situation -- of him.
Thomas lunged forward, knocking Lucifer onto his bed as he kissed him, teeth cutting through his lips from the impact, spilling blood over the corner of Lucifer's mouth. He realized that he had half-expected to have to sign away his soul in blood. That made him smile, and he ground down against the body trapped on his mattress by his own weight.
The room disappeared. Blackness enfolded him, a living entity -- a stinking, scaly tightness that might have been a grave or a womb. "Stop it!" he roared, and then it was just him and Lucifer again, both of them shaking on the bed.
"It will be much worse if you get what you want," the gentle voice warned Thomas. "There can be no bliss for me. I might end up tearing your heart from your chest and eating it, or we might both burn up like Gabriel's dead angels. Or you might end up like me."
Lucifer sounded so sincere, so caring, that for a moment Thomas almost forgot that he was the king of lies. White-hot anger blazed through him. "That's not what you're really afraid of, is it? You're afraid that you'll end up like me." His fingers tangled into the black cloth that covered the body beneath him. No sooner had he started to pull it away than it vanished, and Lucifer lay naked and perfect under his hands.
"To end up like you has been the wish of all angels, even the ones who did not make this war." Hot hands caught Thomas's shoulders and flipped him, pinning him to the mattress, as the Devil rose above him and crouched over his groin like he had in every obscene fantasy, every wet dream. The sudden image of fire drew a shout from Thomas; instead of simply removing his shirt, Lucifer had ignited it, yet it burned away without scorching Thomas's skin. He did the same with pants, socks and briefs as Thomas lay trembling on the bed, biting his bloody lip to keep from screaming.
When they were both naked, the Devil lunged forward to whisper in Thomas's ear, "Surrender. You know that's what you want -- to be taken."
Thomas felt his legs parting without volition, heard himself moan as Lucifer latched his mouth onto the skin of his neck, marking him in a trail of fire where he had once worn a crucifix. His skin burned everywhere Lucifer touched him. He craved the oblivion of that contact, but he had to resist. "You first." It was torture to drag the words from his throat.
The hot mouth moved relentlessly down his body, scalding first one nipple, then the other, spreading wetness like acid in a line below his belly button before the tongue flicked over the head of Thomas's cock. That Lucifer had an oral fixation was clear: he savored dead roses, angel blood and pre-cum with equal relish. Hands clenching into fists on the sheets, Thomas felt pressure building in his groin and feared that it would be over for him in moments, but Lucifer did not stop to suck him; he continued downward, pushing Thomas's legs over his shoulders with his hands, drawing each of the balls into his mouth in turn before bending Thomas double and running his tongue over the puckered opening behind the sac.
Jesus Christ. The profanity lanced through Thomas's thoughts as the snakelike invader probed inside him, longer and more flexible than any human tongue. He realized from the heated chuckle against his most intimate parts that he had uttered the Name aloud. No one had ever done this to him before; the part of him that thought it was filthy and sordid was rapidly silenced by the part that thought it was rapture. He felt his muscles begin to contract, until only terror and priestly discipline kept him from ejaculating. When Lucifer felt his struggle, he wrapped a hand tightly around the base of Thomas's cock and squeezed painfully, helping him to hold back.
"Please," begged Thomas. The dark head lifted between his legs.
"Fuck me." Thomas practically sobbed the words -- words he never used, words he despised, a vulgar phrase for an odious act, unsanctified, ungodly. "Please fuck me. Lucifer, please."
Like the morning star ascending in the sky, the Devil rose over him. He kissed Thomas on the lips like a benediction. Thomas recoiled from the knowledge of where that mouth had been a moment before, yet Lucifer breached his resistance, forcing his teeth apart, wrapping their tongues together until Thomas was kissing him back just as passionately.
"Sweet," groaned the foul fiend. Still kissing, he pressed a finger deep inside Thomas. The Devil's spit was slicker than any lubrication Thomas had tried; he felt no discomfort, only the frantic, burning ache of needing more, and he bucked against Lucifer's hand, pulling himself open wide for a second finger. When the hand withdrew he cried out in frustration.
"Fuck me," Thomas begged again.
"Look at me."
He had no choice but to obey. Lucifer caught Thomas's hands in his own and held them above his head. He grabbed both pillows and pushed them under Thomas's hips. For a moment the King of Hell hovered above the man, a bright shape in the dark room. Then he lowered his weight and entered Thomas with a single thrust, slow but steady, and it seemed to Thomas that the cock inside him adjusted to his body, reshaping, narrowing at the base, elongating at the tip, until it filled him so perfectly that Thomas felt sure he had been made for this, to make love with the Devil.
Lucifer began to move between his legs, hitting Thomas's prostate as he sheathed himself, pressing down on Thomas's cock when he withdrew. "God," Thomas began to chant, "God, God, God, God," and he couldn't stop because the litany was the only thing keeping him from being torn apart as sharp horns sprouted from Lucifer's head, as the dark hair matted into fur, as leathery wings unfolded above him, as the hand holding Thomas's turned into a talon and the chest crushing his grew sharp scales. Again and again, searing light burned his vision, but he stared into the unchanging eyes of the fallen one who growled and writhed like nothing human. The man was not afraid. The Devil looked the way his desire felt, unholy and dangerous, brutal and unstoppable.
"Thomas," said Lucifer, his gentle voice a high-pitched sigh and a low, low roar. It might have been a warning, or a blessing, or a plea. The Prince of Darkness threw back his head -- his handsome bearded face, his great horned crown -- and he screamed, an unearthly noise of such terrifying beauty that Thomas lost all control. He came, his seed bursting from him in hot spurts as fire spilled out to consume his insides, turning everything he saw to orange flame, then to a blackness so total that he thought there must be nothing but the darkness.
No Earth. No Devil.
When Thomas returned to himself, lying on his bed in a darkened room, the first thing he knew was the sound of weeping. His face and throat were covered with hot, salty tears. He thought that perhaps they were his, though he felt little pain -- just the blunt aching of muscles that had been stretched in the act of passion, a throat sore with shouting and a body soaked with the sweat of exertion. But the shaking that rocked him did not come from his own chest. He looked down at the dark head pillowed upon his shoulder -- a man crying as if the world were ending, as if he had lost his soul.
And Thomas remembered.
"Lucifer," he whispered in a voice that trembled, stroking the silky hair. The face lifted, no longer crowned with horns or framed with wings -- a face contorted in agony, ravaged by sorrow, with blood spotting the forehead. The Son of the Morning lifted his hands, so Thomas could see that they too streamed blood. He sat up in fear, pulling Lucifer with him, and caught a glimpse of feet that had been pierced in the middle as if by nails.
The Devil sobbed. Tears flowed from his eyes -- real eyes, human eyes, not the dark slits of angels. He clung to Thomas wailing horror and despair, a drawn-out negation, "No, no, no, no, no..."
Because he could not think what else to do, Thomas held him. And rocked him. And murmured words of comfort. He could not pray, for he doubted God would listen to the prayers of a man who had fornicated with the Devil. But he did believe that God was there, somewhere, a perfect Light beyond the suffering incarnate on the earth. Thomas pressed his lips to the forehead of the shattered being in his arms and imagined forgiveness above that of men or angels -- an absolution past his ability to believe, but perhaps not past God's.
"I loved Him," Lucifer grieved. "I loved Him."
"I know you did. I know. I know. I know."
Thomas never knew how long they sat together, priest and Prince of Demons. After awhile he became aware that the sky was growing lighter beyond the cracks in his blinds, and that Lucifer had grown silent and still, his wounds closed.
Finally the Devil lifted his head and stood. He waved one arm, and everything was as it had been when he arrived. The blood was gone, and the soaked sheets, and the scent of fire. They were both clothed, unmarked, untouched. Thomas raised his fingers to the spot of the absent mark on his throat and felt emptiness.
"Put back the crucifix," Lucifer said.
He was sure he must not have heard right. "What?"
"As soon as I'm gone, put the cross back where it belongs."
Lucifer stepped toward him with a brutal, terrible look in his eyes. He put a hand on Thomas's shoulder and pushed him to his knees. Thomas felt his body respond helplessly to the command; he started to reach for his demon lover, but Lucifer caught his hands and pushed them together.
"And pray. Pray that you never see me again."
Thomas stared in astonishment and sorrow. The Devil, the Devil who had been under his bed and in it...the Devil wanted to give him back to God. Giving him the one thing the Devil wanted and could never have.
"You can and you must. You know now what it means to live in Hell. It's the only way, Thomas. Pray."
Thomas could feel the power radiating from the Archfiend, the allure and the despair. He had lost God once, and he was about to lose the one being who answered when he called; he did not want to face that emptiness again, even if it meant he faced eternal damnation.
"No, Thomas. Pray never to see me again. Pray!"
And in a flicker of smoke and darkness, he was gone.
Still on his knees, Thomas leaned forward, resting his head on his hands. After a minute the tears came. He wanted to call the fallen angel back, but he knew he could not, not only on pain of losing his own soul, but something greater. There was only one way that he could ever let himself hope to see Lucifer again, and it required that he put the previous day out of his mind, return to the path of the Cross and seek the ways of Heaven.
Now that the war of the angels had ended, perhaps everything had changed. Perhaps the Light would shine on anyone who sought it -- even the fallen, even the damned.
Perhaps God's love was greater than any of them could know. He would have to take it on faith.
Kneeling on the floor, certain for the first time in his life that the Devil was not hiding under his bed, Thomas Daggett bowed his head and began to pray.