"We're going to sail to the top this time, and God with us – or stamp to the top with our teeth in the wind."
– G. L. Mallory, diary entry from 3rd expedition to Mt. Everest, 1924
"I have not conquered Everest; it has merely tolerated me."
– Peter Habeler
Right from the beginning – their beginning – he tells her the truth.
"You're a scrawny little thing, aren't you?" He struggles to reach a happy medium somewhere between dropping the squirming, squalling bundle and crushing her against his chest, all the while feeling ham-fisted and awkward. "I always figured the key to the Apocalypse would be a little more impressive."
"Oh, come now, Lucas, cut her some slack – she's still fresh out of the oven, after all!"
Boyd rolls his eyes at the sight before him. Over time and across many religions, his employer has been variably depicted with wings, horns, a pitchfork and (always good for a laugh) hairy hoofed goat legs. He'd wager that not one church-sanctioned artist would've ever thought to paint Lucifer in a dove-grey Armani suit and a straw boater with "It's a Girl" printed all over the brim in big pink letters.
"What?" Lucifer's eyebrows flutter upward as he follows Boyd's gaze. "Hat's too over-the-top? It's a day of celebration, old friend. My daughter has taken the very important first step of being born. Now it's up to us to ensure the success of her subsequent steps."
Boyd shifts his weight as the baby quiets against his chest. "And you still think Kingston is the right man for the job?"
Lucifer leans over and sniffs at the tiny blonde head. "You know, I don't get that whole 'wonderful baby smell' thing, all I'm picking up is cheap powder. I'm sure Kingston's our man. I chose him, after all." He glances appraisingly at Boyd, all levity vanished. "Clearly, you still have misgivings."
Boyd sighs, well aware of how this discussion always ends. "I don't question his qualifications, I just have concerns about his ability to prioritize his loyalties. He's already attached enough that he wanted to keep the mother involved. I don't see him going quietly when it's time to step aside."
"So? We'll deal with that when the time comes," Lucifer replies dismissively (which Boyd translates as "you'll deal with it for me, Lucas," because this is hardly the first time they've discussed this, and after eighty years Boyd speaks a pretty fluent Lucifer). "Let Kingston be as much of a father to her as he wants for now. She might as well thrive in the lap of luxury while she's getting an education in the ways of the world. I never did understand how avoidance of material goods supposedly equates to righteousness."
Boyd snorts at that, the "no kidding" clearly implied. For someone bent on destroying mankind, his boss is almost obsessively attached to some of mankind's more luxurious creations. Boyd would lay odds that the coming Hellfire will spare Lucifer's favorite Lamborghini dealership, several Parisian nightclubs, and the entirety of Worth Avenue and South Beach.
"Scoff if you must," Lucifer mock-sighs as he slouches against the wall. "I don't believe I've seen any off-the-rack items adorning your person in the last decade or six. Face it, Lucas, I've corrupted you entirely. Which was pretty much the idea from the get-go, of course. Now, what about Anne?"
A lesser man would get whiplash at the quick-fire transition from friendly banter to no-bullshit business, but Boyd is no one's lesser man. "En route to the Havenwood psychiatric facility as we speak. The physicians have already confirmed the diagnosis of post-partum psychosis with extensive religious delusions. By the time she's out of there Christina and Kingston will be far away and very legally bound as father and daughter."
"Excellent. Let's get on with it, then, shall we?" Christina gurgles against Boyd's shoulder, and Lucifer smirks at Boyd's obvious discomfort. "I think she likes you, Lucas. Be careful, or you might end up being the one bonding with her and getting your loyalties tested."
Boyd stills the hand that had been administering small pats seemingly of its own volition. "I don't do bonding. And I have no illusions about where my loyalties lie."
Lucifer's intense gaze is half-hidden by the ridiculous hat. "Just make sure you can say the same thing a few years from now. You're going to be crucial to her progress, Lucas. Everything she needs to know she'll learn from you."
"And she'll hate me for it, if I do my job right." Boyd spares a final look at the small blonde head against his neck. "Do you want to hold her before we hand her over?"
Lucifer shrugs, already having moved on to his plans for the rest of the afternoon. "Why would I? I'll spend time with her later when she's more interesting. You can take it from here. Oh, and there's a new club in the Village that has a bar set up in a converted meat-locker. I'll send you the details - meet me at eleven and wear something warm."
Christina won't speak to him for an entire week after the debacle in Point Pleasant.
He follows the small, angry figure as she walks down the main road that leads out of town, his limousine traveling at a discreet distance behind her. When she finally stops to sit on one of the jersey barriers, he signals the driver to pull up, and she gets into the car without looking at him.
"We're going to New York," Boyd tells her. Christina nods silently and stares out the window for the rest of the trip. Once in his Manhattan penthouse, she goes into the room designated as hers, shuts the door, and doesn't come back out for the rest of the night.
Boyd decides to give her some space for a few days – the kid just had her heart broken by her long-lost mother, the Kramers, and her first serious (now seriously dead) boyfriend, all in the course of a few hours. He figures she deserves a little down-time.
By the seventh day of the silent treatment, he decides they've procrastinated enough. He walks unannounced into her room to find her sitting on a loveseat and staring listlessly out the window.
"Morning, Christina. Now that you've had a chance to settle in, we need to start your training."
"Evil has a training camp? So do I work out on Satan's ab machine or something?" She sounds unimpressed.
"It's something like that, only with less sweat and more studying."
"When do I get to meet my real dad?"
Boyd hesitates – Lucifer hasn't been particularly interested in a meet-up with his progeny. "When he thinks you're ready, he'll call for you."
"And in the meantime you're, what, my babysitter?" Christina turns to regard him with a look of mild suspicion.
"That depends on you." He stops in front of her chair, forcing her to look up to meet his eyes. "I'd rather approach this as student and teacher, maybe as partners."
That actually provokes a bitter laugh. "What are you going to teach me, Boyd, how to drop statues on priests and kill boys with holy knives before they kill me? Because I'm pretty sure I'm at the been-there, done-that stage already."
"The first lessons are always the expensive ones, Chris." Boyd drops onto the loveseat beside her. "The key is to learn from them and move on. You think there won't be a second Jesse Parker out there professing his undying love and waiting to shove a knife between your ribs, or a third or a fourth? And those will just be the ones who work on our side and want to get in your pants – you don't want to know what the Vatican contingent will do if they get to you."
"Are you trying to scare me into being an obedient little student?"
"I'm just telling you the truth, kid, same as always. You've graduated to a whole new playing field - the only difference is now you know it. Of course it's scary, but my job is to get you through it. Now get up and let's get this show on the road."
Boyd smirks down at her as Christina writhes beneath him, pissed off and pinned to the floor.
"You didn't anticipate," he admonishes, breaking the hold and rolling off her. "You never want to let them use the element of surprise to their advantage."
"No shit, you cocky bastard." Clearly, Christina doesn't have to be taught how to hate to lose. "I wasn't expecting you to use a disarming spell on me. What kind of priest is going to use a demonic incantation anyway?"
"The same kind of priest who knows how to spell up a knife to take out the Antichrist." Boyd springs up into a standing position, arching his back to relieve the ache caused by an hour of intensive practice. "You think their prayers are any different from our incantations? Same shit, different day, kid – you need to be prepared for anything to be used against you, including any excess self-confidence. And don't get so pissy at the messenger," he adds as he extends his hand to help her up off the padded mat. "If I'm not knocking you into shape I'm not doing my job."
All things considered, it's been a productive summer.
Despite her lack of warm and fuzzy feelings where Boyd's concerned, Christina has demonstrated an impressive willingness to be taught by him. She devours the books he gives her and trains with him late into the night without complaint. She doesn't hesitate to challenge him if she disagrees with something, and her confidence secretly pleases him even when it's irritating the crap out of him. Best of all, she's finally mentally moved out of Point Pleasant. Now that she's no longer fixating on the stupid Kramers or her dead surfer boy, Boyd thinks he could actually start to enjoy Christina Nickson.
His ponderings are rudely interrupted when his proffered hand is sucked into a vortex of pure demonic power, right along with the rest of him. An instant later Boyd finds himself flat on his back with Christina straddling him.
Far be it from him to say the kid isn't a quick study.
"Element of surprise, check." She presses teasingly against him as she nips at the edge of his jaw. "Now, I wonder if there are any other powers I could use against you?"
Her first kiss is coy and hesitant, a technique she probably learned from the Parker kid and something that Boyd never had a particular use for. She startles momentarily as he pulls her tight against him; then his hands begin to trace a slow stroking deliberate path across her ribs and down her spine, and she melts like wax, fitting to him completely. Boyd sweeps his tongue across her bottom lip and she opens for him willingly, deepening the kiss as her tongue slides across his. Oh yeah, his girl is definitely a quick study in this department.
He waits until she pulls back from his lips with a soft moan, then shifts his hands at the small of her back.
The disarming spell detonates with another wave of pure power, and Christina yelps in shock as she's flipped over his shoulder. She hits the mat with a thud, and Boyd is smirking down at her once again.
"And that, kiddo, is why there's such a thing as too much self-confidence."
The walls echo with his laughter intermixed with a string of epithets hurled from her swollen lips, and Boyd ends the lesson early to head off to a very cold shower.
She moves into his bedroom without an invitation. He simply returns home from a late meeting one evening and finds her sprawled on her stomach across the grey silk comforter, ankles crossed and swinging gently as she thumbs through one of his books. Boyd isn't sure if he's more surprised by the fact that she's naked (except for the red satin platform pumps – Antichrist or not, he's discovered, Christina has a decidedly girly obsession with footwear) or that she's reading a biography of George Mallory.
"I never figured you for the mountaineering type," he comments casually as he pulls off his tie.
"Dear old fake Daddy shipped me off to ski camp most winters." Christina shrugs and stretches, and his eyes reflexively follow the trajectory of the slim pale legs. "I hung out in Vail and Gstaad and St. Moritz. There were mountains. I was never allowed to do anything on them, but I liked them."
"So now you've graduated to Himalayan expeditions?"
"I have a big to-do list." She sits up, unselfconsciously watching him as he strips down to his shirt and boxers. "Who wouldn't want to see Everest, or Annapurna or Lhotse? It's practically the last place left that humans haven't fucked up. It's like the anti-Point Pleasant, all ice and rock and atoms – it's pure, clean."
"And deadly – or did you not get to the chapter about what actually happens to Mallory?"
Christina turns the book to a marked page. "'There were only two possibilities – accident or beknightment. It is terrible. But there are few better deaths than to die in high endeavor –'"
"-'and Everest is the finest cenotaph in the world,'" Boyd finishes the quote for her as he perches on the edge of the bed. "That's a deceptively romantic spin on the fact that old George ended up the equivalent of a Tibetan popsicle."
"Did you ever meet him?" Christina leans closer, her bare thigh brushing against his knee.
Boyd huffs softly. "I'm not in the habit of hanging around English celebrities, kid, and even if I were I was a dumb-ass nobody in South Jersey when he died. I remember it made the papers, but that's about it."
"Oh." He could swear she seems disappointed. "I hadn't really figured you for the mountaineering type either."
"You mean you didn't realize I read anything besides the Wall Street Journal and Satanic Rituals for Dummies?" He laughs at the expression on her face, a mix of shock and gullibility another man might call endearing. "Chris, if there were how-to manuals for this line of work I'd've bought you the entire series and saved us both some time. Once in awhile I like to take a break from reality too. Ninety-nine percent of human beings are useless wastes of space. When someone from that other one percent breaks from the herd and follows his own convictions, it merits attention."
"Too bad the interesting one percent always seems to end up dead."
"True," Boyd concedes as he unbuttons his shirt. "Although you could argue that part of what makes them special is their ability to realize some things are worth dying for."
"Wow." Christina sets the book down and clutches melodramatically at her heart. "I think you just admitted to admiring someone besides yourself and my father. It must be the Apocalypse."
"Oh, now, that's unfair. I'm admiring you at the moment too. Of course, you're giving me a great deal to admire here." Boyd trails a finger slowly up one satin heel and beyond to the smooth expanse of her calf, eyes never leaving her face. "Are you planning an expedition into unknown territory?"
"Maybe." She stares right back at him without a flinch or blush, well aware that he's testing her. "It's not exactly unknown, though. Dead lifeguard with a Jesus complex, et cetera."
"Boyd's rules of mountaineering, number one: never assume that all expeditions are identical." Boyd breathes the words against the shell of her ear as his finger trails higher up her thigh. "Especially when the trail looks familiar. Things can get dangerous quickly."
"The danger is what makes them worth doing, right?" She's breathing a little harder as he strokes her inner thigh, knees dropping open to give him more access.
"The danger is what makes them end badly."
"Is this your way of saying we shouldn't be doing this?" Her hand is at the edge of his boxers, the fabric doing a poor job at concealing how hard he is for her.
Boyd could swear there used to be a very cold, rational part of his brain (he's not going to call it a conscience) that would regularly provide useful tips and tricks in tough situations, things like this is a bad bad horrible fucking idea that will lead to no good and if you fall for one of her little games you'll never live it down and getting it on with the boss' daughter is really pretty cliché even when it doesn't run the risk of getting your ass slung over a fire-pit. Clearly, that rational part is on indefinite sabbatical.
And damned if he doesn't want to see her beneath him, flushed and begging and at his mercy, blonde hair tangled in grey silk as he fucks those stupid shoes right off her feet.
But the real bitch of the whole thing? Is that he never has been able to lie to her.
"Stop, Chris. Shit. I'm saying that this doesn't change anything." He stills her hand before she can distract him further. "I'm not Jesse Parker, kid, and this isn't Point Pleasant. You're still in training and under my care. No matter what happens in here, I'm still going to push you and challenge you and piss you off, and I'll do it until my orders are to do otherwise. I don't care if it's fair and I don't care if you don't like it - it's just the reality of the situation."
"I figured that out awhile ago. Seems the learning curve finally kicked in." She leans back on the bed in a pose that's more contemplative than seductive. "Maybe we can call this another temporary break from reality? You know, when neither one of us feels like reading about dead explorers?"
There is very little left in the world, Boyd thinks, that can surprise him. Christina occasionally manages to re-write that list.
When he fucks her that night her shoes stay on, but she shatters every mirror in the room when she comes.
"You know, I think Mallory made the summit."
Boyd would be a little more irritated by Christina's random 3 AM talking jags if they weren't usually accompanied by foreplay.
"Is this turning into some kind of mountaineer kink I should know about? You aren't going to expect me to come to bed wearing crampons and swinging an ice-axe, are you?"
"Your thousand-thread-count sheets would never survive the trauma." Christina presses against his back, sliding a warm hand over his hip and between his thighs. "Although 'ice-axe' might make a nice euphemism for other swinging things."
Boyd half-laughs, half-sighs as her hand closes around its intended target. "It doesn't if you've ever seen what they're used for. Hate to break it to you, kid, but most experts think he died before he ever saw the top of Everest."
"Well, I say they're wrong."
He rolls on his back to give her better access, humming appreciatively as she begins a slow stroke. "And you've reached this conclusion because…?"
"He wanted it too badly." Christina's hand moves in time to the cadence of her voice. "Remember his vow that he'd stamp to the top with his teeth in the wind? He wasn't going to fail a third time. And he had Sandy Irvine with him the whole way."
"Some would say that partnership was his biggest mistake."
Christina huffs in irritation, her strokes speeding slightly. "Because Irvine was younger and less experienced? I bet Mallory didn't mind that so much once he saw Irvine overhaul their oxygen system. Good partners anticipate each other's needs" - a twist of her hand surprises a low moan out of him – "and offset one another's weaknesses. They wanted the summit too much to let a stupid obstacle like death get in the way."
There are times that Boyd is all too painfully reminded of the gulf of years and experience that separates them. "That's the romantic voice of youth talking, kiddo. Making the summit doesn't mean a whole hell of a lot if you don't survive the descent."
"And that's the voice of old age forgetting how to enjoy itself." Christina licks a slow stripe up the path her hand had traveled, then resumes a steady stroking. "Why does everything have to be that complicated? Why can't it be enough to just stand on top of the world and enjoy the view together?"
None of this, Boyd knows, has a damned thing to do with Mallory or Irvine.
"What do you want me to say, Chris?" He sighs, pulling her up until she's straddling him. "Do you want me to tell you that's how this is all going to turn out?"
"No." She closes her eyes and rocks against him as he slides easily inside her. "You'd be lying if you did, and that's not your style."
Six months to the day it all started, Lucifer changes his mind.
"Don't consider it a failure, Lucas." It's an odd day indeed when his boss is the one trying to put a positive spin on things. "Every attempt is a learning experience, and this one taught us a lot about our adversaries."
Things aren't proceeding badly so much as slowly. The merry marauding Vatican bastards have been hot on Christina's trail ever since she left Point Pleasant. Jesse Parker's death was the turning point, apparently – the righteous fight has turned into a down-and-dirty vendetta waged by some seriously pissed-off priests. Boyd can count at least ten of his mid-level managers who've met the same fate as Wesley, and even though their side has exacted as much if not more damage, far too many minor skirmishes are turning into major battles.
To make matters worse, some of the locals are getting in on the action. The End of Days has always been meant to start with subtlety. It was to everyone's benefit (Lucifer's benefit, certainly) to have the ignorant masses stay ignorant right up to the point of no return, their herd mentality making it all too easy to explain away the random episodes of destruction to coincidence, global warming, or the pop-culture catch-phrase du jour. Now, however, there are people popping up on websites and at community meetings, arranging interviews with local news stations, and they're suggesting that something more sinister is going on. They're still being largely dismissed as whack-jobs, but the Vatican gang knows better – they're building a support group.
Boyd would lay odds the Kramers are behind the grass-roots action. He's lost count of the number of times he's called himself a fucking idiot for not gutting that little bitch Judy when he had the chance.
The other side simply wants to win a little too much, and Christina is, well, not evil enough for the job.
Lucifer, in short, has moved on to other distractions.
"She's learning," Boyd argues, fists clenched and white-knuckled beneath the mahogany conference table. "She had almost seventeen years of thinking she was just a normal girl – you can't expect her to grasp the enormity of her talents all at once."
"She's had time enough to decide if she's going to embrace those talents." Lucifer stares sharply at Boyd before resuming an evaluation of his flawless manicure. "She's still vacillating, still afraid. She has too much of her mother in her after all."
"I can step up the training, alter the approach a bit."
"No, don't bother, no need to waste any more effort on a failed project." Lucifer looks pensive. "I suppose we ought to throw the papal hounds a bone. Eye for an eye and all that - let them think it ends with her and settle into a nice false sense of security while we plan for the new improved Antichrist of the next generation. It'll be another fifty years before the holy idiots even catch on."
Boyd goes still and counts to ten silently, making sure he really just heard the words that came from across the table.
Counts to twenty, and there's still no happy way to spin this.
"You want to let them kill Christina."
"Kill her, banish her immortal soul, whatever." His boss waves a hand dismissively. "I can't imagine it will be anything but a ritual death with that group, especially after she took out their golden boy. It doesn't really matter, though, does it, Lucas? They get to think they saved the world and we get our mess cleaned up. They're happy, I'm happy - it's really a win/win situation, yes?"
It's just business. Men like Lucas Boyd don't react viscerally to business decisions.
"Boss, come on – all that work, all those years just to throw her away? It took time for Christina to adjust to life after Point Pleasant, I know, but we're working well together now. I can push her harder, teach her more."
"Are you saying that you take responsibility for Christina's failure, Lucas?"
He's treading on thin ice now, and he knows it. "I'm saying that she and I can both do better. Give us a chance to make a real run at it."
"You've had six months already."
"So give me a few more to make our investment pay off."
"I don't share your confidence in her, Lucas."
"Then come meet her some day, watch us train, and you'll see she's the real thing."
"Not necessary. It's time to move on to the next Antichrist."
"I'm not ready to give up on this one."
Lucifer leans back in his overstuffed leather chair, all hard eyes and feral smile, and as the statement hangs heavy between them Boyd gets a sense of déjà vu. He recalls a time of high expectations, happy banter and subtle warnings hidden behind ridiculous theme hats, and he gets the odd, cold feeling of just having lost a battle he hadn't realized he'd been fighting.
"Yes, Lucas, I can see you're not ready to give her up. The thing is, I am, and I'm the one who gets to make that call. Or have those unswerving loyalties of yours taken a detour?"
Boyd feels himself deflate against the back of his chair. "Of course not. I'm your man."
"I certainly hope so, old friend. It would be a shame to throw away such a long and profitable relationship. Tell you what – take care of the situation and then take off for a few weeks. You deserve a vacation."
Boyd manages a nod and a "thank you" that sounds acceptably sincere.
"You're quite welcome, of course." Lucifer stretches and rises out of his chair, signaling the end of their meeting. "I'm not entirely without compassion, you know, Lucas. Hell won't fall apart if you take a breather now and then – and it will always be here waiting for your return."
Boyd is smart enough to hear the threat behind the repartee.
He spends a long hour stuck in the limousine in cross-town gridlock, unmoving and silent as he reviews the meeting and finalizes his plans.
Seventeen years gone by, and he'd nailed the role perfectly: gadfly and cheerleader and personal trainer/tormentor, the one who pushed the golden child to accept her true potential and abandon her comfort zone. She crawled out of the ashes of Point Pleasant and finally grew up, and she did it all, for better or worse, because of him. No one could have done it better.
How easy it had been to lie to Christina after all – he hadn't even realized he'd been lying to himself the whole time.
She's curled up on the sofa reading a book when he gets home. Her smile falters as soon as she sees the look on his face.
"Boyd? What's wrong?"
"Long story, kid, I'll explain later. Think you can pack your suitcase in ten minutes?"
"Good. Meet me back in here as soon as you're done." He's already pushing past her and heading toward his own closets. "Wear something warm."
"I never thought the Northern Lights would actually, you know, light things this much."
Boyd watches in amusement as Christina, wide-eyed and fascinated, stares out across the still, half-frozen waters of Glacier Lake. Night falls quickly in the Northwest Territories in autumn, and the Aurora unfurls as the hour progresses, painting the dark Canadian skies with otherworldly waves of green and gold and reflecting off the peaks of the Ragged Range beyond.
The old hunting lodge had started out as a whim, an impulse buy back in the early 'Fifties when Lucifer was occupied elsewhere and Boyd happened to have both an excess of funds and a burning need to escape from one of Holly's particularly idiotic capers. Over the years he'd upgraded and refurbished, adding layers of protective spells and invisibility sigils until the expanse of lakeside property all but ceased to exist to the rest of the world. It amused him to possess his own secret hideout, even if he never had the time or motivation to use it.
Time has been at a premium ever since, but clearly, he thinks, motivation is a relative concept.
It's quiet enough to hear the subtle chatter of Christina's teeth; Boyd pulls off his parka and wraps it around her before she can protest. "You know, Chris, survival was kind of the concept here. I'd just as soon not have you die of pneumonia now."
She grins and rests back against his chest. "I know, I'll go back inside in a minute. I just want to memorize how beautiful this is."
"I'm pretty sure the lights last more than one night. It's in the brochure and everything."
He expects a laugh or a sarcastic comeback, not the downcast eyes and the sad, resigned smile.
"Hey." He gives her a gentle shake. "Chris. We'll last for more than one night too, OK? Things are going to work out."
"Don't start lying to me this late in the game, Boyd." Her flat, serious gaze is sparked with gold from the reflected borealis. "They're going to come for us, aren't they?"
"They'll have to find us first."
"They don't have to find you." She picks at the material of his parka, choosing her words. "It'll be so much worse for you than for me, Lucas. At least I just have the priests to worry about - all I have to do is die. You know I won't hate you if you leave me and go back, right?"
"Forget it, kid, it's not happening." Boyd takes a deep breath and continues in a milder tone. "You're stuck with me for as long as it takes, so you might as well get used to it. If they do find us we'll get our bad-ass on and make them regret that they ever underestimated you. Until then, consider this an adventure vacation – just you, me and the Unclimbables." He nods in the direction of the glaciers.
"Too bad I don't know the first thing about changing out oxygen cylinders." Christina smiles ruefully. "I'm afraid I don't make a very good Sandy Irvine."
"No worries, kid." Boyd pulls the parka hood close around her, his hands lingering on her face. "You were always my Mallory anyway."
The look Christina gives him is completely open and full of an emotion that scares him too much to put a name to it. "Teeth in the wind, then?"
"Always. Go warm up the bed, I'll be up."
She hesitates at the threshold. "Lucas."
"Thank you – for being one of the one-percenters."
Boyd lingers on the deck for another ten minutes, smoking a cigar and gazing out at the shimmering lake and the ragged rocks beyond. The sense of peace that overtakes him is foreign and fleeting, as ephemeral as the Aurora above them.