Hot tears burned and distorted her vision with the effort to hold them back. But the panic continued to swell in her chest, trembling on her every word. She struggled to contain it, but the wave of fear continued to rise. “No, see, this - this is what I meant, Lucifer, when I… You can’t leave me.” The panic threatened to overtake her. “Listen, I am so sorry that… how I acted when I first saw your face, I-- it was stupid, and… Please.” Chloe swallowed hard, knowing in a dark corner of her heart with absolute certainty that this would be her only chance to say it. “Please don’t go. I… I love you.”
Lucifer’s expression froze before softening, and a small puff of incredulous laughter escaped him. His gaze was full of wonder, but shadowed. “You see,” he said, coming closer, “We were wrong about something else in the prophecy.” His hand reached out to softly caress her cheek with the care one would apply when handling something precious and dear, his gentle touch communicating longing, and awe, and regret. “My first love was never Eve,” Lucifer murmured, “It was you, Chloe. It always has been.”
Their kiss was sweet and innocent, in stark counterpoint to the devastation inside. If he could have stayed in that state of torture, finally holding her, but knowing it couldn’t ever be more, he would have, just for the painful ecstasy of touching her. “Goodbye,” he whispered, unable to help himself from touching her reverently one last time before his wings released and he disappeared into the night, leaving her standing alone on the balcony.
Chloe gasped awake, sitting straight up in bed and shaking. She had sweat through her clothes, and the icky moisture hit by the chilled air made her shiver. She couldn’t stop reliving it each night. His leaving her. Pulling her knees to her chest, she bowed her head and shoved her dampened hair from her face, concentrating on breathing deeply.
The first week it had been nearly impossible to sleep at all. A manic hope drove her to stay awake, vigilant, convinced he’d appear in the morning as if nothing had happened. The second week, a cold acceptance had crept into her. By the third, the numbed state she blindly stumbled through each day would melt into despair each night, haunting her with his image in her dreams. Sometimes her dreams built fantasies in which he had never left, where she was free to kiss him and love him, and nothing mattered - he was human or from the divine or neither or both. Then she would wake up to reality and her heart would break all over again. Other times, she relived their parting. It was an agonizing nightmare -- knowing he would leave, but still feeling the dizzying joy of hearing his love for her, his hands on her skin, his sandalwood and smoke scent surrounding her.
With every dream, she experienced that feeling of completion, like she was a puzzle piece finally locking into place. Into home. Then the feelings of faith and safety were ripped away once more, like the other times Lucifer had pulled away and put distance between them. Only this time, it wasn’t emotional distance. It was geographical. Beyond geographical.
In the past, he chose to return when he was ready, which she knew now had been in response to his becoming overwhelmed by his feelings. Fit in the context of all the stories he’d told her, what she’d assumed to be metaphors or delusions, she could see now how some experiences had freaked him out. In true Lucifer fashion, just as they had faced another emotional hurdle, he was gone. But she didn’t believe he could come back this time, because it wasn’t him choosing to go voluntarily. He felt he had to, that it was his duty, for the good of everyone.
Part of her was proud of his noble act because it was the most selfless thing he had ever done. Lucifer, the Devil, narcissistic egomaniac, making the ultimate sacrifice, choosing to go back to the place he abhorred the most, if it meant peace. Another part was selfishly screaming that it wasn’t fair - they had finally taken a step forward - she had come to terms with who he was, so why did she have to lose him now?
Why couldn’t she have had more faith in him? They lost so much time. She remembered when she’d struggled to compute who she knew he was with the version Father Kinley had almost convinced her he was. She recalled how he had launched himself in front of an ax to save her, and she’d realized the depth of his true nature. It wasn’t the personification of evil at all. That moment had shaken her to the core. If only… well, all the if only’s, what if’s, and why’s couldn’t change anything now.
Chloe pulled herself from the bed and stumbled to the bathroom, where she scooped cold water into her hands and rinsed her face. She had to get it together, if not for her own sake, then Trixie’s. She met her own eyes in the mirror. Dan was finally emerging from his grief, and Trixie needed at least one parent who wasn’t falling apart.
So Chloe did what she was good at; she buried her own grief, washed away the evidence, and dressed for work. Permanent shadows sat beneath her eyes, but the mask of composure was firmly in place. Trixie was safely on the bus with a packed lunch and a hug when her cell rang. Ella’s name flashed on the screen.
“This is Decker,” she answered, already heading to the car and clipping on her badge. Work was a good distraction as long as she could immerse herself in the case, leaving no room to miss her partner. God, was there any part of her life where she didn’t feel his absence? Without his banter and sly humor, work felt longer, darker. His effervescence, however inappropriate it had been, made life brighter and more interesting, and always uncovered important angles others didn’t see.
When she arrived at the crime scene, the stench of death was overpowering. It was clear this body hadn’t been discovered for several days. The complex wasn’t in the worst part of town, but that wasn’t saying much. Most hallways had burnt light bulbs and cigarette burns in the dingy carpet. Neighbors probably hadn’t known their neighbor well enough to be concerned until the odor, similar to rotten eggs, became unmistakable. The apartment itself was shabby-bachelor-chic, complete with mismatched furniture in dull colors and remainders of take-out, pizza boxes, and beer cans piled on the coffee table. The nicest thing in the apartment was his XBox.
Ella was collecting DNA samples when Chloe joined her beside the corpse of a young man in his mid-twenties. He was leaned back against the couch cushions, as if he had nodded off while catching a game. The incongruent placement of a silver bell cradled in the man’s hands prompted her frown. Squatting down to look, Chloe observed the man’s eyes had pinpoint pupils and there were no discernable wounds. “Overdose?” she asked.
Ella nodded, “We’ll know more after the autopsy is done and I run some tests at the lab. So far it’s looking like a toxin or overdose.”
“What’s up with the bell?” Chloe murmured.
Ella sighed and shook her head, “I dunno. Dude definitely didn’t have a butler. This looks like my brother Franco’s place after he left home.”
“Alright. What do we know so far?” Chloe asked as she stood up, studying the scene. It was difficult to determine if anything was out of place. She agreed with Ella’s assessment that the surroundings were typical of a young man who wasn’t particularly bothered with cleanliness or sanitation.
“Victim’s name is Jonathon Hopper. Twenty-four. Lived alone, but had a girlfriend. She found him this morning. It looks like he’s been dead for at least three days, but with decomp and an unknown tox, I’ll need to know more before I have a specific timeframe.”
Chloe swept her gaze around the victim and the furniture around him again, taking a closer look. “I don’t see drug paraphernalia. If this was an overdose, where're the drugs? It’s possible he was with someone and he or she removed them.”
“Yeah, but there’s no signs on the body of recent shooting, snorting, or stuffing. That’s why I’m leaning towards an ingested toxin, and likely not intended by the victim. Like I said, I’ll know more after the autopsy.” Ella stood, snapping off her gloves, and sighed. “Lucifer would definitely have a caustic remark about happy drugs if he were here.”
Noticing Chloe’s stiffness, Ella smiled apologetically. “Still no word from him, huh?”
“No, no word,” Chloe replied in a measured tone, looking away. Composure, she reminded herself.
“I’m sure whatever family stuff came up will be fine soon and he’ll be back like it was nothing, right?”
“Yeah, maybe,” she answered, noncommittally.
“Has he told you when he thinks he’ll be back?” Ella asked, packing up her gear and samples.
“Um, no. Not really,” Chloe took a deep breath, swallowing the lump in her throat. Ella was just showing her usual kindness and concern for her friends, but it was getting harder and harder to answer like everything was fine. “He can’t… call from where he’s at. I don’t know when - if, he’ll be back.”
Ella frowned in response, thinking, not for the first time, that it was rather strange that he couldn’t use a phone wherever he was. Where was he, the Amazon? And wasn’t he from England, anyway?
“He’ll be back, Chloe. He always comes back to you. The guy may have some serious intimacy issues -- and I mean feelings, not sex, obviously -- but he… well, he loves you,” said Ella.
Chloe’s facial expression didn’t change, not even a flicker, even though hearing Ella’s words was like a knife twisting in her chest. “I’m sorry, Ella. I just can’t talk about this, okay?”
Ella nodded, but Chloe was already walking away to meet the girlfriend of the victim, so she let the conversation drop. Poor Chloe, she thought. She was so good at burying her pain, but you only had to look again to see it plain as day. She was clearly miserable without Lucifer. Everything was so different without him. It was like walking around in two mismatched shoes, she mused. You could get to your destination, but it was rocky and unbalanced. Wherever you are Lucifer, Ella thought with a huff of annoyance, you’d better get your shit figured out and come home.
Had he been listening, Lucifer would have assured Ms. Lopez that he desired nothing more than to do just that. Unfortunately, the King of Hell wasn’t faring much better.
The mangled remains of the demon once known as Dromos hung from a column, a visceral reminder of the King’s displeasure. Lucifer had made sure the ringleaders of the little rebellion had been tortured beyond endurance and then arranged to send a very clear message to the rest of the monstrous hordes: Disobedience would not be tolerated. Across the archway, Dromos’ ruptured limbs waved like a macabre banner. Being drawn and quartered was an old punishment, but stunningly effective nonetheless.
Asmodeus watched from the perspective of the parapet of Lucifer’s tower. The tower itself was built into the cliffside below his throne, where Lucifer would retire when he was not surveying Hell and its inhabitants. Asmodeus turned back to his King, who waited at the head of the stone table that dominated the great space. “It is done as you commanded. The remaining demons are being… extinguished,” he said, twisting his lips into a grim smile at his own joke. His was an austere face and the smile did nothing to warm it, matching the cold brilliance of his eyes.
“Excellent.” Lucifer did not move from his seat, but gestured for Asmodeus to take his place at the table. “I want to know just how this was possible,” he said, his voice deadly soft. “Just how was it possible that none of my trusted ‘generals’ knew Dromos and his little band of contretemps were frolicking on Earth?”
Asmodeus bowed his head and slanted a glance to his right, encompassing his brothers at the table. Belphegor, the shortest of them all, made up for his height with brawn, his body that of a seasoned warrior. If he was placed in the highlands wearing a kilt and a battle ax, he would fit perfectly. In fact, he had done so many times before. Mammon, the youngest and quietest, sat back in his seat with a carelessness that bordered on disrespectful. His frame was pale and gaunt, having inherited none of his mother’s seductive beauty. To his left, and seated the furthest from Lucifer himself, was Azazel, a man of Oriental features who rivaled Satan himself for height.
“We,” Asmodeus paused to allow the word to imply equal blame, “were busy maintaining our sectors of souls. We were unaware Dromos had abandoned his post, nor did we catch him when he slipped past our guard to recruit Squee and his friends.” The three remained quiet, no one gainsaying or refuting Asmodeus’ words.
“In that, you are correct, Asmodeus. You did not catch him. Or the others.” Eyes flashing, Lucifer lunged to his feet and leaned across the table to pin each of the fallen angels with rage. The force of his fist meeting the table sent sharp chips of stone flying. “I made my orders about possession very clear.” Lucifer felt his resentment rising. It was because of this carelessness that he had been forced to come back here and leave behind everything that had finally, for the first time, given him a sense of power. Not power or purpose as the Prince of Darkness, the warden of tortured souls. The power and purpose of using his life in the way he chose and feeling it was valued.
A nearly indiscernible cringe crossed Asmodeus’ face before he schooled features into a blank expression. The might of the Lightbringer had not diminished with his fall, and when Lucifer wanted to make a point, he made it ruthlessly and painfully clear. “It will not happen again,” he promised quietly.
Lucifer inhaled deeply and took his seat once more. “I will personally administer an eternity of torture to the next being that dares to defy me or fail to meet my expectations. Is that understood?”
Assents were quickly issued around the table. Asmodeus spared another glance for the displayed carcass while waiting for the chance to speak to Lucifer alone.
“There is only one way each of you can remain unscathed. Do not disappoint me. I will be watching very closely. You will all be very busy earning my trust. In fact,” he smiled without any humor, “I greatly advise it.” If he was going to be forced to dance to his father’s tune again, Lucifer thought bitterly, then they would damn well dance to his.
At his dismissal, Belphegor, Mammon, and Azazel stood to leave, the picture of respectful subservience. Mammon avoided eye contact, which Lucifer considered to be a smart move. Azazel dared to meet his eye, but paused only minutely on his way out of the room. Whatever Azazel was chewing on, he was unsure whether or not to speak up. Which was fine, because Lucifer didn’t care to hear it.
The obsidian stone of the table eerily reflected a light that wasn’t present, while the walls of rock seemed to emanate nothing but darkness, obscuring the space of the room until it was both cavernous and confining. Lucifer dominated the space without speaking or moving, eyes fixed on the fallen angel before him. He settled back in his chair and steepled his fingers, waiting.
Silence stretched while Asmodeus considered his words. He truly did not want to agitate Lucifer further. His wrath since returning had not abated in the least.
Finally, he spoke in a quiet tone. “The demons became restless after you did not return. It was only a matter of time before they tried something. They need direction, a handler, at all times.”
“Your excuses fail to redeem you, Asmodeus. In fact, your words only serve to emphasize your ineptitude.” A hard edge accompanied his words, “Of course, the demons need to be controlled. Their natures require it. You failed to control them.” Lucifer’s head tilted to the side and pinned Asmodeus with a stare like granite. “Remind me why I haven’t disposed of you?”
“Yes. I failed. That is my point, Lucifer.”
“Oh, is it?” He answered with mocking brevity.
“The demons aren’t intelligent enough to rebel on their own. Someone suggested it.”
“Yes, I know. The good Father Kinley.”
“Of that, I’m not sure. He may have said enough to Dromos to give him a clue about your extended absence. Or... maybe someone connected the rest of the dots for him, encouraged him to bring others into his scheme.”
“What are you suggesting, Asmodeus?” Lucifer’s tone was bored, but Asmodeus felt his master’s attention sharpen. Good, he thought, though he did not allow his satisfaction to show.
“That perhaps someone else helped Dromos, or dropped enough not-so-subtle hints to encourage him to attempt to replace you with the child. The priest only wanted you to return to Hell. He knew nothing about the rules of your kingship.”
“How good of you to tell me, Asmodeus.” Lucifer gave no other inflection or reaction. “Don’t you have some place to be?”
Asmodeus followed the veiled order, and for an indeterminable amount of time, Lucifer remained at the tower parapet, turning thoughts over in his mind. He considered conjuring himself a stiff drink, perhaps a smooth bourbon. But it would only be a pale facsimile of the real thing. The problem -- one of the more monumental problems -- was there was no need for anything, so though he could will most things into existence, it was never enough to fulfill his own desires. Hell wasn’t just a place of torture for despicable souls. It also tortured him. It was essentially a permanent state of nothing. No hunger, thirst, exhaustion… The only thing in never-ending supply was boredom. Loneliness. At least in the past he had Maze for company, and knew she had his back. Who were his allies now?