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The Price of Freewill

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“Which direction is the City of Angels?” The question had a confused, desperate edge to it. The source of said inquiry, a man who was somewhere in his mid to late 30s, fidgeted, unable to look Mr. Fisher in the eye. His gaze drifted just to the left of him, nervous, cautious, and guarded.

“You mean, Los Angeles?” Mr. Fisher asked, his voice laced with concern. The stranger in front of him just nodded, almost imperceptibly, and as he stepped toward the frightened younger man in front of him, he instinctively shied away, keeping a measured distance between them. He had never seen anything quite like the stranger edging back from him. His eyes darted nervously as if he expected to be attacked at any moment, from any direction. He was a mess.

“You need help.” It was a statement, not a question, but the other man’s response to this observation was to move back even further, skittish and untrusting.

Even though it was the middle of the night, under a starry moonless sky, he could still make out several concerning details. His loosely curling dark hair was a matted mess; coated with what looked like blood, which was especially thick with the tacky substance on the left side of the forehead, where a wound was still bleeding, creating a dark trail snaking down to curve into his brow, close to the eye, then continuing further down his cheek. His lower lip was busted, and he had a nasty bruise forming on the right side of his face.

Gaunt, tired eyes kept avoiding his, and his unsteady stance made it look like he might pass out at any moment. Likely had a concussion. He hunched in on himself, seeming almost small in spite of his tall stature. He appeared to be in a great deal of pain, with one hand wrapped around a dark spot blossoming on the side of his plain tattered white t-shirt, and his legs looked like they were shaking with the effort to stay upright in a pair of ratty grey sweatpants.

And no shoes.

He had to be beyond cold. This was not ideal attire for someone in Northern Washington, at night, in the middle of November. The man was probably quite handsome in normal circumstances, but right now, he just looked broken and in desperate need of care.

It broke Mr. Fisher’s heart. The wounded stranger looked about the same age as his son, and he couldn’t help the paternal instinct that kept telling him to take him in his arms and tell him it would be okay… or the urge to beat the living daylights out of whoever was responsible for this. When he had decided to go down to the river to get his Zen on, this is not how he had imagined his night going.

The strange broken man in front of him looked more likely to try to run than accept help though. He needed to try to find a way to keep him from taking off, but he didn’t know how. Silence stretched on, as the man looked at him, careful, pleading eyes finally locked onto his. And with that, he broke the spell by speaking again.

“Please…” he implored. “Which direction?”

Mr. Fisher hesitated, trying to find the right words to say; words that would convince him to trust him. Finally, after a sigh, he answered his question. “Well, you are a very long way from there. You got family in LA?”

“Brother, last I knew.” He had an accent, Mr. Fisher noticed. It sounded English. A pleasant ring to it, even as rough as it was now.

“You got a number for him? I could give him a call.” He tried, holding as still as he could, as if he was trying not to frighten an injured wild animal.

“No.”

“Name?”

The sound of crashing bushes coming from their wooded surroundings put an abrupt stop to the conversation. The stranger’s eyes widened in fear and his head whipped around to stare in the direction of the sound. It was probably just a branch breaking off a tree, but the noise seemed to terrify him. He trembled, eyes darting all around.

Mr. Fisher decided that talking calmly might help. “It’s Okay, Son, it’s just a tree branch.” The other man looked at him suspiciously. He took this as a cue to keep talking. “Look, I’m just trying to help. LA, you know, it’s nowhere near here. Just telling you its south - and I mean, waaaay south of here isn’t going to do you much good. Why don’t you come back with me? I can get you a hot shower and a good meal, then maybe you’ll let me get you the medical attention you need. I mean, really, you ought to be going to a hospital…” He trailed off as he realized the other was not listening to him.

Rather, his eyes were on the stars, a frustrated, confused look on his face. After a few moments of trying to recognize the constellations, he sighed and looked down. Once again, avoiding eye contact. “I can’t read the sky… which way is south?” He finally relented.

Mr. Fisher gestured to his left, down the winding road. “That-a-way.” He offered vaguely. The injured man’s reaction to that statement caught his attention. His expression twisted in agony, and he closed in on himself, shaking, as he took rapid shallow gasping breaths. For a moment, it looked like he was about to have a panic attack.

“But I just came from there.” His voice was broken, choking on fear and frustration.

“What’s down there, son?” Mr. Fisher asked, voice thick with equal parts compassion and barely contained rage.

At first, there was no answer, and when it came, it was a whisper, almost too soft to hear. “They are…”

They are. Whoever ‘they’ were, he had no doubt in his mind that ‘they’ were the ones responsible for this. ‘They’ were monsters, and ‘they’ were going to pay.

“I see,” He said, turning to get his phone from his truck. He was going to call the cops, and they were going to find those bastards. “Stay put, I’m just going to make a call.” But as he reached his vehicle and opened the door, a sudden whooshing sound, followed by a sharp gust of wind caught him off guard. Whirling around, his jaw dropped open. The other man was gone. Without a trace.

Startled, he stepped forward, looking around. But he was nowhere to be seen. He tried to call out to him.

“Son? Where are you? Son?” But there was no answer. Only the night greeted him in reply. Walking forward, he called out for him again, and again, he got nothing. He was so focused on trying to peer into the night that he nearly tripped on the foliage that was sprouting up in the middle of the gravel parking space. It was in the same spot the injured younger man had been standing. How strange. Shaking his head in confusion, he lifted his phone and dialed the Lynden Police Department to report what he had seen.

***

Chloe was antsy.

She needed to move. To do something. But for now, she had to wait.

Sitting in her last-minute-booked seat on the plane as it made its way to Washington gave her time to think at least. And to wake up. She still remembered the call, the call she had almost ignored, except that it had been Dan. Dan, who had been at work. He had been doing a lot of extra hours lately, presumably to help cope with… things. It had to do with Charlotte, she knew, and ironically, now that Lucifer had been gone for a while, he had finally stopped blaming him. Now he seemed to be blaming himself. Sighing, she took the call, expecting him to break down about some revelation or other.

“Hey. Chlo?”

“Dan… its 1:30, I just… why are you calling at this hour?”

He hesitated on the other line. Chloe rubbed and blinked her eyes, willing them to focus.

“So… Lucifer, he went home?” He sounded unsure.

Really? Chloe sighed, she had a hard enough time sleeping without Dan, of all people, bringing up Lucifer. She missed him, and being reminded of it only made her lose more sleep.

“Yeah, something about a family emergency, and needing to fix things.” She muttered tiredly. Technically, it wasn’t a lie. Demons coming to Earth was definitely an emergency in need of fixing, and even though Hell wasn’t really home, it was close enough.

“Did he say where home is, or how long he expected to be away? I mean, it’s been, like a year and a half, and we haven’t even heard from him.” It sounded like he was piecing something together.

“Where are you going with this?” Chloe sighed.

“Are we sure he’s okay?” Chloe sat up, suddenly interested. Why was he bringing this up now? Not once had he shown concern for Lucifer’s wellbeing. Ella had. She asked every couple weeks, like clockwork, if Chloe or anyone had heard from him yet. Ella prayed for him every night. Knowing Ella was praying for the wellbeing of the Devil always amused Chloe, and she really wished she could tell her friend the truth, but, yeah, that wasn’t happening.

After a pause, she had to admit, truthfully, she didn’t know. “You know, he’s… I mean… no, I don’t know for sure, but I have to believe that he is.” It was painful to admit this out loud. It hurt to say it to Dan, especially. “Why?”

“I just got a call from Pam, in Missing Persons. She seemed to be pretty sure that someone found Lucifer in Washington, all busted up and lost in the woods.” He blurted out.

The rest of the call had gone quite differently, as she had switched from sleepy love-sick Chloe Decker into Detective Decker working a case. She wanted details, and details, he had given. It had been a drawn out game of he-said she-said which had taken place for this information to reach her ex.

A man near Lynden Washington ran into the person in question. He had called the Police Department there, they connected him with Missing Persons, and he suggested talking with someone in LA. That someone knew Lucifer… everyone at the LAPD knew him. Everyone loved him. He had somehow gone from amusing distraction to an invaluable member of the team. Chloe suspected their nearly flawless close rate and his Devilish charms had something to do with that. The description sounded too much like Lucifer for Pam to think it was a coincidence, and as the man in question had been asking about LA, she was convinced that, yes, it was him. So she decided to talk to Dan. Why Dan? She knew he was awake, and at work finishing up after a failed stakeout, and she wanted a second opinion. After Dan, too was convinced that this might be Chloe’s vanished partner, he took it upon himself to call her.

Someone who had an English accent, was tall and lean, probably normally handsome, dark slightly curly hair… it could be him. He said he needed to get to LA, and find a brother. Amenadiel, perhaps. The part that concerned her was the description of his condition. Wearing tattered clothes, a t-shirt and sweats, no less, bloody, head injury, busted lip, no shoes? Weak and tired. Frightened and panicked. This part worried her the most.

No, it couldn’t be Lucifer. Lucifer wasn’t vulnerable if Chloe wasn’t near. He was the Devil. He was the Lord of Hell, and the Fallen archangel who had… presumably led a rebellion against God. He could walk through explosions and brush them off with ease. He has tossed a man effortlessly through bullet proof glass. He could hold a car in place while it tried to drive away. He could be shot and the bullets would bounce off of him like he was Superman. So, obviously, it wasn’t him. It was just a poor man in need of help who resembled Lucifer. It had to be, because if it wasn’t…

Chloe had to stay focused.

It wasn’t Lucifer.

But if it was, then that meant there was something out there powerful enough to hurt her Lucifer, who had obviously done just that, and was not likely to stop.

The man had been afraid of something.

Lucifer didn’t scare easily. Well, not when it actually mattered anyway. He was skittish with her. He worried about keeping her safe, about sparing her from seeing things he thought would hurt her. He was afraid of being rejected. He ran from feelings. Never from danger. Not even when he was with Chloe, and essentially mortal. Not even when he should be afraid. So if it was Lucifer, and he was afraid, what did that mean?

And how was she going to protect him?

One thing at a time, Detective Decker, she scolded herself. No point jumping to conclusions yet. Her first step would be to get to Lynden, where she had made an appointment to meet with the witness at the department, a man named Robert Fisher. When she got there, she would show him a picture of Lucifer and ask if this was the man he had seen. Then he would tell her that, no, it was someone else.

Because it had to be.

Then she could offer to help with the investigation, because even if it wasn’t Lucifer, the poor man did need help, and he was trying to get to LA, and maybe she could help him. Maybe helping him would help her get her mind off of Lucifer.

And if this Robert Fisher confirmed that it was Lucifer…

Chloe would tear the State of Washington apart to find him and rein hell down upon the monsters responsible for hurting him.

Then she would hold onto him with all her might and make sure he never left her again.

Chloe was crying.

“I’ll find you, Lucifer. I promise. I’m on my way, just hang in there.” She sniffed. The lady sitting next to her gave her the funniest look, and moved a seat over, crossing herself.